Masters, like Spurgeon, is a Calvinist, and one in the Spurgeon tradition. He and his church are aggressively evangelistic while remaining God centered. They have expanded from preaching the gospel, notwithstanding a strong position against many of the unscriptural modern church growth innovations.
Masters has written many books and essays, including Worship in the Melting Pot. Less than a month ago, he wrote an article entitled, "The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness," a quasi book review of Young, Restless, Reformed, by Collin Hansen. His analysis became more a jumping off point for him to warn of false worship within "new Calvinism." Many well-known, online blogs have responded to Masters' piece, very little positive. This post will support and explain what Masters has written, as well as expose the negative reviews he has received.
The Crux of Peter Masters' Concern
The title of Masters' article aptly communicates his proposition. This section sums it up well:
Indeed, a far better quality Calvinism still flourishes in very many churches, where souls are won and lives sanctified, and where Truth and practice are both under the rule of Scripture. Such churches have no sympathy at all with reporter Collin Hansen’s worldly-worship variety, who seek to build churches using exactly the same entertainment methods as most charismatics and the Arminian Calvary Chapel movement. . . . The new Calvinists constantly extol the Puritans, but they do not want to worship or live as they did.
He warns about worldly, syncretistic worship utilized as church growth methodology and reflecting continuationist charismaticism. He sees Calvinism as the adhesive employed for keeping together the various and contradictory points of view. He evaluates this as an erroneous separation of soteriology from sanctification, yielding a conduct incongruent with God's sovereignty.
Most of the reviews of Masters decried his lack of scriptural exposition. Masters was editorializing. It took on the form of a scriptural exhortation. He didn't refer to specific passages, but he did use biblical, doctrinal truths as a basis of his criticism. He's also exegeted the passages in previous books he's written that stand as a basis for what he says here. He has a reason to be upset. He sees false worship as very bad. Everyone else should too.
My Take on What Masters Was Concerned About
The new Calvinists target the gospel as the minimum objective of fellowship. They get together to revel in the gospel with too much emphasis on reveling. The gospel has become another commodity to consume. They've been saved with the accent on they. They're lovin' their salvation.
The gospel will end in worship, but worship for them has become more about how they feel than what God wants, compatible with the spirit of the age. The current of consumerism flows strong in the United States. The customer wants the best deal for himself. He chooses by what makes him feel the best. What is to make this so special to God is that He gets something that worshipers feel so good about.
The points of Calvinism are not alone enough to stir the new Calvinists' affections above the level of indifference. Instead adoration must be propelled along by the histrionics of the musical composition. They reason that something living must be felt. The music causes a feeling so it must be alive and, therefore, is authentic. The theological content of the words justifies the feeling.
Physiological manifestations validate spiritual reality like is seen in the charismatic movement. They are feelings choreographed by musicians with the credit going to the Holy Spirit. If not produced by the music, they are faked according to the importance of facial expressions to the communication of authenticity. Grimacing, eyes closed, hands waving, and heads wagging are all stock reactions in the catalog of sincerity. And yet the Holy Spirit hasn't worked through music not characteristic of His work. And these aren't responses anywhere in scripture that authenticate spiritual reality.
Within the five points Christ is to be glorified by Calvinism. Jesus chose, atoned, supplied grace, and secured. Instead of the Lord being raised high above and separate from what is common and profane, He is dragged along by the musical choices of professing adherents. Jesus has become an icon to them. They use Him as an excuse to celebrate. The party is fun and Jesus is a good reason to have it. It's so much fun that it must be real, so He must be pleased. And on top of that, 'Jesus' logo is imprinted on my teeshirt with matching grafiti font.' Hardly anything is more heart-felt than grafiti, the crumbling brick walls of a third world infrastructure, and a Mao Cap with a "resolved" symbol in place of the red star.
The most recent spiritual, historical patriarch of new Calvinism is the Jesus movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. These evangelicals often mention fundamentalism's infatuation with the 1950s. Most evangelicals, whether they know it or not, love the 60s and 70s. The Jesus movement invented the new measures for new Calvinism revivalism. Masters makes reference to this when he mentions the "Arminian Calvary Chapel Movement" as well as Francis Schaeffer's sixties sit-in style of biblical dialogue that mirrored what college students were doing on the campuses at the time. Schaeffer's method could easily be the forefather of today's online forum where everyone with an opinion counts as much as anyone elses.
Some of the important new measures the Jesus movement introduced into evangelicalism are worldly music, very casual dress, new hip styles of communication, casual relationships between boys and girls outside parental authority, and cutting edge marketing. All of these provided a comfortable and accepting environment for that generation of young people. We see the same new measuresas the Jesus movement (except worse) in the new Calvinism with Piper, Macarthur, Mahaney, and Driscoll. The reason these new measures work is because these young people are immersed in the world as a Christian liberty. The measures speak their langugae, a worldly one, and makes the religion an acceptable one to them.
There really isn't that much different, probably only a little in degree, between the new measures of new Calvinism and the methods of Rick Warren and the seeker sensitive. It is obvious that this new missiology and contextualization are appealing to a demographic. The content has more substance in the new Calvinism, but the methods are often the same. The joy in Jesus Christ and the teaching of scripture isn't enough. It must be embellished with the enoucrements of the natural man.
The points of Calvin start with total depravity. The new Calvinism parks on the inability of depravity, so that when Christ chooses, ability is what they've received. They were unable and now they're able. They seem to forget that depravity was alleviated as well. Enabling grace limits the power of unredeemed flesh. Its power no longer has dominion. Children of darkness become children of light. That separation is blurred by the revivalistic new measures of new Calvinism.
The new Calvinism lacks the distinction between the sacred and the profane. Indeed, they are jumbled together in a way that you can't tell where one stops and the other ends. Recently John MacArthur has become incensed with the smutty language used in the preaching of Mark Driscoll, and rightly so. However, he doesn't seem to have the discernment to see how that the new revivalistic measures his church employs have profaned the holy name and character of Christ by framing Him within the common fashions of smutty culture.
In contrast to Finney revivalism, some serious exposition in the conferences and gatherings supposedly justifies the new measures of new Calvinism. Many of the various video clips of preaching used to advertise this preaching attract using worldly means. The clips themselves accentuate the theatrics one would experience if he chose to attend. The exposition in these meetings does enlighten in doctrine, but often without the specific and strong application that would give pause to a seeker more interested in the fun time.
Comments on Varied Details of Masters' Piece
"Immoral Drug-induced Musical forms of Worldly Culture"
The forms of present rock music utilized in contemporary Christian music was induced by drugs. The world itself says this (also here among many other places online). Rock musicians were often on drugs when they wrote their music. However, they also wrote music that used fuzztone, feedback, synthesizers, and volume to mimick the supposed mind-expanding properties of marijuana and LSD. The drug induced state was simulated by electronic amplification. The Jesus movement and the hippie subculture both arose from the same location and with this same music. The grunge used by Mark Driscoll in his "worship" was part of the drug counter-culture in Seattle, the location of his church. This is the type of music that Douglas Wilson proudly proclaims is on his playlist at home:
While working on this post, to take a snippet of my playlist at random, I have listened to "Feelin' Alright" by Joe Cocker, "Rivers of Babylon" by the Melodians, "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians, "Lonestar" by Norah Jones, "Almost Hear You Sigh" by the Stones, "Watching the River Flow" by Dylan, "Motherless Child" by Clapton, and you get the picture.
I suppose that this is what the grace of God means to Douglas Wilson.
One of the vaunted new conferences is called Resolved, after Jonathan Edwards’ famous youthful Resolutions (seventy searching undertakings). But the culture of this conference would unquestionably have met with the outright condemnation of that great theologian.
I believe that Masters could safely say these two sentences in the light of Edwards' book Treatise on the Religious Affections. This conference violates the major theme of Religious Affections that Edwards unpacked from scripture.
Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)
Masters is here differentiating between passions and affections that Edwards treated in his book. The latter starts with the mind and the former with the flesh. Masters implies that the doctrinal message is ruined when it is harnessed to carnal entertainment. MacArthur decries the attack on truth in our culture and yet what Masters describes is at the very root of the attack. David Wells has much to comment on this in his No Place for Truth:
What shapes the modern world is not powerful minds, but powerful forces, not philosophy but urbanization, capitalism, and technology. As the older quest for truth has collapsed, intellectual life had increasingly become little more than a lgoss on the process of modernization. . . . Christian faith, which has made many easy alliances with modern culture in the past few decades, is also living a fool's paradise, comforting itself about all of the things that God is doing in society (which is the most commonly heard religious version of this idea of progress) while it is losing its character, if not its soul.
Wells says this about the place of feelings in evangelicalism:
Today we "demand instant access to authentic reality, " he [author Brian Wilson] says, and these ministries do indeed offer instant and painless access, the authenticity of which is "guaranteed by subjective feeling, reinforced by group-engendered emotions"; the televangelists capitalize on the widespread perception that "reality is to be felt rather than cognitively realized."
The contradiction in harnassing "Biblical truths to carnal entertainment" is exposed by Wells:
The growth in this type of evangelical faith in America is in part also to be explained by the powerful undercurrents of self-absorption that course through the modern psyche. Many charismatics have made the experience of God rather than the truth of God foundational. The self therefore becomes pivotal. This, in turn, links with the deep subterranean sense of progress that is inescapable in America, as the proponents of this movement tout it as the most recent cresting of the Spirit.
When you look at their ‘favourite films’, and ‘favourite music’ you find them unashamedly naming the leading groups, tracks and entertainment of debased culture, and it is clear that the world is still in their hearts.
The new Calvinists talk about worldliness being only a matter of the heart. Even if it were just in one's heart, it will come out in the life and Masters is right to point out that this is how it is seen. The new Calvinists talk about their favorite lager, the latest blockbuster, and the music of their most beloved rock group. This displays the world in their hearts.
The new Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world.
The old Calvinists like Spurgeon, Gill, Owen, and Turretin, among many others had much to say against worldliness. And they did in a day when there was so much less to be attracted by in the world. You can't appreciate their soteriology with appreciating their seperation from the world. When you read those old Calvinists, you see that their sanctification arose out of their soteriology. You couldn't divide the two with them. The new Calvinists have separated them anyway.
A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked.
Wells talks about this phenomenon in No Place for Truth:
The kind of pluralism that is necessary to eliminate antagonisms among the competing views has the effect of reducing the values of each inhabitant to the lowest common denominator. City life requires the kind of friendliness that allows us to cohabit with the mass ethic. It is typically assumed that this sort of friendliness must be divested of moral and religious judgment, since it is difficult for our society to see how judgments about truth and morals can escape the charge of social bigotry. And so we settle for the kind of friendliness within which all absolutes perish either for lack of interest or because of the demands of social etiquette.
It doesn't seem that Masters is willing to settle for that "friendliness." I know I won't. The new Calvinists do.
(to be continued) I will deal with several of the negative reviews that Masters has received.