I am writing this for a dear friend of mine partly to address a difference of beliefs, and partly to examine some of the issues I have with the churches today, particularly movements driven by popular calvinists such as Francis Chan, David Platt, John Piper, etc.
I’ve always regarded calvinists as modern day Pharisees, with their almost wholly academic approach to Scripture and their proclivity for trying to intellectualize their way to God. We see no end of of them on the internet too, as it provides the perfect medium for them to bloviate on and on about theological topics until they run out of words. It’s very rare to see a spirit of humility amongst their ranks, as the extreme pursuit of (mostly) carnal knowledge comes with it the risk of puffing them up with pride (1 Corinthians 8:1) and disdain for those who are not as learned as they are. Just as it was with the Pharisees. Because they hail mostly from a Baptist subculture, I’m convinced many of them are also not baptized in the Holy Spirit, and thus practice their brand of Christianity without His direction and without a much needed discernment that only He can provide.
Regardless, I was particularly curious about the book “Radical,” written by the calvinist David Platt, and decided to read it to get a sense of what was currently all the rage in mainstream Christianity today. I think Platt starts out really well, lampooning the materialistic, “seeker-sensitive” nature of churches today that never ceases to drive me up the wall. He juxtaposes this with how believers in hostile countries come together despite the constant threat of persecution, and how nothing more than the Word itself was needed to sustain them in fellowship and worship. Glad to see somebody is finally waking up to this megachurch/seeker-sensitive nonsense.
But then he starts to go off on a tangent. While he speaks of the stinginess of Christians (though I get the sense that he believes just by virtue of being stingy can be evidence that a person is not saved), it does seem to me that they still give generously to the church leadership, but these leaders have become bad stewards of the money being given to them. They’ve gotten caught up in running their churches as a profit-making, consumer-driven business rather than an actual house of worship pleasing to God. I doubt many in the congregation would have a problem with the leadership refocusing their tithes for more constructive use. Some might end up leaving, but then again that would weed out those who only came for the social perks or wanted their ears tingled. Platt purports to support this, partly by talking about experimentally converting one of his church services in a format more akin to what he saw in Asia. So I wonder why he doesn’t go the distance and completely reform his entire church in that vein. He takes a step in the right direction, but in my view still falls short. One of the grievances I have with modern churches is their propensity for growing too large (usually for the wrong reasons), and then addressing this by fragmenting the church into little cliques of 20 or less people, rather than creating a circuit of complete churches that should have no larger than say, 150-200 members per church. A shepherd should know every member of his flock after all.
His proposed resolution for the materialistic Christian is also uneven and rife with contradictions too. Starting with the rich young ruler who refused to give up his possessions to follow Jesus, the logical leap from examining that verse would presume we ALL need to give up EVERYTHING we own to follow the Lord, yet Platt walks back on this by suggesting we just need to put a cap on our lifestyle. He tends to go back and forth on the specifics of giving, first lauding random giving, but then tempering that with more informed giving, and so on. For all the talk on charitable giving, it still remains readily unclear how much one has to precisely give to prove he’s saved and a good Christian.
I took a closer look at the story of the rich young ruler. To me the issue here wasn’t of stinginess, but that he considered his possessions more important than the treasure that was standing right in front of him, Christ himself, the pearl of great price.
What I sense though is that this story has a history of being used not to help Christians correct their priorities and cast down their idols, but to guilt induce the masses into giving more money to the church. It’s all distinctly catholic in tone. One’s affluence makes them a target for being brow beaten with guilt until they finally relent and give it up for Christ (or more specifically, the church), or otherwise they are clearly not saved and headed for hell. So, we’ve gone from materialism to socialism.
Now I think Platt’s approach is more palatable to the reader, but still, his belief system seems to be reared on old religious concepts that are not grounded in the Word. It’s going to cause too many to obsess over acts of charitable giving and lull them into a false sense of confidence in their good works, because now their spirituality is weighed in how much they give.
And yet we have this warning: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23) Note the LORD is not speaking to the world here; he addressing those who thought they were being good Christians. It’s a sobering warning that every Christian on earth needs to contemplate and prayerfully heed.
In addition to what he writes in Radical, Platt also espouses (whether intentionally or not) a concept called “Lordship salvation.” He begins by correctly criticizing the superficiality of the “sinner’s prayer,” but as it seems to go with so many Christians today, he starts out well and then goes off the rails. Clearly one’s life has to undergo some kind of metamorphosis, but to what extent to confidently indicate one is saved (or regenerated as calvinists like to say) Platt again offers little or no insight. The amorphous nature of “Lordship salvation” gives it an enormous potential for abuse, allowing people to to exploit this teaching to falsely condemn Christians who are struggling in their sins AND uplift those who have a pretense of outward holiness (but inside are full of dead men’s bones.)
Platt and those like him confuse salvation with sanctification (how the Lord continually makes us more like Him every day), and confuse spiritual birth (becoming saved) for spiritual growth. It seems to be the crux of calvinists that they obsess over the nature of salvation (soteriology) and overly complicate it to absurd degrees (thus missing the forest for the trees, another hallmark trait of the Pharisees.) Always ever learning, always and ever studying, and yet so many are about as far from the kingdom of heaven as one can be. (2 Timothy 3:7)
But as for me and mine house…
Regarding my own walk; a long time ago I formally declared to God, “Lord, my life and all that I have is in your hands. Do as you see fit.” I don’t treat my possessions then as actually being mine, because they were never mine to begin with. And I don’t regard any riches the Lord blesses me with as a sign of apostasy any more than I would regard the times that I was impoverished and homeless as a sign of my holiness. I believe any righteousness stems from believing His word, not merely in doing good works. I believe one should not trust in the teachings of man and his endless inventions, but trust in His word. (Jeremiah 17:5) I believe the Bible supersedes everything else, and believe the Holy Spirit can instruct us in all things. I believe much of what we see in Christianity is heresy, confusion and dissension, with the masses “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” I believe we are in the great falling away, and I believe because of this we need the discernment of the Holy Spirit now more than ever. I believe our spiritual state is more important than our physical state, and I believe the spiritual state of Christians in America today are being neglected in pursuit of a social gospel that purports to alleviate physical suffering, yet without dealing with the underlying cause via the gospel.
And I believe the rarity of what I believe is what makes me the true radical.