Monthly Archives: April 2015

Poison of Pietism: Examination of the Book of Acts in Regard to Evangelism Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


Acts 1:7-8 – He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

These words were spoken by Jesus to the eleven apostles. This is made clear in verses 2-3 (“he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions … to the apostles he had chosen”) and also in verses 10-13. He was designating them as “witnesses” and would send them out to proclaim the gospel “to the ends of the earth” after receiving the promised Holy Spirit.

Individuals are spoken of as being witnesses about a dozen times in the New Testament: in Matthew 10:18 (where Christ sends his twelve disciples as witnesses to preach that the kingdom of God was near and to perform miracles), in Mark 13:9 (where Christ tells Peter, Andrew, James, and John that they will be witnesses before Kings), in Acts 1:7-8 (where the eleven apostles were appointed witnesses), in Acts 1:22 (where Matthias was added as a witness to replace Judas), in Acts 22:15 and 22:16 (where Paul was chosen to be “His witness to all men”), 1 Peter 5:1 (where Peter refers to himself as a witness) and in Revelation 2:13 (where Christ refers to Antipas as “my faithful witness”). There are additional references in Luke 24:48, Acts 10:41, Acts 13:31, 1 Cor 15:15, and Rev 11:3. Without exception, each time “witness” is used in the strict sense of an evangelist, the person referred to as the witness is an apostle or a person appointed by an apostle. Nowhere in the New Testament are all believers either referred to as witnesses or called upon to be witnesses. Not by Christ. Not by Paul. Not by any New Testament writer.

The fact that God does not refer to all Christians as witnesses can be further proven by the fact that although the believers were “a group numbering about a hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15), Peter states in verse 22 that only “one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” If every believer is already a witness, why would Peter say only one of the one hundred and twenty must become a witness? Additionally, his quote of Psalm 109:8 in verse 20b, “May another take his place of leadership”, points out that being a witness is a position of leadership, not a position that every believer holds.

Acts 10:39-42 – We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.

I’m covering this passage out of order because it indisputably supports the contention that the command in Acts 1:8 to be witnesses was delivered by Christ only to the apostles. In Acts 10 Peter is at the home of Cornelius and states that after His resurrection, Christ showed Himself only to select individuals (“witnesses whom God had
already chosen”), not to “all the people”.

Acts 1:1-4 says that after his resurrection Christ appeared to the “apostles he had chosen”, giving them “instructions through the Holy Spirit”. It also says that he ate with them. Peter, in Acts 10, says that Christ “commanded us to preach to the people and to testify…”. Who is “us” referring to? The answer is in the preceding sentence: the “witnesses whom God had already chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Peter readily declares that Christ’s command to be his witnesses “…to the ends of the earth” was a command directed specifically to the apostles “who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead”.

The context of Acts 1:8 and the compelling statements of Peter in Acts 10 should be sufficient, in and of themselves, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Acts 1:8 is not binding upon, and was not meant by Christ to be applied to, all believers. However, for the sake of completeness, I will continue to examine the remainder of the book of Acts to see if there is any support of the doctrine that all believers are to passionately, actively evangelize their friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.

Acts 2:14-41 – Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. … With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

This passage shows how God has established the act of evangelism to expand his Church. A person designated by God as a witness (evangelist) proclaims the gospel and those whose eyes are not blinded will repent and be saved. Note that the three thousand that “were added to their number” were not added because each of the one hundred and twenty believers (Acts 1:15) told his family, friends, and neighbors about Christ.

Acts 2:42-47 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

What did the new believers do immediately after being saved? Did they immediately rush out to tell their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers about the gospel? After all, being believers, they had the knowledge of what it takes to be saved. No. Instead they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” They matured in Christ by listening to the teaching of God’s word, by having fellowship with other believers, by eating with other believers, and by praying with other believers. What was the result of all this “inward” behavior that includes no mention of evangelizing? “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” How they came to be saved isn’t mentioned but, from the context, it is highly likely they either sat under the apostles teaching or perhaps approached one of the believers and, like the rich young ruler, asked “What must I do to be saved?”

Acts 4:4 – They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

Leading up to this verse, Peter and John were proclaiming the gospel in Solomon’s Colonnade after performing a miracle. We see here that because of the message preached by these two men, “many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” We saw back in chapter 2 that the church had expanded to be over three thousand individuals. Why do we not hear anything from the author of Acts about their evangelistic efforts? After all, wouldn’t God use the passion and fervor of three thousand new believers evangelizing those around them to rapidly grow His Church? The Church should be growing exponentially.

However, here we see that God uses the preaching of these two men, of whom Christ said “you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem …”, to bring another two thousand men into His kingdom.

Poison of Pietism: Addendum B: An Argument Against the Doctrine of Personal Evangelism

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


My brother, Rick Brode, wrote an superb essay on the doctrine of evangelism that I have added to this essay as
addendum B. It is well worth reading and provides extreme biblical support for the belief that not every believer is called to be an evangelist. He prepared the attached essay in response to his pastor’s assertion that he was in sin for not evangelizing.


The purpose of this paper is to show that there is absolutely no Biblical basis for the argument that the “over- arching” purpose of every Christian is to evangelize their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers (which I refer to as “personal evangelism”) and that to not hold this doctrine is sin (“grieving Christ”). While studying what the Bible has to say about this topic, I have become completely convinced, due to overwhelming evidence, that not only is personal evangelism not to be the top priority of every Christian, but that nowhere in scripture is the average layperson commanded to actively share the gospel with anyone.

However, I do believe that a Christian, out of overwhelming thankfulness for God’s mercy and his love of God, will want to tell others about Christ. We are commanded to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15). But are we commanded by God to passionately and actively evangelize our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and the homeless on Colfax? Certainly not! However, there is grievous sin if the reason for not talking to others about Christ, when the opportunity arises, is because of shame or embarrassment. This person is likely not a believer. (Luke 9:26)

Do I realize that I’m arguing against a doctrine that is held by 99% of Christendom (and applied by maybe 5%)? Yes. However, 99% of Christendom holds Arminian beliefs. Are they correct?

Hugh, in your sermon you stated “If you are a Christian…you are His witness. … The question is: are you an effective witness?” The word “witness” is used in two ways in the New Testament. It is used in a general sense to refer to a person who has seen some event and can testify to what they saw. An example of this usage is Luke 23:48 (When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.) In almost all other cases in the New Testament, “witness” is used in a more specific sense, to refer to a person who has personal knowledge of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and who is called to testify to others about God’s power and glory. Examples of this usage are John 1:7 (He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.) and Acts 22:15 (You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.).

Since you stated that “you are His witness” and that, as witnesses, we must “actively evangelize the world for Christ”, it is obvious that you are using “witness” in the specific sense of the word to mean one who proclaims the gospel to the lost. Thus, you are asserting that a witness is one who engages in evangelism and can therefore be called an evangelist. I would concur with this definition. To avoid confusion, then, for the remainder of this paper, “evangelist” and “witness” will be used interchangeably.

You stated in your sermon that if a person is not actively evangelizing the world for Christ, “he is either not a Christian or is a Christian who grieves Christ.” The words “evangelize” and “evangelism” are not found in the Bible (neither NIV nor NASB). The word “evangelist” is used only three times in the Bible:

Acts 21:8 – Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.

Ephesians 4:11 – It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, …

2 Timothy 4:5 – But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

In each case, it is used to describe one who has been called by God to be a “witness”, in the specific sense of the word, to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the lost.

I agree with your assertion that all believers are witnesses, to the extent that, in the general sense, all Christians may be considered witnesses because we are able to testify to the loving and saving grace of our Lord. However, only the apostles were designated as witnesses (evangelists) in the specific sense that Christ set them apart to passionately and actively proclaim the gospel to others. Thus, all Christians have knowledge of God’s saving power in their lives, but only a small number of believers are given the gift of evangelism and are called to be God’s witnesses. In the early church, evangelists included the apostles and those appointed by the apostles by the laying on of hands, such as Stephen and Philip.

The question that this paper will attempt to answer is: Is this action of personal evangelizing, or witnessing, to be the “over-arching” duty of every Christian to perform? To search for the Biblical answer, we will first look at numerous passages in Acts, since Acts 1:7-8 is often used as the foundation by those arguing for the requirement to perform personal evangelism. We will then examine the Gospels to see what Christ had to say about evangelism. Lastly, we will examine the remaining books of the New Testament, to hear what they have to tell us. While we will look at all the passages pertaining to “witnessing”, many of the passages that we will address speak volumes by what they do not say about personal evangelism.

Poison of Pietism: Neo-Calvinism Conclusion

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


Distinction # 3: Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Neo-Calvinists like to believe that they are kind and gentle souls. Indeed, in contradistinction from themselves, they often refer to the old Calvinists as “Cruel Calvinists”. Liars and hypocrites. Look at the way the third distinction is written. We old Calvinists, just like modern “homo-phobics”, are pneumo-phobic! We are afraid of the Holy Spirit. That statement is a lie and a terrible insult and Driscoll should repent for saying it. The enlightened, spiritually superior Neo-Calvinist, on the other hand, is so close to God that he is comfortable with the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. This is disgusting. The arrogance of the Neo-Calvinists is repulsive.

Once the insults are set aside, Driscoll is making a powerful admission about one of the key differences between his movement and the historic Reformed faith. Reformed theology has always held, in its doctrine of Scripture, that the charismata ceased with the closing of the biblical Canon. Reformed theology rightly believes that the charismatic gifts were given to the Apostles and their delegates in order to inspire and authenticate the New Testament scriptures. The charismatic gifts are always seen as inferior to the written texts of the Bible. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “…when I became a man I did away with childish things.” Paul tells them that “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” Reformed theologians have consistently interpreted this passage to mean that when the biblical Canon was complete, the charismata would cease.

Driscoll hatefully describes this doctrine as an indication that old Calvinists are afraid of the Holy Spirit. Neo- Calvinists, being the pietists that they are, live on a higher spiritual level where daily revelations from God are the norm. Make no mistake about it, the Neo-Calvinists have adopted the false and heretical doctrine of the continuation of personal, objective revelation. They believe that the Holy Spirit will literally speak to each believer and reveal the secret things of God’s will to him, if he will only ask. They have turned the doctrine of Gods secret and revealed will on its head. To the Neo-Calvinist there is no reason why any of God’s will should ever be secret. Each believer has at his control total access to the mind of God in regards to His will for his life. Now that is a highly elevated spiritual place in which to live.

Of course the Neo-Calvinists either ignore or are oblivious to the fact that their position on the continuation of the charismata is heretical. Their belief that God continues to give selected individuals objective personal revelation is contrary to the doctrine of Scripture for orthodox Christianity. See my essay on the Evangelical Heresies for a full discussion of this terrible error. By definition, all of the revelation received by a Neo-Calvinist is non-falsifiable. Hence, by definition, there is no way to engage them in honest theological debate. When push comes to shove they retreat to their inner sanctum where God speaks directly to them and convinces them they are right. Neo-Calvinists are outright mystics. There is no other way to put it. They are mystics. How a mystic could ever adopt any version of the term ‘Calvinist’ is a mystery to me.

Distinction # 4: Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.

As is always the case with post modern writing, it is difficult to know exactly what Driscoll is thinking about when he accuses old Calvinism of burning bridges to other Christians. Before delving into the issue I believe it is important to note that this kind Calvinist continues to use pejorative terminology when speaking of old Calvinists. Old Calvinists are “fearful” and “suspicious”. Neo-Calvinists, on the other hand, are loving and bridge builders. We can conclude from the four distinctives he has written that old Calvinists are fundamentalists, separatists, cowards (fleeing the city), fearful, and suspicious. How kind of him to write these things. And yet, he believes we are the cruel ones!

If Driscoll is thinking of the Reformed confessions, and I think it is possible that he might be, then he actually
makes a legitimate point in his fourth distinction. Reformed theologians have separated themselves from other true believers by means of their confessions. See my essay on Unity for a complete discussion of this terrible behavior on the part of old Calvinists. I do not believe, however, that the primary motivation for writing the Reformed confessions was fear and suspicion. That is simply Driscoll’s way of convincing himself that he is superior.

Nevertheless, his criticism that Reformed churches have typically failed to practice biblical unity and unite with true believers who are not confessional is on the mark. If that is what he means, he has recognized a serious sin in old Calvinism.

I would be negligent in my duties, however, if I did not point out, as an old Calvinist, that Driscoll utterly fails to define what a Christian is. Old Calvinism tried (and failed, in my view) to exclude people from fellowship based upon their beliefs. Neo-Calvinism offers nothing to take the place of confessionalism except the post modern concept of love and moving forward to engage a culture in the masculine love of Jesus! He brags about how Neo-Calvinists love all Christians, but he does not bother to describe how Neo-Calvinism distinguishes between true and false Christians. I suspect that the path is short and wide is the gate that leads to acceptance by the Neo-Calvinists. Accepting anyone as a Christian simply because he professes to be one is equally erroneous. I see no evidence that the Neo-Calvinists have put anything in the place of confessionalism that does a superior job in determining who we can or cannot have fellowship with.

I conclude that although Driscoll’s four distinctions do make a strong case for the difference between Neo- Calvinists and old Calvinists, he falls woefully short in adding anything of value to the discussion. His criticisms of old Calvinism are, for the most part, off the mark, historically inaccurate, and downright lies. On the other hand, for Driscoll and his followers to take the name of Calvinist and to call themselves Reformed is absurd. They have little in common with the historic Reformed faith and they should be honest enough to admit that. So, what is Neo-Calvinism?

Who the Neo-Calvinists Really Are:

Neo-Calvinism is a movement, primarily among the young and the restless of evangelical mega-churches, that has become infatuated with the Reformed doctrines of soteriology. These doctrines are often referred to as the “doctrines of grace”. Coming from a strong negative reaction to the Arminian teachings on the free will of man and the insecurity of the believer, some believers have come to the conclusion that Calvinism’s strong emphasis upon the sovereignty of God makes sense. Neo-Calvinists have fallen in love with a lady named TULIP. They are infatuated with her. But they do not really know who she is.

The L2 church in Denver has a website in which they describe their distinctive character. Under a link entitled “What We Believe” they describe themselves as having a four-fold character. In order of priority and importance they declare that they are 1) Biblical, 2) Evangelical, 3) Missional, and 4) Reformed. Anyone who knows anything about Reformed theology knows that it is impossible to be consistently both Evangelical and Reformed. In light of how they define missional, it is also the case that it is logically and behaviorally impossible to be both missional and Reformed. In light of biblical truth it is logically and behaviorally impossible to be Biblical and missional at the same time. It is also logically and behaviorally impossible to be Biblical and Evangelical at the same time. Needless to say, the L2 church seems to be able to live with a wide variety of logical and behavioral contradictions. Chalk that up to their post modernism and their pietism. Those two beliefs cover a lot of sins.

Reformed theology is not something that fits into a list of priorities. It is a logically and behaviorally consistent complete lifestyle that is based upon the biblical teachings of the historic Reformed faith. It encompasses all of life and culture. When a Christian defines himself as Reformed, it is always the first and only category that needs to be used to define who and what he is. The mere fact that the Neo-Calvinists can refer to themselves as Calvinists of the fourth class clearly indicates they have no idea what historic Calvinism really is. After extensive study of the doctrines they consider to be worthy of study it is abundantly obvious that they are Calvinists only in terms of being believersintheFivePointsofCalvinism. AsallReformedtheologiansareaware,theFivePointsofCalvinism only deal with soteriology and represent a tiny fraction of the entirety of Reformed thought and practice.

In my search of Neo-Calvinist writings for some elements of Reformed theology beyond the Five Points I was able to find very little. I found nothing on the doctrine of the sacraments. I suspect that most Neo-Calvinists, like most Evangelicals, are Baptists. Yet, the doctrine of baptism is kept secreted away where, apparently, no one ever talks about it. No doubt, in their attempt to syncretize with all of culture, they have come to realize that debates over baptism are counter productive.

I have found very few references to the law of God. When I have found references to God’s law it has always been from the antinomian perspective. Once again I suspect that the Neo-Calvinists are antinomians in their doctrine and practice. This puts them squarely in the Evangelical camp and far outside historic Calvinism.

The doctrine of the covenant is nonexistent among the Neo-Calvinists. Arguably the single most important doctrine in Reformed theology, the Neo-Calvinists either ignore it or are entirely oblivious to it. Although the Neo-Calvinists have nothing to say about covenantalism, they have, nevertheless, adopted the mystical view of the New Covenant theologians. Their doctrine of continuing revelation through mystical experience is practically identical with the doctrine of the New Covenant camp. I suspect that there might be some overlap between those two schools but I could find no hard evidence to support that view.

Even on the famous Calvinist doctrine of predestination, Driscoll backpedals. He changes the doctrine of the limited atonement to make it much more Arminian. He asserts that Jesus died for all men “in some sense”, but then fails to describe what that sense is. Furthermore, he asserts a belief in the doctrine of “single predestination”. As all logical Reformed theologians are aware, it is impossible to believe that God predestines the elect to salvation without, at the same time, believing that He predestines the reprobate to damnation (“double predestination” or “hyper-calvinism” as it is called by it’s detractors). It is difficult to see how Driscoll and the Neo-Calvinist movement could be called anything more than Evangelicals who hold to four points of Reformed soteriology.

I conclude that the Neo-Calvinists are simply another branch of American Evangelicalism that has happened to fall in love with the Reformed doctrines of salvation. I believe that they are a fad and, like all fads, they will eventually fade away to be replaced by the next great theological movement. Behaviorally they are charismatic and worldly. They need to repent of their adoption and deification of culture and the sociological concept of the “city”. They are pietists who are incapable of rightly dividing the Word of truth. They are arrogant and prideful. They need to repent of all these sins.

Poison of Pietism: Neo-Calvinism and the City

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


Distinction # 2: Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.

Just like his first distinction, Driscoll here evidences a woeful lack of historical understanding. Historic Calvinism fled from cities? Of course we must take this to mean that individual Calvinists fled from cities. Calvinism is a theological position and it does not have legs and is entirely incapable of fleeing from anything. So, Driscoll believes that proponents of the historic Reformed faith left the city in favor of the country? Does this idea have any merit? Did all prominent Calvinists throughout history gather at Walden pond?
Have Calvinists Fled From the City?

The founder of Calvinism, John Calvin, spent much of his life in Paris studying law. He fled from Paris to go to Geneva, hardly a country town. In Switzerland he met up with a man named Zwingli who was pastor of a church in Zurich, another cosmopolitan city. John Knox, the man who brought the Reformed faith to England, had this history with cities: “Knox first moved to Geneva and then to Frankfurt. In Geneva, he met John Calvin, from whom he gained experience and knowledge of Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. He created a new order of service, which was eventually adopted by the reformed church in Scotland. He left Geneva to head the English refugee church in Frankfurt but he was forced to leave over differences concerning the liturgy, thus ending his association with the Church of England. On his return to Scotland, he led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Protestant nobility.” That hardly sounds like a man fleeing the city.

John Owen and Richard Baxter were both prominent Reformed theologians who ministered in cities in England. The infamous Charles Haddon Spurgeon was pastor in London. Abraham Kuyper, mentioned earlier, and the original Neo-Calvinists, were centered in Amsterdam, perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world at the time. In more modern times, James Boice pastored the 10th Presbyterian church in Philadelphia for decades. Westminster Theological Seminary is located in Philadelphia. Covenant Theological Seminary is located in St. Louis. Westminster West Theological Seminary is located in San Diego. It is difficult to see where Driscoll has come up with his idea that old Calvinists fled the city.

There are only two possible old Calvinists I can recall that could be found guilty of fleeing the city (if fleeing the city is actually a sin). They are Jonathan Edwards and Francis Schaeffer. Ironically, the Neo-Calvinists have very high opinions about both of these men. Neither of them are accused of the sin of fleeing from the city. Edwards had ministered in cities in New England most of his life until he was unceremoniously dumped by his congregation in the middle of his life. After being sacked he decided to move to the equivalent of the wilderness and minister to the native American peoples. He died shortly thereafter. Francis Schaeffer had ministered in St. Louis much of his adult life. He moved to Switzerland to create a para-church ministry in the later part of his life in which his stated goal was to overcome cultural barriers to the gospel presentation and connect with the dispossessed peoples of the world. In this sense he was a fore-father of the Neo-Calvinist movement. How ironic. His influence ended with his life.

I do not believe that Driscoll is so ignorant of history as to be asserting that old Calvinists were all like Henry David Thoreau who fled from the city to the country to contemplate nature. His post modern writing does make it difficult to understand what he is saying. To understand him we need to look for the “feel” of the sentence more than its actual content. I feel like he is telling us that “cities” hold some special place in the plan of God and old Calvinists have not concerned themselves with outreach to them. Furthermore, I feel like he is simply talking about cities in our time. I conclude that he believes that those who minister in the suburbs, country, and mountains are inferior to those who minister in the city. I also conclude that he believes that cities hold some special place in God’s plan of redemption.

The Role of the City:

At the website for the Acts 29 movement (theresurgence.com) it is possible to find their doctrine of the city. Here is what they say:

“Cities aren’t just socially dense; they are also culturally influential….They are centers of spirituality, commerce, and security. The strength of a city depends on the strength of these three forces—the spiritual, social, and commercial. These three forces also combine to produce culture in a city—a mix of ideas, behaviors, and products. We should engage the city because it is culturally influential. Cities lead their countries in creating and spreading ideas, behaviors, and products. Cities change the world through their cultural influence. Geneva is know for peacemaking, Hong Kong for exports, London and New York for financial banking services, and Las Vegas for entertainment. Cities are incredibly influential.”

Wow! Once again we find that, in typical post modern fashion, the city has become a personal entity unto itself. It does things, thinks things, creates things, and needs redemption. It is influential and we should engage it in some fashion. The author goes on:

“Cities shape us through their cultural influence. Cities are the epicenter of new ideas, trends, products, and innovation. They radiate socio-cultural change. They influence towns, villages, other cities, and the world. Not only do men make cities, but cities make men. Cities are so powerful that they influence our beliefs and behaviors. After I moved to Austin, I became more environmentally active and organically aware. Both my recycling and my diet improved! Cities can change us without us even knowing positively or negatively. How are you being affect by the city? How are you affecting your city? Is it positive or negative?”

Praise the City! Cities are personal entities that have the power to change me for good or for evil. How is it possible to read this description of a city and not come to the conclusion that the Neo-Calvinists have assigned some attributes of deity to it? It is obvious what the Neo-Calvinists are doing. They believe that they are socially superior to the old Calvinists. How do they prove their social superiority? They minister in the city while the old Calvinists flee to those evil suburbs! We have heard this argument many times by those who have a deeply held presupposition that people who live in the city are somehow more important than those who do not. In particular the Neo-Calvinists believe themselves to be superior because they will get their hands dirty in the city. They will do the dirty work of prison ministry and food ministry to the bums who live there. The arrogance of the Neo-Calvinists is reprehensible. But, it is a part of their pietism and to be expected.

Neo-Calvinists are also Socialists:

After reading about the deification of the city, I began to suspect that Neo-Calvinists, in a stark departure from free market old Calvinists, would be committed to the beliefs of socialism. I looked around the Acts 29 website until I came across this statement:

“Many cities tend to generate significant income inequality. Projects and slums grow up on the backside of the cities. Professionals and the upper class tend to hang onto their wealth instead of investing back into the city. In Austin, we have projects, 6,000 homeless, and increasing gentrification, but boast #1 in Top Cities for Non-Profits, while remaining in the bottom 50 in philanthropic giving. Why? We love our wealth more than we love our city. We hang onto wealth that is needed to reconcile income inequality. Jesus came to preach the good news to the poor. Income inequality is a spiritual issue.”

The entire paragraph I just quoted is incoherent. It is thoroughly post modern. It is nonsense. Allow me to critique it. First, “cities” do not generate anything, including “income inequality”. A city is an impersonal entity entirely incapable of doing, saying, acting, feeling or anything else for that matter. Income inequality is the direct result of God’s economic law for the universe which states that the productive will be rewarded and the lazy will be poor. In the absence of coercion, generally by government, differences in the level of effort are the only reasons for income inequality. Jesus made this very plain when, in the conclusion to His parable of the talents, He states, “For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” Income inequality, if not created by government coercion, is not sinful.
After practically calling the city a god, the author now talks about how horrible the city is because it contains poverty. To protect his idol from this evil, he describes the poverty as growing up “on the backside of the cities”. Whew! I was worried there for a moment that the city might not be perfect. Thanks for making it clear that the poverty in the city is not really a part of the city. It is on the “backside”, wherever that is.

Isn’t it a terrible thing that people who make money “hang onto their wealth instead of investing back into the
city”! By “investing” we can be sure that the author does not mean productive capital investment into particular investments within the city. By “investing” he means what every politician who uses the word means: taking from the one who made and giving to the one who did not. If only those who made their money would give most of it to the bums in the slums, we could have the perfect society and millions would be converted to Neo-Calvinism. All of this, of course, is baptized socialism. These beliefs are as far from historic Calvinism as Augustine was from Pelagius.

Poison of Pietism: The Concept of Being Missional

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


The concept of being missional is perhaps the most fundamental doctrine of the Neo-Calvinists. It is a concept that they have created out of historically thin air. The word itself is specifically designed to be different from any word about Christian missionary engagement with the world that has ever been used. Ask a Neo-Calvinist what defines him and makes him powerful and he will inevitably tell you that he is missional. Ask him what he means by missional and you will get a hodge-podge of post modern sentences designed to convey a good feeling and little else.

To get a grasp on what the Neo-Calvinist means by missional I return to the L2 church of Denver. They list a variety of things that constitute missional behavior. Here is a compilation of what it means to be missional:

“We believe that we know God by understanding how he acts towards his people both in the past and present, as depicted in Scripture and life experience. As we have grasped God’s redemptive mission towards humanity, we have come to know him and as we know him, we are increasingly giving ourselves toward his mission. We believe that the local church could do a much better job at both being faithful to the content of unchanging Biblical doctrine, and being faithful to contextualize the truth within the culture in which we live….Being missional is not an option. We believe that if one is a true follower of Jesus, then he will believe the Gospel and follow him in his mission….As a missional church our emphasis is upon being a repository and not a bunker. We seek to intelligently equip people to send them out to live their lives on mission, rather than hijack their lives in service to the local church.”
Not surprisingly this church has adopted many of the methods of the mega-church movement. They have modern worship services. They play modern music in their worship services. They have small groups that meet all over the city. They have a prison ministry. They have a ministry to the bums that live downtown (the church itself is located in downtown Denver). They have a ministry to starving children in Africa. They have a counseling ministry that is adjunct to the church. They have day care for children and youth groups for teenagers. They are engaging the culture!

Like all post modern groups it is impossible to pin them down as to exactly what they mean by being missional. Their goal is to convey a good feeling about being missional. How could anybody in their right mind oppose the fine things that I quoted in the paragraph above? Aren’t we all about “giving ourselves to his mission” and “being faithful to the content of unchanging Biblical doctrine” and “living our lives on mission”? Nevertheless, it is our job to distill down this post modern language and see if we can determine what they are objectively asserting. Here are four things I believe they are asserting in the midst of all their post modern writing:

1. Neo-Calvinists come to know God by their life experiences. Neo-Calvinists are not shy about proclaiming that there are alternative sources of revelation about the will of God for each believer’s life. Those sources are the Bible and personal, pietistic, mystical experience. I will have more to say about this later. Needless to say, this is the biggest single heresy in the Neo-Calvinist movement.

2. All believers are missionaries. The Great Commission was given to all believers. Everyone has the duty to evangelize his neighbor. This doctrine of evangelism, of course, is pure pietism. I discussed this doctrine in detail in my essay entitled “The Poison of Pietism” to which this Addendum is attached and would refer the reader there for more information about this paralyzing practice. Also see the other Addendum, written by Rick Brode, to this essay on the doctrine of Evangelism

3. The church is primarily a public service organization. Look at the list of things they do. They pride themselves on not “hijacking” their members into the service of the local church. May it never be said that any of their members serve the local church. No, they are missional, they only serve people outside the local church. They send their members out to be public servants, all in the name of being missional. Service to the visible Church is deemed irrelevant at best. Service to the members of a reprobate culture is seen as the highest form of godliness. This is a great agenda to propagate for the naive, ignorant and easily manipulated. This is a terrible agenda for the Church. It is unbiblical.

4. Ultimately, like all pietists, Neo-Calvinists believe it is vitally important to suspend the exercise of their Christian liberty in the presence of unbelievers. I believe this gets to the heart of what it means to be missional. Complete commitment to being missional means that each believer is required to think, feel and behave like his target. The target could be an individual pagan or a group or pagans united over some common purpose or goal. Regardless, to “be faithful to contextualize the truth in the culture in which they live” the missional person will become a social chameleon. Whatever the unbelieving group does, short of whatever the Neo-Calvinist might perceive to be sin, he will do. This is consistent with the cardinal tenant that all Christians are required to become all things to all people at all times. Sadly, this position makes no attempt to understand that friendship with the world is enmity with God. In attempting to feel, think and behave like his unregenerate missional target, the missional person becomes worldly. Excusing his behavior as “contextualizing the truth” does not make it any less sinful.

A book has been written that describes how a church is to be missional. It is entitled “Breaking the Missional Code” and was written by two Neo-Calvinists named Stetzer and Putman. It is worth taking a short look at this book.
Breaking the Missional Code:

All believers are to be missional. The local church is to be missional. From what I can tell, being missional means every believer is responsible to evangelize his neighbor by somehow first defining and then adopting the culture of his community. The authors of the book state, “”The key to breaking the code of a community is to have the heart of the Father for that community….If a church does not regularly examine its culture, it ends up as a culture unto itself.” Not surprisingly, they do not define what it is to “have the heart of the Father” and they do not define what the “community” is. Also not surprisingly, they do not describe why a culture created by a group of regenerate believers would be such a bad thing. Why is the Christian culture of the church so bad?

What they are very clear about is their belief that unbelievers reject the truth claims of the Bible not just because of their sin and the fact that they prefer the darkness over the light. In a sympathetic written review of the book that I found on the internet, the reviewer had this to say: “The authors write on the premise that each culture has unique issues that the local church must address to be able to effectively communicate the gospel, whether the culture is in suburban California, urban Seattle, or rural Alabama. Breaking the code requires a belief that there are cultural barriers (in addition to spiritual ones) that blind people from understanding the gospel. The task is to find the right way to break through those cultural barriers while addressing the spiritual and theological ones as well.” This is an amazing assertion. In a direct rejection of the Reformed doctrine that men are sinful and reject the truth claims of the Bible because of their sin, the Neo-Calvinist asserts that many, if not most, of the reasons for the rejection of biblical truth claims actually stems from the fact that the preacher has not properly cracked the missional code. In other words, it is the preacher’s fault that the unbeliever rejects the gospel. If the preacher had simply used the right words the person would have repented. He used the wrong words and the person did not repent. The preacher is guilty of failing to crack the missional code. No Reformed theologian has ever held a doctrinal position that even remotely approximates what the Neo-Calvinists are saying here.

So what is the evangelist (every believer) to do? In typical post modern style the authors say this: “But loving people means to proclaim a gospel about the Word becoming flesh—and proclaiming that the body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression.” What does it mean to proclaim that the “body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression”? I have no clue. They never define what they mean. But it sure sounds spiritual.

The authors recognize that they are subject to the criticism of changing the gospel in order to be pleasing to men. They counter this charge with the following assertion:

“For some people, it is easier to say, !We must not take our cues from culture. Entire ministries exist to attack any cultural influence upon the church. It preaches well (as evidenced by many pastor’s gatherings), but it is ultimately both unbiblical and untenable. It is unbiblical because God calls us to our culture and context and, to some degree, the church must reflect its culture. It is untenable because no one lives in an actual Christian environment. Many choose their preferred culture and assume/proclaim that it is God’s preference as well. To be theologically faithful and culturally relevant we must be willing to engage in answering the hard questions because the mandate of Scripture and the lostness of culture require nothing less.”

It is evident from this defense that the concept of culture has taken on a life of it’s own. The authors declare that culture has the ability to become “lost”. What does that mean? They don’t say. Furthermore, since when has it been the duty of believers to make the truth claims of Scripture “culturally relevant”? Paul, in describing the apostolic ministry, says that “I think God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world…we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things.” That hardly sounds like a man or a ministry that is “culturally relevant”.

Moreover, when Paul describes the nature of the content of his preaching he has this to say: “For the word of
the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness.” There is no evidence in Paul’s writings of the need to break a missional code in order to communicate the gospel. On the contrary, Paul believed that the culture of this world was foolishness. Shouldn’t we?

Jesus certainly did not instruct His disciples on the importance of breaking the missional code prior to sending them out on their missionary journeys. He instructed them to go throughout Israel declaring that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He is never recorded telling them that they need to first determine the culture of the area in which they are preaching. He is never recorded telling them that they must follow that up with a detailed analysis of the culture that allows them to break it’s code and communicate the message of the Kingdom of heaven in a way that they will understand. On the contrary, Jesus did tell them to go and preach truth. Then He told them that “whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

What is Culture?

Neo-Calvinists talk incessantly about our culture. As post modern men, they never define what they mean by culture. They have told us that “God calls us to our culture and our context.” Does anybody have any idea what that sentence means? We get a brief glimpse into what they mean when the authors of “Breaking the Missional Code” say, “!Every church must find its unique call and vision. Not every church is called to reach the same people, worship using the same music, attract the same people, and appreciate the same values.” Apparently culture can be at least partially defined as the music and values of a particular group of people. This position, however, suffers from the logical quandary of projecting personal characteristics upon groups. There is no such thing as a group. We are always just collections of individuals. In that case, it is impossible to define “culture”.

Allow me to illustrate. I was a member of a church of approximately 40 members for many years. This church was located in the town of Evergreen, Colorado. As a suburb of Denver, Evergreen is an area where many financially prosperous people live. Ask the average Joe on the streets of Denver about the culture of Evergreen and you would most likely be told it is yuppie-town. Although we had a couple of families in our congregation that were yuppies, it would be totally unfair to characterize our church “culture” as being yuppie. We had people in their 60s and infants. We had millionaires and people on government assistance. We had couples with kids, couples without kids, college students, pathetic single males, and the occasional pathetic single female. We had Welsh, Norwegian, German, and Chinese ethnic backgrounds. We had a huge variety of family practices and traditions that differed from each other. We had a wide variety of foods that we like. We had a wide variety of music that we liked. We had people who were employees and people who were self employed. We had blue collar workers and white collar workers. Now, how would you describe our culture? Of course, it is impossible. There is no such thing as a culture. All we ever have in society is various collections of individuals. Individuals will associate with each other when their individual preferences overlap. That, however, should never be confused as some sort of measurable “culture”.

Ultimately, culture reduces to each individuals entire personal history. If we are called to unlock the culture in order to communicate biblical truth claims, then we are required to completely understand each individuals personal history prior to being able to communicate the gospel to that person. Furthermore, if the Neo-Calvinists are correct, I am personally responsible for the non-repentance of the unbeliever if I have not first totally unlocked his cultural code. Where in the Bible is this ever taught? Where are we ever told that the Bible is incomprehensible to an individual unless I have first unlocked his code so as to be able to communicate to him in words that he will understand (I am ignoring the obvious issue of different languages, which, by the way, was one of the reason for the gift of tongues.)?

By now it should be obvious that one of the primary goals of the Neo-Calvinist –to “redeem culture”– is an impossibility. It is impossible first and foremost because it is impossible to define what “culture” is. Second, it is impossible because culture is not a personal entity that is subject to the process of redemption. Only persons can be redeemed. Culture is impersonal and impossible to redeem.

Driscoll’s first distinction between Neo-Calvinism and old Calvinism is untenable. He misrepresents the history
of Calvinism. With his doctrine of the redemption of culture he creates ideological constructs that do not exist in the real world. His doctrine of being missional is entirely extra-biblical and established upon numerous pietistic presuppositions that are in error (the need for all to be evangelists, the idea that a man can reject the gospel because of the way I present it). Driscoll believes that his Neo-Calvinism is more “powerful” than the old Calvinism. This can only be true if one first adopts the principles of post modern communication. Then, yes, he does a fine job of constructing sentences that sound impressive but that convey no propositional truth whatsoever. If that is powerful, he is correct.

Poison of Pietism: Neo-Calvinism is Historically Ignorant

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


Where is there an example, in the entire history of the Reformed faith, of a Reformed church that adopted a liberal theology that syncretized with culture? Reformed theology, by definition, cannot be liberal. The moment a person, who calls himself Reformed, adopts a liberal doctrine he ceases to be Reformed. Reformed theology is defined by the theology, not by the man. I know this is a difficult concept for a post modern man like Driscoll to comprehend. In the subjective post modern world men define the theology. In the objective real world theology stands or falls as a collection of truth claims all on its own. As a result, there is no such thing as a liberal Reformed church.

According to Driscoll, we are left with the fact that all old Calvinist churches must be fundamental and separated from culture. Driscoll does not explain why that is such a bad thing to be. Nor does he define what he means by “fundamental”. Does he mean that old Reformed churches believe that there are a series of doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith that must be believed by all who call themselves Christians? He does not say. If he does, it is hard to see how that can be a bad thing. Does he believe that old Reformed churches are fundamental in the sense in which that term is used today to speak of churches that have created a series of extra- biblical rules like “don’t drink”, “don’t smoke”, “don’t dance”, “don’t go to movies”, “don’t play cards”, etc?

Either way Driscoll is not being honest. Historically, Calvinists have been anything but fundamentalists (in the popular use of the term). Historically Calvinists have been strong proponents of Christian liberty. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)(Chapter 20, paragraph 2) says this, “God alone is lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.” The framers of the WCF had a strong doctrine of Christian liberty and could never be characterized as being “fundamental”.

“Drinking With Calvin And Luther: A History of Alcohol in the Church”, by Jim West, is an outstanding historical work in which West clearly demonstrates that the Puritans and other Reformed believers were far from being “fundamentalists”. Indeed, West argues that, by modern standards, most Reformed believers would today be classified as medium to heavy drinkers! In addition to that, West describes how the use of tobacco by Calvinists has essentially been a continual practice throughout the history of Calvinism. Driscoll would be well served to read this book by West so that he might become less historically ignorant. It is impossible to define old Calvinism as fundamental in any way, shape or fashion.

In His last public discourse Jesus (John 15: 18-19) tells His disciples about their future relationship to the world and culture in which they lived. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Driscoll alleges that “Old Calvinism separated from culture” and that that separation was a bad thing to do. How does he square his position about culture with what Jesus said about Christians being “not of the world”? He does not say. Nor do any of the other Acts 29 pastors say how this can be. Yet, he accuses the old Calvinists of sinful behavior because they “separated” from the world and it’s culture. I fail to see how that can be a bad thing. Driscoll and his followers fail to describe how it is a bad thing. Post modern language at its best.

Culture and the Real Neo-Calvinists:

Despite the fact that the Acts 29 movement has appropriated the term ‘Neo-Calvinist’ to describe themselves, that term had been used previously in the church. Few may remember the movement among Dutch Calvinists that came to be known as Neo-Calvinism. This movement was spearheaded by such men as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd. Quoting from Wikipedia, “ Kuyper wanted to awaken the church from what he viewed as its pietistic slumber. He declared: No single piece of our mental world is to be sealed off from the rest and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” One of the primary beliefs of these Dutch Calvinists is that God has given His Church, in addition to the Dominion Mandate and the Great Commission, a Cultural Mandate. Pietism had resulted in a withdrawal from the world and an emphasis on inward personal piety. This Neo-Calvinism was decidedly anti- pietistic. This cultural mandate would be realized by active obedience to the law of God and a strong commitment to exercising dominion over all aspects of life according to the terms of the Word of God. This belief was eventually wedded to Postmillennialism and became the modern Theonomy movement that so many are familiar with today.

If there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty about the Dutch Neo-Calvinists it is that they were never ambiguous in their language or goals. Equally clear among them was the fact that it was the Spirit of God, working through the Word of God, by means of the people of God, that would bring about cultural transformation. There was never any question about their separation from the world and its culture. They viewed the culture as reprobate and impossible to redeem. Rather, their goal was to create a new culture that would be distinctively biblical in nature. Biblical culture, according to them, was not simply a reheated worldly culture that used some spiritual terminology. Biblical culture was separate and distinct from worldly culture in all ways. The Church was to be on the leading edge of creating this Biblical culture. Contrast this with the stated goal of the new Neo- Calvinists. They say, “New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.” Just what does that statement mean?

Poison of Pietism: Addendum A: Neo-Calvinism

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


Approximately one year after completing this essay I ran into the movement known as Acts 29 or the Neo- Calvinists. I immediately recognized them as a perfect example of Reformed pietism. I have added a short essay on this topic in which I critique their doctrines and practices.


Neo-Calvinism: A Tragic Example of Reformed Pietism

I once read a definition of the term ‘pietism’ that stated that pietism can be defined as any movement within the Church that teaches and believes that there is some higher level of spirituality that can be attained, if only the proper code can be cracked. I believe that to be an excellent definition. Having previously written an essay entitled “Pietism” in which I attempted to explain the origination and dangers of pietism, I now come to a specific example of pietism within the Reformed church .

In March 2009, Time magazine published an article about the 10 Greatest Social Movements of the Year. Number three on that list was the emergence of Neo-Calvinism in the United States. Neo-Calvinism is not a movement that is coming from within historic Reformed and Calvinistic churches (throughout this essay I will use the terms ‘Reformed’ and ‘Calvinist’ synonymously). On the contrary, those who would classify themselves as Neo- Calvinists are coming from theological backgrounds steeped in Arminianism, Antinomianism, and Liberalism. In many cases the movement’s members have grown disenchanted with the practices and theology of the mega- churches. They hunger for biblical truth and they have found a rich resource in some of the doctrines of the Reformed faith.

Neo-Calvinism is a pietistic movement. The various doctrinal assertions of the Neo-Calvinists clearly indicate that there is a higher level of spirituality available to them that can only be attained if one engages in the correct spiritual practices. Neo-Calvinists self consciously distinguish themselves from the old Calvinists in that they have access to this higher level of spirituality. After all, there must be something new about Neo-Calvinism. The tragic fact, however, is that there is nothing new about Neo-Calvinism. The Neo-Calvinists are not really Reformed at all. They pick and choose the parts of Reformed theology that they like, ignoring all the rest. Then, after cherry picking the Reformed doctrines, they add to those doctrines a mixture of historic theological and behavior errors and heresies. There is nothing new about Neo-Calvinism.

Mark Driscoll is probably best described as the founder of the movement. Driscoll is the 41 year old (born in 1970) founder and pastor of the Mars Hill mega-church in Seattle, WA. He is also the founder of the Acts 29 movement. Acts 29 seeks to plant churches after the image of Mars Hill around the world. Potential church planters are interviewed at meetings called “boot camps”. Those that pass the initial tests are trained and sent out to plant new churches in the Acts 29/Neo-Calvinist camp. Many of these churches are rapidly becoming mega- churches themselves. The dramatic growth of churches and membership in the Acts 29 denomination is, no doubt, what caught the attention of Time magazine. Unlike other mega-church “flashes in the pan“, the Acts 29 mega- church expansion professes to believe in Reformed theology. That would indeed be a new movement.

Driscoll also founded a movement he calls the “Resurgence”. Information about this movement, and Acts 29 in general, can be found at this site: http://theresurgence.com. There is a lot to see at this web site and there are hundreds of short doctrinal statements found here. Much of what I am going to critique in this essay comes from this website. Perhaps Driscoll is most famously known as the “cursing preacher” due to his propensity to use colorful metaphors from the vernacular when he preaches. He insists that he can connect to his audience by speaking that way. Critics accuse him of worldliness. I will examine that charge later.

Immediately after Time magazine made it’s pronouncement, Driscoll issued a statement in which he declared the “Four Ways New Calvinism is So Powerful”. These four ways constitute the heart of Neo-Calvinism in contrast to the old Calvinism. These four items, according to Driscoll, are what make Neo-Calvinism new and different from the historic Reformed faith. I presuppose that the reader understands the basics of Reformed theology. I will focus my attention on the four points of distinction the leader of the movement declares to be most important.

Distinction # 1: Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.

I believe the point that Driscoll is trying to make is that he believes historic Calvinism was either fundamental and separated from culture or liberal and syncretized with culture. It is difficult to understand the point that he is trying to make because the Neo-Calvinists have adopted the post modern tendency to use words without precise definition. In fact, they seem to glory in creating elaborate sentences designed to elicit emotional responses that do not engage the brain at all. This is not a chance occurrence. The Neo-Calvinists are post modern by design.

Neo-Calvinist Thought is Post Modern By Design:

I challenge anyone to interpret this first distinction give to us by Driscoll: “Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.” What does he mean by the terms ‘fundamental’ and ‘liberal’? What does he mean by the terms ‘separated from’ and ‘syncretized’? What does it mean to be ‘missional’? What does he understand by the term ‘culture’, which he seeks to create and redeem? How is that done? You might think that he would go on to elaborate on what he has said. He does not. I searched for hours trying to find a sermon or paper that went into greater detail as to what any of these four distinctions actually mean. I found nothing. Apparently Driscoll believes that the assertions stand on their own as self evident and true. In reality, he adopted the language methodology of post modernism.

As an old pastor of mine once preached, post modern thought can be characterized by the fact that language is malleable. Words mean whatever the author wants them to mean. In fact, words are used to create more of an overall emotional impression than they are used to convey propositional truth claims. This, of course, makes communication on an objective level impossible. However, it does open the doorway to the sharing of subjective opinions and feelings about everything. This first distinction of Neo-Calvinism (which I will get to later) is a perfect example of their sellout to post modern thought patterns. Allow me to give you some examples. The following quotations come from the website for an Acts 29 church in the Denver area called “L2”. That stands for life to the higher power (pure pietism at it’s worst!).

“We believe in a sovereign view of God. The nuances of this belief cause us to reorder our considerations of God and his workings, and provide a platform of understanding that allows people to make sense of the world and live at peace in it despite its brokenness.” What? What did he say? Reconsider what? A platform for what?

“We are not fundamentalists who retreat from cultural involvement and transformation, but rather missionaries faithful both to the content of Scripture and the context of ministry.” What? Retreating from what? Faithful to what context?

On the doctrine of male headship they say, “We are not egalitarians, nor are we hierarchical, we are complimentarian believing that men should head their homes and male elders should lead their churches with masculine love like Jesus Christ….We look to Scripture to determine qualifications for leadership positions. We do not universally prohibit women from serving in leadership capacities.” What? Can women exercise authority or not? What is a leadership capacity? Even more scary, what is the “masculine love of Jesus”? I am not sure I even want to pursue that subject.

“We are not relativists and gladly embrace Scripture as our highest authority above such things as culture, experience, philosophy, and other forms of revelation.” What? There are other “forms of revelation” that include “culture, experience and philosophy”? Scripture is only the “highest authority”? Contrast that assertion from the L2 church with this statement from the Westminster Confession of Faith (written before post modern language destroyed the ability to write a clear sentence):

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequences may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or
traditions of men. (Chapter 1, paragraph 6)

The point is obvious. In researching this essay I found numerous Neo-Calvinist theologians who were happy to describe themselves as post modern. They believe that since we live in a post modern society the only way to communicate with that society is to adopt post modern ways and means. The quotations listed above illustrate just how successful they have been in adopting the language of post modern man. They also illustrate that Neo- Calvinists are incapable of relating objective truth in a straightforward fashion. They would deny that charge, but it is true.

Poison of Pietism: The Fruits of Pietism/The Fruits of Liberty

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


Pietism breeds perpetual immaturity. Hebrews 5:13-14 describes this fruit of pietism. “For every one who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Want a church filled with people who are incapable of discerning between good and evil? Adopt pietism.

On the other hand, the exercise of biblical liberty creates spiritual growth by means of the consumption of spiritual meat. Believers who live in liberty are, by definition, stronger brothers. Everyone should aspire to be strong. The path of spiritual strength is through spiritual challenge. Pietists are terrified of challenging anybody. True biblical ministry is a constant challenge to those associated with it. Challenge bears the fruit of spiritual maturity. Jesus challenged all of those around Him all the time. We should do likewise.

Under pietism, legalism is king. Extra-biblical rules, usually unwritten, come to prominence in the church. Those who best follow the unwritten rules rise to prominence. Those who do not are squashed. Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of a church in which pietism rules is where the error of the weaker brother, the act of judging the stronger brother for his liberty, comes into prominence and is rewarded by the church.

On the other hand, the exercise of biblical liberty causes sanctification to increase. There is no place for people to hide in the local church. The strong are strong and the weak are weak and both parties live together in unity. Imagine that!

Pietism breeds factionalism. It is inevitable that pietism will bring about requests for people to resign, split, or transfer their membership for the sake of “unity”. It is alleged that the peace can only be kept if the offending brother who rejects the tenets of pietism is removed from the midst of the true believers.

On the other hand, under biblical liberty all types of believers are able to live together in unity. As a result, the one thing the watching world has an opportunity to witness, the unity of the Church, comes to fruition.

Pietism brings about a massive amount of communication best described as “code talk”. With “code talk” people never say what they mean. People never write what they think. People spend massive amounts of time trying to discern the “real meaning” behind a statement or a sentence. The church is filled with hidden agendas and gossip. All genuine communication breaks down.

On the other hand, biblical liberty results in honest straightforward communication between all believers. There are no hidden agendas and no surprises. Everybody says what he means and everyone is accepted in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

With pietism, subterfuge and political intrigue are rewarded. There are lots of secret meetings and hushed communications. Straight speaking and honest behavior are not tolerated and frequently punished. Those who are skilled in political speech (never saying what is really meant) rise to positions of authority and prominence. Those who speak the truth are quietly moved to the exit door. Freemen are forced to leave.

On the other hand, under the practice of biblical liberty those who like to play games are forced out. Those who are spiritually mature rise in authority and the church grows in spiritual maturity.

Pietism in the church leadership causes many serious problems. When the elders of the church adopt pietism
they cease to think judicially. Judicial thinking is one of the most important things an elder has to do. Every case of discipline that comes before him must be evaluated from the perspective of biblical law. However, to the pietistic elder, biblical law is far too harsh. It creates an image of intolerance to the watching world. So, rather than follow God’s revealed will in resolving disputes, the pietist defaults to code talk and feel good solutions that are really no solution at all. Nobody gets justice. Nobody knows how to behave.

On the other hand, elders who behave biblically are never at a loss when dealing with cases of discipline. They know that the Bible contains everything they need to know to resolve disputes. They know that establishing the legal position of each party to a dispute is their first duty. They know that true peace and harmony within the congregation comes from a clear understanding of each person’s legal standing. The church prospers under them.
Pietism produces nothing that is good or wholesome in the church. Christian liberty produces nothing but good fruit, but the path is hard and difficult. Christian liberty requires the ability to bear the scorn of the world and experience the good pleasure of God. Few are willing or able to walk that path.

In Defense of Christian Liberty

The doctrine of Christian liberty has traditionally held that whatever is not forbidden is permitted. It gives Christians great freedom when trying to determine the propriety of any particular action. The law of God is clear and understandable. If the law does not forbid a particular action, then that action is permissible. Historically and biblically, the only exception to that rule for members in the local church has been in the case of the weaker brother. When a weaker brother is present the stronger brother is expected to suspend his liberty for the sake of the weaker brother. With that lone exception, the doctrine of liberty stands.

The apostle Paul knew that liberty was good for the believer. Romans 14:14 says, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” In I Corinthians 10:23 he wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.” The straightforward teaching of the doctrine of Christian liberty with the weaker brother exception is found in both of these passages. You will search the Scriptures in vain to ever find any passage which can be construed to teach the pietistic doctrine that believers are required to suspend their lawful activities in order to not cause offense to a watching world of unbelievers.

Paul writes to Timothy (I Timothy 4) who, as a young pastor of a church, was facing difficulties from those in his congregation who believed that making pointless physical sacrifices made them more spiritual than others. In this particular case they were advocating celibacy and abstinence from various foods. Both concepts of physical sacrifice to attain some heightened spiritual state could be derived from various forms of Greek philosophy that may have been pervading his congregation. There was also the possibility of influence from Jewish believers and their adherence to the ceremonial food laws. Regardless of the source, Paul tells Timothy to celebrate the doctrine and practice of liberty. He says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the world of God and prayer.” Could a more clear assertion of the doctrine of Christian liberty exist? How do so many miss it? So many miss it because modern day Pharisees, steeped in pietism, teach just the opposite.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy that, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” Notice what Paul is saying here. It is the pastor who preaches the importance and significance of liberty who is singled out as being a good servant of Jesus. The pastor who preaches the need to sacrifice our liberty for some particularcauseis,byinference,notagoodservantofJesus. Aswehaveseen,theonlytimesweshouldsuspend our liberty are when we are in the presence of an acknowledged weaker brother and in various situations that might come up in cross-cultural missionary work. Otherwise, our liberty is to be cherished, practiced and defended.

James 1:17 says, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” Our God is a giver of gifts. The pietist cannot accept this truth. The pietist wants a life of perpetual sacrifice and the concept of a God giving gifts is not consistent with his world view. The Christian life is a combination of both the easy and the difficult, the good and the bad. The abundant life that Jesus promised to His disciples promises us an abundance of both good and bad experiences. The pietist wants only the bad experiences. That doctrine distorts the nature and character of our God. Only the doctrine and practice of Christian liberty allows us to show the nature and character of God to the world in a proper fashion.

Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall
your Father who is in heaven give that is good to those who ask Him.” The pietist hates this concept. The believer who is living in liberty knows his God as a giver of gifts who rejoices to give gifts to His children. This is not a difficult concept to grasp but it eludes the pietist. For the pietist, life is only worth living if he can convince himself that he is living in perpetual sacrifice. For the Christian who walks in liberty, he trusts that God will bring an abundance of gifts to him and he walks in faith with that reality in mind.

God has made the earth for us to enjoy. Life is not all sacrifice and sour faces. Without deprecating the necessity and importance of sacrifice at all, it is nevertheless the case that we must recognize the value and importance of the joyful experiences God brings to us in this life as well. It does not depreciate the value of the future life to appreciate the joys and gifts of this life. The pietist does not understand this reality. He has become so heavenly minded that he is no longer of any earthly good.

Christian liberty is a pathway to contentment and spiritual maturity. For a series of horrible reasons, all described in this brief essay, the pietist rejects liberty and the contentment and maturity that come with it. In it’s place he puts a system of legalism that keeps Christians in perpetual immaturity and sadness. Christians have been freed from the world. Pietism attempts to place believers back into bondage to the world.

The Westminster Confession of Faith has a chapter on “Christian Liberty”. It says, in part, “God alone is lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith and worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience….and the powers which God has ordained, and the liberty which Christ has purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another…” This chapter of the confession perfectly describes the historic Christian position on liberty. Notice how believers are free from the commandments of men that are “beside” the Word of God. This would include all of the extra-biblical rules created by the pietist in order to please God hating unbelievers. The only exception to the rule is the weaker brother principle which is acknowledged by our duty to “uphold and preserve one another”. The pietist would put us back into bondage by demanding we submit to a series of man made rules intended to accomplish the impossible goal of looking good to a world that is not even watching.

Conclusion

Pietism is a poison that is destroying the vitality and life of the Church. Those who practice pietism need to repent of their desire to be liked by the world. Those who practice pietism need to repent of their repression of all expressions of biblical liberty. Pietism is a cancer that can kill a local church. It is patently unbiblical.
The practice of pietism is founded upon the unsound desire to be liked by the world. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Although all men, because of original sin, have an innate desire to be liked, it is vitally important to resist that urge and walk the way of the cross. Jesus has told us that His way will be filled with difficulty and the animosity of the world. He has warned us to expect persecution. We must not shrink away from our calling and adopt the unbiblical and destructive practices of pietism.

Ironically in light of the fact that pietists believe they are paving the pathway for the proclamation of the gospel, the practice of pietism seriously hinders the ability of the Church to preach the gospel to the world. The “salt” and “light” that we are supposed to evidence are destroyed by pietistic practices. Without salt and light we are no different than any other social institution. Without our biblical peculiarities we are no different than the world. Seeking to be liked and appreciated by the world has destroyed the opportunity to present the gospel to the world.

Poison of Pietism: Why Men Become Pietists

This is part of a series of posts on the Poison of Pietism. Click here to see the entire series.


I have written a fairly harsh and intolerant critique of pietism and pietists. Now I would like to get to the subjective heart of pietism and ask the question, why do people become pietists? Given the massive number of inconsistencies that pietism has with biblical teaching, how is it possible for otherwise soundly exegetical Christians to miss the boat by so much? It is always dangerous to try and ascertain the subjective motivations of any group, much less any individual. Nevertheless, there are some consistent patterns of sinful behavior in human beings that do explain the attraction of pietism.

The theological root of pietism is the heresy of Pelagianism. If men do not suffer under the curse of original sin, if men have free will, if men are able to make sound moral decisions, if men are basically good, if the world system is not ruined by the effects of the fall, if men are naturally attracted to that which is good, and if men are able to appraise that which is good, then it makes perfect sense to believe that Christians need to sacrifice their personal liberty in order to be more attractive to the watching world. Since none of the things mentioned in the previous sentence are true, the conclusion is also false. Pelagians should adopt pietism. It is entirely consistent with their doctrines of sin, man, salvation, and God. On the other hand, orthodox Christians must reject pietism because of it’s theologically heretical root.

The second reason why men become pietists (and the primary reason as far as I can tell) is due to the fact that all men have a basic desire to be liked by others and to fit into society. Swimming upstream all of the time is tiring and depressing. Always going against the grain of societal, and hence, worldly norms makes it difficult for pietists to function. It is easier to go with the flow. Add the strong desire to fit in with the pseudo high level of spiritual maturity associated with pietistic doctrines and it becomes almost impossible for the average Christian to resist. The pietist takes his desire to be liked by the world and turns it into a spiritual virtue. The believer who is holding steadfast against the world and the world system is scorned as a contrarian and a misfit who brings nothing but shame and disgrace upon the Church.

In Luke’s gospel, he records a statement made by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Verse 26 says, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.” Everybody understood what He was saying. The false prophets changed the message they received from God, if they received a Word at all, and delivered the message in such a way as to gain the favor of the people. They wanted to be liked. In general, they were liked because they brought a message to the people that the people wanted to hear. In the same way today, the pietist desperately wants to be liked. If he is orthodox, he knows that he can’t change the gospel message without being guilty of heresy. So, what does he change? He changes his behavior in the eyes of the watching world. The message that is being sent is loud and clear. I may have to say certain things to you that you are not going to like but I am going to behave in such a manner as to make it impossible for you to not like me. That way we can integrate you into our group on the basis of our shared relationship and we can deal with the theological details later (if at all). Welcome to pietistic evangelism where actions speak much louder than words.

Some pietists have come out of the crucible of difficult personal experiences. Just like the drunk who has dried out, the pietist who comes out of a difficult period in his life is likely to be insufferable in his insistence that others walk the path that he has walked. Rather than being content to look back at his life and walk and thank God for what he has learned, he feels the powerful need to draw others into his life of “sacrifice”. If it was good for him, it must be good for all. So thinks the pietist who has become a pietist due to the hardships in his life. He fails to realize that God’s providential plan for him is not necessarily the same as God’s providential plan for everyone else. Not everybody is called to live a life of perpetual sacrifice. Some are called to live lives of relative ease. This is not acceptable for the pietist. In his zeal for others to experience the spiritual high he has known, he becomes a pietist. It is understandable. It is also wrong.

Lastly, and related to the strong desire to be liked and fit in, the pietist is horribly embarrassed by the practical applications of biblical doctrine. He knows that the world will hate biblical truth (if he is orthodox). He hopes that he can find a way to avoid having to behave in a fashion that is consistent with his knowledge of biblical truth so as to avoid the almost certain social embarrassment that will follow. What better way to accomplish that goal than to create a doctrine that says we must suspend our liberty and treat the members of the world as weaker brothers? Then, he is not required to exercise any of the practical applications of his doctrine. Life is easier for everybody. Nobody gets called a cult due to the practice of biblical Christianity. Everyone can be happy. Following where Jesus leads according to His revealed will in Scripture can be difficult. Seeking to convince himself that following Jesus means living in the world in a fashion by which the world never takes offense is his ticket to personal peace.

Let me give you a short list of things that the pietist is ashamed of when it comes to the practical application of his alleged beliefs. This list contains things that I believe are required of us if we are to follow Jesus. They are debatable, of course, but that is not the point. The pietist may know that he needs to do these things but he is able to escape the necessity of doing them by justifying his cowardice as love for the unsaved who need to hear a clear proclamation of the good news. All of these items have been argued for in the previous essays that I have written so if they sound foreign to you, go back and read the other essays.

The pietist is embarrassed by the fact that he can’t participate in our democratic system and exercise his state given “right” to vote. He knows that not voting is a source of tremendous social embarrassment and would do anything he can to avoid that shame. Certainly the not engaging in the practice of voting makes him look like some kind of crazy cultist.

The pietist is ashamed of the fact that he can’t serve on a jury because he does not have any God given judicial authority. Nevertheless, he can convince himself that it is OK to sit on a jury rather than impede the progress of the gospel by making a fuss at a jury selection hearing. He quietly submits to the world system in order to advance the progress of world evangelism.

The pietist knows that he can’t be a government school teacher. This is a huge problem. Many of the best members in our churches are government school teachers. To teach the fact that it is immoral to be a teaching in our government’s schools will cause problems on a grand scale. So, the pietist convinces himself that teaching against employment by the government schools makes his church look too much like a cult. In order to advance the cause of gospel preaching he decides to let that little point drop.

The pietist knows that he can’t serve in the armed forces. This is the same problem as the government school teacher. What is the pietist to do? Simple. He realizes that teaching the impropriety of the armed forces will make his church look introverted and self righteous. That appearance before the watching world would impede the proclamation of the message of salvation in Jesus, so it is politely ignored.

The pietist knows that gluttony is still a biblical sin but since most of the members of his church are fat he is not about to teach about the sin of gluttony. Teaching about gluttony makes the church look foolish and silly. How is
the proclamation of the message of salvation in Jesus advanced in any way when the church looks silly and undignified? That teaching is tossed out the window. The gospel is much more important than the trivial issue of gluttony. The pietist himself might be a fat glutton. In this case gluttony is certainly not a sin. He can convince himself that since our culture is in the midst of an “obesity epidemic”, he fits right in. That will help the proclamation of the gospel.

The pietist knows that expressing anger at God is a sin. However, expressing anger at God is a cottage industry in the Church today. To take a position against that belief would make the local church appear stern and rigid. We can’t have the church look stern and rigid and appeal to the world at the same time, so the doctrine is dropped. After all, the watching world would not understand why it is a sin to express anger at God. They do it all the time and it is just fine with them. Teaching against expressing anger at God would just unnecessarily rile people up and make them less likely to pray the prayer of repentance when the gospel message is proclaimed to them.

You get the point. Pietists are terribly embarrassed by the anti-cultural application of biblical truth. Anytime biblical truth goes against the world culture (which is most of the time), guess who is going to win? Rather than fight the world culture the pietist creates a doctrine that says it is more important to sacrifice our position in favor of the world’s. We can’t attract people to the church if we look like a bunch of weirdos, can we? There are no good reasons to become a pietist. Those who have need to repent of their pietism and set the church back on the straight and narrow path. There is no biblical justification for compromise with the world in any way. We can either love the world or we can love God. There is no middle ground.