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The 10 Most Influential Books for Reformed Evangelicals

Kevin DeYoung put out a call recently for comments on what books have most influenced his readers. After 326 comments, he’s compiled a list of their 10 Most Influential Books. And, since his readership comprises mostly the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd, it provides an interesting snapshot into which books are influencing this group. (DeYoung recognizes that this is far from a definitive list. But it’s interesting nonetheless.)

  1. John Piper, Desiring God
  2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
  3. J.I. Packer, Knowing God
  4. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  5. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
  6. R.C. Sproul, Holiness of God
  7. Jerry Bridges, Disciplines of Grace
  8. C.J. Mahaney, Cross-Centered Life
  9. Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears, Doctrine
  10. (tie). R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God; John Piper, God is the Gospel; Joshua Harris, Dug Down Deep; Francis Chan, Crazy Love; David Platt, Radical

No real surprise to see John Piper, J.I. Packer, and R.C. Sproul well represented. And, it was nice to see that C.S. Lewis is still on the table despite the fact that he comes from a rather different perspective on quite a few issues. But, I was a bit surprised to see Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Bresehars on the list since it really hasn’t been out all that long.

Of these books, the only ones that have really been all that influential for me are (in order) Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Packer’s Knowing God, and Piper’s Desiring God, which I read as a seminary student and was (I think) the first Piper book I ever read. I’ve read most of the others, but none of them have really left their mark in the same way.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/2)

“Glee” is conversational. The show succeeds, I think, because it examines the pressing issues of our day in a humorous, pop-song inundated way. “Glee,” like most good art, doesn’t dictate, it discusses. As Christians especially, we ought to join this discussion.

  • Here’s an interesting post on  Christian ghostwriting. I guess I’m not surprised, but I didn’t realize how common ghostwriting was in the Christian world.

I believe Christian ghostwriting is a scandal waiting to explode. If we in the Christian community don’t clean up our act soon, we’re going to face widespread loss of credibility.

It is interesting to me that there in the last couple of weeks I have happened across several different takes on what is commonly being called ‘the New Calvinism’. The range in perspectives has been interesting to observe.

  • HuffPo has an interesting post on a Buddhist view of the self and the way that memory constrains our freedom to experience the world and fully be our “true” selves.

For most people, realizing that most of what you think, do and feel is nothing but the activation of stored memory is unsettling, for it smacks the popular notion of who we think we are right in the face. This truth not only exposes that we are not as free as we like to believe, but that we are not fully present to the people and things in our life as well.

Is there really a Calvinist resurgence?

According to a new study from the Barna Group, the recent Calvinist resurgence may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. We’ve heard a lot recently about the “New Calvinism.” According to many, we are seeing a revival of Reformed theology, especially among younger Christians – i.e., the Young, Restless, and Reformed. So, the Barna Group decided to do some research on the issue to determine if there’s any actual data to support the conclusion that we are seeing a revival in Reformed theology. And their conclusion?

….there is no discernible evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade. Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most today’s church leaders.

In their research into the reformed movement in American churches, the Barna Group surveyed Protestant leaders around the country to determine whether they self-identify as Calvinist or Arminian in orientation. And, according to the study, 31% of Protestant pastors identify themselves and their churches as “Calvinist or Reformed” down from 32% in 2000. And, this number has been relatively stable for the last 10 years. So, rather than supporting the idea of a significant resurgence in Reformed theology, these numbers suggest that pastors, at least, self-identify with Reformed theology at the same rate as they did 10 years ago.

And, from the other perspective, 32% self-identify as Welseyan-Arminian, down from 37% in 2000. Representing a slight decline, this number has fluctuated more over the last ten years, though the researchers offer no suggestion as to why this might be the case.

On the basis of this evidence, the researchers conclude that we currently have insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there is a resurgence of interest in Calvinist theology. They do acknowledge, however, that there may be factors they have not included in their research which might still validate the idea of a Reformed resurgence. Thus, despite the data, Ed Stetzer concludes,

All that to say, I think there IS a resurgence of Calvinism (particularly within evangelicalism), but since it is younger, and a subset of a very large pool of pastors (for polling purposes), it is not evident via the research.

But, contrary to Stetzer’s conclusion, the Barna data shows 34%  of young pastors (ages 27 to 45) self-identifying as Wesleyan/Arminian and only 29% as Calvinist/Reformed. Thus, even if there is a renewed interest in Calvinist theology, it is not yet sufficient to offset the continuing support for Wesleyan/Arminian theology among young, Christian leaders.

I also found it very interesting that older, Christian leaders were the least likely to identify with either description, with only 26% identifying as Calvinist/Reformed and 27% as Wesleyan/Arminian. And, indeed, it seems worth noting that although 32% of the total population identified as Calvinist/Reformed, and 31% identified as Wesleyan/Arminian, that still means 37% chose not to identify with either description. If nothing else, this would seem t suggest that we need to recognize more diversity than can be captured with a simple Calvinist/Arminian spectrum.

So, is there a Calvinist resurgence today? I’m still inclined to think so. But, the Barna survey places this resurgence in context, demonstrating that it’s overall influence on the Christian community as a whole is still relatively minimal. Given the relative prominence of many New Calvinist leaders, that does not mean the movement is insignificant, only that it’s overall impact has yet to be determined.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/10)

As ironic as it might seem to anyone who would dare read his 14 volume Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth’s entire theology stood as a testament to his time as a parson. Barth was first and foremost a preacher and felt all theology should be done from the viewpoint of the preacher.

For my part, I tend to think of Original Sin socially and systemically. Basically, you can’t ever get clean. Systemically clean. The human condition is to be complicit, to have blood on your hands

To me, these are symptoms of a beginning fundamentalist posture towards culture: We have the answers, we distrust everything about everything that is not us.

  • There’s an interesting discussion on how to translate pistis Christou going on over at BibleGateway’s Perspectives on Translation forum. Tom Schreiner and Mike Bird have both weighed in with helpful comments (along with a very brief one from Darrell Bock). I particularly liked this comment from Bird:

The problem is that I am familiar enough with Greek grammar and syntax to know that a genitive modifier restricts the head term but does not fill it with radically sophisticated theological content.

Are the best Paul scholars today mostly non-Calvinist?

Daniel Kirk commented today on the recent Gospel Coalition roundtable discussion of the New Calvinism, which we discussed here. In his post, Calvinism as “The Big Tent,” Kirk made an interesting point about Calvinism and the state of pauline studies today.

I do find it significant that few of the most important Paul scholars in our day and age are Calvinists in the sense outlined in the video. Richard Hays and Mike Gorman are Methodists. N. T. Wright is an Anglican with Reformed roots but with quite a different modern-day expression. John Barclay, Lou Martyn, Bruce Longenecker, Douglas Campbell… there’s not much serious Calvinism coming out of careful reading of Paul–and not much complementarianism either.

What do you think? Is it true that the best Paul scholars today are mostly non-Calvinist and egalitarian? If not, how would you respond to Kirk? Is he being overly selective in the people that he cites as being the “best” among the pauline scholars? Or, if you think he’s right, why do you think that this is the case? Do you just agree with Kirk that a careful reading of the text should eventually lead someone in this direction? Or, do you have another explanation entirely? Could it be that certain segments of the church are doing a better job in pauline studies today than those that are traditionally Calvinist? (Personally, I think it’s because the Illuminati control the publishing houses and have a secret conspiracy to rid the world of Calvinist pauline studies.)

Flotsam and jetsam (10/27)

They text their friends all day long. At night, they do research for their term papers on laptops and commune with their parents on Skype. But as they walk the paths of Hamilton College, a poster-perfect liberal arts school in this upstate village, students are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks — and loving it.

Though I shared some of the frustrations, I came to a place on day five, when I finally realized: We all feel marginalized in some way. That’s the human condition. Extend grace. Move on. At the end of the day, it’s not about you or me. In the church and in ministry, we will all encounter moments when we feel marginalized and unintentionally marginalize others, but we must learning to work and serve together without resorting to the “It’s not fair!” refrain that can divide and undermine our reputation to the world around us. We must learn to display what it means to madly love God and one another in spite of our sense of inequality.

  • Roger Olson answers the question, “What is an evangelical theologian?” offering his usual emphasis on evangelicalism as a sociological  movement rather than some particular set of theological commitments.

Thus, my answer to whether Brian McLaren is an evangelical theologian is: “Of course he is. What else would he be?”  Brian’s whole shtick (I don’t mean that in any demeaning way) is only of interest to evangelicals.  His publishers are mostly evangelical publishers.  He speaks mostly in evangelical institutions.  He pastors an evangelical church.  To a very large extent he has no constituency outside of evangelicalism.  What does it even mean to declare him “not an evangelical theologian?”

As I look back on this book I see both strengths and weaknesses. The epistolary form is a wonderful choice. The tone is humble and helpful. The majority of what Smith teaches lines up well with what I believe. But as a Baptist I had to disagree with, well, a good portion of it. And looking at the endorsements, I can see that others disagreed with him as well. Two of the book’s endorsers, Tullian Tchividjian and Michael Horton offer caveats within their blurbs (Tchividjian: “No one will agree with everything here, but what I appreciate…” Horton: “Most of the time I cheered ‘Amen!’ as I read these letters, but even when I disagreed, I appreciated…”). In fact, conspicuous by their absence from the list of endorsers are any of the Baptist leaders of this New Calvinism.

What’s “new” about the New Calvinism?

Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, and Al Mohler discuss the unifying factors that characters the “new Calvinism” (e.g. authority of Scripture, sovereignty of God, gender roles, etc.).

I thought this video was particularly interesting in light of a recent post by R. Scott Clark arguing that such “predestinarian evangelicals” aren’t really Reformed at all. He makes a good point about the fact that people often use “Calvinist” and “Reformed” to refer almost exclusively to certain ideas related to sovereignty and predestination, neglecting the rich depth and distinctiveness of Reformed theology in so many other areas.

Regardless, the video is worth watching.

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HT

Flotsam and jetsam (9/3)