Young, Restless, Reformed
- Tuesday, May 20, 2008
"We wait all year to worship like this," Robin said of Passion.
If Calvinism finds renewed interest among the young, you cannot understand that resurgence without understanding Passion. Not that Passion proclaims Calvinism by name. Piper doesn't know what Passion founder Louie Giglio believes about Reformed theology. But he does know that Giglio adores the glory of God and desires to spread God's renown around the world. And Giglio doesn't protest what Piper teaches the students. That's good enough for Piper.
"I'm sixty. What am I doing at Passion?" Piper asked when we met at his home. Unlike Giglio, an athletic man who wears tight-fitting, hip T-shirts, nothing in Piper's appearance or dress would indicate popularity among youth. Though obviously fit and healthy, Piper does not cut a strong physical presence. Unlike his dynamic, intense preaching style, he spoke to me in a friendly, calm manner. But do not mistake friendly with jovial. Talking for about two hours over dinner, he spoke with quiet seriousness. He looks like a college professor with tousled thin hair and glasses. Actually, he did teach at Bethel College (now university) in Minnesota until 1980 when he moved to Bethlehem Baptist Church.
Piper may not know what he's doing at Passion, but it's obvious to students such as Robin why he fits with Passion. Piper lends academic weight, moral authority, and theological precision to the conference. More than that, Piper shares Passion's overarching vision. Worship songs from Charlie Hall and Chris Tomlin, preceding talks by Giglio, pound home two themes beloved by Calvinists—God's sovereignty and glory. From there, Giglio encourages students to devote themselves to evangelism and global missions by pointing to the transcendent God of heaven. His appeals go something like this: God is wonderfully, inexpressibly glorious. You are not. But how amazing is it that the very God of the universe invites screwed-up people to give their lives in sold-out service to his eternal kingdom!
Piper attributes the growing attraction of Calvinism to the way Passion pairs demanding obedience with God's grandeur. Even without an explicitly Calvinist appeal, Passion exemplifies how today's Calvinists relate theology to issues of Christian living such as worship, joy, and missions. "They're not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing," Piper told me.
This positive, transformational view of theology might be why so many young evangelicals today hum along to TULIP. Even ten years ago, Piper's ensemble boasted far fewer singers. You don't need me to tell you that Calvinism has a bad reputation. If you consider yourself an Arminian, the rival to Calvinism that emphasizes free will over God's sovereignty in salvation, you bristle at teachings such as limited atonement and irresistible grace. With the feel of a beleaguered minority, even proponents sometimes apologize for Calvinism.
"Calvinists have certainly not stood out in the Christian community as especially pure people when it comes to the way they behave," Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, writes in Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. "They have frequently been intolerant, sometimes to the point of taking abusive and violent action toward people with whom they have disagreed. They have often promoted racist policies. And the fact that they have often defended these things by appealing directly to Calvinist teachings suggests that at least something in these patterns may be due to some weaknesses in the Calvinist perspective itself."6
Other than endorsing racism and murder, Calvinism is great, Mouw seems to say. And this comes from someone who considers himself a Calvinist. Mouw writes, "While I sincerely subscribe to the TULIP doctrines, I have to admit that, when stated bluntly, they have a harsh feel about them."7
Harsh is how most Christians—indeed, most evangelicals—probably feel about the Puritans, among history's most accomplished Calvinists. Oliver Cromwell exemplifies the Puritan cause in Britain. He ruled the isles from 1649 to 1658 after Puritans and their allies beheaded King Charles I. Textbook writers gloss over Cromwell's contemporaries, including spiritual giants John Owen and Richard Baxter. In America, far more recall the 1692 witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, than later Calvinists who led explosive revivals (George Whitefield) or achieved theological genius (Jonathan Edwards, best known for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God").
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