Young, Restless, Reformed
- Tuesday, May 20, 2008
These songs from Passion artists illustrate the conference's picture of a transcendent God, untamable and wholly unlike us. With intimate knowledge of our depravity, we respond by falling to our knees—actually at Passion, students are more likely to raise and wave their arms. Those physical acts of worship alone prove that these students don't act like Baptists from previous generations. As I watched Passion, I couldn't help but wonder, don't many of these students attend churches where pastors sound a lot like therapists and teach that God just wants us to do good and feel good about ourselves? Some even attend churches that promise health and wealth for faithful believers. If so, why do these youths sing songs about depravity?
Maybe you can only survive so long on a self-help diet. Eventually you get pretty sick of yourself. A biblical understanding of God—big beyond description, active, perfectly holy—tastes much better than junk-food pop psychology. Imagine that this transcendent God still condescended to save his disobedient people. Because he so loved the world, this God of the universe dressed in flesh and suffered on the cross. Yet he did not stay in that tomb. The power of God raised Jesus Christ, who made a way for us to dwell in the house of the Lord forever if we only believe. Transcendent, yet immanent, he transforms us, and then he employs us in transforming the world to renew his creation. For students at Passion, the biblical picture of God feels new, appealing, and exciting.
"I do wonder if some of the appeal [of Calvinism] and the trend isn't a reaction to the watered-down vision of God that's been portrayed in the evangelical seeker-oriented churches," Joshua Harris told me. "I'm not trying to knock them, but I just think that there's such a hunger for the transcendent and for a God who is not just sitting around waiting for us to show up so that the party can get started."
Many churches geared toward so-called spiritual seekers focus on God's immanence, his nearness. They talk about a personal relationship with Christ, emphasizing his friendship and reminding audiences that God made us in his image. It all makes sense, because so many baby boomers left churches that felt impersonal and irrelevant. But the culture has shifted. Fewer Americans now claim any church background. Evangelical megachurches, once the upstart challengers, have become the new mainstream. Teenagers who grew up with buddy Jesus in youth group don't know as much about Father God.
"We live in a transcendence-starved culture and a transcendence-starved evangelicalism," said Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. "We've so dumbed down the gospel and dumbed down worship in a good effort to reach as many people as we can that there's almost a backlash. It comes from this great hunger for a genuinely God-centered, transcendence-focused understanding of who God is and what God wants us to do and what God has given us in Jesus Christ. All of that resonates deeply with a kind of pastoral Reformed position that Piper articulates so well."
Indeed, Calvinism puts much stock in transcendence, which draws out biblical themes such as God's holiness, glory, and majesty. Think of the prophet Isaiah's vision in Isaiah 6:1: "In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple." In Piper's preaching and Passion's music, beholding God's transcendence helps us experience his immanence or nearness. This powerful combination at conferences like Passion blows apart stereotypes of Reformed theology as cold and detached study of God.
"Someone like Louie Giglio is saying, ‘You know what, it's not about us, it's about God's glory, it's about his renown,'" Harris said. "Now I don't think most kids realize this, but that's the first step down a pathway of Reformed theology. Because if you say that it's not about you, well, then you're on that road of saying it's not about your actions, your choosings, your determination.
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