John Piper’s WAMM Calvinist

One might think it a bummer timing-wise for John Piper, releasing his new poem/video foray into the arts just before Beyoncé surprised the music world with a new album (and accompanying videos), but with the amount of tweets and Facebook shares it’s getting, it appears Beyoncé and Piper might just have different enough crowds for both bask in the limelight for a while. Very surprising right?!

What was surprising to me was just how starkly obvious it is who is targeted and probably moved by the video for “The Calvinist.” The style and content of the poem itself is obvious enough: a conflicted but committed Calvinist, extolling a powerful God above in every sphere of his life. However it is the visuals (as is often the case) that really drives home just who the target audience–the theological community to be touched by such a piece–is.  Like the main character, it is the white American middle-class male (WAMM), whose God is talking to him. I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t before reading my thoughts, because it’s precisely the feel of this guy’s life that captures the theology and sentiment Piper’s aiming for.untitled

Now I do not intend to smear Piper here, but merely provide a juxtaposition, or imaginative alternate visual accompaniment to these words, to show just how important this video starring a WAMM is to the poem. My claim, is that it has to be a white American middle-class male because the words and the theology of the poem would be puzzling or even offensive in most other visual contexts.

As a WAMM who’s privileged, got a virtually nuclear family, respectable work, time to wander the woods with his moleskin, and take long jogs, the poem fits the bill. What he needs is humility (he is fallible), a sense of appreciation for the pretty cushy life he appears to have, a continued faithfulness to fight the good fight, and above all, an understanding that God is the source of all of this blessing.

But you see, this is exactly what connects with this dude, with a young Christian man whose God serves to keep him in line, whose worship is warranted based on who he is in his power and grandeur. Indeed, it is a kingly “God above,” for whom the ocean is only a “thimbleful,” that has the majesty to pacify any quarries this young man might have. This is the most suitable God for keeping the WAMM faithful and in the word, right? For it is the sheer sublime vision of the transcendent potter vs. clay God that dishes out the perfect recipe of humility and triumphalism the WAMM needs. He needs to be humbled for sure, by the sublime immensity of his God, but he also needs a vision of the triumphal end to help him boot-strap it through to the end, and beyond.

Imagine though, for a second, if you can, the visual of an urban center. No better yet, go watch the opening scenes of Detropia, a recent documentary of the decay of Detroit. What feel would this poetic reading have without the WAMM? What if the person depicted what as young mother sitting in a waiting room at a resource center? How would “The Calvinist” feel to us with that subject? Confusing. Misplaced in it’s grandeur. Way too triumphal. Pious. Macho. Maybe even offensive.

My point is not that every theological poem Piper writes should fit any context. Of course, the form demands a gender and some loose narratives to embody the poem. Rather, my point is that theologies evidence tendencies to better expression in some contexts over others. The Calvinist, is the story of the God the WAMM needs, but not many others. Is this just happenstance? Could Piper have just as easily capture the Calvinist ethos with a poem and video set in Detropia? I highly doubt it…

What is clear I think, is that what the WAMM needs to hear about God or write in his moleskin journal is a far cry from many others contexts, and the fact that The Calvinist works terrifically well for the WAMM–it’s arch and feel is spot on–but might feel ‘all bad’ in most other contexts, is reason to give pause. All theology is contextual, and theologized art is too, but we must look for why the coherences between theology and art obtain where they do. Of course, Max Weber long ago pointed to the “elective affinity” between Calvinism and Capitalism. Have we here an evidence of an similar sort elective affinity between the WAMM and the triumphal Calvinism of the Piperian brand.

I think so and I don’t like it.

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There is no Evangelical Orthodoxy

Roger Olson posted an excellent article by Mike Clawson on his blog last week. It was about the fundamentalist roots of evangelicalism and their contemporary implications. In the comments (and Roger always has tons of comments) Olson reminded everyone of an article he wrote 12 years ago for Christianity Today.  I subscribed to CT back then and remembered the article.  I went back and found it but what I did not remember was just how contentious things were.

In the article Olson is trying to fight off criticisms from the ultra-reformed, or rabbid-Calvinist wing of the Evangelical camp. Folks like MacArthur, Piper, Driscoll, and Mohler – besides being continuously contentious – are always throwing around words like heresy and orthodoxy at folks like Olson, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren (all former pod guests).

 Here is the thing: there is no Evangelical Orthodoxy

 

I love reading books like Revisioning Evangelical Theology by Stanley Grenz, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage by Donald Dayton, History of Evangelical Theology by Roger Olson.  I was part of the the Lussane gathering of young leaders in Malaysia. I was very vocal last summer that Evangelical is not only a political term but has deep theological implications and is inherently and historically theological (I used Bebbington’s 4 indicators) .

 But there are two things I think need to be clear:

I got a book called the Evangelical Catechism. It is a compilation of consensus beliefs from 200 leaders, pastors, and thinkers that were surveyed. I like the book – but that is not the same as a catechism! We have no Pope, no ability to call a council, no catechism … so we need to knock it off with the “Orthodox” insistence and throwing around the word  “heresy”. LOOK: there actually is an ‘Orthodox’ church and they think that  the likes of Driscoll, MacArthur, and Piper (as well as the rest of us) have lost their way!  *

1) There is no evangelical catechism and there is no evangelical orthodoxy!  I proposed earlier this week that a dynamic conversation is the best we can hope for (I am partial to the Wesleyan quadrilateral). Can we have consensus? Ok. Can we have conversation? Absolutely. Is there a governing body to enforce your brand of ‘orthodoxy’? NO – so knock it off. Get some new words in your vocab. Think of some other ways to say what you want to say and stop pretending like you believe only what the early church believed. It fantasy at best and delusion at worst.

2) You can’t kick me out of the family. We all have siblings that think we are off and even wrong. Some brothers don’t talk to each other for years … but they are still family. That is not what determines if you are a part of a family! It is not how it works. So snuggle up sister! We are in this together, like it or not, we have the same parent, we were birthed through the same water, and we have the same blood. We don’t have to agree on everything – but stop trying to kick me out of the ‘fam’ bro! We are in this for eternity.

Now I know someone will come along and say “I told you its a meaningless term” … but I want to say

Hey Mr. Jones – if you don’t want to be evangelical that is fine. But some of us call this family and it means a lot to us. If you are done with the term, fine. But to us it has deep meaning we still use it as a family name. If you don’t count yourself as a member anymore – that is your call. But stop telling us who are inside the conversation that Evangelical doesn’t mean anything. It does to us. 

We may not have a catechism or an actual orthodoxy, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a  living branch on the family tree.

 

I also shared some thoughts about Christian unity and conformity on a TNT episode. 

 

 

* I appreciate the real Orthodox and have learned much from them.

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TNT: Prayer and Process reaction

In this half-hour, Tripp and Bo chat about last week’s:

It is a wild and woolly 30 minutes as they prepare for the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation. You have two week to sign up and get yourself to Southern California.

p.s. it was 76 and sunny here yesterday*

 

* previous results do not guarantee future success  

 

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The 99 and Tim Tebow: Canada, Success, Billy Graham and God

Several weeks ago I had fun looking at the difference between Tim Tebow’s* faith and what his zealous (mostly evangelical & charismatic) fans do with it. I took some flack from asserting that Jesus was not intervening to help him win close games.

Since then he has lost 3 games. The choir has gone shockingly quiet. It appears - and this may come as a surprise - that Americans worship success more than any ‘god’. In fact, one might wonder if success is America’s god.

It always piques my imagination when politicians say ‘May God bless America” at the end of their speeches … I try to pay attention to how they say it and what they might be expecting that blessing to look like.

 There are two elements to this that really attract my attention:

Part of the reason this sticks out to me so sharply is that I have dual-citizenship with Canada. I went to High school and started Bible College there. When I see Tebow bowed on the sideline praying in the 4th quarter, I smile as I think of the completely different religious and political atmosphere in Canada. Almost every Canadian I know – even the believers – I can hear saying “Easy big guy, don’t make too much of a display”.

 American zeal is a phenomenon. I have a theory that it is actually embedded in the DNA of this country courtesy of those original Calvinists who brought with them the concept of “signs of divine benevolence”. This little mechanism says

‘while we can’t know who is elect unto salvation or damnation – certainly we say that a good tree will bear good fruit. So, while no can know for sure if they are “in” certainly God graces the chosen with “signs of divine benevolence”.

This is how we get that famous “Protestant Work Ethic” in order to make it as easy as possible for God to ‘bless you’. It almost boils down to ‘If its good  = its God. If its bad = its you… unless your good = then its the devil.”

The second element is this idea of the 99 and the 1. I heard over and over in the Tebow hysteria “If even one person comes to Christ because of what God is doing for Tebow and Tebow’s witness, then it is worth it.”  I hear this “if even one person” thing so often that I can see it coming a mile away.

Admittedly, Jesus told a story about the 99 sheep and the 1 lost sheep. But I just have to say that it was a metaphor- a poetic picture of how much God loves each person. It is NOT a permission to be irresponsible with our resources and strategies to either neglect or disrespect the 99 in order to attract the one.

I became of aware of this during the 80s and 90s when statistics about Billy Graham’s actual effectiveness regarding Stadium campaigns and alter calls. Studies found over and over again that of all of those thousands who came forward, the number who were actually un-churched was quite low … and of those, the number who were associated with a Christian church in the years that followed was atrocious. But if any question the effectiveness of this style of Evangelism and the millions of dollars that were spent on these campaigns, the battle cry would go up “If only ONE … then it is all worth it”.

I’ve said before that I like Tim Tebow, that I am amazed at both his life and his work ethic. I have also been clear that he does not think that God intervenes in football games. But Tebow and his zealous cheerleaders have actually exposed an interesting trend that I can’t quite put my finger on… America worships success, we hold it to be a ‘Sign of Divine Benevolence’ and we are fine with collateral damage to the 99 if, in the end, “the one is found… then it was all worth it.”

Thoughts?

 

* Tim Tebow is the Quarterback for the NFL football team the Denver Broncos

 

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the appeal of Open Theology

In this week’s TNT, we talked about Open Theology (amongst other things) and I put forward a theory that I wanted float here and see what others thought.

Open Theology (we stated) was primarily:

  • A) grounded in a reading of Scripture – versus other schools of theology that are a result of philosophical or systematic concerns.
  • B) focused on a specific aspect of concentration: the opened ended nature of the future.

This explains why Open does not even attempt to account for everything ( atonement theories for instance) or provide a totalizing system as other schools of thought sometimes do.

 So my theory is this: I have found that Open Theology tends to appeal primarily to folks – often of some fashion of evangelical persuasion,  past or present – who get trapped between three other boundaries.

  1. That theologies based on philosophy require a priori commitments before one can even begin to interact with the ideas. Philosophical theologies like Process are too abstract and require too many mental gymnastics. When someone looks into Process (or many other schools) and wades into the explanation against substance/matter and its replacement with packets of time/moments/actualities – it is just too much jabber-talkie and vocabulary.
  2. That Biblical Scholarship is too much work behind the text before one ever gets to the text. In fact, that work behind the text may keep one from engaging the text much at all. Biblical Scholarship has become so elaborate, contentious, and contradictory that it is intimidating to even begin. Sometimes you just want to read the Bible and talk about what it means! 
  3. That the round-and-round cul-de-sac conversations of bumper-sticker Calvinism vs. ‘Arminianism’ are exhausting and pointless. Open thought gets you out of that endless loop of antiquated argumentation.*

This is the appeal of Open Theology. It avoids the a priori assumptions of so much philosophical theology, it gets you into the text instead of spending all your time behind the text and it gets you out of the repetitive circular logic of centuries past.
Those three thing appeal to a distinct group of people.

 

*  (I’m not talking about real Calvin-Calvinist like the honorable Paul Capetz.)

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Happy 500th Birthday to John Calvin with Paul Capetz: Homebrewed Christianity 56

paulcatpetz-hispicThis week, (I know…we always say this) is a very special Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. It’s one of those moments where we visit that rummage sale that happens every 500 years and find some pearls of great price. It’s John Calvin’s 500th birthday. In this episode, Tripp interviews Paul Capetz, a progressive reformed theologian at United Seminary. Paul reflects on how Calvin has inspired him, while rejecting calvinism as a label.

Tripp first met Paul at the recent Transforming Theology Conference at Claremont.

Other items of interest:

[if you are viewing this info in iTunes, visit HomebrewedChristianity.com for these links]

God: A Brief History (Facets) by Paul Capetz

The Luther Story Reformation Day podcast

Twin Cities Presbytery Restores Paul’s Ordination

Elder Napoleon is back after a 6-month disappearance, and La Bamba from The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien lends us his voice for a new ‘In the Year 3,000′ segment.

conan01

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