The Internet Monk Interview: John Hendryx
[Michael Spencer interviews John Hendryx in the early 2000s]
John Hendryx is the creator and editor of Monergism.com, one of the finest reformed theology sites on the internet. John is a brilliant guy, a first class debater, and not your usual knuckle-headed, stick-in-the-mud Calvinist. (The kind that prompted me to write "I Hate Theology.") John's presentation of historic reformed theology, and his application of it in contemporary evangelicalism, is characterized by excellence and kindness, two qualities missing in a lot of theologians. His emphasis on "monergism" as a theologically unifying principle has enabled a lot of us to affirm a common theological home, even when we disagree on just about everything else! I've let him explain this in detail, because I think it's very helpful.
I especially appreciate John's dedication to Monregism.com. I cannot think of a better theological site anywhere. He is making a contribution through his diligent collecting of material, and in his own writing about evangelical theology. If you want exhaustive, subject driven internet resources on Biblical and Reformed theology, monergism is a one-stop library.
I asked John for a biographical introduction, and then I asked questions about his ministry, his take on reformed theology and the state of the church. (The original interview, unedited, is available by writing me)
The LORD often works in ways that you wouldn't expect. Apparently, without consulting me, He determined that I was to be conceived during Chinese New Year in early 1966 at a Grateful Dead concert in San Francisco's Longshoremen's Hall. I was placed up for adoption from my birth mother in that city later that same year and went home with my new mom and dad to LA, where I grew up. As I look at it, that story of my adoption is a microcosm of the way God worked to bring me to Himself spiritually.
As an only child in a broken home in West L.A, I was steeped in the existentialism of my father and the humanism of my mother. There was no exposure to Christianity in any way shape or form for me. The only "church" I ever set foot in growing up was when my mother would, on occasion, take me to the Unitarian Universalist Church just off Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, but now that I look back on it, I recall it was more like a DNC meeting than anything resembling historic Christianity.
I rebelled as a teenager and slipped into some extreme forms of juvenile delinquency. I passed through high school with no small amount of drugs and felony criminal activity, for which I was arrested; By God's mercy I was not locked up and even was given the opportunity to attend the University of Colorado, Boulder. There I became deeply involved in Eastern Mysticism, Tantric Buddhism and the New Age. I took it so seriously that I accumulated a library of metaphysical books, a vast array of incense and practiced two hours of meditation/chanting every morning. Jesus, in my view, was just another poor soul who finally balanced his karma and transcended the cycle of re-birth. We would ascend eventually, just as he did.
Since such a belief was open to the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures just as any others, the LORD impressed upon me two texts that finally pierced my soul. The LORD illumined the text of Deuteronomy 18 and Romans 9:16 and opened my spiritual understanding and eyes of faith in Jesus. The turn away from the occult was both instantaneous and profound.
A year later I went to China, grew very attached to it, and ended up living there for ten years. I now speak fluent Mandarin and have a deep affection for the Chinese people.I met my wife there in a house church. I worked at the US Embassy and started a wildly successful Chinese Internet company. I came back to the US in late 1999, worked in Silicon Valley, the NASDAQ crashed, and all the cushy jobs evaporated; started Monergism.com and moved to Oregon where we live today. I still do Web graphic user interface design for a living and do seminary at RTS via distance education while I work. This December I will have been a Christian for 20 years.
1. How did you begin the Monergism.com web site? What is your vision for the site?
The LORD began to noticeably work in my heart around the year 2000 that I should use my skills in building websites to further the gospel. Not only had He originally implanted the desire to learn HTML, but in enabling me to see the vast ruins of the Church in our age also gave me recognition that perhaps the greatest challenge of evangelism today is not just unreached people groups, but the re-evangelization of the Church itself.
When I was on a business trip to China in 2000 I began to realize that there were only a few places on the Internet where you could find sound doctrine in a single place. Unfortunately 90% of the theology out there on the net was, and still is, a cause for serious alarm. So the LORD seemed to be pursuing me to create a theological library pointing to Christ-centered, doctrinally sound essays on just about any text or doctrinal topic imaginable. And what may seem to be counter-intuitive to some, I personally have found that the more I deeply study systematic and biblical theology, the more wonder I have of the God we serve. The more He causes me to learn, the more I recognize how little I know, and so theology has become a devotional activity for me; a discipline that places me in a position of more deeply considering the beauty and perfections of God. While theology provides a framework there are always boundless nuances to explore and ruminate over. If we come to a dead end when studying theology then perhaps we have not correctly apprehended or made use of it.
My vision for Monergism.com is to continue to equip the Church so teachers and laymen will embrace, and recover the true Biblical doctrines of the historic faith and be ever reforming our thoughts about God in a way that is God-honoring & consistent with the Word of God. I pray its content profoundly impacts the thinking, direction and devotion of the church of this age.
2. How would you describe yourself theologically and denominationally? Explain the significance of the term "monergism" in your on-line debates and discussions.
Theologically our Lord has led me in the direction of what is called Affectional or Affective Theology. If this term is unfamiliar to you, consider the following: people usually deny God, not because they lack evidence, but because their hearts are rebellious. So the unbelievers' problem is moral/ethical first, and then intellectual. Thus he/she requires a supernatural work of God to understand and apprehend spiritual truth as revealed in Scripture. Those who know facts, therefore, are not the same as those who forsake sin, repent of trusting in their good works, and come to love and trust in Christ. We must, therefore, appeal to the entire person and not merely their intellect.
God is hidden from man because he loves sin and remains in hostile rebellion against God. This antagonism for the gospel is seated in the affections, and is not because we lack data or are not smart enough. So we appeal to the heart of those bound in unbelief (and believers blinded by error) because God is not to be understood as a mechanical precept or an axiom as found in mathematics. To come to faith in Christ one must first have a desire for Christ and spiritual things; we must perceive and take delight in His unmatched beauty and unsurpassed excellency.
But to perceive, we must have the spiritual faculties to perceive to begin with. Then and only then can we desire to believe, because to know and understand Him (an impossible supposition for the unregenerate) is to love Him. Faith will never "just happen' out of thin air, but actually requires that we desire Him, for we only choose that which we most desire. But to be sure, the Scriptures teach that these holy affections are not produced by our unregenerate human nature (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14). And since the root of faith cannot be indifferent or neutral, a full-orbed gospel is not merely a list of impersonal propositions for our intellectual assent, but it is proclaiming the full person of Christ in His love for sinners shown in His life, death and resurrection. Words are not enough, however, to persuade those bent on rebellion, because spiritual knowledge, which is relational, requires a new sense of God's unsurpassed excellence ... and only the regenerate possesses this. Paul, when speaking to the Thessalonians makes this clear when he says, "...for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction..." (1 Thess 1:5). This passage shows that God uses means (preaching), but the word is not enough: the Holy Spirit must come, open and illumine our understanding, that we might believe with full conviction. Even when giving the disciples the great commission Luke reads, "Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (Lk 24:45). In other words, we do not understand the spiritual in the Scripture until Christ opens our minds to it.
I am am Confessional, Covenantal, five-point Calvinist. Denominationally I am a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and hold strongly to what is taught in the historical Christian creeds from the Apostles Creed through the Counsel of Orange, which is even more fully expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith. But I also admire and believe we can learn from many other historic traditions.
I called the Website monergism.com because I wanted to focus in on the critical nature of this lost concept in our day and age. Since many evangelicals, unfortunately, have fallen away from the Biblical/Reformation teaching on this issue, I wish to emphasize the beauty and practical importance of understanding it. The significance of the term monergism is related specifically to regeneration (or the new birth). It simply means that unspiritual, unregenerate persons intrinsically hate (with their affections) the light so will not come into it (John 3:19). Man will not even cooperate with God's grace but needs a new sense, a new understanding, in short, he needs to be born again, given new eyes to see, circumcised ears to hear, if he would even desire to believe. Monergism means that regeneration does not come about as the result of something we do but something God alone sovereignly grants to those He came to save for His own glorious purposes. It is a redemptive blessing of Christ purchased for His people (Eph 1:3, John 6:39; 1 Pet 1:3). And it usually comes about through the preaching of the gospel. The word of God is the means the Spirit uses to germinate new life within. We outwardly call all men everywhere to repentance but only those who receive the inward call of God will respond (Acts 13:48, 16:14; 1 Cor 1:23, 24; Rom 8:30).
3. The resurgence of Reformed theology in the last twenty years has been fueled by reprinting older writers at a time when Christian publishers are putting out more and more new writers. How do you account for the popularity of writers like Spurgeon, Edwards and the Puritans?
The grace of God is the only explanation I have. Thirty years ago there were probably only a handful of naval-gazing Presbyterians left who still held to Calvinism and Reformed theology. The 20th century was indeed a triumph for Synergism (semi-pelagianism, Arminianism and dispensationalism) but now it appears, like rivulets forming into a great river, there is somewhat the beginnings of a revival in biblical Calvinism. Why? Because we all must admit that much of the evangelicalism of the last century was really an empty shell. Abandoning Reformed theology has, in my opinion, led to the current sad state of affairs. The pillars of the faith that you mention made their impacts because of their God-centeredness, not because they used marketing programs or psychological manipulation. Will the current market-driven synergistic theologies leave a lasting spiritual heritage as the aforementioned did? I doubt it.
4. Those Calvinists who are not mainline and denominationally Reformed Christians are often critical of the Reformed Confessions on the Sacraments and Church government. What is your opinion of the relationship between "non-Reformed" Calvinists and the traditionally Reformed denominations?
First of all let me take your question even further. Many evangelicals (mostly dispensationalists) who call themselves Calvinists also (inconsistently) tend to reject monergistic regeneration and definite atonement. It is often the case that such persons, who call themselves Calvinists, would probably more aptly fall under what is known as Amyraldianism. When dispensationalists departed from traditional Calvinism more than a century ago, they also made some of their own soteriological innovations, even though there is still a Calvinistic bent to some of what they teach. With due respect to my dispensational brethren, much of their soteriology tends to be filled with self-contradictions and confusion. I like theological tension and believe we can hold some things that may seem at odds at first glance, but when more deeply investigated the tension makes sense. But some dispensational positions go way beyond this: The tension actually becomes a contradiction and this is cause for some alarm. Even pure Arminians may be wrong in several areas, but at least are largely consistent within their belief system.
The rejection of the Reformed Confessions on the Sacraments and Church government can probably often be ascribed to their dispensational, non-covenantal theological views as well as our American, consumerist and autonomous tendencies. People have largely reacted against such things, in my view, because they associate it with the liberalism in many of our mainline denominations. But the Reformed doctrine of sacraments have personally created a worship experience at my local church that is more meaningful than I had ever experienced in a more open style worship. I would not have believed it myself, but now that I go to a more liturgical community where we confess our sins and pray together I don't think I could ever go back. A sense of community is maintained that we don't often get at the mega-church. But having spent most of my previous life as a Christian in China, I had never been to a liturgical confessing church until just a few years ago. The churches I knew were all house churches.
I believe the Reformed Confessions on the Sacraments and Church government are biblically based and have left the Church with a rich theological heritage. Many evangelicals are surely missing out on the beauty of liturgical worship, but I can only use what persuasion I have to convince people to set aside their presuppositions about it. I currently have more important things to do than to be dogmatic about it to those who prefer a less formal worship. My greater concern is first to point us back to a more biblical understanding of Sola Gratia, Solus Christus. Perhaps the rest will follow in time.
5. Who do you feel is writing significant and important books today? What books by contemporary writers are you reading?
Dave Hunt, Rick Warren, Bruce Wilkinson, Chuck Smith Jr., Tim LaHaye & Benny Hinn - oh sorry I jumped ahead to question #16 :-)
D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, John Frame, N.T Wright, Greg L. Bahnsen (on apologetics), Robert Reymond, J. I. Packer, Tim Keller, Paul Barnett, Gene Edward Veith, Anthony Hoekema, Iain Murray, Kim Riddlebarger, Michael Horton, George Eldon Ladd.
Just finished reading: Why the Rest Hates the West : Meic Pearse; New Flesh, New Earth : Andrew Sandlin; Gospel Code : Ben Witherington, III; Commentaries on Matt, Mark and Luke by N.T. Wright; Understanding Dispensationalists : Vern Poythress; Resurrection of the Son of God: N. T. Wright.
6. What is your philosophy in debating non-Calvinistic Christians? What is the purpose, and what is your method?
It has become increasingly clear to me that people do not necessarily respond positively to airtight arguments. Again, the problem, even among Christians, is often moral/ethical and not only intellectual. We hold on to our various positions due to pride and faulty presuppositions and need to let go of some of our erroneous traditions. Therefore I am convinced that about 90% of persuading a person is subjective and must be accomplished presuppositionally using the Scripture. 1 Peter 3:15 makes it clear that while Christ and the Scripture are our greatest presupposition, our positions should be discussed with the utmost gentleness and respect both toward unbelievers and brothers who may differ over secondary issues. And admittedly I do not always live up to this standard. But at least I have it as an ideal.
My greater purpose in these debates online is not always so much to turn the person I am debating with -for usually they have their heels pretty well dug in- but rather for the interest of the many visitors who are still exploring and open, or even for those living in doctrinal confusion and are really unsure what to believe. Those who are open and willing to learn new things have the best chance of eventually finding sound doctrine.
7. How much cooperation can there be between Calvinists and strongly Arminian evangelicals?
I have worked side-by side with them overseas in missionary activity for years. It can be done. These are our brothers and sisters. Some Calvinists who don't think so need to get out more.
8. My own interaction with young Calvinists has made me less enthusiastic for Reformed Christianity. In my essay "I Hate Theology" I catalog some of the negative by-products of what often amounts to an obsession with theological minutiae at the expense of kindness and charity. Am I off base?
No, I think you are right on the mark, Michael. I have had my share of battles with many of the type of people you are describing. However, perhaps you should try to distinguish those persons who consider themselves "Truly Reformed" from the average Reformed believer. There are vocal groups out there that have an "I am more Reformed than anyone else" type attitude, but I would argue that such persons constitute a minority in Reformed circles. Their activism and vocal nature has made them appear more influential than they are, and many of these groups also have prolific writers. While I will not mention them by name I find their arrogance equally as repulsive as you do, Michael, especially since they claim to represent my brand of theology. But the existence of such groups, I believe, should not discourage you from the biblical clarity and rich heritage that Reformed Theology has brought to the Church. God has truly blessed the Church with such preachers and theologians as Augustine, John Calvin, Peter Martyr Vermigli, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, C.H. Spurgeon, Herman Witsius, Thomas Watson, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Richard Sibbes and J.C. Ryle. It would be a truly tragic event if the existence of the "Truly Reformed" troublemakers would turn people aside from such theological treasure that the Holy Spirit has given the church.
9. I have a Lutheran friend who is very resentful of the way Calvinists portray themselves as those who best represent the Reformation. Where do Lutherans fit into the contemporary Reformed community?
I spend so much time trying to reach ordinary evangelicals and Pentecostals with my ministry that, frankly, Lutherans have not really been on my radar screen. This is not out of any feeling one way or another toward them, because admittedly, I haven't known many committed Lutherans, until very recently. I do very much appreciate the great wealth of doctrine that Lutherans have contributed to the Reformation. From Luther's Bondage of the Will to the Law - Grace distinction, to the theology of glory and theology of the cross. These are issues that I am just about in full agreement with Lutherans. But we also have serious disagreements, like the teaching on the sacraments, monergistic regeneration (prior to faith), effectual grace (which modern Lutherans reject). Our local PCA church has close cooperation with a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and we get along just fine.
10. What is your opinion of the evangelical interest in politics and the identification of many Christians with the Republican party?
While I believe we should be engaged in our civic duty to vote and be engaged, it appears to me that many evangelicals have gone beyond the call of duty and have bought into dominion theology. Some of us seem to hold the false belief that if we just changed the laws and made the US political system based on the Bible then all would be well while not considering the changing of hearts. My response to this is that the problem is not just OUT THERE, it is with us. If we lived like we believed the gospel ourselves, then God would use us to change the culture. While I can agree that civil law can be used to restrain evil, we often bludgeon our secular opponents with it as if they could somehow be saved through obedience to it. I believe the first table of the law cannot be legislated. Persons must be persuaded into the Kingdom by human instruments casting seed with the Spirit germinating it, so to speak, but not by the sword or by coercive legal measures. Contrary to my evangelical and Theonomist brethren, I do not believe that the civil magistrate has the authority to judge heresy. A little known historical fact is that the Presbyterian Church wisely invoked semper reformanda and removed chapter 23(?) on the Civil Magistrate from the Westminster Confession in the early 1700s. A move for which I am thankful. Instead, we are to take up our cross and persuade as Jesus did, through meekness, suffering, joy, helping the poor and loving others above ourselves.
I have no problem with Christians personally identifying themselves with a party, but I will emphasize that politics is not the solution to our problems by any stretch of the imagination. There is entirely too much emphasis placed on it, as if God's plan could somehow be thwarted. We should vote and do what we can to eradicate injustice, poverty and to actively find ways to be involved in mercy ministries. This might mean entering politics on a local level or just merely spending time with hurting people. But if the Republicans don't get elected next term it isn't the end of the world. Maybe a little discomfort will begin to burn off the dross in our churches. We must remember that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. If God wills that we should live in Babylon, we must serve the it with excellence, influencing it by being good stewards of the calling God has given each one of us. Though some may be tempted when things get real bad, we should never take up arms to further our political agenda.
I have lived in a communist country for 10 years and, I can tell you with certainty, that the gospel is not chained because of a political system. On the contrary, communism has been a key factor in raising interest in Christianity in that country on a massive scale for the first time in their 5000-year history. It seems that Christians have become so addicted to comfort here that there is very little awareness of how people are living in the rest of the world. But we Americans are of very little account in the big scheme of things.
11. What do you think Spurgeon or the Puritans would say about the contemporary Church Growth movement?
Hasn't there always been a thread of this kind of teaching throughout Church history? In almost every era the Church has faced those who erroneously believed that we should adjust our doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world. In the very process of attracting the world, the gospel becomes lost in a sea of irrelevance. There may be success in numbers but, taking a lesson from history, Charles Finney wondered at the end of his life why so many did not persevere in their faith. Psychological manipulation and entertainment are not means of grace. Instead, God clearly calls us to faithfully preach the word of God and rightly, and often, deliver the sacraments. In what might seem counter-intuitive, He saves people through the weakness of men and women in the Church. Thus I believe Spurgeon and the Puritans would undoubtedly say that the folks promoting today's market-driven theology were totally delusional and in serious danger of promoting a false gospel
Let me make clear that I do not doubt the sincerity of many of the teachers in these churches. The seeker-friendly, market-driven fellowships are filled with true Christians. But the sheep will soon go hungry. If a church does not preach the law and the wrath of God, for fear of offending someone, then how will anyone realize they need a savior to begin with? If you're already OK then why are you here? Unfortunately I think the answer is, "to be entertained". Therefore, I believe we should be just as vigilant in keeping marketing and therapeutic self-help techniques out of our churches as we would Buddhist meditation chants. The later is so overtly religious and un-Christian that we have no problem keeping it at bay, but marketing and therapy are as American as hot dogs, so we erroneously integrate them as useful helps to the gospel. But the gospel doesn't need our methodology and techniques, does it? God has already shown us the way, hasn't He? The reason for disinterest in historic Christianity is not stained glass windows and liturgy, but our unbelief. Replacing one form of unbelief with another will not help. This fad will pass like all others.
12. What is your view of the "Regulative Principle of Worship?" How do you see it working (or not working) in churches today?
The Bible should always be our guide in how we are to worship God. It is, unfortunately, under-utilized in most churches, but legalistically over-utilized in others. When striking the proper Scriptural balance, taking into account the whole counsel of Scripture, this is, perhaps, the most effective and God-glorifying way to worship and to do true evangelism. Too often our erroneous American thought-patterns get intermixed with theology and our worship becomes both consumerist and therapeutic, rather than God-centered. God has given us ways to honor him, especially in worship. It is not a time to get overly innovative. Our problem in attracting unbelievers is because we don't really believe the gospel ourselves. If we believed it and therefore lived it out, and made deep friendships with our unbelieving friends, rather than hiding in our sub-culture and seeing pagans as a project or target, then there would be profound impact on our culture. A profound impact. Seeker-friendly churches may draw many persons in the door, but to what end? If the gospel is not preached then it is worthless; no, even worse, it is worth less than nothing.
13. Neither Spurgeon, Edwards or many of the Puritans were expositional preachers. Yet many contemporary advocates of preaching- such as Macarthur and Mohler- seem to be saying that verse by verse exposition is the preferred, even required, method in an evangelical pulpit. What would be your view?
Expositional preaching, as I see it, has the unique benefit that we are forced to cover every text of Scripture rather than only choose topically, which could (potentially) lead to avoiding some important or controversial text of Scripture. Topical preaching has the potential to create an unbalanced church which is always promoting a pet doctrine. Expositional preaching will generally and most probably lead to a well-rounded theology. For instance, I would probably leave a church that only preached on the five points of Calvinism every week. While there would be great material there it would not cover the whole counsel of Scripture and thus we would be missing out on much of what God has to teach us. On the other hand I have been to churches where the wrath of God was not mentioned once in a two-year period. Anyone who does not mention God's wrath, especially for this period of time, is not preaching the God of Scripture. Many churches would rather be non-controversial and say, "God is nice" and "Christians are also supposed to be nice." Such teaching may be pervasive but it does the soul about as much good as cat vomit. Anytime we begin to speak of God with words like, "I prefer to think of God like this" then we are on dangerous ground.
14. You've been a consistent encourager of my writing, and I appreciate that encouragement very much. What keeps you going with all the work that must be part of such a site as Monergism?
What often keeps me going is the constant increase in traffic and the continual inflow of positive email that explains how the site has helped people of very diverse traditions and backgrounds come to a clearer understanding of the grace we have in Christ. It is frankly amazing how many persons have never really understood what Christ has accomplished for us as expressed in the doctrines of grace. As long as the church can make use of it, I would like to keep the site going, Lord willing. I covet your prayers.
15. What would you say if Paul Crouch offered you your own show on TBN?
I am not familiar with Paul Crouch, but I know of TBN. Isn't it that the network with the shallow theology, gold rings, horrific set design and the hairdos? If he would still have me after these comments I suppose I would produce, rather than star in, a show since I am not much of a public speaker. In fact, after I speak publicly I tend to get gastric ulcers because I get too intense. You can pray for me about that.
I would love to see some programming that taught Christians, in depth, all the various worldviews, with genuine representatives of each. We need to really understand our neighbors if we are going to understand and befriend them. It would be good to include secular beliefs and the study of concepts outside of our own tradition. Then I wouldn't mind seeing some serious but irenic theological debate on TV between people of various traditions, as well as cults. Surely we can come up with Spirit-filled intelligent Christians who could defend the faith. It might do the church good and broaden our understanding of what our world is like. Our ignorance, sometimes, is cause for grief. TV has historically not been a very good medium for Christianity. Christian TV tends to cultivate an us-them mentality rather than one of understanding. Perhaps we need to get a lot more creative before effectively launching into such things. That means again that we need to be the best we can be in every area of life including the arts and culture. The shows produced by Christians today on TV are mostly an embarrassment to Christianity and should be reconsidered, but it is unfortunate that enthusiasts and hucksters take in so many unsuspecting Christians that we, with glassy eyes, send in our checks to support their vast empires.
16. Who do you wish evangelicals would stop reading or listening to?
#1 Church leaders and teachers who promote synergism and market-driven theology.
#2 It may be healthy to stop listening to preachers who teach that God is a god who is not in control of history but, like us, is swept along like us by the tide of time. This new therapeutic god is really impotent to change things; a spectator who shape-shifts according to the latest public-opinion poll. While we should affirm culture and our place in it we do not worship a God who is shaped by it like a wax nose.
Due to our consumerist culture, our God is being made more and more like a mediated, prepackaged commodity that we passively receive like spectators. This removes us from our communities and our engagement with them. That is why liturgical worship may ultimately be better for this age, because it is not about entertainment or therapy and self-love, but about God and our neighbors. Our new religion is often simply like something we pay to consume, like a DVD that entertains and distracts us for a moment. This completely deadens our participation in other people's lives. We thrive on novelty while we should be feeding on Christ and encouraging one another. Spirituality is not about feeling good about yourself.
In other words, I would argue that evangelicals may be guilty of manufacturing a god based on what the masses want, not unlike the bull-god the Israelites made when Moses tarried on the mountain. This is the god of the Nielsen ratings formed by the seething mob in their excitement for the novel. We may create this god in the name of Christ, in order to sanctify it, and make it OK, but it no more looks like Jesus than the latest fad in weight loss or pop-psychology. China overthrew the KMT dictators in 1949 to replace it with the rule of the proletariat. But what really happened is that one dictator was replaced with another and thus the change was only in name. Likewise we are often Christian in name only. We create a god in our own mass-mediated image and usually this is a god who most represents our natural inclinations. We make a god we can understand, who is like us in many ways.
Spiritual success is not to be judged, therefore, by numbers. If that were the criteria then the latest blockbuster movie could be used as a standard. Opinions change overnight, but truth does not change. We don't ask for poll numbers to determine the truth, as CNN online often does. The confessions that we hold as truth in understanding Christ are what actually bind us together as a community. Changing these beliefs are what will cause our demise and propel us toward a sense of rootlessness. This, alongside glorifying God, is the most important reason we should put a high value on theology. We need to love one another, but in the way God commanded, not according to our therapeutic pre-misconceptions about what love is.
We have to use discernment. God is not what the unreflective majority determines. He is not meant to be re-cast according to our own pet projects. That is an American god, not the Holy God of Holy Scripture. We must not form a god based on our arbitrary conceptions, but only as God has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures. By creating god autonomously according to what we want, we often mistakenly fall into the error that we are acceptable to Him by something we do rather than by His grace alone. The Eucharist, particularly, reminds us that our standing before God is in Christ alone. There is nothing He sees on our spiritual resume that recommends us to Him. God saves us and sovereignly determines how we are to worship Him, not the other way around. (When I say worship I am referring to what we do in every action to please God, not merely how we sing to him).
There is indeed room for various cultures to worship God in ways that are unique to that culture. God leaves us room for this multiplicity, but this must be done within the boundaries God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We love Him because He loved us first. Likewise we worship Him in ways that please Him because He has first shown us how. As long as we don't see ourselves as broken sinners, then we will boast about something before God and we will undoubtedly think ourselves better in some way than our neighbor who does not believe. Now, are you set apart from unbelievers because of your faith, or because of God's grace? It is by God's grace that you even have faith, lest you boast.
#3 Evangelicals, I believe, would also do well to cast aside teaching and teachers who appear to believe that love is God's only attribute. This kind of tame, sentimental and nice God is, again, not the one we find in Scripture. Modern psychology seems to have been uncritically accepted by evangelicals and it has profoundly influenced our theology for the worse. While the Reformation brought us back to the biblical Trinity, who is sovereign over His creation and needs nothing outside of Himself, the so-called "second great awakening", led by persons such as Charles Finney, left us with an evangelicalism that largely focuses on its benefits for us. This self-focused spirituality is not much different from what I knew in eastern mysticism, since it becomes all about meeting personal spiritual needs. We worship at the idol of self.
When our evangelism begins with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," as found in the CCC tract, I believe we give the wrong impression and are promoting a God that has been taken captive by the culture rather than communicating who He really is and what He requires of us. This god seems to be safe, and perhaps that's why we want to believe Him to be this way, but this is also a god that silences Jesus. This false conception of god comes from both our therapeutic culture and synergistic Arminianism. We seem to have this unending desire to want to contribute something, be it ever so small, to our salvation. This is the seat of the last bastion of pride in ourselves. But salvation is not about our spiritual fulfillment, self-esteem or our incessant narcissism.
No sooner than Luther and Calvin again revealed the God-centered nature of the Scripture and helped clarify the true biblical intent of Christ's grace, there were persons who came to muddy the waters. They emphasized what God can do for us, a god to meet our needs and thus bring us back to the very synergistic error we were attempting to escape from in medieval Roman Catholicism. The focus was on the means and not the end (which was God).
Tolerance is the word of the day. If it is arrogant and hateful of missionaries to preach the gospel to an island of people who have never heard it, then it is even more arrogant (since it is hypocritical) for doctors to go and give medicine to those same people who might need it for an incurable disease. The real intolerance is seated in those who demand that we all embrace relativism as a dogma. The Church has abandoned itself to such nonsense and we need to wake up, get out of our stupor and think. This is the greatest stumbling block and danger for the church in our day, not Islam. Do the relativists (postmodern secularists) have a bird's eye view of reality? If not, then why are we letting them establish their philosophy as the religion of the land and even embracing their ideas in the church? Their presuppositions are equally as religious as anyone else's, so they too should be subject to the separation of church and state.
Thanks John. I hope everyone makes Monergism.com a regular part of their study.