John Piper’s poetic ode to Reformed faith is now a fetching video. Check it out here. “The Calvinist” could have easily degenerated into a caricature. Instead it’s quite moving without becoming sentimental. But then, Calvinists don’t surrender to sentiment. They are terse, stoic, long suffering, thorough, persevering.
Calvinists are sometimes mocked but they do have their own élan. These determined people endured the flames, created their own cosmology, generated revolutions, crossed oceans, conquered virgin lands, built civilizations, and writ themselves large across history. Calvinism inspired literature, art, work ethics, and systems of governance. Theirs is a world of fire and drama. Think John Knox, Oliver Cromwell, Jonathan Edwards, Rembrandt, Hester Prynne wearing the brand of her Scarlet Letter, Woodrow Wilson, George C. Scott in “Hardcore,” or a bewhiskered Francis Schaeffer in his lederhosen traipsing about the Alps. They may not always be easily lovable but they must command respect. Theirs is a firm, unflinching identity.
As a Methodist, I’m jealous of the Calvinists. Is there a poem or accompanying video called “The Wesleyan?” Could there ever be? Where’s the drama in Methodism? Methodists typically are amiable people, earnest, quiet, dutiful, often colorless, diligent but not renowned for intellectual rigor, art, literature or political theory. Methodism transformed Britain, shaped America, and has influenced the world. It fostered education, charity, philanthropy, a democratic ethos, and social reform. But Methodism doesn’t easily spark the electricity that Calvinism often has. Instead it evokes images of potluck suppers, hymn sings and ice cream socials. Very nice.
Today there are prominent Calvinist thinkers and preachers like Piper, R.C. Sproul (who narrates part of “The Calvinist”) and Albert Mohler who champion the distinctives of their tradition but command influence beyond their own communities. It’s hard to think of Methodist equivalents, although there are great minds within Methodism. Some who operate under Methodism actually heed other intellectual traditions, like Karl Barth’s. Could there ever be a poem or video called “The Barthian?” It would be very nuanced, no doubt, but not very dramatic.
We Methodists maybe should be content with our undramatic lot, sipping our grape juice, convening our carefully minuted meetings, reading The Upper Room, hosting bake sales, eschewing stimulants and always on the look out for young people to quickly appoint to church office. Or perhaps John Piper would compose a poem on our behalf!