December 5, 2013

John Piper’s Stirring Ode to Calvinism

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!


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32 Responses to John Piper’s Stirring Ode to Calvinism

  1. Chris says:

    Garrison Keillor wrote the stirring ode to the Methodists. It’s not as romantic as Piper o the Calvinists but it seems fairly fitting: http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/2010/10/02/scripts/methodist.shtml

  2. Josh Dulaney says:

    If you want to become a Calvinist, God’s grace may not be too far behind 😀

  3. John S says:

    As a Calvinist attending a UMC church I understand some of what you are saying but Methodists have their drama. Nothing quite like the drama of the fights over apportionment (why so high and why should we pay), why did we get stuck with this elder, which part of the budget do we cut, what “new” program will bring people in and so forth.

  4. John Hobbins says:

    Fine video. Not a single thing in it that a Wesleyan need regard as strange or foreign.

    The distinction between Arminians and Calvinists, except on the extremes, is an enormous red herring. An evangelical Anglican, Charles Simeon, got it right long ago:

    Charles Simeon recounts this conversation with John Wesley:

    S: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

    W: Yes, I do indeed.

    S: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

    W: Yes, solely through Christ.

    S: But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

    W: No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

    S: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

    W: No.

    S: What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

    W: Yes, altogether.

    S: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

    W: Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

    S: Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

  5. Joe M says:

    Calvinists have their drama; we have our hymns. And these are as experiential as the best of Calvinist preaching… plus they’re hummable!

    • John S says:

      I always remember an interview I heard with Bishop Willamon where he said Methodists don’t have a theology, they have a hymnal.

      • David says:

        Yeah my former DS would wave his leather bound Discipline and say “the Book says….” with a wink. The problem is, there’s too much truth in that joke.

  6. Loy says:

    Barth a Methodist? He stood firmly in the Reformation Line.

    Here’s a good read: http://www.amazon.com/Calvin-Barth-Reformed-Theology-Paternoster/dp/1606080172/

    Blessings!

  7. Bryan McWhite says:

    As a Calvinist, I say, this is outstanding. Haha!

    • Angela Hogan says:

      As a Calvinist, I appreciate your kind words. I am assuming from the small description of you on the left side of my computer screen and the title of your book, that you are on the conservative side of Methodism. If so, and if you are in the battle to rescue the church from the extreme forms of liberalism that have infiltrated, may God bless your prayers and work on behalf of the truth. May salvation by faith alone and a trust in the reliability of the scriptures return to the Methodist church or may the true Christians among those churches remain faithful. Amen.

  8. Chris Beasley says:

    Loved this and not because I’m a calvinist (I am a calvinist). I loved this because I love to see brothers loving brothers even though there isn’t complete agreement on everything. God bless you my Wesleyan brother!

  9. Colton White says:

    I line with reformed tradition, and I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

  10. Uriah says:

    I’m all for respecting other groups–I am a former Calvinist–now simply a non calvinist. I’m also a new Methodist pastor–when I read Wesley I see fire and tenacity–we need to call our people back to the seriousness and urgency that was once there lest we die. All groups are recycled–new Calvinists are having their day. That’s fine. I praise God for it. But we can have ours as well if we humble ourselves and pray. I am doing that now.

    • Greg wallace says:

      Nobody seems to mention the “other” Methodist, George Whitefield. Read his letters to John Wesley on the issue of Calvinism. He thought Wesley was selling out. Although from England, Whitefield came to America and after founding an orphanage in Georgia, he went on to work with Jonathan Edwards in the Great Awakening. He requested to be buried underneath the pulpit in Newburyport, Mass. If you check the History of the Calvinist Methodist, they predate what came to be called Methods, by about 18 months.

  11. Calvin Pincombe says:

    Tom Oden is a fine example of grand and biblical Methodist.
    It is difficult for me to get inspired by a theological determinism that ultimately attacks the love and justice of God and misunderstands His sovereignty and omnipotence. I admire Whitfield, but I am 100% with Wesley’s fiery defense of biblical Arminianism against Whitfield’s Calvinism. I believe in biblical ecumenism in preaching the gospel, but refuse to embrace the grim drama of the Calvinistic scheme.

  12. Angela Hogan says:

    As a Calvinist, I appreciate your kind words. I am assuming from the small description of you on the left side of my computer screen and the title of your book, that you are on the conservative side of Methodism. If so, and if you are in the battle to rescue the church from the extreme forms of liberalism that have infiltrated, may God bless your prayers and work on behalf of the truth. May salvation by faith alone and a trust in the reliability of the scriptures return to the Methodist church or may the true Christians among those churches remain faithful. Amen.

  13. Richie Price says:

    Its not about being a theology system alignee. Its about is Jesus everything to you? What makes calvanism legit is that if one reads the Bible for the entirety of what God has to say in it, you will find it to be true and that system is designed to help CHRISTIANS know and glorify God fully for their salvation.

    • Sandra says:

      Actually Methodist church was started by George Whitefield who was a Calvinist and the Wesley brothers were handed the reins when Whitefield went to America and started the Great Awakening.

  14. Nkululeko Nkonde says:

    Hi guys as interesting as this is to read I think the comments aren’t so cool, people mentioned are people just like you and I, denomination had nothing to do with it. Its God’s favour and thats it.

  15. Dan Boone says:

    Mark, I have often had the same thought about the lack of a compelling Wesleyan story. As President of Trevecca Nazarene University I decided to take a stab at this. The following begins with the context of choosing a church but moves into Wesleyan identity.
    “How to Choose a Church…

    You have a choice when it comes to churches. I’d suggest three specific categories that most churches might fit into.
    You can attend Safe Church with a safe pastor who will find the middle of the road and stay in it. You will not have any of your thoughts challenged. You will hear from the pulpit what you already think. The radical kingdom of God will be domesticated to fit your cultural prejudice and your convenient, uncomplicated lifestyle. The infusion of new ideas from science, politics, immigrants, minorities, or education will not be welcomed. The Scriptures will not be interpreted into the world that currently exists but will be used to defend the world as you already see it. Discussion will center on issues already resolved by popular opinion. Being noncontroversial will be the guiding principle of the church. Getting along will matter more than anything else. The instant someone is uncomfortable in a conversation, it will cease or be diverted. Disagreement is akin to sin in Safe Church. These congregations can be found everywhere. You can consume the bland religion found in the middle of the road at Safe Church. And you will be encouraged to smile and play nice.

    You can also find a church that claims to have everything figured out–Final Word Church. This church is much bolder than Safe Church. It thrives on controversy and actually is bolstered by enemies. When Oprah says something anti-religious or Congress passes disputed legislation, the sermon for the coming Sunday is set. They have the final word on all doctrinal, ethical, social, and political issues. All you have to do is sign the dotted line of the membership covenant, and they will give you your position on everything–every candidate, every new ethical issue that emerges, every controversial topic. A disciple is a dittohead. These churches declare a kind of biblical authority that places their opinion above Scripture, while quoting just enough select verses to make you think they are biblical. The pastor usually has an ego and needs to be viewed as the savior of the world, the fountain of all wisdom, the master of PowerPoint, and the martyr willing to take a stand on any and every headline issue. Final Word Church is growing. And its people tend to be judgmental, arrogant, and mostly angry at the world.

    Or you can attend a church that is willing to wrestle with the tough issues–Maturing Church. You can sit at the table with fellow Christians who are willing to grapple with new emerging questions about faith in every realm of life. You will grow accustomed to hearing an issue discussed by Christians with different perspectives. You will quickly discover that good people can read the same Bible and reach different conclusions. You will be formed as a maturing follower of Jesus in a changing world. Your worldview will continue to develop as you study Scripture and live in a vibrant community. Your church will and should discomfort you at times. Your church will and should expose your arrogance. And reading the Bible will become the most disturbing thing you do, because this world is not aligned with the ways of God. You will find taking up the cross of Jesus to be painful. You will encounter issues for which the answers are not black-and-white–criminal justice, poverty, political systems, use of force. You will develop mental categories for unresolved issues. And you will sit on the same pew with people who do not think like you think but who could not be more brother or sister, because your unity is rooted in the redeeming love that binds you together in Christ. Your church will be filled with vibrant conversations and vibrant love. And the people of Maturing Church will continue to grow in likeness to Jesus, without avoiding the hard questions (like they do at Safe Church) or becoming arrogant in knowing (like they do at Final Word Church).
    All these churches can be found in your community.

    When asked about the church I belong to, I like to say that we are the theological heirs of a man named John Wesley. He experienced God as holy love that expelled sin, enabling him to be restored in the likeness of Jesus. This profound experience caused him to saddle a horse and ride into the world. He traveled with his Bible open on his lap, reading as he went. He believed the God of love he experienced had gone into the world ahead of him and was calling him to follow. This God was not hiding in doctrines or waiting behind closed church doors to be discovered and debated. This God was en route to redeem his creation from sin. Wesley was given the eyes of God to see children in factories needing education, the poor needing food and shelter, the debtors in prison needing money, the sick needing good medical care. Wesley saw the broken world through the eyes of a loving redeemer. He was not afraid of this world or its ideas, even when it rejected and attacked his God. He was a curious lifelong learner. He wrote about health, money, estate gifts, economic theory, personal grooming, literature, politics, science, and the arts. He made friends among those who had differing Christian theologies, offering his hand of fellowship and a catholic spirit. Wesley did not think God in need of human defense but did think people in need of Godly help. His life of loving service caused people to be interested in his doctrine of sanctification. They wanted to know about the God who could do this kind of thing in a man and prompt such a life of service. We are the heirs of a man who knew that propositional debate as the primary goal of religion could only divide, but holy love could unite.

    This theological heritage is viewed by some as a slippery slope into the “isms”–liberalism, new ageism, paganism, and so on. Tolerance, they say, becomes the demon in the room, and before long, anything goes. I beg to differ. I believe Christianity has more to lose from a debate-centered, intolerant, judgmental, arrogant, enemy-making response to the world. If we follow this playbook, we may win the game on points, but there will be no one left in the stands with any interest in what we are doing.

    I choose to belong to a people whose God is bigger than our current scientific findings, enabling us to go into the future with scientific wonder and exploration of the universe–a universe we are certain God created and sustains. I choose to belong to a people who know that love builds up rather than puffs up and who take their relational cues from the God who exists in the loving relationship known as Trinity. I choose to belong to a people confident that God will bring all things to completion in Christ, but between here and there is much open-ended freedom for God to act and respond to his creation. I choose to belong to a people who are known by their love more than by their ability to slice a heretic to shreds. I choose to belong to a people interested in God’s fallen world of politics, economics, health, science, the arts, sexuality, power, and money. I choose to belong to a people with their hearts, hands, and minds opened to fellow followers of Jesus who see things differently while still confessing the faith delivered to the saints. I believe the family of God lives in a big tent with a God even bigger than the tent.
    (Excerpt from “A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us”, Dan Boone)

  16. Adam says:

    Hum , there are methodists who are calvinists so , and furthermore george whitefield was one.

  17. Fr. Hans Jacobse says:

    I’ll give the nod to Wesley. The Second Great Awakening inoculated England from the virus that launched the French Revolution.

  18. Micah says:

    If Calvinists are the elegantly skilled ageless Elves gallivanting across Middle Earth, Methodists are the humble hobbits who see to it that their adventures don’t keep them out from the Shire past second lunch.

  19. Sandra says:

    Most people tend to forget that the Methodist church was actually started by George Whitefield and was turned over to the Wesley brothers when he was used by God in starting the Great Awakening. Whitefield was an Calvinist and the Methodist church was based on that belief. John and Charles Wesley changed that although before his death Charles came very close to accepting the Calvinist theology (which is magnified in his hymns).

    • Chuck says:

      The statement that Whitefield started the Methodist church is incorrect. Whitefield had started work in Bristol and had invited JW to come up and continue working there among the society (ies?) that were forming there, when he went to America. There had also been friendship and association between them before this, of course. In these days, the term “Methodist” was mainly a term of derision placed upon certain of the followers of Wesley and Whitefield by people outside the Societies. There was no Methodist Church Until much later — long after Wesley had thoroughly repudiated Calvinism, and had earnestly tried to sway Whitefield away from it. While Wesley was very interested in the first Great Awakening in America, it was not the source of the later Methodist Episcopal Church — though there were of course common threads. Just because Whitefield’s fervor grew out of the same roots as Wesley’s (the Oxford Movement, etc.) and they did for a time work in tandem; and just because outside groups APPLIED the title “Methodist” to Whitefield and his followers, does not mean that they were the first “Methodists” in the sense of being the first generation of those who would evolve into the (larger) “Methodist” church. It is true, however, to say that some of the groups who, early on, DID see themselves as connected with Wesley’s movement, were of Calvinist leanings. Wesley was disturbed by this.

  20. Drew says:

    I responded to this with an Ode to Methodism, which, it turns out, is not impossible to do:

    http://pastormack.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/a-stirring-ode-to-methodism-a-response-to-mark-tooley/

  21. Chuck says:

    As for “Fire”, I’d like to ask our friends in the Philippines whether they experience any warmth from the Holy Spirit when a UMCOR truck rolls into their flattened village, or whether the people who have medical assistance from a graduate of Africa University think there is any fire in the UMC. We are certainly one of the most ALIVE “dying” churches in the world! I experienced great “Warmth” at my former charge every year when the local farmers, led by one of my laymen, planted about 40 acres, and the proceeds from the harvest went to growing programs by way of Foods Resource Bank. In about 7 years, they raised ca. $225,000. This in a town of 2,000. Fire, energy, love, God working. United Methodist. These words go together now, just as they did in the 1750’s. Thanks be to God!

  22. michael'stheology says:

    I have a parody version here for those with a sense of humour!

    http://michaelstheology.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/the-calvinist-a-harmless-parody/

  23. pastordavidrn says:

    I’m thankful for articulate Reformed thinking in areas of concern where Wesleyans are lax. But it’s not all of Calvin’s teaching that grates against Wesleyan logic… just the “ULIP” of “TULIP.” The Wesleyan answer to “total depravity” is “prevenient grace,” and it’s a trump-card in the debate between T-Arminianism and TULIP-Calvinism. In the hand of the former, it confirms a loving God easily recognizable by the human mind. The elaborate, “stoic, . . . thorough” TULIP-theology of the latter leaves God wide open to criticism for His love being . . . well . . . limited.

    Anyway, I do have a poem to offer: “Prevenient grace” (http://www.pastordavidrn.com/files/poem-prevenientgrace.pdf). It touches on this God-defending aspect in Wesleyan theology. Perhaps I can’t beat the eloquence of Piper, but my years of thought since leaving Calvinism have brought me to see how Wesley’s emphasis on “prevenient grace” quells the world’s intellectual slander that TULIP-theology has brought iatrogenicly on the Bible’s God.

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