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The Shallowness of Seeker Churches

Over the past ten years or more we have been witnessing a revival in Calvinism and Reformed theology.  I can remember in college back in the 1990’s when neither Arminianism nor Calvinism was a big issue.  The issue in those days was the Lordship controversy with John MacArthur and the Dallas Theological Seminary teachers such as Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges.  There were debates over spiritual gifts (charismatic vs. non-charismatic) and debates here and there over the security of the believer but by in large the issues related to Arminianism and Calvinism were not much of an issue.

Fast forward to now.  The debate couldn’t be much hotter.  I do appreciate that more and more brothers and sisters are learning to debate with grace toward each other as Scripture commands (2 Timothy 2:24-25).  Philippians 2:3 is becoming a passage we all need to heed.  Philippians 4:2 needs to be preached more.

On the one hand, I as an Arminian do not rejoice in the revival of Calvinism I see around me.  After all, I oppose the “doctrines of grace.”  But I do rejoice that disciples of Jesus are longing for more, wanting to go deeper in their theological knowledge, wanting to explore the deeper things of God.  And while I confess that I believe Arminianism to be deeper than Calvinism on many issues, I do believe that Calvinism is a move past the basics that are often not even being preached in the Western churches.

In my neck of the woods, we have a very large seeker sensitive church.  They would likely argue that they are not seeker sensitive but “Spirit sensitive” but their sermons, their music, etc. are all focused on attracting people to church.  They don’t care if you love Jesus or not (though they say they want to introduce you to Him).  Their point is to make church cool again, to get you in the doors, to get you “plugged in” with small groups, prayer, etc.  Some of what they do is good.  Jesus is mentioned a lot.  I appreciate that.

Recently I have subscribed to their podcast to listen to their preaching.  I have been listening to two different seeker sensitive churches in my area both of which are large.  After hearing a few of their sermons, I see why so many young people move toward Calvinism.  Calvinism is readily out there with podcasts, apps, study Bibles, Bible conferences, etc.  The works of John Piper are even quoted a few times by one of the speakers.  Tim Keller is mentioned much.  Matt Chandler seems to be a favorite.  All three men are Calvinists.

The preaching is typically focused on the people.  The text does not drive their preaching.  While they will occasionally quote from the Bible, the focus is the hearer.  The audience is their focus.  These are not dying men preaching to dying people about the living Savior.  These are showmen offering products to consumers.  That is the bottom line.  The sermons can be heard at any Amway presentation.  “You can make it.”  “You can do it!”  “You will survive this!”  “You got this.”  “Jesus will help you!”

So I can see a young person sitting in these churches just coming to faith in Christ.  They were drawn to the church by the women, the men, the cool music, the awesome logo, the lights, the sounds, the largeness of it all.  They came broken by a world that offers nothing and takes all.  They heard about Jesus, thought they would give Him a try and so they take the preacher up on his offer and they raise their hand, say a prayer, get baptized in a mass baptism, and start going to a small group.  While I would not say these people are saved at this point, they are are just what John Wesley described as “awakened sinners.”  They know they are lost, know that they are sinners, know that they need a Savior.  They have been brought to Christ by the traditions of men and not the Bible.

That said, they start to listen to the sermons, download the podcasts and they take a chance on hearing John Piper.  Piper blows them away!  He is actually preaching the Bible!  Piper begins to teach them and they become his students (or his cubs as Roger Olson puts it).  Soon they are reading Piper, listening to other Calvinists, and the door is opened to a new life in Calvinism.  Like Austin Fischer, they plunge into the world of Calvinism out of the shallowness of the seeker church.

The young person moves up!  Some of them actually repent at this point and get truly saved.  They leave their shallow seeker church to go to a Reformed church.  Some of them remain here.  Some move on higher out of Calvinism.

The seeker church has been a source for the revival of Calvinism.  I listened to just three sermons from a large seeker church and I was done.  It was not good.  The guy is a pretty good public speaker but he is no elder (1 Timothy 3:2 with an emphasis on teaching here).  The duty of biblical elders is to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2) which includes teaching the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-4:5; Titus 1:5-9; 2:15).  I heard talks but didn’t hear exegesis of the texts.  I heard much talk about people but little emphasis on the sinfulness of mankind in light of the perfection of God’s holiness.  I heard much about Jesus coming and what He has done for us but I heard little in way of repentance and faith in His saving work.  I heard much about praying the sinner’s prayer but no emphasis on the Lordship of Christ and our submission to Him when we repent (Luke 6:46-49; Acts 2:36-41; 3:19-20).

The Arminian church must preach sound doctrine.  Now is not the time to become pragmatic and want to copy the seeker churches to gain the crowds.  Our duty is to preach Christ to the lost (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  Our duty is not to gain crowds.  Our duty is to be faithful to our King and not to this world (John 14:15).  What you win them with is what you win them to.  If you preach Jesus and His Lordship, this often doesn’t draw crowds.  In fact, it often draws hate.  People love Jesus so long as He is their “god” that they worship and they created.  People often despise the true Jesus when He is preached in the power of the Spirit (John 15:18-16:4).  There are many counterfeit Jesus’ being preached by many (Matthew 24:23-24).  Our duty is to preach the true Jesus by preaching His inerrant and infallible Word.

May the Lord help us all, whether Arminian or not, to preach the Word of God faithfully and to exalt the one true and living God.  Jesus alone can save sinners and we must proclaim Him and His glory!

Who is the Blame for the Rise in Calvinism?

I have been reading Dr. Roger Olson’s book Against Calvinism and in the book he opens up by talking about the rise in Calvinism as of late.  Olson points to Calvinist leaders such as John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, and Michael Horton as leading the rise in a more militant form of Calvinism.  The so-called “young, restless, and reformed” (YRR) crowd is certainly on the rise.  Olson believes that several factors play into this.  First, Olson points to the expansion of teaching ministries such as MacArthur or Sproul that are now being broadcasted all over the world.  This has in turn led to people not just becoming Christians (which we praise God for) but also becoming Calvinists.  Secondly, the number of books that are being published by Calvinists is mind-boggling.  MacArthur, Piper, James White, and Sproul alone could fill a room with their books.  They are publishing Calvinist book at a rate that Arminians are not.  Third, the deadness of the evangelical church and for that matter, Arminian churches as well has led people who are hungry for truth to embrace Calvinism as Calvinistic churches are boldly preaching Calvinism and doctrine in general.

That last point is the one I want to address here.  I believe the greatest reason that Calvinism has seen a rise in the past few years is the deadness of the Arminian church.  How many Arminian churches have given way to pragmatism?  How many historic Arminian churches such as the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene, or even the conservative Methodist churches have turned to “seeker church” and postmodern forms of “doing” church and have cast aside sound doctrine?  How many people sitting in Arminian churches can articulate their faith?  So few can despite 1 Peter 3:15.  So few Bible teachers in Arminian churches are teaching sound doctrine.  So few quote Arminius.  So few quote great Arminian theologians such as Richard Watson, John Wesley, John Fletcher, or Adam Clarke.  So few know the proud history of the Arminian church that led the Arminian church to dominate the Western Church for nearly 200 years.  So few know the stories of great Arminian missionaries such as Francis Asbury who rode up and down the United States seeking to preach the gospel to those in the wilderness and spiritual darkness.

Where are the great Arminians who will lead the Arminian church?  Where are the great Arminian theologians who embrace the Word of God as inerrant and infallible and will lead the Arminian church to study the Bible and proclaim its truths to the nation?  Where are the great Arminian preachers such as E.M. Bounds, A.W. Tozer, Leonard Ravenhill, Samuel Chadwick, or even D.L. Moody?  Where are the fired up Arminians who love God, love His Son, love His Word, and will sacrifice all to see souls set free from sin through the gospel?  Where are the Asburys?  Where are the Clarkes?  Where are the Wesleys?

The reality is that the blame for the rise in the YRR movement is at the feet of us Arminians.  We have failed to disciple our people.  While Calvinists gather in their churches to pray, worship, and study the great doctrines of the faith including Calvinism, we Arminians are too busy preaching goofy sermon series’ on “is there an app for that.”  Calvinists are passionate about Calvinism while Arminians seem to be passionate about building programs and pointless endeavors.  Where is theology being preached and taught?  Sadly, while Calvinists get the credit for a David Platt; Arminians get the credit for a Joel Osteen (despite the obvious that he is not an Arminian but a semi-Pelagian as is most of the evangelical church).

I ask you to pray with me for the Lord to change the Arminian church.  For the sake of the gospel, we need a revival of sound doctrine!  How can we claim to follow Jesus if we fail to proclaim Him theologically (John 8:31-32)?  How can we point people to the salvation of our God if we don’t even know our God (John 17:3)?  We must pray for the Holy Spirit to put it in the hearts of Arminian Bible teachers to boldly preach doctrine and avoid goofy sermons that are meant to entertain and not edify or instruct.  We need a touch from God.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/29/2011 at 6:19 PM

Posted in church

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