Saturday, December 2, 2006

Young, Restless & Reformed

Christianity Today latest issue: "Young, Restless, and Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback--and shaking up the church." Woo-hooo!!

I have been sensing this resurgence for some time and finally, some 'recognition' from CT. Since Malaysia did not have a strong Reformed church presence to begin with (notable exception: Gereja Presbyterian?), it would be more appropriate for me to speak of a "come-in" instead of "comeback".

When I first discovered "Calvinism" during my first year of college (working at Evangel), I almost believed I was a 'lone-ranger'.

Who would have thought it would be 'cool' to be Reformed now? :)

As responses from blogosphere have been pouring in, here is my opinion on the trend in the local scene... (check out one beggar's bread too)

Why is the Reformed faith attractive to the younger generation?

Among the Chinese-speaking churches, the tireless, almost-weekly expository efforts of Stephen Tong ministry has been very influential. He still packs the auditorium at Crown Princess hotel after so many years.

Never heard of him? Think of Stephen Tong as the Billy Graham of the Chinese-speaking churches in Asia for his mass, international evangelistic rallies.

The similarity stops here, however, because ST also preaches like Martyn Lloyd Jones, directs orchestra, designs architecture and engages with culture/philosphy like Carl F Henry.

Some young people in Methodist/Brethren churches took up his call for "reformed movement" and a ministry called "Right Path" started to organise seminars by folks like Dr Sam Ling, Dr Lee Ken Ang and Pastor Wang Fu etc.

Among the English speaking community, like it or not, formally Reformed churches tend to be more 'separatist' and 'cessationist'. There are two families of churches - Bible Presbyterians (Timothy Tow, SH Tow, Jeffrey Khoo) which have their own seminary, distinctly Premillenial and KJV Only. And then you have the Reformed Baptists, which hold to the 1689 London Baptist Confession led by Pastor Poh Boon Sing, who was an Ops Lalang hero.

Being lone ranger, I got acquainted with these dear brethren but decided to go solo again mainly due to the same reasons Scott McKnight listed here. I wished the best for the growth of their ministry and mission but it doesn't take a prophet to make those predictions, really, as history showed that it is very hard to keep people united. Despite the divisions, I believe God is blessing the work as well in raising up close-knit preaching points, some promising youngsters and even trained international students for evangelistic work.

But it is the evangelical Reformed Christians who make a bigger difference. They are "unified around the essentials of evangelicalism but entirely accepting of variant views on non-essentials", to borrow McKnight's phrase. You'd find pockets of them serving quietly in First Baptist, Jalan Imbi Chapel, PJEFC, CDPC and others

And they all go up to 'Jerusalem' once a year at Klang valley Bible Conference :)

They are also more inclined towards the more 'inclusive' model of JI Packer, Francis Schaeffer, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, Jerry Bridges, Sproul, John Piper etc.

Some have a less adversarial attitude (even adopt an eagerly seeking posture) towards charismatic gifts though critical of the excesses of 'health and wealth' gospel.

They can also be found in 'independent' seminaries like Malaysia Bible Seminari and Singapore Bible College.

As I talk to these people, I find three main reasons why Reformed theology as a comprehensive worldview is appealing.

1) Many of them come from a background where personal experience is emphasized to the point of being almost anti-intellectual, anti-theological, anti-propositional. At least, the life of the mind and doctrine and truth have been neglected.

So it is wonderfully refreshing to see a robust and coherent theology when they enter seminary or go overseas. They become disillusioned with shallow preaching and yearn for something 'solid' that engages and encourages to think after God's thoughts

Wow! God's Word is so profound and deep and wide and relevant!

Yet it wud be wrong to accuse them of being 'rationalistic' since Reformed folks like Plantinga, Wolterstoff, Frame, Van Til, Dooyeweerd, Kelly James Clark have always emphasized that reason functions as a 'minister', in service of Scripture, rather than a 'magisterial' use of reason where reason acts as a judge over and above Scripture.

2) A private, dualistic, insular religion separated from the world and culture has NOT been a huge problem for Reformed folks. If anything, they are tempted to be 'too' engaged with such issues (theonomy?)

So an important contribution of the reformed tradition is the cultural mandate, calling the church to reclaim every sphere of life for the Lordship of Christ. Every facet of life is to be lived 'coram Deo' (before the face of God).

Abraham Kuyper wud say that not a square inch on earth that Christ does not claim as His. Rather than just harping on predestination, Calvinism is a comprehensive worldview of life, world and God.

It is here that I find the Malaysian church has been most blessed by a handful of quiet 'Jedi knights' who clear the sewage and keep the streams of evangelism and life flowing...

3) Ironically, some people are very suspicious of 'systematic theology' and putting God in a conceptual 'box'. These folks are big on hermeneutics, exegesis, greek/hebrew languages, exposition etc.

They dun like labels like 'Calvinism' but for all practical purpose, they came to be 'Reformed' through biblical studies!!

I suspect that it has something to do with the voluminous and reliable commentaries of D.A. Carson which graced many a church or seminary library.

But one thing we Calvinists have not been doing extremely well in the past is evangelism. We're just nowhere as effective and zealous as our Arminian brethren :)

What next?

I hope I'd live to see the day when both 'fundamentalist' and 'evangelical' Reformed Christians will plant churches that reach out without selling out. We need to emphasize missionaries and evangelists like William Carey, Spurgeon, David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson, Zwemer, George Whitefield as our role models rather than scholars like Benjamin Warfield, Charles Hodge etc.

hey! Maybe, we can even learn something useful from Marc Driscoll of Mars Hill!

Biblically faithful and culturally relevant.
Gospel demonstrated and declared.
Deeply theological and widely missiological.
Naturally supernatural and supernaturally natural

Also, I hope to see a reformed church that writes contemporary music and lyrics that give Hillsongs and Matt Redman a run for their money :)

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