‘Perhaps you, like me, as a Christian, pay attention to certain celebrity conservatives, who take many of the same or similar viewpoints as you. You know there are differences. Where is the overlap? In diagnosing a worldview, there are various components to understanding it, as some people have or might put it, to see the map of the world. Some of them are knowledge, ethics, purpose, and epistemology, but among the others, I want to explore two of them, reality and truth, as they relate to celebrity conservatives versus true Bible believers. In general, very often true Bible believers are interested in the celebrity conservatives without their being interested in them. Part of their “fan base” are Christians, who listen to their podcasts and watch their shows. One of the celebrity conservatives, Jordan Peterson, the famous PhD professor, author, and public intellectual and speaker from Canada, doesn’t even call himself a conservative. Celebrity conservatives today might call themselves classic liberals (you can look up classical liberalism). Maybe he really isn’t conservative, but you also shrink your audience if you call yourself one. As well, “liberal” might mean you keep your job and other opportunities. Peterson does resonate with true Bible believers and they listen to, watch, and read him. When I write, celebrity conservatives, I’m especially saying, Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, the late Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Prager, and Candace Owens. There are many others. There is overlap between their worldviews and the worldview of a true Bible believer. Before Covid hit and also before he had major health issues, my wife and I and another couple got tickets to hear Jordan Peterson in person in San Francisco, sponsored by the Independent Institute. As I was listening to him, I enjoyed many things he was saying. However, I knew he and I did not have the same worldview. I was glad he could say what he did in public, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me either. The celebrity conservatives like him are disappointing. In the last week, I was thinking about the difference between the worldviews of celebrity conservatives and true Bible believers. Even as I write this, I think about how a true Bible believer could even be a celebrity in our world. I don’t think it’s possible. The greater the celebrity status, the more you must be doing something wrong, and that includes evangelical leaders who have their own celebrity. They in part got there through capitulation and compromise. Their greater celebrity doesn’t speak well. The common ground in worldview, I believe, is that there is more proximity between celebrity conservatives and true Bible believers in their view of reality. I would say that they both attempt to function according to reality, even if it means abandoning the truth. The truth and reality do go together. They overlap completely for a true Bible believer, but they don’t for celebrity conservatives. Even actual reality and the reality of celebrity of conservatives don’t overlap identically. To stay a celebrity, like everyone else who isn’t a true Bible believer, celebrity conservatives forsake actual reality and even more so, the truth. Let me explain. I want to use Jordan Peterson as an example. Jesus either rose from the dead or He didn’t. Jesus can’t be the greatest figure who ever lived if He wasn’t truth and He lied about the resurrection. Peterson says that he’s not sure if he believes Christianity, but he tries to live like one. He’s also saying, he’s not committing to the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, while living like Jesus did resurrect from the dead. He borrows a reality based upon the truth without actually believing the truth. Other conservatives do that, and it’s easy to see. The world we live in is the real world. Celebrity conservatives more than the mainstream culture try to explain positions according to reality, even if they deny much of the truth or many truths, depending how you want to put that. You may live a reality of Jesus and defend a life that fits His existence and deny the pivotal truth of His resurrection. Peterson does that. Complementarianism is the truth and celebrity conservatives borrow from a complementarian reality without the truth of complementarianism. Gender fluidity proceeds from egalitarianism. God designed men and women differently. That’s the truth. Celebrity conservatives deny complementarian truth while defending a complementarian reality. Let me get more simple. Whether you think he’s a conservative or not, let’s consider President Donald J. Trump as if he were a conservative. Trump operates according to a certain Christian reality that results in Christian support, including from true Bible believers. Trump thinks that one thing is better than another. Certain behavior is wrong. He believes that America as a standard of living better than other countries, which can be and should be protected at the border. This is one of the most fundamental conservative beliefs and it is a reality that borrows from the truth. Former President Trump doesn’t believe the truth, but he functions as though there is truth. He is a realist in that we must have standards. Things won’t be better when we can’t discern the differences of one thing from another. This is a reality according to a Christian worldview. The truth is more important. However, people who eject from reality are much further away from the truth. These either practical or positional nihilists must be rejected for something short of the truth, if that’s the choice. The path to the truth won’t come through their relativism. It can come through someone who at least embraces reality, even if it doesn’t mirror actual reality. The answer for humanity is still the truth. It isn’t the reality of celebrity conservatives.’https://kentbrandenburg.com/2021/09/12/reality-and-truth-celebrity-conservatives-versus-true-bible-believers/
If you have been following this blog you read what Dr Les Ollila, former president of Northland Baptist Bible College (NBBC), had written in 2010 seeking to explain the condition in which NBBC found itself after Dr. Matt Olson took over the presidency. Three years later, 2013, a former student of NBBC wrote this for The Gospel Coalition (TGC). This is the voice of one who moved from the NBBC ‘fundamentalism’ into the ‘evangelicalism’ found in the TGC.
‘Most readers of The Gospel Coalition probably aren’t familiar with the story of Northland International University. In fact, many readers of this blog have probably never heard of Northland at all. But for more than 50 years God has been doing some amazing things in northeastern Wisconsin at Northland Mission Camp, then Northland Baptist Bible College, and now at Northland International University.
As the camp ministry grew and a small Bible college launched on the property, the school had a decided emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel and servant leadership. Along with that, however, the college was also connected to the fundamentalist movement. This connection led to an uncompromising position on separation from the world in nearly every way and a strong stance against certain types of music and ministry. Not only did the school take strict positions on many of these less-than-clear issues, but it also drew strict lines of separation from those who did not. By the time I arrived on campus as a freshman in 1998, Northland was a pretty separated place. Most types of modern music were off limits, as were most movies, TV shows, and other popular media. In the classroom, we read books by authors like John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur, but they always came with a disclaimer. I spent my last two years on campus wrestling over the theological and exegetical foundations for these practices and felt like we needed to be somewhere more biblically and theologically robust. So in the summer of 2002, we packed up and moved to Minneapolis, where I started the apprenticeship program at Bethlehem Baptist Church. But I knew this move would lead to a separation from Northland. While I certainly maintained relationships with many on campus, I assumed that I would never be able to have close ties to my alma mater. There was much about Northland to love: a unique emphasis on servant leadership; a humble administration, faculty, and staff; a strong love for the Word of God; and a radical commitment to world missions. But it seemed like the strict separatism and all that went along with it would keep me, and many other alumni from my generation, from having close relationships with Northland. It was a fundamentalist school in every meaningful sense of the word, and none of us expected that to change.
But God was at work in ways many of us alumni never expected. The centrality of the gospel was taking deeper root at the school, and the results we have seen are encouraging. Over the course of three or four years, Northland underwent some important transformations, including receiving accreditation and changing some of the unnecessary rules. But more importantly, Northland became a place where the gospel is at the center, and rules and regulations are not. In a recent letter, outgoing Northland president Matt Olson listed some of the changes the school underwent in the last few years. He explained:
- Northland went from the exclusive use of the King James Version in the pulpit and classrooms to allowing other translations.
- Northland went from a demerit system to a discipleship platform for our students. Yes, we still have rules: we still confront, and we still have consequences. We just believe we have a better and more biblical model now. It is built on relationships. We are always looking for better ways to accomplish our mission.
- Northland went from practicing some forms of “secondary separation” to what we now understand to be a more biblical separation. Where we would not have had men like John MacArthur, Rick Holland, Ken Ham, Bruce Ware, or Mark Dever, we would now. We see no reason to separate from these men. We would consider them to be in the spirit of historic fundamentalism; they believe in the orthodox faith, will separate over it, and live godly lives.
- Northland went from only allowing “traditional” styles of music to accepting more modern styles as well. A blend of traditional and current music is used in our programs and chapel.
- We created an overarching name of Northland International University to give our students greater opportunities with the gospel worldwide. The change was driven by our passion to reach every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
To many TGC readers, these changes might sound obvious. But at Northland, they reflect something deeper. They reflect the way the gospel, rightly applied, will eventually work itself out at the institutional level. While some of the parallels break down, Michael Horton’s explanation of semper reformanda was applied at Northland: “It is not because the culture is always changing and we need to be up with the times, but because we are always in need of being re-oriented to the Word that stands over us, individually and collectively, that the church can never stand still.” In the same way, an institution must always be re-orienting itself to the Word and asking whether its practices and policies could reflect greater fidelity to the Word of God. And when this practice is taken seriously, great things can happen.
Now there is more hope for Northland than ever. Along with a renewed emphasis on the centrality of the gospel, the school is still committed to a unique emphasis on humble, servant leadership; strong love for the Word of God; and radical giving to world missions (in a 2009 survey, 44 percent of the student body planned to serve overseas). So Northland is worth knowing about and praying for. Especially now. The school is facing some significant challenges in the coming months. In just a few weeks, Olson will be moving on from his role as president of the school. Also, it is no secret that most Christian colleges live and die by their constituencies, and making changes means alienating some of those constituents.
I don’t pretend to speak for Northland. I have recently re-connected with some of the leaders at the school and teach an occasional course for their distance program. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything the school says and does. But I have seen the way a re-centering in the gospel can transform a school, and for that I praise God.
Some of my fellow Northland alumni are upset because the school did not change fast enough or pursue change in the way they would have done it. Others are upset because they thought nothing should change. Ever. Still others are upset because of Olson’s departure on the heels of many of these changes. To those alumni and friends, I would simply ask that you to grant the same grace to the institution that you would to a fellow Christian who is growing in grace. We will all make mistakes, and we all have room for growth. We can all learn from the example of an institution that is willing to further submit itself to God’s Word—in spite of the criticism and challenges these changes will bring. So pray for Northland as it searches for a new president and be praying about God’s continued work there, knowing that when the gospel moves to the center, amazing things can happen to an individual, a church, and even a fundamentalist school.’ https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/can-god-save-a-fundamentalist-school/
In Part One Dr. David Nettleton was quoted saying ‘Today we are choosing between two alternatives: A LIMITED MESSAGE OR A LIMITED FELLOWSHIP. If we preach all of the Bible truths, there are many places where we will never be invited. If we join hands with the crowd, there will be the limiting of the message of the Bible.’
The doctrine of separation and especially that separation from other Christian believers is almost an anathema today. The thought of separating from another Christian conjures up all sort of thoughts and questions. Who do you think you are? Where’s your love? What about grace?
Nevertheless, separation is a necessity in the Christian life. As Dr. Earnest Pickering wrote in BIBLICAL SEPARATION page 106 ‘Separation requires severance from that which is wrong.’ Around 57 A.D. Paul wrote in 2Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
A year later Paul wrote Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
These passages along with many others tell us there is a difference, or should be, in the life of a believer from what they were before salvation. So, what are we to do with professing believers that seek to mix the world with the church and the believer’s life? One would have to be a blind Freddy not see how much influence the world has on Christians. This worldly influence has reached into the theology of Puritan piety. Today, there is a resurgence of Calvinist teaching which was the teaching of the Puritans which included holy living. However, according to Dr. Peter Masters this resurgent Calvinism is not the Puritan Calvinism of old especially in its matter of sanctification. This New Calvinism is the foundation theology in two fairly new organizations, The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel. Now, I am not defending Calvin or the teaching that has taken his name but it is well worth reading what Dr. Peter Masters, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London has to say on this issue of New Calvinism. He writes,
‘A new form of Calvinism took the shape of a movement from about 2005, but it differed from the original in its acceptance of ‘the world’. This critique written in 2009 was sharply attacked by new Calvinistic preachers but strongly endorsed by conservative preachers worldwide.
When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.
But now, it appears, there is a new Calvinism, with new Calvinists, which has swept the old objectives aside. A recent book, Young, Restless, Reformed, by Collin Hansen tells the story of how a so-called Calvinistic resurgence has captured the imaginations of thousands of young people in the USA, and this book has been reviewed with great enthusiasm in well-known magazines in the UK, such as Banner of Truth, Evangelical Times, and Reformation Today.
This writer, however, was very deeply saddened to read it, because it describes the New Calvinism as a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a sovereign God. If this kind of Calvinism prospers, then genuine biblical piety will be under attack as never before.
The author of the book is a young man (around 26 when he wrote it) who grew up in a Christian family and trained in secular journalism. We are indebted to him for the readable and wide-reaching survey he gives of this new phenomenon, but the scene is certainly not a happy one.
The author begins by describing the Passion, conference at Atlanta in 2007, where 21,000 young people revelled in contemporary music, and listened to speakers such as John Piper proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments. And this picture is repeated many times through the book – large conferences being described at which the syncretism of worldly, sensation-stirring, high-decibel, rhythmic music, is mixed with Calvinistic doctrine. This gives a clear picture of what New Calvinism is about.
We are told of thunderous music, thousands of raised hands, ‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction) uniting the doctrines of grace with the immoral drug-induced musical forms of worldly culture.
Collin Hansen contends that American Calvinism collapsed at the end of the nineteenth century and was maintained by only a handful of people until this great youth revival, but his historical scenario is, frankly, preposterous. As one who regularly visited American seminaries to speak from the early 1970s, I constantly met many preachers and students who loved the doctrines of grace, preaching also in churches of solid Calvinistic persuasion. But firmer evidence of the extensive presence of Calvinism is seen from the fact that very large firms of publishers sent out a stream of reformed literature post-war and through the 1980s. The mighty Eerdmans was solidly reformed in times past, not to mention Baker Book House, and Kregel and others. Where did all these books go – thousands upon thousands of them, including frequently reprinted sets of Calvin’s commentaries and a host of other classic works?
In the 1970s and 80s there were also smaller Calvinistic publishers in the USA, and at that time the phenomenon of Calvinistic discount Christian bookshops began, with bulging catalogue lists and a considerable following. The claim that Calvinism virtually disappeared is hopelessly mistaken.
Indeed, a far better quality Calvinism still flourishes in very many churches, where souls are won and lives sanctified, and where Truth and practice are both under the rule of Scripture. Such churches have no sympathy at all with reporter Collin Hansen’s worldly-worship variety, who seek to build churches using exactly the same entertainment methods as most charismatics and the Arminian Calvary Chapel movement.
The new Calvinists constantly extol the Puritans, but they do not want to worship or live as they did. One of the vaunted new conferences is called Resolved, after Jonathan Edwards’ famous youthful Resolutions (seventy searching undertakings). But the culture of this conference would unquestionably have met with the outright condemnation of that great theologian.
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)
In times of disobedience the Jews of old syncretised by going to the Temple or the synagogue on the sabbath, and to idol temples on weekdays, but the new Calvinism has found a way of uniting spiritually incompatible things at the same time, in the same meeting.
C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the ‘new Calvinist’ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.
It was a protégé of this preacher named Joshua Harris who started the New Attitude conference for young people. We learn that when a secular rapper named Curtis Allen was converted, his new-born Christian instinct led him to give up his past life and his singing style. But Pastor Joshua Harris evidently persuaded him not to, so that he could sing for the Lord. The New Calvinism movement or The New Calvinists do not hesitate to override the instinctual Christian conscience, counselling people to become friends of the world.
One of the mega-churches admired in the book is the six-thousand strong Mars Hill Church at Seattle, founded and pastored by Mark Driscoll, who blends emerging church ideas (that Christians should utilise worldly culture) with Calvinistic theology [see endnote 1].
This preacher is also much admired by some reformed men in the UK, but his church has been described (by a sympathiser) as having the most ear-splitting music of any, and he has been rebuked by other preachers for the use of very ‘edgy’ language and gravely improper humour (even on television). He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus t-shirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship.
Most of the well-known preachers who promote and encourage this ‘revival’ of Calvinism (or New Calvinism) have in common the following positions that contradict a genuine Calvinistic (or Puritan) outlook:
- They have no problem with contemporary charismatic-ethos worship, including extreme, heavy-metal forms.
- They are soft on separation from worldliness [see endnote 2].
- They reject the concern for the personal guidance of God in the major decisions of Christians (true sovereignty), thereby striking a death-blow to wholehearted consecration.
- They hold anti-fourth-commandment views, taking a low view of the Lord’s Day, and so inflicting another blow at a consecrated lifestyle.
Whatever their strengths and achievements (and some of them are brilliant men by any human standard), or whatever their theoretical Calvinism, the poor stand of these preachers on these crucial issues will only encourage a fatally flawed version of Calvinism that will lead people to be increasingly wedded to the world, and to a self-seeking lifestyle. Truly proclaimed, the sovereignty of God must include consecration, reverence, sincere obedience to his will, and separation from the world, and the New Calvinism has very little of that.
You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism (also known as The New Calvinism).
Why do some British Christians who hold the doctrines of grace give enthusiastic reviews to a book like this? There have been times in the past when large numbers of young people have suddenly become intellectually enthusiastic about solid Christian doctrine, only to abandon it almost as quickly. One thinks of the tremendous response the unique oratory of Francis Schaeffer secured on university campuses in the 1960s, and no doubt some young people were truly saved and established, but very many more turned aside. Gripped by the superiority of a biblical worldview, they momentarily despised the illogical, flaccid ideas of this world, but the impression in numerous cases was natural rather than spiritual. The present new, heady Calvinism, shorn of practical obedience will certainly prove to be ephemeral, leaving the cause compromised and scarred.
Has the New Calvinism come to Britain yet? Alas, yes; one only has to look at the ‘blogs’ of some younger reformed pastors who put themselves forward as mentors and advisers of others. When you look at their ‘favourite films’, and ‘favourite music’ you find them unashamedly naming the leading groups, tracks and entertainment of debased culture, and it is clear that the world is still in their hearts. Years ago, such brethren would not have been baptised until they were clear of the world, but now you can go to seminary, no questions asked, and take up a pastorate, with unfought and unsurrendered idols in the throne room of your life. What hope is there for churches that have under-shepherds whose loyalties are so divided and distorted?
Aside from pastors, we know some ‘new’ young Calvinists who will never settle in a dedicated, working church, because their views live only in their heads and not their hearts. We know of some whose lives are not clean. We know of others who go clubbing. The greater their doctrinal prowess, the greater their hypocrisy.
These are harsh words, but they lead me to say that where biblical, evangelical Calvinism shapes conduct, and especially worship, it is a very humbling, beautiful system of Truth, but where it is confined to the head, it inflates pride and self-determination.
The new Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world.
Why have the leading preachers servicing this movement compromised so readily? They have not been threatened by a Soviet regime. No one has held a gun to their heads. This is a shameful capitulation, and we must earnestly pray that what they have encouraged will not take over Calvinism and ruin a generation of reachable Christian young people.
A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.
True Calvinism and worldliness are opposites. Preparation of heart is needed if we would search the wonders and plumb the depths of sovereign grace. We find it in the challenging, convicting call of Joshua:
‘Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ https://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/Christian-Article/New-Calvinism-Merger-of-Calvinism-and-Worldliness/Sword-and-Trowel-Magazine
The Bible has not changed but Christianity has! Nevertheless, believers are still to come out and be separate from the world and not to be conformed to this world!