Monday, February 23, 2009

Calvin Conference and Confessional Calvinists

Over the weekend our church hosted a Calvin conference in honor of John Calvin's 500th birthday. Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, and Reformed, was our keynote speaker. I also spoke at the conference, as well as several local pastors. The conference audio should be online in the next day or two.

I will probably share more about the conference throughout the week, but let me just share one highlight and one bit of reflection.

One of the highlights was getting to spend time with Collin and his lovely wife Lauren. They are both intelligent, affable, and great lovers of sports (yes, both love sports!). My wife and I enjoyed their company. Collin has lots of great stories (he's interviewed so many fascinating people) and a very keen mind for analysis. Somewhat unrelated, I should add that Collin insisted, and apparently always insists, on using "Peach" as his driver in Mario Cart (because of the way she "oohs" he says). I, on the other hand, enjoy Wario for his intimidating countenance and no-holds barred attitude. Surely if the stereotypes mean anything, Wario is the Reformed driver, not Peach. But other than Collin's curious Nintendo choices, the weekend with he and his wife made for great company and conversation.

On to my one bit of reflection. As Collin spoke I was struck by the fact that the Reformed resurgence is due in large part (though certainly not entirely) to non-confessional (at least in the historic sense) Baptists (e.g., John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll). As a confessional Reformed paedobaptist, this caused me to reflect on what some of the influence-limiting dangers may be for people in my camp.

1. There is a danger that we get bored with the doctrines of grace. Many baptists stand out in their own circles because of their reformed theology and they often come to it later in life, whereas those in confessional Reformed/Presbyterian background gets Calvinism from day one and grow tired of it. It's no coincidence that the largest (only large?) emergenty church is in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Many people raised on reformed theology, if they don't see vitality and enthusiasm in their families and in their churches, grow tired of Calvinism and end up dabbling with something newer and cooler. This will be a challenge for those of us in the young, restless, reformed crowd as we try to pass on our passion to our children.

2. There is a danger that we call people to confessionalism instead of calling people to Christ. I love the doctrinal standards of my denomination. I wrote on the Heidelberg Catechism for an entire year. I've preached for months on the Belgic Confession. I've taught Sunday school classes on the Canons of Dort. I read all three Standards devotionally. I think young people are hungry for the meat of confessions and catechisms. But only if we use them to point people to Christ. We must not be heralds for Presbyterianism, but rather heralds for Christ, who love our historic documents because we see Christ in them.

3. There is a danger that we focus most on what makes us Reformed or Presbyterian instead of what makes us Evangelical. I am not advocating for a bland kind of evangelicalism, but rather a passionate Reformed confessionalism that centers on and glories in the gospel and the cross rather than on the nuances of Van Til's apologetics and the intricacies of the regulative principle.

4. There is a danger that we do not know how to be ourselves. Effective preaching is always truth through personality. This means letting our own humor, intensity, interests, and stories come through in our preaching, not so that we become the focus but so people see us as real people and not automatons for the Westminster assembly. We need to be ok in our own skin, not in B.B. Warfield's skin.

Thankfully, we in the confessional Reformed tradition are not without good models (e.g., R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Tim Keller). So let all the confessional Calvinists give thanks for the Baptists, Charismatics, and Anglicans who love the doctrines of grace. And let us proclaim the doctrines of grace with all the gospel-centered, Christ-centered passion they deserve.


Meredith said...

As a non-confessional Southern Baptist, I greatly appreciate your insight and encouragement. It is a fantastic reminder for us all.

Allen R. Mickle, Jr. said...

Of course you're not referring to all the Particular Baptist throughout Baptist history who were confessional?

Kevin DeYoung said...


Good point. Certain strains of Baptist hold to the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 or the New Hampshire Confession (a century and a half later) as their doctrinal standards.

chrisdat said...

Great insight. I too am a lover of the confessions. I too teach every year on the Westminster Standards. My library and personal reading extends deeply into Heidelberg, Beligic, Canons of Dort etc. I love doctrine and believe it should be taught and embraced.

But, like you I fear that there is a tendency to among some to hold more highly to the Confessions then to the Cross. No confessional Christian would ever admit this. But when you look at what engages their time, their blogs, their writings and teaching, and most importantly their passion - I think it is fair to question where there heart lies.

It's not Cross or Confession. It's because of the cross that we see the beauty in the confessions. We must be passionately committed to a cross-centered, gospel-driven, Christ-saturated teaching of the confessions. Not a confession-centered, confession-driven, confession-saturated teaching of the cross.

Arthur Sido said...


Enjoyed the conference, it was nice to spend time with like minded folks in our new home area. I found your historical overview of Calvin's life very helpful.

I think you hit on a key point here:

"We must not be heralds for Presbyterianism, but rather heralds for Christ, who love our historic documents because we see Christ in them."

There is a tendency among some in the Pres/Ref camp to focus on the confessions over the One being confessed. The same holds true among Baptists who are more concerned with "Baptist Identity" or "Baptist Distinctives". At the risk of sounding like a homer, I would say that most Reformed Baptist types hold to the 1689, but it is not as prominent as the Heidelberg or Westminster confessions are for some.

Hope you folks have more conferences in the future.

Chris said...

Agree wholeheartedly, especially with Point 1. As a late-in-life arriver to Reformed theology, I feel like I'm able to more clearly share why I believe the doctrines of grace are so clear in Scripture because I've thought about them more specifically and deeply since I'm, well, old. I don't think I had such a burning desire to seek God and His truth when I was younger.

I attended the conference on Friday night (missed Saturday due to the weather) and was greatly encouraged to see such a multi-generational crowd. My wife and I are searching for a new church in Ann Arbor and I would love to be a part of a congregation that has both young and old. If I have to be around people like myself all the time I just might go crazy...

Post a Comment