Friday, June 19, 2009

Calvinism with Worldliness: Peter Masters Firing Blanks

There’s a lot to admire about Peter Masters. He’s held a long ministry in one place – the Metropolitan Tabernacle (Spurgeon’s) at London’s Elephant and Castle. He’s built the church up from a much weaker state. He preaches the gospel with a passion and clarity that suggests it really matters. I have a tape of his on ‘Evangelistic arguments from Jeremiah’ that’s thirty years old and more – I still go back to it often to learn about evangelistic preaching. Much to admire.
But I first began to suspect that there may be something wrong when I discovered – a quarter of a century ago now – that a commentary on Exodus that he had dismissed as ‘liberal’ had actually been written by Hywel Jones, one of my tutors. Now, Hywel may be wrong on the date of the Exodus (or not), but he’s no more a liberal than Rowan Williams is evangelical. I’m grateful for the discovery – it warned me not to take too much of what Masters says at face value.
Now, Masters has launched an attack on Piper, MacArthur, Dever, Mohler and Mahaney. They are, and are supporting, ‘the New Calvinists’, a shocking merger (says Masters) of Calvinism and worldliness. But even before you read the article, it’s just possible you might be given pause for thought. Leave out CJ Mahaney for a moment – he is, after all, a Charismatic and one who regularly points out his own lack of formal theological qualification. (‘I’ve no letters after my name – but I do have two in front of it!’) Any one of the others might be thought to be – at least – a match for Masters intellectually and theologically. If all four of them are on one side and Masters on the other – at the very least, we need to beware of 'just assuming' Masters is right. (I mean, if I challenge four heavyweight title holders to a street fight, don’t just assume I’m going to leave them all bloodied on the ground. I might – but don’t take it for granted!) One or two of my e-friends have commented; here's my bob's worth.
Now, Masters is a very good debater but (it seems to me) a very poor thinker. That is, he can make an argument sound persuasive, but seems unable to tell the difference himself between a good argument and a bad argument. (I remember some years ago pointing out to some of his acolytes that the arguments Masters uses to support Sunday Schools are very similar to the arguments he says are invalid when they’re used to support home groups. A good argument, for Masters, is one that supports his case. And his case is - always - that fifties church culture plus reformed doctrine is the Biblical ideal for the rest of time.)
Take, for example, his use of Scripture in this article. There isn’t any. Well, there almost is - there are two quotes from Scripture in the article – one at the beginning, one at the end. At the beginning, he says ‘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.’ Indeed, Dr. Masters. And the need to be fully devoted to the Lord is a Scriptural teaching. But why – on what Scriptural basis – do you assume that the music style of worship shows they are not devoted? Would you think your Free Church of Scotland friends had a point if they attacked you for worldliness because you sing more than unaccompanied Psalms? If they said that the Met Tab promotes ‘a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a Sovereign God’? Would you not want them to do more – much more – than shout louder when you asked them to justify their position?
‘The author begins by describing the Tabernacle Summer School where several hundred people gather to revel in man-made hymns and listen to speakers such as Peter Masters proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments.’
His second use of Scripture is a quote from 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.’ Again – indeed. But do guitars – even loud guitars – take away ‘sincerity and truth’? Are Piper and Dever and MacArthur and Mahaney worshipping false gods? If not, what’s the relevance of this quote?
Actually, its relevance is two-fold. First, it is relevant because it shows the absolute inability of Masters to produce a Scripture that really does shore up his case – if this is the nearest he can get. And secondly it reveals what I can only call theological bullying. He frightens people.
‘If you don’t agree with me, you don’t stand with the past worthies. If you don’t stand with me, you don’t stand with God. Look, the Scriptures talk about consecration. The Scriptures talk about worshipping the one true God. If you disagree with me about music, there’s no point talking to you. No point reasoning with you. You’re an idolater. You’re worldly. And worldliness is enmity against God.’
Do you want another bad argument? Take this one. ‘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.’ Yes, and I know some ‘old’ Calvinists who never settle in a dedicated, working church – some of whom are so influenced by Masters that they can’t find a church sufficiently uncompromised! And I know one ‘old’ Calvinist who turned out – after his death – to have been living a double life, with a mistress and a second family. So – old Calvinism is evil! Evil! Well, no – of course not. Just the man. Just the man.
And here’s another one. He criticises Driscoll (who hasn’t?). 'He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, 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.' Yes, Puritan doctrine forbids teeshirts (isn’t it t-shirts?) and we should preach like them in a suit and tie, shouldn’t we? Oh, no – wait a minute… the Puritans didn't, did they? And if Masters responds – as I imagine he would – ‘Everything should be done decently and in order. The Puritans dressed decently according to their own day, and we should dress decently according to ours’ – then he’s shot himself in the foot. Because once you say ‘according to their day’ you’re admitting that dress modes change. For all I know, a t-shirt is decent attire in 21st –Century Seattle. (More important: worldliness includes being concerned about dress. To give too much importance to that is, frankly, being conformed to the world.) So many of Masters’ arguments turn back against him: he criticises rap: "‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction…") Awkward in construction? Man, have you tried singing from the Psalter?
I write this with genuine respect for Peter Masters. The evangelical church in this country is much weaker because he has chosen to stay aloof (and so is he). But I write it because he scares people.
Actually, I know no-one – no-one, not even Peter Masters – who is stronger on separation from worldliness than John Piper. In his teaching. In his life-style. It’s a shame to see Masters turning his guns on these men. But he’s only firing blanks –let’s hope too many people are not terrified by the loudness.


Jonathan Hunt said...

To be fair, I understand the criticism of the 'jesus teeshirt' to be primarily the fact that the garment has a depiction of Jesus on it, in what the author (and I) would consider to be a breach of the second commandment.

Gary Benfold said...

I applaud your desire to be fair. But to be fair to me, Masters doesn't say that. The whole quote is 'He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, 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.'
The point he makes is about compromise with culture; I don't think images of Jesus rate very high in Seattle culture!
I too think that pictures of Jesus breach the second commandment

Exiled Preacher said...

Discussing "Masters" and "fair" in the same context isn't exactly...well...fair, now is it?

Deek Dubberly said...

Interview with Peter Masters - Article on New Calvinism

Jonathan Hunt said...

We should all aim to be fair regardless of what we think of other people.

Exiled Preacher said...

I agree J. I hope that I was fair to PM on my blog. I was commenting on the incongruity of you asking that Masters be treated fairly despite the manifest unfairness of his article.

Jenson Lim said...

At least Peter Masters was firing something... blanks can still injure/kill.

How many have holstered their weapon these days?

Exiled Preacher said...

Plenty are firing their weapons, Jenson, including men criticised by Masters. For example, John Piper has been shooting up the new perspective on Paul in his book, "The Future of Justification". But while Piper is busy firing at the enemy, Masters seems to delight in taking pot shots at his comrades in arms.

Jenson said...

Guy, PM may have dealt with the NPP in the LRBS or the Ministers' Fraternal. I know the Tab bookshop is selling Guy Water Prentiss' book.

Exiled Preacher said...

Glad to hear it. But PM isn't the only one contending for the faith. Others are engaged in the battle too and Piper is certainly one of them.

Wendy B said...

I'm so pleased to find a blog with this kind of article on it. Thank you for saying it out loud. I have had terrible trouble not being frightened by Peter Masters although I also greatly appreciate a great deal of his preaching!

James S said...

Yeah, I hate to see that Masters is so short sighted. I also am one who does appreciate his ministry and stand for biblical truth. But as Gary shows, he also is illogical on some things.
The t-shirt thing and the musical preference things are not biblical truth-related, and he somehow doesn't see that.

It kind of reminds me of John MacArthur, a man who I really never followed but suddenly became aware of him when he made that rant against anyone not being premilennial or dispensational.

I have come to appreciate his stand however for all other biblical issues, especially against postmodernism and 'liberal christianity' (which often means no-christianity).
But I'll always be leery of him because of the seemingly 'out-of touch-with-reality' stand about premillenialism.

I guess sometimes it's good to see a person's faults so easily, because everyone of us has them and it could take years for others to uncover them. We should be leery of everybody, really, because we are all human and prone to short-sightednes, mistakes and silly ways.

I have even heard my hero Dick Lucas put down any kind of music other than classical. I may agree with Dick Lucas on just about everything biblical, but I bet he wouldn't be pleased to know that I would rather listen to some 'classic' live Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple or Rush any day than hear classical music.

Chris Stobart said...

Thanks for this brother. I'm considering a move to London and knowing of Masters and things like what you're describing here, I had a bit of a guilt complex about the fact that I would rather go to St Helen's, Bishopsgate anyday. I hold a Baptist view on a lot of things, but this Anglican church in the City is known for great exposition (I've got some podcasts of them on my iPod for daily devotions) and outreach... oh and free food!

P.S. I'm also an Arminian non-cessationist but I hope that won't make you think I'm damned.

Gary Benfold said...

No, of course not Chris. In fact the only thing I thought when I saw your contribution was what just about everyone must think when they see your surname. So - are you?
But I doubt if you're really an Arminian; there are not a lot of them about, and those that are wouldn't like the teaching at St Helen's.

Chris Stobart said...

The answer to your question (a year late) is yes I'm very distantly related to Eddie. The family line parts in about 1590 or something like that.