Sunday, October 08, 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 :)


Blogger Earl said...

It is wonderful to read what God is doing in Malaysia.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Bradley said...

Great thoughts. Very insightful. I'm the "Bradley Cochran" of the article in Christianity Today (the guy who went to Liberty University).

What I appreciated about your blog is this: when we convened to discuss the topic for the article, we were told it would be about answering the question, "Why the Reformed Resurgance?" However, after discussing two reasons, the discussion went into more of an indigting commentary on Armenianism (you could surely understand how that might happen). We didn't come close to a thorough discussion of our topic.

After the meeting was over, I approached the guy who was to edit the article with my dissappointment about this, and he turned on his digital recorder again and let me present all the reasons I had prepared to share (I had about 7 listed reasons).

I don't remember what they were now, but I had racked my mind in thinking about it before the meeting. The article never really built a strong case for what was causing the resurgance.

I think I might post soon about this, and try to remember what I said to that day we discussed the issue for the article.

1:06 PM  
Blogger The Hedonese said...

Thanks for leaving your comments, guys! Long live the rebelutionary, radical reformission :)

6:08 AM  
Blogger Sookie said...

Hullo Dave,
I read in your profile that you are working in Ipoh but you state yr church to be one in Subang Jaya...I am currently studying abroad but am very likely to be based in Ipoh when I graduate. Was just wondering if you know where I could go for services in Ipoh (English).
By recommending a place I could go, you are certainly not putting down the rest as I am a firm believer of God working churches big or small, evangelical-prone or pastoral/discipleship-leaning. But it would just give me general idea and narrow down the choices a bit more!
Many thanks :)

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Joshua3 said...

After reading a bit of your blog, i reckon that I am a Reformed Charismatic!

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Hi Sookie,

I have written a mail to you some time back, not sure if you got it. But in case not, and not knowing your background, location and preference, here are some good bets in ipoh - Canning Garden Methodist Church and St Andrews Presbyterian :) I used to go to a Cantonese speaking Methodist at Pasir Pinji.

Hi Joshua

Hehehe.. yay!! May we continue to learn to integrate heart and mind, theology and doxology :)

9:06 AM  
Blogger yourshoeah said...


I have just been taking a cursory look at Reformation history (and getting back to my 'Presbyterian' roots) and realizing how much the State was utilized in Calvin's holistic task of reforming his world, not just through correct teaching.

I am awaiting the day when Christians can deeply affect decisions to amend unfair/unjust articles that are embedded in the Federal Constitution, and see righteousness and justice become the norm, rather than the exception in a country as culturally and ethnically diverse as Malaysia (ie. Geneva).

Any John Knox wannabes?


12:14 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Hey Yoshua, amen! Let's do our bit to raise up the future Knoxs and Spurgeons hehe..

Heard of Tim Keller? He's presbyterian and has a very refreshing stress on gospel and cultural renewal.. the kind of urban church i'd hope to see more of in msia

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Robin Teo said...

Hi Dave the Hedonist, :)
I am encouraged to stumble into your blogspace. I enjoyed reading this article too, as a Malaysian living overseas. I know of the few local names you mentioned, ie. the Tow bros, and Poh Boon Sing. Its good to hear the work God is doing in Malaysia, and we shall continue to pray for churches to be grounded in His Words and proclaim the good news as God centered work in Christ.

I do however disagree with you on the final points you wrote,

"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."

All these men, including the scholars are all great men in Christ. I think its a false dichotomy to categorise who should be more esteemed over because they are more mission and evangelism biased. The church need both good teachers, evangelists, and scholars alike. And I hope by categorising them as scholars we are not saying they have no evangelism and mission in their heart, and they are just secluding to a scholarly world of their own. Benjamin Warfield, as much I have read, toiled his effort in teaching solid theology in seminary to raise good men to guide the churches of his day. He has also demonstrated a humble attitude in serving his bed ridden wife for their whole life time together while serving God in the seminary. He was also passionate in defending the scripture against the liberalism of his day. Much of the damage of liberalism has caused deterioration in Europe, and if its not for men like Warfield, the churches in his continent would probably be worst off.

I think every reformed Christians should be passionate about theology (which certainly doesn't exclude scholarship at some point) and also evangelism. Granted that some are more gifted in the work of one area than the other, that doesn't excuse us still to be biblical theologian to do God's work ie. missions.

As for Mark Driscoll, I have great respect for him and his work. I think he has certain strength and doing certain things in a great way. However, one should also be discerning, that not everything he does should be taken as good example. He himself is reforming and maturing, and I think he sees that himself.

All I am saying is, the churches need great men and women, great theologians/scholars and missionaries, and also God's people who are called to be faithful servants in all worldly vocation. We too need great musicians, artists, breadmakers, businessmen, scientists etc whose work reflect Christ's likeness, that their vocation is brought to great height (not necessary success) in terms of beauty, efficiency, integrity and care because of their trust in Christ.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Hedonese said...

Hi Robin, Good to continue this conversation with another Msian. Things have progressed much since i wrote this piece. For example, the Gospel growth fellowship led by another Robin (Moore grad) is a notable development and I admire the word being done at St Mary etc.

I agree with all that you wrote on the need for scholars and the reforming Driscoll. Different giftings, different callings, one Lord and one gospel.

Perhaps I could have made it clearer. The question is not to elevate evangelists and downgrade scholars (being a fan of many scholars myself), but more of an emphasis when it comes to introducing reformed theology in our msian context.

The same point was made by John Piper.

Diff people come to Reformed theology in different pathways. Some come to it via biblical studies (Carson?). But most Msians I think would be more readily to listen if they hear of passionate evangelists/missionaries whose calvinism made them better. Warfield is good at defending doctrine ie inerrancy but i don't think he contributes to mission in the same way other reformed scholars like Harvey Conn or Tim Keller does. There is quite a big difference in how their scholarship relates to mission though none are 'ivory tower' thinkers :)

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Robin Teo said...

Hi Dave! thanks for the quick reply! I do realise that this is a 2006 entry, and not sure whether it will still get some attention heheh. Thanks for the clarification, overall I do agree, the reformed camp do need stronger evangelism and mission effort. Yes, I do note too that Warfield has a different emphasis in his ministry. I just recognise that is most definitely due to where he is placed and the calling God has given to him. I just pray and hope the Asian churches do not have to deal with liberalism. If so we would have to reference back to what these men has done in their days. Much like us looking back to the reformers and Augustine in battling against arminianism.

I do hear what you are saying about strong reformed evangelists and missionaries doing the ground work. We definitely need more of them.

When you mentioned Robin from Moore college, and working at St Mary's, is this Robin and Joy Gan by any chance?


8:51 PM  
Anonymous Hedonese said...

:) I still check this blog once in a blue moon though is where the action is.

Yes, tats rite. Robin Gan is the pastor and I think his church CERC is near my office in Sunway while Andrew is in St Mary Anglican church near Dataran Merdeka.

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