By Dr. Rick Patrick
Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church
Long before the dot-com crisis fifteen years ago and the real estate disaster five years ago, from the Dutch Golden Age of the Seventeenth Century comes the fascinating story of the world’s very first speculative economic bubble. Known as Tulip Mania, the price of tulips in the Netherlands skyrocketed so rapidly that at its peak in 1637 a single tulip bulb sold for more money than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.
This frenzied excitement stemming from instant fortunes was frowned upon by the stern Calvinists of the day as a denial of the virtues of moderation and diligence. Please take a moment to savor the delicious irony of Calvinists refusing to embrace the tulip.
The bubble burst at an auction in Haarlem, when buyers apparently refused to show up. Only sellers existed, with no buyers at all to purchase the flowers. In just a few weeks, prices fell to one percent of their earlier value. Many wanted to sell the tulip, but nobody was buying it anymore. Everyone who really wanted a tulip already had one. The trend would not continue its skyrocketing trajectory, but was destined for a mighty crash.
In a similar fashion, ministries often confuse short term trends with long term realities. A church growing from 0 to 500 over five years believes it will run 1,000 in ten years, following the logic of a simple straight line progression. One might ask the bankrupt Rev. Robert Schuller about the validity of such projections. Sometimes trends drop off mildly, while other times they crash, which explains the reason investment companies disclaim their funds by stating: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
The historic rise of Reformed theology in America over the past few years has been well documented. This movement famously described by Collin Hansen as “Young, Restless and Reformed” totally dominated the Christian landscape over the first decade of this century. If Calvinism were a commodity, then in 2000 I would certainly have bought futures in Mars Hill Church, the Acts 29 Network and Sovereign Grace Ministries. Today, however, I would consider them much riskier investments.
Mark Driscoll is not only mired in charges from former members concerning church discipline practices, but he has admitted to the existence of visions so disturbing one wonders how any church member would not feel their privacy violated. In a similar fashion, C. J. Mahaney faces charges of misconduct related to discipline, not to mention a charge of negligence in dealing with allegations of child abuse by staff members.
With the arrival of 2013, thousands of ministers across America are actively selling the TULIP. What is less certain is the existence of a market in the American Christian landscape for many more of these Reformed congregations. By its own internal logic, Calvinism isn’t for everyone. Could it be that the TULIP once again has more sellers than buyers?
Is the market for Reformed theology reaching its saturation point? With more Calvinists today than at any point over the past one hundred years, is it possible that the pendulum is about to swing back in the other direction? Will the Calvinistic growth trend continue its meteoric rise? Will it slowly wane in popularity? Or will the scandals of Reformed leaders so tarnish its reputation that the TULIP Mania bubble bursts once again?
Having finished speculating about the future spread of the TULIP congregationally, a matter that will only become clear with the passing of time, let us now turn our attention to the central issue of this essay and the spread of the TULIP theologically. By this I mean to suggest that Calvinism clearly influences a variety of Christian doctrines in addition to soteriology. Just as wild tulips in a field might double in number over the course of two years, the TULIP of Calvinism, though rooted in soteriology, has been known to blossom and cast its seed into other fields of doctrine influenced by its logic.
Determining the scope of Calvinism’s theological implications is vitally important, for if the present tensions in the Southern Baptist Convention represent nothing more than a minor squabble over salvation doctrine blown wildly out of proportion, then our heated theological debates can be attributed to the character flaws and personality conflicts of Ministers Behaving Badly, which sounds like a new television sitcom on NBC.
On the other hand, if instead of a minor squabble over salvation doctrine alone, we are in fact dealing with a widespread and multifaceted theological debate of denominational proportions, with seeds fertilizing nearly every field of Christian doctrine, then we are much more likely to view these debates as substantial and legitimate expressions of theological conviction, an effort to preserve our specific understanding of the faith, and to avoid the kind of cross-pollination that would result in a PresbyBaptist denomination.
Below is a list of theological categories, beginning with soteriology and extending to many other Christian doctrines, all of which are associated, directly or indirectly, with the Reformed movement. The more it can be demonstrated that certain burgeoning beliefs, intrinsic to Calvinism, are in fact spreading to other areas of Christian doctrine, the more it becomes clear that we are dealing with a profoundly significant and even denominationally defining phenomenon.
1. Soteriology: Does God choose only certain souls to overpower with an irresistible grace or does He offer every soul true freedom either to accept or to reject His grace?
2. Anthropology: Does God’s creation of man in His image so endow man with the gifts of reason and self-determining will that man possesses an ability to respond to the gospel by either embracing or rejecting the drawing of God’s Holy Spirit?
3. Patriology: When the Father considers lost souls and saved souls, does He possess the same love and saving desire for both, or does He reveal a public love and will to save all while contradicting it with a private love and will to save only some?
4. Hamartiology: Was I born simply with an inherited sinful nature inclining me to sin one day when I reached the stage of moral capacity, only then standing guilty before God not for my inherited sinful nature but for my own sinful actions? Or was I born not merely sinful, but actually guilty already for the sin committed by Adam, guilty before God and under His condemnation prior to any sinful deed on my part?
5. Missiology: In the interest of contextualizing the gospel in order to reach a secular culture, should we embrace more culturally acceptable positions on such issues as the environment, the use of beverage alcohol and concerns regarding homophobia?
6. Ecclesiology: Do we favor the Elder Led model of church government common in Reformed circles or the Classic Congregationalism associated with Southern Baptist life? Do we further emphasize such Reformed leadership characteristics as a strong emphasis upon Communion, the heavy use of church discipline measures and a disinclination to report congregational activity in the Annual Church Profile?
7. Christology: When Jesus was on the cross, did He have on His mind the sins of all people everywhere, or did He limit His own atoning work to the souls of only those persons He both knew would be saved and actually caused to be saved.
8. Pneumatology: Does the Holy Spirit regenerate a person’s soul prior to their profession and in order that they will respond with repentance and faith? Or does the Holy Spirit convict someone of sin and draw them to repent and believe, only then regenerating their soul through the inseparable experiences of grace received in that precise moment?
9. Eschatology: Are we to embrace those views popular among the Reformed, such as postmillennialism and optimistic amillennialism, in which the gospel changes the whole world, ushering in a Golden Age? Or do we favor the more pessimistic view of dispensational premillennialism, the most popular view among Southern Baptists generally, in which worldly matters grow increasingly worse, followed by the Rapture, the Tribulation and the Second Coming?
That TULIP Mania has spread theologically, not to mention culturally and practically, suggests that Southern Baptists have two distinct parties, each defined by a list of irreconcilable doctrines. With differences great enough to threaten a schism, the way to avoid one is to admit that fact and deal with it directly. As a matter of conscience, for example, one group might not wish to support the sending of missionaries and planting of churches promoting the other group’s doctrines. Can we not accommodate those wishes? If both sides are going to walk through this TULIP field hand in hand, then by God’s grace, we must not ignore all the obstacles, but tiptoe through them with more careful precision than the bizarre 1960’s icon Tiny Tim ever imagined possible.