About two months ago I saw a trailer for a yet-to-be-released documentary called "Calvinist." As a Calvinist myself, and since the trailer was intriguing and looked well done, I preorder a copy of the DVD. The movie was finally released and I received it and watched it earlier this week.
A Calvinist is a person who adheres to a Reformed understanding of salvation (also called the doctrines of grace, summarized by the acronym TULIP) and the complete sovereignty of God in all things - theology that was developed and propagated by Reformers such as John Calvin and many others. The documentary does a great job in briefly explaining these doctrines in a creative, entertaining, and very well-produced way (in other words, learning about this theology through this documentary is anything but boring).
An additional purpose of the movie is to look at why Calvinist/Reformed theology has made such a resurgence in American Christianity over the past 20 years or so. This is where I really connected with the documentary, as it seemed to be telling the story of my adult Christian life. Almost every instance that led to this resurgence listed in the film has also been evident in my life. Looking back on my life through the eyes of this film made me grateful to God how he awakened me to these life-giving, Christ-exalting doctrines in my spiritual journey.
First, the documentary says that one of the initiators of the Reformed resurgence was a preacher and teacher named R.C. Sproul. Sproul, now 78, is a Presbyterian minister who has written countless books and taught on Reformed theology for decades. In the year 2000 I was 20 years old and working as the janitor at Riverview. The days of constant mopping, window washing, and vacuuming soon grew long and boring. So I explored the church library for some listening options and came across a series of R.C. Sproul's teaching on cassette tape (yes, tape). I began listening mostly just to pass the time while I cleaned the church, but soon became enraptured in what he was saying. Later, I picked up one of Sproul's books, The Holiness of God which was a game-changer for me. In this book, Sproul lays out God's holiness in a way that I had never heard before, elevating God to the position of supreme sovereign of the universe, and myself as a worm. The contrast between his holiness and my own lowliness had never been clearer. When we understand God's holiness, we get a new appreciation for his sovereignty and how and why he works in the world. As I look back, this book was my entrance into Reformed theology.
Second, the documentary notes that a particular sermon by a preacher named Paul Washer was instrumental in drawing many people back to the authority of scripture and the call to continual repentance and Christian holiness. Washer is a former missionary to Peru and is now the leader of a missionary society and itinerant preacher. The untitled sermon has been unofficially regarded as the "Shocking Youth Message," as it was originally preached at a youth evangelism conference in 2002. I don't recall how I was first turned on to listening to this sermon, but I do recall, however, sitting at my desk in my office, enraptured by what he was saying, almost in tears, feeling as though I was being punched in the gut over and over by what this man was preaching. As one commentator I heard put it, "This sermon made me want to get saved - again." I was so impacted by this sermon, I immediately purchased DVD copies and gave them out to as many people as I could - both Christian and non-Christian alike. If you've never seen or heard the "Shocking Youth Message," you should stop what you're doing right now and take the next 59 minutes to watch it. You will be changed by it.
Third, the documentary notes that one of the supreme reasons for the resurgence in Reformed theology over the last two decades or so has been because of the writing and preaching of John Piper. It wasn't until after I was married that I really got into Piper's writing and preaching. I remember my first exposure to Piper's theology merely through the title of one of his books: The Pleasures of God: God's Delight in Being God. The title intrigued me. I had never before considered that God delighted in himself - that he delighted in being God, or that such a being as God had the right to delight in himself. The content of the book had much more to offer, however, and I was hooked. I have memories of washing dishes in the first apartment that my wife and I lived in, with John Piper's sermons in my ear buds (I had moved on from cassette tapes by then). And Piper kept publishing books. Books upon books. And I ate them up. The focus of Piper's writing and preaching, and his contribution to the Reformed resurgence has been to, I think, magnify the sovereignty of God, and how we as his children find our utmost satisfaction and fulfillment when we delight in his ultimate sovereignty. This overarching message is probably most clearly communicated in Piper's seminal work Desiring God. In this book you will most clearly read about Piper's flavor of Reformed theology. Probably the most accessible representation of Piper's theology and its application to everyday life is his brief book Don't Waste Your Life. If you want a taste of what delighting in the sovereignty of God looks like in your life, you should read this book. It was significantly influential in my own life and thinking.
It has been interesting to see how my personal spiritual development has influenced my thinking in every day life. My kids have recently gotten into the music of Petra - an 80's and 90's Christian rock band. Their 1990 album Beyond Belief is truly a masterpiece and occupies a spot on my personal top 10 list (on cassette tape). Recently, as I was listening to some of the songs from that album, my kids overheard and have since developed an appreciation for the music, to the extent that it's all they want to listen to nowadays. Last week I told them that in conjunction with the album, Petra produced a 60 minute movie that told a story with music videos of their songs interspersed, and they wanted to watch it, so we did. The movie tells the story of two brothers, the younger of which is an up and coming track and field star who is in the process of being recruited by universities and is receiving scholarship offers. His older brother (who is also his running coach) reveals that he has been diagnosed with cancer. This revelation infuriates the younger brother, who begins to blame God for all of his personal and family problems. The older brother maintains his walk of faith, and tries to encourage his younger brother to continue to trust God. As part of this process, the older brother tries to comfort his younger brother by saying, "God didn't give me this cancer." This statement, regardless of how comforting a person might find it, is biblically inaccurate (and actually, I don't find it either comforting or encouraging). This statement implies that God is not sovereign over cancer. Rather, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all things - even horrible things like cancer - and that he either causes them or allows them to happen for his purposes, which, also according to scripture, are always for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28). God is sovereign over everything - even cancer. And that should change how we think about cancer: it is not stronger than God; it is not out of his control; cancer is not sovereign - God is. That truth is encouraging; that truth is comforting. The idea that God is not sovereign over cancer is, to me, terrifying. If God is not sovereign over cancer, then it is an unsolvable mystery that can only lead to fear and doom. Praise the Lord that he is, indeed, sovereign over cancer. (Note: to show how even cancer is under God's control and can be used for his purposes and for our good, John Piper has written an excellent article called "Don't Waste Your Cancer." Even if you don't have cancer, you should read it. It is an excellent example of how Reformed theology is practically applied to every day life.)
In this documentary I saw a lot of myself, and the journey I took to get to where I am today. This is just a snippet of what it covers. I'm glad for the release of this documentary, and I hope a lot of people will see it. If a documentary on the resurgence of a theological stream doesn't sound very interesting to you, you'll be surprised at how engrossing this film is, and by how much you enjoy it. You should see it (the film is available on DVD in the Riverview library), and come to know the doctrines of grace which most beautifully and gracefully describe our God and the sovereign, glorious salvation he offers.