Now that we are in a reflective mode, I’d like to review the message preached by Danny Sweatt, “Young and Restless”. The thesis of my review is this: Pastor Sweatt has gotten a bad rap from his critics – they heard what they wanted to hear and are uncharitable in listening to him.
I would challenge anyone who disagrees with me to listen to the message again. Listen carefully. Try to understand each point that Pastor Sweatt is making. Don’t get distracted by any animus you might feel about his comments about Calvinism. Listen to them first to understand what he is saying, and second to judge the comments in context with the rest of his message (not to mention his years of faithful ministry). I am writing this review after listening to the message for a third time. I would urge that all critics listen again (or actually listen for the first time) and listen with as little prejudice as possible.
Now, having made that apology at the outset, I have to agree that pastor Sweatt’s message was not the absolute best message I have ever heard. At many points the points were made clumsily and indistinctly (that’s why careful listening is required). He at times said things and used vocabulary that I think obscured his message. In fact, his own poor word choice (malapropism) is responsible for the hottest lingering criticism of his message. He is also guilty of preaching prejudice at points. His reasoning and expression are often very clumsy. He doesn’t fully say what he means, misuses words, and in general fails to achieve what he set out to achieve.
First, a summary of his points:
In the introduction, he mentions his days after graduating from college and his acquaintance with ‘big names’ in fundamentalism. (More on this later, it is the first of two areas where he is most criticized, but here, I think, most unjustly.)
In the intro, he also mentions that he believes a great ‘reshuffling’ is under way in American Christianity, a reshuffling that will impact the schools, institutions, and camp ministries many fundamentalists have built and trusted over the last many years.
He asks, “How can we inspire the next generation” to be faithful to what they have been taught and to not depart from their grounding.
After some time, he arrives at his text, 2 Cor 4.1-3. From this point on, he generally follows the text to make his points (although one has to listen carefully to follow it). There are some points where his points really go beyond the text, we’ll cover that later also.
2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; 2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
His points here:
- We have been given a ministry, it isn’t of us, it is of God.
- Since we have been given this ministry, we don’t give up.
- We renounce hidden things of dishonesty in this ministry (this is where the notorious anti-Calvinist point comes in)
- We must refuse to handle the word of God deceitfully – young men are looking for careful preaching of the Word (true, and it would have been better if pastor Sweatt had been more careful)
- We must manifest the truth by a faithful testimony of living for God – an authenticity of a consistent life that will influence by godliness (something all the younger set clamour for, and which, by all reports, pastor Sweatt personally exemplifies)
- We must not hide our gospel by carnal methods or we will have no spiritual success.
I suspect if the many critics would listen to those last points (and just shut their ears to the Calvinism comments), they would find themselves in agreement with what pastor Sweatt was saying. Even in those last points, pastor Sweatt misuses words – he is an unfortunate victim of malapropisms… I’ve heard him before, it’s just the way it is folks. We all do it from time to time, but… well, pastor Sweatt is pretty well a regular at it. Before folks make this a matter of criticism, they should really examine their hearts to see if Christian charity resides there.
Now I’d like to deal with the two main criticisms:
1. The ‘lauding’ of the ‘giants of the past’
I recommend that the critics carefully listen to the introduction again. I think pastor Sweatt’s comments have been totally distorted here.
- He cited the big names as men he knew in the late 1960s. He remembers them at that time as having built significant fundamentalist works that were leading the fundamentalist world. Please note the dates. I, along with others, would wish he hadn’t mentioned two of the names. But at that time (late 60s, early 70s) none of them had fallen into scandal.
- He mentions ‘big names’ as examples of the fundamentalist world he knew that was led by big personalities (and it is true, large segments of fundamentalism at the time was hugely influenced by big personalities). He recalls wondering who would replace these men when they passed from the scene.
- He says that some tried to rise up as replacements, but no one succeeded, fundamentalism largely became led by men who were ‘lesser personalities’ [my term]. He came to see this as a good thing, and hoped that the new leadership (his generation) would develop a more biblical leadership that the next generation would follow.
- He regrets to say that his generation failed to be the influence they needed to be. Some of them went off and followed Hybels and Warren. [I would add the word ‘even’ to ‘went off’. This is also true – many men, Sweatt’s contemporaries and later mine (I’m a decade younger) did indeed wander off in many strange directions.]
- Now he sees a new generation making the same mistake … following big personalities. They are reacting [to some extent] to things they have heard and things they have imagined about former fundamentalists. They are reacting to a ‘cartoon’ of fundamentalism. But at the same time they are becoming just as much personality driven.
- His point with this seems to be that fundamentalist leaders need to develop into strong personalities that are also biblical and solid fundamentalists.
Now this is the result of my careful listening. I could be wrong, but I invite the critics to listen again, and listen as Christians. That is, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Listen with the attitude that you are listening to a godly, sincere man, given to malapropism and clumsy expression.
As for the remark where he says, "it is difficult to judge a generation unless you lived through it" the context seems to indicate that he means "difficult to fully judge or comprehend" rather than to somehow be dismissing the ability of the young to understand at all. Again, listen with charity.
2. The notorious Calvinist rant
Here I have less that can be said in apology. But first, let me say, I have heard Calvinists explain away John 3.16 exactly as he characterized it.
The most egregious part of this point was the word ‘inerrancy’. The normally mild-mannered Greg L. keeps bringing this up at SI, so if he is rankled, I suspect this is the most significant error. However…
This is the biggest malaprop of the message. He clearly means ‘perspicuity’ here, not inerrancy. He is saying that the Scriptures are clear, you don’t need to be an expert to be able to understand them. He thinks that Calvinists, with their approach, twist the Scripture and make them obscure. Now, you can argue with his point of view, but wouldn’t Christian charity really try to understand what is being said and not froth at the mouth in criticism?
And of course, he doesn’t leave it there. He goes on about the failure of the succeeding generations of Calvinists after the ‘charismatic leader’ passes on. He obviously doesn’t like Calvinism. He shouldn’t have let that dislike take over and sidetrack him in the message.
But to say that pastor Sweatt is an example of the bad old days, a dominant personality who is trying to bully young fundamentalists into accepting his teaching as gospel is really a stretch. It is a distortion of pastor Sweatt’s personal testimony and of this particular message. Some have accused him of ‘breaking the 9th commandment.’ Such critics should look in the mirror.
But there is more to say.
I said in the subject line that pastor Sweatt has a point. There is a point that I think he was trying to make but did not succeed.
I touched on this earlier, but I want to cover it again.
There is a groundswell, no a tidal wave, of Calvinism sweeping conservative Christianity these days. It is not isolated to fundamentalism alone, but is affecting evangelicalism in a big way. It is becoming a driving force, a defining force, a wedge issue.
The ‘reshuffling’ that pastor Sweatt mentioned is especially orienting itself around Calvinism. It appears that for some, this is the only or at least, one of the major areas where theological coalition building is happening.
- The Calvinism of today influences men to ignore the pernicious doctrines of ongoing prophecy, tongues, and even favorable views of the Toronto Blessing travesty.
- The Calvinism of today influences men to ignore the egregious misbehaviour of the blasphemer, counting him as a brother, and cooperating with him in many venues.
- The Calvinism of today influences men to give a pass to groups who are soft on evangelical feminism (or surreptitious supporters of it) [see the Bayly bros. blog and their posts on Tim Keller et al]
- The Calvinism of today influences men to attempt to change fundamentalist institutions from thoroughly separatist bodies to something softer, less hard edged, more evangelical.
This last is where the battle is engaged. Can anyone deny that zeal for Calvinism is a significant part of the motivation to abandon or transform fundamentalism?
Those of a fundamentalist persuasion are generally happy to coexist as Calvinists or non-Calvinists [and even some Arminians] and not make it a divisive issue. (Yeah, but isn’t that what Sweatt did? Well, yes, but I’d have to say he was observing something and reacting to it rather than simply trying to create a fire all by himself.)
One of the points that was most telling (and least commented on) in pastor Sweatt’s message was his comment about a meeting with missionaries in Brazil. He said that the missionaries were asking him, “Where do we send our kids to school?” It was a passing comment, most have ignored it, but it is a real concern that needs to be addressed.
It is not that our schools are all becoming Calvinistic. Some are more so than others, that is not what bothers me, and, I am convinced, many of my cohorts. It is that our schools appear to be becoming less fundamentalistic. More is tolerated in lifestyle choices than in past years, evangelicals are lauded, their writings praised, the study and following of them is encouraged, and we who are sending young people off to our schools are wondering what is happening to our kids once they leave home.
In a noticeable number of cases (not all, thank the Lord), these young people return from fundamentalist colleges less godly than when they left home. A significant number of them leave the fundamentalist churches that reared them. And many of them are doing so as enthusiastic neo-Calvinists.
That is what pastor Sweatt is seeing, and that is his point, I think.
I think he made it very poorly. I think he made it in a way that unnecessarily offended Calvinists. But I think there is a point to be made here that must not be overlooked.
I hope that fundamentalism can weather this storm. I hope fundamentalism will remain fundamentalistic. Some don’t want it to do so, and I believe they are using this unfortunate sermon to drive a wedge between the most conservative and the most evangelical wings of fundamentalism. We will shortly see what comes next…