Christian Liberty?

Maybe you have heard that a new documentary film on the subject of Calvinism is about to be released? Les Lanphere, of the Reformed Pubcast, started with a goal of raising $35,000 for this project, but the latest report reveals that he has well exceeded that goal with donations totaling over $65,000! <link>  You can say whatever you want about Calvinists, but they do get behind those things in which they really believe are essentials to the faith. Here is a small teaser to give you an idea of what we may expect from this film:


Is this the new face of Calvinism?  A bearded, tatted, cigar smoking, alcohol consuming, promoter of the French Reformer, John Calvin? Ironically, John Calvin would have had most modern day Calvinists burned at the state (or at least tortured into submission) if they had lived in his tightly controlled Geneva.<link>

Not all Calvinists would obviously support the promotion of alcohol, tobacco or tattoos, but one would have to be blind not to recognize the growing popularity of these Christian liberties among those who hold to a Calvinistic soteriology.

I have been grappling and praying about this issue for a few months now. I have several close Calvinistic friends who look and act like the guy in the video. Having been a Calvinist for a over a decade I even participated in this trend and to be perfectly honest, I still enjoy certain liberties when I feel it is appropriate to do so.

So, what’s the problem? Who cares if Calvinists enjoy their liberties a bit more openly than other Christians?

The issue to me seems to be a misunderstanding of what “Christian liberty” is all about.

To call something a “Christian liberty” means it is NOT an essential to Christianity. Unlike the essential doctrines of the church, a liberty is something I am free to practice or not practice. In other words, I can take it or leave it. And according to Paul I should “leave it” if and when there is the potential of causing another person to stumble:

Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. – Romans 14:12-22

What some Christian groups seem to be doing now is flaunting their liberty as if it is a necessity of being included in their group. They attach their liberties to specific Christian doctrines, as if they somehow go hand in hand. (i.e. “The Reformed Pubcast;” “Reformed and Reloaded;” “TULIP and Tobacco”…ok the last one I made up, but you get the point.)

This would be like Paul starting a “Trinitarian Meat of Strangled Pigs Fellowship” so as to rub his new found liberty in the face of his “weaker brethren.” Imagine if they had podcasts in the first century and the apostle Paul promoted his by saying something like, “Come eat some bacon while we discuss the doctrine of the Trinity.” As delicious and appealing as that may sound to us today, the spirit of this approach is completely unBiblical, especially given the social norms of Paul’s society.

Some Calvinists are taking this path by attaching their soteriology to similar liberties and belittling anyone who questions their wisdom in doing so. Some Calvinists have rightly sounded the alarm about attaching pet doctrines to controversial liberties, but I have a suspicion that those warnings will be drowned out by the fad seeking masses that make up the young, restless and reformed crowd.

My hope is that the growing trend of Calvinistic soteriology will last as long as the fad to which they have attached themselves.

Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. -Paul

22 thoughts on “Christian Liberty?

  1. Calvinist Film: I love it when they provide high quality video that we can insert in our video refutations of this demonic attack on the Word and on the Character of our Father in heaven.

    Sorry, I hate to go negative, but right after I watched the little preview, then next video up on you tube was a 12 minute, 26 second clip, which was an act of the greatest deception I have seen come out of the mouth of a Calvinist yet.

    Instead of summarizing what he so deceptively insinuated, I will just post the link and let others be the judge.

    If I have learned ONE THING about Calvinists, it is that what Piper says here is the EXACT OPPOSITE of the reality.

    I have come to the point where I fully believe, and outright say to everyone, that Calvinism is a cult. And I will fight this hideous blasphemy till the day I die.

    Thanks for all you hard work Leighton, you are having a major impact out here, and you have had a major impact on my life.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment! I had never seen that video from John Piper before I was extremely blessed by it. He has such a kind and gentle way of communicating such crucial truths. And I thank God for his sovereignty, because without your comment I likely never would have seen that. God bless!

    2. @THEOPHILUS I watched the video with Dr. Piper. Maybe he just doesn’t bother to know what scholars who reject Calvinism have written. He quotes Tozer all the time, but who knows if he even realizes Tozer rejected Calvinism. Also, he seems oblivious to the fact that, if Calvinism is true, those who reject “The Doctrines…” aren’t having a problem with accepting mystery. Our “problem” is that God decreed and predestined us to reject His TULIP. Like many Calvinists, he totally misses this…

      Anyway, as wrong as he is, I have to admit he’s funny. That was hilarious when he said he used to be a “flaming free-willer” and that he means to “offend” but “not alienate,” lol. That cracked me up. I used to think Dr. Piper was literally insane because all I ever heard was clips of him trying to justify his Calvinistic beliefs. But lately I’ve listened to him on other topics and have seen that he has some pretty deep insights in other areas of the Christian walk… He’s just wrong as two left shoes on Calvinism.

  2. Thank you Leighton for speaking the truth without malice, you are one of the few. The truth needs to be told.

    So far the only Calvinists I’ve seen publicly rebuking the Pubcast et. al. folks for flaunting their liberty is the diminishing Pulpit & Pen group, and sadly, they’ve made themselves so notorious and ridiculous with slanderous and bullyish behavior that no one will take them seriously any more. They are as “sounding brass” so no one will listen even when they happen to be right. 1 Cor 13: 1

    I agree with the concern – although I see nothing wrong with imbibing in private – it’s an odd thing to attach theology to tattoos, drinking and smoking. When you rub others’ noses in something they find offensive, you’ve stopped loving your brother or esteeming him higher than yourself. I think Satan loves this sort of thing for the Gospel gets lost in the details.

  3. The weak should not control the liberty of the strong, but the strong are not to flaunt their liberty to the weak. Because we have liberty we can be all men to all people. And if a Christian ministers to a tattooed, drinking, smoking culture, that liberty may help him in reaching such men. But to show off one’s liberty completely misses the point of liberty. It is to gain men to Christ, not scare Christians away.

  4. I think this article is a bit unfair, or lacking something to prove it’s point. Being familiar with the various “Reformed [Liberty]” podcasts and groups, I think I know what you’re talking about, though. For example, some of the impression that comes from the Reformed Pubcast might be “Don’t drink? Then don’t join us” but in practice I don’t think they’d be unwelcoming to someone who doesn’t enjoy what they do at all. Maybe you have examples that would make your point that I am unaware of.

    Also, I don’t see why it would be wrong to create a group or a podcast for Christians who have a common interest to talk about their faith and that interest together. If I created a podcast for Christians that like to go bowling, I don’t see why that’d be unwise even though there are probably Christians who would object to bowling. Even for Christians who just aren’t into bowling, the group isn’t there to rub it in or exclude them in any way.

    Am I missing something?

    1. “For example, some of the impression that comes from the Reformed Pubcast might be “Don’t drink? Then don’t join us” but in practice I don’t think they’d be unwelcoming to someone who doesn’t enjoy what they do at all. ”
      Thank you for this fairmindedness. As a member of the aforementioned Facebook group who doesn’t drink (except extremely rarely) I can absolutely attest that there are many members who don’t drink. The subject of drinking is only discussed very rarely, the most it comes up is that people will occasionally post pictures of a drink they’re having with a theology book they’re reading. The focus of the discussion is on Christian theology and practical wisdom regarding the Christian life. The name is rooted in the idea of creating the same atmosphere as a Pub – a relaxed, friendly, jovial environment where you can talk about ideas.

      1. Well said! I would be in the group as well if I had the time to be on Facebook for it. How you’ve described it would be exactly what I’d expect from the group. Thanks!

  5. I heard a Calvinist theologian give a lecture on Calvinism and he stated that history records that what follows a Calvinistic revival are hyper-Calvinism and antinomianism. I agree with him. I’ve watched a Calvinist friend plunge deeper and deeper into Calvinism but sadly instead of drawing closer to Christ, he is becoming more and more worldly.

    Just my thoughts.

  6. First off, I also hope the Calvinist fad runs into the ground and dies there. On the “unconventional outreach”, though, I could see there are certain crowds that may ONLY be reached by unconventional Christians wearing their liberty openly. The great thing about the internet is that we have unlimited access to other minds from EVERYWHERE…. however, the bad thing about the internet is also that we have unlimited access to other minds from everywhere.
    I have a few friends who had been transplanted here (Oklahoma) from the West Coast. Let’s just say, they were in culture shock. From what I understand, the Portland crowd bristles at the first mention of “Christian”… they imagine Bible thumpin’, old-fashioned, Prohibition era people, which pretty much nauseates them. Yes, they are insanely judgmental and also assume all Christians are worse! There are large pockets throughout the US, East to West, where unchurched people have whole suburbs, whole cities (Austin!) where Christians have to fight against the judgmental Christian stereotype in order to preach the truth of God’s love. In these communities, I can see that the Pubcast et al are similar to Paul being called to the Gentiles. He openly participated in cultural stuff with his Gentile buddies that would not be appropriate for Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, but was absolutely necessary to reach Gentiles in other areas. Fortunately, Paul didn’t have a podcast, so he didn’t have to deal with Jerusalem Christians getting angry about his gentile ministry. I can see leniency in Christians called use their liberty to minister to “far out” cultures that have a general undertone of distaste for Christians… basically, being open about their liberty is the only way for them to even be taken seriously enough to be heard in their little pocket of the world. It’s as radical as Jesus violating the Sabbath. The Calvinist fad puts a bad name to Christians called to “Gentiles”… for example, I recently read about how egalitarian Christians (those who believe liberty in Christ includes equality for women) have made huge advances in Northeast cities like Boston, and are quite annoyed by a recent influx of highly patriarchal Calvinists trying to “evangelize” their area and convert everyone to forcing women out of the ministry and into submission… It’s like a bunch of Jewish Christians trying to go to a vibrant Gentile church and get them all circumcised! Anyway, just my 2 cents.

    1. Anna, it’s nothing like, “…a bunch of Jewish Christians trying to go to a vibrant Gentile church and get them all circumcised!”
      You assume that the Biblical requirements for ministry are culturally conditioned – something that’s exegetically indefensible, since it’s rooted in the creation narrative of Genesis 1-2. Circumcising Gentlies by force was a betrayal of the gospel because it acted as if what was symbolized by the Law (Christ) had not come, and sought justification by means of keeping that law rather than resting in Christ. That’s what Paul is speaking of in Galatians. As far as this pragmatically (pragmatism, rather than God’s revealed will apparently being hte order of the day) being tragic because it cuts into alleged gains in North-Eastern cities, I would point out that liberalism destroys churches wherever it spreads its pathogens. The PCUSA is about half the size it used to be, shedding hundreds of thousands of members year by year. The Christian Reformed Church went from 400k to 250k after it began ordaining women, and most of those losses are not related to schisms or conservatives congregations leaving for more faithful bodies. Abandonment of Biblical truth while pragmatically appealing at first undermines the very foundations of a denomination, and spiritual decay is the inevitable result.

  7. Come on. That’s like saying you don’t like a single Christian group because why should they tie the name single in with the group.

    It’s just a way of seeing what the group is. There’s also a Reformed Geek Culture, Geeks under Grace Community, Reformed Gamers, and even a Reformed Pokemon Go players group!

    It just lets you know what you’re getting into when you get into when you join a group. A fellowship of believers who try and treat people fairly, and (most of whom) are Reformed in their confession.

  8. I find it interesting — and telling — that your post explicitly points out that a liberty is something non-essential, and then proceeds to base its entire argument on these non-essentials. Groups such as the ones you describe are nothing more than an opportunity for like-minded people to enjoy together their respective hobbies. Unless you have some biblical argument for why those hobbies are inherently ungodly, maybe you should stick with the essentials if you’re going to condemn brothers.

    No, Paul did not rub his liberties in people’s faces (and most of these folks aren’t, either). He did, however, become “all things to all men” (within, of course, the boundaries of godly living). Some people seem to believe that, rather than understanding the difference between a setting where a liberty will present a (true, not manufactured) stumbling block and a setting where a liberty will be neutral or even make us approachable enough to CREATE opportunities for testifying of Christ, we should become modern-day Pharisees to all men (whitewashed and self-righteous, with substance secondary at best).

    1. The key word in your response was “most”… “most of these folks aren’t either” … If even some are doing this then pointing out the error may be necessary, especially if a trend might be developing. If the shoe fits wear it, if it doesn’t then no reason to be too offended by what was said.

  9. As a member of a few of the reformed forums, this very issue has been nagging at me for a while.

    All photo’s that are posted are of either the cigar, drink or tattoo. Perhaps a book is thrown in there, but nevertheless, the actual focus is on the former. I am a holder of tattoos, and find nothing wrong with them, but there is a certain pride that comes with them, the cigar collection, the beer collection an especially the library collection. Pride is a sin that is often left at the door when it comes to talk about a common theme for all in the forum.

    Calvinism is beginning to become a “scene”. And honestly, one cannot distinguish the bearded tattoo’ed Calvinist from the bearded tattoo’ed heathen on the street anymore. Perhaps actions are therefore needed, but then you get Barnabas Piper pointing these exact things out as well, except he wasn’t that gracious in his approach.

    What I am also rather upset with, is that a lot of these guys wear those exact same things into the house of the Lord. Shorts and T-Shirt with ol’ Spurgeon on the front, and deliver a sermon. It’s a disgrace to the Lord, and to His house. Respect should be shown to the Lord’s Word on the day of the Sabbath, and some godly pride should be shown in our attire and behavior. But this is something else for another day.

  10. Such a timely piece Dr Flowers, thanks.
    It seems The Calvinists were expecting your challenge! The vid at the top is of Joe Thorn and in a recent edition of his podcast he defends booze, cigars and tats:
    He and his buddy Jimmy also take exception to Dr Paige Patterson and his views on alcohol. Is Dr Patterson’s view a SBC thing? I think Dr Adrian Rodgers taught something similar in regards to Jesus turning water into grape juice and alcohol ruining your testimony ect

    I’d love to hear your response to it all.

    Tom Ward
    Good News Broadcasting

    1. A Christian shouldn’t have to drink in order to prove one’s liberty.
      Nor should a Christian have to abstain for the purpose of proving one’s sanctification.
      Both are in error. And, yes, there is some pressure in some circles for people to drink to prove they are truly liberated Christians. What a false litmus test that is!!

  11. Hey. This is an insightful blog post. Personally, I think that labeling, all the “isms”, just creates confusion to the watching world. In John 17, Jesus prayed that we’d be united for this is an evidence that we’re really His followers.

    This is one of the dangers of those who dogmatically follows Calvinism. We should be reminded that theology could be an idol. Calvinism is just merely a window upon which we see the beauty of God.

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