Chuck Smith, George Bryson, Calvary Chapel and the Future of Reformed-Friendly Pastors

chuck-smithGeorge Bryson has gone “all in” on wanting to resolve the current, and potentially future, divide in Calvary Chapel over whether they should be, as he terms it, Reformed-Friendly or Reformed-Free. Apologist James White has already summarized pretty well the timeline of Bryson’s anti-Calvinist campaign. As Bryson describes it, Reformed-Friendly is understood as being open to and willing to not divide over whether CC pastors be allowed some freedom to be influenced more by Reformed soteriology and other distinctives of Reformed theology that would still be compatible with CC’s philosophy of expository preaching. Reformed-Free as being free from CC pastors who hold to such views or, as I understand it, being even sympathetic with allowing such views within the network for other pastors. I could be wrong here. Bryson did state that CC pastors should be “friendly” with Reformed pastors, but I understood it as being friendly with those outside the network, whereas the Reformed-Free view he advocates would necessitate a purging of such sentiment within the network.

I liken this discussion to our current debate on naturalization for illegal aliens. What do we do with those already here? We already have a de facto amnesty program at work. The fact is that there are Reformed CC pastors in the network. I know some myself, but will protect their identities. Many have arrived at a more Reformed theology precisely because CC so highly esteems the likes of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Spurgeon, and others. My common sense radar is screaming out, “How can you NOT be encouraging more Reformed-minded pastors when you recommend Reformed reading?”

Apparently, one is supposed to read these theological giants without being influenced by their theology. How’s that supposed to work out? I’m all for reading people of differing persuasions for the very purpose of broadening ones awareness of the Evangelical spectrum, but Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon are highly commended, as in endorsed, for consumption. To shut out folks sympathetic with their theological convictions seems strange.

Bryson is also making a false assumption that these parties can’t happily co-exist. Now, one can point to the challenges in the Southern Baptist Convention right now because of the Calvinism debate, but I’m confident everyone will move forward with arms locked around their 2000 Southern Baptist Faith and Message; which brings up a final point of contention I have with CC, namely that their statement of faith doesn’t explicitly endorse or reject many of the central tenets in Reformed theology. How can one adjudicate this issue without having a robust confessional statement to clearly articulate who’s in the wrong, if anyone is in the wrong? How can one tell a pastor that they’re in error if their ordination never included an exam to vet such doctrinal issues?

Bryson’s heavy deference to what Chuck Smith believes apparently serves as some sort of confession whereby CC pastors should be measured. The problem is that the movement, though deferring to Chuck Smith as the founder, has never really been given a specific delineation of CS’s doctrinal convictions that ought to be binding on all CC pastors. Are all CC pastors to parrot CS after listening to his sermon series through the entire Bible, not taking exception with any exegesis or theological formulation? Or are there certain core convictions within the whole that are weightier, like male leadership, dispensational eschatology, and Arminian soteriology? To try to delineate now, after all these years, may be necessary, but won’t end well if it’s simply enforced by GB without broad consultation with all of the CC pastors. Perhaps, they should have CC general assembly where CC pastors from all such churches that have been recognized as CC on their website directory gather together and vote on certain resolutions as whole. This would provide the fairest process of allowing the pastors in the network to speak and have a say. GB and CS would be wise to take into consideration the feelings of the pastors in the network as a whole before implementing some form of purging in the network. Again, such a vote would be nonbinding because the ecclesiology, on paper, allows for the autonomy of each church. Just some thoughts. My prayer is that CS and GB would recognize that there is a sizable minority of Reformed-leaning CC pastors, as well as a fairly large contingent of more neutral CC pastors who wouldn’t mind this being an open issue, even if they don’t share the same convictions. How large the contingent is that is passionately Arminian and feels that Reformed theology has no place whatsoever in the network is hard to tell. I can tell you for sure that GB does not represent the vast majority sentiment in the network – and if he implements his convictions, under the weight of CS, then it will not be conducive to the fruitful gospel witness of many Reformed CC pastors and churches. They might as well adopt an Episcopalian form of polity of top down authority if that’s the case. The irony would not be lost: a movement that has long branded itself as non-denominational and not rigid on ecclesiastical matters would functionally become one of the most authoritative denominations under top down rule. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, for the sake of all CC churches and their gospel witness within broader Christendom.



© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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2 comments on “Chuck Smith, George Bryson, Calvary Chapel and the Future of Reformed-Friendly Pastors
  1. Good post Rick. Concerning whether or not CC has a unified core doctrinal list of beliefs, I was under the impression that the CC Distinctives book was pretty much that? Not sure if the CC Pastors ever had to sign off on that or not? Don’t know if you have any insight into that? When I was in CC I was under the impression that was what we were agreeing to–even in an unofficial sense?

    I can speak with some insight on the Southern Baptist thing. I would say that the SB “struggles” with the Calvinism issue has been a little overblown. It seems that the vast majority of SB leaders are willing to dialogue and not be overly divisive on the issue. So as of now, there isn’t any indication that SB pastors/leaders with different views on the issue can’t co-exist and cooperate. There are a few rabid “fundies” (like Bryson) on the Arminian side who like to stir up trouble, but they are in the minority. Southern Seminary is pumping out pastor/leaders in the SBC at a steady and impressive rate, so those who are more Arminian realize that it’s not worth fighting over. The Reformed influence isn’t going away. I think, worst case, you may have pockets of anti-reformed folks in some of the seminary/colleges who might cause trouble. We may see a seminary or college break away. But I don’t ever see a full on split or that it isn’t manageable. I’ve actually been encouraged by what I’ve seen as of late. And any “hyper-Calvinsts” (I’m personally not aware of any of any notable influence) would be quickly denounced by both sides.

    I think CC could have some diversity on some of these issues without losing much momentum. I think there’s room, for example, for some “progressive dispensationalism” and especially “historical” pre-millennium” beliefs in their network. I personally don’t see how either one would be a big deal. I think both could actually bring a little balance to CCC. Many of the pastors that I’ve talked with are tired of the end-times hype that comes and goes after every major world event. On Calvinism, I like the approach that some in the network have taken. They realize that it’s not an easy issue and that there will be some differences. But they deal with it in a gracious way and try to define what the issues actually are and what they are not. They don’t seem to be worried about it like some. I’m not sure if these types are in the majority or not? I left Calvary in 2003, so I haven’t been in the loop for a while. I don’t see why the issue should have to hinder the “mission” of Calvary Chapel in any way.

    Times are changing. We aren’t living in the late 60’s or early 70’s anymore. CC needs to adjust with the times a bit. I believe that they can do so without compromising their commitment to the Bible and other core values. It will be interesting to see where they are at in 10 years!

    • Great thoughts, Shane. I, also, think the SBC will be fine.

      Ad for CC distinctive, I took their writing on Calvinism, to be one of neutrality, seeking to avoid extremes on both sides. Clearly, CC rejects open theism on one end and hyper-Calvinism on the other. One could argue that there should be a lot of roaming space in between. I think various articulations of systematizing God’s sovereignty and man’s culpability can be allowed without threat to the broader movement.

      I don’t see them giving on dispy eschatology, nor should they, even if I disagree and wish they did allow some space om the issue. Their articulations on this issue have been precise and consistent within a systematic theological paradigm. It would be great if they could change a bit, but pastors in the network who differ should know better, whereas those pastors who’ve read Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, and Begg (Greg Laurie brought him to a preaching conference and declared him as his favorite preacher) should be allowed some space since the CC distinctives weren’t as precise on paper as their eschatology is. Just my thoughts.

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