The New Calvinism’s missing step

I’ve heard very good things about Matt Chandler for a while, and I saw him speak online at some conference back when he was bald and weak from surgery for a brain tumor. He was impressive then, so I was intrigued to hear his recent guest sermon (embedded below) at Elevation Church, the super-trendy church here in Charlotte (I see Elevation bumper stickers all over the place, on the cars of young hipsters and young professionals or suburbia well-to-do’s). He is clearly directing his sermon at this highly insular culture of Elevation and similar very successful churches across the country, where worship is therapy and happiness is ours for the taking. Yet, there does seem to be a missing next step, that I’m sure our Barthian blogging friends will pick-up on.

The directing of attention away from self and toward God is necessary and good, but there is a next step of directing attention toward one’s neighbor, especially those who are not beloved. We are to imitate God’s calling of those who are not beloved, “beloved,” through a love that subverts the norms that give attention to the powerful, beautiful, and healthy. That’s the logical next step, if we are true to our Reformed convictions. That, in fact, is the thing that will most aid us in directing our attention away from ourselves. If we stop at the glory of God and don’t take this next step, we will invariably conflate God and self as the object of our attention and affections — which is perhaps more sinister than what the scribes and Pharisees were doing.

I’m sure this is not fair to the whole corpus of Chandler’s sermons. I’d be surprised if his teaching is completely void of this “next step.” Yet, this should be so ingrained in our thinking that it is impossible to give a sermon like the one at Elevation without making this next step. It is what they needed to hear, as a pastoral necessity, not just a dogmatic truth.

Even with this criticism in mind, I highly encourage you to watch the sermon. It is outstanding:


  1. This was good? The clapping and talk show like introduction too? You’re kidding, right? I became nauseated immediately. When the entire spirit of an event is like the world without reverence, including the speaker’s psychobabble introduction, “I am here for your joy”, it is closer to existentialism than Christianity.

    • He was distinguishing joy from happiness, because he was addressing an audience which Reformed guys (like himself) have criticized as too focused on worship as therapy. The sermon is aimed at eliciting joy and wonder in the Lord, not joy and wonder in oneself. As for the atmosphere, maybe you need some background:

      Elevation is not a popular church among the new Calvinist networks (Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, etc.). I’m a student at RTS in Charlotte, where Elevation is located, and I can tell you first-hand that Elevation is seen as entertainment-driven, watered-down, faux-hipster, etc. The clapping and frankly adolescent behavior of the audience is indicative of this, and it is a very young audience (twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings). The fact that Chandler was going to speak there was a surprise, because Furtick and Chandler do not see eye to eye on how church should be done or how the Gospel should be presented. Yet, most have seen this as a great opportunity, which it was.

  2. Why is it a logical next step to direct attention to the unloved? Isn’t that actually an assumption driven more by your convictions than exegesis. Certainly walk with wisdom to those who are without, but Christian witness is living with love one to another just as Israel’s keeping of her law was a witness to the nations. Indeed too much concern with the other serves to dissolve the very distinctness, peculiarity which should characterize Christian obedience to the body of which Christ is the head.

    • I would hope that it is a conviction founded upon exegesis, in particular the mission of Christ to include the sinners, outcasts, women, Samaritans, etc in the kingdom of God. Whether, say, Romans 10-11 is actually making these connections, then no, but I’m not very good at staying within one pericope. I’m a typical ST guy in that regard. Chandler wasn’t doing an expository sermon anyway; it was a thematic sermon, jumping all over Scripture.

  3. I have to be in the mood for him—and indeed any of the super-animated preachers out there. I prefer mine wrapped up in vestments and sequestered behind a lectern. But, then, that kind of preacher would never be invited to speak at Elevation (Tom Wright notwithstanding).

    I saw this last week, and like you found it to be outstanding in its context—precisely what I perceive Elevation would need to hear. The truth of the matter is, it takes someone from within to make the changes (even though Chandler isn’t exactly a part of that crowd).

    • Yeah, I couldn’t handle Chandler’s animated style week after week, but it’s great on occasion. You are certainly right that it takes someone with the same communication style, age, humor, etc. to change from within.

  4. I really benefit from Chandler’s preaching, though I think he can stray from the text often.

    Actually, there was a great talk he gave a few years ago at Catalyst (I was there as an observer, not a participant) where he talked about the “gospel at 10,000 ft.” and the “gospel on the ground.” I think the distinction was largely in response to guys like Rob Bell who right around that time preached a sermon on the difference between the gospel that starts with Gen 1 (which is concerned with beauty, creation, justice, etc.) and one that starts with Gen 3 (which is concerned with sin), clearly emphasizing his preference for the former. Chandler was trying to say that they’re the same gospel and that you have to keep them both in balance, otherwise you lose something essential.

    It’s hard to get it right every time you preach, especially if you preach as much as that guy!

    • I think some of that seminary training he’s missing could help with staying a bit closer to the text. Still, he manages to stay rather well-balanced in his emphases, and he’s certainly gained a good bit of wisdom from his experience with cancer.

      • No doubt! If I listen to a preacher’s podcast, I listen to Chandler’s.

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