I did not know what my transition to covenantal and Calvinist theology meant for pastoral ministry, but I knew it meant something. I was looking for church planters similar to myself, who eschewed the programmatic and “seeker-sensitive” model of ministry. I found that approach to ministry to be unbiblical in principle, and practically resulting in an immature church. I was tired of hearing pastors tell people that if the sermons were leaving them unfed, then they should become “self-feeders.” Jesus never told Peter, “Teach my sheep to feed themselves.” I was wary of the performative worship services that are a central impulse of seeker-sensitive ministry. I could do without another Barna survey telling me what the world wants from the church, if we hoped to be graced with their presence. I also believed the small group movement that stressed fast multiplication through a few people gathering in the home of a “group facilitator” and pooling their collective ignorance, was bankrupt. Ultimately, I was driven toward a commitment to evangelism and missions via the vehicle of church planting.
Yet, I was still committed to the notion that if you have a good preacher and a good band, then people will come. I believed that a more theologically rich, aesthetically masculine, Calvinistic version of ministry was the remedy for which I was searching. Long and doctrinally oriented sermons were what should be preached—being “gospel-centered” was all the rage. It was time to cast out the entertainment-driven ministry shaped by the tastes of baby boomers. It was time to be contextual in all the right ways. I was a young Calvinistic church planter with plenty of critiques of the older generation and no real answers for mine. But I knew I needed friends who saw what I was seeing.
In 2006, I planted Sovereign Grace Church. I was invited to a church planting conference in San Diego put on by a group of “Calvinistic” church planters called Acts 29. I did not know who Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, Matt Chandler, and others involved were. I was being told that these men were showing us that we can be more expositional (though I was rarely helped by any of their expositions of Scripture), employ more doctrinal depth, and toss out all of the overly programmed ministry. I was not a hip urban church planter: I did not drink alcohol, wear skinny jeans, carry a MacBook in a leather man purse, nor grow a beard. I did not really resonate with much of the culture of Acts 29. I did, however, appreciate their stated commitments—and I needed friends.
Acts 29 was different. We cared about doctrine. According to Mark Driscoll, Acts 29 was committed to 4 core areas of doctrine. We were Calvinist, contextual, complementarian, and continuationist. I did learn much from these brothers about church planting. I gained many good friends who truly loved Christ, his church, and one another. During a difficult season in the life of my family and church, the men of Acts 29 were there for us in significant ways.
Acts 29 became a leading group among what was being called the “young, restless, and Reformed.” I was growing increasingly concerned that the label “Reformed” did not fit our church for a variety of reasons. My wife said to me more than once, “When you say Sovereign Grace is Reformed, I do not think you mean what these men mean. I think their commitments are distinctly different from ours.” Jason Faber, one of my associate pastors, was similarly pressing on the reality that we did not really see doctrine, piety, and practice the same way as most of Acts 29. They were both right.
First, we were not continuationist. Mark would often say that we were “charismatics with a seatbelt.” I did not need the seatbelt though, as I was growing in my Biblical conviction that I was in a different theological car altogether. At the beginning of my time in Acts 29, I would have identified myself as “open but cautious” (a term garnered from Dr. Robert Saucy). Within a couple of years of joining Acts 29, I was a happy cessationist (aka a Protestant).
Second, I did not buy what Driscoll was selling regarding being “contextual” or “missional.” It seemed to me that those terms had little to do with missions and evangelism, and a lot to do with approaching Christian ministry in a manner that reshaped the worship of the church to look a lot like the world—it was just a new way to say “seeker-sensitive.” We would win the world by becoming like the world. We did not repudiate that basic impulse of the “seeker-sensitive” movement, we simply recast it using different terms.
Third, I am complementarian. I appreciated Driscoll’s call to young men to “act like men” and lead in Christ’s church. I was thankful for the young men who were taking that responsibility seriously. Driscoll’s version of complementarianism, however, often appealed to young men who were more interested in being brash than Biblical. Their version of complementarianism often felt more reactionary, rather than being birthed from settled doctrinal convictions.
Fourth, it became painfully clear that “Reformed” and “Calvinist” were not appropriate adjectives for Acts 29. Many of the men in the network used “gospel-centered” as a cover for being immature and antinomian. They were not adept at understanding Law and Gospel. They were marrying the piety (worship) and ministry practice of broad evangelicalism to the doctrines of grace. It was as if they had removed five bones from the Reformed body of divinity (the so-called 5 points of Calvinism), and attempted to insert them into some kind of doctrinal model cooked up by the teenage boys in the movie, “Weird Science.” It was more of a doctrinal fantasy than it was reality.
I remained in Acts 29 until 2012. I left because I could no longer bear the shenanigans of men like Mark Driscoll. I loved Mark, but I did not believe he was qualified for pastoral ministry. I also did not believe he was a safe guide theologically. Further, I read articles by Carl Trueman and R. Scott Clark that challenged the whole movement of the “young, restless, and Reformed.” I found their critiques to be trenchant and challenging. I was not sure where I was headed ministerially, but I knew it needed to be more akin to the model of the book of Acts rather than Driscoll’s version of its twenty-ninth chapter.
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