Passion's God-exalting focus keeps Piper coming back to speak year after year. He attributes the attraction of Reformed theology to the spirit of Passion—namely, pairing demanding obedience with God's grandeur. "They're not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing," Piper said.
More Than a 'Crazy Guy'
During the weekend when I visited Piper's church, the college group was learning TULIP. The student teacher spent about 30 minutes explaining unconditional election. "You may never feel the weight, you will never feel the wonder of grace, until you finally relinquish your claim to have any part of your salvation," he said. "It's got to be unconditional."
Following that talk, I met with a group that included Laura Watkins, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. Like Harris, Watkins grew up in an evangelical church that downplayed doctrine. Calvinism certainly wasn't much of a draw for Watkins as she searched for a church in college. "The only exposure I had was high-school textbooks that teach about John Calvin as this crazy guy who burned people," she said.
Yet she stayed for the spiritual maturity and depth she noticed in the church. Now she's as articulate an advocate of Calvinism as I met. She unwittingly paraphrased Spurgeon as she explained her move toward Reformed theology. "When you first become a believer, almost everyone is an Arminian, because you feel like you made a decision," Watkins said.
Watkins didn't stop with election. An enlarged view of God's authority changed the way she viewed evangelism, worship, and relationships. Watkins articulated how complementary roles for men and women go hand in hand with this type of Calvinism. "I believe God is sovereign and has ordered things in a particular way," she explained. Just as "he's chosen those who are going to know him before the foundations of the earth," she said, "I don't want to be rebelling against the way God ordered men and women to relate to one another."
Piper no longer scares Watkins. He's more like a father in the faith, though she says they have never spoken. Privately, Piper contrasts sharply with his authoritative pulpit persona. I dare say he's even a little meek, if relentlessly serious. We mused on Reformed theology in his home in February following one of the last sermons he delivered before undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. He reflected on the rebellion he has unrepentantly fomented.
"One of the most common things I deal with in younger pastors is conflict with their senior pastors," Piper said. "They're a youth pastor, and they've gone to Trinity or read something [R. C.] Sproul or I wrote, and they say, 'We're really out of step. What should we do?'"
He tells them to be totally candid and ask permission to teach according to their newfound convictions, even if they are in Wesleyan-Arminian churches. Of course, he tells the young pastors to pray that their bosses would come to share their vision.
Baptist and Reformed
Starting in 1993, the largest Protestant denomination's flagship seminary quickly lost at least 96 percent of its faculty. SBC inerrantists had tapped 33-year-old Al Mohler to head the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which until then had remained open to moderate and liberal professors. Mohler addressed the faculty and re-enforced the school's confession of faith, derived from the landmark Reformed document, the Westminster Confession.