The Church of the Canyons, The California High Speed Rail Project and my Question to Senior Pastor Bob Childress: Is the Lord Still Sovereign?

The high speed rail project in California, which is the largest infrastructure project in the United States threatened a strong Calvinist church in the Evangelical Free Church of America. Called Church of the Canyons in Santa Clarita this is the story of how a church reacted and then resisted. This post also looks at the problem of sovereignty that Calvinists face and poses this one question as well. In how Church of the Canyons responded does Senior Pastor Bob Childress believe the Lord is sovereign?

“The high-speed rail links us from the past to the future; from the south to Fresno and the north. This is truly a California project, bringing us together today.”

California Governor Jerry Brown at Groundbreaking Ceremony January 5, 2015 in Fresno

“As Dr. R.C. Sproul has said, ‘There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.’ If He cannot control the tiniest bits of the universe, then we cannot trust Him to keep His word.”

R.C. Sproul being quoted in a Ligonier article

Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. 

2 Chronicles 20:6 NIV



Norfolk & Western 611 in Manassas, Virginia

Church of the Canyons 2013 College Retreat

Santa Clarita is a charming community on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Today it is the third largest city in Los Angeles county. It sits on Interstate 5 which is the main transportation artery on the west coast which travels from Seattle in the far north all the way south to San Diego. When my family would travel to Los Angeles from Fresno we always stopped at the In-N-Out burger off the I-5 in Santa Clarita. Today the city has a population of 176,320 according to the 2010 census. One point I would like to clarify is that people often mistake Six Flags Magic Mountain as being in Santa Clarita when in reality it is in Valencia.

The Church of the Canyons had its origins in 5 families in 1969. In this video you can listen to one of the founding families Dick and Nancy McMurry.  Bob Childress serves as the senior pastor and has done so since 1995. Bob did his undergraduate at Arizona State University in music education. Its my understanding in researching him that he is an accomplished trombone player. He completed his seminary education at Western Seminary which is today Phoenix Seminary. That is the same place Wayne Grudem teaches at, and if you want to learn more I recently did this post that asks if the ESV Bible can be trusted given that Wayne Grudem’s un-orthodox view of the trinity goes against the Nicene creed. Before Bob Childress came to Church of the Canyons he was an assistant pastor at West Side Bible Church.  Several years ago Bob had a situation with cancer and in that way I grieve with what he endured given my own families history with cancer.

There are several pastors on staff at the Church of the Canyons that I would like to review. The Pastor of Leadership Development is Roger Horning who attended John MacArthur’s The Masters College. He has been on staff since 1988 and while there are a number of churches in the Santa Clarita area, he considers Church of the Canyons to be the highlight of all those churches. In addition to his degree from John MacArthur’s The Masters Seminary he is also ordained in the EFCA. The College and Mission Pastor is Jason Beal. Jason grew up in New Jersey outside Philadelphia. He moved out to Southern California to attend The Masters College. In addition he also attended the Master’s Seminary, which again is affiliated with John MacArthur, and finished his Masters of Divinity in 2008. In 2013 he completed the Masters of Theology program in Bible Exposition which if I took a guess also occurred at the Masters Seminary. Of a quick side note Jason has two bulldogs and is married. Another person on staff that I want to draw attention to is Peter Goeman. His wife is the assistant basketball coach at The Master’s College. Peter graduated from The Masters College in 2010 and obtained his Masters of Divinity in 2013. In 2014 he graduated with a Masters of Theology with an emphasis in Old Testament. Peter is currently a student at The Masters Seminary in Sun Valley, California where he is pursuing a doctorate in Old Testament studies. He and his wife became members of Church of the Canyons and today he is the Youth Ministry Director. Peter Goeman has a blog which is rich with material for me to use at The Wondering Eagle.

When I looked at the resource page I noticed that Church of the Canyons is promoting Al Mohler and Answers in Genesis. I noticed when I looked at Peter Goeman’s blog that he also promoted Al Mohler, as well as Tim Challies. Al Mohler is held in high esteem at Church of the Canyons. When working through EFCA West I noticed the resources and put this church in solid Calvinist camp. After all given how much of the staff attended The Masters College I would imagine John MacArthur is “slightly” deified at Church of the Canyons.  Now here is what surprised me…this blog The Wondering Eagle is moving through the denomination and calculating the growth of Neo-Calvinism/Reformed Theology in the Evangelical Free Church of America. I have worked through four districts already. Those four are:

  1. Eastern District which is led by Eddie Cole.
  2. EFCA SE which is led by Glen Schrieber.
  3. Northern Plains District which is led by Dr. Daryl Thompson.
  4. EFCA West which is led by Steve Highfill.

This is one of the strongest Calvinist churches I have come across in analyzing and studying the Evangelical Free Church of America. And yet this church had a major problem, its what happens when you have a theology system that is a result of a one track mind. (Pun intended for this post!)


The California High Speed Rail Project and Church of the Canyons

California High Speed Rail 2015 in Review

When I was growing up in California from time to time there was talk of building a high speed railroad that would link the state. In 1996 when Pete Wilson was governor California established the High Speed Rail Authority which is based in the capitol of Sacramento. This was done in anticipation of a ballot initiative which would be voted on in California. In 2008 California voters passed Proposition 1A which is also known as the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Acts for the 21st Century.” The vote in affirming this measure was 52.62% while those opposed were 47.83% This act then funded $9.95 billion dollars to the Rail Authority. This project also required matching funds from the federal government. The bond authorized  construction between the core segment of San Francisco and Los Angeles and Anaheim. In 2010 President Obama announced that California would receive an additional $2.5 billion dollars for this rail project. Plus when other states such as Florida rejected high speed rail they had their allotted money diverted to California.  On June 6, 2012 the California Legislature approved construction of the high sped rail system and it was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. The ground breaking ceremony for the high speed rail project commenced on January 5, 2015 when Governor Jerry Brown and other California leaders in downtown Fresno hailed its launch. The actual construction on this $68 billion dollar project started later that year in the Central Valley of California.

This high speed railroad is to be built in two phases. Phase one connects downtown San Francisco, Los Angeles and Anaheim and goes through the San Joaquin Valley. This part of the railroad will be 520 miles long and completed in 2029. The next part is phase two which focuses on construction north in the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento, and connects Los Angeles through the Inland Empire of Southern California and down south to San Diego.  At this point I don’t believe there is a projected finish date for this section.  This high speed rail project which is supposed to run at over 200 miles per hour has had challenges , controversy as well as cost overruns. 

The route into Southern California became controversial because of two proposed routes into Los Angeles. The first one is through Sand Canyon and would affect at least 23 homes in the area, as well as Sulphur Springs Community School and Pinecrest school and the Church of the Canyons.  The second proposed route would more closely follow Metrolink, which is Southern California commuter rail. This route would pass within several hundred feet of the Church of the Canyons as well as Sulphur Springs School and Pinecrest School. The city of Santa Clarita didn’t know what to think of the project but when there was a city hall meeting in June of 2012 a number of people were opposed, and in response the city sent a letter to the Rail Authority and expressed “serious concerns.” The proposed route was scheduled to go through the front door of the Church of the Canyons. Senior Pastor Bob Childress gave an interview with the Los Angeles Times which you can read here. Originally Childress told the Times that the project was an “excellent test of our faith.” In that same article the senior pastor states that many in the congregation are concerned but that the church hasn’t formally opposed the plan. However the Church of the Canyons eventually changed their mind and issued a position statement on the high speed rail project which you can read in it entirety.



What some in the community suggested was to tunnel and build underground alignments. The city of Santa Clarita encouraged many to attend the high speed rail meeting in June of 2015 in downtown Los Angeles. The Church of the Canyons became actively opposed to this project. In time the Rail Authority moved the route, and I have the current route below for you to look at. On the Facebook page for Church of the Canyons on March 16, 2016 they issued the following statement:

Great News! The High Speed Rail is proposing routes that don’t go through COC or Santa Clarita and they are proposing to remove the routes that do.

We are very thankful first and foremost to the Lord for his protection in this. We are also thankful for our neighbors and city officials who stood together on this issue. Here is a link to the email I received. It includes a map with the route changes.


For regular and up to date information there is a neat blog called California High Speed Rail Blog that I checked out and did some digging as I prepared this post.


A Calvinist, The Lord’s Sovereignty and my Question to Bob Childress and Staff

This rail project greatly illustrates the problem of Calvinist theology, but especially the Neo-Calvinist strand that this blog has written about. Here is the problem that needs to be asked. R.C. Sproul said the Lord is in control of every molecule. In this theology system every act is ordained by the Lord. Before I get into the situation at the Church of the Canyons let me ask this question and apply it to another situation, and please understand I write this as my father had suffered from a stage three brain tumor as well. Several years ago Matt Chandler had a brain tumor and in the course of time he sought out radiation treatment and had surgery to have that brain tumor removed. Now here is the question….as someone into Calvinist theology does Matt Chandler’s actions show the Lord is sovereign? Over at The Village Church in this blog post you can see what they teach about how involved God is in all details and actions of life. When the mass shooting happened in Newtown John Piper taught that Adam Lanza’s massacre was a warning by God. In that example God allegedly orchestrated the event to send a warning to society.

So here is the question I have….do Bob Childress and the staff of Church of the Canyons believe that the Lord is sovereign? If you have a theology system that is deterministic and fatalistic then why did this church resist and push back against this high speed rail project? If the Lord was sovereign then shouldn’t the church just submit and let the high speed railroad be built through its sanctuary? Even if its built over the pulpit where Bob Childress preaches each Sunday? Did Bob Childress and the church engage in sin by rebelling when they resisted and fought this proposed project? This leads to another question why in situations like this are there always two sets of rules? There are the rules for the people in the pews and then there are the rules for those in leadership, who often are exempt by the rules that  are applied to people in the pews. This is the major problem with Calvinist theology which is made much worse by what people like John Piper have taught. Going back to Matt Chandler I would suggest that Matt seeking medical treatment ultimately revealed that he did not believe the Lord is  sovereign. Since God ordained his brain tumor to seek medical treatment and to have it removed would be considered sin for those in Calvinist theology. Matt Chandler should have submitted to the brain tumor and let it take its course. And tying this back to the Church of the Canyons that is what happened here, this church under Bob Childress leadership engaged in sin when they resisted this rail project. Its the problem that Calvinist/Neo-Calvinism faces and the reason why I am not in that strain of faith. You can’t have it both ways, meaning you can’t teach about such a  sovereign Lord who ordains all acts of life and then resist something just because its inconvenient to you personally. I have to admit when I saw this and learned of it I got a good chuckle when I heard how Church of the Canyons re-acted. Just to go on the record this post was emailed or Tweeted to the Church of the Canyons staff, and the California High Speed Rail Authority blog.  In signing off I will leave you with Johnny Cash singing “The City of New Orleans.” As always I love you guys!

15 thoughts on “The Church of the Canyons, The California High Speed Rail Project and my Question to Senior Pastor Bob Childress: Is the Lord Still Sovereign?

  1. To say God is sovereign over ever molecule is one thing: molecules are impersonal. To say God is sovereign over mankind is a different matter. Man is made in God’s image, part of which surely is volition? Within the sovereignty of God man can make decisions.

    Now regarding the railway network, you could argue (and I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek here) that God’s sovereignty was worked out in the seemingly free decisions of the protesters. If God’s sovereignty is really meant to include the route of a railway, if this is predetermined (as it were) then he brought this about using the will of the protesters. An unseen hand guiding their thoughts.

    Like most Christians I suppose, I have spent time grappling with the doctrines or predestination and election. As far as predestination goes, this is specifically focussed on us becoming ‘sons’, or ‘being conformed to the image of God’s Son’, Jesus. It is not so much that God has predetermined who will believe, but rather those who do believe have a predetermined course set before them, namely being more Christ-like.

    If you start trying to discuss whether illness is predestined by God for some reason, or any other calamity we may experience, I think you have gone beyond the boundaries set by scripture. It is clear God does sometimes bring about calamity, but not only does he warn before doing so to give an opportunity to repent, this is usually judgment on what men have decided to do in disobeying him. His sovereignty in this is seen in that we have no choice or influence on what he decides to do, we cannot opt out of God’s judgment of us, not even in our freewill!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Well if you can wait 400 years for my definitive considered reply … 🙂

        The bible barely uses the word freewill. I prefer to cast the dilemma if there really is one as being between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Partly because I read an excellent book on this them by Samuel Fisk having that title! I’d recommend it.

        I don’t consider everything that comes about as ordained by God. I think under God’s sovereignty human beings really do have a level of freedom to choose, and such choices are not the effect of what God actually pre-ordained. To use an old example, a widow is free to remarry, but only in the Lord. The restriction to a fellow believer reflects God’s sovereignty, it is not up for negotiation. But it also says she is free to be married to whom she wishes which surely puts the choice back on the widow. She has not got to try to find out whom God has ordained ought to be her husband.

        I do think calvinism/traditional reformed theology is a good corrective to modern notions of trying to play down man’s fallenness and sinfulness, as though apart from the grace of God we are in a position to choose whether to believe – as though ‘being dead in trespasses and sins’ is a bit of an exaggeration, and having believed, to select those doctrines and practices in the NT we find congenial. Romans 9 does put us in our place.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I do think calvinism/traditional reformed theology is a good corrective to modern notions of trying to play down man’s fallenness and sinfulness, as though apart from the grace of God we are in a position to choose whether to believe – as though ‘being dead in trespasses and sins’ is a bit of an exaggeration, and having believed, to select those doctrines and practices in the NT we find congenial. Romans 9 does put us in our place.

        Ken, here is the problem there are and have been many places that do teach of man’s sinfulness. I have been involved in several who are non-Calvinist who have taught about the sinful nature of man, our rebellion, etc… Fresno Evangelical Free was my home church for a while when I lived there. They were conservative, not Calvinist but they taught about how many is sinful and that was impressed on me. Why do the Neo-Cals, etc… have to act like they are the only ones in regard to truth. Has the church been wrong for hundreds of years?


  2. Simple, Eagle:
    The LOORD is Sovereign when THAT is to Church of the Canyon’s advantage.
    The LOORD is NOT Sovereign when THAT is to Church of the Canyon’s advantage.


  3. I’ll take a shot at this…

    Taking the logic to the nth degree, anything I do, regardless of what it is, is ordained by God. Eventually, it will all bring glory to Him, for I see in part, but He sees the whole picture & knows how it all works together. So the proposed rail line was part of God’s sovereignty, so that the church would respond (which was part of God’s sovereignty), which led to the rail line getting changed (which was part of God’s sovereignty), which leads to God’s glory, as the church can now give a “testimony” to how great God is because He moved the rail line in His sovereignty.

    So God planned it out that way all along.

    Or something like that.

    And if the rail line now runs through somebody *else’s* house, that’s just God’s sovereignty too, and He has a sovereign plan for the denizens of that house too.

    Or something like that.

    As for me, I’m content to trust the Lord that Romans 9 (and other passages) covers it. To us, when we read Romans 9, it sure seems like Pharaoh is a hapless dupe who has no choice. But that’s a man-centered theology, is it not?

    It can be summarized in this profound (but true) little cliche:
    He’s the potter; I’m the clay.

    But man isn’t cool with that.
    So we invent lots of ways to circumvent that.
    Theological systems that make us the center of what we do.
    We’re born.
    We didn’t choose to be born.
    We just were…

    “Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’m am master of my fate, and captain of my soul.”

    Sure… “there is way that seems right to a man…”

    Liked by 1 person

      • I wasn’t really thinking in terms of Isaac & Abraham, but one could apply the theology & sensibilities to any biblical account, really. Of course, there is a “fatalistic” aspect of God’s sovereignty that leads to a “why bother?” attitude because, well, it’s all pre-ordained anyway, right? 😉 And yet… man *does* bother, and continue to strive…

        But again, at its core, it comes down to a man-centered theology vs a God-centered one. Man has tried valiantly, and not-so-valiantly, to circumvent God’s sovereignty by setting up all kinds of theological systems in which man “earns” his way to God, man “becomes” a god, or man denies God entirely.

        Bottom line is that God will not be mocked, and far be it from me to speak for Him. But when I read the bible, Job, Romans 9, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah 6, and throughout really, make it clear that God is firmly in control, but he allows a bit of… latitude. It’s a difficult dichotomy to fully grasp, but we are finite humans trying to understand an infinite God, yes? 😉

        Here’s one for you: Is not God the author of all life? It’s all his, yes? He “breathes the breath of life” into all living beings. And God doesn’t make mistakes, yes? And yet, man’s sinful nature goes “out of bounds” so to speak by having children out of wedlock, yes? So out of sin comes life sometimes. Crazy to think about.

        All I know is that I see in part. God sees the whole thing. And I’ve got to trust Him that He’s got this.

        Is that not the very definition of faith?


  4. What I don’t understand about neo-Cals, is how they get from God’s sovereignty (which, if I understand the bible I’m reading correctly, seems biblical to me), to an elders-and-celebrity-pastors-lording-it-over-the-flock-and-can-do-no-wrong-while-engaging-in-spiritual-abuse setup & church structure, which seems majorly UN-biblical to me.

    Is there a reason that these two seem to go together? Or is my impression off? I’m genuinely trying to understand what the connection is. Thanks for any help you can give on that aspect, because I don’t understand why one begets the other.


    • I’d refer you in part to my other reply to eagle, but I wonder too if the answer to this is in the doctrine of once saved always saved? The perseverance of the saints or doctrine you cannot lose your salvation can lead to a complacency that nothing I could ever do would cause me to lose my salvation.

      This means the abusing pastor or whatever never really has to face whether what he is doing might lead to a place where in effect he is living in unbelief, and this absence of genuine faith is putting a question mark against his salvation. I know this whole subect of forfeiting salvation is controversial, but there are clear warnings in the bible, especially in Hebrews which this Calvinist doctrine has to say are only hypothetical. Well what if they are not? Shouldn’t the calvinism be made to fit Hebrews, and not vice versa?

      Just a thought!


  5. here is the problem there are and have been many places that do teach of man’s sinfulness.

    I wouldn’t deny that, this is not something unique to Calvinism. You don’t have to be a calvinist to believe in the total depravity of man, which is frequently misunderstood as meaning everyone is totally evil, whereas it means there is no area in any of our lives that has not been affected by sin. It doesn’t mean even in our unconverted state we never do anything good. And it certainly does not carry on after conversion!

    It’s years since I had to bother with ‘sin renders us totatlly unable to respond to the gospel’, hence we need the grace of God to respond (most agree here actually) and that God only shows grace to those whom he chooses to, and judgement to those whom he doesn’t choose. This latter causes problems, with people objecting to God only being prepared to save some, entirely at his arbitary choice.

    What I think calvinism is a good antidote to is the notion in say seeker-sensitive churches that conversion is a human decision, and we must do all in our power to enable people to choose Christ. So we avoid anything that might put them off, but unwittingly negate the gospel by not asking them to believe the bad news that they are in sinful rebellion against God, deserve his wrath, need to have done with sin and sins and so on. Instead they are told ‘God loves you unconditionally’, and the problem is to accept this love. ‘God is the Father whom you always wanted, were always looking for’. Except for the unconditional aspect of God’s love, this is not wholly untrue, but it can end up producing CONverts! This may only come to light when something the bible tells us to do we don’t want to exposes it. Just use the word ‘submission’ amongst some Christians, and see what happens!! When words are many, transgression is not lacking.

    My problem with Calvinism is where it produces an attitude resulting from the belief God has his elect, nothing can stop them believing when they hear the gospel (irresistable grace), and unconsciously perhaps they think their own behaviour, especially bad, unloving, authoritarian, selfish, worldly, materialist behaviour doesn’t ultimately matter, as the elect will believe anyway. There is some truth in that, but what if their theology isn’t quite right, and such behaviour closes minds from hearing the gospel in the first place? Write unbelievers off and say they weren’t predestined, or that their unbelief indicates they are reprobate? Bad behaviour doesn’t make the gospel attractive, quite the reverse, ironic in that it is supposed to be good news.


  6. As a former member of an unsuspecting E-Free Church that was taken over by a neo-cal pastor and ultimately almost destroyed, what I saw at play was that the neo-cal pastor was so sure of his understanding of scripture that there was no other option, to the point where any one that was not on his “side” were mistaken and suspect.
    Because he was right, all other views were wrong. In a denomination that has traditionally “majored on the majors and minored on the minors”, suddenly everything was a major. In his zeal to convert the non-calvinists, he needed control of the infrastructure, hence the need to control the congregation from dissent, much like an autocratic dictator needs to control the populous.
    I think the neo-cal also reflects his image of God, that is controlling, and bringing order to his universe by continuous discipline. There can be no other ideas or free-will thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks @thunderbolt. This at least gives a modicum of insight into why controlling-types seem to go with neo-cal, or at least an example of it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, I am sorry that this happened to you. I haven’t gotten to your district yet, I juts started working on Texas-Oklahoma last night. If you would like to tell your story at what happened at your EFCA church I w ill be happy to give you a platform. Please know you are loved.


  7. Pingback: How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Makes the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut | Wondering Eagle

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