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:
- Eastern District which is led by Eddie Cole.
- EFCA SE which is led by Glen Schrieber.
- Northern Plains District which is led by Dr. Daryl Thompson.
- 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!