Saturday, May 03, 2008
New Christians and the Neo-Calvinists
Tony Jones is having a "blogalouge" with Christianity Today editor Collin Hansen. A couple years ago Hansen wrote an article for CT about the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement among evangelicals which turned into a book. This is a parallel movement to the emerging church primarily among young evangelical men who are attracted to Calvinistic doctrine and a restrictive view of female leadership in the church. Key influencers in this movement are John Piper, and of course, Mark Driscoll, though others like John MacArthur, DA Carson, and Al Mohler are also popular. (I wrote a blog post myself a while back about this movement and their antipathy towards us emergents.)

The conversation between Tony and Collin has been cordial so far, and I'm glad that Tony made a point to mention many of the doctrines that they still hold in common. I think he rightly pointed out that the key difference between emergents and the so-called "Neo-Calvinists" is not theology (since there are emergents who hold to Reformed doctrine), but epistemology. He writes:

Where we probably differ is not so much on theology, but on epistemology. That is, it seems the difference between the people you profile in Young, Restless, Reformed seem pretty darn sure that they've got the gospel right, whereas the Emergents that I hang out with are less sure of their right-ness. In fact, they're less sure that we, as finite human beings, can get anything all that right.

Here's another way I'd explain the differences. An American Christian today is beset by globalization, pluralism, and postmodernism (three terms that I use interchangeably). In other words, the world is a confusing mess. I think that conservative, evangelical, Reformed theology offers sure answers spoken in tones of certainty by authority figures. Emergent Christianity, for better and worse, offers more ambiguous answers (and even more questions!) in tones of less certainty — but, hopefully, at least with what Lesslie Newbigin called "proper confidence."

I wonder, do you think that some people are just more inclined to look for sure answers, and others are more comfortable with ambiguity?
I think that's a really good question. Is this just a personality thing? Or is this need for certainty (or comfort with ambiguity) a stage of life thing that you can grow out of or into? I remember when I was in college and leaning towards Reformed theology myself, I had a strong desire to "figure it all out", to have my theology nailed down once and for all. It was only after I encountered postmodern philosophy and the realization that as human beings we are significantly limited in our cognitive abilities, that I started becoming more comfortable with not having all the answers, and not having absolute certainty on the answers I did have.

BTW, parts one and two of the blogalogue are up, but there should be a third part coming soon where Tony says he will address the Neo-Calvinists' view of women.

UPDATE: Part three is up, but Tony still hasn't brought up the women issue. This might be because Hansen keeps getting to go first, which means Tony doesn't get to ask many questions, he just has to respond to Hansen's questions for him. Doesn't quite seem like a balanced dialogue if that's the case.

UPDATE (5/7): Part four is up. Tony gets stuck in the responding role and still doesn't get around to asking about the women issue.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 9:40 AM | Permalink |


At 5/03/2008 02:54:00 PM, Anonymous Drew

The certainty issue is a problem I would see especially for those in a Reformed tradition. To say that I am certain of my understanding of the Gospel seems to mitigate the absolute sovereignty of God. Certainty seems to rely on a type of objectivity that even scientists will admit is not exactly an accurate understanding of human knowledge. By saying that one is certain about an interpretation of revelation, there is simply no room for a continuing revelation to falsify any claim made to certainty. Seems like the same problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees and Scribes no?


At 5/04/2008 02:57:00 AM, Blogger Pseudo

The problem with not having your theology nailed down is the traditional Christian view that one must believe in or accept Jesus Christ in order to avoid going to Hell. If you don't believe in Hell or that God will annihilate you for believing in error, then not having your theology nailed down (is this a pun?) is not that big a deal.

Having one's theology nailed down can help a believer through cultural crises. We live in some very uncertain times - the traditional lines of right and wrong are blurred or have shifted completely. People are left without an anchor, and with so many different voices and side clamoring to be heard, it can be difficult to determine the right or best course of action. 'Knowing' what God wants or thinks about a given situation can provide security and help give the true-believer peace of mind.



At 5/05/2008 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Macht

FYI, "neo-calvinism" generally means something different than how you are using the term.


At 5/05/2008 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Well I don't know what to call them now. It seems every good descriptor is already taken. I got "Neo-Calvinists" from someone else (Hansen himself maybe?), and when I referred to them at the Radical Reformed in my first article, I was told that the Anabaptists already have a claim on that one. So what would you suggest we call them?


At 5/09/2008 09:53:00 AM, Blogger Macht

I'm not sure what to call them. Even "Young Reformed" is a name I don't like since, taken literally, describes me and many of the folks at my church. But I don't really consider ourselves to be part of this group that Hansen writes about. I find myself quite often disagreeing with Piper, MacArthur, Mohler, Driscoll, etc. Actually, I think the main difference I have with them is similar to the difference Tony was talking about - having more to do with epistemology than with theology. I think most of these young Reformed folks would line up philosophically next to people like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, whereas I find myself closer to people like James K.A. Smith and Merold Westphal. (BTW, for those who don't know - Moreland and Craig aren't Reformed while Smith and Westphal are.)


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