Sunday, September 23, 2007
A Tale of Two Movements
I've hesitated to write this post. I've actually been meaning to write something like it for a while now, but every time I try to, I end up stopping myself. The thing is, I don't want to be accused of drawing battle lines, of naming an enemy, or creating an "us vs. them" between the emerging church and it's critics. And honestly, that's not my intent now. I simply want to point out a trend that I've been noticing lately that I don't think can be ignored.

See, while the emerging church might be one direction that many younger evangelicals are currently heading in their faith and practice, there is also a parallel movement that is drawing in more and more young people. It is essentially a Reformed revival, a movement of what some call "confessional contextual Calvinists" or the Radical Reformed. Christianity Today had an article about the movement about a year ago entitled "Young, Restless, Reformed". It describes how more and more 20-something aged evangelicals are being attracted to a new resurgence of traditional Calvinist teachings. This resurgence has been influenced heavily by an older generation of pastors and teachers like John Piper, D.A. Carson, Al Mohler and John MacArthur; but it has also been given a hip new appeal with the help of guys like Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer and Joshua Harris. This movement is very conservative theologically and often has an extreme "complementarian" view of gender roles.

And in good Reformed fashion, they are also extremely critical and belligerent towards those who do not share their views, so naturally the emerging church has become public enemy number one for many of them. Now let me say right up front that this is not a fight that the EC has sought. I've personally benefited in some ways from the works of people like Piper and even used to be more of a Calvinist myself (in fact, Calvinist insights about the fallenness of even our rational faculties was part of what led me to embrace postmodern philosophy in the first place) so I've long held out hope that we could find common ground between these two movements.

However, it seems that some on the other side are more interested in fighting. This past week at the Convergent Conference Mark Driscoll publicly named Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, and Rob Bell (yes, from the "other" Mars Hill) as heretics, comparing them to the ebionite heresy in the early church and to modern day pagans. This seems like a particularly low blow given that Mark knows people like Brian and Doug most likely won't fight back, and given that Driscoll doesn't even know Rob Bell personally at all. But I suppose this is to be expected from a self-described "street fighter" like Driscoll. Others in the Reformed Revival movement haven't been pulling their punches either lately - for instance, John MacArthur's new book "Truth War" is an extended polemic against those of us in the emerging church as "false teachers" and "heretics" on the same level as the Judaizers, gnostics, and Arians of earlier periods. And of course the blogosphere is full of critics and mockers of the emerging church, many of which are coming from the Radical Reformed camp. I do find it ironic however that the founders of Reformed Christianity (namely Luther and Calvin) were themselves condemned as heretics by their Church, and now their followers seem intent on returning the favor to everyone else.

Anyhow, while I have a lot of disagreements with the Radical Reformed camp, and even find their teachings rather dangerous and harmful in many ways, I again have no desire to see this turn into an all out war. I'm grieved that the folk in this camp have repeatedly turned down opportunities to sit, dialogue and build friendships with those of us in the emerging church, so that if they are going to critique us, they will at least be able to do it from the context of a relationship. After all, it's not like we haven't been trying to build bridges with them for quite some time now. Over two years ago Doug Pagitt predicted this increase in criticism for the emerging church from the Radical Reformed folks, and lo and behold, his predictions have proved true. Back then he suggested that if they wanted to force a battle between us, that those of us in the emerging church ought to take up the following battle positions:

A Smile
A Wink
A Prayer
A friendly Email
Offers of hospitality
Invitation to Friendships

With some wrong turns, these efforts by and large have been made in the past few years, though sadly often to no avail. Nonetheless, I don't see what else we can do but to continue responding to our critics in these ways. Not that I am always very good at doing this myself, but I'm trying.

As I myself asked a few years back regarding this issue: what if they held a war and no one came?


posted by Mike Clawson at 9:10 PM | Permalink |


At 9/24/2007 07:31:00 AM, Blogger Dave

Nice post. It seems that the historic Christian church is more diverse than we tend to realize. I think to the Reformation era and the work of the early Anabaptists like Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel and others. They were considered heretics then by Catholics, Calvinists and Lutherans and received persecution from all. Would Reformed people still consider them heretics today?

I guess my point is that there are beliefs and actions that are heretical but more care needs to be taken in defining them. Christian faith is very an early Jewish-Christian, a sixth century Irish monk, a medieval friar, a contemporary Evangelical and an African Pentecostal. What holds those diverse people together? Anything? Or is being a Jesus follower more than simply agreeing with one specific movement of theology?

I think there will continue to be much debate/discussion between the two streams. Hopefully we can find a way to work together for the greater good of the gospel.



At 9/24/2007 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Mark Van Steenwyk


Good post. The anti-emergent rhetoric used to make me angry, but now it just feels sad and disappointing.

Its not a big deal, but I just want to critique the way you are using the word "radical reformed." When I hear those words I think of the "Radical Reformation", the Anabaptists. In that sense, I think of it as a good thing.

Btw...have you started thinking about another Midwest Emergent Gathering?


At 9/24/2007 08:24:00 AM, Blogger Mark Van Steenwyk

I just read Doug's post from 2005. I guess "Radical Reformers" is a phrase those folks use to describe themselves. Hmmm...I wonder if the Mennonite Church USA can sue them for copyright infringement? :)


At 9/24/2007 08:52:00 AM, Blogger Ken Silva

To paraphrase Mark: The pro-emergent rhetoric used to make me angry, but now it just feels sad and disappointing.

One cannot be true to the Biblical doctrine recovered during the Reformation and teach synergism because this diametrically opposed to sola gratia and soli Deo gloria.

You ask: "what if they held a war and no one came?" It isn't your critics who are holding a war, it is the Spirit of God reacting to this highly ecumenical, mystical and synchronistic Emergent rebellion against His Word.

You need to understand that you're already in it Mike. When you chose your side.


At 9/24/2007 09:58:00 AM, Blogger Julie

holy cow Ken, now you're equating yourself with the Spirit of God. But I guess that shows why no one can ever actually have a decent conversation with you, its a bit hard to talk with people who think they are God.


At 9/24/2007 10:23:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Yes Ken, I suppose we all think God is on our side...


At 9/24/2007 10:24:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good point about the term "Radical Reformed". Perhaps it would be better to flip the phrase to "Reformed Radicals"?


At 9/24/2007 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dave, I'm afraid you might find quite a few Reformed folks even these days who would still think of the Anabaptists as heretics. Shoot, most of them think of Arminians as heretics too.


At 9/24/2007 01:37:00 PM, Blogger jaybox

I enjoyed your post. I remember the Christianity Today article from last year, and I felt that it hit on something important. There seems to be several trends within the church, and believers tend to focus on only one.

To be honest, I have found myself exploring both sides from time to time. I know that there are some Presbyterians and Lutherans interested in the emerging movement, though they are probably in the minority. I assume that is because they value tradition so highly. Once you add post-modernism into the mix, though, people's beliefs are looking more and more like soup.

I am moderately Reformed -- about 51% -- so I am not the best spokesperson for that camp, but I don't think the lines are quite that clear as they once were. There seems to be more blurring when you get near the more moderate positions. I have been noticing more Arminians talking about "providence" and more Reformed talking about "choosing Christ" than ever before.

Recently, I read about another example of this blurring. I was surprised to read about a "Spirit-filled" church that is embracing the GLTB. It wasn't surprising to me that a church is embracing the GLTB lifestyle, but the fact that the sentiment has moved beyond the so-called liberal mainline denominations. (Who would have thought Pentecostals would be open to the GLTB?) The lines are blurred now, and it is getting harder and harder to draw lines.


At 9/24/2007 02:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

it looks like this will dovetail nicely with the post i just made (first in a series) on my views of emergence within catholicism and why i embraced catholicism ten years ago.


At 9/24/2007 10:10:00 PM, Blogger Michael Krahn

A couple of points here:

You are drawing the line a bit too hard and clear. MacArthur clearly calls out Driscoll in his book and wants no association with him so it is a stretch to say they are on one side.

Ken whats-his-name is the nutjob at and is a MacArthur disciple through and through. Again, he is almost as against Driscoll as he is against Bell and Erwin McManus.

To say that MacArthur, Silva, and Driscoll all belong to one camp - the Radical Reformed camp - is a big stretch. MacArthur and Silva are very much Christ-against-culture types who see even the slightest cultural contextualization as heresy.


At 9/24/2007 10:49:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

That true Michael. I didn't spend the time drawing out all the nuances of the Reformed Radicals movement. If I had I would have mentioned exactly the distinctions you did. Thanks for pointing them out.

However, I do still think MacArthur is influential among young Reformed folks, even if he himself doesn't agree with all their methods. But of course, one of the distinctives of the Reformed tradition is this tendency towards combativeness, so it only figures that they'd be at each other's throats too as much as anyone else's.

Though I'd definitely point to Piper as the most influential in those circles. Theologians might like Carson, and pastors might appreciate MacArthur, but Piper is the one all the college students are reading, and the one they're quoting from at the Passion Conferences (which I could also mention as an outgrowth of this whole movement).

Driscoll, it seems, is the future of the movement though. He's the one the younger set will be looking to for their cues. Even as they're all reading Piper, they're all going to want to plant (or join) churches like Driscoll's.

Anyhow, I checked out of this movement myself just as it was getting off the ground, but those are just the dynamics I see as an outside observer. If you have more familiarity with it perhaps you can help clarify who you think the movers and shakers and up-and-comers really are.



At 9/25/2007 12:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

In my humble opinion, Calvinism is the ONLY theological construct that allows Christianity to have a consistent set of beliefs. There are still holes but not near as many as the other schools of thought.

See my post Calvinism reconciles the character of the God of the Bible



At 9/25/2007 07:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Do y'all get it?

This conversation will never, ever end because everyone is their own authority. Logically speaking, if you believe that the supreme rule of faith is individual intepretation of Scripture, no one has the right to judge anyone else's intepretation of Scripture.

And as for dave's first post - as a Catholic, yes, I can read the Gospels, Paul, St. Ignatius in the 2nd century, St. Francis in the 13th, St. Teresa in the 16th, Jacque Maritain in the 20th and B16 in the 21st...and find a common faith. It's amazing and a great gift.


At 9/25/2007 02:16:00 PM, Blogger Tyler

I think we're starting to see the birth pangs of a 21st century fundamentalist-modernist divide.


At 9/26/2007 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Kaj Ballantyne

I am not sure which of your two labeled camps I would fully put myself into ... I think if we look at it humbly, we are all going to err in some parts of our view of God ... where I get uncomfortable though is when we play fast and loose with Scripture in order to appeal to a wider audience (hey, who wants to be offensive with the gospel .. .uh, I mean other than Jesus). Years of working with young people at a College in Canada has shown me that many Christians are missing the boat by trying to make the gospel more palatable. The students I saw come through our program wanted something to die for. They wanted to hear that in order to follow Christ they needed to give up everything! They were tired of seeing Christians not live out the full gospel ... this means that they are tired of the old religion of their parents with no real connection to life ... but they are just as sickened by the new religion of some in the emergent church who offer a life that is no different ... The recent interview on CNN is a great example of what is driving these young people away from the emergent church ... Pagitt says that Scripture won't help you deal with stress in your life the way that Yoga can? Seems weak ... seems unbiblical ... am I missing something here?


At 9/26/2007 06:23:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Welcome Kaj,

I think you'll find that there are different streams of the emerging church; and while I don't really recognize any emergents in your comments about "making the gospel more palatable" (I don't think I've ever heard anyone in the emerging church suggest that this is what we are trying to do, or that this would be a good thing), it seems like perhaps you are reacting to the "Relevants" stream, which is an attempt to contextualize the gospel in such a way as to make it more understandable to our contemporary culture. There is also a trend in the emerging church to recognize that "this is my father's world" and that "all truth is God's truth", which can often mean being open to discovering and experiencing God at work in unexpected places and not just within the bounds of the Christian subculture (for instance, in yoga). Again, this has nothing to do with "making the gospel more palatable" but has everything to do with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 about how all things are ours in Christ. In other words, it's a bigger view of who God is.

The ironic thing is that what you describe about young people wanting a gospel that asks them to give up everything is precisely what I would say the message of the emerging church is about. The emerging movement is all about radical discipleship and pursuing Jesus as a way of life and not just as a ticket to heaven when we die. For instance Rob Bell often says that if his messages aren't disturbing his congregation and challenging them to live a more radical lifestyle for the kingdom, then he is failing in his job as a preacher. And Brian McLaren often writes about how the gospel message isn't just about personal salvation, but is a call to participate in God's mission to change the world. This hardly seems like "making the gospel more palatable" to me.

As for Doug's comments about yoga, it seems to me that anyone who thinks the Bible is about relieving your stress has a pretty low view of scripture. The Bible is not my personal self-help guide. It is not supposed to make me comfortable or relieve my stress. It is supposed to challenge and confront and disturb me. After all, what does the Bible say about itself in 2 Timothy 3:16? It says that "all scripture is... useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." I don't know about you, but being rebuked isn't exactly my idea of a stress release.

Yoga may be a useful practice for relieving stress (or so my wife tells me), but let's not trivialize the Word of God by trying to say that it is intended to fulfill the same purpose as a bunch of stretching exercises.




At 9/27/2007 02:28:00 AM, Blogger Kaj Ballantyne

Sorry for not fully grasping the nuances of the different viewpoints represented (i.e. the different streams). And I am definitely all for not being locked into God only speaking through “Christian subculture” (unless you mean Scripture ... not real cool with placing things above God’s Word). I do totally dig the verses you shared (1 Cor. 3:21-23) as it also seems to say that claiming one side or the other (Paul, Apollos, Emerging, Reform) is a bit constricted or narrow ... all is ours in Christ. The important thing Paul seems to be stressing is to forget worldly wisdom ... we need to test it all against Jesus.

I hope that I have not come across as divisive in my post ... the specific ideas you express that are put forth by Rob Bell and McLaren are ones that I would completely grab a hold of and say, “for sure” to … those two examples are great thoughts right from God’s Word. If my phrasing threw you for a loop, I am sorry for choosing “palatable” … I guess what puts me off is a lowered view of scripture replaced with some nifty new ideas (or reworking of old ones). Once again, don’t hear this as an attack on you or the ones you love. I think one of the beauties of the emerging movement (are we post-emergent yet?) is/was the call to look at the totality of Scripture and how it relates to things like community , social issues, worship and the disciplines. And I also don’t quite see the total evil of the reform movement ... their call back to the importance of scripture, holiness, and pursuit of truth. In this I would join with you in hoping that as followers of The Way we could find a common ground. I think this is what I love about the church, Imago Dei ... an emerging church with a humble desire for Biblical clarity (complementarian and emerging? Weird).

I guess the only other clarification is the apparent dichotomous thinking regarding Yoga and scripture that came outta nowhere in your post. Because I believe God's Word is useful for healing, restoring, bringing peace, etc does not mean that I believe it is ONLY that. Obviously it is also used for rebuking and thus making people uncomfortable. In the same way, Jesus came to heal and give life more abundant AND was a stumbling block who would turn families against each other ... I am sorry if I gave the impression that I believed that Yoga and Scripture provide the same benefits. I don’t think you meant that the Word of God is intended to fulfill the same purposes as my angry grade 4 teacher, Mrs. Dumphries (who was sweet at rebuking and making me very uncomfortable). Obviously that is not what you meant ... bummer you took my thoughts to be so black and white.

Once again, this is not meant to rile you up. The last thing I want to do is come across as full of knowledge ...even in disagreement there can be unity ... I dig respectful discussions that edify and have no room for angry arguments that divide ... as someone who feels caught between two worlds I am just trying to join the discussion and hopefully learn something along the way. Thanks for your thoughts, Mike.