Calvinists and Emergents are like two relatives at the evangelical Thanksgiving dinner table that just don't get along. They tend to sit at opposite ends of the table, conversing with family members who are strategically seated nearby, but they have next to nothing positive to say about each other. Some within the family have sympathies that clearly lie with one side, while others think they both are clearly wrong. One thing's for sure: they drive each other nuts.
There are plenty of competing theological streams and subcultures within the evangelical spectrum, but there's something especially frosty about the relationship between the New Calvinists, which I'm defining as the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement described in Collin Hansen's book of the same title, and the Emerging Church movement, which has been more loosely defined in various ways, but is nonetheless recognizable by its disillusionment with mainstream contemporary Christianity, both ecclessiologically and politically. Want to know what's wrong with the Emerging Church movement? A New Calvinist will readily supply a robust list of its shortcomings. Want to vent about how you were burned by your experience in a Reformed church setting? Post-modern/post-evangelical Christianity will enthusiastically welcome you into their fold.
As is the case with all intra-religious disdain, the antagonism on both sides manifests itself in forms ranging from constructive critique at best to ad hominem attacks or worse. Escalating these dynamics is the fact that Reformed/New Calvinists and Missional/Emergents both maintain a very active blogosphere presence. This is a two-sided coin, offering unprecedented opportunities for productive dialogue as well as a steady supply of fodder to fan the flames of hostility. You may have noticed that my list of favorite blogs includes at least 3 from each camp. I haven't heard too many others who agree with me, but I believe each side has a valuable contribution to offer as part of the broader evangelical landscape (I wrote about this 9 months ago).
If you're wondering what prompted me to revisit this evangelical family feud for the third time in the past 9 months, there has been quite the blogosphere buzz of late surrounding words exchanged by Scot McKnight (whose Jesus Creed is one of my favorite blogs in the emerging movement) and Justin Taylor (whose Between Two Worlds is one of my favorite Reformed blogs). It all began with McKnight's blurb promoting N.T. Wright's forthcoming book on justification in which McKnight accuses what he calls the "neo-Reformed" of being "more committed to tradition than to the sacred text." Needless to say, Taylor and other Calvinists were taken aback by these strong words and felt they were being caricatured with too broad a brush. Telling Calvinists that their view of Scripture is too low is like telling a vegetarian they don't care enough about eating healthy. On his blog, McKnight has attempted to clarify (part 1 and part 2) his critique of the "neo-Reformed" while another of my favorite bloggers, Michael Spencer (Internet Monk) posted his thoughts yesterday in support of McKnight's view. The Calvinist vs. Emergent flames have ignited once again and the comments have been abundant on all 3 sites.
Instead of picking a winner in this latest blogosphere skirmish or discussing the merits and flaws of each viewpoint, I would like to propose some sort of Calvinist-Emergent peace summit where diplomatic talks can take place. I have suggested five questions that, if answered in the affirmative, could begin to ease family tensions. If someone as liberal as Jim Wallis and a former Bush speechwriter like Mike Gerson can co-found an advocacy group to address poverty, there is still hope for mutual respect and collaboration between evangelicals of different stripes.
1. Can you name an Arminian writer/thinker who has written a book that you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?
2. Can you name an egalitarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful evangelical Christian?
3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Republican Party's general platform?
4. Can you name something you appreciate about either Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson?
5. Can you name something that concerns you about either John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll?