February 19, 2009

The Feud Rages On: Five Questions for Calvinists and Emergents

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.

5 Questions for Emergent Christians
1. Can you name a Calvinist writer/thinker who has written a book you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?
2. Can you name a complementarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful follower of Jesus?
3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Democratic Party's general platform?
4. Can you name something you appreciate about either J.I. Packer or John Piper?
5. Can you name something that concerns you about either Brian McLaren or Rob Bell?

Five Questions for Calvinist Christians
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?

13 comments:

Scot McKnight said...

Thanks for this; I think it is a good idea. I don't consider myself "Emergent" (since that's Emergent Village) but part of the broader emerging movement. That aside, here goes:

1. Can you name a Calvinist writer/thinker who has written a book you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?

I've read all of John Calvin's Institutes, and I love the architecture of his system though not his exegesis at times. I love Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and Abraham Kuyper. Ever read Phillips Brooks?

2. Can you name a complementarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful follower of Jesus?

I've never met a complementarian who is not faithful to the Bible. None. Faithfulness to the Bible is a trademark of complementarians, but this suggests they are faithful on that issue alone -- with which I disagree.


3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Democratic Party's general platform?

I'll begin with Obama's stance on abortion.

4. Can you name something you appreciate about either J.I. Packer or John Piper?

I read regularly in JI Packer's Knowing God and his statement of logic of penal substitution has no rival; I have recommended John Piper's Desiring God since it came out. I love his God-intoxication.

5. Can you name something that concerns you about either Brian McLaren or Rob Bell?

Universalism and their views of hell.

The Common Loon said...

Thanks Scot for your excellent responses. I haven't read Phillips Brooks, but I can't argue with you on Edwards, Spurgeon and Kuyper. I'm definitely planning to read more their work, especially Kuyper.

Richard Mouw is a contemporary 5-point Calvinist for whom I have utmost respect. I'd be interested to hear what the T4G Reformed ilk thinks of him since he is an egalitarian.

Now if only I could find a Calvinist who wants to weigh in on my 5 questions.

David Mitchel said...

Common Loon, this is my first visit to your blog, but I am a Calvinist and I'm happy to weigh in on your questions:

1. For good measure, I'll name two: Tom Oden and Dallas Willard.
2. N. T. Wright.
3. I am generally not a fan of the Republican Party; for starters, I dislike the modern GOP's neo-con foreign policy.
4. Chapter Three ("What Jesus Knew") of Willard's _TDC_ is glorious (and much of the rest of that book is nearly as good). Peterson I regard as one of the clearest thinkers on spiritual formation writing today; I thoroughly enjoyed _Christ Plays in 10,000 Places_.
5. While I generally sympathize with his rant about the sad state of American men, Driscoll's picture of what a man should be distorts biblical teaching -- almost as if a gentle man is less a man for being gentle.

The Common Loon said...

Thanks David for stopping by. Your thoughtful responses prove that not all web-savvy Calvinists hold every Arminian or egalitarian (i.e. Willard, Oden, Wright and Peterson) at arm's length.

It's very refreshing to discover common ground among diverse voices across the evangelical "village green." Being able to critique one's own tradition while acknowledging the strengths of other viewpoints is a surefire way to score credibility points in my book.

dghart said...

Common Loon, since you didn't respond over at Justin Taylor's blog, I'll go to the source.

Your questions assume that the debate here is between Reformed and emergents. What is actually going on here is a contest among those who think of themselves as evangelical and then keep stumbling over higher loyalties, whether to Calvinism, or to a new kind of ministry, worship, etc. If we would simply give up the label "evangelical" a lot of this infighting would go away because it would then simply be the disagreement between various Christians that has always existed in the church going back at least to 1054. Evangelicalism, I know, was supposed to cure Protestants of such infighting. As Billy Eliot's ballet teacher says in the movie, "Fat Chance."

But I'll bite to show how wrong your mapping of the current world might be from the perspective of an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and one who is proudly Machen's war child.

Five Questions for Calvinist Christians
1. Can you name an Arminian writer/thinker who has written a book that you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?
Wendell Berry

2. Can you name an egalitarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful evangelical Christian?
Rich Mouw

3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Republican Party's general platform?
Second hand smoking.

4. Can you name something you appreciate about either Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson?
Peterson reads Wendell Berry for profit.

5. Can you name something that concerns you about either John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll?
Neither of them is in a Reformed communion. No oversight by elders and presbyters, no reform.

The Common Loon said...

Thanks for your responses, dghart. I’m encouraged that there are Calvinists out there who appreciate "progressive" writers like Berry and Mouw.

I have actually been trying to respond to your thoughts on JT's blog, but he must have stopped accepting comments for that post. It's hard to believe that no one in his sizeable readership has had anything to say in the last 3+ days.

In any case, I'm not quite ready to give up on the word "evangelical" just yet. I say this because I think the work of building collaboration and mutual respect across the Protestant spectrum is an endeavor worth pursuing.

The fact that evangelicalism has not cured us of infighting does not mean we should completely abandon to idea of a "village green." The words and labels used to describe various forms of ecumenism could very well change in the future, but the idea is still a good one.

For the record, I'd really love to hear Justin Taylor's responses to my 5 questions, since Scot McKnight has been gracious enough to offer his. Do you have any pull with him?

Trevin said...

Good questions...

I am not Emergent. Nor am I a Calvinist (5-point, that is). But I lean more Reformed than Emerging... so I'll answer your questions for Calvinist Christians.

1. Can you name an Arminian writer/thinker who has written a book that you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?

Of course. N.T. Wright (if he can be properly fitted within categories of Calvinist/Arminian.

2. Can you name an egalitarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful evangelical Christian?

I love Millard Erickson. But this list could get long...

3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Republican Party's general platform?

The faith-based initiatives have practically sold out what made them faith-based in the first place. And the platform reflects this development as a good thing.

4. Can you name something you appreciate about either Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson?

Eugene Peterson's immersion in the Scriptures. You can't do a paraphrase like the Message and not have Bible coursing through your veins.

5. Can you name something that concerns you about either John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll?

Driscoll? His tendency to make Jesus into the all-American Malboro macho man. MacArthur? He's very hyper about his Dispensationalism.

jameswmiller said...

Hey, long time no see. I'll be back in Hawaii in a couple of weeks, if you're free. Since you use the term "progressive" in quotation marks, which I guess would be ""progressive,"" I thought you might have a take on my take on it at http://jameswmiller.wordpress.com/. Hope you're good.
j

Cheryl said...

There was an 'interesting' article entitled 'The New Calvinism' in Time magazine that made me think of you. I'll try to remember to bring it over next time we stop by.

razzendahcuben said...

You seriously need to learn the difference between traditional American evangelicalism and New Calvinism. The two are not the same yet you've managed to mix them quite well, even though they totally disagree on several points.

The Common Loon said...

razzendahcuben,

Thanks for stopping by. Please enlighten me on the mutual exclusivity between New Calvinism and "traditional American evangelicalism."

I never claimed these were identical categories, but I suspect that your definition of evangelicalism is narrower than mine.

Out of curiosity, do you consider yourself an evangelical, a New Calvinist or neither?

Rev. said...

1. John Wesley's journals.
2. Gordon Fee
3. Bi-lateral trade w/ China.
4. Dallas Willard understands the importance of discipleship.
5. Mark Driscoll's explicit references and vulgar language.

BTW, Scot McKnight is my FB Friend and brother in Christ. : )

David Emme said...

Hopefully this will get on here in this blog which looks good. Not wanting to stir up a lot, as a Calvinist looking into the Emergent Church, I sometimes wander if the emergent view as a synthesis is in some way related to Synergism vs. The ideas of monergism? On the other hand, they could just look alike without relaying one to the other. Just some thoughts on these and not trying to flame people-I am very good at it and when brought to me-I have a tendency to flee-mainly because I am really good at that and God has dealt with me on those issues in my sins. God bless David Emme