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?

February 15, 2009

Ode to Blue Beast

This week, I'm getting the timing belt replaced on my beloved 1994 Honda Accord DX, who prefers to be called "Blue Beast." It seems like yesterday when Blue Beast was tenderly purchased (with what little tender us newlyweds could afford) in Rochester, New York with a mere 84,000 miles on her odometer. Five and a half years later, her milage has doubled to more than 175,000 which means that it's time for her third (and final?) timing belt. This auspicious milestone provides as good of an opportunity as any to croon my undying devotion.

(Sing to the tune of "On top of Old Smoky")

O marvelous Blue Beast,
My faithful Accord
The height of your beauty
Was back in '94

Your looks have since faded
From "good" down to "fair"
With "racing stripes" fashioned
By hot solar glare

Like all other stick shifts
Or "manual trans"
Your clutch pedal makes for
Left-footed demands

You've been to Mount Rushmore
And the Golden Gate Bridge
You crossed the Pacific
In a big metal "fridge"

(ok, so the container wasn't refrigerated, but anything to make it rhyme!)

My grimy face beamed when
I first changed your oil
To fuel-sipping imports
I'll always be loyal

With hubcaps from Wal-mart
And high beams so bright
You brought home my firstborn
His seat buckled tight

Despite rust encroaching
On your 15-year-old frame
I'll love you forever
Long as Blue Beast's your name

February 6, 2009

Lakers Beat the Celtics! (Only 8 Months Too Late)

Now that football season is over, it's time for the sports world's spotlight to shift to the greatest game of all: hoops. With March Madness less than 6 weeks away and the NBA schedule starting to heat up, it's my favorite time of year to be a sports fan. Over the next several months, I'm looking forward to the sweet sounds of sneakers squeaking, rims rattling, nets swishing and coaches screaming from the sidelines in their Armani suits.

Last night, 4.3 million viewers watched the Los Angeles Lakers 110-109 overtime thriller over the Boston Celtics, making it the most watched NBA regular season game on TNT since 1996. In case you've forgotten, that was when the Michael Jordan era was at its peak. Due in large part to the renewed Lakers-Celtics rivalry, the NBA is officially back as both a source of compelling entertainment as well as premier-level basketball. I was fortunate enough to catch the second half of the game, which was a basketball junkie's dream thanks to barrage of fourth quarter 3-pointers nailed by the cold-blooded Kobe Bryant, silencing the jeers of a hostile Boston crowd. While the team could have played a lot better (only 59% free throw shooting) and the razor-thin margin of victory was too close for comfort, a win is still a win. The significance? Combined with their 92-83 Christmas Day victory at Staples Center, L.A. sweeps the season series between the two teams which means they now hold the tiebreaker for home court advantage in case they happen meet up in the NBA Finals again (I have a funny feeling they will).

For Lakers fans like yours truly who were still bitter from the memory of last year's Finals meltdown against the Celtics, especially the merciless 39-point blowout in the series-clinching Game 6, the payback was sweet. There aren't too many things I'd rather do on a Thursday night than watch Kobe stick 3-point jumpers with Paul Pierce's hand in his face. It was particularly encouraging to witness outstanding performances from both Pau Gasol (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Lamar Odom (20 points including 2 clutch free throws with 16 seconds left), two players who were badly outplayed against Boston last year. Critics of the Lakers often accuse them of being "too soft" (a fair point), but last night, the purple and gold showed they have enough muscle to hold their own against their arch rivals from Beantown.

While last night's victory came 8 months too late to wipe away the missed opportunities of 2008, it's clear the Lakers are not taking anything for granted this time around. As icing on the cake, it was nice to see them end Boston's' 12-game winning streak, doing it without presence of 21-year-old phenom Andrew Bynum, who hopes to return from a knee injury right before the playoffs begin in April. At the beginning of this season, the Celtics were cruising through their schedule as questions swirled about whether L.A. had the physical or mental toughness to de-throne the defending champions. Those questions are no longer being asked.

Without a hint of fan bias, I can proudly declare the Lakers are the team to beat.

For now, anyway.