June 30, 2009

Is There a Calvinist-Complementarian Connection?

As a social worker by trade, I’m no theologian. But in my spare time between parenting, grad school, church life and employment responsibilities, I find it fascinating to observe the theological movers and shakers of the current American evangelical landscape. While the Gospel must never be defined by popular vote, the question of why assorted varieties of evangelicals believe as they do (for better or worse) is worthy of exploration. In recent years, I’ve taken an interest in the so-called “New Calvinists,” a growing movement recently described in Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed, as well as a March 12 TIME magazine article calling it one of the “10 ideas changing the world.”

As an outside observer of the movement, I’ve noticed that in addition to Reformed soteriology (often summarized by the acronym TULIP), one of the key doctrinal distinctives for New Calvinists is complementarianism, the view that male leadership in the church and home is a Biblical imperative. It’s no coincidence that influential Reformed/Calvinist (I’m using these terms interchangeably here) leaders like John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll are among evangelicalism’s most vocal opponents of women’s ordination. As a staunch egalitarian, I believe Scripture teaches that God gives the gifts of preaching, teaching and church leadership to both men and women, which puts me squarely at odds with the young, restless, Reformed camp. Complicating matters further, much of my own spiritual growth has occurred in the context of complementarian congregations, but that’s another story…

Despite our disagreements on gender roles, I share a lot in common with my New Calvinist brothers and sisters. I am very much drawn to the Reformed tradition, its covenant theology, historic confessions and doctrines of grace (TULIP included). I also adhere to a robust understanding of God’s sovereign grace, charismatic gift continuationism and the centrality of Christ’s cross. I agree that prosperity theology, self-help sermons and market-driven models of church growth are harmful to the Gospel. Like many in the movement, I enjoy expository preaching, Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds blog, Sam Storms’ books and the ESV Study Bible- its unyielding complementarian slant notwithstanding!

If I were capable of passing through the narrow doctrinal checkpoint affirming both TULIP and complementarian gender roles, I would find a community of New Calvinists refreshingly open to a range of positions on baptism, miraculous gifts, the Lord’s Supper and eschatology. This explains why a charismatic like C.J. Mahaney can partner with a cessasionist like John MacArthur at the distinctly Reformed Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference, not to mention fellow conveners Ligon Duncan, a paedo-baptist (one who practices infant baptism), and Mark Dever, a credo-baptist (believer’s baptism). As someone who welcomes evangelical collaboration across denominational lines, I am encouraged by these expressions of unity amid theological diversity.

In light of such ecumenism, it’s perplexing to consider why egalitarians are not also welcomed to the New Calvinist table. Complementarianism may not be at the forefront of New Calvinist identity, but it nonetheless serves as a distinct theological boundary not to be crossed. From what I gather, egalitarianism is categorically rejected by the full spectrum of interdenominational networks, ministries and conferences home to New Calvinists (including Tim Keller and Don Carson’s Gospel Coalition, Piper’s Desiring God Ministries, Driscoll’s Acts 29 Network, Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, Dever's 9 Marks, R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, Duncan’s Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference among others). I hope I’m mistaken, but the young, restless, Reformed subculture seems to have built an impenetrable wall to keep out those who are not both Calvinists and complementarians. One out of two is not enough, and thus I have failed to qualify.

Naturally, this raises a series of questions. What exactly is the relationship between Calvinism and complementarianism? Why is opposition to the ordination of women a non-negotiable for New Calvinists? Why does one’s persuasion on gender roles carry more weight than one’s view of the sacraments, spiritual gifts or church polity? Are New Calvinists willing to recognize the existence of mature and authentic Christians on both sides the debate over women in ministry, a controversy that will not reach an evangelical consensus anytime soon? Is there something about Reformed theology that is inherently complementarian or is the Calvinist-complementarian connection unique to this particular neo-Puritan stream? Put another way: Is it possible to be a young, restless, Reformed egalitarian?

If the existence of “egalitarian Calvinist” denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) are any indication, the answer the last question must be yes. At the scholarly level, there are numerous examples of well-respected evangelical Reformed theologians who are also egalitarians: Roger Nicole (Gordon Conwell, emeritus), Nicholas Wolterstorff (Yale), John Webster (Aberdeen), Bruce McCormack (Princeton Seminary), Donald Bloesch (Dubuque Seminary, emeritus), Todd Billings (Western Seminary), Jamie Smith (Calvin College), Bill Dyrness (Fuller Seminary), Mark Husbands (Hope College) and Laura Miguelez (Wheaton College) just to name a few. My personal favorite is Fuller President Richard Mouw, whose book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, is a must-read for skeptics who have erroneously dismissed TULIP as dried out determinism for the “frozen chosen.” Mouw’s work on Christian ethics, common grace, cultural engagement and public justice embodies the convergence of rigorous Reformed thought and passionate social activism in the tradition of Abraham Kuyper.

But even once we accept that there are indeed thoughtful and sincere Reformed evangelicals who support the ordination of women, this does not fully explain why has the rigidly complementarian variety of Calvinism been making so many waves at the parachurch level in recent years. Why does there seem to be an overwhelming correlation between Calvinism and complementarianism at the street level of popular/semi-academic Christian publishing, online media, “celebrity” pastor/speaker/writers and interdenominational networks like the Gospel Coalition? Where are the egalitarian Calvinist counterparts to best-selling authors like Piper and Keller? Or popular bloggers Taylor and Tim Challies? Or burgeoning Gen X pastor/writers like Kevin DeYoung, Josh Harris and Tullian Tchividjian? Why do t-shirts declare that “Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy” and not Abraham Kuyper?

I suspect that much of New Calvinism’s magnetism is a reaction to the postmodern leanings of the emerging church movement as well as the market-driven approaches of seeker-friendly megachurches and other forms of cultural accommodation. It could also be that Reformed egalitarians at the popular level are publishing on different subjects than the T4G crowd, thus leaving the impression that egalitarianism is a topic best left to Anglicans, Wesleyans, Anabaptists and others from non-Reformed traditions. Perhaps the complementarian-Calvinist connection is not a feature of Reformed theology per se, but has more to do with Piper's contagious enthusiasm for neo-Puritan pietism.

In any case, there’s much to affirm about the New Calvinists and their passion for God’s glory. I only wish this egalitarian could be welcomed at the table. If it makes any difference, I’ll even bring my ESV Study Bible.

UPDATE: Kevin DeYoung has responded to my observations on his blog.

ALSO: Related discussions have started at Between Two Worlds, Emerging Women, Complegalitarian, New Leaven, BLOG and MABLOG, and The Wanderer.

June 15, 2009

Purple Reign: 10 Non-Lakers Who Made it Possible

For the past 12 months, I have been haunted by a blog post in which I foolishly predicted the Lakers would defeat the Celtics in last year's NBA Finals. After watching my beloved purple and gold cough up a 24-point lead at home in Game 4 and eventually lose the series to their arch rivals from Boston, I renounced all forms of chicken counting and told myself I would never again declare Laker victory until the confetti was falling and the champagne was flowing.

Needless to say, I waited until the final buzzer sounded in last night's 99-86 Game 5 win over the Orlando Magic before celebrating the Lakers' first championship since 2002, the 15th in their storied history. Last year's bitter defeat only makes this victory sweeter, as Final's MVP Kobe Bryant can attest. In an apparent reference to the 'can-Kobe-win-without-Shaq?' question that has dogged him for the past 5 years, Bryant said, "It finally felt like a big old monkey was off my back."

Besides Bryant's redemption as the main storyline, much has also been made (and rightly so) of head coach Phil Jackson's record-breaking 10th title and #24's well-rounded supporting cast of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza. But as any Laker fan will tell you, this season's championship was far from inevitable. There were plenty of bullets dodged, tense moments and chips that could have fallen either way. And just as L.A.'s shortcomings a season ago helped Boston to emerge victorious, we must not neglect to mention some of the non-Lakers who played an unintended role in this year's purple reign.

So on behalf of Laker Nation, I would like to thank the following individuals for helping make this year's championship run possible:

10. Paul Pierce. Last year's crushing loss to the Celtics was clearly the fuel for this year's Laker run. By scoring at will and outplaying Bryant on both ends of the court, no one was more responsible for the Lakers' '08 Finals humiliation than Pierce, Boston's captain and leading scorer.

9. Shaquille O'Neal. After the Lakers lost to Boston last June, Shaq bombastically performed a rap song in which he vulgarly flaunted how Kobe had not won a championship since O'Neal departed L.A. in 2004. Not that Bryant was lacking any motivation before this childish spectacle found its way to YouTube, but it reinforced public perceptions that Kobe needed to win another championship to step out from under O'Neal's 325-pound shadow.

8. LeBron James. In leading the Cavaliers to the league's best record and winning his first regular season MVP award, LeBron gave most observers the impression that Cleveland, not L.A., was this year's team to beat. Not only did this give the Lakers something else to prove, it allowed them to focus on their game plan without the limelight and pressure of being the favorite.

7. Kevin Garnett. When KG went down for the season in March with a knee injury, the Celtics lost their best interior player and defensive anchor (not to mention the reigning Defensive Player of the Year). Even without the Big Ticket and frontcourt mate Leon Powe in their playoff lineup, Boston still managed to push Orlando to a 7-game series, which tells me they would have reached the Finals and mounted a serious challenge to the Lakers' title hopes had Garnett been healthy.

6. Aaron Brooks. Standing just 6'0" tall and tipping the scales at 160, Houston's fleet-footed rookie point guard unexpectedly extended the short-handed Rockets' second round series with L.A. to a full 7 games, torching them for 34 points in a Game 4 blowout and 26 more in a Game 6 encore. Thanks to Brooks, the Lakers were forced to dig deep for the determination and teamwork needed to win a championship.

5. Courtney Lee. With Game 2 of the Finals tied at 88 and less than one second remaining in the fourth quarter, Lee misfired on a perfectly executed alley-oop layup attempt that would have stolen the Lakers' home court advantage. Thankfully, Laker Nation breathed a sign of relief as the ball bounced off the front of the rim as L.A. escaped with a 2-0 series lead after prevailing in overtime.

4. Dwight Howard. Ahead by 3 in Game 4 with 11.1 seconds remaining, Howard had an opportunity to seal victory at the free throw line and tie the series 2-2. Instead, he missed both shots and left the door ajar for Derek Fisher's unforgettable game-tying pull up 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left. Fisher wound up hitting another huge 3 in overtime, leading the Lakers to a 3-1 series lead.

3. Stan Van Gundy. With the Magic ahead 87-84 after Howard's free throw misses, Orlando's coach made the baffling decision not to foul the Lakers in Game 4's closing seconds. Regretting this fateful error and Fisher's dagger that made him pay, Van Gundy later said, "That one will haunt me forever."

2. Red Auerbach. The legendary Celtics coach who won 9 titles in the 50's and 60's did not live to see the day Phil Jackson surpass his record, but as Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski observed, Red never hid his disdain for Jackson accomplishments. Even with his trademark psychological discipline and inner competitiveness, it's hard to imagine PJ being so focused on collecting his 10th ring had he not been tied with Auerbach for the all-time lead.

1. Chris Wallace. Better known as the Grizzlies General Manager who traded Pau Gasol to Los Angeles in one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history, Wallace should at least get a complimentary championship t-shirt for his role in helping the Lakers win it all. Without Wallace, Gasol would not be playing in Hollywood and without Gasol, Laker fans would not be celebrating today.

June 10, 2009

Strings With No Marriage Attached

Old-school marriage is going out of style.

Last month, I was browsing through Time magazine at the grocery store when I noticed an article called "Everything but the Ring," which described the growing phenomenon of committed unmarrieds (CUs). From what I could gather, this is the politically correct term for co-habiting couples who are serious about staying together and having kids, but equally intentional about not tying the knot. According to the article, a record-breaking 40% of U.S. babies born in 2007 had unmarried parents (up 25% from 2002) and "nonmarital births have increased the most among women ages 25 to 39, doubling since 1980," debunking the myth that accidental teen pregnancy has caused this trend.

Once viewed as a moral indiscretion or a failure to properly plan, childbirth among unmarried parents has now gone mainstream. In contrast with stereotypes, minorities in poverty are not the only ones having children out of wedlock. From the middle class and affluent all the way up to gazillionaire media magnets like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, many couples are making the deliberate choice to have kids while remaining unmarried. And thanks to the tireless efforts of those in the grocery aisle gossip industry, everyone knows that Hollywood celebrities are the standard bearers of marital fidelity and lifetime commitment.

In a certain sense, it's not hard to understand why my generation of self-directed postmoderns in their twenties and thirties, burned by divorce and cynical about weddings, are choosing cohabitation over marriage. After all, if you could experience the joy of parenting, the pleasure of sex, the cost savings of shared living expenses and the comfort of knowing that your child's parents are still "together" without having to darken the door of a church (for a wedding) or courthouse (for a divorce), what's there to lose? In theory, you've got (almost) all the benefits of marriage without the religious, cultural and political baggage. Last semester, one of my classmates told me she doesn’t ever want to get married because her relationship with her boyfriend "shouldn't be anyone else's business" and marriage is a "sexist institution" anyway.

But is marriage really just a private religious ceremony that has little or no sociological impact? Is it just a profitable fabrication of the wedding industry that wants to sell more cakes, rings and pricey dresses? Is the decision to move in together just a modern equivalent of walking down the aisle or does that cumbersome and old fashioned marriage license thingy actually make a difference in people's lives? Should declining marriage rates be any cause for concern or should we just accept that we’ve "progressed" from the dark ages when unmarried people weren’t supposed to bear children even by accident, much less on purpose?

Contrary to the popular myth that getting married ruins perfectly good relationships, sociological research tells a different story. Even if you remove religious and homophobic arguments from the discussion, there is still a compelling “secular” case for why marriage is good for society, particularly the well-being of children. A nonpartisan study from Rutgers University observed, "Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage not preceded by cohabitation." The study also found that "three quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up before they reach age sixteen, whereas only about a third of children born to married parents face a similar fate." Not only do cohabiting parents break up at a much higher rate than married parents, children living with stepfathers or mother's boyfriends are at higher risk of sexual abuse and physical violence than are children living with married biological parents.

Even my "liberal" social work textbooks acknowledge the irony that married people tend to live longer, earn more money and lead healthier lives than those who don't marry. Children born to unwed parents also face increased high school dropout rates and a greater likelihood of poverty and behavioral problems. Imagine you were a kid (as we all once were). Would you rather have parents who were officially married or would a really, really strong verbal agreement be good enough to do the trick? If your parents were going through a rough patch and were considering a split, would you want it to be easier or harder for them to do so? Is it too archaic to suggest that society is better off when biological parents stay together?

Don’t get me wrong. None of the cohabiting parents I know are villains or reprobates. They are kind and good-natured people who plan their kids' birthday parties and read them bedtime stories just like us married folks do. My goal is not to demonize these individuals or see their relationships fail. It's certainly possible to be happily committed parents without getting married, just as it's possible to avoid serious traffic injuries without wearing a seat belt. But the prevalence of divorce doesn't mean we should do away with marriage any more than the prevalence of car accidents means we should all switch to the even riskier habit of riding motorcycles without helmets. Walking down the aisle won’t magically turn bad relationships into good ones, but there’s something about a marriage that preserves and enhances lifelong commitment better than any other arrangement.

Instead of affirming sacred matrimony, it seems like the only socially acceptable way to talk about marriage nowadays is to poke fun at it. If I were to stand up in my office lunchroom and say, "Marriage is like an appendix. You don't really need it, but it can cause a lot of pain," I would probably get some laughs and scattered applause. Conversely, if I were to put forward the notion that getting married and staying that way is one of the best things we can do for the next generation, this would likely sound presumptuous and narrow-minded. Maybe I’m just a Neanderthal cave man disguised as a 21st century amateur blogger, but I’d like to humbly suggest that once the possibility of conceiving children is even on the horizon (much less the delivery room), the trial period for “test driving” your mate should be long gone.

If you are serious enough to move in with someone, co-sign a lease, work out the finances, share a bathroom, divide up the chores, battle for the remote, have procreative sex and raise a child together, how on earth could your relationship not be "serious" enough for marriage? If someone isn’t good enough for you to marry, what makes them good enough to be the father or mother of your child? The way I see it, the only thing riskier than bringing a helpless baby into the world is doing so without the legal, financial, social and spiritual protection of marriage. And if marriage is such a miserable, outdated, superfluous idea, why are gays and lesbians so eager to get married?

Remember that old saying, "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage?" That’s so yesterday.