>Neo-Calvinism?

Posted: 17/04/2009 in Christianity Today, Foreknowledge

>A recent article in Time, and another (and older) one in Christianity Today cited a growing trend of the new Calvinists in the United States. They’re interesting articles, so go ahead and read them whenever you get a chance. I thought, as this is a blog mostly about religion, that I should give a few cents worth of thoughts.

I am pretty far from Calvinism. Granted, I understand it a lot better now than when I was nineteen and stupid, but it is still not on my theological radar. My litany of objects can wait for some other time, as I am not really an “anti-Calvinist” as many Christians are.

There are few good things I should say anyway. I am actually not surprised, and think it is a good thing, that people are attracted to … doctrine. Such a word is just as scandalous as “religion” in many evangelical minds. It’s good to know that people are paying attention to the theological well, instead of scorning it as un-spiritual. Secondly, there seems to be a great sincerity in feelings one’s sinfulness and being truly amazed that God would save anybody. I think this is a nice check to a lot of the “touchy feely west coast evangelicalism” that is common in southern California. Finally, reformation theology poses a nice challenge to the dispies of the world.

Still though, I always cringe at the phrase “biblical.” I do not affirm the reformed doctrine that one can only believe what you read in scripture and nothing outside of it. This is sola scriptura in the “exclude all else” sense not in the “above all else” sense. Such a thing, I believe, leads to a bad hermeneutic as one must constantly search for where scripture speaks to some issue it was never meant to speak to. People eventually start proof-texting. Also, many of the “young reformed” are passionate about how they came to believe Calvinism via studying the Bible, and not by listening to Calvinist. Isn’t this alleged purity a little naïve? No one reads the Bible without assumptions, and if you’re guided by a charismatic Calvinist preacher chances are, you’ll start reading the Bible like a Calvinist. I’m still Wesleyan at the core myself.

In the larger picture though, I still think this is probably a good and expected thing. I feel that a lot 20-something Christians are dissatisfied with the evangelicalism handed down from the Jesus people generation. It is no surprise that something different attracts our attention, just by virtue of it being different. For some it’s Protestantism with a capital P. Others it’s the emergent church. Some may jump ship completely and go to the RCC or EO.

So I expect, at least for now, for Neo-Calvinism to grow into the next generation. Unless the rapture happens, of course.

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Comments
  1. Q says:

    >I don’t really like either of the articles. I personally think their characterizations of Calvinism represent straw-men, but more I they play fast and loose with the term “evangelical.” I’m not sure what they mean by it, but they seem to imply that a person cannot be both “calvinist” and “evangelical.” Depending on how you define evangelical, that’s a false dichotomy.I also find it interesting that, though they focus on Calvin for Reformed protestants, they hardly ever mention the Westminster Confession, which is really the hallmark of Reformed protestants, not Calvin. That’s not to say Calvin isn’t important, but especially if you’re talking about Presbyterians of any variety. Westminster is the defining interpretation of Calvin (which I personally find lacking). Nor do they seem to appreciate the wide variety of flavors of Calvinism.The absence of Barth is also surprising, since Barth completely redefined the meaning of election, which has had a major impact on Reformed theologians and Christians. For Barth, God both rejected and elected humanity through Jesus Christ, so that Christ is the elect and the reprobate. Christ then extends that gift to all humanity to accept or reject, which if accepted immediately means that Christian is called to the vocation of witness. Every Christian, then, is a witness if they call themselves a Christian, which is a vocation of Mission. Which means that another hallmark of Reformed theology is witness (including evangelization, etc).It’s too easy to pick on one brand of Calvinism, but personally I don’t think either of these articles is really representing what the new form of “Calvinism” or Reformed Christianity is really about.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >This is a comment on your question about free will. I hope it’s not getting associated with the wrong article.I think your definition of free will is incoherent, because I don’t think you can define whether or not someone “can” do something other than what they actually do.In fact, I believe you’re confusing two different senses in which someone’s actions can be predicted. In one sense, it is because they are being compelled. In that case we truly say they are not free. But the other sense does not involve compulsion. They can be predicted simply because we know what they are going to do. I believe the real definition of freedom has to do with whether what they do reflects a decision based on their own character and motivations. When they are compelled, it does not. But when we simply know what they are going to do, the decision still reflects them.Ask yourself this: if someone is easier to predict, does that mean they are less free? I don’t see why. It simply means that their motives are clear enough to onlookers that we can be confident. Lets look at the limits: I claim that God would be (if we were God) completely predictable. His motivations are completely clear and his decision-making perfectly coherent. At the other end, who is completely unpredictable? A mad-man, because his decision-making is completely incoherent. Yet I would consider God more free and the mad-man less.[Incidentally, this analysis is based on Jonathan Edwards’ book “Freedom of the Will.”]

  3. >The problem with the Time article is that it’s written by a non-Calvinist, who doesn’t appreciate Calvin. You can tell that because they emphasize the fact that God orchestrates everything, which is not Calvin’s focus (although he did believe something that’s at least related to that).It would be nice to think that there was actually a resurgence of interest in Calvin. I think in the PCUSA (of which I’m a member) that may even be true. However I agree with Q that the new Calvinism of which the article is speaking comes out of the “evangelical” tradition, where it is likely to be more Westminster than Calvin. I’d like to see more interest in Calvin. Because that would point people to things like a solid theology, and a concern for things ranging from liturgy to Church polity. I think Hart and Moore are right in “The Lost Soul of American Protestantism” that evangelicalism has largely deemphasized many of the things that Calvin cared about in favor of an effort to Christianize America, with a dumbed-down theology based on an oversimplification of sola scriptura. However some of that is now turning around, as you can see in the Emergent movement, and other less flamboyent attempts to incorporate the strengths of both the early Church and the Reformation. If you combine that with an interest in Calvin, I think you’ll really have something.Actually, even a serious look at the Puritans, out of which Westminster came, would have some of this effect, but I much prefer Calvin himself to the Puritans.

  4. Anonymous says:

    >We must think outside the box on this. Salvation is universally predestined. What can be saved will be saved, what can’t be saved won’t. All will be saved. How soon depends on how soon s/he chooses to lay down one’s so-called “life” in order to take it up again as Christ. This may take a million years. But time won’t end until the true Self (Christ) is saved from his self-concepts (man, world). You see, there is a grave misunderstanding about what salvation is, what what it is for. Salvation is for the mind…specifically, the mind of Christ. There are no men in heaven…only Christ. Therefore, to be there, we must be Christ. How can this be? If you recall the story of the prodigal son, it becomes apparent that the problem is this idea that we can leave home. We have left home and forgotten what it is…who we are…”lost” to our own “soul”. Well, our soul is Christ. Human experience is imagined by a sleeping mind. When the mind awakens, it knows itself as Christ. This is the basic framework we must work from if we are to be saved, that is…if our mind is to be healed of dreams.

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