November 22, 2017

With All Due Respect…

By Chaplain Mike

Please listen carefully.

Are you listening?

  • On day one of this week’s series on the New Calvinists (TNC), I gave an overview of the movement with lots of links so that you can go hear and experience their teaching and approaches for yourself.
  • On day two, I expressed my debt and appreciation for Reformed theology in my own journey.
  • On day three, I used Collin Hansen’s book as a template for helping us understand what’s “new” about TNC, and what different forms it takes. My evaluation was fairly benign, with these simple points of criticism: (1) TNC has not radically distinguished itself from modern evangelicalism except in doctrine. (2) TNC is vulnerable to fundamentalist tendencies.
  • On day four, I had us revisit some of Michael Spencer’s experiences and criticisms of what Scot McKnight called, “The Neo-Reformed.” His primary concern mirrored mine: “Do I want to discourage anyone out of Calvinism? No, I respect your journey. I think it has edges though; edges that can hurt without realizing it, and edges that need to be looked at, not overlooked.”
  • Later on day four, I directed us to Ray Ortlund’s fabulous counsel to his friends who embrace Reformed theology: “If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around.” Here is a Calvinist insider recognizing in himself and among his colleagues the same tendency toward arrogance and separatistism that we called fundamentalism.

Unless I’ve missed something, I think the character of our writing about the New Calvinists has been respectful, appreciative, and honest. We haven’t taken an overly critical tone. We haven’t dismissed them. We haven’t ranted about issues where we differ in interpretation. We haven’t called anyone a heretic or a monster.

Nevertheless, the TNC movement, even though it has risen up in reaction to many of the deficiencies of modern evangelicalism, continues to represent a part of the evangelicalism many of us have left behind. Why? For me, two main reasons:

  1. Because they haven’t moved far enough away from the contemporary evangelical system.
  2. Because they haven’t moved far enough toward the ancient, deeper, broader consensus of the one true catholic and apostolic church.

That is my primary critique. With that in mind, I’d like to say a few specific things, with all due respect of course.

With all due respect…

I wish those who glory in their Calvinistic theology would realize that they don’t have a monopoly on appreciating the majesty and holiness of God.

I wish those who are inviting their like-minded Calvinist friends together for conferences would stop calling them, “Together for the Gospel,” implying that only their Calvinist soteriology accurately represents the Biblical Good News.

I wish many of them would stop making non-essential interpretations essential. Taking positions like a narrow view of inerrancy, complementarianism, and young-earth creationism should not entail fencing out other Christians as unfaithful or inconsistent.

Though I appreciate the serious approach to “loving God with our mind, “ I wish some teachers would realize that “knowledge puffs up,” and that an overbalance on the intellectual side of faith can appear arrogant, no matter how much one talks about humility.

I wish contemporary Calvinists understood that our Reformation heritage is broader than the rivulet that runs through Geneva and the Puritans, and beyond that, that there was vibrant apostolic Christianity before the 1500’s, rooted in the Fathers, the Rule of Faith, and the Creeds.

With all due respect…

I wish Reformed theologians would realize that they have almost entirely eliminated the Jewish ethos and perspective of Scripture. I wish they would acknowledge the importance of the “New Perspective” and N.T. Wright’s teaching, not feel so threatened by it, and admit that it adds necessary context to the doctrine of justification by faith; it does not overturn it. It’s possible to talk about matters like this without throwing “heresy” bombs around.

I wish they would realize that the way many people grasp and apply the TULIP system of soteriology can actually diminish the Gospel by individualizing it to such an extent that one may miss the full, glorious announcement of God’s Kingdom and a new creation.

Although I understand and accept that all people systematize their thoughts and understandings from Scripture, I wish our TNC friends would accept that the Bible itself is really not like systematic theology. This goes back to its Jewish ethos and pre-scientific cultural backgrounds. The Bible revels in stories, riddles, and mysteries, crafts creative narratives around word-plays and patterns of numbers, speaks in parables and exaggerated tall tales, and delights in clever sayings. The God it describes is frolicsome and unpredictable as well as sovereign and terrible. The Bible’s style is predominantly earthy and non-academic, the opposite of systematic—it’s not about precision but wonder, not theoretical speculation but the wisdom of the dusty road, workshop, kitchen, and campfire. Some parts are more propositional in nature, to be sure, but I would hope we don’t think they alone represent the whole just because they sound more like our way of thinking.

I wish the American church, and the TNC’s in particular, were more inclusive and displayed more ethnic and gender diversity. God’s church and its leadership just has to be more intricate and variegated than a white guy standing in a pulpit while others submit to his authority and take notes on his preaching! The entire trajectory of Scripture points to a kaleidoscopic people of God, ever more diverse, with always surprising revelations of unlikely people using their gifts in unexpected and even subversive ways to encourage the family and bless the world.

I wish these Calvinists who are part of evangelicalism would listen to Michael Horton’s counsel, meet regularly with their fellow Christians on the “village green,” and develop a broader ecclesiology that includes more participation in the catholic church.

With all due respect…

My main wish for all of us who are trying to figure this “Christian” thing out, including TNC’s, is that we would all better grasp and represent “Jesus-shaped Christianity.” As Michael Spencer once said so well,

The balance of the Reformation Gospel is this: we see God best in Jesus. Not in speculations, relentless logic or metaphorical bombshells. God revealed himself in Jesus. It is the kindness of God that appears and saves us when we cannot save ourselves. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It was the Gospel story of the crucifixion, not of sinners in the hands of an angry God, that caused 3,000 to be “cut to the heart.”

…We are given a very simple message. It may rest on profound and intimidating revelation that only truly great minds can grasp, but any one of us slower types can go to the cross and hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them….” I don’t understand it, but as theology, it can’t be surpassed.

Comments

  1. “Though I appreciate the serious approach to ‘loving God with our mind…’ ”

    I’m Having a hard time with this. Five-point Calvinism seems to be anti-reason. There is no sane way to surmise a God who chooses to send people to hell. A system that promotes dualism as does Calvinism does not build healthy reason or thinking. It might promote captains of industries, the subduing and pillaging of nature, the establishment of great colonial empires of enslaved, unchosen heathen nations, but not healthy thinkers. There is a difference between logic and reason. Logic can enslave the mind, reason frees it.

    The following exchange from the movie, “War Games” makes this point very well:

    Stephen Falken: “General, what you see on these screens up here is a fantasy; a computer enhanced hallucination. Those blips are not real missiles. They’re phantoms.”

    McKittrick: “Jack, there’s nothing to indicate a simulation at all. Everything is working perfectly!”

    Stephen Falken: “But does it make any sense?”

    One can come up with every compelling, logical explanation for double predestination, but it will never make sense to a sane mind.

    In his book, “Orthodoxy”. G.K. Chesterton puts it this way:

    “The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic…He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.”

    Like Luther, Calvin contributed many positive things, but neither man was perfect. One cannot blindly follow a movement or teacher without some element of self-examination and questioning.

    • I don’t react quite so strongly as you, but I’m increasingly convinced that taking things to their ‘logical conclusions’ is not the right approach with things spiritual (at least).

      Note for regular commenters, there are two “Ben’s” on this site, I’m the other one 🙂

    • It’s not just the Calvinist soteriology I’m talking about here. This whole stream of faith emphasizes a more scholastic approach. Calvin’s Institutes are much more about “the knowledge of God” than any system that bears his name.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head. It is a sophism/scholasticism akin to the abuses of medievalism.

    • “I’m Having a hard time with this. Five-point Calvinism seems to be anti-reason. There is no sane way to surmise a God who chooses to send people to hell.”

      Regarding Calvinism and reason … I think the praise to the larger Reformed tradition for its greater respect for intellectual life is well-placed. Overall, the Reformed tradition has had a lot of respect for theological thought and has never developed the strong suspicion of the intellect that you can find running through the Baptist and Wesleyan traditions. Fundamentalism got its bookish, logical, doctrinal side partly from its presbyterian roots. Witness the vast writings of seventeenth and eighteenth century Calvinists; the Princeton school in the nineteenth century US; and the contributions of Francis Schaeffer to American fundamentalism in the post-WW2 era.

      Schaeffer might be an interesting point to insert here. His work was an absolute watershed to second and third-generation fundamentalists who had grown up seeing the university as a dangerous place. If you went off to college as a young fundamentalist, you were likely to hear, “Be careful. Don’t be taken in, and don’t loose your faith.” Then Francis Schaeffer comes along and says that conservative Protestants have a perfect right to be there, and something to say about philosophy, art, and literature. Although Schaeffer and other Calvinists might say some things that one might consider anti-intellectual (in that they might stiffly reject vast portions of modern intellectual life and its conclusions), this fundamentally different attitude about faith and intellect illustrates the ‘edge’ that the children of the Reformed tradition often have.

      If Calvinism has an anti-intellectual side, it is that its scholasticism can simmer down into a rigid adherence to an elaborate theological system. That’s a lifeboat for someone whose non-denominational church claimed to have neither a tradition nor a theology. But, as I noticed with certain college friends, it also provides a young person with a way to achieve a sense of certainty about everything — which can sometimes not be an asset if it squelches probing or causes you merely to pass over forms of Biblical study that don’t lead straight back to the system. I have met a lot of scholars who are in the Reformed tradition somewhere, who seem to have benefitted in all ways from the old Calvinism. Some of the younger people I’ve met seem to have used the theology as a book of answers to all questions. I am not sure if this reflects the tone of the New Calvinism, or if I am merely observing the difference between mature, older persons and young, idealistic converts.

      Circling back to your feelings on predestination and the damnation of the predestined reprobate —
      I share your abhorrence of this particular doctrine, esp. when expressed in the hyper-calvinist mode. I admit that as a systematic theology, Calvinism is elegant. I admit that predestination (and hyper-calvinism) more or less work as logical extrapolations. However, I’ve never been able to get it jell with the picture of God that I get from the Scriptural narrative or with my most basic moral feelings. I’ve tried many times, but each time all I come up with is a picture of God that is always exactly how I picture Satan. Then I go rock miserably in the corner, reading John Wesley until I feel better. I cap it off with a rendition of Charles Wesley’s “The Horrible Decree.”

      • I owe a great debt to Francis Schaeffer and one of my great regrets in life is that I didn’t travel to L’Abri in the early stages of my Christian journey.

      • I admit that as a systematic theology, Calvinism is elegant. I admit that predestination (and hyper-calvinism) more or less work as logical extrapolations. However, I’ve never been able to get it jell with the picture of God that I get from the Scriptural narrative or with my most basic moral feelings. I’ve tried many times, but each time all I come up with is a picture of God that is always exactly how I picture Satan. Then I go rock miserably in the corner, This is why I need to do all I can to distance myself from Calvinism and the doctrine of Limited Atonement.

  2. “I wish those who glory in their Calvinistic theology would realize that they don’t have a monopoly on appreciating the majesty and holiness of God.”

    With all due respect Chaplain Mike, not all Reformed/Calvinist Christians do that (I certainly don’t). I can appreciate the views of evangelical brothers and sisters in other camps.

    I’m also surprised you gave some kudos to N. T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. Considering that they are more of a threat to your understanding of the gospel that really has no strings attached to it.

    • Mark, many of us have found that actually reading N.T. Wright has helped cut some strings.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        Absolutely. It seems to me that many of Wright’s biggest critics haven’t actually read or listened to him. Rather, they’ve more often read ABOUT him via the writings of other critics.

        • one more Mike says:

          I’m currently reading “Mere Churchianity” and Wrights “Simply Christian” as companion volumes. Didn’t start out that way, but it’s very enriching.

          • Thanks for the tip. I had just bought a copy of Simply Christian when the challenge to read Capon’s book came along, so I put it aside. I’ll get right on it and go over my notes to Mere Churchianity while at it.

      • Really? I have read a number of N. T. Wright’s works and he plainly states that present obedience to God, albeit empowered by God’s grace, is necessary if one wishes to be vindicated (i.e., justified) before the Lord on the Last Day. Of course, he would say that this obedience is a necessary product of genuine faith but that this obedience is still necessary. Not that I agree with the way Wright reads Paul in general (esp. his view of the law), but he seems like his reading of Paul is contrary to your view of salvation as “unconditional grace.” Btw, I still don’t understand what your hang-up is with people who promote the idea that the gospel has covenantal obligations. If you read the Bible, even in a non-propositional sense, you will see that the biblical writers were emphatic in many places that the gospel (as embodied in the new covenant) has not only promises but also demands. I sometimes wonder why you feel so threatened by these truths.

        • I have read a number of N. T. Wright’s works and he plainly states that present obedience to God, albeit empowered by God’s grace, is necessary if one wishes to be vindicated (i.e., justified) before the Lord on the Last Day.

          That’s not really what he says. He says that verdict on the last day is already guaranteed because of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. So a Christian is guaranteed to be declared in the right on that day because of what Christ has done by making us a new creation. Works are simply a natural consequence of us being a new creation, not what makes us a new creation.

          • Even though he acknowledges that our declaration is guaranteed by Christ and the Holy Spirit he also vigorously maintains that our obedience, which springs from genuine faith and the Spirit, are necessary if we plan on being justified before Christ’s judgment throne on the last day.

            Not to harp on this, but I still think you’re misrepresenting what Wright is actually arguing. He basically says that for someone who is a Christian, it is impossible for the verdict rendered on the final day to not match the present verdict. There is no risk of losing one’s salvation because of lack of works. Of course, works are the natural outflow of being a Christian, of being a new creation. Our works will be judged in the future, but that does not mean that Christian risk damnation. Our works will be judged in the sense that some will have eternal value and some will be thrown into the fire and burnt up.

          • I have a question. When talking about faith and works. What are the works we must do and how will we know that we have done enough? This really confuses me. Faith is a gift of Christ and all the bible says is “repent,” “believe.” But, how much are talking about? I mean Jesus talks about faith of a mustard seed so if we hardly have any faith then does that mean it is counted as righteousness? So, how many works will be enough? This terrifies me. I am spending much of time trying to figure out what works I have to do in order to be right with God. So, as I write this and think about what I am trying to work out with this faith/works thing, I am convinced that that is not the gospel. I am also convinced that our lives will be changed but how much? Does this lead people to compare themselves to others? That tends to be my downfall. I begin to look at everyone else’s works and despair of my own. This question and response is in regards to Mark’s comment below. I guess the main thing is I don’t want to be left on the last day because my works were not sufficient. This is so frustrating to me. We are told to believe in Christ and that he forgives us. That is so beautiful! But then it all becomes muddled after that.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            I have a question. When talking about faith and works. What are the works we must do and how will we know that we have done enough?

            I think the problem is this idea that there is a quota to fill or a checklist to check. Especially from the Wright/New Perspectives point of view, the “works” are not what we must do to get something or to become righteous. Rather it’s what we do simply because we are part of the Covenant Family. They are the way we work out our Baptismal Vows in day-to-day life. What are those vows? In addition to affirming the beliefs laid out in the Apostles’ Creed, they are to “renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them.”

            How do we do this? What does it look like? What happens when we inevitably screw up or walk away for a time? That’s something that has to get worked out pastorally in our faith communities as well as individually as we seek to please God more and more. It ain’t a quantity thing. It ain’t a checklist thing. It’s a living life as a Christian thing.

          • DreamingWings says:

            “I have a question. When talking about faith and works. What are the works we must do and how will we know that we have done enough?”

            I’ll likely end up repeating more than a bit of Isaac’s excellent explanation; but here’s my additional thoughts. Jesus repeatedly says he treats us as friends and family. So who are your close friends? Or even people you haven’t ‘clicked with’ friendship wise but you hold in great esteem? Generally they’re the people who match both your desired behaviors, interests, and inner values in important ways. And its that combination thats important. I’ve known multiple people who share numerous shared interest with me and seemed to want my time and friendship. I got rid of them. Why? Because they turned out to be massive flakes, liars, sexually predatory sleazebags, etc, etc.

            I think its the same thing with God. When you’re in God’s family/circle of friends; you seek the behaviors, activities, and values you best believe suit someone whom God would want to be around and find useful.

            Does this mean everyone should be the same? Of course not. God seemed especially fond of both King David and Paul; and thats about as different as you can get. And will you disappoint God on occasion? Of course you will. Everyone fails a friend or family member. God, being a pretty solid friend by all accounts; forgives all. He merely expects you to own up to your failings (repentance) and move on in seeking a renewed friendship and shared trust.

        • Where do you get the idea of me being threatened by what you say? The fact is, I just get tired of hearing one note played over and over and over…

  3. With all due respect, I think we’ve finally found a topic that generates more comments than homosexuality…

  4. Jesus Reyes says:

    @ dumb ox says

    “It might promote captains of industries, the subduing and pillaging of nature, the establishment of great colonial empires of enslaved, unchosen heathen nations”

    I am generally aware of the causation link between Calvinism and unbridled capitalism, but would it be possible to “flesh” this out a little more? Thanks

    • I believe he’s talking about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic , the first paragraph should help.

    • Three references. One is the more obvious is Max Weber’s analysis of Calvinism and the protestant work ethic. Second is a comment that Tony Campolo made in one of his books, noting that countries under the influence of reformed theology progressed economically more than who were not. Thirdly is a comment in Paul Tillich’s “History of Christiian Thought”, where he mentions that Calvinism appealed to industrialists and imperialists. Calvinism became a means to an economic ends.

      But again, there are many positive elements to Calvinism. Calvinists originally believed in reinvesting their wealth in local economies not to make more wealth but essentially out of concern and duty to ones neighbor and community, and for the advancement of society.

  5. Hi Chaplain Mike,

    After going through some of the New Calvinist websites, I have come to the conclusion that some of them really do fail to distinguish between their interpretation of the bible and the bible itself. Some of them put too heavy an emphasis on propostional revelation and not enough on the personal and relational dimensions of God’s self disclosure and the overarching narrative framework of the bible.

    Correct theology seems to be more important to some of themt han genuine relationships with fellow believers who differ from them in theology. It is the bible that is inspired, not our theologies (though I am sure they all recognise this theoretically but their attitude does not bear this out practically).

    Theology is a human construction that helps us make sense of the biblical witness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is given to the world wide communikty of believers and such theology ought to make Jesus central. After all theology is not the bible itself so we may have different theologies being drawn out of the same biblical text and with the same fidelity to Jesus.

    There is no one orthodox theology to which we must all adhere. There is however a classical grammar and our differing theologies ought to be consistent with this classical grammar which we find the the 4 great ecumenical creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries and for Protestants also in the creeds of the Reformation etc.

    There are many forms of Calvinism as has been pointed out in your posts and responses. Calvinism is only one wing of the evangelical church but New Calvinism needs the broader vision of Calvin and needs to interact with the Neo-Calvinism of Kuyper and Shalom Kuyperian Calvinism represented by such people as Nicholas Walterstorff. Walterstorff is very irenic and gracious in his responses to those with whom he disagrees and some of the New Calvinists need to take a leaf out of his book.

    Many thanks for your posts and and may God continue to inspire, uplift and encourage you as you continue to bless others.

    Shalom’

    John Arthur

    .

    • I would echo some of your ideas. I was raised in a Dutch Reformed tradition and have been shocked to discover more recently that there is a general perception of Calvinists as the internet police – calling out heretics around the world who don’t adhere to strict inerrancy, complementarianism and YEC. These were things that were never taught to me growing up or at Calvin College. Actually, there were “untaught” to/for anyone who came to college with those perspectives.

      I’m not an expert on North American religion, but I wonder if there are significant differences between the Reformed tradition in the North and a more “southern” version? Does anyone else have thoughts on this? Or is the Dutch Reformed tradition different than what produced the SBC?

      Mike – I have been very impressed with your treatment of this topic. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

      • This has been my observation as well. When I meet people who grew up Reformed (most of whom, incidentally, went to Calvin or taught there at some point), I get one picture of the tradition. When I’ve met new ‘coverts’ to the tradition whose bookshelves are laden with Sproul and Piper, I get an entirely different sense of it. I’ve also bumped into reformed folks in “Christian Worldview Camp” and Religious Right type settings, and fundamentalism’s classic issues seemed to matter far more to them.

      • I’ve been lurking here for years, but this whole discussion this week brought me out of it to briefly comment and now to clarify a few things. The short answer to Rick’s question about the Reformed tradition in “the North vs the South” is yes. Presbyterian Church history in North America is very murky with abounding splits and mergers. The PCUSA is the merger (1983) of what was the “Northern” church that favored the abolition of slavery prior to the Civil War and the “Southern” church did not. I spent my youth in what was the “Northern” church and my adulthood in a church that was formerly a “Southern” church. My current church does have a more conservative flavor. It was in the “Northern” church that a woman was first ordained as minster of the Word and Sacrament (1956). This is the short version and only one example of a regional difference.

        I am saddened by the many comments relating stories of spiritual damage resulting from strict adherence to the 5 points. This makes me sad, because to me, they are tool to help explain the theology. A PCUSA pastor once remarked to me that the Calvinists were the problem, not Calvin himself. Thematically, the 5 five points are still present in my denomination, but not as overtly taught or preached on. Few people in the pews could name them. Yet, the Gospel is preached and Grace is abundant in my experience. There are days I’m a 5 pointer and days I’m not. For my peace, I put this to mystery and God’s plan.

        Keep in mind I am neither theologian, nor pastor. In the Presbyterian form of church government I’m not even an elder or a deacon; just a middle aged woman who’s spent her life in what became the PCUSA. I am amused and interested that the critics of the recently labeled “New Calvinists” could find solutions to most of the those criticisms in the more liberal mainline Reformed groups. We are still here and our doors are open.

      • Rick – as an ex-Calvinist, I’d like to echo your words. There seems to be quite a difference between the Westminster reformed, and the continental (Dordt, Heidelberg etc) reformed.

  6. Wow. Thanks.

  7. Dear Chaplain Mike,

    Thanks for the summary and your frank thoughts on this subject at this point in your walk.

    You state:

    “I wish those who glory in their Calvinistic theology would realize that they don’t have a monopoly on appreciating the majesty and holiness of God.

    “I wish those who are inviting their like-minded Calvinist friends together for conferences would stop calling them, “Together for the Gospel,” implying that only their Calvinist soteriology accurately represents the Biblical Good News.”

    I could not agree more with these statements.

    I wish those not holding a Calvinistic view would also realize that they don’t have a monopoly on appreciating the majesty and holiness of God.

    I wish those not holding the Calvinist view would stop making the same implications you express in the second statement.

    …And now a question from left field for those of you who understand this movement best.

    What percentage “New Calvinists” believe in Dominion Theology?

    Definition of Dominion Theology as I understand it: Christians must literally retake the Earth from Satan before our Messiah returns.

    I’m thinking it would be a small number, but I don’t know TNC well. Would any be willing to speculate?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Definition of Dominion Theology as I understand it: Christians must literally retake the Earth from Satan before our Messiah returns.

      Sort of Victorian Post-Mil attitudes on steroids, with a LOT of potential for going sour in a Jihadi/Talibani sort of way. When “retaking the Earth” is defined politically and the dynamics of power struggle come into play, so does the Dark Side of that Theology. We see that in Culture War Christianity, we see that in Jihadi Islam, we saw a secular version of that in Communism. When the struggle to “retake the Earth for Righteousness” becomes that of political power, and the stakes become literally Infinite Good (Us) vs Infinite Evil (Them), all bets are off and there are no obstacles to becoming Khmer Rouge or Taliban. Anything goes to Retake the Earth for Righteousness, and all who are not with us are Satan. THAT is the Dark Side of “Christianizing the World”, the danger that’s tempted Utopians both Temporal and Spiritual.

      • “Sort of Victorian Post-Mil attitudes on steroids, with a LOT of potential for going sour in a Jihadi/Talibani sort of way.”

        That’s a clever way of putting it.

        How about a speculation?

  8. I’m 27. Became a Christian at 19. I love the Gospel. I was given Desiring God 5 years ago, and it re-oriented me. I needed to read it. I needed to pursue God more. I needed passion for Him, and I needed to see Him as high and exalted.

    My discovery of Piper led me on my own little New Calvinism journey. I was sick of how most churches were boring and “soft” on the Gospel. TNC wasn’t. It was passionate. Check.

    I was sick of how people couldn’t relate to the culture. Christians were awkward. I couldn’t bring people to church, I thought. TNC was all about cultural relevance and missiology. Check.

    New England is dead. Churches need to be planted, but nobody is doing it. TNC, in particular Acts 29, is all about church planting. Check.

    I wanted more fellowship with people in my stage of life: mid 20’s, passionate for God, fighting tooth and nail to avoid falling prey to the American Dream. Oh, and with good music….meaning really good rock and hip-hop full of theology and the Gospel. Most of my favorite artists are now associated with TNC. Check.

    I like to read. I need to learn more. TNC pushes books and studying. Check.

    All of these things checked off to me. It gave me a new, thrilling view of God. It helped my conversion experience make more sense to me, because I knew it had much more than asking Jesus into my heart. I knew God did it, and I had little to do with it.

    But I fear I became too much “one of them.” Links of articles, books, and sermons all over facebook. Thinking all of my friends need the same exact information I’m getting for their own walk with God. Judging pretty harshly other movements/theologies. Thinking everything else was “soft.”

    Now I’m beginning to see a lot of conformity, group-think, our-way-is-the-only-way, and other warning signs. The conformity is especially troubling. Everyone reads the same books and goes to the same conferences and uses the same buzzwords and listens to the same music. And we’re all “hip.” Ugh.

    I still appreciate all those “checks” above. But I also appreciate grace, and God outside of the box. Calvinism helped me, and I’m not brushing it aside, but I’m moving forward. I thinking I’m taking monergistic regeneration with me. But there’s more to be discovered about God, and particularly about how he loves and deals with people. I’m still into Piper and Chandler and Paul Washer, but also Brother Lawrence and Tozer and The Way of the Pilgrim and the mystics and devotional classics and the Fathers. And the Lutherans (theology of glory vs. theology of the cross…wow!) And Robert Capon. Oh my……Robert Capon.

    Michael Spencer, and the continuing iMonk community, has helped a ton. For humility. Thank you.

    (Post-script: I’m now at a C&MA seminary, and my world is really getting blown up. You know, the Holy Spirit and stuff).

  9. Chris Moellering says:

    Interesting, apparently I’ve got some neo-Calvinist leanings or sympathies on a few points. I’m okay with that. I’m not a 5-pointer. It’s more my hermeneutics I think. But I’m not calling those who arrive at different conclusions heretics. (Young/old earth for instance.)

    This whole discussion highlights a tension we live in between proper belief, which we all agree is important or we wouldn’t bother commenting, and proper grace. TNC’s and other more conservative theologies tend toward belief, liberal theologies tend toward grace. The goal is to be right and gracious. Only Jesus pulled that one off well, and we could even argue he didn’t do it perfectly . Just saying, driving people out with a whip and calling them white-washed tombs and blind guides doesn’t sound all that gracious.

    It appears, experientially, that God is more accepting than we are. I’ve got Catholic friends and Anabaptist friends and Lutheran friends and…they all seem to love Jesus and he seems to love them back. I can’t explain it in human terms. But I am more and more thankful for it the longer I go, because I’ve walked across different streams on my journey.

    I’m pretty sure I’m still not “right.” But I’m trying to live with all due respect.

    • Good word, Chris. Sounds like you too are seeking the more ancient, broader, deeper, more ecumenical faith that iMonk encouraged us all to embrace.

      (Note: Even Jesus’ acts of “righteous indignation” were not mere individual deeds, but acted out signs completely consistent with the prophetic tradition of Israel.)

      • Chris Moellering says:

        Yes, and of course. I dare say many in the temple weren’t getting all nostalgic about the prophets of old at the time, however. 😉

        I am certainly on the ancient-future path. It’s going near Canterbury for me currently.

    • Kenny Johnson says:

      How did you know I was an avid dog-kicker?

      • I’m also a dog-kicker. That’s because my dog is a crack-smoking, gay mutt born out of wedlock, running the neighborhood, sleeping with anything that wags its tail at him. That’s why I kick him.

    • I agree with Mark in some respects. There is a danger in a “too-liberal” grace, an almost Unitarian approach to grace that says everything is acceptable. It’s a theology so intent on catering to any and every belief that it essentiallly doesn’t believe anything.

      On the flip-side, in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, our Lord seems to rant more often against theologies that are too fundemental (as demonstrated by the Pharisees) than he does against “liberal” theologies. That seems to suggest that there is a greater danger of believers to fall into fundementalism than liberalism. And it makes me think that He’d rather have us err on the side of grace than on the side of self-righteousness.

      Oh, the joys of being a follower of Christ, to be saddled with debates and doubts like this!!! I am so thankful for our Lord’s grace and mercy!

      • “However, I prefer balancing grace and obligation.”

        I had hoped that my post showed my agreement with that statement, for I thought I was being pretty clear that I realize there’s a balance between grace and “obligation.” (I think I’d prefer to use the term “obedience,”though.) Jesus’ life accounts are full of that balance, between His showing grace to the world, but also His showing individual’s need for repentence. And the gospel accounts are vivid in showing that as He walked His graceful walk in this world, He did it all in obedience to His Father.

        I guess that I see the balance between grace and obedience as extremely delicate. If I live a liberal “grace absolves me of everything” approach, I am in danger of making the world my master. But if I focus too much on obedience (and dare I say “works”), then I’m in danger of beating myself for not being good enough, or letting other people beat me up for not being good enough. Not only that, but too graceless an approach and I am in danger of not showing the world God’s love for them.

        My own experience is I see many Christians living un-graceful lives and focusing too much on works. (That includes me.) Our Christian walk becomes more about checking boxes and living as a church believes we should live, and less about following Jesus and living as God wants us to live.

        Here’s my self-assessment: Am I as obedient to God as I need to be? No. Am I as graceful to others as I need to be? No. IBut the fact is…I WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH IN EITHER OF THOSE. So tell me…what should reign supreme…grace or obedience?

        (By the way, I recognize Jesus did BOTH!!!! And I fully recognize I am called to be just like Him!!! But that doesn’t make it easy for me, being a jar of clay and all that.)

        • MOD NOTE- I have deleted several comments because they were getting too far afield of the post. If you read a comment that makes reference to something that got deleted, it may not all be clear to you. Sorry. Sometimes I let peripheral discussions go on but not today. With all due respect, I hope we will all find our way back to the main road.

          • I apologize Chaplain Mike. I noticed some of my comments were deleted. I was responding to something Mark said and I suppose I got out of line.

            • It’s not necessarily that you got out of line. I deleted comments from everyone who was involved in certain discussions. I couldn’t leave just some because then the thread wouldn’t have made any sense.

    • Kenny Johnson says:

      Personally, I’d rather be a ragamuffin and know it than think that I’m righteous.

    • Because the word “liberal” means different things to different people, many discussions never have a chance for true communication. . Back to definition of terms. Mark, you’ve made it clear what you think the term “liberal” means.

  10. I wish Reformed theologians would realize that they have almost entirely eliminated the Jewish ethos and perspective of Scripture. I wish they would acknowledge the importance of the “New Perspective” and N.T. Wright’s teaching, not feel so threatened by it, and admit that it adds necessary context to the doctrine of justification by faith; it does not overturn it.

    This has been something that’s puzzled me as well. I really have a hard time understanding why people of the Reformed persuasion would take issue with Wright’s perspective. Basically, Wright’s point concerning justification is that we are justified through the faithfulness of Christ, not through anything we do. We still must enter into the covenant family through faith, but it is Christ’s faithfulness that has made the way. I fail to see how this is threatening to Reformed theology, but I’ve heard horrible things said about Wright.

    • Phil, with all due respect, your post here shows that you know little to nothing about Reformed theology and the New Perspective on Paul.

      New Perspective proponents argue that one maintains his or her covenantal status, through ecclesial boundaries, by obeying God’s law. Of course, this law-keeping springs from God’s empowering grace and is an expression of genuine faith, but it is still something that believers are commanded to do in order to maintain their status in God’s covenant and be justified at the end.

      Reformed theologians, however, argue that obedience to God’s command is only a necessary fruit and evidence of a regenerated heart and genuine faith. God’s people, according to Reformed theology, will keep God’s law because God will write his law into their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). The only thing that ties traditional Reformed theology with the NPP is that both understand that the new covenant also contains obligations for the believer (that faith and works are inseparable even if they are distinct).

      Therefore, no matter how you read “pistis Christou” the point is that whether Paul is saying “faith in Christ” or “the faithfulness of Christ” there are covenant obligations that believers are to keep lest they be proved to be among the unregenerate. The way that Reformed theology and NPP theology draw these conclusion are different however. However, both reject (alongside with standard Arminianism) that the gospel can be reduced to “It is only about the freeness of grace and not about our obligation” which you and many people here seem to fond of (i.e., the antinomian heresy).

      • It’s always nice to be called stupid…

        I know plenty about Reformed theology, and I’ve read nearly all of Wright’s books, and the fact is he espouses nothing like what you and other are accusing him of. The “covenant obligations”, as you put it, simply follow as the fruit as one being a member of the covenant family. One behaves like a Christian because he is a Christian. As far as Christians who sin (which would be all of us), they simply are denying their true nature. I don’t know that I’ve ever read Wright’s “official” position on apostasy, but I do think he would say it’s a possibility. Apostasy, though, is more a matter of rejecting the covenant rather than committing a specific sin.

        I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and we were Arminian to the bone. I was so dreadfully worried about committing some sin that would exclude me, that I was almost neurotic about praying for forgiveness. It was, really, “eternal insecurity”. It’s simply not how Christ wants us to live. I firmly believe now that the Father loves me regardless of what I do. The question is whether I will let myself receive this love. To me, it sounds like you may be in the same boat I was. I pray your path leads you to some peace.

        • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

          I don’t know that I’ve ever read Wright’s “official” position on apostasy, but I do think he would say it’s a possibility

          His take on Baptism seems to be that Baptized Christians who are not living out their Baptismal Vows are “recalcitrant children” rather than people who have left the family. Or so I heard him say in a teaching on the Sacraments. He did note in that speech that his take isn’t fully formed theologically and would probably need to be dealt with more on a pastoral level than a theological one.

        • I didn’t call you stupid. I just said “your post here shows that you know little to nothing about Reformed theology and the New Perspective on Paul.”

          • Which he adequately demonstrated that you were wrong in your analysis of his knowledge. There are plenty of view shared by folks on this blog that can be supported by deeply historical and biblical readings of the text that are quite different than your own. Please don’t assume that your narrow eschatology, ecclesiology, or soteriology are, in fact, the only way those areas have been understood throughout orthodoxy because it just isn’t true.

          • JoeyS, I never said that my own eschatology, ecclesiology, and soteriology are in fact the only understandings of historic orthodoxy. I am historic premillennial in eschatology, congregational in polity, and Calvinistic in soteriology. Yet, I still consider amill and postmill Christians as orthodox. I also readily acknowledge that true Christians exist in high church denominations, and I certainly know that brothers and sisters in Christ can differ on TULIP. I just wonder what you mean by what you said above. Now, if you’re insisting that it is possible to be orthodox and have a universalistic view of redemption then I would have to say you’re just flat out wrong.

        • Does the bible say that after conversion we only sin from time to time? Paul says he is the chief of sinners. Aren’t we all still miserable sinners just covered by the blood of Christ? Maybe I am off base here but I don’t want to be this wrong so someone correct me or help me figure this out.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        I think speaking of the “New Perspective Proponents” in a single stroke is probably a bit too general. From my readings of Wright, Stendahl, and a few others, it seems that there are differing versions, but that many of them would argue that obedience within the covenential boundries is not what gets you into the family, but how you act as a member of the family. The most extreme might say that such obedience KEEPS you in the family, but that’s not what Wright or Stendahl argued. Even under the OT, both Wright and Stendahl argue that works were terms of the covenant, not the things that bring you into it or get you justified.

        I think a problem is that with our Protestant eyes we often read “righteousness” and “vindication” and automatically make the jump to “justification” and “salvation.” Wright and Stendahl would both argue that the jump is incorrect.

        Truth be told, a lot of the NP writings feel somewhat like an attempt and reconciling Protestant, Catholic, and 2nd-Temple Jewish theology.

        • Yes, I was going to say something similar to this. There are so many perspective within the New Perspective that it’s really impossible to lump them all together. The biggest thing is really the idea that the law is not seen as something that is opposed to grace, but rather it is an act of grace. In this sense, I can understand Lutheran objections, but have a harder time understanding Calvinist objections.

  11. Kenny Johnson says:

    “Although I understand and accept that all people systematize their thoughts and understandings from Scripture, I wish our TNC friends would accept that the Bible itself is really not like systematic theology.”

    It’s interesting that you bring this up. This isn’t unique to Calvinist theology, though I do know that Calvinist systematic theologies are more popular.

    For awhile I was really interested in this approach to scripture. And in some ways it is helpful. But over time I’ve found myself rebelling against it out of frustration. I think McKnight’s “Blue Parakeet” helped me. I’ve been much more appreciative of the narrative approach to scripture lately. To me, that’s been a much more helpful approach to scripture. I just finished, “The Drama of Scripture” this summer and that helped me to really re-orient my thinking about the Bible — as not a book of rules, theological answers, encouraging short stories (though those are all in there), but as a story of God’s redeeming act.

  12. Chaplain,
    Your post is excellent—you make your points and express your concerns but in a very respectful way and I really appreciated reading it. Although I am rock solid on Reformed soteriology, I think most of your points about Calvinist practices are valid. I wish we could isolate and teach the covenant/sovereignty/soteriology aspects of Reformed doctrine which to me are its real strengths and not get distracted with issues of church governance, YEC, complementarianism, etc.

  13. “The Bible revels in stories, riddles, and mysteries, crafts creative narratives around word-plays and patterns of numbers, speaks in parables and exaggerated tall tales, and delights in clever sayings. The God it describes is frolicsome and unpredictable as well as sovereign and terrible. The Bible’s style is predominantly earthy and non-academic, the opposite of systematic—it’s not about precision but wonder, not theoretical speculation but the wisdom of the dusty road, workshop, kitchen, and campfire.”

    And we try to re-create that in our own image…

  14. These are very helpful criticisms, thanks.

    I thank God that my “cage stage” Calvinism never reared its ugly head when I first stumbled on the doctrines of grace. My family, all default, unconscious Arminians are truly a blessing to me, in ways they probably wouldn’t be if they were 5 pointers. My dad, for example, says things that are more Calvinistic than I am! My little brother, who was recently re-awakened in a BIG way by attending a local charismatic church, is very wary of long wrestlings over free will that one of his chums is beginning to have. I personally have never explicitly brought up the subject to any of my family members. I don’t think they know what Calvinism is or that I happen to subscribe to it. And, frankly, my policy of only talking about it when I am asked has worked wonders. I can draw out of them things that are throughly reformed and they agree with them wholeheartedly. I don’t bust out limited atonement or reprobation out of thin air and use my beliefs to ambush them. Rather, I find common ground and room for amens. My dad’s intimacy with the Father is far deeper than my own. My mom’s piety puts us all to shame. My brother’s faith and passion to share the love of Jesus far exceeds my own. Frankly, I’m in no position to lecture. I still need to learn! And by God’s grace I have. Attending a charismatic church with my brother has been difficult for me at times. Often it’s a real stretch. It’s revivalistic. It’s low on expository preaching. It’s too similar to the signs and wonders mess I grew up in. And yet, they are not abusing the gifts. They are not abusing each other or God’s word. My worship has changed. I stop complaining about ever this or that. It’s been humbling. I have been forced, by scripture and experience, to retreat from my cessationist leanings. And my understanding of God’s sovereignty is actually far more profound. God is sovereign enough to use dreaded “Arminians” (read, anyone who’s not a 5 pointer) to teach, rebuke, and edify me! Imagine that. And he has ordained it so. As that hymn goes, “What ere my God ordains is right.” And he has rightly ordained a multitude of true, blood-bought Christian perspectives for the very purpose of building up his church. If we were all ears, we’d be blind.

    I can relate and amen just about all your criticisms, in at least some respect. Here’s one that resonates w/ me the most:

    “I wish many of them would stop making non-essential interpretations essential. Taking positions like … young-earth creationism should not entail fencing out other Christians as unfaithful or inconsistent.”

    I have received lots of grief and heartache over this one. Our focus on the gospel should be so all-consuming that the relatively trivial nature of questions like “how old is the earth” or “how, exactly, did God make us?” should be put in their proper place. I’m sick of people being prophetic from the fringes rather than from the center.

  15. Brandon Lee says:

    Chaplain Mike,
    Thanks…this post has indeed shown the true colors of what this site is about and of the continued honest legacy of I-Monk…thanks for sharing, thanks for your honesty for those on the journey.
    Peace

  16. Richard Hershberger says:

    “I wish those who are inviting their like-minded Calvinist friends together for conferences would stop calling them, “Together for the Gospel,” implying that only their Calvinist soteriology accurately represents the Biblical Good News.”

    This is very much like one of my standard complaints about Evangelicalism in general. It is entirely routine for a discussion of what Evangelical Christians believe or do to be couched as what “Christians” believe or do. At best this is thoughtless. At worst it is deeply offensive.

    • Seriously…that quote is right on

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      You saw a similar shtick in the Christian (TM) publishing industry. The CBA (Christian Booksellers Association, gatekeppers for what’s Officially Christian Fiction) was originally called the Baptist Booksellers Association.

      This shtick reeks of “Our Clique are the Only True Christians”. At best it sounds cluelessly arrogant; at worst, a direct challenge to everybody else.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Richard, if you are irritated by the Calvinistic tendency of implying that 5-Calvinism is “the Gospel,” imagine how I see things now, as a former member of a church which was integral to the *founding* of the Together for the Gospel conference– and as a man, who, just this year, after a many-months-long period of study and prayer, returned to the Catholic Church.

      I have seemingly lost most of my Protestant friends. Perhaps they consider me an apostate. Perhaps they just don’t know what to think. I do know two things though: I have not lost Christ, and I have not lost the Gospel *of* Christ, and Him crucified, for the sins of the world, and resurrected on the third day. Strong Calvinists, and anti-Catholics of other stripes (I realize that not all Calvinists are necessarily anti-Catholic Church, but it tends to go with the theology) can and will say that I have returned to a “false gospel,” but I still love them as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if the sentiment is often not reciprocated.

      Sadly, in the Reformed circles in which I moved, Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) theology was rarely seriously studied or engaged. Early Church Fathers? Other than *very* selective quotes from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, fuhggedaboutit! 🙂

      My surprise was great, when I began to read the early Fathers, from 95 A.D. on, and find many, many things that simply did not fit in my Reformed Baptist (or even simply non-sacramental Protestant) world. (In which I was *sure* that I had the “correct, most Biblical” understanding of justification, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc….).

      My surprise was greater when I went back to Scripture and read it, together with the exegesis of theearly Fathers, and found different understandings, in many Biblical passages, than I had once assumed…. understanding that made it impossible for me to remain a Calvinist, or anything other than Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

      Here’s the thing though: I am now no longer able, in good conscience, to remain a Protestant. I have returned to the Catholic Church, *but again*, I still love my Protestant brothers and sisters as fellow Christians. That many of them so longer see me as such, I have to live with as a painful reality. It becomes easier, when I remember that until recently, I would have acted somewhat similarly to any Protestant who converted (or returned) to Catholic Christianity. I simply didn’t see most Catholics as “true” Christians who “trusted in Christ alone.” I was ignorant and wrong.

      I still love the high, majestic view of God that I gained as a Reformed believer. I love the Reformed passion for Biblical exegesis (even as I hold many aspects of that exegesis to be incomplete and otherwise flawed). The passion that I experienced for evangelism in Reformed circles– second to none. There are very good things, in the Reformed tradition, from which Catholics can learn. See more here, from a Reformed believer who became Catholic: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/02/welcome-to-called-to-communion-2/
      I just wish that more Reformed Christians would seriously study Catholic theology, from the early Church Fathers on to the present day. They might find much more with which they can agree than they think.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Make that “5-point Calvinism,” obviously, in the first sentence of my comment! 🙂

        • Christopher Lake says:

          Wow, *numerous* typos just now recognized in that comment! Note to self– do not type lengthy comments when suffering from sleep deprivation! 🙂

  17. You can still throw stones, RCran. You just have to make sure a few of them are aimed at yourself!

    😉

  18. Charles Fines says:

    Chaplain, something I read by a teacher from Calvin College, possibly Hope College, might apply here. The gist was that students mostly found Reformed theology dull but when they read Calvin himself they came alive. This, as pointed out above, would be in a Dutch Reformed setting and not particularly Neo-C. For me there does not seem to be enough time to explore this byway in detail.

    I believe all three of your post-evangelical trends have a common thread in adherence to the Nicene Creed. My readings of the Emerging trend left me with the impression that this was the only thing most agreed upon before manning the lifeboats. It certainly is at the center of your Ancient Future trend whichever particular branch one might climb. Too bad that one word divides East from West, but even that can be overcome in my opinion.

    For myself, I am pushing hard back beyond Nicea, beyond the Fathers, even when necessary, dare I say it, beyond the Apostles, some of whom seem to have had that TNC gene themselves. I don’t regard the Creed as wrong so much as irrelevant and a huge diversion. It strikes me as a reactionary response against something considered harmful, which also is at the heart of the heresy hunts and the Reformation itself. In my view all are ultimately negative in essence whatever the positivity of the vestments they wear. Not that we shouldn’t all strive for purification.

    But I recognize a big step forward when folks are at least willing to gather at Nicea for bread and wine, even if some are at separate tables and some are drinking out of tiny cups and some are drinking grape juice. Perhaps you will raise your cup with me before I shoulder up my backpack again.

    I’m very happy with what you are doing here. One of the things I take away with me of great value is the Jesus-shaped responses to the sometimes less-than-Jesus-shaped comments. That’s a role model I need to help keep me from reaching for my cudgel. Keep up the good work!

  19. My first two years of undergrad work were spent in West Michigan (epicenter for Dutch Reformed Theology in the Mid-West). I transferred because after two years of study because I couldn’t stand the general attitude of many Christians who held so strongly to Calvinism/Reformed Theology. There is a saying there that goes “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much”. That notion carried over into my academic setting where, if it was revealed that you didn’t tow a hard Calvinistic line, you might be labeled as not being a Christian.

    I ended up at a school with a solid evangelical background that has excellent scholarship, but also has Mennonite and Wesleyan roots. I found that this institution was more willing to include Calvinists into their fold than Calvinists were willing to include other perspectives into their dialogue. That’s not to say that the occasional Calvinist bashing didn’t occur, but the atmosphere was far more balanced.

    I’ve concluded that we could all stand to be a bit more gracious with each other.

  20. Randy Thompson says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading through all this. It’s good to know that there are other people out there who are bothered, like I am, by the tendency to confuse the false certainty of theological traditions with a real faith that knows darn well “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” More and more I think of myself simply as a “protestant catholic” who tries to be open to any and all who know Jesus better than I do.

    • HI Randy,

      “Protesting Catholic”… that’s what my facebook profile says my religious views are. But I think I’ll change it to protestant catholic… never having been a part of the Roman Catholic church, I guess I can’t really be protesting against it. But I love the emphasis on catholic. I find it so frustrating always having to explain to people that there really wasn’t a Roman Catholic church until Trent. Before that it was “catholic” west and “orthodox” east, and, at least in the catholic west, it was never as monolithic as some historicians like to make out, just as the Roman Catholic church is not as monolithic today as some people would like to make it out to be.

  21. I’ve found “Neo-Calvinism Week” both interesting and frustrating… but maybe I’m just a “cage-stage neo-reformed.” 🙂

    But I do find the emphasis on complementariansm and YEC, etc. very disturbing, not to mention detracting from the gospel… since when does “come to me all ye who are heavy laden” mean “come to me and adopt a certain view of science”? And I say this as someone who pastors in a a denomination that started in the modernist controversies of the early 20th C. Our doctrinal statement includes a statement on Creation that is pretty hard to read as anything other than literal 6-day, no evolution, though it might allow room on “the age of the earth” issue. I do settle out at our doctrinal statement but I have read enough and know enough of the other views out there held by Christians that this is certainly not a salvation issue by any stretch. Why make it such?

    Here are some other thoughts I’ve had as this week wraps up! I came across a blog defining “neo-Calvinism” as following the thinking of Abraham Kuyper. It suggested “neo-puritanism” as a better name for this movement. I would have to agree… which leads to some observations:

    1) Given that both the US and Canada started out as British Colonies, is it really all that surprising that people are going back to Westminster? Many denominations have roots in English/Scottish Puritanism… I wonder if we had been German colonies at one time if we’d be experiencing a Neo-Lutheranism movement?!?!

    2) Given that Armianism was “repudiated” among the continental Reformed and English/Scottish Presbyterians and than that J & C Wesley were influenced by Lutheran Pietism, passing along those pietistic influences to evangelicalism, do you think that “neo-Calvinsm” is an over-reaction to the steady drift among North American evangelicals over the last 150-200 years to Pietism and Armianesque theologies?

    3) or perhaps neo-Calvinism is an over-reaction against the excesses of dispensationalism (I’d put myself in this boat!)… a sort of covenental backlash against dispensational thinking that stalled at soteriology and never got going again?

    4) With all of these thoughts in mind, then would the ancient-future movement be a reaction to evangelicalism’s ahistoricism? (I haven’t had too much exposure to the ancient-future movement, although I love what I’ve read of D.H. Williams (is he part of it?)!)

    Just curious and I’d love to hear your opinions.

    Thanks. God bless.

  22. One cannot have a personal relationship with a deterministic god. Such a diety becomes just one more part of ones personal battle against fate. One is as powerless against what has or hasn’t been be predestined as against bad weather, earthquakes, and economic downturns; all one can do is take your chance, roll the dice, and hope for the best. In the face of determinism, all one has left is free will – to live ones life in spite of the threat of non-being imposed by determinism.

  23. Sometimes I wonder just how relevant all this theological wrangling is to the life of the average follower of Christ on this planet. If I were to go out in the streets of my little Southern American town and conduct a poll — first asking people if they considered themselves to be Christians, and then, for those who answer “yes”, asking them how they fall theologically between Calvinism and Arminianism — I wonder what percentage would even know what I’m talking about. I’d be willing to bet that no more than 10 percent could answer that question without a good bit of explanation first. And of that 10 percent, more than half would probably be seminary-trained members of the clergy, with the rest coming from a very strictly defined theological tradition. And of lay Christians who actually hold theological positions, how many actually came to those positions through study and reason, and how many merely borrow their positions on trust from their pastors or denominational leaders? I might be wrong, but I would guess that the vast majority are letting the religious professionals do their theological wrangling for them.
    I don’t know about you, but as someone who does study scripture and theology and church history, as someone who also serves as a teacher and untitled leader in my own little church family, and as someone who some people actually look to for answers — that scares the hell out of me. And, sometimes, it really does keep me up at night.
    I’m not really one to promote particular theological positions or membership in a particular church institution as a necessary element of salvation — But what if I’m wrong? Then God have mercy on my soul! And even if I”m right, then to what degree have my expressed opinions and attempts at theological education served to unnecessarily complicate the simple faith of those who give ear to my teachings? And to what degree have I unnecessarily complicated my own faith? I look at the lives of some of these people who look to me for answers, and they seem to be light years ahead of me when it comes to things like childlike faith and humility and obedience and self-sacrificing love. Have I crippled my own faith and stunted the faith of others by over-rationalizing the whole thing? Have I done more uniting or dividing? Have my words done more building up or tearing down? Have I mistaken my own opinions and preferences for God’s truth?
    Painful and disturbing as they are, these are questions I often ask myself. And as a teacher of the gospel, I believe that it is my sacred obligation to question myself in this way. When Paul said that teachers would be called into account for what they teach, I take him seriously. But, thankfully, I have only a dozen or so pupils in my classroom. However, when it comes to some of the more well-known teachers out there — teachers with students numbering in the thousands or even millions — I’m not so sure all these guys are asking themselves these kinds of questions … or even questioning themselves at all.
    And that really scares the hell out of me.

  24. I wish many of the same things you do, Chaplain Mike. But rather than add to a pretty comprehensive list, I think I could summarize by saying I wish some TNCs would return to one of the basic principles of the kingdom, that it belongs to the poor in spirit, not the proud (Mt. 5:3).

    After discussing the problem of factionalism Paul wrote this: “Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” (1 Cor 4:6)

    This is exactly what a lot of sectarian dogmatism is about: taking pride in one man (or the school of theology derived from his writings) over against another. If you’ve ever wondered why the letters to Corinth take up so much space in the NT, just look around you. They’re amazingly timely.

  25. I wish many of the same things you do, Chaplain Mike. But rather than add to a pretty comprehensive list, I think I could summarize by saying I wish some TNCs would return to one of the basic principles of the kingdom, that it belongs to the poor in spirit, not the proud (Mt. 5:3).

    After discussing the problem of factionalism (I follow Paul, I follow Apollos) Paul wrote this: “Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” (1 Cor 4:6)

    This is exactly what a lot of dogmatism is about: taking pride in one man (or the school of theology derived from his writings) over against another. If you’ve ever wondered why the letters to Corinth take up so much space in the NT, just look around you. They’re amazingly timely.

  26. Coming rather late to the discussion as an outside observer, and more generally over the past week. I like a comment Archbishop Fulton Sheen once made: “Pride is an admission of weakness; it secretly fears all competition and dreads all rivals.” It seems the arguments lately have resembled in many respects a sort of fratricide. On the other hand, anyone who has raised a family knows it is kissing and battling, battling and kissing. This whole conversation would not have occurred if one group considered the other as outright liars. The word “heretic” hasn’t been raised and it is encouraging in the “village green” sense that commenters at least have not labeled each other as apostate. There have been many elements which strike me simply as prideful expression. Perhaps some jealousy as well. This smacks of typical sibling rivalry, regrettably. One might refer to Paul when he pointed to those choosing to follow a particular teaching, whether his or that of Apollos. I think there remains what Paul might have referred to as milk within the American evangelical church. Thanks, I have been grateful for the discussion. Peace,
    Stuart

  27. With all due respect I wish people would not box a calvinist in……….