Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why the Time Magazine Trumpeting of New Calvinism Is a Bad Thing

Seven quick reasons:

1. I'm not so sure that the "new Calvinism" is all that "new." This post is helpful in explaining why.

2. The potential for making biblical truth a fad seems quite high. All fads die. If the resurgence of robust biblical theology rides an emotional crest until that superficial, emotional wave dies, so too will interest in robust biblical truth. We're all familiar enough with church history to have seen this several times over.

3. The media attention forces some superficial attempts at self-definition, and the inevitable result are "camps" of Reformed types. Add a little carnality, and then you'll hear folks saying they're of Paul, or Appolos, or Peter, or Dever, or C.J., or MacArthur, or Driscoll, or the really, really Reformed, etc when those men weren't even looking for groupies. We need a strong confessional center with the charity that celebrates secondary and tertiary distinctives. Which is why I am so encouraged by this group and the work of these friends and this growing fellowship.

4. Not only are there "camps" within Reformed circles, but it also prompts some unhealthy Reformed/non-Reformed tensions. The potential for playa hatin' is great. Well-informed leaders inside the SBC have been dealing with this enough over recent years, I think. Do we want the attention of secular news outlets stirring the cauldron of Christian disunity? We ought to be wary of such a potential outcome.

5. Goal displacement. Put simply: so much of the talk about the "new Calvinism" "winning the culture" ends up taking too many eyes off the cross, off the gospel, off the local church, off the great commission, and off the great commandment. Not all such talk does this, but enough does. And that's bad.

6. False views of success. How many of us would have thought Calvinism was changing the world before this article? I suspect many of us Reformed types would feel beleagured and embattled, not victorious, etc. Now we have a news magazine ranking the work of God as #3 in the world. Is that success? Do we want to define success by media spots? I'm sure we don't. So we probably ought not put too much stock and spill too much ink over this.

7. Do most people even know what Calvinism is? Do we want a brief news blurb to be their introduction, especially given the remarkably high likelihood of misunderstanding and fear? Gotta be a better way than a #3 ranking on a list of things changing the world right now.

Is the "new Calvinism" and its spread a cause for rejoicing? I think so. But there are also some pitfalls that come with loving the applause of men.

33 comments:

Jeff Locke said...

Great post, Thabiti. How prone we all are to temptations of "success." Thanks for the reminder.

Kieran Mcknight said...

Great points there- Thanks for shareing

The Reformed Pastor said...

excellent advise! Thank you for such wise words of caution.

Stephen said...

Thanks for posting this...

Jake Snodgrass said...

this is a really good point and really a great warning

russellandduenes said...

Good cautions. Thanks. I'm of the mind that a good evaluation will be not how "influential" we are, but how well we love each other through the inevitable sufferings that trials to come.

Matt Privett said...

Well said, brother.

Jeff Lash said...

This is wise counsel. Like you, I am always hesitant to latch onto anything that makes national headlines. It is better that we make much of Christ instead of drawing attention to a potential fad (though we do not view Calvinism or New Calvinism in this way).

Ian Hall said...

Interesting post

Justin Blomgren said...

Its strange to think that people are jumping onto the bandwagon of Calvinism. I think it is great many are turning back to scripture and various doctrines...but I also see your point. I hope this is not another fad that simply comes and goes. Thanks for the post.

Mick Porter said...

All good points Thabiti; perhaps I could offer a couple more:

(1) This is about world impact, but seems very USA-centric (like most stuff on the web). The names you mention are all Americans. The pattern of influence tends to be quite different in other parts of the world.

(2) I think the "new Calvinism" is perhaps influential in some types of areas more than others. In my city (Brisbane, Australia) there is certainly some Calvinism that's influential in middle-class, educated regions/demographics but in the more broken suburbs it's Pentecostal and more liberal churches who are really impacting the culture. In contexts such as Asian slums I wonder how much "new Calvinist" influence there is?

Boaly said...

Very wise counsel

Aaron R. said...

"it also prompts some unhealthy Reformed/non-Reformed tensions. The potential for playa hatin' is great."

That quote was amazing. Outstanding post.

Meredith said...

Thatbiti,

Thank you for this very wise counsel. I have a question regarding #3.

I do not know anything about Dr. R. Scott Clark and I am not interested in criticizing him, but I read his post the other day linked from Tim Challies regarding Driscoll's comments on New Calvinism.

He was very concerned with drawing a clear fence around the term "Calvinism."

Do you think this is helpful in light of your #7 or is it too close to creating these "camps"?

Again, I am not intending to criticize Dr. Clark, I am just trying to figure out how to make my way through all this...

Thank you very much for your faithful ministry!!!


PS I don't know how to link to that post, but this is the address http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/calvinism-old-and-new/

Tom Goodman said...

Hear, Hear

Daniel Patz said...

Thank you. As a young pastor your advice is very wise and needed. It is easy and wrong to pump your chest and miss the point of the doctrines of grace...

maddog said...

Re: Meredith

Dr. Clark's main point was to argue that Calvinism is not simply "predestination," which is what most people think when they hear the word. Instead, Clark argues that true Calvinism is a system of doctrine and beliefs of which predestination is a small part.

Something I've noticed is that so many people who call themselves Calvinist talk in terms of "I'm a four point Calvinist," or "I'm a 4-1/2 point Calvinist," etc. Part of what Dr. Clark argues is that this is untenable - you don't get to choose what parts of a system of theology you believe and then claim that label. You either believe it or you don't.

I don't believe that this is creating a "camp" as much as it is defining terms in a historically accurate way in order to avoid confusion.

Stephen

Jeremiah Fyffe said...

THANK YOU Pastor Anyabwile! Please keep Christ's church cautioned of fame and the world's notice. I’m still torn that I didn’t choose your workshop at the upcoming Gospel Coalition Conference. Please tell me that it will be recorded.

---------------
(copied from a comment I made over at Challies - http://tinyurl.com/dm2dxo. Steve Prost writes some very helpful comments there that I commend to anyone here.)

“The media attention forces some superficial attempts at self-definition, and the inevitable result are “camps” of Reformed types.”

He goes on to say “Add a little carnality, and then you’ll hear folks saying they’re of Paul, or Appolos, or Peter, or Dever, or C.J., or MacArthur, or Driscoll, or the really, really Reformed, etc when those men weren’t even looking for groupies.”

I think the key is “Add a little carnality …”. Are you kidding? There isn’t one of us or our leaders and pastors that aren’t so full of carnality is just plain sick! Mark Driscoll was asked in a network interview what he thinks about those who accuse him of arrogance. His eyes widen and he looks genuinely scared … OF HIMSELF, and confesses that he struggles with pride every single day. And look at John Piper, when he turns introspective, particularly during panel discussions, anyone with discernment can see that his greatest enemy is himself. And this from a man that doesn’t even put his own graduate and doctoral certificates in frames on his office wall.

God, guard your church and your undershepherds from the congratulatory praise of man. Keep our eyes fixed upon the praise of your glorious grace, and our ears inclined both to the wisdom of the Spirit and the acceptance of our Father. Full your own High Priestly Prayer that we might be one as the Christ and the Father are one.

Nick Hill said...

Thanks for this!

lifemoreabundant said...

You know, a lot of your points could just have easily been said on the crest of The Great Awakening, and while that revival (as all revivals are) was temporary, a great many families were brought into the covenant belssings of God through it.

I am discouraged so often at how pessimistic and defeated the "reformed" world seems to be. Our belief in a Sovereign God should make us shout excitedly that nothing is impossibel with God. Instead, here we sit, proclaiming proudly how ineffective this gospel we claim to love truly is. It makes me sad.

Christian Menowar said...

Clap, clap, clap...
Well done brother.
The 5th reason is the strongest and scariest to me. Very counter productive.

FellowElder said...

Dear lifemoreabundant,

You know, I tend to agree with you about the tendency of Reformed types to lack evident joy. But, I don't think you read my post very accurately (if it's my post that your comment is referencing). I'm not down about the power or the progress of the gospel. The post is simply making the point that a Times article isn't the way we should measure success in the gospel, and that there are a number of potentially unhelpful developments that come from responding too uncritically to secular news opinions. So, I'm not sure I see what you mean about this post not being joyful about the progress of the gospel. The last paragraph says as much.

Help?
T-

Stefan said...

Pastor Anyabwile:

Thank you very, very much for this post.

The only good thing I see in this is that Calvinists—by far the minority voice in the North American church—have for once gotten some positive recognition, even if it's in the secular media. And let that not be for our own sake, but for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God.

But that one good thing is outweighed by all of the reservations you've voiced, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. (Hope that doesn't make me "of Anyabwile"!)

Peter Eddy said...

You wrote, "Add a little carnality, and then you'll hear folks saying they're of . . . Dever, or C.J., or MacArthur, or Driscoll, or the really, really Reformed, etc."

Not of Piper? He was the first one to come to mind.

Sorry this comment doesn't add to the overall discussion at all.

Danny Strong said...

I appreciate the caution, and definitely do not think this is time for Christian triumphalism. But I do feel thankful to God, ecstatically thankful, that his grace is making an impact on the world. When I look back at the drought of deep doctrine that my father endured, I cannot help but bask in the wonder of what Jesus is doing now. It seems to me that there is a third way between triumphalism and suspicion, which is humble gratitude and holy discontent. I just don't want to fail to give God praise because we are too distracted with our suspicion of culture's notice.

Samuel D. Smith said...

Well said, brother.

philokale said...

Those seem like pretty weak reasons. The gist is, media attention forces self definition, which creates division and creates a fad. Well, Christianity has required self-definition (in the form of creeds and confessions) from the beginning. The purpose of those creeds is division - division of the believers from the non-believers.

Calvinism is one tradition of biblical theology that does not need to be artificially defined right now. See the 300+ year old confessions that define it already: Belgic, Synod of Dort, Westminster, etc. That's why (some) evangelicals like it. It has a history, which most evangelical churches lack.

Potential for making biblical truths a fad is not high. Potential for making non-biblical truths a fad is high. Sure, some people will fall in and out of the church. That's not new, nor is it indicative of faddishness.

We should not seek media attention, but these reasons for avoiding it seem to take for granted the reigning seeker-sensitive evangelical views, which Calvin himself would reject.

William Petruzzo said...

While I think there is good reason to be encouraged by what's appeared in the public media, I also appreciate a sound word to bring balance. I agree--these are things we need to hold to keep our thinking in check.

Jay T said...

My brother, who is not a believer, asked me to send him an ESV Study Bible after he read that article. So put that in the "pros" side.

Joshua said...

I would argue that being a fad is a good thing. Not in the sense that solid, biblical teaching would in the long term not be called "new calvinism" or "reformed theology" but, you know, "solid, biblical teaching." Not saying all theological divisions within the church will be replaced by any one persons/groups vision, but rather people would stop focusing on the terms/camps/self-definitions which invite prejudice.

Chris Donato said...

Thabiti wrote: "Do most people even know what Calvinism is?"

At the risk of fulfilling #3–4, if not offending the blog owner, given Time's mentioning of Baptists only—I'd say not!

Jamie Watt said...

Despite your points, I find it difficult to believe that a secular media outlets's acknowledgment of a thriving Christian movement could ever be a bad thing. Even if you dislike some of the content (your points were valid) it may open up a dialogue between secular readers and their "new Calvinist" friends.

Daniel F. Wells said...

Intriguing post, but I would like to defend Driscoll on one level.

While not agreeing with some of his theology (I myself am a cessationist and a paedobaptist who has a different view of biblical church government and ecclesiology than Driscoll), I would cut Driscoll "some" slack in that he is trying to communicate theology to one of the most pagan, unchurched cities in America. While I may not agree with Driscoll's full disclosure of "old Calvinism" I am sympathetic to his simplification of it if he feels his members/visitors are weary of the body of doctrine known as Calvinism because of certain stereotypes of "old timey Calvinism."