Thursday, March 19, 2009

If you have a moment

Read Time on the New Calvinism as no 3 on a list of the 10 ideas most changing the world today.

Then read a response from Mark Driscoll on how the new Calvinism differs from the old Calvinism.

The combination might amuse you ...

... because if (i) Calvinism means anything at all, there are no big ideas changing the world, just one God inexorably working out his masterplan; (ii) if the new Calvinism means what Driscoll says, then it's an 'all things to all people theology', and that ain't Calvinism; ...

... and it might annoy you because (iii) the new Calvinism sounds like a really helpful idea, according to both items, but, in fact it raises significant questions:
- does it build ecumenicity? (I ask this question because I see Calvinism, old and new, as a set of convictions about the truth of Scripture which do not readily negotiate compromises)
- does it exalt men over women? (A number of new Calvinists, including Driscoll and Piper argue for a 'complementarian' position on women's full involvement in ministry).
- does the emphasis on the sovereignty of God lead to pastorally helpful practice in the face of tragedy and evil? (Some of my reading on the internet has led me to ask this question: if God is sovereign over the details of our lives, as some bloggers under the influence of Calvin, seem to assert, what can be said about tragic accidents and evil perpetrated on innocent people? Has God lost control? Does he want people to suffer?).

[Note: I have revised my original post in the light of Rhys' question in a comment below. This revision does not directly respond to the question but it does acknowledge that it is better to ask questions than to make statements in theological dialogue with those with whom we disagree!]

5 comments:

Rhys said...

Dear Peter

Would you like to outline the programme of historical and theological study you have undertaken to undergird your assault on calvinism

Rhys

Anonymous said...

Peter's questions on Calvinism:
- 'does it build ecumenicity?'
Maybe Alvin Plantinga, who teaches at Notre Dame U, can answer that. The 1,000 strong Society of Christian Philosophers owes a lot to neo-Calvinian thought. I think there's quite a lot of convergence among 'Great Tradition' Christians.
- 'does it exalt men over women?'
Calvinists have always thought they were exalting Christ. Are they big on feminism? Not so much. They do believe in loving marriages and families, though.
- 'does the emphasis on the sovereignty of God lead to pastorally helpful practice in the face of tragedy and evil?' It should - depends on the competence of the pastor ...
"Some of my reading on the internet has led me to ask this question: if God is sovereign over the details of our lives, as some bloggers under the influence of Calvin, seem to assert, what can be said about tragic accidents and evil perpetrated on innocent people? Has God lost control? Does he want people to suffer?" - Real Calvinists (ah, what a bracing expression!) don't believe in second-guessing Providence. But neither do they believe in 'Open Theism' or the 'process God'. 'Does God want people to suffer?' Maybe for their redemption or correction. C. S. Lewis was hardly a Calvinist, but didn't he say pain was God's megaphone for a deaf world? (Or was that just the film 'Shadowlands'?) Why infants should suffer is always a mystery - but not, as Calvinists believe, sub specie aeternitatis.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Thank you for your responses to the questions I ask. I am helped by that!
I would wonder, in the light of your mention of Plantinga, if there might be two kinds of "new Calvinism"? One, for example, being more open to the compromises ecumenism requires and one being less open.
I would also wonder whether there are significant differences between 'real Calvinism' and 'new Calvinism'!

Anonymous said...

Peter, I think one of the advances Richard Neuhaus was able to achieve through instruments like 'First Things' and 'Evangelicals and Catholics Together' was an 'ecumenism of the trenches', recognising the hostility of much of the modern world to historic Christianity, especially its pro-life, pro-family, pro-chastity ethic - the very points at which Christianity separates from the wasteland of modern secular (even atheist) thought. 'Touchstones' magazine does something very similar to 'First Things'. I'm not interested in preaching against Roman Catholicism, but neither do I wish to enter the world of sentimental holy pictures, relics and Mariolatry. But Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals should stand together for the core trinitarian faith, study the Bible together and learn from each other.
The fault lines in Christianity are not so much denominational these days. The 'new Calvinists' have a lot to teach the wider church by way of robust cultural critique.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Yes, new Calvinists have much to teach us.
I note, incidentally, that Driscoll's recent posts have excited critical comment from people other than myself! E.g. http://solapanel.org/article/driscolls_new_calvinism/ and read the comments there.