Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hmm, How Should I Put This?

On the recommendation of a friend, I just finished reading a little book called Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, by Collin Hansen. Hansen is an editor at large for Christianity Today and, as far as the major objective of the book is concerned, he did a fabulous job. He not only tracked down and interviewed some key figures in the so-called New Calvinism, like Al Mohler, John Piper and Mark Driscoll. Hansen also brought out the more representative views of some "laypeople" in the movement, as well. I was really excited to hear about the birth of thriving Evangelical Churches and the growth of solidly Evangelical seminaries all around the US. To read about thousands of young adults worshipping God, being passionate about theology and having a passion for evangelism and missions brings joy to the heart.

But I couldn't quite get as excited about the fact that most people cited in the book seemed to be as excited about Reformed theology/Calvinism as they were about their faith and about Scripture ("I've been saved for a while but I wasn't on fire for the Lord until I became a Calvinist," and "I read Scripture but it didn't make sense until I read it Calvinistically," are paraphrases of common comments found throughout the book). Granted, when you are able to make sense of something as huge as Christianity, you will be excited within the boundaries of the system that helps you make sense of it. Reformed theology in general, and Calvinism in particular, are pretty extensive in scope and can answer a lot of questions. So I understand the excitement to a point. But the author spun the data in such a way as to give the impression that Reformed theology/Calvinism is the great, undiscovered key to the future of Evangelicalism. This is how the Church will weather the storms of relativism and postmoderism. This is how the Church will reach this culture as well as others. I'm sorry, but I just don't think the Kingdom of God is limited to one denomination or theological system.

To be fair to the author's main point and to the gist of most comments, the bottom line of the conversation was God and His grace. But that is why I still feel so unsettled when reflecting on the book. Why do I still feel like I'm supposed to have a greater passion for Jonathan Edwards than for Augustine, Anslem or Aquinas? He's great, but he's not the only dead theologian that should inspire us. Why do I still feel like I should consider the recent explosion of Reformed theology/Calvinism as a theological resurrection from the dead? Reformed theology/Calvinism was never dead; I've known groups as passionate as any in the book for as long as I've been a Christian. I guess I just think that Hansen made this aspect of his case a little too strongly.

I'm going to close with a quote from the book that conveys a postion that I think gives a better tone than most of what is found therein. And it comes from an amazing New Testament scholar who is highly respected and who is providing the world with outstanding Evangelical theology and exegesis. If I were to call myself a Calvinist, I'd resonate with these following comments from Tom Schreiner:

"If a church asked me, 'Are you a Calvinist?' I'd say, "Yes, but I don't use the word Calvinism. I teach what Scripture says, and I explain it in terms of biblical theology, what the Bible as a whole is teaching, the framework of Scripture. That's what I want to teach this congregation. I want this church not to be a Calvinistic church but a biblical church. Now I think there's a lot of overlap there biblically. But we're not indebted to John Calvin; we're indebted to the Scriptures at the end of the day." (p. 85)

Thanks, Tom. May your tribe increase!

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