The Wondering Eagle is critical of the Neo-Calvinist movement in many forms. However, there are certain areas where the Neo-Calvinist movement shines and does well. From addressing racism, having a broader and more global definition of the church to having a healthier take an alcohol. Today’s post is a reflection on the segments of Neo-Calvinism that are healthy and good.
“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!“
“Problems are the price of progress. Don’t bring me anything but trouble. Good news weakens me.“
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:13 ESV
Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
Often here at The Wondering Eagle I have spent a lot of time writing about scandals, criticism or more about the Neo-Calvinist movement. I won’t go into that much here but you can go into the blog directory and look at what I have written in the past. In addition to that I have also written about how Neo-Calvinism actually makes the problem of evil worse. I used the Newtown massacre in Connecticut and how John Piper responded to it to make my case. You can read that post in “How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Make the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut.” In addition I also wrote another post about how one can make Neo-Calvinism healthier. You can read that in “Eagle’s Recommendations on how to Improve Neo-Calvinism and Make it Healthy.”
Now having written that I don’t want this blog to become an echo chamber that constantly criticizes and does nothing more. There are times I want to step back and write something different, and today is one of those days. I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of years and I kept getting distracted or having other topics to tackle. Today I just want to step back and look at Neo-Calvinism and state what I appreciate from the movement. Its not a lot but there are a number of things that the Neo-Calvinists do well. And I believe its important to be honest and state what that is. So I hope today’s post will be interpreted through that perspective.
Neo-Calvinism has Intellectualism
First off is that Neo-Calvinist has an intellectual component to it. That is something that I deeply respect and have to recognize. I have an advanced degree in history from grad school and I read a lot. My personal topics range from everything from what Charlie Skyes has written to an outstanding book on the history of the Belgian congo or even what Bill Kynes, a local EFCA pastor published which I am slowly working through. So I respect and admire a group of people who try and offer an explanation for the problem of evil or many other topics. In many traditional evangelical churches you would be hard pressed to find someone who can discuss the trinity, or explain the differences between substitutionary atonement and penal atonement. When I have traveled in writing this blog I have popped up in different churches including a Neo-Calvinist one and I noticed that they had an active book club that read literary classics such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” or Ernest Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.” From my perspective that is fantastic and to be commended. Even if they struggle with the answers or more I have to respect them for honestly trying. In traditional evangelicalism there is a deficit when it comes to intellectualism. And actually there is outright hostility to science. This is one of the issues that disappoints me when it comes to traditional evangelicals. But in the Neo-Calvinist realm intellectualism exists and I respect that deeply.
Creationism isn’t as Much an Issue
Before I dive into this next topic let me say that this issue doesn’t apply to Al Mohler. Al Mohler is very much a culture warier but especially when it comes to creationism. Al Mohler attaches a literal six day creationism to faith. In Al Mohler’s world you can not be a Christian if you don’t accept literal creationism. Mohler has gone so far that Answers in Genesis has promoted his material, used it, and when Ken Ham debated Bill Nye, Al Mohler sat in the first row of the debate. I am not a big fan of Ken Ham at this blog. Actually I have written about him twice, in the first post I responded to Ham’s claim that September 11, 2001 occurred because of homosexuality, as well as how the atheists are trolling his theme park in northern Kentucky, which I actively encouraged the Freedom From Religion Foundation to actively do, You can read both in “Ken Ham Believes Homosexual Activity is why the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks Occurred” and “Ken Ham is Trolled by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Meanwhile he Attacks Atheists and the Media, is Under Scrutiny by Kentucky, Plus He Blames Hurricanes on Sin.“
In other parts of Neo-Calvinism however creationism isn’t a deal breaker when it comes to faith. Actually, the former Sovereign Grace church that I was recruited to, Redeemer Arlington, the Air Force Captain trying to get me involved told me that creationism isn’t essential to the Gospel. This is something that I heard from others as well from time to time. I had a Neo-Calvinist pastor a couple of years ago who told me that I had to wrestle with that issue myself. For me this is deeply refreshing because I am a firm believer in evolution, and accept theistic evolution. In many traditional parts of evangelicalism I have run into this issue of Ken Ham. And its been distressing to come into contact with people who tell you if you do not accept a literal seven day creationism then you can not be a Christian. For myself I am a firm believer in science and that is something that I believe can co-exist with faith. Its encouraging that there are sections of the Neo-Calvinist movement that are okay with you not believing in a literal sense day creationism. For that I have to applaud them.
The Rapture is not an Issue
One of the things that is also nice about Neo-Calvinism is that you do not have to deal with the rapture if I am correct. The rapture was exposed to me for the first time in a small group Bible study at Campus Crusade at Fresno State in 2000. I thought it was truth and drank the kool aid. It wasn’t until my faith crisis began in 2009 that led to the rapture being purged from my system. Today I categorically reject it as bad theology. For me the rapture is a get out of jail card that allows you to ignore your civic responsibilities. I also wonder if it leads many traditional evangelicals to be disinterested or apathetic to situations going on in their mist. Or due to how some evangelicals view the rapture are they trying to usher in the end times? I visited this topic after visiting Glacier National Park in Montana last summer in “Evangelicals and the Environment: Some Thoughts After Visiting Glacier National Park in Montana.” In reflecting upon the rapture I do not know what is worse…Kirk Cameron’s acting in Left Behind or the flawed theology that is the rapture. The father of dispensational theology is John Nelson Darby. Its important to note that Charles Spurgeon clashed with Derby and was a great critic of his teaching. Many supporters of Derby also forget to mention that Derby had a serious head injury after falling off a horse and I wonder if that contributed to his theology. Either way the rapture is not a topic you will find in many Neo-Calvinist churches. In that perspective I find that to be refreshing. Maybe it speaks to the instability of many parts of mainstream evangelicalism that many would buy into a theology system that only came around in the late 19th century. Either way to be in a system that is free of that toxic theology is good.
Neo-Calvinists Take Racism More Seriously
There is another issue that the Neo-Calvinist movement has done incredibly well. That is address the situation of racism or even hate groups. Traditional evangelicals and Baptists have failed substantially on this issue and have ignored, downplayed or just haven’t really spoken to this topic. When Charlottesville happened I didn’t go to church the following Sunday because I feared the topic would be downplayed and ignored. To my relief later on I learned it was discussed which for me is a sigh of relief. But there have been others who have been vocal. Russell Moore spoke out on Charlottesville and addresses racism quite frequently. When Donald Trump called Haiti, Africa and more shitholes it was the Neo-Calvinists who spoke out and condemned the comments. 9 Marks Thabiti Anywabile condemned the comments and pushed back. I praised his comments in this post called, “Thabiti Anyabwile Address the President’s Comments on Haiti, El Salvador and Africa: While Neo-Calvinism has Many Issues the Movement Addresses Racism Well.” Another situation that is telling occurred at the last annual Southern Baptist meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. It was 9 Marks Garrett Kell from Del Rey Baptist who kept alive the debate and other Neo-Calvinists introduced the measure that ultimately condemned the alt right. You can read about that here and here. The Neo-Calvinist movement has excelled in the issue of racism and on that sense they are to be commended.
Politics isn’t as Much an Issue
For the most part Neo-Calvinists are more about the Christian faith and less about political gain or engaging in politics. They tend to be apolitical. To younger people like myself that is welcome news. Many Neo-Calvinists don’t hang their faith on who controls the Congress or the appointment of a justice to the Supreme Court. I find this to be commendable because regular evangelicals have married their faith to politics. Its almost to the point where I am starting to ask myself if evangelical Christianity is a quasi political party instead of a faith system. In my past I have had the wife of a pastor explain to me that you can’t be a Christian and any other political party than Republican. And when I was in this same church people celebrated the capture of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein with cheers and more. For me it was baffling and troubling to see this and I encounter it frequently in traditional circles. Mixing politics and faith is kind of like mixing manure and ice cream together, which is how Shaine Claibrone described it. In many Neo-Calvinist circles faith is about the local church, and The Gospel but not politics. Neo-Calvinists have healthy priorities in this area and for that they should be commended.
Neo-Calvinists Have a Broader Understanding of the Church
Another beautiful aspect to the Neo-Calvinist faith is that it has a broader definition of the church that traditional white evangelicals. Neo-Calvinists have a faith that is more wide spread and thinks in a global perspective. They call the church and look at it as if its a living breathing organism that isn’t defined by geopolitical boundaries. As such this movement can relate to continents such as Africa or Asia better. Plus if you couple this with how many Neo-Calvinists address racism you have something that compliments their theology well. In contrast compare this with some of the traditional evangelicals who have married nationalism and faith together. For some in this crowd its hard to think of the Christian faith beyond the United States. To better illustrate my point look at how some traditional evangelicals respond when the American flag is removed from the sanctuary. They have married the two together and have faith tied to patriotism. Wouldn’t Mali, El Salvador, Tanzania, India, Vietnam and more be just as valuable to God as the United States? Neo-Calvinists have not blurred patriotism and faith as much and that is healthier and I think closer to the Christian faith.
Healthy View of Alcohol
Also worthy of being mentioned, the Neo-Calvinist movement has views on alcohol that are far healthier. Neo-Calvinists are not opposed to alcohol and actively have a beer, drink wine and more. Its a non-issue for them. A good illustration that came to my mind came out of Darrin Patrick’s The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri. The Missouri Baptists gave The Journey money and then flipped when they heard that Patrick’s church also met in a bar and discussed theology and drank beer. According to what I have read The Journey had a program called Theology at the Bottleworks. People met at the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, Missouri and drank beer and discussed theology. The Missouri Baptists went nuts over this and the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote an article about the ministry and controversy called “Beer and the Bible.” Currently the Post-Dispatch article is down and the internet archive is not working at this time. But if you want to read more about the issue you can do so here and here. This stands in stark contrasts to some of what can be found in traditional evangelicalism. The ways that many Baptists can respond to alcohol is over the top. As for myself in that traditional camp I have heard talks against alcohol or even some of the most ridiculous sermons about how its not water and wine, but instead its water and grape juice.The time and energy that some put into this issue is really awful and its time that is wasted. Alcohol consumed responsibly is fine and part of being an adult. The Neo-Calvinists mirror the Catholic church in my prospective on this issue. Either way it is welcome and encouraging.
Special Note to Several People in this Movement
Today in the United States we are living in a highly tribialized environment. People are pulling back, cutting contacts to those who do not think or act like them. You see this in church, culture, politics and government and more. I live in ground zero here in the Washington, D.C. area and read about how people isolate, withdraw and cannot get along or discuss different points of view. In this highly polarized society I wonder how many people know that at one time the Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neil used to get together with Ronald Reagan and have a drink and talk? You can read more about that here, here and here.
Tribalism is tearing our culture and nation apart. Its something that I do not want to be a part of. Its toxic and far from healthy when all you do is create an echo chamber where you surround yourself with like minded people and only allow those who agree with you in your life. That is destroying our nation and that is not who I am. So its with that in mind that I have to say the following. This blog has taken me up and down the East Coast of the United States. From New Jersey down to the Carolinas. Its also taken me around Kansas and California a little bit. In my travels I have had the privilege of sitting in different church services of people of differing points of view. And I am grateful for that opportunity and to be able to listen to someone who has another point of view. Its healthy and good to listen to other people. Even more challenging is when you get to know a couple of people which I have done. From The Gospel Coalition to a few pastors here in there in the United States. To sit in a sandwich shop or Sunday school and ask questions. I mean, not playing stump the chump because you want to be difficult, but instead ask questions because you are curious and trying to understand. To discuss topics with other people and allow yourself to be corrected when you are wrong, and hear other perspectives is healthy. We need more of that today, Honest brokers are needed, individuals who can straddle both sides and hear different perspectives. After all in the end we are all part of the same human race and a part of humanity. Its with that in mind that I want to say the following. For those who I have gotten to interact with and ask questions I want to state thank you. Thanks for sharing another perspective and even for challenging me when you believe I am wrong. Its been challenging for me and sometimes I have walked away realizing that there are many different ways to look at an issue. I myself do not have all the answers, if anything as time passes I have more questions than anything else. So for those who I have interacted with, or who prayed for me and my family or who wanted to assist I want to say thanks. It has not been ignored and not gone unnoticed. If anything its been a good challenge. After all this didn’t happen with Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington. The opportunities there were lost, and the psychological pain still remains. So to have other experiences that offset that is helpful. And with that said I want to end this on a positive note and and say thanks. Thanks for the compassion, concern and ear. That’s it for the day guys, please take care.