“new calvinism” as 3rd most powerful idea – according to time magazine


Time Magazine created a list of 10 new ideas that are impacting the world right now and #3 on their list – incredibly – is an old but new movement called Calvinism or “New Calvinism.”  Listed as some of the movers behind this new movement are John Piper from Minneapolis, my neighbor Mark Driscoll from Seattle, and Al Mohler.  I find it encouraging and phenomenal that this was on the list but think we’re missing something if we think the Holy Spirit is working exclusively through the “new Calvinists.”  Despite our cynicism and reports of the collapse of the evangelical church, the Holy Spirit is working…

Mark – on his Resurgence blog – listed the distinctions between Old and New Calvinism.  He cites four main differences:

  1. Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
  2. Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
  3. Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.

While I personally roll with the Covenant denomination, I am advocating that we never be an island to ourselves.  I spent most of my early years in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches including two years in Korea at what I perceive to be one of the most influential [but completely unknown to Westerners] churches called Onnuri.  I received my Masters of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary so I have a good deal of exposure and understanding of Calvinism and Reformed Theology.  It’s clearly shaped a portion of my theology and ecclesiology.

So having said that, I like to think that we’re really all part of One Larger Team called the Kingdom of God.  Thus, if those four traits are the characteristics and commitments of New Calvinism, we should all be BIG fans.  I would certainly be and would genuinely love to see my co-laborers in the New Calvinism team be committed to being Missional, Urban Minded [and not just the Suburbs], led by the Holy Spirit, and Bridge Builders. 

How about you?  Thoughts about the article?

Here’s the article from Time:

If you really want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits. In the early 1900s you might have heard “The Old Rugged Cross,” a celebration of the atonement. By the 1980s you could have shared the Jesus-is-my-buddy intimacy of “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” And today, more and more top songs feature a God who is very big, while we are…well, hark the David Crowder Band: “I am full of earth/ You are heaven’s worth/ I am stained with dirt/ Prone to depravity.”

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision. (Read about the re-emergence of Catholic indulgences.)

Calvinism, cousin to the Reformation’s other pillar, Lutheranism, is a bit less dour than its critics claim: it offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything, including illness (or home foreclosure!), by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second-guess. Our satisfaction — and our purpose — is fulfilled simply by “glorifying” him. In the 1700s, Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards invested Calvinism with a rapturous near mysticism. Yet it was soon overtaken in the U.S. by movements like Methodism that were more impressed with human will. Calvinist-descended liberal bodies like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) discovered other emphases, while Evangelicalism’s loss of appetite for rigid doctrine — and the triumph of that friendly, fuzzy Jesus — seemed to relegate hard-core Reformed preaching (Reformed operates as a loose synonym for Calvinist) to a few crotchety Southern churches.

No more. Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don’t operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, “everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world” — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.

Like the Calvinists, more moderate Evangelicals are exploring cures for the movement’s doctrinal drift, but can’t offer the same blanket assurance. “A lot of young people grew up in a culture of brokenness, divorce, drugs or sexual temptation,” says Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. “They have plenty of friends: what they need is a God.” Mohler says, “The moment someone begins to define God’s [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.” Of course, that presumption of inevitability has drawn accusations of arrogance and divisiveness since Calvin’s time. Indeed, some of today’s enthusiasts imply that non-Calvinists may actually not be Christians. Skirmishes among the Southern Baptists (who have a competing non-Calvinist camp) and online “flame wars” bode badly.

Calvin’s 500th birthday will be this July. It will be interesting to see whether Calvin’s latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians searching for security will submit their wills to the austerely demanding God of their country’s infancy.

132 Replies to ““new calvinism” as 3rd most powerful idea – according to time magazine”

  1. If it is true, then yes it is a great improvement. I will refrain from making a comment about MD. Really, it will only show over time what New Calvinists are really about. As with any Christian group, there are many beautiful things happening, and also many times where the words to describe them are far more pleasant than their actions. Let us hope for the beautiful things.

  2. Honestly, my first (cynical) reaction to the 4 ideals listed on Mark’s blog was to think, “Terrific! Now, where is that happening among the new Calvinists?” I want to believe that those values are driving the movement but other than #2, I need to see more evidence. As you’ve stated several times, Mark is an unbelievably gifted communicator and cultural exegete (#2). But there’s also a well-documented pattern of tone and approach that I think contradicts particularly #4. Now, if setting out those four markers represents a true shift towards those ideals, that’s exciting news. And perhaps my exposure to neo-Calvinism has been too limited. I’m sorry, Eugene, to be a tad cynical, but particularly regarding #4 and somewhat regarding #3, that has not been my experience. Here’s to hoping for more evidence to the contrary! It is very interesting that it was so high on the TIME list.

  3. Uh oh. ‘Emergent Christianity’ doesn’t get on Time’s big list of influential ideas, but their nemesis, ‘New Calvinism’ does? This should make for many interesting blog posts . . .

  4. Wow. Really? Every single conversation I have had with a “New Calvinist” has directly contradicted #4. Sometimes violently so. As a matter of fact, every brush I’ve had with MD also directly contradicts #4. I’d say there’s some mighty good spin going on here.

    Of course, maybe I misinterpret. Maybe by “building bridges” what he really means is “we reach across into their world in order to pull them across into ours, since we’re right and they’re wrong.”

  5. DanW, we’re only right because we understand the Bible. (That was a joke.)

    I’m curious how #4 plays out in light of the Professors at Southwestern who were fired because they are Calvinists? Or how about the John 3:16 conference that was more or less a direct attack on Classical Calvinism?

    Before we go dragging our Calvinist brothers through the mud you might want to check out the Building Bridges conference.

  6. To be blunt as others have, I have yet to see any of those 4 characteristics displayed by anyone in New Calvinism. If this truly is a powerful idea in the world today, I think we should all be very afraid for the future of the church.

  7. I would maybe push back to those who are so adamant that have not seen any of the positive signs Driscoll wrote about in New Calvinism to possibly expand your engagements.

    For starters I would recommend Tim Keller who I think could be counted among the “new Calvinists” as one who fits all 4 qualities that Driscoll wrote about.

    But even on the individual level, I think if you have only had negative encounters with new calvinists it might be due to your sample size.

  8. It sounds like to to me that folks don’t want to believe that New Calvinists might actually have something in common with the rest of us. For professing to being “open minded” as we are, its a little discouraging to hear so much antagonism towards these sisters and brothers. I disagree strongly with a lot in their movement, but In my experience with friends who are New Calvinsists, I do observe items #1-3.

    1. New Calvinists are not puritans: I got to bars and concerts with some quite frequently. They use as much foul language as I do and though they have a particularly strict sexual ethic–they aren’t puritanical about dating and such.

    2. New Calvinists are going urban. Here in Chicago there are more than a few new-young-thriving churches and both Driscol and Piper serve urban congregations.

    3. New Calvinists simply reflect a transition that’s been taking place among Christians of all stripes for decades– the pentecostals have rubbed off on us.

    Number four is a little harder to read. The level of criticism coming from the new-Calvinists is pointed and often self-righteous… but then again, the rest of us Christians are pretty unfair to “fill in the blank” Christian traditions that we don’t like.

    The biggest issue that divides myself and New Calvinists is gender and the pastoral office. This of course stems from the more fundamentalist hermenuetic they employ.

  9. I’m with jimfox and Julie Clawson. And as for number 4? Well, check out what McKnight sees in the “NeoReformed” (as he calls the growing Calvinist groups): http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2009/02/who-are-the-neoreformed-2.html

    Having grown up in a conservative Presbyterian setting, I’d say one difference I see in “New Calvinists” (compared to the Calvinism in which I was raised) is this: while Old Calvinism may not have ordained women, New Calvinism has made adhering to specific gender roles part and parcel of the gospel.

  10. Well, the sample size may be the problem but isn’t Mark the poster boy for this “resurgence”? I don’t exactly see “new Calvinists” lining up to challenge Mark’s tone or manner when it crosses the line (see: Ted Haggard and Rob Bell). Also, I do think that many in the “emerging church” world are simply a new expression of classic liberal Christianity and they should be more honest about that – if that’s what you are then own it. In the same way, new Calvinism strikes me as simply a newer, hipper version of early 20th century fundamentalism and they simply need to be more honest about that. Frankly, one of the primary examples of this will be on gender issues. Am I wrong that the resurgence of new Calvinism is paralleled by a resurgence of a “complimentarian” view women’s roles in church and home?
    I will check out the “Building Bridges Conference” and Tim Keller. I would be very pleased to see the theology and practice of “new Calvinism” better reflect Mark’s 4 “mark-ers”.

  11. To be blunt as others have, I have yet to see any of those 4 characteristics displayed by anyone in New Calvinism. If this truly is a powerful idea in the world today, I think we should all be very afraid for the future of the church.

    That’s not fearful and suspicious?

    I think we all need to read 1st Corinthians tonight. But I’m a Calvinist, so who cares what I think.

  12. I’m sort of all over the map which is why I enjoy my relationship with the http://covchurch.org denomination.

    I’m genuinely excited about the “New Calvinism” movement IF those are the four commitments they have. Seriously, they would be incredible pursuants for all of us.

    I guess it’s up to debate if those things are being exemplified and elevated in the movement. But, as it was mentioned earlier, Tim Keller is a great example of someone who is impacting the city with the gospel and with humility.

    @danhauge: i understand why people pit ’emergent christianity’ against ‘new calvinism.’ personally, i see this as all part of a larger change. perhaps, this is what phyllis tickle was alluding to in ‘the great emergence.’

  13. I agree with others who have said that New Calvinism doesn’t meet condition #4 very well. But neither does any other form of Christianity that I can think of.

    I’m interested to see more about how people who define themselves as New Calvinists describe their movement.

  14. Hurray, I personally love the “New Calvinists”! Matt Chandler, Don Carson, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Tim Keller are a refreshing breathe in the stagnant air that is American Evangelical Christianity…and unlike the emergent movement, it has been more successful in drawing people to Christ.

    But…still, their views on women and predestination bother me, GREATLY…oh well…we all serve Christ after all.

    Btw, I don’t think any Christian group “really” follows #4…none, lol.

  15. I’m interested to see more about how people who define themselves as New Calvinists describe their movement.

    I don’t see my theological convictions as new. I’m bothered that the only thing people know about Calvinism is it’s position on predestination. Martin Luther wrote way more on that particular doctrine then Calvin ever did. Just two things that come to the top of my mind.

    Sola Scriptura,

  16. one side thought I had – if you’re (TIME) going to tag a phenomenon within religion, why not the growth of Pentecostalism in the developing, southern hemisphere world?
    I appreciate also Eugene’s comment about pitting new-calvinism against the emerging church and whether or not that’s neccessary. I still think it’s interesting to note “nothing new is under the sun” when we think back and compare today to the liberal – fundamentalist bifurcation of the early 20th. c.

  17. I’m not a neo-calvinist but I for one think it would be cool if those were true pursuits. It appears that the reformed group is listening to their own name and seeking reform.

    And to be fair, this appears to be a new conversation and way to be speaking about it. To expect many to already be pursuing it is a little unfair. I think we should step back and allow those who call themselves Neo-Calvinists to step up.

    Much love

  18. @greenstuff: i’m a fan of matt chandler as well. love his preaching asides from couple issues but then again, lots of folks have issues with me as well i’m sure.

    #4: how true. if we could all pursue that just a little more. if we took reconciliation a little more to heart.

    @reformedsteve: so, are you reformed? j/k

  19. @eugene: Hi Eugene, I actually hope you’re right about it being all part of a larger change. But I have to say, after reading a fair amount of blog posts (and flame wars) from people on either side, I’m not so optimistic. It looks to me like the split is simply happening. When I was in college, my senior project was on the split between Fundamentalism and Liberal Christians around the turn of the last century (that beattieblog just mentioned above). While I would like to believe otherwise, I see many similarities between that split, and the split that already seems to be forming between the emergents/new-reformed folk right about now.

    I think there is still plenty of common ground, and plenty of people willing to have civil dialogue, which is good. I guess I just see more of the two sides solidifying into different positions. Maybe that’s unfortunate, maybe it’s good, maybe it’s inevitable. I guess we’ll see.

  20. Funny thing, I wrote a term paper last semester on the rise of “Neo-Fundamentalism”, and chose the same three guys that the Time article did – Piper, Mohler, and Driscoll – as key leaders in the movement. However, my own research demonstrates that #1 & #4 of Mark’s list are patently false when it comes to guys like Piper and Mohler, and only slightly less false for Mark himself. He is engaged with culture, but only in superficial ways (e.g. cussing, drinking, & R-rated movies); and his claim of love for “all Christians” should specify that it only includes those that fit his own definition of what a true Christian is.

  21. I for one would love to hear from an “emergent” on what an emergent is. I don’t want a comparison. I simply seek to know what an emergent is.

    Grace and Peace,

  22. I don’t think there are any New Calvinists who fit under all four of the points mentioned by Mark Driscoll. I agree with the comments in regards to Tim Keller. Keller just seems straight out gracious. I like his tone. But Keller isn’t a continuationist. He seems more open than other cessationists are but he is still a cessationist. One group that is continuationist in their practice and Pneumatology as well as being Reformed is Sovereign Grace. But Im not so sure Sovereign Grace is for being missional.

  23. reformedsteve – this is just one emergent guy’s personal definition, but for me being emergent means being engaged in a process of questioning and re-examining aspects of my faith together in conversation and community with others who are doing the same without having any requirements of total agreement with these others as a necessary basis for our continued relationship.

    Or to put it more simply, it means rethinking my faith together with friends without worrying that they’re going to stop being my friends if I don’t reach all the same conclusions that they do.

    Just my .02

  24. I’m guessing there are at least four new ideas that are more relevant to people’s well being around the world than ‘the New Calvinism.’ Four hundred and four? :^)

    That sort of goes without saying, though given the thread here I guess it needs to be said.

    Mags like Newsweek and Time are struggling to survive. The ranking is an editor’s decision to attract those perceived to be the most likely successors to the most recent version of the American religious right. They need what they believe to be potentially enduring stories to gain a wider readership and make more money in the future. No big.

    I’m actually pretty ok with all that in one sense and can even see it as a step forward.

    Arrogant and sincere is better than dumb, arrogant and sincere.

    Religious fundamentalism is a fact of life that’s not going to go away anytime soon. Better to have version 2.0 here in the states. These folks are a big improvement on what we’ve experienced over the past many decades.

    I mean that very sincerely. I hope not arrogantly and stupidly :^)

  25. To be precise, Time Magazine never called New Calvinism a “powerful” ideal. They are just 10 ideas changing the world right now. If you look at the other 9 ideas listed, not all of them are “powerful” nor even “new.”

  26. Mike, that doesn’t seem that different from what the reformers did. I don’t see any theological difference. Is their one?

    Grace and Peace,

  27. @gar: dude, do you have access to my blog queue. it’s slated to be published tomorrow morning.

    @everyone: invite your “new calvinist” and “emergent” friends so they can have at it. i’ll play moderator and maybe we can have some sort of westside story musical with a happy ending.

  28. Already beat ya to that one, Eugene 🙂

    Hey, I’m a little surprised no one has mentioned Abraham Kuyper. Granted he’s not exactly a “New Calvinist,” but many neo-Calvinists like myself do hold him in semi-high regard (of course, that could be because I’m straight out of the Dutch Calvinist strain). Kuyper spoke a lot about the importance of Calvinists engaging culture in a positive way. He was big on social action/justice rooted in solid Biblical interpretation.

  29. Let’s not confuse Kuyperian Neo-Calvinists with “New Calvinists.” The folk at Cardus, formerly the Work Research Foundation, (publishers of Comment Magazine), and people like Max DePree, Richard Mouw, Calvin Seervald, Gideon Strauss, Brian Walsh and many others are modern day Neo-Calvinists who echo Kuyper’s wonderful statement “…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”

    Keller is probably in that camp, as well. MD, JP & AM, not so much.

    Great post, Eugene. And I’m a huge fan of the ECC – having had the pleasure of hanging out with Erika & Doug Haub and Brad & Roxi Bergfalk this past weekend (at separate times) in Seattle.

  30. Mike, that doesn’t seem that different from what the reformers did. I don’t see any theological difference. Is their one?

    I don’t see why there needs to be a difference. Most emergents would probably say were just trying to follow in the spirit of the reformers by continuing the reformation.

    Though if there is a difference it would probably be in our desire to remain in relationship with one another regardless of any disagreements. The Reformers weren’t necessarily so good at that most of the time.

  31. Geez, what’s up with the Calvinist bashing these days? Scot McKnight expressed deep concern about this movement, and I was confused then and am confused now. I’d say my husband is in it and I’m on the fringe, and I just don’t understand the defensiveness.

  32. Though if there is a difference it would probably be in our desire to remain in relationship with one another regardless of any disagreements.

    How does this work in regards to church discipline?

  33. Great thoughts Eugene. I, too, am hopeful IF those four things from Driscoll are actually happening among New Calvinists. I’m more on the Armenian side of things, so I’m biased towards the opposite side of Calvinism 🙂

    On a different note, Eugene, I use a news reader for all the blogs I follow, and yours is one of the few blogs set to simply show excerpts to newsreader. I know some ppl do this intentionally to drive traffic back to the blog site, but what usually happens is ppl simply stop following the blog. What drives ppl back to blog sites are posts that are interesting enough to comment on, which you do have. Not sure if you are even aware that your blog settings are set that way. But I would greatly appreciate it if those were changed so I could read the entire blog post via my newsreader. Just a suggestion 🙂

  34. i understand that this is interesting to some people, and may even be a line of work somewhere (wait, is “theologian” a job title?). but for christians, i just don’t see the point in this debate. you’re NEVER GOING TO KNOW until the end of the story anyway. so why waste hours pouring over the bible, searching for an answer that just isn’t there. do we think God cares? i really doubt it. isn’t that why it’s a mystery? so that we don’t have to figure everything out? speaking of “useless” professions, though, i myself am a spanish literature grad student. so i guess i should get the plank out first. my bottom line for me, though, would be: if you spend more time in theological conversation than you do with the oppressed, poor, and marginalized members of our society, you are very far from the heart of God. that includes me too. uh oh.

  35. How does this work in regards to church discipline?

    I dunno. I suppose each community has to figure this out for themselves. But I would say that discipline is probably more likely to come into play for behaviors that threaten the life of the community as a whole, and not so much for doctrinal disagreements. Our community never had to deal with this fortunately, so I can’t speak from experience.

  36. So from what I gather the creed of the emergent is: what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me.

    Or am I misunderstanding you?

  37. i have a feeling this can get unproductive really quickly.

    for me: it is about jesus, the person, community, holy spirit, and scriptures.

    @reformedsteve: what does that look like for you?

    let’s do that.

  38. Interesting discussion and I’m glad somebody above noted the crucial discussion between Kuyperian neo-Calvinists and the popularly so-called “new Calvinists”. I think it should also be noted that a bulk of this later group is a mix of soteriological Calvinism (or at least a certain reading thereof) and conservative Baptist ecclesiology, individualism, and temperament.

    At least that’s how I see it.

  39. @kacie: i haven’t read too much other stuff so not sure. christians can be ruthless when it comes to bashing one another. i may be complicit in that and am trying to be a more reconciling force.

    while there may be theological differences, the four things that mark driscoll cited are four things i can fully support and get behind.

    i think folks are honestly sharing their perceptions and experiences. i’d also gently push back and say that the holy spirit is working in all of us to mature and deepen us.

  40. @rrnchrmbrs: I’m with you. While I think it’s important for me personally to understand exactly what I believe and why, this kind of division (Calvinists, Arminians, Reformed, Emerging, Lutherans, Methodists, etc. etc. etc.) over MINOR details is not helping push the gospel out to the world.

  41. @eugenecho:
    I’m a five point Reformed Calvinist. I believe that the message of the Gospel is mainly about the glory of God and not the glory of man. I believe Christ was born of virgin. I believe that he lived a sinless life. I believe he was handed over to wicked men. I believe by the cross on which he died he paid the debt of my sins. I believe he was buried. I believe that on the third day God rose Christ from the dead. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe this spirit authored the Holy Scriptures. As such I believe the Scriptures to be inerrant and infallible. I believe because of the divine authorship of Scripture they are the church’s only authority.

    How does that line up with “emergents”? I only know little about your methodology and ideology. I seek to know more.

    Solus Christo,

  42. So from what I gather the creed of the emergent is: what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me.

    Or am I misunderstanding you?

    Well, there’s no “creed” exactly, since “emergent” isn’t a church or formal organization. It’s just a way of describing a network of friends that are on a journey together. Since when do a bunch of friends need a creed in order to be friends?

    As for whether emergents might agree or disagree with your summary above, I guess that would depend on the context. If you’re still talking about church discipline, then yeah, I suppose a lot of emergents would agree that there’s probably not a “one size fits all” approach that would work for every different situation in every different church context. Speaking personally, I’d definitely say that its best to play those kind of things by ear. Every situation is different.

  43. Mike,
    Would you say that Matthew 18 talks about church discipline? Is Scripture the only authority for emergents? Does most emergents find theology to be a useless exercise?

    Learning a lot through my troublesome questions,

  44. I don’t view it as you trying to learn, I view it as you trying to make yourself look right and your brother look wrong by quoting isolated texts. More than that, you seek, as most moderns do (and therefore, Calvinists), black/white answers with no gray, and Mike already said it’s contextual. Calvinists like things nice and neat in a tidy little system, with a “one size fits all” approach and short, pithy answers to complex questions. Emergents don’t think it’s that simple…

  45. Luke,
    I’m sorry you feel that way. I did not do anything to deserve you rage. I’m sorry if you’re dislike for calvinism has spilled over to a dislike for Calvinists. I forgive your failure in this area. You might not believe me and I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I am trying to figure out what an emergent is from an emergent. If I’m bothering you or anyone else I will leave and forfeit the fellowship of brothers and sisters in the faith.

    Sola Scriptura,

  46. Would you say that Matthew 18 talks about church discipline?

    Yes, of course it does. And yes, Matt 18 is a very helpful guideline for how to handle conflicts between believers. (Though I do find that most evangelicals tend to misunderstand – IMHO of course – what the last step of Matt 18’s sequence is supposed to be.)

    Is Scripture the only authority for emergents?

    I couldn’t possibly answer that question for all emergents, since, like I said, there’s no creed or expectations of agreement on any issues. I’m sure that plenty of emergents hold scripture as their “sole authority” (or at least think they do). Though, just speaking personally, I’m more of a Wesleyan Quadrilateral sort of guy myself.

    Does most emergents find theology to be a useless exercise?

    No, not at all. Where in the world would you get that idea? The emerging conversation is all about theology. What else do you suppose the conversation is about? What do you think we’ve been doing this whole time?

    (BTW, for more on that, check out Tony Jones’ description of the origins of Emergent Village in his book “The New Christians”. He basically says that it started when a bunch of young leaders that had been brought together by Leadership Network to talk about “ministry methods” decided that it was far more important to talk about theology instead. It was this desire to be more theological that got them booted from LN and led them to start what eventually became Emergent Village. Of course, Emergent Village is just one small facet of the emerging movement, but I think you’ll find other aspects of it to be just as theologically minded in their own way. Even the guys who are mainly just interested in tweaking their worship services are usually doing it because they’ve been rethinking their theology of worship.)

  47. Oh Luke always spewing hatred for all things Reformed. The irony is that you castigate Calvinists for wanting everything to be in neat tidy systems, and then feel compelled to lump all Calvinists together so that you have a “neat tidy system” that fits your stereotype. So nice to see such a geniune “conversation.” You really should be ashamed of yourself for impugning someone’s motives without any evidence.

  48. BTW, just one more thing about Matthew 18 – while it is an important guideline for how to handle certain kinds of conflicts within a church, I think it’d be a little naive to think that you can just apply it programmatically to any and every situation of “church discipline”. Having been a pastor for a number of years, I can think of half-a-dozen specific situations that arose where the procedure outlined in Matthew 18 just wasn’t really relevant to the particular circumstances.

    Good thing we have the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment to help figure it out when scripture doesn’t tells us precisely what we’re supposed to do in each and every situation, eh? 🙂

  49. Mike:
    Is it really as superfical as differences in worship style? I guess at the end of the day, what I really want to know is what makes Calvinists so imcompatible with emergents?

  50. Todd,

    Do I know you? I don’t believe we’ve ever interacted. I don’t spew hatred of “all things Reformed,” I love my reformed brothers and sisters. I’ve just seen too many play the game that I thought Steve was trying to play, that’s all. Sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, and sorry to Steve if I misread his intentions.

  51. Is it really as superfical as differences in worship style?

    You misunderstand me. I was mentioning the folks who focus primarily on worships styles as simply one (increasingly minor) stream of the emerging conversation. I wasn’t saying they are the only stream. There are many. My point was that no matter which stream of the conversation you’re talking about, almost all of them are concerned with theology.

    I guess at the end of the day, what I really want to know is what makes Calvinists so imcompatible with emergents?

    I never said they were incompatible. Why would you think that they are? I know plenty of emergent Calvinists. I was one for a while in fact.

    Perhaps the confusion is between just plain Calvinists, and these “New Calvinists” that the TIME article highlighted. There is a difference, and not all Calvinists are “New Calvinists”. What makes some “New Calvinists” incompatible with emergents (emphasis on the “some”) is when they imply that only New Calvinists are legitimate Christians. If the emerging conversation is an inclusive network of friends, then those that hold to this kind of exclusivism don’t tend to want to be a part of that in my experience.

  52. It’s cool Luke. As you can imagine I hear alot of Reformed folks talk about the Emergent Church movement (somethings good and somethings bad and sometimes they just roll their eyes). I was just trying to gauge if what I have heard is valid.

    Pastor Clawson:
    When you say that the Scripture were not always relevent do you mean also sufficient? In a general sense, what situations were Matt 18 not relevent and what would have made them relevent?

    Grace and Peace,

  53. No Luke you do not know me. But I have seen you comment plenty of times and it is always negative toward Reformed theology. Why doubt Steve’s motives without cause?

  54. When you say that the Scripture were not always relevent do you mean also sufficient? In a general sense, what situations were Matt 18 not relevent and what would have made them relevent?

    I don’t know what you mean by “sufficient”. All I mean is that if a passage like Matthew 18 is giving advice on how to deal with very particular kind of circumstance, then I don’t see why we’d expect it to be entirely relevant if we’re facing a rather different kind of circumstance.

    Let’s look at the passage:

    “If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

    Not every conflict in the church is a matter of one person sinning against another. Sometimes there’s a lot more people involved and it’s a lot messier as to who wronged who.

    Not every conflict has only one person who is clearly at fault. Sometimes both sides are at fault. Sometimes no one is.

    Not every conflict is necessarily about an overt “sin”. Sometimes you just have differing personalities, desires, agendas, etc.

    Sometimes when you go and get your “one or two others”, the other person gets “one or two others” of their own, and pretty soon the whole church is split right down the middle, and again, it’s not always clear which side is in the right.

    Sometimes there are differing ideas in your church about whether a particular issue is actually a “sin” or not, and it’s not always clear whose opinion ought to prevail.

    Sometimes the person who’s been wronged is the type of person who is easily offended by just about anything, and is constantly dragging his or her latest grievance or vendetta before the whole community; and it gets really hard to know whether you need to deal with the “sin” of whoever it was that wronged them this time, or whether you need to deal with whatever emotional/spiritual issues are driving the accuser to be like this. Sometimes following through on the Matthew 18 process just ends up enabling the dysfunction of an unhealthy person.

    I could probably come up with more, but that’s enough I think.

  55. I’m not sure how to answer that since, “adequate” just seems like a weird word to apply to this passage. Adequate for what? To do what? I don’t see Jesus promising any particular outcomes of this procedure in Matt 18, so the situation could turn out well or could turn out badly and you’d still be able to claim that the procedure was “adequate”. I think that might just be the wrong word to use. To me it still just makes more sense to ask whether the passage is “relevant” or “applicable” in a particular situation.

  56. When you say it could turn out bad what exactly do you mean?

    If you mean that someone will leave the church family then yes, it could go that way, I suppose. But I wouldn’t say that is always a bad thing. By the time it got to the person leaving, the offending party has proven to everyone that their is no love in their heart.

    Am I saying that it is easy to be obident to this passage. No, but very few things are easy in the Christian life.

    I was searching around the interwebs and I came across an article that talked about how emergents are rethinking Biblical interpretation. Is that a fair statement? And if it true what type of hermeneutic do most emergents employ?

    Grace and Peace,

  57. I agree with you about Matt 18 reformedsteve. It’s not always easy to put it into practice and there’s no guarantee of the outcome.

    On the other hand, I don’t think the final step necessarily means the “offending person” needs to leave. That’s not what Jesus said. He said “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector,” and as I recall, Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors with love and respect, he welcomed them, ate with them, and didn’t try to avoid them or cast them away. So if we’re going to follow Jesus’ advice here in Matt 18 then I think the requirement would be to heap even more love on an unrepentant person, not cast them away. I don’t see excommunication recommended anywhere in this passage.

    I was searching around the interwebs and I came across an article that talked about how emergents are rethinking Biblical interpretation. Is that a fair statement? And if it true what type of hermeneutic do most emergents employ?

    Yes that’s very true. And yet there’s no way I can tell you how “most” emergents interpret the Bible, since, as I’ve said many times, it’s not a movement based on uniformity of opinion. Besides which, given the backgrounds that many of us come from, it was a big enough step for us to admit that the Bible even needs to be interpreted at all. Many of us come from churches where even that statement would be considered heretical.

    Just speaking personally (and yes, for quite a few other emergents that I know), my hermenuetic has become more historically and culturally contextual. I want to understand what the text meant to the people it was originally written to, not just read my own theological or personal agenda into it. Along these lines, many emergents (though again, I can’t estimate as to percentages) have been influenced by NT Wright and the New Perspective school of New Testament studies, which attempts to put the New Testament back in its first century Jewish context, and interpret it through that lens, rather than through the lens of, say, 16th century Catholic vs. Protestant debates.

    Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. If you’re really interested, I’ve written several articles on these questions over at my blog and you can read about my views there, rather than taking up space in Eugene’s comments:

    How to Read the Bible
    Three Approaches to Scripture
    What Good is the Bible?
    What About the Disturbing Parts of the Bible?>

    Though keep in mind that these posts were mainly written in response to questions from atheist friends, not as responses to a fellow Christian like yourself, so you might find that I don’t address all of the particular issues that you yourself would raise.

  58. Eugene’s openness is refreshing; Driscoll’s four points are, frankly, a surprise departure from my experience with Neo-Calvinists – who are not-so-subtle in their biblical elitism, smug in their secret knowledge of mysteries like double-predestination, and off the hook on evangelism because it’s not their role anyway. Personal joy/happiness are a cover for pain and suffering. The humanity of Jesus is discounted and diminished; subordinated to the glory of the Christ. Cho is to be commended for highlighting Driscoll’s four distinctions. if Driscoll’s on track, then as one writer put it, my “sample’s way too small.”

  59. Steve,
    I think that the statement of Emergent’s rethinking Biblical interpretation comes from the fact that there are so many people, churches, denominations that say “This is the only way you read the Bible” and then they label as heretics anyone who says, “How did you get that from scripture?” To even question the established doctrine was heresy. Emergents tend to be the type of people who can’t settle with that, they keep asking questions. Free inquiry and open discussion is high priority for Emergents. And it is hard to deny that a lot of denominations and churches have not had free inquiry and discussion on their list of priorities.

    Emergent is hard to define because there are people from every kind of tradition, denomination, institution, non-tradition, non-denomination, and non-institution involved in it. With that kind of diversity you just are not going to have a well-defined explanation of doctrine, but you will have, ideally, a gathering of people wanting to learn more, eager to see things from greater perspectives.

    I haven’t experienced much of any of the strife between Emergents and Neo-Calvinists, so I can’t say much. It just has seemed to me that the Neo-Calvinists are still in that “Don’t ask questions” mode of thinking, which is very restrictive to an Emergent. Maybe this is an unfair description of the situation, and if so then I would love to see the other side of it.

  60. Looking back at my previous post, I should point out that I believe, thankfully, that the word heretic is getting thrown around a fair amount less than it did a while back, and that many people in churches and denominations are becoming much more open to healthy discussions. Definately not everywhere, but I believe it is getting much better.

  61. Andy M,
    As you can probability tell I’m very reformed in my theology. Although, my experience has been the same. People seem to get bent out of shape if you don’t feel the need to deconstruct your theology and assert that Scripture has only one meaning with many applications. I think the road goes both ways.

    Grace and Peace

  62. I can understand that. And really, we are all going to come to our own conclusions. And some people don’t have it within their personalities to question and challenge. They don’t feel the need to deconstruct, and build things back up again. I am actually a good example of the difference, because I can’t help but question, deconstruct, etc., but I am a phenomenon to the rest of my family. They don’t do that at all, and they have wondered if I am part of a cult because I insist on challenging the status quo. They just can’t understand my need to dig deeper.

    A while back I was having some good hard conversations with a close friend of mine about politics, and we have some strongly held differences. But I noticed that he was getting frustrated and upset and I just had to stop and tell him that I care more about our friendship than I do about our disagreements. And because we came back to that, we were able to continue our discussion in a healthy way rather than it dividing us. I think the whole doctrine thing is like that. Way too often we let doctrine get in the way of our relationships.

    The interesting thing about Emergent is that it has brought together people from all kinds of church backgrounds and traditions, from Catholic to house churches, and we can build relationships and work together for the things that we do agree on, and in that interaction we learn from each other. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

  63. Bah, another post right after a post. Sorry, I just wanted to clarify that I don’t fault other people for not having the deconstructing, questioning type of personality. I can’t blame people for what isn’t in their nature to do. I have to remember that not everyone needs to take apart every aspect of their life in order to understand it, even if I do.

  64. @joe: i don’t think anyone should be anti-calvinism but it’s the idea that you have to be completely calvinist.

    let’s read the bible, study the bible, interpret the bible, apply the bible, and follow and worship jesus.

    this isn’t a criticism of calvinists but a concern for anyone that ends up worshipping the bible rather than worshipping jesus. the scriptures is god’s revelation that points not to itself but to the One that saves.

  65. Calvinists see no difference in the Authority of Scripture and the Authority of Christ. They both are the same since Christ is the Word made Flesh. This does not mean we Calvinists worship the Bible, but rather see the Bible as the authority of God which reveals the Christ.

    Calvinists fear the Lord in the Biblical sense of the word fear. And as such we hold his commandments in very high regard.

    Calvinists believes that Christ was totally sinless as the Law demanded. So, for a Calvinist if you reinvent the Law you are reinventing the means which is was carried out.

    Praise our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus who was and is and is yet to come, (sorry I get alittle zealous when I think about Him)


  66. And therein lies the difference. Some of these Calvinists are basically Fundies that don’t believe in the Trinity but believe that the Ultimate source of Authority is their Interpretation of Scriptures.

    Long live the truth of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  67. Funny thing, but being here at a mainline Presbyterian seminary (PCUSA) I’ve come to realized that there are a lot of different interpretations of what it means to be a “Calvinist” too. Calvin said all kinds of wild things that you’d probably never hear about from Calvinists like John Piper, and lots of other wild things that Calvinists like Karl Barth would probably rather not mention. As I’ve discovered, Calvin is kind of like the Bible, you can make him say pretty much whatever you want him to say to fit your own preconceived theology. 🙂

  68. As I’ve discovered, Calvin is kind of like the Bible, you can make him say pretty much whatever you want him to say to fit your own preconceived theology. 🙂

    How do you avoid this?

  69. How do you avoid this?

    I don’t think it’s possible to ever avoid it entirely. We are fallen and finite creatures who have no choice but to interpret the world (including scripture, and theologians like Calvin) through a particular set of “lenses”. However, I think we can mitigate it to a degree by “swapping lenses” as much as possible. In other words, we try to correct for our own preconceptions of what we think the Bible (or Calvin) means by looking at it from other points of view. This is a big part of why, as Andy said, emergents value “free inquiry” and “open discussion”. By listening to and valuing other points of view, we are able to gain a fuller vision and correct some of our own errors and biases.

    So, when it comes to Calvin for instance, it’s helpful for me to not just read the Institutes and try to glean my own understandings, but to also read what people like Piper have to say about them, and then read what people like Barth have to say about them, and then read what my Reformed Feminist Theologians textbook has to say about them, etc., etc. I can never get a perfectly complete and accurate beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt understanding of Calvin, but I can get a better one than if I just listened to one interpreter and took their word for it, or, worse yet, just tried to read the Institutes on my own and assumed that my own personal interpretation was adequate.

  70. Mike:
    I’ve enjoyed your insights. But respectably I don’t agree with them. This doesn’t me I hate you. It doesn’t mean I think you are a false convert. It means I don’t view things the way you do. I said all of that because I wanted to clarify to all the busy bodies out there in cyberspace who love to make trouble. As a brother in Christ I look forward to worshiping the Lord in Heaven with you on the day of His glory.

    Why I disagree:
    I disagree because scripture is clear that it has an author. That author is the Holy Spirit. It is a very basic doctrine of Christianity and one that I’m sure every believer here holds dear.

    Now meaning comes from the author, in this case the Holy Spirit. Meaning can not come from the text, because the text is an inanimate object. Inanimate objects don’t think and meaning is a thought. Meaning does not come from the reader or interpreter because communication is the willed meaning of an author through a media (in this case writing) to a recipient. For all these reasons we need to consider what the author meant. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit allowed the personalities of the human instruments to show through so that such things as cultural and historical context are relevant as you have mentioned before.

    So if Scripture has a divine author and meaning comes from the author then because their is only one author their is only one meaning. The only lens that we are to wear are the lenses of the author. All other lenses are counterfeits.

    I have read that emergents view Scripture with a post modern presupposition. Is this a fair and true statement?

    Grace and Peace,

    Again, do not take my disagreement with you to mean that I have some ill feelings toward you. You have shown much grace towards me and I value your thoughts.

  71. reformedsteve – no worries. I was never expecting you to agree with me and I was never trying to persuade you to. I was simply answering your questions.

    And I agree with you that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of scripture, and thus the Spirit’s “lenses” are the ones that count. My issue (and yes, this is a “postmodern” concern, whatever that means) is not with the reliability of scripture or the Holy Spirit, it’s with my own reliability in knowing when I’ve discerned the Holy Spirit’s meaning correctly. This is vestiges of my former Calvinism coming through. See, if I agree with Calvin that I am a fallen and finite creature (aka “totally depraved”), then I don’t see how I could ever just assume that my own lens perfectly matches the Holy Spirit’s lenses. I am not God and thus to pretend to see everything from his point of view would be nothing short of blasphemous.

    We might claim that as believers we have access to the Spirit and thus can read scripture through the Spirit’s lenses. The problem of course, is that there are a million different interpretation of Scripture out there, and every single one of them claims to have been attained through the help of the Spirit. So how am I to know which is the true “Spirit-led” interpretation? Saying that the Spirit has the one true interpretation still doesn’t get us past our own human fallibility. God’s Word may be inerrant, but I most certainly am not.

  72. God’s Word may be inerrant, but I most certainly am not.

    Total depravity doesn’t say that because of man’s sin we are unable to understand Scripture or the concept of God. Total depravity says that because of our fallen state we are unable (by our sin nature) to find profit in those things and thus will never choose on our own free will to choose the things of God over the things of Satan.

    Fallen man can understand the Scriptures they just think it’s hogwash. Only by grace is the glory revealed in the scriptures and the sinner is enabled to respond positively to the Gospel.

    I would also submit that the doctrine of total depravity is clearly outlined in just about all the Pauline letters. So, to say it’s Calvin’s is really giving Calvin undo credit.

    Scripture only has one meaning as I mentioned before, but it has many sigifiances. For example the Great Commission means that Christians are to work for the furthering of the Kingdom. The sigificance of that for me is to go to seminary, write theological books, and most likely pastor a body of believers. The significance for the missionary is much different. The point is that the meaning did not change (in both cases the missionary and myself are furthering the Kingdom) but the way in which we responded (the sigificance) was different.

    However, to get to the sigificance we need to come to the meaning first.

    BTW: Post modernism is a world view that denies the idea of absolute truth.

    Grace and Peace,

  73. Post-modern is a loaded word, because half the people who use it don’t actually know what is supposed to mean. The official definition of it is as a denial of absolute truth is not what many people think of when they hear the term. Brian McLaren has written about this, though I can’t find the article I remember from him that is totally about the term post-modern.

    Some people would describe modern vs. post-modern as arrogance vs. pessimism. Modernity, fed by the Enlightenment, is arrogant to assume that evil has been defeated and that we have things under control. The very fact that they called it the “Enlightenment” shows their arrogance. Post-modernity has seen the events within the last century or so (WWI, WWII, the Holocaust, etc.) and see the obvious, that evil has not been defeated and that we can’t have things under our control. Modernity believes in structures of power and institutions, post-moderns have an instinctual dislike and distrust of authority and institutions.

    I think that “Post-modern” Christians often don’t realize the fact that the term means a denial of absolute truth, I didn’t for quite awhile until I started reading more about it. And if they do, they probably intend it to mean that other people don’t have the right to force their perspectives (truth) upon them, not necessarily that they actually believe there is no absolute truth. It is more about the idea that people should not try to push their beliefs on other people.

    At least, that is how I have seen it, but I’m sure that someone else would add or subract from it.

    I’ve never been able to sit well with the idea of total depravity. Correct me if I am wrong, but to take the idea of it fully, Total depravity, is that there is no good in us whatsoever. If that is what the doctrine is supposed to mean then what comes to my mind is Matthew 7:9-11 emphasis on this part, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” If we are totally sinful, how could we have the capacity to do any good, even as small as gifts to our children? I may be wrong in what the doctrine is supposed to mean, but this understanding of it for me doesn’t make sense with the world as I see it. People do good everyday without knowing God, how do they do it if they don’t have some amount of good left in them from being made in God’s image?

    Plus, I think that for God to reach people, there would have to be something within us for him to relate to, or we would always reject him. This is theoretic, but If we were completely sinful I don’t see how we could accept God no matter what grace he extends to us, but if there is even the tiniest little piece of God’s image left in us, then God has somewhere to begin, some deep part of us that yearns to be reconnected with God. I love the idea of “Soul Cravings” from that Erwin McManus book. Deep inside us our souls are craving, yearning to connect with God.

  74. Andy M:
    Their is nothing in us that merits God’s grace. We are totally depraved. Without hope unless we accept the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement.

    God reaches people by calling them out for salvation. He has mercy on whom he may and hardens those he doesn’t. We are made in his image in that we know right from wrong, but sinful and fallen because we will always choose to rebel against God. Doing good deeds is not a merit for our salvation only by God’s grace did he save anyone.

    The meaning behind the verse you mentioned was that “regardless of the outcome of prayer the Father gives his children what is good for them”. By comparing a Holy, righteous God, with sinful fallen man he underlines that God knows what is best for his children. It has nothing to do with evil people doing good things.

    However, the idea that only believers are ethical is wrong. Look at the zen monks. All othem live very displined lives. They respect life and hold to the same ethical standards for the most part. But without the atonement of Christ on the cross they will be judged for their sinfulness and be casted out of God’s presence on the day of Judgment.

    Grace and Peace,

  75. I wasn’t quite sure what you meant, total different than utter, so I looked it up. At least according to an online dictionary, total is a synonym for utter. They are meant to mean the same thing.

    If anything, maybe it is just the language that is the problem. From where I stand I cannot make a distinction between total and utter depravity. Maybe a different word would serve the doctrine better?

    I definately agree that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to come to him. I agree that no amount of works can replace Jesus. I agree that sin has infected every part of us. I just have trouble with the idea that there is no good in us whatsoever. I mean, thinking of the zen monks, what is it within them that leads them to hold those ethics, regardless of whether it helps them or not? Is it not some good within them that leads them to want to be good and lead ethical lives?

    This really may come down to the difference you say between total depravity and utter depravity, so I think we might just have to flesh that out a bit. Language can be so limiting sometimes.


  76. Enjoying the conversation and learning a little about neo/new calvinism. MD four points sound good but don’t seem to fit with the image that is conjured up when I hear him speak…so I don’t know what to do with that. The four points sort of remind me of a place I was at for a short period of time as I transitioned from conservative evangelicalism to where I am now (not sure what to call myself and that reminds me of Eugene’s post huh? who are you? https://eugenecho.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/huh-who-are-you/

    reformed steve, I thought you might like to read a description of emergent (that I thought captured the spirit of emergent) that Jonathan Brink wrote in a post last year:

    “Emergent, to me, is a creative attempt to find a wholistic understanding and practice in what it means to follow Jesus into God’s mission. It is an an attempt to get at the heart of what it means to be a broken human in a broken world that is dying for restoration. This attempt begins with generative conversation, or the willingness to lay aside what we think is right so we can first address the reality that something is just not quite right with this body called the church. The evidence is now (even as Easum admitted) overwhelming. The conversation is organic, chaotic, unrestricted, and based in a deep grace and willingness to love. It is taking a deep look into the existing frameworks we operate in and deconstruct as led by the Holy Spirit. Some of this deconstruction is occurring in our orthodoxy, some in our orthopraxy, and mostly in our own hearts, or as Peter Rollins says, “believing in the right way.”

    Our hope is not to destroy the church, but much like an architect take a deep look at the foundations we often take for granted. Our hope is to remove the dross that leaves us all exhausted and wondering if there is more to the cross. The risk we take is to trust that no matter how much we get it wrong that truth will win out in the end. We are attempting to be God’s creativity lived out. We hold lightly to everything for the sake of abandoning quickly what should never be held. But we also know that the more we seek, the more we will find, the more we knock, the more the door will open, and the more we ask, the more we will receive. We step carefully in the footsteps of Jesus with the understanding that the Holy Spirit will reveal His kingdom and restore our soul.”

    here’s the link to Jonathan’s post https://eugenecho.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/huh-who-are-you/

  77. Scripture only has one meaning as I mentioned before

    So reformedsteve, how do you know that your own ideas about scripture’s meaning is in fact THE one right meaning? What makes you so confident that your interpretation is identical with the Holy Spirit’s intended meaning, and that anyone else’s interpretation that happens to disagree with yours is definitely wrong?

    Or to put it another way, doesn’t “falleness” affect our rational capacities too? (Calvin certainly thought it did.) And if so, then don’t we need to have a certain level of humility about our own interpretations of scripture? Don’t we always have to admit the possibility that we could be wrong?

    BTW: Post modernism is a world view that denies the idea of absolute truth.

    LOL dude! I appreciate your attempt to give me a short definition of postmodernism, but you should know that I have a degree in postmodern philosophy, and trust me, that’s a radically inadequate definition (as Andy has done a good job of pointing out). If you’re wanting a short, quip-worthy definition of postmodernism (not a good idea, but hey, whatever) then you’re probably better off saying not that postmodernism “denies the idea of absolute truth”, but rather that it is “skeptical of the possibility of absolute certainty“. A postmodern doesn’t deny the existence of “absolute truth”, she just doubts whether she can ever know for sure when she has it.

    (And, as Andy mentioned, that self-doubt then leads to a critique of the abuse of power on the part of those who arrogantly claim to possess absolute truth beyond a shadow of a doubt.)

  78. The idea that, because the one Holy Spirit is the author of scripture, there is but one TRUE way of reading it sounds lovely but is absurd. Rather, let me say that there may very well be a single, perfect interpretation, but that interpretation is certainly not understood by any single human, Calvinist, Emergent or Shaman.

    The Jewish tradition resists absolute interpretations. They do not deny that God is singular and absolute, but that we might come to comprehend the essence of this absoluteness is, to them, hubris. Rather than simplifying scripture to a single, human-grasped bit of Truth, they often point to the contradictions within scripture as invitations from the Spirit to wrestle with God; it is through this wrestling, NOT through revelation of a single Truth, where man encounters God. Scripture facilitates the encounter, but even a single person can return to the struggle at another time and will be led another direction. The mystery of God resists absolute interpretation and understanding.

    Peter Rollins writes brilliantly of God’s revelation as both concealing and manifesting in the early pages of How Not to Speak of God. He argues that “our various interpretations of revelation will always be provisional, fragile and fragmentary (18).” “God can never be fully comprehended, and when our theology attempts to do so, we set up, as Karl Barth said, conceptual idols” (120). With this idea in mind, show me a man who “accurately” interprets God’s scriptures and I will show you an idolater! :o)

  79. Mike – thank you so much for addressing the false idea that post modernism (and people in the emerging conversation) do not believe in absolute truth. It is a little irritating that people are still saying that after all this time. I was just telling someone the other day that although the conversation has helped me in many ways, the conversation has been most helpful is teaching me to embrace a chastened epistemology because out of that I gained some much needed humility which for me has become a key component in being able to learn from God and connect to others. At some point I realized that my faith was more like a barrier than a bridge and looking back I think that was mostly due to my own arrogance and pride in believing I had the answers to all the important stuff. Being willing to say “I believe this but I might be wrong about it” has (imho) put me in a better postion to relate with God and people.

  80. Being willing to say “I believe this but I might be wrong about it” has (imho) put me in a better postion to relate with God and people.

    Me too Liz. It’s amazing how that little phrase can make such a difference, isn’t it? 🙂

  81. Let me say it again for you folks that aren’t listening:

    And therein lies the difference. Some of these Calvinists are basically Fundies that don’t believe in the Trinity but believe that the Ultimate source of Authority is their Interpretation of Scriptures.

    Long live the truth of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  82. I don’t want to speak for DS, but I think I might have an idea of what he means. His point reminds me of a (self-identified) fundamentalist I talked to once (don’t know if he was a Calvinist or not) who told me that he believes in “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures”!

  83. To be honest, I would put most Christians into the category of believing that “the Ultimate source of Authority is their interpretation of the Scriptures”. Who doesn’t do that? The doctrine of the Trinity itself is an interpretation from the scriptures. I believe what I believe because of my interpretation of the scriptures. The real question I see in this is whether or not people have the humility to accept that they even could be wrong in the first place, and that they admit they are wrong when they are shown to be.

    Fundamentalists have a confidence that comes with breaking down the message of God into yes and no answers. So they can often lack the humility that is essential for good biblical interpretation, but it is by no means limited to Fundamentalists, and not all Fundamentalists are like that. I had some great conversations with some Baptist Fundamentalists I used to work with.

  84. i think what DS may have been saying is that we placed our faith on OUR interpretation. clearly, we all engage the praxis of hermenuetics and exegesis but as it’s been shared above, we need to do so prayerfully, humbly, and in community.

  85. Their is a difference between interpretation and meaning. And a difference between understanding and significance.

    First we need to have a meaning. Meaning is the will message conveyed by the author. Understanding is the readers correct mental grasp of what the meaning of a text is. Interpretation is the understanding of a text explained. Their is only one meaning with many many ways to explain it.

    When you write a blog you as the author want to say something. And what you say means only one thing. If not it would be pointless to write the blog in the first place, because you would be held captive to the reader’s will.

    I really don’t like your mocking “LOL”. Is this how you deal with everyone who doesn’t agree with you? It seems your tone has changed since I stopped listening and started to share my insights. It seems the conversation is more of a monologue.

    Grace and Peace.

  86. True. If anything, I just get leery when it is said that “they” do it while not really mentioning that we do it as well. It can turn into a us vs. them thing really quickly.

  87. Eugene – I understand and agree. In the past I told myself that I was elevating scripture but in reality I was elevating my own interpretation of scripture.

    I am now trying to live out what I believe but at the same time assume there are dozens of things I believe that I am probably wrong about.

    Somehow all of this talk reminds me of a beautiful quote by Dwight Friesen that I have found very helpful. Here’s the quote:

    “Orthoparadoxy is an effort to make God’s main thing the main thing for all the people of God: reconciliation. Not sameness or agreement but differentiated oneness – where the fullness of one can be in relationship with the fullness of another. Orthoparadox is right paradox – holding difference rightly. Orthoparadox seeks to hold difference, tensions, otherness, and paradoxes with grace, humility, respect, and curiosity, while simultaneously bringing the fullness of self to the ‘other’ in conversation, not to convert or to convince but with the hope of mutual transformation through interpersonal relationship” Dwight Friesen

  88. reformed steve – I don’t know if I agree with you about there being “one meaning”. That way of thinking seems very black and white and not fluid enough for me. I think many bloggers would say that readers often find meaning/truth in unexpected ways in what they write and they are not only okay with that but they are excited when it happens. But ofcourse any analogy can be torn apart so I will focus on the subject at hand…scripture.

    I do not agree that scripture necessarily has “one meaning” or even “absolute truth”. I believe that Jesus is truth (I will leave out absolute because that seems redundant) and I believe that scripture is inadequate to completely and absolutely reveal that truth – although I do believe it is able to give us some significant insight.

  89. reformedsteve – that sounds like a trick question as if you are trying to paint me into a corner by answering a particular question a certain way. Are you using meaning as something seperate from truth?

  90. To put my hand in this just a bit, I think we are looking at this in a very western way. We like to explain things in a 1, 2, 3, 4 kind of way while eastern thinkers would do it much differently. The Bible is eastern, written by people with that kind of mindset. My point being that if we are trying to find the meaning of the text by finding some abstract principle based off of the scriptures then we may very well have missed much of the wealth that is in the scriptures. I’m not sure if I can elaborate much further as I have much to learn about the way eastern and Jewish people think and act. But it is kind of like looking at the Flood narrative and declaring how we should take the account as a literal event while missing the point of the entire story, that God remembered Noah. The Flood narrative is a chiastic piece of literature where the whole series of events points to God remembering Noah, and God remembering Noah has many implications for humanity. Regardless of whether the flood was a literal event, the point of the passage is God remembered Noah. Telling a story or using pictures is very Jewish, telling people about abstract ideas or “truths” is very western.

    It is true that the authors always had a purpose for writing what they did. The authors of the scriptures did not just write it because God told them, or because they felt like it. They had reasons. The wrote letters, historical books, poetry, prophecy, etc. Each style of literature has it’s own purpose and reason for existing. As N.T. Wright would point out, biblical interpretation isn’t finding some “timeless truths” that exist outside of the author’s context. That is why biblical study and interpretation is an ongoing process of studying the historical context and how it is relevant to our present context.

    And considering that with the Hebrew language, one word in Hebrew can mean several things all at once, and have strong connections with all kinds of other words and ideas. I have often felt that one of my strongest weaknesses to deep bible study is that I cannot speak or read Hebrew. Meaning, in the scriptures is multi-layered with depths usually left unexplored.

  91. Andy – I agree to a point – I do believe that authors write with a purpose/reason in mind and that our interpretation of what is written should be found in context – but I believe there could be a story that someone recorded and the author could have recorded it for a particular reason/purpose but there could be more (meaning/truth) wrapped up in that story than the author realizes.

    btw your paragraph about eastern vs western thinking and the flood narrative was very helpful.

  92. gracerules:
    I’m not playing games with you. I want you to answer the way you will answer. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful but you sound very paranoid. I’m sorry if you think I’m trying to be deceitful.

    I think you are confusing meaning with sigificance. Meaning is the hard facts. God caused a flood and rescued Noah. The signifance is how we react to it.

    On a side note, do most emergents hate it when people don’t feel the need to use a 1000 words when only 10 are needed? I’ve noticed that sort of trend in most of what I have read.

    Grace and Peace,

  93. I won’t deny that, but I think that it is for most purposes rare. Now, it isn’t that you can’t receive truth from a scripture that the author didn’t intend, but then is that the scriptures or the Spirit? God can speak to us through anything if we are listening.

    But as for things in the scriptures that the author wasn’t aware of, part of me acknowledges a few things could be like that, and then part of me is leery of it because it can lead to things like the Bible code and “hidden” truths. So you have to be careful. But those things are usually outside of the author’s range of vision. Like the idea of a Meta-Narrative, or Grand Narrative, where the whole bible is both a collection of individual stories that make up a single larger story. In that sense there are many things that are in relation to each other that may have possibly been outside of the mindset of the authors.

  94. Steve,
    I have felt that a lot of my comments lately have been long. Personally I have a hard time making things really short and precise because things are usually messier than that. Even when I try to make a short comment it ends up long. I just know that things in this world are usually more complex than we usually think it is, and simple answers are usually incomplete. At least, that is my experience.

    Ah, the defining of terms, I was using “meaning” differently than you are, what I meant really was the intention of the author for his writings. What the reader of his day was supposed to receive from it.

  95. “Meaning is the hard facts.”

    Reformedsteve: I respectfully disagree. Meaning is very often above the bare facts. The meaning of the flood is larger than just that the flood occurred…. Maybe I am misunderstanding you.

  96. Andy – thanks for responding – I think we are on the same page – I understand you being leery – I am probably pushing the envelope somewhat because I am still challenging myself to not put everything into a nice neat box or a 3 point lesson as I spent so many years in that sort of environment. Although I do think we have to accept that there are risks involved in freeing people up to interpret scripture without someone telling them what it means – but then God is a risky kind of fellow with grace and all.

  97. reformedsteve – I don’t think I am paranoid but you never know – sometimes it is difficult to be aware of those sort of things.

    So if you mean that “meaning” equals the hard facts then I would guess that you are referring to truth and I believe that truth comes from God – that God is truth.

  98. Steve, if you don’t mind I would like to chime in on the point you made regarding emergents using a lot of words…it could be that as we have been engaging with people in the conversation we have discovered that there are many different ways to understand words and ideas and we are becoming more conscious of trying to convey what we are saying. However, I admit I am inclined to probably use more words than necessary – my personality I guess (and I am female).

  99. I really don’t like your mocking “LOL”. Is this how you deal with everyone who doesn’t agree with you? It seems your tone has changed since I stopped listening and started to share my insights. It seems the conversation is more of a monologue.

    I’m really sorry I came across that way. I wasn’t intending to mock you at all. My LOL was merely meant to express amusement at having to cover this ground yet again. You have to understand that a lot of us in the emerging church have been having these same conversations with folks like yourself for over a decade now, and we’ve had to defend ourselves against the same old strawmen (like “postmoderns don’t believe in absolute truth”) so many times that we kind of hope that by this point everyone will have gotten the memo and realized that those kind of accusations are oversimplified and simply untrue. So quite honestly, when you said that, I wasn’t entirely sure you were serious. I thought maybe you were yanking my chain or something. My apologies.

    At any rate, you also said:

    First we need to have a meaning. Meaning is the will message conveyed by the author. Understanding is the readers correct mental grasp of what the meaning of a text is. Interpretation is the understanding of a text explained. Their is only one meaning with many many ways to explain it.

    What you’ve described is known in philosophy as the correspondence theory of truth. It says that a statement is true if and only if it corresponds to reality; or in the case of your example, a reader’s understanding of a text is true if and only if it corresponds to the author’s intended meaning.

    So here’s the difficulty with that theory: by what standard (that is not itself still a facet of your own understanding) can you judge whether your understanding of the text actually does correspond to the author’s meaning? All you have is your own understanding. You can’t step outside of your own brain, your own perceptions and mental filters, to somehow see the text “objectively”. You have your understanding of the text, but what will you compare it with to see if your understanding matches the author’s meaning? The correspondence theory of truth breaks down because there is an unavoidable and (as far as I can tell) unbridgeable chasm between “reality” (what Kant called the noumena) and our “perceptions/understandings of reality” (what Kant called the phenomena). We have no infallible measure by which to compare the two because we can never step “outside” of ourselves – outside of the phenomenal realm.

    Please keep in mind that I say this not because I “want” it to be the case. I say it because after studying philosophy for over a decade I simply have yet to find a way around the noumenal-phenomenal divide. Whether I like it or not, I am forced to the conclusion that I simply cannot ever know with absolute certainty whether my understandings do in fact correspond to reality. Of course I’m open to the possibility that I could be wrong, that there could be a way to bridge the gap, if someone can provide me with a convincing argument. But after 400 years of failure on this front by the brightest minds of Western civilization, I’m not holding out much hope.

    Anyhow, I hope this wasn’t too wordy. Like Andy, I usually find that this kind of stuff is just too complex to sum up in only 10 words.

    Peace bro’

  100. Mike I might push back on your fear that we can’t know with confidence what Scripture says. D.A. Carson calls this the asymptotic fallacy. The reality that just because we can not have perfect knowledge of something does not mean we can not have true knowledge of something.

    If you think about it, there is nothing in your life you have perfect knowledge of, your family, ethics, politics, astronomy, biology, but it does not mean you can not have make truth claims (or a working knowledge) about these subjects. Truth claims that you can act out of and off of.

    Its a misnomer to pretend that Calvinists (or any Christian I know of) thinks we can have absolute knowledge of the Bible. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, Church History, academic study, and a general perspicuity of the Bible, we can confidently understand the Bible. Of course we should still walk in humility and be open to listening to others, but it has become a little to trendy to pretend as if scripture is a giant haze filled maze that is hopelessly impossible to navigate.

    And also, you can pull quotes out of context from Calvin and make him say anything you want, but if take him at face value, let him speak for himself in context, his teachings are pretty clear…

  101. Thanks for the pushback rymk. However, I think you misunderstand the nature of my argument. My issue was not whether or not we can have “perfect” (i.e. complete? inerrant?) knowledge. My issue is whether we can have certainty about whether what we think we know is actually correct. There are many things that I think I know AND that I think are in fact true, but what I don’t think is that I couldn’t possibly be wrong about those things. In fact, as my friend Brian McLaren says, I’m pretty sure I’m wrong about at least a third of what I think I know, the only problem is I don’t know which third. 🙂

    As for the clarity of Calvin, I’m not going to bother debating that one with you. But I did just finish a course at my liberal Presbyterian seminary last semester where we read a good chunk of the Institutes, and I’ll just say (to take just one rather ironic example) that I’ve never heard John Piper, Al Mohler, or DA Carson say much about how often Calvin uses maternal imagery for God . 😉

  102. Good stuff Mike, the funny part about it is that certainty is a very ambiguous malleable word depending on who you ask. I will reduce my point to being that through history, our minds/study, church history, the Holy Spirit God has made scripture clear enough so that Christians can grasp its meaning. God is a good Dad who wants us to know his word not constantly sit in eternal confusion of it.

    And interesting comment about Calvin, would love to hear where he spoke of maternal imagery of God. As the old saying goes, learn something new everyday.

  103. My comment about the words was meant to convey that it seems their is a strong dislike towards using few words to explain complex things.

    I hate to go off topic yet again, but were you in favor of the renaming of the Trinity? I recall a Presbyterian minister mentioning something about his denomination wanting to rename it a few years back.

    Presbyterians used to so Reformed. My theological understanding owes so much to my Reformed Presbyterian brothers. I’m Southern Baptist by association.

    Al Mohler is a cultural warrior. We need reform not new revelation. I think this is the biggest gap that seperates fundies and liberals.

  104. I have to mention that I believe scripture can seem to be a “giant haze filled maze” because we are stuck in a western mindset when the scriptures were written by easterners. There would be a lot of things that would become clearer if we learn to look at not just the scriptures but the world differently. Instead we spend our time debating about the haze.

    I don’t know about you, maybe this is a particular limitation for me, but I have trouble with simplifying complex issues because by its nature it is complex. To simplify it is to lose part of it, and I just can’t make myself do it. Sadly, it often is too much for some people in conversations, because I have some friends who just don’t want to go that deep. But I don’t hold it against them. I have heard NT Wright reflect that theologians have the problem that they have to say Everything, All the time. Or else someone would always just assume that they don’t believe something that they didn’t happen to mention on that particular occasion.

  105. Mike,
    I hate to go off topic yet again, but were you in favor of the renaming of the Trinity?

    I’m in favor of using many different words and names to describe God, just as the Bible itself does. As the ancient Jews knew, human language is incapable of fully expressing the Divine reality, and if we ever make one metaphor dominant or exclusive, then in that instant we’ve created an idol. I think the best way to correct for this is to use many metaphors and many names for God, so as to remind ourselves that no single word can fully capture him.

  106. I will reduce my point to being that through history, our minds/study, church history, the Holy Spirit God has made scripture clear enough so that Christians can grasp its meaning. God is a good Dad who wants us to know his word not constantly sit in eternal confusion of it.

    I’m not so sure about that rymk. Why was it that Jesus said he spoke in parables so as to deliberately obscure his message from some people?

    Andy has already said some good things about this, but I think it’s important to ask what scripture is for. Is it primarily informational (in which case we’d expect it to be as clear as possible, and might have a legitimate complaint against God for making it so darn confusing at times), or is it primarily transformational (so that the process of being confused and therefore wrestling and struggling with it, just as Jacob did, will help spiritually transform us into the likeness of Christ)? I think scripture itself points to the latter option, cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

  107. Donald Miller described a situation once like this:
    A friend held up a tract (or something similar) that outlined the doctrines and steps to becoming a believer and whatnot in a A, B, C, D, step by step way.
    And then he held up the Bible and asked Don, why isn’t the Bible like this. If ABCD… is the truth, then why did God give us a bunch of stories, parables, and things that we have to study?

    We like to simplify and condense God’s Word to us in a systematic way that, in my opinion, gives us the control and authority rather than the Bible really having the authority.

    And God didn’t mean for scripture to be purely an information download. If he had, he could have chosen a much more simple and obvious way of doing it. Like Mike said, transformation is the purpose of scripture.

    The word disciple is a good example of this. Talmidim, or disciple, is in the western mindset a student, a person who wants to know what the teacher knows. It is about information, knowledge. In the eastern or Jewish mindset, however, a talmidim is a person who wants to be like their rabbi. They don’t want to just know what their rabbi knows, they want to BE like their rabbi. All of their life is wrapped up in who their rabbi is. Too often Christians want to know what Jesus knows, but too few of us really want to BE like our rabbi Jesus.

  108. Mike we really are best off when we do away with the false dichotomies that scripture is for either transformation and information. In the spirit of Ladd is a good old “both/and.” In fact change requires information, and true information mandates change.

    I am not arguing that there is no mystery and we do not have seasons of question marks in our spiritual lives, we certainly do. But we have a good God that does not seek to befuddle his kids and leave them in a quagmire wondering how to relationship. God is a much better, and more loving communicator than that.

    In fact I would argue that God is the most loving, clear communicator ever; going to such great lengths to reconcile himself to his children and reveal himself that we would come in the flesh and go to the Cross to deal with our sins.

    I wonder Mike can you name any other relationship in your life that is primarily mystery? Your wife? Kids? friends? family? Sure there are seasons in which you struggle to relate but then there are breakouts to new relational plateaus and levels of intimacy. And when you and your wife are not understanding each other you continue to fight for CLARITY, you do not say lets each go into another room and wallow in self doubt about what the other wants. Its just inconsistent with our own experience with relationships to think relationships/communication are primarily mystery.

    And as far as Jesus speaking in parables, remember upon his resurrection from the dead he took the time to sit down and EXPLAIN how the entire Old Testament was about him. Seems informational and transformational…

  109. i thought this post was predestined to go over forever. bummer.

    whenever people ask, “what is an emerging church?”

    i am reticent to answer because i can’t answer for a larger umbrella of so many diverse people. and in that similar way, i feel uncomfortable being labeled an emerging church or emerging pastor because their definitions are typically defined by a handful of folks that indirectly speak on behalf of a very large and growing movement.

    what is an emerging church?

    it is a movement.

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