theology

An Emerging Calvinist

This long but fascinating article got my dad and I talking about the relationship between Calvinism and the emerging church. I have posted about this before, but as my dad and I talked, I had a couple of additional thoughts.

I said in my February 2007 post that my Calvinism caused me to take culture seriously, and that led me to embracing the emerging approach to church. Not all Christian theologies take contemporary culture seriously.

The Classic Ryrie Dispensationalism I was taught in college leads to a disconnection from culture. If the world is just going to get worse and worse until Jesus yanks us out of here, why should we bother connecting in any meaningful way to our culture? It’s all pointless. Likewise, Fundamentalism doesn’t take contemporary culture seriously. It looks back wistfully to a bygone age and seeks to recreate it through traditional church services and programs and through a certain brand of Jesus-Is-A-Republican kind of theology.

But Calvinism is different. Calvinism has existed in various cultures across the globe and throughout the ages. (Classic Dispensationalism and Fundamentalism are uniquely American theologies.) It has found expression in various cultural ways – in political involvement, in music and art, in education, in business, in compassion-based ministries. The ethos of the emerging church with its strong emphasis on understanding and relating to postmodern culture seems like a very natural place to be a Calvinist.

My other thought has to do with the place of doubt in the emerging church. I’ve posted about this before too. As I think about it, I am not sure that Arminianism allows for doubts. Arminianism teaches that my salvation is ultimately dependent upon a choice that I make to accept-believe-follow Jesus. It seems to me that I am not going to make that choice if I am not fairly certain about the truth of it all. For me to accept Jesus, I need to have it all figured out.

But Calvinism puts the ultimate responsibility for my salvation on God’s shoulders, not my own. And as such, I don’t think that I need to have it all figured out to be a follower of Jesus. I can have my doubts and still be drawn by God into who he is. Calvinism emphasizes the vastness, the grandeur, and the mystery of God. Again, since it is open to doubters like me, the emerging church seems like a very natural place for a Calvinist to find a home.

These ideas probably need to be developed more, but these are some initial thoughts. Do you have any?

Discussing Emerging Theology

It fell off the first page, but here a conversation about the nature of theology was evolving. Since I am always up for a conversation about theology, I thought I would take it up in its own post.

Is there a difference between “emergent,” “emerging,” and “liberal” theology?

Historically, the answer is yes. In theological terms, “liberal” theology is a product of modernity. It developed when rationalism and the scientific method, coupled with the concepts of objectivity and individualism, where applied to the Bible. The result was a rejection of the supernatural elements of the Bible, including most notably the virgin birth, diety, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus. The modern response to “liberal” theology was (is?) fundamentalism.

“Emergent” theology is not a monolithic thing, but it is the product of postmodernity, rejecting the tyrrany of rationalism and the scientific method, as well as the myths of objectivity and individualism. “Emergent” proponents, such as Brian McLaren, have caused much controversy by advocating such things as theistic evolution, complete gender nuetrality, and a quasi-universalism.

“Emerging” theology is even less monolithic than “Emergent” theology. It too is a product of postmodernity, rejecting many of the basic aspects of modern thinking. Most “emerging” leaders seek to focus on a fresh expression of historic orthodox Christian beliefs that connects well with postmodern thinkers.

So, they are not the same thing historically. Nor are they the same thing in content.

Liberal theology rejects the diety of Jesus.
Emergent and emerging theologies don’t.

Liberal theology devalues the authority of the Bible.
Emergent and emerging theologies don’t.

Liberal and Emergent theologies deemphasize hell.
Emerging theology doesn’t necessarily.

You might disagree with all of them, but don’t say they are all the same thing. Because they are not. I know this to be true because I am an emerging theologian who is neither liberal nor Emergent.

Different Worlds

So I’ve been traveling in different worlds lately – different from my own and certainly different from each other.

American Splendor. Last night, I watched What an interesting movie, telling the story of Harvey Pekar, a comic book writer (not artist) who developed quite a cult following in the 80s. The movie itself was fascinating, weaving together the real people with the actors portraying them as well as how they have been depicted in comic books. It had original footage of the Late Show and MTV coupled with scenes produced for the movie. It is a truly postmodern mosaic. And it tells of an interesting world – the world of a deeply depressed, pessimistic man seeking to make his life count while walking the streets of Cleveland, Ohio.

Not too far from there is a completely different world – the world of Amish teenagers. I am reading Rumspringa right now. It tells the story of Old Order Amish teens, primarily in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, who once they turn 16 get to leave behind the strict rules of the church and experiment with the outside world. They party hard during rumspringa, many getting pregnant or becoming drug or alcohol dependent. But most of them – 80% – get scared straight and return to the Amish way of life, being baptized and joining the church. They sell their cars and get rid of their “English” clothes and return to the slower and quieter world of buggies and bonnets.

And not too far from there outside of Youngstown Ohio is where the Croatian immigrant family of Steve Belichick settled. Steve is the father of Bill, world champion coach of the New England Patriots. I started listening to The Education of a Coach this week. It tells the story of how Bill Belichick became Bill Belichick. His roots go deep into the world of the Depression era rust belt where hard work was valued above all else. He learned discipline and skill from his father who was a scout for Navy for over three decades and even wrote a book on scouting. And he learned the priority of team from high school coaches and friends. His world shaped him, and he is helping to reshape the football world.

Worlds have been colliding. It has been a little strange to walk in and out of these very different world. And I have enjoyed thinking about how my time in them ought to change my own world.

I Am …

I got this exercise from Richard Mouw’s book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport that I am reading right now. What would you write?

I am a human being.
I am a Christian because I think it is the best way for me to be human.
I am a Protestant because I think it is the best way for me to be a Christian.
I am a Calvinist because I think it is the best way for me to be a Protestant.
I am Emergent because I think it is the best way for me to be a Calvinist.

Let me give some explanation.

I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus is God’s son, come to earth to live the ideal human life and to rescue me from my less-than-ideal life. In the long line of those who have entrusted their lives to Jesus and sought to live for him in community with one another, I identify myself with Protestants since things like the sufficiency God’s grace and the Bible resonate with me. Within Protestantism, I call myself a Calvinist because I am drawn to a theological presuposition of a big God who comes after me and calls me into a future he has designed. My Calvinism causes me to take my culture seriously, and so I am seeking to be Emergent, attempting to connect what I believe in a creative way to the world in which I live – as a human being.

I used to think that being a Baptist was the best way for me to be a Calvinist. And even more specifically than that, I thought that being a Regular Baptist was the best way for me to be a Baptist. But what I found was that I could not be the best Calvinist, Protestant, Christian, or human being that way. Creativity was stifled. Grace was hard to come by. Truth was too contained. Now I am someone different than I used to be.

How about you?

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