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Archive for the ‘Neo Calvinism’ Category

Elaine Storkey has a new piece over at the fulcrum website looking at what the future may hold for the Church and culture at large.  The closing paragraph ends with a call to action and cultural engagement.  I agree with this and simply want to comment that evangelical leaders are (aim to be) pretty good at consuming time, energy and resources from their congregation in maintaining and expanding the Church (church gathered, institutional church). We need a holistic missional ecclesiology in which the CHurch (dispersed,body) looks beyond the Church (gathered, institutional) and  seeks to shape culture and the world.

Unless Christians move out of their parochial concerns and address the issues which are dominant in the rest of our world, we will be increasingly marginalized, and our contribution to the events of the coming decade will be minimal. Not only that, but the way people hear the Gospel and the implications it has for the whole of life, will be blurred and confusing.

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Thanks Steve for the link

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Jake Belder, via his blog, introduced me to the book ‘Who gets to narrate the world?’ by Robert E. Webber. My copy arrived today and I have ploughed through the first few chapters.  So far, so good. Webber encourages us to look at the comprehensive biblical narrative which is desperately needed as Christians face real problems, both internal and external, in the 21st century.

However, I was surprised, given this book calls us to move away from a reductionistic understanding of God’s story and mission to find the following,

The overriding theme of this book is to respond to these challenges by understanding and practising the fullness of God’s narrative. Whether you are a pastor, a youth worker, a worship leader, an evangelist, a teacher or active layperson in the church, the effect of restoring God’s narrative is manifold. (page 19)

Why, please tell me, does a book which is against reductionism, have as its target audience people who work in a church? Surely the call of the gospel is to people working in all spheres of life. I have taken the liberty of re-writing the above paragraph and would be happy for Robert to use it in in any future editions of the book.

The overriding theme of this book is to respond to these challenges by understanding and practising the fullness of God’s narrative. Whether you are a pastor, baker, butcher, scientist, artist, teacher, economist, lawyer, candlestick maker,  the effect of restoring God’s narrative is manifold.

If this potential new edition contains the above paragraph I would only ask that a glossy picture of myself be included on the back cover. This would have the added advantage of increasing sales…..

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Deep-Church-200x300

Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Deep Truth’ and explores issues of epistemology.  He thinks that traditionalists have often misrepresented postmodernism and have failed to understand postmodernity as  emergent leaders understand it. Is postmodernity in all forms the enemy? Lstenign to the rhetoric of some evangelicals you would think so. However, he also criticises the emergent church for not recognizing that there are movements and thinkers in the evangelical world who also reject modernism.

‘Emerging voices tend to overstate the traditional church’s captivity to the rationalism and individualism of modernism by ignoring the last hundred years of evangelical criticism of Enlightenment rationalism by thinkers such as Abraham Kuyper, C.S. Lewis, Cornelius Van Til, Herman Dooyeweerd and Nicholas Wolterstorff [quite a few neocalvinists in this list]. Long before post-modern thinkers came on the scene, these Christian thinkers have been debunking the church’s captivity to science and rationalism. It concerns me that bright scholars like Stanley Grenz and John Franke, two influential thinkers for the emerging church, do nor bring this up. It seems the emerging church, for rhetorical purposes, uses sweeping generalizations about the traditional church that are unfair.’ 76

But the traditional church is just as guilty. By not taking the time to understand what the emergent church means by postmodernism, traditional thinkers jump to the conclusion that the emerging church is abandoning historic Christianity. This is certainly not true of the whole movement…Brian McClaren rejects ‘hard’ postmodernism. Few embrace radical relativism or deep constructivism that rejects all revelation or external authority.’ 76

I think Belcher’s analysis is spot on.  I will post more later

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The librarian at Trinity college, Bristol is excellent. I told her about the book ‘Deep Church’ by Jim Belcher which had recieved numerous good reviews. She ordered a copy  which I was able to pick up today.

Deep-Church-200x300The book explores a path, which he calls Deep Church,  which can be taken which avoids both  traditional evangelicalism and the emergent scene.  A friend pinted out to me that people in the UK may get a little confused as there is a ‘Deep Church’ movement/set of books/blogs in the UK.

There is a ‘Deep Church’ website and excerpts can be found here.

Why was I so keen to get my hands on this book?

Firstly, I appreciate the theological leanings of some of the main traditional evangelical preachers/teachers in the UK such as Don Carson, Wayne Grudem and John Piper. However, I do think that the emergent scene has rightly criticized, amongst other things, the impact of modernity in the formulation of rationalistic evangelical theology. This places me in a strange place. I spend half of my time defending a traditional evangelicalism but this, at times, leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps this book will help me be more comfortable with my posiition.  Secondly, a quick look at endorsements reveals that this book is spoken highly of by a wide ranger of scholars and practitioners. ie. Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball. If these people from different theological and ecclesiological positions are in agreement that this is a great book then it should be read. Thirdly, I want to have an ecumenical spirit (I really do) which seeks to build bridges and find unity in the Christian Church. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem Emergent to with Conservative Evangelicalism?… well for starters both camps claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. This book, which seems to be balanced, will explore and critique both traditional and emergent.

Here are some of the endorsements.

“Jim Belcher shows that we don’t have to choose between orthodox evangelical doctrine on the one hand, and cultural engagement, creativity and commitment to social justice on the other. This is an important book.”
—Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City

“Smart, passionate, thoughtful, hopeful and Jesus-centered–this is the Jim Belcher I used to hang out with in the early nineties (like it was so long ago!) at the Huntington–and this is the Jim Belcher in this book. Lots of people are going to find this book very helpful.”
—Rob Bell, pastor, Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, author, Velvet Elvis

“Rising above the usual shallow, facile critiques of the emergent church movement, Jim Belcher has written for us a book that, indeed, goes deep. Jim took the time to listen to emergent voices, and as a result, he appreciates the movement for what it is. And, further, his admonitions ring true. While Jim and I have theological differences, I can heartily recommend Deep Church as an invigorating study of and healthy corrective to both the emergent and traditional church.”
—Tony Jones, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (http://tonyj.net)

“Deep Church is a thoughtful, helpful and practical addition to the growing field of missional church thinking.”
—Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, president, Acts 29 Church Planting Network, president, Resurgence

I have just read the first few chapters and am not disappointed. Here are some of the highlights so far.

His goal is to provide  ‘well rounded picture of the emerging community’s conviction’. After surveying many books and blogs he sees the emerging church as being critical of several aspects of the traditional church. (For ordinands we must recognize that this book is from a US perspective and that traditional means ‘traditional evangelical’ as opposed to Anglican traditional which means liturgy and bells and smells).

1) Captivity to Enlightenment Rationalism (Yep! evangelicals do like their water tight theological systems)

2) A narrow view of salvation (Being a Tom Wright and Neo-Calvinist fan I agree with this)

3) Belief before belonging

4) Uncontextualized Worship

5) Ineffective teaching. I have tried to deal with some of this here.

6) Weak Ecclessiology

7) Tribalism

He goes on to mention the three fold division which Ed Stetzer employs to describe the emergent church.

1) Relevants- Driscoll

2) Reconstructionists

3) Revisionists- Emergent Village

In this book Belcher will mainly interact with those of the reconstructionists and revisionist camps.

I am going to enjoy reading this book and may well blog my way through it.



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Time Magazine recognized New Calvinism as one of the fastest growing trends in the U.S.  Here is a video of talks given to journalists on what it means. [John Piper, in a bold move, connects the events of Sep 11th, with his discussion of Calvinism.]

However, New Calvinism it is not to be confused with Neo-Calvinism. Click Here and Here

In the UK one would look to New Frontiers. as being part of this New Calvinist resurgence. This is a group of churches which is into church planting and has seen tremendous growth in recent decades when others churches are in numerical decline. In this family of churches it isn’t unusual to find people who download Driscoll and buy John Piper books.

Is this rise is New Calvinism a good thing or a bad thing?

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This blog post is a response to a post by Steve Bishop over at ‘An accidental blog’ on the topic of Structure and Direction. I have been thinking about this topic for several months now and have had the pleasure of quizzing both Al Waltors and Jonathan Chaplain on it. Although I will be posing some questions about ‘Structure and Direction’ I would want to say that I agree with the general thrust of it. I quote approvingly the follow remarks by Gordon Spkman on the curse/fall,

“In Genesis 3:14-19 the dark clouds of divine judgement descended on human life from the cradle to the grave. Nothing escapes its curse. Every creature great and small bears its brunt—the soil, plant life, animals, human relationships—not least of all, marriage and vocation. Like a drop of ink falling into a glass of water, our origonating sin has a ripple effect on our enture environment….. Yet even in the midst of such radical distortions God maintains the structures of his creation.’

The question which I am asking myself is whether the ‘fall’ resulted in any changes to the structures of creation. I posed the question to Steve Bishop

Did the fall result in some of the structures of the world being changed. Death entered the world…
It is only in the unveiling of the eschaton that creation, at least in this aspect, will be redeemed. Death is normative for this world, but death is also to be seen, in some sense, as the enemy…

Steve got in touch with his friend Roy Clouser who kindly offered a response


The death that entered the world was human death, not the death of plants or animals. St Paul puts it that after sin “death reigned from Adam to Moses” because it’s only human death that is at stake. So there’s no need to think that creation changed structurally because of sin.

Prior to the fall humans were completely under God’s protection so that they were protected from animals, accident, and anything else that could cause death. But they were still by nature mortal – able to die (the “dust of the earth” always refers to mortality). After the fall they were no longer under God’s complete protection but God’s partial protection is a constant covenantal theme. So the promised land is the promise of protection, and its conquest is undertaken by Joshua with the comment that the enemies they will encounter ‘have lost their protection but God will fight for us”.

Eternal life is a gift to humans who are not by nature immortal, and it is secured by standing in right relation to God. It is literally true that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God”.

I appreciate this kind of interaction. Thankyou Steve and Roy.

In no particular order I offer the following rambling comments,

1)God curses the earth (Gen 3:17) so that human work becomes difficult. Does this not imply a structural change
2)Human Death enters the world: I appreciate Roy’s comments but the structure of man in a fallen world is one in which decay and death happens. Are we saying that God’s covenental hold on humans actually worked against their creational structure.
3)In Genesis we see a shortening of the lifespan of humans.
4)In the flood narrative we see a changign in the structure of creation. Gen 7:11, Gorden Wenham comments,
1.. In releasing the waters pent-up below and above the earth, God is undoing his great acts of separation whereby the dry land was created and the waters were confined in the seas (Gen 1:9). The earth is going back to Gen 1:2, when the waters covered its face.1

5)It seems that after the flood humans were given permission to eat meat (Gen 9:1). Does this have soemthign to add to our conversation
6)  All creation is groaning…. in what sense?
6)The eschaton is described poetically as a time when the lion and the lamb will lay down together. I know this is poetic but is the vision of the eschaton one in which there will no violence in the new creation. This makes the new-creation, which we may sugegst follows the initial creation, as radically different from the violence in a fallen world.
7)If we except Structure and Direction are we not faced with an ethical problem.  Is a cancerous part of God’s good creation or a structural change which occurred in the fall? Is violence built in to the structure of creation?

It is getting late and this post is beginning to lack both structure and direction….

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Naugle, in his significant study of the concept of worldview, describes the crucial role of stories and meta-narratives..

‘These stories that establish a symbolic world do indeed guide all forms of human activity. Worldview narratives create a particular kind of ‘mind’, and serve in a normative fashion as ‘controlling stories’. The most fundamental stories associated with a Weltanschauung—those closest to its metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical epicenter—possess a kind of finality as the ultimate interpretation of reality in all its multifaceted aspects. Such stories are considered sacred, and they provide the adhesive that unites those who believe in them into a society characterized by shared perspectives and a common way of life. They also provide a tenacious grid by which competing narratives and alternative claims to truth are judged. Controlling stories, therefore, function in a regulatory fashion both positively and negatively, and are able to bind those who accept them into an intellectual or spiritual commonwealth. Thus the bulk of human praxis does seem to be under the jurisdiction of a worldview, including the significant activities of reasoning, interpreting and knowing’ 303

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I knwo that a few of my readers have had an interest in Scot McKnight’s recent take on the neo-reformed.  A positive view of the reformed tradition, and a critique of some ‘calvinists’, is found in a recent interview with Peter Enns.

“Question 2: How would you respond to those who don’t think you’re a very good Calvinist?

It would all depend on the person’s intention. If the question came from a defensive or argumentative posture, I’ve seen enough to know that this will bear little fruit. Arguments about who is the better Calvinist tend to generate laser-like heat but precious little light.

If, however, the question is asked with a genuine interest in engaging me on how I see these things—with the understanding that both parties should be open to growth—then I am very interested in the conversation.

Just what it means to be Reformed has been a debated issue and the struggle continues to see who will win the right to define it. There are those who think of the Reformed faith—better, a particular articulation of the Reformed faith (19th century Princeton, for example)—as the only true expression not only of the Reformed faith but also of Christianity. Indeed, as some I know have put it, the Reformed faith (narrowly defined) is understood as “Christianity come into its own,” and that the Reformed “hold the truth in trust” for other traditions.

This is tragic, and if this is what it means to be Reformed, then I am not Reformed. If, however, one understands the Reformed faith as a particularly insightful and deep tradition that hits upon numerous biblical and theological issues with clarity and gospel-fidelity—even to the extent that other traditions will be richer for the interaction—BUT that is also, by virtue of its location in particular historical/cultural circumstances, as prone to sin and error as anything else under the sun, and is therefore in need of regular critical evaluation, then, yes, I am Reformed. The Reformed faith is for me, in other words, a means to Christian truth rather than the sum total of Christian truth.

The problem is that these two models of what it means to be Reformed are, for all practical purposes, incompatible, because parties on both sides hold tenaciously to their model. Still, I hope it is not too self-serving to point out that the latter model can incorporate a humble expression of the former and even benefit from it, but the former in principle does not seem poised to reciprocate. It cannot.”

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Scot McKnight, over at the Jesus Creed blog, is critical of a group who he describes as Neo-Reformed. It is availble in two parts. Part One, Part Two

I only wish that he woudl mention that neo-ferformed are differant to neo-calvinists. Neo calvinists are represented, amongst others by Driscoll and Piper, wheras the neo-calvinist trace their roots through Abraham Kuyper and the Dutch reformed movement. There is surely some overlap but amongst some but they do represent two differnant streams of calvinistic thinking. Neo-Reformed focus on the doctrines of grace (TULIP) wheras neo-calvinists (at least from where I am standing) focus more on pressuppositions, cultural engagement and worldview.

Any comments?

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