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Is the New Calvinism Insular?

November 9, 2010

David Fitch has a post up where he worries that the New Calvinism is becoming, in his words, a new fundamentalism. (Fitch defines fundamentalism here as insular, distrustful of culture and therefore given to an “us vs. them” mentality.) As evidence he presents a video of Kevin DeYoung and Al Mohler discussing how Calvinism was the true foundation of the North American church and the only option to withstand the “tide” of secularism.

In the same post though, Fitch mentions that Tim Keller goes very much against this sort of image of popular-Calvinism as being over and against culture. Indeed Keller is at the centre of a Redeemer NYC-inspired grouping of culturally-engaged, theologically-Reformed churches growing in North America. While Keller may be in the minority among the New Calvinists, his church’s presence in a major media centre and his influence among city-focused church planters may ensure that he has a considerable influence irrespective of his standing among other New Calvinist leaders. At any rate, Keller is getting noticed in places where few other pastors might receive mention.

What Keller’s identification with Reformed theology indicates is that the New Calvinism is not inherently insular or distrustful. Some of the key personalities involved in the movement do have this tendency, as I have mentioned before in other contexts. Mark Driscoll is sometimes touted as being “relevant” to “kids these days,” but that doesn’t really go beyond his haircuts and t-shirts. His new condemnation of yoga as well as Stephanie Meyer seems to indicate that he’s becoming more and more suspicious of culture, and no amount of Threadless t-shirts can reverse that impression.

The most likely prognosis is that there may well be a battle in the heart of the new Calvinism over how much it should be culturally engaged. I don’t know what will happen, though perhaps Machen’s theological heirs will go through another round of civil war. I would not bet against it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    November 12, 2010 7:26 pm

    All the neo-Calvinists seem to agree on the primacy of the cultural mandate but my own hunch is that the battle lines may end up being drawn over eschatology as the foundation from which Christians are encouraged to take up the cultural mandate. But even I can grant postmillenialists have a point about the implications of eschatological views in how one views the enterprise of Christians working out the cultural mandate. To go by how some Calvinists neo and otherwise have freaked out about kingdom-now theology and the liberal implications they worry about it in my hunch is that eschatology may remain the faultline for a future battle within the neo-Calvinist camp.

    On the relationship between eschatology and the application of the cultural mandate in neo-Calvinist thought Driscoll may be a touchstone in neo-Calvinist thought precisely because he’s so studiously avoided taking any stand on eschatology which is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand he has repudiated dispensationalism as nutty and on the other hand he refuses to endorse postmillenialism because he doesn’t like the theonomistic (and often neo-Confederate) views he’s seen attached to that a la Doug Wilson. He doesn’t consider either view to have a healthy approach to dealing with culture. And yet, despite all this, he also doesn’t embrace amillenialism, either. I think Driscoll’s avoidance of committing to a fully articulated view is pragmatically shrewd in that it allows as many people into the tent of Mars Hill membership as possible but is going to eventually create continuing problems of having an eschatological articulation for whatever he thinks “cultural engagement’ and “culture-making” mean in the context of the “counterculture” he considers Mars Hill to be. This has the advantage of appropriating the rhetorical gestures of both campus. It allows for an oppositional stance against the prevailing culture while simultaneously offering the hope that Christians can go “upstream” and be “culture-makers”. The only problem with this is that Calvinists new and old have to cross every t and dot every i. Just because Driscoll and the elders headed off a battle with postmillenialists in the past doesn’t mean eschatology won’t become a flashpoint in the future.

    Driscoll already got some criticism from old Reformed thinkers for refusing to say that Arminianism is a false gospel. Also not surprising is the thorough-going skepticism of the old school Reformed to grant that Driscoll is neo-Reformed in any shape or form, as the well-scrubbed-out comments in the Gospel Coalition articles where Driscoll describes himself in Reformed terms no longer attest. As long as the neo-Calvinists can set themselves positively against the old Calvinists the battle within neo-Calvinism can probably be postponed. The battle can be postponed but I’m not sure it can be avoided altogether. At some point the necessity of crossing every t and dotting every i will compel neo-Calvinists to fight the same battles Machen’s warrior children fought.

    Driscoll was early on strongly influenced by John MacArthur and apprenticed at Ken Hutcherson’s church. He has since distanced himself both from MacArthur’s dispensationalism, anti-charismatic theology, and general criticism of certain aspects of culture. However, I think the apple may not have fallen nearly so far from the tree as the apple probably thinks he has.


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