Friday, March 21, 2008

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?


Anonymous said...

I totally disagree that a "true calvinist" finds home in an emergent church. It's like oil in water, the two just don't mix. The emergent church market's catholicism. Have you had a chance to read any of McLaren's books? The leader of the emergent church is dangerous and his teachings hinge on the new age movement teachings. We as baptist's must stay far away from those teachings as they may cause us to fall away from our strict reformed beliefs. Mark Driscoll is right on track with the emergent movement stay far away you all this could land you all in hell.

Robb said...

Well, I am a Calvinist who is also a part of the emerging church, so you are wrong. And ... I am not worried about ending up in hell.

Robb said...

Also, I did not say that a true Calvinist must find a home in the emerging church. I said that me being a part of an emerging church was a natural expression of my Calvinism.

And ... do you know that there is a difference between the emerging church and the Emergent church? Read carefully that I consistently use the term "emerging" not "Emergent." There is a difference.

And ... and ... yes, I have read Brian McLaren. And I like him. I don't agree with him, but I so deeply appreciate his kindness. I doubt he would condemn a person to hell simply for having a different theological or methodological perspective. That's a lesson we could all learn, I suppose.

Robb said...

And ... and ... and, you said "we are baptists." I am not a baptist.

JayBird's Joint said...

"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."

Well, we know we can't have it all figured out...I find that that we are not required to. Repentance and faith will do, so i'm going to stick with Joshua on this one (Joshua 24:15,22).

"But Calvinism puts the ultimate responsibility for my salvation on God's shoulders, not my own."

I declare the same about free will...

Anonymous said...

Did you even read the article? By your comments I would guess that you didn't take the time to do so you could comment intellegently on the discussion. I am a Baptist - Southern to boot - and a Five pointer. I'm not comfortable with all in the emergent church but neither am I comfortable with everything among the "Baptists". You need to read what the Lord Jesus says about what sends a person to hell and it isn't church affiliation.
Rob's Dad

Robb said...


If by "free will" you mean that I am the one who chooses to be saved, then how does that put the responsibility for my salvation on God's shoulders? That doesn't make any sense to me. If you mean something different by "free will," please explain it to me (especially since it is not a biblical term). Thanks.


JayBird's Joint said...


Why must you start controversial post? LoL...
I'm sure you understand the term of "free will" that I am using here. It is not a Biblical term, however that concept is Biblical. Many theological terms are not Biblical, i.e. Trinity, irresistible grace, millennium, rapture, etc.
The responsibility for my salvation rests with God because His vicarious work is finished, He provided it, and His grace appears to all and awaits all, (Titus 2:11).
My point is that accepting a gift is not work, If you handed me a priceless, beautifully packaged gift for my birthday and I took it from you, then turned around and told my friends that I had a part in the provision of it, you would probably be offended.
This is just one of those debates will continue to the end of time....

I love you brother

Robb said...

Just tweaking you, Jay, about it not being a biblical term. I know there are other theological terms that are not found in the Bible.

Your classic Arminian definition of salvation is just that, a classic Arminian definition of salvation. It still seems like it's up to me.

Let me ask you a hypothetical - Jesus dies on the cross, making his grace to appear and await all. What if not a single person opened their gift? Kind of sucks to be God at that point, doesn't it? If ultimately I have to accept salvation to be saved, then it's up to me.

I love you too.

By the way - how's your LSU doing in the tourna ... oh, nevermind.

JayBird's Joint said...

Oh man, the LSU crack was a dig, below the belt too!

I understand your hypothetical, and it is a good point. Yet I still wonder, is forcing individuals to love me, really true genuine love? I think it would bring more glory to God if we surrender and follow by choice.

Im not a classic Arminian, the definition can be kind of broad sometimes, I prefer Planlapsarianist :)

And remember, Duke just squeeked by...

Robb said...

If we're going there, I tend to be a Supralapsarian.

And, a win is a win.

Anonymous said...

Don't take all this as I say serious. I'm not even a baptist and am against organized religion for the most part due to the corruption within the churches today. I believe that 1/3 is corrupt and is all in it for a God they worship called the dollar. I do take reverance with the like that market their church as emerging, emergent, emerge, or other pseudo verbal words to market their religion, in hopes of becoming the next mega church.

Matthew said...

Calvanism, Arminianism, soteriology, lapsarianism--the horror...the horror...

What it all seems to come down to is whether we have free will or only the illusion of free will. The problem is if we only have the illusion of free will, there is no rational way (that I can see) for us to distinguish this from free will. If God ordained at (or before...whatever) the beginning of time that that I would be one of the Elect who would hear the Gospel, be convicted of the it's Truth by the Holy Spirit, and be saved, it feels the same to me as if I merely heard the Gospel, was convicted by it's Truth by the Holy Spirit, and was saved.

The thing that kills me is that I don't believe there is any way for us know whether the truth of salvation is better explained by Calvinism or Arminianism until we are in the Father's presence, and at that point we will all be so happy to be there that we won't care about questions like this any longer.

But while I'm here I have a question that deals peripherally with Calvinism (or perhaps hyper-Calvinism). There used to be a minister in this area named Jay Cole who had a column in a circular called the Agape Love Messenger (which was an interesting name because the contributors weren't very loving at all--in fact, they made "anonymous" seem like a ray of sunshine). Somebody wrote in asking him if a "natural" man could be saved and, if not, should they bother to come attend a church. Reverend (and I use the term loosely) Cole wrote back saying definitively that a "natural" man could not be saved but would still benefit in this life from attending church and trying to live a moral life even though they would still face Hell after they died (I assumed this was some flavor of hyper-Calvanism).

My question is, according to "regular" Calvinism, is it possible for a person to think they are convicted of their sin, repent, turn to Christ for salvation (or at least think he/or she has), but still face damnation because he/she isn't one of the Elect? The thing that I think is kind of potentially horrific about Calvinism is that although you have people unconditionally elected for salvation, you may also have people who are rejected and passed over for damnation no matter what they think or do. This prospect is troubling to me for some reason.

Robb said...

Matthew, interesting comments.

I was talking with a friend the other day about the illusion of free will, as you put it. As a parent, I give my kids choices that aren't really choices. They think they are making a choice, but they aren't. I think God does that with us sometimes.

As far as your final question goes ... I can't speak for all Calvinist, just myself. I would say that the regenerating work of the Spirit in a person's heart produces, in Calvin's words, twin fruits - faith and repentance. If a person has faith in Christ and repents of their sin, then they are manifesting the result of God's electing work. They are, as one of our dear old professors used to say, passing the election test.

Weaves said...

Ugh you're ruining one of my favorite things about postmodernism and the church. I love that postmodernism allows me to say that I don't understand fully how God's grace works but it seems like it's a mixture of the two. Why does it have to be one or the other? I believe that God wants us to love him and that love can't be forced. We must choose to love him. I also believe that without God's help we can't trust him and I believe in eternal security. The great thing about postmodernism is that I don't really care that the two don't seem to work together. It doesn't have to make sense to me. Screw the labels. I trust Christ. I could care less about Calvin or Arminius.

Matthew said...

I can't help but think neither Calvinism nor Arminianism adequately explain the miracle(?) that is salvation; however, I am loathe to completely reject the terms because I think they are useful in properly framing the arguments necessary to more closely approximate what God wants us to know about this (also, we can't just lump everything into the mystery category: that's just laziness ;-) ).

I will concede that excessively dwelling on this sort soteriological speculation is unproductive and probably unhealthy since, as I said, I don't think we can fully know the truth of the matter until we are in the Father's presence. Lot's of food for thought, though...

I am also uncertain about this whole postmodernism thingie, especially since it is by it's very nature fuzzily defined. Seems to me that it's basically framed by modernism. If you see it as a rejection of modernism, you still have to understand all of what modernism entails to understand the implications of your rejection. Because of this, it seems like postmodernism might be more accurately identified as an actual appendage or footnote of modernism rather than a thing apart.

In fact, I'm half inclined to reject Postmodernism and all of it's derivatives as just another metanarrative and see if it will disappear in a puff of logic. ;-)

Now before everybody dogpiles on me, I'll concede that Postmodernism is a very real phenomenon, it's just that it seems vaguely self-nullifying to me (I have to keep reminding myself that it is inaccurate to think of it as some variant on nihilism).

Interestingly, I don't like thinking of myself as being in any way postmodern...largely because I don't like being defined by a label *sigh*. The absurdity of my recalcitrance in accepting the appellation is further augmented by my general mistrust of authority and by the fact that I've been practicing deconstructive argumentation in various forms since I was six (it's actually something of a family tradition--my family can "poison the well" and ferret out the "real" motives behind some given construct with the best of them).

Still, I would maintain there is some danger in Postmodernism of playing the same largely pointless mental calisthenics and linguistic games that Modernism is known for.

Keeping in mind that folks don't have to understand a cultural phenomenon to be a part of it, it might be instructive sometime to do a survey at the Church to see what, if anything, the term "postmodernism" means to the average member. Perhaps something along the lines of "define what Postmodernism means to you in 50 words or less."

Robb said...

Spoken like a true scientist, Matthew.

Robb said...


My experience within the emerging church conversation I guess has been different than yours. It seems to me that the emerging church values being a part of something bigger than ourselves, especially in finding the connections to church thinkers of the past. I would guess that many in the conversation care deeply about Calvin and Arminius.

Second, my experience in the emerging conversation is that people don't shy away from theological conversations. We just don't get all hot and bothered when people disagree with us.

I wonder if your perspective is shaped more by your Remus experience than your emerging church one.

Good to hear from you.


Weaves said...

Oh I'll quickly admit that my perspective is warped, I mean shaped, by my time here in Central Michigan (by the way this is my last week here).

And I love having theological discussions. As I read the arguements and my Bible I have to say that it looks like both of these guys have some great points. And the great thing about postmodernism is that we can pick and choose the good stuff from each argument while allowing for mystery. To quote Grenz, "we must make room for the concept of 'mystery' - not as an irrational complement to the rational but as a reminder that the fundamental reality of God transcends human rationality." How God's grace works is one of those things that totally transcends human rationality. I'm not trying to take the easy way out, you know being postmodern here isn't easy. I'm trying to understand a God who is wonderfully complex and isn't bound by what makes sense to me or Calvin or Arminius.

jonathan said...

Interesting read. I would be hesitant to say that Calvinism can easily be placed in an emerging context without great modification. I don't know a lot about Calvin to make a definite statement. As far as the contemporary neo-Calvinists (Driscoll, Piper, etc) it does seem that they pick up this vein of engaging culture.
One question would be, where in Calvin's writings does he expound on this idea. Looking at the neo-Calvinists, they are walking a tight rope with culture, because from what I've seen it's not that all things come from God so any truth is God's truth, but rather we can use any artifact as a tool to share the gospel.
Secondly I think the biggest problem with Calvin {at least how I've seen him being used by the neo-Calvinist} is posture towards the Bible, the kind of hermeneutic they are working from. There is no struggling over how passages let alone the Bible as a whole is to be understood. Things like pluralism or the historical situatedness of ideas are flatly denyed or at least not extended in scope to cover Biblical interpretation.
The prime example, especially since it has been so hotly contested of late, is double penal substitutionary atonement. I'm not sure where you lie on this subject (I'm not sure where I lie on the subject for that matter), but it seems that we need to be more openly creative in our imagination of what salvation is, beyond the law court imagery.

These are the kinds of things you need to address in the book you are going to write about this.