Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Disingenuous Orthodoxy: Why I Am Everything But a Calvinist Unless Calvinist Means Any Ole Christian

Mclaren offers some words of wisdom to help out those making the church uncool in his blog post Calling All Calvinists.

The terms Calvinist and Reformed can have wildly different meanings, depending on who uses them.
Of course, this is entirely uninteresting. So can the term, 'Christian'.

For example, some of the most misogynist and some of the most feminist folks I know would see their views as being inherently Reformed.
Just like some of the most polytheistic or unipersonalistic folks I know would see their views as being inherently Christian.

So, when people tell me they're Calvinist or Reformed, I generally ask them what they mean.
Does Mclaren ask this while rubbing his chin with his finger and thumb, pretending he has just asked something profound? Or does he ask arms akimbo?

One line of response goes to TULIP (an acronym for five points of a type of deterministic Calvinism) and the Westminster Confession and a list of things they're against. Folks in this camp seem eager to repeat and redo faithfully in the 21st century exactly what Calvin said and did in the 16th.
1. A type of "deterministic Calvinism?" As opposed to, what, an indeterministic Calvinism? Well then, isn't this risible; jejune too. With these kinds of Procrustean dismemberments of basic units of language, postmodernism seems downright rote, rigid, determinate, and modern. Boorish too. On this analysis, if indeterminists count as Calvinists, then monopersonal modalists count as Christians. And why not allow polytheists too? Indeed, I could see a Unitarian write something similar: "I often wrap my fingers around my chin after someone tells me they are a Christian, let out a sigh, ponder it for a bit, and then ask, while letting out a lot of air, slowly and semi-confused, 'What do you mean by that?' One line of response goes to the trinity (an fancy way of saying polytheism) and certain creeds of the early, oppressionistic Church and a list of things they are against and an even larger list of things they're for so as to show that church and God is cool--Jehovah is my homeboy."

2. Ironically, Mclaren tells us that he is "against" this kind of Calvinist.

3. Can we have any names of these Calvinists? And, is Mclaren using hyperbole when he claims that "they" want to redo everything today in the exact same way as Calvin's day? Even the language? Long beard, 'n all? Or does Mclaren just mean the "theology?" But again, we must ask if he is being hyperbolic. I know some hard-core Reformed baptists who hold to Tulip, even call themselves Calvinists, and have most of the nasty stuff in their confession as is in the Westminster Confession. Yet they do not want to redo paedobaptism. Or, are you particularly nasty if and only if you baptize babies?

4. What if the Westminster Confession is true? How come that question doesn't even make it into consideration. Now, I'm not making any claims that it is true all and sundry, mind you. But what if it is? And, what if one believes that it is? Or, is this kind of talk just wrong-headed in today's world? Irrelevant? Well, okay, I guess if this claim is true I can accept it. Read that sentence again. And second time if need be, until you get it.

The other line of response refers to the Lordship of Christ over all of life, the priesthood of all believers, the absolute importance of God's grace, and the integration of faith with every dimension of human enterprise ... seeming more eager to imitate Calvin's general example, seeking to translate into our times what Calvin generally sought to do in his times, even when that means disagreeing with specific things Calvin - and many Calvinists - have said and done.
Since every Christian could affirm this, Mclaren wants to deny the Calvinist any demarcating feature. On Mclaren's warped use of language, 'Calvinism' turns out to be identical with 'Arminianism' as well as any ole hoi polloi version 'Christianity'. Basically, to be a Calvinist means you must deny anything that uniquely makes you Calvinist. Upon analysis, this turns out to be a veiled attack against Calvinists, arguing that the only way to be a cool Calvinist is to not be a Calvinist. Once you do this it's still okay to call yourself a Calvinist. Mclaren's calling all Calvinists to a Roman Christianity. A Roman Christianity says that you can call yourself whatever you want, worship whatever deity you want, so long as you don't claim your way is right to the exclusion of all others. See, the cool Calvinist is a 'Calvinist' who "denies specific things Calvin - and many Calvinists - have said and done. Read, who "denies all those offense things I dislike in Calvinism."

The TULIP/WC group tends to include my most passionate, persistent, and grandiloquent critics. I, of course, am not alone in finding myself in the polemical cross-hairs of these energetic folks who have rightly earned the nick-name "Machen's warrior children."
Yet the author of the piece to which Mclaren links holds to TULIP and much of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

It is doubtful Mclaren even read Frame's paper. One should not be too proud to identify with those in the cross-hairs of these energetic people considering it was "born in the controversy over liberal theology." Furthermore, those in the cross-hairs are fellow Reformed. Thus, Mclaren cites as relevant something irrelevant. Odds are he did it to seem cognoscente. He came off looking knavish. But perhaps the biggest problem is that the article makes clear that the critiques came because of the motto "truth before friendship." Putting aside questions of interaction and debate (though I have the feeling Jesus would agree with this sentiment), can't Mclaren see that to say Machen's Warrior Children have put you in their cross-hairs is to say that they think you are making false claims. Does all your jovialness and glad-handing even matter if you're flat-out wrong. As the emperor would say, they "believe you are mistaken, about a great many things." That's why Mclaren is in the cross-hairs. If Mclaren is wrong about a great many things, even important things, then what is his post supposed to accomplish? Well, it's meant to claim that they are wrong without having to do the hard work of showing it. Maligning and marginalizing those you disagree with, without showing where they are wrong, and without showing why you are right, is just to be uncivil. I mean this in the same sense as Os Guinness's book: The Case For Civility. You know, the one you wrote the praise blurb on the back for? Or, did you also not read that piece?

The other kind of Reformed Christians are much more irenic and include many of the wisest and most thoughtful Christians I've ever met. A great example of this tribe's Reformed thinking can be found here. I hope and pray many in the former camp will migrate to the latter camp in the years ahead.
We have seen that upon analysis this simply means that there are no uniquely irenic or wise Calvinist or Reformed. That's not nice. Hybels Warrior Children!

But the question to ask is, why does Brian get stingy rather than stay "generous"? Didn't he tell us: "The last thing I want is to get into nauseating arguments about why this or that form of theology (dispensational, covenant, charismatic, whatever) or methodology (cell church, megachurch, liturgical church, seeker church, blah, blah, blah) is right (meaning approaching or achieving timeless technical perfection)." But now he cares about the right way to be a Calvinist! Consistency is a will-o-the-wisp.

It turns out that Mclaren isn't really generous. Indeed, his title is disingenuous:

"Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian."

doesn't mean what it looks like it means. Everyone makes it in besides the traditional Calvinist!


  1. Steve,

    It seems to me the kind of "Calvinism" that McLaren is affirming is the socially-oriented "neo-Calvinism" in vogue at Calvin College/Seminary & making in-roads in conservative Presbyterian & Reformed circles. That wouldn't be much of a surprise, considering many of the objectives are consonant with McLaren's agenda.

  2. Kyle,

    Steve did not write this post. However, the broader point is that to affirm libertarian free will, deny the T the U the L the I and the P, all and sundry, does not make a Calvinist at all. My bet is that Mclaren would want the Frame's and the Keller's to fit into that group; the problem is that even they don't. Mclaren tried to make this about the more hard-core confessionalists vs. everyone else. Yet he's too ignorant of Calvinism and the various adherents of confessional Reformed Christianity (whether this is parsed out as strict, good faith, system, etc., submission to a confession) to make any interesting point. As I said, once you allow Arminians to become Calvinists, why bother keeping the Mormon's out of Christianity? I suspect that if Mclaren were to try and spell his thoughts out more rigorously, he would see that his post was not well-thought-out and becomes unrecognizable upon analysis. I would force him to put a lot of "nice" guys into the camp of the "mean" guys, or to take back his claims about the "mean" guys.

  3. I'm sorry, Paul, didn't check the signature on the post. I understand & agree with your point, just wanted to point at that the "Calvinism" McLaren wants to affirm also goes by that name in some traditionally Calvinist circles, which may be the source of some of his muddled thinking.

  4. Kyle, no worries. I will accept who Mclaren affirms so long as he allows the monopersonalists and polytheists the right to affirm themselves as Christians.

  5. I love it. Great stuff - McLaren has it all - sophistication, a mammoth vocabulary, book sales, disgruntled kids from Evangelical homes, etc... The one thing he lacks is converts.