This post is a pale follow-up to the prior article about the article of the same name at The Chronicle Review [link].
The comments are, as they are almost anywhere, a mixed bag, but a couple of them caught my eye: one because it suggests an appropriation of the redemptive theory of history; the other because it suggests that the Reformed Resurgence (or whatever you want to call it) has been overlooked by the mainstream press. Here’s part of the first (#16), talking about Francis Schaeffer:
But, it’s foundational to the Evangelical worldview, which itself rests on a quasi-mythological structure that everything must begin with an initial paradise, followed by a fall, then an increasing degradation, then a final redemption. This is how Schaeffer sees the world, though he thinks the world begins with the Renaissance, presumably because that’s the period where his favorite paintings come from. This is also how Evangelicals see the world (note their fundamentalist understanding of America and its constitution: the US begins as a paradise (the “Founders”), there’s a fall (FDR?), followed by degredation (the 60s), then comes the redemption (the Christian Right).
I think as fundamentalists we would have to plead guilty to seeing history on the pattern of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: one age gradually giving way to the next, each grand in its own way but lesser somehow, until some sort of cataclysm of external origin destroys history itself. I’m not sure this view of history is necessarily redemptive; Dispensationalism is linear, not cyclical. The rest I’m not so sure about; I think Schaeffer had a better argument for the relevance of the Renaissance than just his preference for one kind of art over another. And finally, I don’t know many evangelicals see the Christian Right as any redemption of or restoration of the actual Founding Fathers; they just consider the Constitution a contract, and the definition of who we are as Americans. Because as much as it pains me to say it, I think we tend to like the Founders as symbols but we tend to ignore them as people, etc.
The second comment (#25) starts off well and gets strange right away:
I read Michelle Goldberg’s _Kingdom Coming_ and she missed the entire Calvinist/Reformed/neo-Calvinist movement that is threatening to tear the Southern Baptist Convention apart.
I would have to agree that there is some sort of ongoing Reformed Resurgence somewhere. If it is “threatening to tear the SBC apart” I haven’t heard anything about it. The stories I’ve seen (see e.g. [link]) suggest that the SBC is suffering more strain from tension between its megachurches and the rest of the SBC than anything else.
Much of this neo-Calvinist movement is disseminated by home schooling networks and materials, now including lots of blogs. Several prominent Southern Baptist seminaries are headed by adherents of this neo-Calvinist movement and the Baptists are just trying to keep it from taking Baylor and Liberty (as far as I know.) Falwell, supposedly, before he died, said “Liberty will never go Calvinist.” Or something like that. Patrick Henry College, too, had some kind of blowup over St. Augustine who is one of the darlings of the neo-Calvinists. Liberty just got rid of the main guy standing against Liberty going to this movement, Ergun Caner. Forgive me if I get some of this wrong–I would LOVE to read ALL about it accurately, but even the Michelle Goldbergs and Jeff Sharlets miss this whole movement. I am convinced this is why Kenneth Starr, a non-Baptist at the time, was made head of Baylor. The Baptists didn’t want Baylor to go the way of Southwestern and Southern Baptist Theological Seminaries (I THINK.)
At the heart of this movement is, as someone else pointed out, a strong desire to undo the 1960′s, especially feminism. Many in this movement teach that women shouldn’t go to college. I thought that would get y’all’s attention. Mark Driscoll, a “four-point Calvinist” who heads a very popular megachurch in Seattle, preaches that women shouldn’t “waste money” going to college. Patriarchs in the neo-patriarchal movement (just a step to the right of the “Complementarian” movement in Baptist and Neo-Calvinist circles) say that no unmarried daughter should live out from under her father’s roof, even to go to college. Google “Visionary Daughters” to see about this movement.
I hate to admit it, but I initially read “neo-Calvinist” as some sort of neologism that’s meant to be scary; it has three of the markers of a scare word:
- It has a prefix (“neo”) suggesting that the concept is related to something the reader might understand and dislike, but is different and worse somehow
- The dread hyphen
- It ends in -ism, -ist, or -ology; this is often a sign that the speaker is going to wrap up a bundle of concepts into a term, show that the described has some of them, and then criticize the described for having the others; see e.g. modern uses of “Gnosticism” to describe people who aren’t Gnostics; also “moralistic therapeutic deism.”
But as the kids say nowadays “Neo-Calvinism is a thing” [link]. It’s a term used to describe people who read and and influenced by Abraham Kuyper [link]. This would of course include Schaeffer and by implication the Evangelicals, so I’m not sure this is what the author means. I think he means something else here, some other kind of new Calvinists: evangelicals who for whatever reason move from an Arminian or third (neither Calvinist nor Arminian) perspective to a Calvinist perspective, with the usual pitfalls.
I really had no idea that Calvinism was prevalent among Christian home-schoolers; if this is true it doesn’t include any of the home-schooling families I know.
The passing mention of Mark Driscoll is not surprising, but the author’s take on Complementarianism strikes me as odd: I’m more accustomed to hearing Driscoll’s views on gender roles described as liberal (e.g. not conservative Pauline) rather than authoritarian. But maybe that’s more a byproduct of the company I keep.
But the author’s suggestion that Ergun Caner was “the main guy standing against [neo-Calvinism]” at Liberty is an interesting take on Caner’s demotion: Caner was demoted, he did tangle with at least one Calvinist, but he was demoted because of his repeated mischaracterizations of his personal story while representing Liberty during speaking engagements, not for failing to be sufficiently Calvinist.
I could be wrong; Caner’s demotion could have been the final act of some Calvinist coup. I guess we’ll have to wait to see whether Liberty starts e.g. observing Reformation Day in say 2011 or 2012. Hint: I wouldn’t hold my breath.
A couple of weeks ago an article by Timothy Beal titled “Among the Evangelicals: Inside a fractured movement” appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s publication The Chronicle Review [link]. It’s a neatly-written survey article, laying out the main strands of evangelicalism within American Christianity, discusses some of the history of the study of evangelicalism by academic writers, and provides a pretty good reading list. I recommend it with a couple of clarifications (and maybe corrections), and I’d like to point out something from the comments section that made my head spin.
Beal breaks down evangelicalism into “revivalist, fundamentalist, and charismatic movements that feed into contemporary evangelical Christianity” and that’s as good a set of distinctions as any, since it gets the revivalist and fundamentalist movements before what we know as evangelicalism and positions the charismatics as different but still part of the movement. Because I come out of a background with elements mostly of the first two and almost none of the latter I tend to think of charismatics by turns as “not one of us; probably not Christians” and “second-rate interlopers,” neither of which is likely fair or accurate.
Beal points out that evangelicals are typically ahistorical, having no sense of their own history and little of anyone else’s; this is a fair criticism but as it’s a byproduct of our tendency to think of ourselves as being just two generations removed from Pentecost (okay three if you count the English Reformation) and at most one generation from the Rapture it’s probably not going anywhere. It does as much to explain why we think e.g. the Founding Fathers would have been at home in Eisenhower America as anything else. Anyway, if I understand him correctly it’s the fact that evangelicals have gotten rich, together, and politically involved that we’ve come to the attention of second-generation academic researchers (e.g. not Balmer, Carpenter, or Noll).
I think Beal makes a mistake by lumping Jeff Sharlet’s book in with Kevin Roose’s; those people Sharlet studied for the most part aren’t theologically Christian and their behavior is almost entirely political. I’d offer his portrayal of Senator Sam Brownback as being typical. On the other hand Beal gets kudos for mentioning Ned Flanders.
The article devotes a substantial section to books published in 2009, including a study by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke of various megachurch leaders as savvy innovators in a religious marketplace, a book by Johnathan L. Walton on “the ethics and aesthetics of black televangelism,” and one by anthropologist James Bielo which is a field study of interpretive practices in small-group Bible studies. Of these three the first two make me wince just to think of them and the latter sounds fascinating. Here are the numbers:
Bielo observed 324 Bible-study meetings of 19 groups of evangelicals over more than a year and a half. Within those meetings, he often noticed tensions among different readings of particular biblical passages, as well as different understandings of the Bible itself, that potentially threatened group identity and coherence.
There’s a lot there: imagine attending 300+ Bible studies with nearly 20 different groups. Imagine the worst of the browbeating behavior you’ve ever seen in a Bible study multiplied over numbers like that. “We don’t interpret the Bible; the Bible interprets us” indeed.
There are also paragraphs devoted to home-schooling and pro-life activism (but surprisingly no mention of the Quiverfull movement); unfortunately it seems like any discussion of evangelicalism nowadays starts and ends with politics, as if evangelicalism had no internal narrative of its own, but only makes sense in terms of its politics. Beal also doesn’t really mention evangelical alternative (not to say derivative) culture; maybe there haven’t been enough serious treatments of it to merit mention. I don’t know.
I will have to come back to the comments on this article in a later post; hint: they mention Mark Driscoll and Ergun Caner.
Here’s a People for the American Way fundraising video from I’m guessing mid-to-late 1992 using footage from the 1992 Republican Convention. It is supposed to show the continuity between Reagan-era Religious Right participation in the Republican Party and Bush-era same, but by and large the differences strike me more than the similarities. First of all, did Dean Wycoff really suggest that the government should execute homosexuals? And did Gene Antonio really suggest that the Nazis were all gay? Whatever happened to those two guys? Wycoff appears to have surfaced as a Bay-area Moral Majority figure just long enough to say a couple of controversial things and disappear; Antonio is evidently still active in the home-schooling movement in the Dominican Republic [link].
Second, what really strikes me is how easily Ronald Reagan speaks our language, and what a hash George H. W. Bush makes of it. Even in these little clips it’s pretty clear that Bush just isn’t capable of talking the talk. Dan and Marilyn Quayle seem totally comfortable by comparison. And it’s important to remember that this is the same Dan Quayle that, according to Jeff Sharlet, agreed to teach a Bible study and then went looking for someone to teach him what the Bible actually said.
It’s also interesting to note that when Phyllis Schlafly is calling out Supreme Court Justices one of them is a Reagan appointee.