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“Among the Evangelicals”

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.

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