For much of the last decade the tide of popular-level evangelical theology – by which I mean theology as it engages constructively with the life and mission of the church – has been moving strongly in an emerging direction. At least, that has been my perception. Over the last couple of years, however, the tide appears to have shifted direction dramatically, and storms of a rather different controversy have been brewing.
I noted recently that a resurgent neo-Reformed movement appears to have turned its guns from the emerging church, or what’s left of it, to the mainstream of moderate and theologically easy-going evangelicalism. Roger E. Olson has a post offering a slightly different perspective. He traces the emergence of a marauding modern Calvinism back to the early 1990s, and his concern is with its assault on evangelical Arminianism rather than on the emerging church. But he registers the same alarm at the determination of Calvinists to reshape evangelicalism in their own image – and at the stifling of debate, the exclusion of dissenters from seminaries, the inflammatory rhetoric of heresy, and the heavy-handed propaganda that have been the product of it.
They have targeted young people–especially college students–to convince them that this aggressive, 5 point Calvinism including double predestination (decretal theology, high federal theology, etc.) is the ONLY authentic evangelical option. They have been marvelously successful. But that is largely because most of the “young, restless, Reformed” students are completely unaware of any other option. Or, if they are aware of it, they have been taught distorted ideas about it.
To a large extent this feels like a North American phenomenon, to which the rest of us – if we are interested at all – are merely frustrated spectators, but still, I find the whole business extremely troubling. I struggle to see how ways of thinking and behaving that are so explicitly formed by the particular and limited conflicts of the Reformation and modern period can help the Western church to address the crisis of the disintegration of Christendom.
I am impressed by Olson’s pained and irenic defence of evangelical Arminianism and I look forward to reading his forthcoming book, Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology; but I don’t think that simply establishing a peaceful co-existence between these two traditional positions is enough.
Undoubtedly both Calvinism and Arminianism still contribute important and fundamental perspectives on biblical faith, and it will always be appealing to ecumenically minded believers to look for some sort of bilateral solution to the debate. But developments in current theology should be driving us beyond this classic stand-off in search of a new paradigm.
New perspectives on how New Testament theology is historically situated are a significant part of this. But I think that the same instinct of narrative contextualization can help us to make much better sense of our own circumstances and suggest ways forward – which, coincidentally, is the argument of The Future of the People of God.