A recent TIME (March 21, 2009) magazine cover story caught a lot of attention, especially among evangelical Christians. Right alongside of ideas like "Ecological Intelligence," "Africa: Open for Business" and "Reinventing the Highway" was "The New Calvinism." This short article, written by David Van Biema, the senior religion editor for TIME, is both insightful and simplistic. It is insightful because he tracks a movement that is gaining a measure of momentum. It is simplistic because the brevity of the piece doesn't allow for any serious interaction with the "ideas" that are explored. Biema writes:
If you really want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits. In the early 1900s you might have heard "The Old Rugged Cross," a celebration of the atonement. By the 1980s you could have shared the Jesus-is-my-buddy intimacy of "Shine, Jesus, Shine." And today, more and more top songs feature a God who is very big, while we are . . . well, hark the David Crowder Band: "I am full of earth/ You are heaven's worth/ I am stained with dirt/ Prone to depravity."
As popular as the David Crowder Band is, at least with some young Christians, I seriously doubt that we should equate the popularity of a little known band with "an idea that is changing the world right now." Van Biema then writes:
Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin's 16th-century reply to medieval Catholicism's buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism's latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination's logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time's dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.
This stereotypical representation of Calvinism is, at the very best, a "half-truth." With a name like Van Biema I would have thought the senior religion editor at TIME could have done better. (I wonder if he has a background in one of the Reformed denominations?) But this paragraph really sells the article, and thus makes it all the more interesting for many readers. The truth of American (and Dutch) Calvinism is, however, far more nuanced than this short paragraph expresses. The last line is most definitely not faithful to the confessional realities of historical Calvinism but rather to the common and popular misunderstandings of the doctrinal system this label represents. This paragraph plainly equates Calvinism with fatalism, not with wholistic and healthy Reformed confessionalism. If I was required to believe what Van Biema calls Calvinism I would drop the label in a heartbeat. (This article seriously raises the problem with all these labels in general, thus it is one reason why I do not generally use them. Regular readers know why I do not like the pop-religious labels commonly employed in our culture; "evangelicalism," "Calvinism," "emergent," etc.)
Van Biema recovers some balance in this short piece when he concludes:
Calvinism, cousin to the Reformation's other pillar, Lutheranism, is a bit less dour than its critics claim: it offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything, including illness (or home foreclosure!), by a logic we may not understand but don't have to second-guess. Our satisfaction — and our purpose — is fulfilled simply by "glorifying" him. In the 1700s, Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards invested Calvinism with a rapturous near mysticism.
The best part of this story occurs in the actual reporting that Van Biema does. His short analysis of the movement of "neo-Calvinism" is, well, quite brilliant. Here is what he writes:
Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don't operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, "everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world" — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.
The article quotes Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler, an older leader among the younger neo-Calvinists: "The moment someone begins to define God's