UK journo’s ‘General’ Salvation Army confusion

London’s Telegraph newspaper generally does a serviceable job when reporting on religion, but a recent commentary news article contrasting the beliefs of The Salvation Army (they prefer the article capitalized) with those of the rest of Protestantism and those of the Roman Catholic Church, titled, “The Pope and the Salvation Army,” accomplishes nothing, in my view, as much as muddying the waters. One wonders what Pope Francis (shown above greeting General Linda Bond, who retired in June 2013 as the movement’s international leader) or General André Cox, the Army’s current chief executive, would make of it all.

First, there’s the confusion — in my mind, at least — as to whether this is a news article or a commentary. It’s labeled as “news” on the Telegraph’s website, but perhaps the word “commentary” or “analysis” or “opinion” appears in the printed version. It may well be intended as a commentary, but it’s not presented that way.

But either as a news story or a commentary, the piece, written by Christopher Howse, a Catholic journalist who did a stint at Britain’s Tablet magazine, fails on several levels in relation to the Army, its beliefs and its reasoning. (Disclosure: I can speak with some authority here, having been a Salvation Army lay church member for 17 years before joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1999. I also married a Salvation Army officer, or pastor, and wrote for several Army publications, including their annual yearbook in 1997.)

There’s little to suggest a hard news angle as the story begins, however:

What is the difference between the General of the Salvation Army and the Pope? Less than I presumed a week ago. Both, of course, care about the poor, which has ever been a mark of the Church.

“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life,” declared St John Chrysostom 1,600 years ago. “The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

Until last week, I’d thought the Salvation Army was Calvinist. That is no crime. But the Army, I find, believes that the “saved” can backslide. “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.” That is No 8 in the 11 succinct doctrines of the Salvation Army. As William Booth put it in 1879: “We are a salvation people – this is our speciality – getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more.” One hostile commentator on the internet characterises such a belief as “demonic works-salvation”.

It’s only three paragraphs later that we come to the startling revelation that William Booth, the Founder and first General of The Salvation Army was — wait for it — a Wesleyan Methodist. That, if you can believe it, is why Booth and his Army weren’t Calvinist, because John Wesley wasn’t one. Phew! That was a close one! (And, yes, there’s a bit of snark here, which I’ll explain in a moment.)

Howse then goes on to chastise the Army for being non-sacramental, performing neither baptism nor celebrating the Eucharist:

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Is new Calvinism new news for the New York Times?

Mark Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar …

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Act 3, Scene 2.

Should we bury the New York Times today, or praise it for reporting on the resurgence of Calvinism?

Mind you, the Times does not have the story wrong, but it’s timing is bit off. This story has been making the rounds of the religious and secular press for close to a decade, while claims of a Calvinist revival have appeared every few generations in America.

Has the New York Times made the same error as the Washington Post, which last month reported as new news the interest in liturgy by non-liturgical Christians? Or, has the Times gathered the disparate elements of this story and repackaged it for a secular, theologically illiterate audience?

In the circles in which I travel, this story was greeted with ridicule. The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s  Barton Gingerich (with pith and vim) encapsulated the views of  the critics.

Johnny-Come-freaking-Lately. The Restless and Reformed Movement has been running at full steam for at least half a decade now. Remember when religion reporters for newspapers had to, you know, keep on the cutting edge of things?

Ridicule or praise? Perhaps snark? Which shall it be?

The article entitled “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival” published in the January 4, 2014 edition reports:

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.

The article defines its terms stating:

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

Also, it briefly mentions the battle over Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention, noting that “in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism.”

Support for the Times‘ thesis comes through an interview with Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a “man in the street”, Collin Hansen, the author of “Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists” and academics who in turn condemn the phenomena and opine that it might catch on even in liberal denominations. (Oh, and as an aside, why has the Times dropped the use of the honorific “the Rev.”? It does not appear in this story but several ordained ministers are quoted or cited. Get an Associated Press Stylebook, people.)

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Hey, guess what, all Baptists are Calvinists

Where’s Joe Carter when you need him?

Oh, right. I forgot.

Before his premature departure, Carter served as GetReligion’s resident expert on Calvinism. Trust me, I am a poor fill-in, although I posted a few months ago on media coverage of the Southern Baptist Convention debating that subject. (At that time, I acknowledged that I flunked Professor Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Calvinism 101 course.)

So, I am stepping into this post with fear and trepidation — and under duress from Editor tmatt, who sent me the relevant link with the note, “Take it away, Bobby.”

So, as instructed, I am taking it away. Let’s just hope it doesn’t crash and burn.

The featured story, titled “The Protestant Work Ethic Is Real,” appeared in Pacific Standard magazine. Let’s start at the top:

Why do we work the way we do? For years Americans have been arguing over whether or not it has something to do with the country’s religious history. Does a history of Protestant religiosity make us work harder? Now we’ve finally got some answers.

The influence of Protestantism on American capitalism has been a matter of considerable debate since German sociologist Max Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in 1905. The book wasn’t even translated into English until 1930, but it’s particularly interesting to this country because Weber argued that capitalist success stems from Calvinism.

Today just 53 percent of Americans identify with some sort of Protestant church, and only the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Baptist denominations (which directly influence less than five percent of the American population) can be called churches in the Calvinist tradition. But Calvinists were the religious ancestors of our Puritans, the English Calvinists who helped establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony so that they could have a place to practice their (rather extreme) religion in freedom. Because they were some of the first major settlers of the United States, they had a rather profound influence on our country’s economic development.

OK, since I already declared my ignorance, I’m going to admit that I’m confused.

First question: Is this story suggesting that all Baptists are Calvinists? If so, why did the reporting I read this past summer include background such as this?:

Calvinism, which is traditionally the domain of Reformed churches like Presbyterians, differs from traditional Baptist theology in key aspects, particularly on the question of salvation.

Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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Religion journalists save the day for young scribes

Last night I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion for The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism. This summer program gives students internships at media organizations, coursework in politics and economics, and other features (such as mentors to guide you as you start your career).

Anywho, the director asked me to put together a panel of religion journalists and I was thrilled that both Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton, managing editor of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, graciously gave their time and wisdom to the students of the program.

First, here’s a bit of a scene-setter.

In high school, my journalism teacher told us a story about a horrible interview she once watched. A major flood had swept through a canyon in Colorado. A reporter approached a man who’d just seen his wife and kids swept away and asked him how he felt. Everyone was understandably appalled at the lack of humanity that reporter displayed in putting a man on camera and asking such a question at the worst moment of his life. I try to keep that in mind when I’m talking to people who have undergone some tragedy. And it makes me reticent to approach some people or ask too many questions.

Lawton told a wonderful story about reporting on a disaster zone that really moved me.

Arriving after some horrific travel delays, she had to rush to complete her interviews. As she got to the village where her interviews would take place, she said she just felt icky about the work she was about to do — like a vulture descending on these poor people. But she had to do her work and so she began asking people about how they felt regarding the tragedy they’d endured. As she got going, the crowd of people wishing to tell their stories grew and grew. She ended up unhooking the microphone from the camera so the camera man could complete the footage they needed to gather and just stayed there long after her own purposes, letting people speak into the microphone about their story.

I’m probably doing a disservice to the story, but it was such a wonderful reminder that journalism need not be invasive or an unwelcome necessity. It can also be healing and a beautiful way to connect with our fellow man.

Eckstrom gave great advice to the young whippersnappers — all college-aged kids — about the importance of mastering multimedia journalism. Basic reporting and writing skills are essential, but you can’t just be a writer these days, you have to figure out how to shoot and cut video, too. He also encouraged the students to be creative about how they present information.

Which is all a long way of getting to what I wanted to highlight.

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Calvinism debate shakes up Southern Baptist Convention

Just how much do you know about Calvinism?

Former GetReligionista and current Religion News Service national correspondent Sarah Pulliam Bailey developed a short quiz to gauge readers’ knowledge:

See if your score is predestined, or if you have free will to determine your score.

Go ahead. Take the quiz.

I scored — gulp — 58 percent.

In other words, I probably should start this post by referring to Matthew 15:13-14, where Jesus talks about “the blind leading the blind.” My apologies, GetReligion readers, if I lead you into a ditch with this post.

In yesterday’s critique of an Associated Press story on the political influence of the Southern Baptist Convention, I promised a follow-up post on a mystery subject covered by AP and RNS. That subject: the theological debate over Calvinism simmering in Southern Baptist circles.

In about 900 words, AP covered the debate in a story advancing the SBC’s annual meeting, which starts today in Houston:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Is God’s saving grace free to anyone who accepts Jesus, or did God predestine certain people for heaven and hell before the beginning of the world? That’s a 500-year-old question, but it is creating real divisions in 2013 in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

Calvinism is named for the 16th Century theologian John Calvin. Among other things, it teaches that Jesus died only for those who have been elected by God for salvation. That idea does not sit well with many non-Calvinist Baptists, who believe Jesus died for the whole world.

Some of the theological differences between Calvinists and non-Calvinists can get pretty far into the weeds, but what may seem an arcane controversy has become very heated, especially over the past few months.

RNS took AP’s 900 words and countered that it could “Name That Tune” in only 700 words.

The top of RNS’ story:

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