My Response to Oppenheimer’s New York Times Article on Evangelicals and Calvinism

The article is “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival.” The author is columnist Mark Oppenheimer. The place of publication in The New York Times. The date is January 3, 2014. (That was the date of its release; it may not appear in print until later.) The article/column may be read at many web sites. Google the author’s name and the article’s title.

I am quoted in the article. To be quoted in the New York Times (and an article/column that will be syndicated widely to other newspapers and media outlets) is an honor, I guess. However, I’m not entirely pleased with the way I was used for the article. Let me explain.

I realize this is a brief, journalistic treatment of the subject and not an in depth theological article about Calvinism and non-Calvinism. However, I’m a bit embarrassed by how I am represented and quoted in it. And it seems to me the article does not really represent fairly the controversy over Calvinism among Baptists and evangelicals generally.

My main complaint about the article/column in general is that a reader who doesn’t know better could easily conclude from it that evangelicals are divided between those who take Jesus and theology seriously and those who flock to mega-churches that promote a feel-good theology that is distinctly American (non-Calvinism). There is no hint in the article about any serious theology evangelical rooted in Scripture and tradition that is not Calvinist. Calvinists would love everyone to believe that they are the only game in town when it comes to being seriously evangelical theologically. This article plays into their hands.

But more about my role in it and why I am disappointed by that. First some background. Oppenheimer e-mailed me and then called me. We talked for about 30 minutes about Calvinism among Baptists especially. During the conversation he asked me what difference the rise of this new Calvinism makes “on the ground.” I took him to mean what difference it makes practically, concretely for the average Baptist church and individual. I said that one concern many non-Calvinist Baptists have (especially in the South) is that many Calvinist seminary students are being called to Baptist pulpits without mentioning their Calvinism but knowing that the church is not Calvinist. That is, I explained, many Baptist churches do not know to ask a pastoral candidate about his or her Calvinism and many Calvinist candidates are not sharing that information with churches when they know very well Calvinism is not the church’s ethos. Then they gradually begin to enforce Calvinism which often leads to a split in the church.

This was just one thing we talked about. He asked me many other questions and I gave many other answers. That is what he decided to include in the column/article. I think it makes me sound like someone with an axe to grind and even perhaps eating sour grapes. But I wouldn’t have even brought that up if he hadn’t asked me why some Baptists are concerned about the new Calvinism “on the ground”–meaning (it was clear to me) in terms of practice.

He also calls me Calvinism’s “most outspoken critic.” I’m not sure about that. If it’s true, it has happened accidentally. I am not a Calvinist, but I never was a critic of Calvinism until many Calvinists began misrepresenting Arminianism and claiming that Calvinism (or at least monergism) is the only theology that has the right to be considered truly evangelical.

I can honestly say I never would have written Against Calvinism (or even probably Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) without the rise of the new, aggressive Calvinism promoted by leading evangelical theologians, pastors, speakers, writers, etc.

People need to remember that I have been told by leaders and members of the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement that I am not a Christian (because I’m not a Calvinist), that I’m not an evangelical (because I’m not a Calvinist), that my theology is humanistic (because I’m not a Calvinist), that my theology is “man-centered” (because I’m not a Calvinist), that I obviously do not take the Bible seriously (because I’m not a Calvinist), that my theology leads to liberalism (because I’m not a Calvinist), that I’m a Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian (because I’m not a Calvinist), etc., etc., etc.

I don’t think Oppenheimer’s article/column represents to readers the harsh and rough edges of this new Calvinism sweeping through Baptist and evangelical circles.

 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X