When Brad Cecil Talks, I Listen (especially when he talks about Mark Driscoll)

In my latest book, The New Christians, I cast Brad Cecil as the unheralded protaganist of the emergent movement .  In many ways, he was.  Coming from an ultra-conservative world of youth evangelism, he volunteer-pastored at a Texas mega-Bible church.  And he read Rorty and Derrida.  He was the intellectual rudder of the Young Leaders Network from 1996 through about 2000.

(That’s Brad in the pic, with me in Dallas last year.)

Brad’s engaged in more private than public endeavors now, but he occasionally breaks his silence and blogs.  And when he does, it’s invariably good.

Last week, he posted twice.  Once on a book he thought he’d write:

My basic idea in the writing was this: Modern philosophical concepts
of “truth” have killed it, turning “truth” into this static thing that
is “out there” instead of a dynamic thing that is shaped by
participation. This concept of truth de-motivates us by suggesting
that “truth” can not change – it can only be discovered. As the church
bought into the modern concept it changed the role of the church from
being a participatory truth changer in culture to being a truth
dispenser focused on the individual. The shift to the individual
provides the framework that we are now trapped in – the framework that
suggests that the individual possess “truth” (as long as they are
rational and informed) and does not need anyone else(except to inform).
Everything that exists outside the individual is just a commodity for
the individual to be consumed and only valued by the “felt needs” of
the individual. My conclusion – at this point in church history – we
have actually elevated the individual to a “god-like” position and
subsequently positioned Christ as the ultimate consumer commodity for
the individual. etc etc etc.

His other post addresses something that happened as a result of my book.  In it, I related the time that Mark Driscoll guest-preached at Brad’s church and cussed, against Brad’s wishes.  Recently, Mark asked me for Brad’s email, which I gave him, and the two have reconciled.  Brad mentions his forgiveness of and admiration for Mark, but then he says what he really thinks about Mark’s theology:

My opinion is that the failure of modern philosophical/theological
assumptions caused this return to “calvinism” as people grasp to the
comfort of the convoluted evangelical concept of “sovereignty” that
exists in that circle. neo-calvinism is such a waste – classic
calvinism was built on a covenant hermeneutic and, at least, held a

“cultural mandate”; neo-calvinism is built on a dispensational
hermeneutic and has no mandate at all. neo-calvinism is cheap, easy and
good-for-nothing and it is not at all “true to scripture” as is often

Being that the “New Calvinism” was just named one of the top ten new movements to watch in 2009 byt TIME Magazine, Brad’s criticism is all the more relevant.

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  • ryan

    Ohh more of the same name calling and labeling of Calvinism. Basically the gist is if you believe that truth is not participatory but revealed, than it is cheap, dead, easy, good for nothing, static, blah blah blah. No real substance here just more of the same chronological snobbery.
    I wonder where in this participatory theology you ever disagree with culture or impress upon it. It really seems that participatory means, “wait for culture to tell us what is cool and acceptable and we will move our theological truths to that line.” Its almost as sad as the kid in Jr. High who was so desperate to sit at the cool kids table he would say or do anything to fit in.
    Tony could it be that this is really just sour grapes that Calvinism (the theological framework that most emergents detest) is making an impact in culture, cities and the church as a whole; and the emergent conversation simply sees in new Calvinism what it originally aspired to.
    And please spare me the whole “oh we do not care about influence, or impact” when Brian McLaren got some pub in Time a few years ago the Emergent crowd acted like a parent putting up a “A” science test for little Jonny.

  • Benjamin

    even though i agree with nothing he said. he seems like the type of guy i would want to talk to. at least this guy has the cojones to tell what his view points are.
    I am more apt to listen to this man than from many others who refuse to get passionate about what they believe.
    As a part of the recent surge to Calvinism, I welcome all well reasoned criticism because i know without such, we cannot grow. Its most surely a break from the pot shots and sarcasm that floats around so many blogs today.
    I applaud this man, even if i can find no truth in his statement.

  • Kenton

    So will Brad be around Saturday when you’re in Big D?

  • Jason

    Hey Tony, I was wondering about Brad’s statement that “classic calvinism was built on a covenant hermeneutic and, at least, held a “cultural mandate”; neo-calvinism is built on a dispensational hermeneutic and has no mandate at all.” I have not read anything by these so-called “New Calvanists” but have read Calvin. How does one set calvin within a dispensational hermeneutic? Just wondering because I’m not familiar with Driscoll or Piper’s writtings.

  • Tim Seitz-Brown

    As a Lutheran Christian, what I hear from neo-Calvinism is this, “My theology can beat up your theology.”
    And, number one, that rubs me the wrong way because we all know that Lutheranism is the toughest theology around (= the most correct).
    And, number two, when we get into these “my theology it tougher debates” I realize that I’ve been suckered into the wrong game.
    Faith, hope, love, and now THEOLOGY abide- these three plus one- but the greatest of these is love. Love defined by kenosis. The cross. Self-emptying. Giving-away. Choosing to be humble. Not clinging and not grasping. Downward mobility. Love defined as the God we see in Jesus. Casting away self-righteousness and theological self-justification.
    These 3 plus 1 abide, but only 1 will endure for eternity.
    Level vibes, Tim

  • ben

    I’m really confused why Brad would say that the neo-calvinists use a dispensational hermeneutic. I’m a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville – sometimes described as “The Calvinist” So. Bap. Seminary, and NO ONE advocates classic dispensationalism. Most of my teachers have generally spoken of a “New Covenant” approach to reading the OT and NT, that is, reading with eyes for substantial continuity (but not as much as Covenant theology) and for substantial discontinuity (but not as much as Dispensationalism). Baptists, practically by definition, are less-than-hard-core covenant theologians because of the differences they see between circumcision and baptism, and Israel and the Church. I’ve read a few books by Piper, which I’ve found extremely encouraging and would highly recommend, and haven’t noticed any classic dispensationalism at play in his books either.
    Also, from my perspective, it’s the evangelicals who are “neo-calvinists” (a term I’ve never heard or used before today) who speak most about a cultural mandate. Driscoll often speaks about Mars Hill being a light to Seattle used by God to display a new way to live; and Tim Keller at Redeemer in NY has started “hope for New York” which places church members into all sorts of services in the city. Among evangelicals, the neo-calvinists seem to me to be the ones speaking most about a cultural mandate, but maybe they’re still not on par with what Brad would like to see?
    Maybe someone from “the outside” of “neo-calvinism” could better explain his statements?
    Tim, do you think your comments apply to Brad’s statement of neo-calvinism being “a waste”? I agree that we shouldn’t just play theological games, belittling one another unnecessarily, but I would actually say that if Brad thinks this theology – this way of understanding God, His actions, and our place in His plan – is harming the Church, then he should make his criticism known! Theology is vitally important because what we think about God *should* effect every area of our lives. And if my understanding of God is fundamentally in error, I would surely want someone to show me the error of my ways before I defame God and hurt His Church anymore.
    (for full-disclosure, I’d probably be labeled a ‘neo-calvinist’ although I don’t even have much use for that label, or any other.)

  • Tim Seitz-Brown

    Since I am a Lutheran Christian I certainly believe that theology is vitally important. We believe, teach, and confess a “theology of the cross” over against a “theology of glory.”
    For me, the difference is “God coming down to us, meeting us in our darkness” versus “our climbing up to God or deciding for God or choosing God or accepting God”. The Lutheran version of “decision theology” is that God through Christ chooses us, accepts us, and finds us. Instead of being “seeker sensitive” Lutherans proclaim a Seeker who seeks us, even to death on the cross.
    Given that there were some points of agreement and disagreement between Luther and Calvin, I expect the same to be true between contemporary Lutherans and neo-Calvinists.
    Now I confess that I am not very familiar with neo-Calvinism. I know a little bit about Mark Driscoll. I’ve listened to a few podcasts and read a handful of blogs. I know that I oppose Driscoll’s teaching on atonement, focusing solely on the substitution theory. I oppose his teaching on women, complentarianism (sp?) I think he unfairly characterizes “emerging theologians”. I would say, “Yes, Driscoll’s theology can be harmful and needs correction…”
    And… even as I disagree with Driscoll I confident that Love triumphs and is eternal. Theological differences will pass away. Childish things will be no more. What we see in the mirror dimly will one day come into sharp focus.
    Thanks for the conversation and for the opportunity to clarify what I’m thinking. I hope that I’ve not muddied the waters further. It is difficult to communicate in this medium. As a Lutheran, I prefer incarnation, embodied, “really present” conversation with others.
    Stay in One Peace, Tim

  • ben

    You’re right that Luther and Calvin had their disagreements, but I think their agreements were much more substantial. I really like your second paragraph and think Calvin would have too. The heart of my “calvinism”, if you want to call it that, is simply that I would never have searched for God or loved Him if He had not first done a spiritual work in me to open my darkened eyes to see the beauty of Christ and the riches of His grace. All honor is due to Him and when I stand in glory to meet Him I will not dare offer even any of my “good deeds” to him as proof of my righteousness, but only point to Christ and His blood-bought victory for sinners.
    Thanks for the interaction and clarifying your thoughts.

  • Brad

    Mark Driscoll is not a neocalvinist. See here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Calvinism

  • Your Name

    Now I find Mark Driscoll theologically and morally repugnant (and he’s a terrible preacher). But I agree with a previous commenter in that I’m not sure where Cecil gets that Calvinism is “dispensational” in its hermeneutic. There may have been streams a dispensational hermeneutic in previous iterations of calvinist thought in the modern era but the “new Calvinism” (which, incidentally is a much broader movement than the Time article makes it out to be) has nothing to do with a dispensationalist hermeneutic.
    I think Cecil’s commentary on Neo-Calvinism reveals a sort of “bandwagon” approach that lacks theological or philosophical understanding and sophistocation. He’s good at throwing interpretive blankets over movements and ideas that he doesn’t fully understand (and he’s not relaly interested in understanding).

  • Amy

    A couple decades ago, possibly at the tail end of Brad’s involvement with the “ultra conservative world of youth evangelism”, I was told that Brad Cecil committed suicide. Any idea why this rumor spread? I believe he was in NY at the time and the rumor reached me in MI. As a kid, I just believed it without question. Only after 20 years of wondering why did I finally google his name. Obviously, and fortunately, I was misinformed. PLEASE feel free to delete my comment from your blog. I couldn’t find a way to email you in a more confidential method.