Saturday, December 29, 2012

Old Life: What New Calvinists can learn from Old Calvinists--Failure

Collin Hansen lists the top-ten theology stories of the year. Number ten is the boom-and-bust cycle of Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin. Hansen goes on to wonder why Christians follow celebrities and don’t reflect on failure (possibly because the Gospel Coalition is built on fame and ignores the troubles of folks like C. J. Mahaney):
Tebow wasted away on the New York Jets bench behind an inept starter after the Broncos traded him and prospered under the precision passing of Peyton Manning. Lin also left his team when the Knicks declined to mach an offer from the Houston Rockets, where’s he’s played reasonably well. Why would God not want these men to succeed and spread the gospel through a growing platform in the nation’s largest city? How can they testify to Christ in failure and disappointment? Too few have explored these questions with the same fervency that greeted their ascendance to international celebrity.
If the young and restless would-be Calvinists read much in the history of Calvinism they would know that failure and defeat is par for the course of the church militant (neo-Calvinists’ postmillennial optimism to the contrary).

But to be something other than postmillenial is to be pessimillenial, right?

And in a sample flourish of why D. G. Hart is considered by some to be a "Grumpy Calvinist" ... :

... However we estimate the size, scope, and power of the modern nation-state, the reality is that Reformed Protestantism was on the ground floor of the construction of modern Europe and its colonial proliferation, a period that ran from 1600 at least to World War II. No wonder, then, that conservative Reformed believers pine for the days when their faith mattered to the mission of a particular nation. Scottish Presbyterians still long for the days of the National Covenant. Abraham Kuyper endeared himself to Reformed believers by evoking a golden age of Dutch history. Meanwhile, American Presbyterians have their own version of this nostalgia and attempt to construct a Christian founding of the United States even though the very point of the new nation was to bring an end to the pattern of confessionalization that had torn apart Europe (and especially England) during the seventeenth century.

Yet, the question remains whether Reformed Protestants were hoping to remake Europe or reform the church. Thanks to a host of Holy Roman Emperors, from Constantine and Charlemagne to Charles V, thinking about Europe apart from the church was impossible. Even so, the reforms that the original Protestants initiated were overwhelmingly ecclesial and bore directly on doctrine, liturgy, and church polity. Only because the church was part of the established political order did church reform translate into broader social and political developments. The Reformation was first and foremost a religious effort and only secondarily did it affect politics and culture.

The desire fo revival to bring about national transformation is so endemic to American spirituality that the idea that there are ways of being Christian that are not predicated on the tacit assumption that "real" Christianity will transform a society into something by process of a kind of spiritual social reverse-engineering process is often not on the table.  Now, surely, if a Christian influence in society improves things that's nice ... but the Metro-Evangelicals sometimes seem to frame transformation of culture as having an importance that can take precedence over being salt and light in mundane ways.  And after all has been said and done (as if) was the goal of reaching the culture for Jesus to really do this for Jesus, who by Christian belief already owns everything that exists anyway, or was it to, through the promulgation of Jesus as savior, reverse-engineer, if possible, the culture into something closer to what we were hoping to see? 

This world may be passing away but a really missional approach to a gospel-centered effort to redeem culture should inspire us to see that the Bible speaks to everything in life and that means we should be able to move all the lawn chairs.  Whether the old cultural warriors like Dobson and Falwell made a point of taking America back for God or whether newer sorts of self-appointed vanguards of evangelicalism like Mark Driscoll want Christians to "go upstream" where culture gets made (in the big urban areas) the style may seem different but to secularists, progressives, and anyone not already in the broadly American evangelical Protestant camp wouldn't all of this look like a distinction without a difference? 

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