Why I Think Evangelical Calvinism has been a bit of a Still Birth

In 2012, Myk Habets and I had our first edited book on Evangelical Calvinism published entitled Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing PICKWICK_TemplateReformation of the Church, and with this publishing I was excited with anticipation! I was excited to see what might happen as a result of our introducing of this rather constructive expression of Scottish Calvinism to the masses; I think my excitement was probably a bit naïve as I look back now. Let me explain what I mean.

When the book was conceived [back in 2009] (first by Myk and then by me as he asked me to collaborate with him) the Young, Restless and Reformed were going strong, humming right along. By time our book came out, the neo-Calvinist movement was still going strong, and by all accounts, in certain sectors continues to represent a massive influence among the larger evangelical church. Of course what is always attendant with a resurgence of conservative Calvinism is also a resurgence of evangelical Arminianism, and so this debate (largely spawned by Roger Olson, Arminian par excellence) has been (in certain sectors) front and center. It is an old debate, going all the way back to Arminius’ teaching, and the Council of Dordt that was convened to counter the Arminian teaching on, in particular, predestination and the extent of the atonement. It was this context that I thought Evangelical Calvinism might breathe a breath of fresh of air into, but I was wrong.

In the years following the publication of our book it really hasn’t received much engagement. Roger Olson engaged with it a couple of times on his blog, but he really didn’t understand the significance of the alternative that we were offering to the classical Calvinist model, as well as to his evangelical Arminian model. And then there were a few flash in the pan book reviews offered by a doctoral student at Wheaton, and another short book review at Scot McKnight’s blog, but other than that, nothing (although as I understand that there might be some further engagement of the book coming from a rather prominent theologian)!

I think my anticipation and excitement was a very personal thing, I have come to realize now. I have been taken back by Thomas F. Torrance’s articulation of Calvinist themes, and Karl Barth’s recasting of double predestination over against the classical categories offered by Arminianism and classical Calvinism. Apparently though, Evangelical Calvinism, as Myk and I have offered it is too intellectually charged, or too context laden, only able to be appreciated by a small niche of people who understand the history of ideas that gave formation to Covenant theology. Indeed, Evangelical Calvinism actually traffics in this realm more than in the popular neo-Calvinist understanding of Calvinism; we work in a very Covenantal schema, albeit grounded in a certain dogmatic ordering of things (God’s life of grace as Covenant, then creation, then the fall, etc.). And even as I am describing it, can’t you see why maybe even you (the reader) haven’t really tracked with Evangelical Calvinism? It is for a certain type of person, a person who has a context in Reformed theology, and understands, at least to an extent the formation of Reformed theology. And then against this backdrop Evangelical Calvinism might appear as a fresh offering, but not without this context. My guess is that most folks, even the Young, Restless, and Reformed types don’t really have a background in the history of ideas that finally gave emergence to some of the soteriological categories that they understand today as Calvinism (and usually without understanding the Covenant theology behind what they believe).

I actually don’t think Evangelical Calvinism is a still birth, but I do think it has fallen on deaf ears for most primarily because folks lack the proper theological context to appreciate what it is in fact offering. Although, what I don’t want to understate at this point is what I believe is still very exciting and fresh about Evangelical Calvinism. In fact the core of Evangelical Calvinism, doctrinally, still is alive and well; it will be being showcased once more, but even more explicitly and centrally in the second volume of our book, which we are under contract to write and edit currently, and that will probably be available sometime in 2016. I think the second go around of our work on Evangelical Calvinism might resonate with the masses more, I surely hope so. The doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ will be the primary feature of that book, and it will be applied to various pastoral themes. Stay tuned. In the meantime you ought to pick up our first book, you won’t be disappointed!

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