Reformed or Emerging...Must We Choose?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I ran across an old Mark Driscoll interview this weekend in which Driscoll was quoted as saying, “The two hot theologies today are Reformed and emerging. Reformed theology offers certainty, with a masculine God who names our sin, crushes Jesus on the Cross for it, and sends us to hell if we fail to repent. Emerging theology offers obscurity, with a neutered God who would not say an unkind word to us, did not crush Jesus for our sins, and would not send anyone to hell.” (Driscoll himself is Reformed.)

Now, I’m no fan of Mark Driscoll. I am troubled by the way he talks about women, gays, masculinity, and, quite frankly, Jesus. He’s been known to call anyone who disagrees with him a heretic, and often ridicules as “weak” or “queer” those who emphasize Christ’s teachings about loving enemies and turning the other cheek.

But as I read this interview, I had two thoughts: 1) Driscoll is absolutely wrong in the way that he characterizes emerging Christianity, and I hope he is absolutely wrong in the way that he characterizes Reformed theology, and 2) Driscoll is absolutely right about the fact that Reformed and emerging are the big trends.

The quote was from a 2006 Christianity Today interview, and since that time, I have seen more and more young people gravitating toward either Reformed Theology or emerging Christianity.

For example, I graduated in 2003 from a non-denominational Christian college, and I can say pretty confidently that most of the graduates with which I interact today are either hard-core Calvinists or Brian McLaren fans. (Most still living here in Dayton are Reformed; most with whom I correspond via e-mail are emerging.) Just Google “neo-Calvinism” or “Emerging Church” and it becomes immediately apparent that this is nationwide trend...not so much among older adults, but among those in their twenties and thirties.

In my mind, there are a few possible explanations:

  •  Neo-Calvinism is a reaction to emerging Christianity, as progressive movements are often met with resistance from traditionalists.
  • We have simply resurrected the age-old Arminianism/Calvinism debate in a new context, with new leaders, new terms, and new issues.
  • People from my generation are asking very similar questions about religious pluralism, salvation, justification, inerrancy, and faith. Neo-Calvinism offers clear, unambiguous answers for those who want closure. Emerging Christianity offers a community and a forum for those who aren’t satisfied with those answers.

What do you think? Have you noticed your friends trending toward either Calvinism or the Emerging Church? Why do you think this is? What do you think about Driscoll’s characterization of Reformed Theology and Emerging Christianity?

I’d love to hear from Reformed folks and emerging well as those of you who consider yourselves a part of a tradition that is neither Reformed nor emerging. (And yes, I know that “emerging” can be a bit hard to pin down; just go to Wikipedia for a pretty decent summary of the movement.)

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