Kevin DeYoung had an interesting little post last week. He essentially riffed on E. Brooks Holifield’s contention that, to a large degree, American theology for the first couple of centuries, “was an extended debate…about the meaning and the truth of Calvinism.” After filling out the historical picture a bit, DeYoung then gave his own four reasons why it’s unsurprising that American theology still is consumed with wrestling with Calvinism, or rather, Reformed theology:
1. It is an all-encompassing worldview which, when handled with consistency, does not easily accommodate other intellectual rivals.
2. It is a scandalous theology, utterly at odds with later American ideas of egalitarianism and self-determination.
3. It is so absolutely other-worldly–either in glory or in shame, depending on your perspective–that it begs for a response. It’s almost impossible to be indifferent to Calvinism.
4. When pastors, theologians, churches, denominations, and movements are gripped by the vision of Reformed theology, they tend to be dogged in their persistence to perpetuate it, defend it, and celebrate it.
The whole thing’s worth reading. I find myself mostly nodding my head at his four observations. Reformed theology is pretty comprehensive, definitely scandalous, demands a response, and commands loyalty. That’s part of what has drawn me in. I do find myself wondering about part of the first point, though, as to Reformed theology’s inability to easily accommodate other intellectual rivals.
I guess I’d have to ask, which rivals are we speaking of here? Are we talking about rival systems of thought in general like Buddhism or Marxism? Or just rival systems of theology like Thomism, or, Lutheranism, or something? If the first, well, yes, but then again, I’d say that’s a feature of Christianity in general, not merely its Reformed iteration.
If the second, then I’d say, well, maybe. From what I’ve come to understand (and I’ll easily concede DeYoung’s expertise here) certain types of Reformed theology are a little more open to taking on shared insights and emphasizing commonalities with, say, Thomism on the doctrine of God, or Lutheranism in justification and so forth. So, a post-Van Tillian, or Kuyperian might really emphasize the distinctness of the systems, while those steeped in post-Reformation orthodoxy might want to emphasize the catholicity and continuity of thought at points. Also, it may depend on what we’re referring to when it comes to the term “Calvinism.” Is it only Dordtian soteriology, or the broader framework of thought? Either way, that shifts the discussion. Again, these are just my novice impressions.
Certainly, I won’t dispute DeYoung’s closing judgment:
Although Calvinism is certainly not the dominant theological tradition like it was in the early days of this country, it continues to be a potent strain of religious devotion. Read through the most popular blogs and you’ll see the debate has not died down. When it comes to assessing Geneva, one person’s city on a hill is another person’s pit of hell.
Final question: What do ya’ll think? I’m particularly interested in those of you who have some familiarity with the Reformed tradition. How accommodating can Calvinism be?
Soli Deo Gloria
Update: My buddy Dr. Brian Mattson weighed in on the question here. The response is excellent and worth the read. His big takeaway:
Calvinism, as an all-encompassing worldview, and when handled with consistency, is superior to its rivals in the act of accommodating rivals.