Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The New Calvinism

Time Magazine this week trumpets a list of "10 Ideas Changing the World Now." I heard the author on NPR and found the article online. The 10 are:

Jobs Are the New Assets
Recycling the Suburbs
The New Calvinism
Reinstating The Interstate
Africa: Open for Business
The Rent-a-Country
Survival Stores
Ecological Intelligence

The Calvinism article struck a nerve with me and so I read that first.  On first glance it seemed to be out of place for 'changing the world.'  The article begins:

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin's 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism's buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism's latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination's logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time's dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected b
y any subsequent human action or decision.

Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don't operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, "everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world" — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.

OK, that's all nice and interesting, but what the hell does this have to do with 'changing the world'?  The author offers no answer.  Rather he talks about the Baptists and these neo-Calvinists battling with each other over 'righteousness.'

Who cares?  The latest polling on religion in America indicates that, at last, fewer Americans are 'believers' than ever before. So why would 'new Calvinism' be relevant to the world, let alone to America?  It escapes me.

The concluding paragraph:

Calvin's 500th birthday will be this July. It will be interesting to see whether Calvin's latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians searching for security will submit their wills to the austerely demanding God of their country's infancy.

Searching for security in the church?  Is that what this implies?  That Americans suffering from this economic mess will turn to bible classes and sing The Old Rugged Cross and them, magically, their problems will go away?  Snake oil, for sure.

Rather, what I see happening is what NBC's Nightly News has been featuring for the past 2 weeks- good old fashioned empathy-the Golden Rule.  Neighbors reaching out to help their fellow citizens with food, clothes, tutoring, transportation and other ways of giving back to those who are in need at this time in their lives.  Businesses offering free or reduced cost for services, employers hiring some extra workers to keep people off the unemployment rolls.

Empathy is hardwired in our brains and we care for one another, not because some deity will be pleased or angered, but because it is the right thing to do.  Hardwired from birth to want to help a fellow human, especially one who is in dire straits.  Hopefully, this will spread all across America like wildfire.  Not an old rugged cross, but rugged neighborly kindness.

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