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Can New Calvinism go international?

New Calvinism is a phenomenon in American Christianity. Now its proponents want to take it offshore, claiming inroads in the UK, Australia and South Africa. Can it become a truly international movement, a movement that is cross-cultural and culture-portable?

In this recent address, Mark Driscoll uses four dimensions to define New Calvinism: Reformed theology; complementarian relationships; Spirit-filled lives; missional churches.

The striking thing here is the emphasis on being complementarian. Why would gender identity feature so highly in a movement’s identity? Driscoll has this to say:

Ultimately what this is about, underlying this real strong commitment to complementarianism, is that we have a real social epidemic.

In other words, complementarianism is being emphasised because of the situation in which New Calvinists find themselves. According to Driscoll, complementarianism is the antidote to identity crises in both the church and society at large. (Watch the video to hear why, from about 20:30.)

So, umm, since when is Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood an “epochal” book that “defines a generation?” But in Driscoll’s context, maybe his statement isn’t such a strange one.

And this emphasis is not unexpected, either. As Steve Addison says, a movement needs to be distinctive. It can only become a movement if it has a clearly defined cause for people to commit to. That’s exactly how a movement flourishes!

But this is also where limitations can emerge. To use Steve Addison’s terms again, a movement also requires adaptive methods. So, how culture-portable is a movement that has such a specific gender identity as one of its four core elements?

Most obviously, this is a majority world question. Gender identity may not be all that high a priority for non-Western Christians.

But it’s also a question for any culture outside America. It’s a big cross-cultural question when considering Australian society, for example. Driscoll-style complementarianism befits a hierarchical society but Australia is a very different place.

And even when we Australian Christians are complementarians, it looks a bit different. Driscoll induces a bit of a gag-reflex for us: giving your wife pocket money? Umm, are you serious?

It’s not that it’s unimportant for Christians to think about gender. Far from it! But New Calvinism’s emphasis on complementarianism, at least according to Driscoll, stems from an American situation and is a response to an American problem. And, at the end of the day, that may be what it’s good for.

I don’t say that in spite. New Calvinism is an exciting movement! It’s reinvigorating North American Christianity and inspiring many other Western Christians. I want to see it grow.

Yet New Calvinism is unlikely to be culture-portable — and we needn’t expect it to be.

Categories: Church Culture Man Mission Written by Arthur

Tagged as:

Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

10 replies

  1. I give my wife pocket money. If that’s just New Calvinian for “the money that is in my pocket”… I think the “majority world issues” comment is the most piercing part of this analysis.

    What do you think an Australian version of new Calvinism would be defined by? Or at least a reformed “resurgence” in Australia?

  2. Hey Arthur,

    This blog is the only theology-themed one I read and this post was really interesting. I have an inkling about what complementarianism is but I’m not really sure. Could you give me a link about it or something from Driscoll which outlines his interpretation of it?
    Thanks!

  3. It seems that Calvinism is on a wave of resurgence. Historically it resurfaces every 50 years or so, then dies out after about 12 years or so.

    Regarding Driscoll’s take on complementarians…it has nothing to do with American culture…its pure Calvinism taken to its logical conclusion…

  4. @Craig, I don’t know if that’s true. I think some of it is particular to Driscoll and his particular interest in his own gift of discernment. I think he thinks gender is the big social issue underpinning all other social issues (he wrote a blog post that indicated this last week), and his focus on gender flows from the place he sees gender operating in. Gender is also at the heart of his mission, because he wants to reach men, because he has perceived a gap in the Christian market place for churches that men want to be a part of. And that’s part cultural, or at least his response has been driven by tapping into a masculine culture. I think part of the problem is the complementarianism is the solution he’s found to this cultural problem. He thinks the way to get men is to make sure they know that being got means they can still be a manly man and rule some sort of kingdom.

  5. Hi Arthur, Thanks for the invitation to comment. There’s nothing new here so I’m surprised by your reaction.

    ‘New Calvinism’ is already here – just look at how many people are attending this Saturday’s MTS conference! Most of the young leaders in Melb are in this camp and A29 and Geneva are now well established in Oz, filling the vacuum left by evangelical egalitarianisms failure to address masculinity, marriage, fatherhood, without even getting into it’s capitulation on church leadership.

    When you get to Africa, from my understanding a more patriarchal society than ours, men will still want to know what it means to be a Christian man – as a single man, as a married man and as a father, what will you tell them from the Bible? The lack of an answer from other camps is one of the reasons new calvinism is on the rise, and being a married man and the father of 3 boys I praise God for teachers like Mark Driscoll and others who provide clear leadership and robust biblical teaching on these vital matters.

    I’m interested in your conclusion “But New Calvinism’s emphasis on complementarianism, at least according to Driscoll, stems from an American situation and is a response to an American problem.”

    I haven’t listened to the talk but I’d be surprised if that’s really what he says, without also at least highlighting that this position is clearly taught in, and so stems from, Scripture. A return to reformed teaching is a return to taking the authority of Scripture absolutely seriously, even when Scripture says things about gender that are at complete odds with society, especially so in a society where many believe gender is a social construct. Surely the Christian response on this issue needs to be more robust than what is heard in many egalitarian circles, unless many naively don’t realise what is actually at stake here and what Scripturally they’re giving up in order to appear ‘progressive’. For New Calvinism, such ‘progress’ is regress, so returning to Scripture is the safest harbour.

    I suppose both theologically and sociologically, it’s considered ‘new’ because it’s seen as a response to the weaknesses of 3rd(?) wave feminism and its impact on the church, but those weaknesses exist here just as much as, if not more than, America, so I don’t think the conservative shift in the West will be confined to America, but it’s just that, in terms of a movement to new calvinism, we’re probably about 5 years or more behind America, so whether it does take hold here or not and how the general population reacts, if they even care, are things we’re yet to find out. But then again, if you ask a Presbyterian they’d probably be wondering what all the fuss is about.

  6. Hi Nathan
    An Australian New Calvinism… Well, Driscoll’s four points all sound fine on paper, but it’s a question of what they’ll look like. We started talking about this a couple of years ago in the lead-up to the launch of Geneva Push (see 1, 2, 3). So, picking up those threads again, here’s a couple of thoughts:

    1. Denominations remain a key part of Australian Christianity. An Australian movement probably won’t fly if it wants to be trans-denominational or non-denominational. It must be interdenominational. And if that’s the case, it’s not obvious that complementarianism (or at least a narrow version) should be seen as a core value in the first place.

    In terms of complementarianism in particular:

    2. Language. New Calvinists often seem to speak in terms of authority, respect, and leadership. Those words may be used in biblical and helpful ways, but are they the most appropriate words for Australia? (Tamie and I have found terms like love, initiative and trust to be more true and useful for our Australian context.)

    (It’ll be interesting to see what comes of Driscoll’s new claim, in the video above, that marriage is essentially a sanctifying friendship.)

    3. Femininity. As we’ve touched on here from time to time, New Calvinism doesn’t yet have a robust vision for women. There won’t be much respect to be had from Australians unless women are seen to get a real fair go.

  7. Hi Dan

    I’m asking these questions simply because Australia is not America. Of course, there’s overlap. But (1) different cultures have different expressions of idolatry, (2) different cultures are different mission fields, and (3) different cultures have different ways of speaking and doing, so different cultures will speak and do Christianity differently.

    So I’m exploring two things here, sort of like I was saying to Nathan:

    1. What does it mean to work with Australian Christians and with Australians in general? Gender identity might work as a point of unity, but it might also be alienating and divisive. “Gender crisis” alone is not a good precedent/reason, because of Australian features like denominations.

    2. What does an Australian expression of complementarianism look like? The best Australian complementarians I know are the ones that look and sound different to Driscoll — not because they disagree with Driscoll, but simply because they’re being Australians, not Americans. It’s the pocket-money-for-my-wife thing again…

  8. Hi Arthur,
    Thanks for your thoughts and clarifying the questions. You’re asking some real ‘get to the heart’ of the matter issues so it’s difficult to answer all that in a blog post. I may be misunderstanding exactly what you’re asking and I’m not wanting to get into an argument, so I’d be happy to carry on the conversation over a coffee or something some time. But seeing as you’re asking and for the sake of the discussion I’ll outline some possible ways to take our thinking further and I hope I’m not off on a tangent that you’re not really asking about, so here’s my take on the whole thing:

    1. Culture. America is culturally different to Australia, we all agree on that one! Yet, having said that, our pop culture is heavily influenced by America, this has implications for how we see ourselves.

    2. Denominations. If ‘new calvinism’ is truly the movement that Driscoll thinks it is then it won’t matter that Australian Christianity is currently largely dominated by denominations. Actually, if you look at the statistics (NCLS or Census), denominations are in massive decline and unless that is turned around will become less and less influential in a secular culture. Also, new calvinism doesn’t fit within most denominational structures due to theological and philosophy of ministry differences, so if this is a’movement’ it will necessarily redefine church and lead to new networks/structures/denominations, which is what we’re seeing – hence A29, Geneva, church planting, the Gospel Coalition,etc. As a student of history you’ll know that this is nothing new to church history, but seems to be a pattern of renewal that God allows from time to time – think – reformation, evangelicalism, methodism, Vatican 2 (?! not!) even pentecostalism. Ask, why are there no longer any Weslyan or Methodist churches in Melbourne today? What is it exactly that unites the Uniting Church?

    3. Society. Following on from this, we are now in the 2nd (maybe 3rd) generation (Gen X and Y and now Z) of the post-modern, post-Christian era, we’re living in a digital revolution, new media, internet, etc, Things have changed. Modernist structures and ways of doing things have been deconstructed and reimaged. Would it be wrong to think that within this turmoil we’re witnessing an epoch changing resurgence in biblical Christianity being led by new calvinism? Driscoll certainly thinks so, right?

    4. Language. The unfair stereotypical or straw man complementarian uses aggression, authority, submission as a club to beat down opposition, which is usually women, who can’t speak and must cover their heads with a doily, hence he’s a misogynist, chauvenistic pig – what a joke, nothing could be further than the truth!!

    In Australia the language of identity is closer to the heart of the matter. What does it mean to be a man, a father, a husband? What does it mean to be a woman, a mother, a wife? Why is homosexuality wrong? These are questions of identity that are cross-cultural because we all experience these questions because gender and sexuality aren’t social constructs but part of the creation mandate. These are live issues for any person regardless of where they live, albeit perhaps confined to the western world.

    5. Identity. Following on from this, of course there will be unique cultural expressions of masculinity and femininity, but that’s where the strength of the complementarian position is so obvious because it speaks into these expressions with absolute Biblical clarity. Sure how it works out in practice is complex, complicated and difficult because we’re dealing with real, sinful people, but complementarians take the biblical framework for working this stuff out seriously and so therefore are more able to pastor people in identity and relationship crisis, because they have a clear biblical framework to work with. And, identity crisis (especially gender and sexual) and relationship crisis appear to be part of our culture just as much as America. Is it a western world crisis?

    6. Bible. That brings us to the Biblical framework. This is never a question solely of church leadership, but absolutely a question of identity, who are we and how has God made us? And what follows is a very, very brief sketch that requires much thought, prayer, discussion and further consideration, but here we go:

    From Genesis through, we see that we’re created equal but different. Adam was created first, Eve as a helper (a paraclete, a name for God no less) but BOTH in the image and likeness of God.

    The fall and the curse introduce us to ‘the battle of the sexes’, Adam fails to teach and take leadership, Eve usurps leadership with dire consequences, Adam is held responsible (why?), they blame each other. The curse sets up a ‘workplace’ orientation for men and a ‘homeward’ orientation for woman, why?, simply because women are child-bearers; but the battle rages, the woman wants to master the man but the man will rule over the woman – that’s the picture from Gen 3 of a fallen, cursed, broken relationship and we see it everywhere today.

    Proverbs also speaks much into masculine and feminine identity.

    Fast-forward to Eph 5, it redeems the cursed marriage relationship, why are the woman and the man told to do different things? because they’re wired differently so need different pastoral advice to live in harmony. So the man must love, love, love like Jesus loved the church and gave himself for his bride, that’s a picture of self-sacrificial, loving leadership like Jesus (no misogyny there); then the woman must respect and submit to her husband, why, because that’s what they naturally don’t do but what men crave in order to lead well and not just become passive. Check also 1 Peter, 1 Cor 11, etc

    What we see in micro, in private in the home we’re meant to see in macro, on display, public in the church, hence male teaching elders but woman teaching and leading in various other roles all over the place, but note the content of the teaching role in Titus 2:3-5, a ‘homeward orientation’. To take all this in and follow this takes great humility from a godly woman and places huge responsibility on a humble servant-hearted man, a transformation only God can work. Now here feminism has actually been wonderfully helpful because the Gen X, SNAG generation can repent of the sins of their fathers in how builders and boomers treated women and so not go back to the stepford wives sterotype of the 50’s (oh hang on isn’t that Desperate Housewives?) but remodel this for today.

    7. So Back to Culture. Now, of course all this is counter-cultural and considered radical, especially in the egalitarian flavoured church and actually opposed in many sectors of our society; but which part of Biblical Christianity isn’t? You are quite right to ask the question, what does this look like, but it’ll look different in every relationship, yet the biblical framework is clear. At the very least it means men are happy to lead and seek to do so with sacrificial Jesus like love, women want men to lead and respect them when they do it like Jesus.

    So, I’m reluctant to stereotype or paint a ‘straw man’ man, but men won’t watch AFL all weekend, play 18 holes, go fishing and leave everything at home in chaos, they’ll lead their families and serve and help and women will respect them for doing so and quietly follow them rather than seeking to take control, nag and belittle the poor, mere man. But even more radically women may decide to put family before their careers, not get an abortion nor just stick kids in child care and be absolutely convicted that that’s what God wants, even though our society says otherwise. And wouldn’t that be better for family life?

    We also need to be careful that when we talk of anyone getting a ‘fair go’ we’re not taking our cues from culture and allowing culture to dictate the discussion uninformed by Scripture. If Scripture is really our authority, then we must allow Scripture to speak into and judge culture and not the other way around. Ultimately don’t we believe that God knows what’s best for us and has revealed that to us, regardless of what we might think is best? And when we allow what we think is best to dominate, well then we’re back in the garden…

    Now we also need to ask what all this looks like if you’re single or remain unmarried, but certainly you’d want to encourage good, godly relationships so the framework remains the same.

    It’s too early to see how all this will go down here in Australia, especially in Melbourne, but I’ve just tried to set out the basic trends and teaching as I see it and of course not everyone would agree. However, for the cause of Christ to go forward and remain central, we need to remember that what unites us is the gospel and these are secondary matters of diversity, it may necessitate diverse expressions of church but these shouldn’t alienate us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    If you want a more thorough Scriptural analysis, Kostenberger’s ‘God, Marriage & Family’ provides a good foundation; Driscoll’s sermons from Genesis, Proverbs and on 1 Tim 2 are quite good and I’m thinking of starting a blog soon to explore some of these issues further, particularly as they relate to Australian culture and missiology.

  9. That is one almighty comment, Dan! :)

    I see blogging as “thinking out loud” — it may go somewhere, or it may not, but it’s fine either way. Just keep writing back whenever it seems useful.

    You know, I’m not bagging complementarianism. I am one! :)

    I’m discussing the video and asking how complementarianism bears out in culture.

    Like you said, I take it that complementarianism is a secondary matter for Christians.

    But in the video, Driscoll has taken complementarianism (a highly specific expression of it) and given it the same weight as “Reformed theology,” “Spirit-filled living,” and “missional church.”

    Of course, he explains why he’s done so — and I’m not questioning that.

    But I am saying that, in doing so, he has defined New Calvinism in terms that are culture-specific and institution-specific.

    Again, I’m not saying that’s a problem.

    But this is the point at which the question arises.

    As Australians and would-be New Calvinists, are we in fact being asked to treat this as a closed-handed issue?

    You know, I’m sorry if this all sounds obtuse or something. And there will always be plenty we can return to (perhaps like the nature of Australian Christianity). But I hope we’re opening up issues along the way. :)

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