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