I just read Collin Hansen's new book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, which grew out of his 2006 Christianity Today article on the phenomenon. He opens the book by talking about how when he started at CT, the emerging church was all the rage, but he found himself noticing a different kind of young movement that paralleled it but offered a distinctive counterpoint. So Collin chronicled the emergence of the neo-Calvinists, a generation of young adults who are passionate about Reformed theology and avid followers of John Piper, Albert Mohler, Mark Driscoll and the like.
What's interesting to me about Collin's book is that despite the fact that the new Calvinists and emergent folks might seem poles apart in many ways, they do share a common concern - that contemporary evangelicalism is not what it ought to be. Both critique evangelical Christianity for being shallow, ahistorical, more focused on pragmatic issues than authentic spirituality and transformation. Both communities are calling the church to recover its heritage, the depth and breadth of Christian theology and worship, with a keen eye to missional ministry in this postmodern world, to the glory of God.
Of course, John Piper and Doug Pagitt, while both Minnesotan pastors, have somewhat different visions for the church. And Mars Hill (Seattle, Mark Driscoll) is a different kind of church from Mars Hill (Grand Rapids, Rob Bell). But for all the differences, I think folks on all sides can charitably affirm that everybody wants Christianity to be more faithful, more vibrant, more missional than it currently is.
What's also interesting to me is that both communities claim underdog status. Many emergent Christians feel like persecuted minorities in their churches or denominations. And new Calvinists often think of themselves as the righteous remnant in a morass of nominal Christianity. I was fascinated by Collin's chapter on Calvinism among the Southern Baptists. I don't move in Southern Baptist circles much, so it was news to me that Southern Baptist churches are splitting over the issue of Calvinism, which many Baptists see as wrongheaded. New Calvinists are actually experiencing criticism similar to what emergents are getting from non-emergents, being labeled as heretics and having their theology ruled out of bounds. It seems that emergents and new Calvinists would be sympathetic to each other's challenges!
So here's my question - are these different tribes and subcultures just doing different things in different corners of the church, and never the twain shall meet (except to denounce each other every once in a while), or are there opportunities for fruitful collaboration between the two, for the benefit of evangelical Christianity overall? At risk of making gross overgeneralizations, it seems to me that different groups bring different things to the table. Emergents are great at asking questions and challenging the way things have been done. They're willing to reexamine everything in pursuit of a better way. New Calvinists have a passionate zeal for knowing God, understanding Scripture, and a particular appreciation for historical theology. Emergents can help new Calvinists temper their zeal with a bit of epistemic humility. New Calvinists can help emergents to appreciate the historical tradition and not reinvent the wheel.
Maybe both communities will blast me for this post (people in the middle get shot at by both sides), but as a moderate centrist evangelical who reads both Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog and Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds blog, I have to think that there are others like me that would like to see more fruitful collaboration and dialogue on all sides.