Be Careful Little One Whom You Criticize

There is a fundamentalist ethos in [neo-Calvinism],” Olson says. “You get pats on the back and merits for criticizing outsiders, but not for criticizing insiders. There is a system where if you are young coming up in the ranks, you get points for criticizing or exposing those outside the movement but it’s not your place to criticize those who are above you in the movement itself.

—Roger Olson quoted in Jonathan Merritt, “The Troubling Trends in America’s Calvinist Revival

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  1. Hi Dr. Clark — very interesting article containing things we should all ponder carefully. However, I wish he had been more clear as he wrote his article — so many times the reader isn’t sure whether he’s talking about Neo-Calvinists or all Calvinists in his reproof.

    I also noticed a lack of perspective about the other “tribal” movements in America, such as Calvary Chapel.

    Many, many years ago, we entertained attendance at a CC — because at least they used the Bible in their sermons and we couldn’t find that trait in so many evangelical churches we attended. (We weren’t reformed at the time — and honestly, when you live in evangelical circles, you don’t really know what “reformed” means, which is sad, indeed)

    However, once at CC, we discovered a huge tribal mentality — and the word Calvinism was uttered often with public disdain. They even had their own dialect/language and if you didn’t talk in a like manner, you might not fit in with the spiritual crowd.

    I saw this in the ECov church — so proud of their short list of affirmations. This ignited a level of pride in their attitude towards others who weren’t quite as “free.” I saw it in the SBC, (where I grew up), where the culture requires allegiance to the SBC or at least, you should be a Baptist or you might not be a Christian. I remember my SBC mother once telling me, “Those Presbyterians, they just think they are so smart!”

    It’s just too bad that Jonathan Merritt didn’t see the bigger picture, but rather chose to pick on the current issue of the day. Neo-Calvinistism definitely need to be addressed, but the way he wrote about it might have been confusing for those evangelicals who really don’t know the difference between a Neo-Calvinist and a member of a URCNA church.

    I, for one, appreciate when words are chosen carefully and thoughtfully, or not at all — in these kinds of situation. When our WSCAL profs refuse to over-react to someone who wants to write an article that will only stir up trouble, which might possibly hurt younger Christians, I have to say that I think they have done well. Then when the response comes and it is clearly communicated, I am grateful. It is so important to speak thoughtfully and in a manner appropriate to timing. This gives me great comfort and one reasons I appreciate what some might call an Escondido attitude. I guess that makes us a tribe, too — which is why we must always stare back into our own eyes first.


    • Kathy,

      I don’t usually agree with Roger Olson. You can search the HB archives to find references.

      You make a good point. “Neo-Calvinism” refers to a specific phenomenon or Reformed sub-group. He’s referring to the Young, Restless, and Reformed folks and perhaps others.

      Yes, there is tribalism everywhere. There are lots of tribes in evangelicalism and particularly nowhere more so than in the SBC.

  2. Dr. Clark, as a young man I rather resembled the “cage Calvinist” of some people’s description–the kind of person who needs to be caged until he grows up a little.

    And, yes, I’ve seen a lot of other Evangelical “tribalisms” in my few and evil years.

    But, I guess that a lot of the circling of wagons is a natural reaction on the part of people who have been blessed when the Spirit of God leads them into something much better than what they had before, and that better thing comes under attack. I descend from bad Jews on my Dad’s side and worse Lutherans on my mother’s, was baptized as a Methodist for respectability’s sake (it was the ’50’s), and didn’t understand the Gospel at all until I was already in young manhood. Believe me, although I later was blessed to come upon the Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity later on, back in the time between even neo-Evangelical underdone bread was still the bread of life.

    And then I lived and worked in Taiwan, where the atmosphere of accursed idolatry was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Knowing any at all who honored Jesus Christ was a blessing–even if they were SBC!

    Just a bleating, hungry sheep here, mind you. And maybe a reminder how hungry the sheep are!

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