The Evangelical magazine Christianity Today reports on the latest event to highlight the divisions in Evangelicalism. In Piper, Warren, and the Perils of Movement Building, Collin Hansen reports that John Piper, a leader of the overtly Reformed or Calvinist movement, invited Rick Warren, a leader of the implicitly Arminian movement, to speak at his annual conference.
Many of Piper’s allies are upset with him, because they oppose Warren’s more revivalistic mode and the theology behind it as a serious error. It would be a broad generalization but good enough for our purposes here, to say that the first stress the sovereignty of God and think the second’s emphasis on human action dangerously denies it or diminishes it.
As an outsider, though a sympathetic one who has a lot of ecumenical experience working with Evangelicals, the key sentence for me is this one: After describing the internal conflicts of the past, Hansen says, “Yet today, with these antagonisms diminished, it’s not so easy to identify an evangelical.” He and many (though not all) of the people he’s writing for and about assume that there is such a thing, clearly distinct from other forms of Protestantism and particular, coherent, concrete, and unified enough that the members have not crossed that vague line that separates brothers from allies.
But that Evangelicalism is such a thing is not at all apparent, starting with the descriptions given in articles like this one. The Calvinist leader Michael Horton, for example, says
I believe that his message distorts the gospel and that he is contributing to the human-centered pragmatism that is eroding the proper ministry and mission of the church. Judging by The Purpose-Driven Life. Pastor Warren’s theology seems to reflect run-of-the-mill evangelical Arminianism
Which is, by the way, a more serious charge than it may appear to those who don’t know the Calvinist’s concerns. But then even he (Mike, whom I know a little, is a tough-minded guy) draws back and concludes, ”None of this disqualifies him from being an evangelical statesman.”
It is easy to see, from the outsider’s perspective, how a long friendship and a common heritage, culture, and ideals can bring all these people together, but hard to see how their theologies can co-existent deeply enough for them to form a movement of the sort they all seem to assume they have.