David: I’m a big fan of Collin Hansen, but his article that you refer to in Christianity Today contains some unintentionally misleading points—and misses the true change that is taking place within evangelicalism. For example, he quotes Michael Horton saying that, “Warren’s theology seems to reflect run-of-the-mill evangelical Arminianism.” What the article fails to mention is that Rick Warren identifies himself as a Calvinist. Warren has also said:
Theologically, I am a monergist and firmly hold to the five solas of the Reformation. It’s pretty obvious from the book that I believe in foreknowledge, predestination, (see chapter two, “You Are Not An Accident”) and, especially, concurrence — that God works in and through every detail of our lives, even our sinful choices, to cause his purposes to prevail.
Though Warren is a Calvinist, Horton implies that he is acting like an Arminian. So you are more right than you realize, David, when you said, Horton’s statement was a “more serious charge than it may appear to those who don’t know the Calvinist’s concerns.”
The article misses the irony—and the significance—of the dispute being an internal debate among Calvinists. The author of the article (Hansen) is a Calvinist writing about a conference sponsored by a Calvinist (John Piper) in which the inclusion of another Calvinist (Rick Warren) is being challenged by other Calvinists (Tim Challies, Michael Horton). In fact, the only person mentioned by name that is not a Calvinist is Billy Graham. (To round this out, I should say that I am also a Calvinist.)
The more interesting question that Hansen overlooks is, “Why is the intellectual wing of evangelicalism now dominated by Calvinists?” This is not to say, of course, that there are no theological and intellectual leaders on the Arminian side. But they currently do not receive the same attention or command the same influence as their Calvinist peers. Perhaps this is because the Calvinists are often identifiably Calvinist, while the Arminians are harder to spot. Indeed, the easiest way to tell that an evangelical leader is an Arminian is that you don’t hear them publicly state they are a Calvinist.
However, Hansen is right that there is a move toward separatism. But the separation is primarily occuring between a theological system (Calvinism) and a utilitarian approach to evangelism and ecclesiology. The dominant competitor to Calvinism within evangelicalism is not so much Arminianism as pragmatism (a focus on practical techniques of evangelism, rather than on theology and doctrine). Of course Horton and other Calvinists would likely claim that Arminianism is the default operation system for pragamatism. But as Warren proves, Calvinists can be pragmatists too.
So why does this matter? Why should those who aren’t evangelicals care about this issue? The reason is because we appear to be in the midst of a seismic shift in American evangelicalism—a religious group that is second only in size to American Catholicism.
For several decades after World War II, the groups that dominated were the pragmatists (e.g., the seeker-sensitive movement, the prosperity gospel, Purpose-Driven Churchers). The pragmatists tended to neglect the mind in favor of an emotion-driven experiential form of faith and practice. In contrast, the Calvinists are much more focused on the life the mind and intellectual engagement with doctrine and Scripture. This side of the movement is more likely to produce theologians rather than televangelists, and hold academic conferences on evangelism rather than evangelistic rallies in football stadiums.
Whether this change from emotion to the intellect is ultimately beneficial or detrimental remains to be seen. But it will have a significant impact on American evangelicalism—and thus a significant impact on Christianity in America.