Further reflections on Brian McLaren, Steve Camp, and D.A. Carson

In my discussions with Steve Camp about Brian McLaren, I found that what Steve objected most to was McLaren’s re-tooling Calvinism’s TULIP doctrine (you see, his review at audienceOne was specifically about those pages in McLaren’s new book A Generous Orthodoxy in which McLaren came up with a new TULIP).

Having studied under D. A. Carson at Trinity (and listening to his lectures from Cedarville) and having had this discussion with Steve Camp, I believe that what they find troubling about Emergent is the openness to reconsider Calvinism. They are convinced that Calvinism is the purest form of Christianity, and they reject the notion that it is a theological framework that arose from a specific cultural context—a context of modernity, the enlightenment, and the rise of the city-state. To the Reformed Evangelical Christian, the Reformation is the single most important event in the history of the Church, the event that correctly defined the Gospel.

We need to do a better job of explaining how the Gospel of Atonement has been re-articulated throughout history in thoroughly biblical ways (including the Reformers). We need to explain that we are very indebted to what those great men did in the 1600s, just like we are indebted to others throughout Christian history—the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been able to speak to all people in all times.

We also need to convince these brothers in Christ that we are entering into a dramatically new and different age—what we are calling “postmodernity” for a lack of a better name. We need to work on articulating a biblical gospel that fits this era of time. To do so, we must exegete the Bible AND the Culture, seeking to figure out which of the many ways the Bible explains the grace of God in Christ best speaks to what people in our age will understand and respond to.

With lots of respect for Carson and Camp, I feel that if this means coming up with a new TULIP, so be it.

Read my conversation with Steve Camp here.


Kel said...

I guess this is a tougher issue for persons of Reformed backgrounds than for others. I grew up Lutheran, but have since been non-denominational and couldn't say what I am. If you think TULIP Calvinism is erroneous, then I guess Carson and Camp's shots don't mean a lot.

I appreciate the way Emergent has done little to defend themselves. It seems many evangelicals spend more time defending and blasting than searching out new ways of implementing what we already know to be true (like loving God and neighbor).

In the end, I have faith in something. Either it's faith in a created theological system like Calvinism, or faith in a different avenue. It's not like Calvinism can be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. All of our theological ideas require faith.

Rick said...

Thanks for the post. I just found you via Planet Emergent.

"They are convinced that Calvinism is the purest form of Christianity." This is not directed at you, but I am curious as to how they define "pure" Christianity? Christianity was 1500 years old before Calvin showed up. I guess in their minds everything was heresy pre-Calvin? Who defines Orthodoxy? These guys?

The best thing the emergent church can do is completely ignore these people. Ignore them. As long as they get attention from a few people they will continue talking.

That's my $0.10. Thanks again for sharing.

Bob Robinson said...

Rick, Good to see you here.

I think that "ignoring them" would do us more harm than good. Emergent is a conversation, which means, at least for me, to include many different viewpoints in the dialogue. I do not want to hear just the "yes men," I do not want the emergent blogs, books, magazines, websites, and conventions to be isolated from dissonant voices and insulated from critique from those on the outside.

That would not help the cause, would not challenge us to think rightly, and would make us as arrogant as the modern church we have been reacting against.

I like the idea (I think I got this from McLaren or Pagitt or Kimball) that POSTmodern is not ANTImodern, just AFTERmodern. We can still learn from and even keep the best of modernity, while at the same time moving forward into a postmodernity.

Many of these Calvinists are faithful evangelical Christians, who have a lot of study and wisdom and experience under their belts. We may learn a lot from them in dialogue with them. We should always feel the freedom to disagree, though! I feel that theological debate is a good thing; it is iron sharpening iron.

Bob Robinson said...


It is, I think SOME Calvinists who are raising issues with Emergent. There are many Calvinists who are on board (I've met them at the last convention, and I look at one in the mirror every morning).

There are even Calvinist scholars who are defending Emergent (read Denver Seminary's Craig Blomberg's review of Brian McLaren's new book A Generous Orthodoxy)

Bill Arnold said...

It's funny because when I first read Steve Camp's review it seemed like he was coming out of left field with the TULIP thing. That's because I had forgotten about that part of McLaren's book.

I agree that we need to respect people like Carson. He has a big voice in evangelical circles. We need to REFORM these guys! ;-)

Bob Robinson said...

Semper Reformata! Always Reforming!

Kel said...

Hi Bob,

I read Steve Camp's review, and I read Dr. Blomberg's review (thanks for posting that link). I think Dr. Blomberg did a much better job of reviewing the book than Steve Camp, because Camp's review in no way sought to emphasize anything good about it.

I read Brian's new book, and I've read a few others. I'm a student at Asbury Seminary and he spoke in one of my classes. I like the guy and respect him. Which is why I get so frustrated when he's treated like a heretic.

At the end of Steve Camp's review, he writes, "you don't go liberal by reading your Bible." Earlier this semester, actually right around the time Brian spoke to our class, I began to realize that I have spent most of my life as a Christian more determined to not be liberal than determined to follow Christ. So whether Brian's right or wrong, I have faith that God is speaking through him. That doesn't line up in any theological system, but in my heart I believe it's true. And I'm content with that.


marc said...

Hey Bob,

I like what you are saying about iron sharpening iron and keeping the discussion going. Its important to keep loving eachother through our differences. As I mentioned in Rick Bennets blog i run in calvinist circles, and would consider myself one but for the damage that often occurs when when is labled. I think there is a danger anytime makes any theological construction their god rather than the God their theology is about. Did that make sense? Its not just Calvinism, its human philosophy, prophecy, eschatology, our culture, politics, anything we worship instead of God, anything we follow instead of Jesus.

Now, about the book "Reclaiming the Center" Erickson, Taylor, Helseth ed. Did ou read Carsons chapter... if so what do you think.

Blessings in Christ,

Bob Robinson said...

I will have to get back to you on that. I plan to read that very soon!

It certainly deserves a discussion!

DLW said...

Did you ever read my own reworking of TULIP, Bob? It is more missiologically and less individualistically focused than the Calvinist one...


John said...

Hi Bob,

I just came to your website by way of searching for information regarding the Emergent Church. Since I see Steve Camp in Toledo each year at the TRTC Conference, I was piqued to see his name on your website. It was a very good dialogue between the two of you and we certainly need more understading between the established and emergent churches.
I am curious with your phrase "Semper Reformata" as "Always Reforming". I have been under the impression it is Semper ReforMANDA. Am I wrong?

Bob Robinson said...


Semper Reformata means "Always Reformed"

Semper Reformanda means "Always Reforming."

Thanks for calling that to my attention.