A New Public Theology for Our Times
The December 2008 issue of Comment (published by Cardus) contains an important article. At first glance, it looks like one people might skip. It’s called “Can We Hope for a Neocalvinist-Neopuritan Dialogue?” Like I said, easy to skip this article, especially if you don’t identify as a member of either group – something that the author, Ray Pennings, admits in the first paragraph. But this short article is too important to miss.
To understand the article, you need to understand who he’s talking about. Pennings uses the term “neopuritan” to refer to the resurgence of Calvinism documented in Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed. These are the people who are drawn to a rediscovery of doctrine, especially of the sovereignty of God, and to Puritan literature. They listen to Piper, Mahaney, Driscoll, etc. and tend to be more pietistic in their approach to faith.
By “neocalvinist” Pennings is referring to continental or Kuyperian Calvinists. This group tends to focus on the cultural mandate, believing that God has called us to change the world in all spheres of life. Faith is not just about us and God; it’s about the restoration of all creation. As Abraham Kuyper said:
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!”
Even if you don’t belong to either group, you can see where this is going. We need the insights of neocalvinism so that we understand our cultural mandate, the potential and fallenness of every area of life, as well as common grace and more. We are called to engage and create culture. We need these insights so we don’t withdraw from culture and privatize our faith.
But we also need the insights of neopuritanism, with a high view of the church, and an understanding that this world will only be fully restored just yet.
In other words, we need the pietism of the neopuritans and the world-changing culture-making call of the neocalvinists – something you find articulated, by the way, at churches like Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and in the foundation documents of The Gospel Coalition. But it’s rare.
Both these traditions are seeing a resurgence, and this newfound energy can lead to fruitful conversations. I would propose that framework for a new public theology for our times can emerge out of a convergence of these two movements. Such a theology would have to be rooted in orthodox doctrine, have a worldview robust enough to answer the questions our neighbors are asking, be applied with an ethic of integrity, and be lived out of a pilgrimage spirit, seeing that we are not called to build a lasting city, but that we seek one to come (Hebrews 13:14). Both neopuritanism and neocalvinism, and the wellsprings from which they arise, can make a valuable contribution to filling out this framework.