by William Trollinger
One of the story lines in 21st-century evangelicalism has been the rise of the New Calvinists, a movement which comes, to quote a Time article on the phenomenon, “complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination.”
Spearheading this movement have been folks like Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Mohler, disgraced Seattle megachurch pastor only-to-re-emerge phoenix-like as a (yes) Phoenix megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll, and Bethlehem College and Seminary chancellor John Piper. The latter is one of the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which calls on women to “grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.” In that regard, Piper has made a host of controversial remarks, including his claim that egalitarianism deserves much of the blame for rampant sexual abuse in America, as well as his advice to abused wives to endure “abuse for a season” and then seek “help from the church.”
In her wonderful new book, Laughing at the Devil, Amy Laura Hall (Duke Divinity School) summarizes the “Gospel of Austerity” preached by Piper and the New Calvinists:
If you are still alive in this age of terror, thank God, and stop whining about government surveillance. If you still have any job of any kind during this, the Second Great Depression, pick up your broom, and stop complaining about minimum wage. Oh, and keep going to church every Sunday, because God deserves your obeisance (8).
The subtitle of Hall’s book is Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. Julian was a 14th-century anchoress in England – she lived in St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, and hence the name we know her by – and mystic whose Revelations of Divine Love (1395) is thought to be the first English-language book written by a woman. She lived through both political uncertainties and the Plague, the latter which killed 1/3 of the residents in Norwich. In response to these horrors, Julian envisioned that “’our Lord scorn[ed the Devil’s] wickedness and set him at nought, and he wants us to do the same,’ in response to which Julian “’laughed heartily’” (hence the title of Hall’s book).
In contrast with the New Calvinist “Gospel of Austerity,” which is all about “making sure everyone knows human beings are senseless,” Julian’s “primary question was about God’s love”:
Julian returns [again and again] to Jesus Christ on the cross . . . She uses a metaphor of a toddler who, when faced with danger, runs to her “mother’s bosom.” Using maternal language for God does not mean that Julian softens the real monsters of her world. Plagues, public hangings, forms of domination subtle and overt in a drastically hierarchical country infused with Christianity . . . these cruelties were the bloody truth. But Jesus is also the truth . . . Jesus is the reason Julian is able to see the microfissures and gaping ramifications of evil and go past the “stop” of doubt [in trusting that] God is “all love and is willing to do everything.” That is our focal point, our mother’s bosom, our question and our answer (9).
The Gospel of Austerity v. The Gospel of Love. The God of Scarcity v. The God of Excess. And it seems the only appropriate way to end this post is with Julian’s famous prayer (which employs gender-bending language that would certainly not be countenanced by the binary-loving folks at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood):
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Savior.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.