Sunday, May 03, 2009

New Evangelical Calvinism: The New Evangelical infatuation with positivity

[continued from here, here, here and here]

This is a more extensive section evaluating the New Evangelical idea of positivity compared to the review of Challies' articles here.

The idea of being positive or seen as positive was one aspect of the New Evangelical movement [33] which is however not as easily recognized as demarcating New Evangelicalism per se. The New Evangelical/ Fundamentalist divide is remembered more for the divide over the doctrine of separation, if it is remembered at all. The apostatizing mainstream "evangelicals" in our day have long since jettisoned treasuring and proclaiming the truth, and therefore the New Calvinists do not seem to be New Evangelical in the aspect of truth as compared to the "Evangelicals" nowadays. However, this has not been the case. The early New Evangelicals like Harold Ockenga and Edward Carnell personally treasure the truth [34] and desire that biblical Christianity experience a revival in the land. Trying to have their cake and eat it, the New Evangelical strategy of infiltration backfired and it was the world that turned the church upside down instead of the other way round. But it must be remembered that the early New Evangelicals do indeed treasure the truth and were appalled by the fruit of their compromise [35].

The desire to be loving and positive, both New Evangelical traits, have never been repudiated by the New Calvinist movement, a successor of the conservative wing of New Evangelicalism. In fact, these twin related traits manifests themselves in the blogosphere in New Calvinist Tim Challies' blog post attacking so-called watchbloggers [36], of which the false accusations are soundly refuted by both Phillip R. Johnson [37] and Steven J. Camp[38]. We would not be doing a lengthy rebuttal of his attack and his subsequent clarification here [39], but just to focus on his attack post as a microcosm of the New Calvinist seeming infatuation with positivity.

The most revealing passage in this regard is seen as follows:

I want to say a word today about watchblogs or discernment blogs or whatever you want to call them. I am referring to blogs that specialize in sharing bad news. ... They may vary what they offer a little bit, but what is true of them is that they offer a steady diet of negative content related to the church in general or perhaps related to just one person or one ministry. [40]


These statements by Challies perfectly illustrate the New Evangelical and now New [Evangelical] Calvinists' infatuation with positivity. Negativity is to be shunned as much as possible, while being positive is extolled as a virtue, all without biblical proof for such an assertion. Worse still is the fluid notion of what constitutes "positivity" and "negativity" as utilized by Challies, concepts which he did not and have not elucidate. With such a dynamic notion of "positivity" and "negativity", Challies' attack becomes wholly subjective and comes across as a holier-than-thou self-righteous proclamation of how "positive" and thus good he is compared with the "watchblogs".

What then does the Scripture teaches about our attitude? Doesn't the Scripture tell us to think about what is good, as it is written:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

Indeed it does, but it is a false assumption that focusing on what is good necessarily implies positivity. The former denotes our attitudes and focus as Christians, while the latter denotes the way we act and conduct ourselves. Certainly, having an attitude which focuses on God and on what is commendable would have an impact on the way we ourselves act, but to absolutely correlate attitude with behavior is fallacious, as we cannot judge a person's motives based upon the appearances of his actions. This is especially so since appearances can be deceiving, as a cursory look at the prophetic books in Scripture would show. Would we when reading the book of Lamentations or Jeremiah for example think that the prophet Jeremiah was focusing on what is bad; that his attitude was to treat "evil as entertainment"? Most certainly not!

So how then should we act and conduct ourselves in light of Scriptural exhortations like Phil. 4:8? Personally, we are to strive to praise God in our lives and to proclaim the glory of His Name, treasuring the good things of Scripture and of God in our hearts. Our actions however are determined not according to some arbitrary standard of "positivity", but on how we can bring glory to God and honor Him. If praise is needed, we praise and glorify our Lord. If refutation of errors is needed, we do such a seemingly "negative" action for the positive defence of God's truth so that He would be glorified as error is overthrown and truth is enthroned. The biblical focus therefore is not whether an action is "positive" or "negative", but whether we "positively" do all for the glory of God and the defence of His truth, even as we treasure His name and glorify it in our lives and actions, whether positive or negative.

Scripture itself shows us that we must be both positive and negative in antithecal living, as it is written:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5)

Note the pattern here: Verse 1-2 are "positive" verses, which is followed by "negative" verses in verses 3-4, and capped with a "positive" statement in verse 5. Such patterns are in fact found throughout the Scripture, and this antithetical teaching and lifestyle should characterize the lives of Christians. We are to be positive and negative; positive towards godliness and truth and negative towards ungodliness and error, but in all we should focus on and glorify God "positively".

Challies with his view of being loving and his infatuation with positivity manifests his New Evangelical convictions and has done damage to the cause of Christ, with legitimate discernment ministries de-legitimized and the enemies of the Truth emboldened [41]. Just like New Evangelicalism historically, such an infatuation with positivity will slowly but surely destroy the Church. Will we reject this infatuation with positivity? Historically, New Evangelicalism threw out the need to be negative, while Fundamentalism in general tend to throw out the need to be positive. Biblical Christianity is both, and may we therefore embrace both, to the glory of God.


[33] Pickering, p. 8

Early New Evangelical leaders took great pains to emphasize the fact that fundamentalists were too much "against" and not enough "for". Their plea was "Let's be positive and not negative". While this statement has an emotional appeal to many, it is not a biblical philosophy. Scripture is both positive and negative — it is for some things and against others. We must strive for that same balance.

[34] Murray, p. 20

[35] Pickering, pp. 78, 96-97

[36] Tim Challies, Evil as Entertainment, Blog post dated April 6, 2009 (

[37] Phil. R Johnson, Turning a Blind Eye to Evil is Evil Too, Blog post dated April 9th, 2009 (

[38] Steven J. Camp, Blogging, Watchblogging and Ministry, Blog post dated April 8th, 2009 (

[39] See Appendix I for a fuller rebuttal to Challies' errors in both his posts and further proof of his infatuation with positivity.

[40] Challies, Evil as Entertainment. Bold added.

[41] One just need to glance at the meta of Challies' two posts to see Warren apologist Richard Abanes and Chris Lyons of the anti-Christian watchblog praising Challies and attacking the watchblogs, to see the damage Challies has done

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