Sunday, March 22, 2009

Neo, I Renounce Thee!

I want to apologize to Stanley Fish for the post that referred to him as a Crypto-Neo-Calvinist. I was being arch/ironic/trivial/unearnest, but I felt chastened when I read his series of articles about being tagged with the term neoliberal. One of his points in the articles is that neoliberal is a term without a clear definition; it's a term whose main purpose is to deride the opponent ("Take that, you accursed neoliberal"). It's a term maliciously assigned and never gladly received.

I realized after reading his article that by using the term Neo-Calvinist, I had endorsed a similar rhetorical ploy (albeit ironically). I could hide behind that ironic distance, but I want to come clean. I'd like to renounce the word, and while I'm at it, I'm considering renouncing any ideological term beginning with "neo."

You may be wondering, Where the heck is this coming from, Chaka? Let me explain. Neo-Calvinist was floating around in my head because I had recently read Scot McKnight's post on the Neo-Reformed (HT:Between Two Worlds). I have to say, McKnight's description of this ideological group resonated with me. After spending my college years in Minneapolis (where John Piper has a distinct presence on the evangelical scene) and subsequent years in one of the centers of evangelicalism (the Trinity-Wheaton nexus), I think there is validity in McKnight's picture of reformed complementarians trying to squeeze out "the rest of us."

I say that without malice. I say it as someone who has been blessed and nurtured by a very reformed, very complementarian church (one of the founding elders was Wayne Grudem, who could be McKnight's posterchild for the Neo-Reformed). As much as I have benefited from people and churches associated with these positions, I have also felt from them a pressure to set these positions at the center of Christianity and push other positions to the margins (or off the page entirely).

I'm trying to say here that I have sympathy for McKnight's portrait without positioning myself as an opponent of reformed complementarians. However, I feel convicted that I have at one level already positioned myself their opponent by using the term Neo-Calvinist. Like neoliberal, neoconservative, and perhaps all neo- prefixed ideological categories (perhaps originally including neo-orthodox?), to use the term is to judge those so termed.

The recursiveness is satisfying for insiders and frustrating for outsiders. I instinctively knew what McKnight meant when he wrote, "Those who were all riled up about the blurb are the NeoReformed -- ironically, they were wondering who I had in mind when I used "NeoReformed" in the blurb." From the inside, it is obvious who the opponents are; they make themselves known by their opposition. Yet from the outside, this seems like a massive strawman argument.

By the way, the term fundamentalist, in my opinion, falls into this category as well. That's why I prefer to use it only of those who would use it of themselves.


Pirate Jimmy said...

What about neo-classicism?

Chaka said...

I don't know that I've ever used the term, but I'll regard it warily henceforth.

beau said...

I do think you should still use the descriptor "crypto" as often as possible though.