‘Twas not so long ago, on a Calvinistic web site you’ve all visited, that one could hear a serious call to present one’s reformed credentials if one planned to be part of the discussion.
‘Twas also not so long ago, on more than one Calvinistic web site, that a person disagreeing with the main points of the host would be asked to answer “What is the gospel?”
And ’twas not so long ago, that I said, “I’m not a Calvinist,” an announcement that has now earned me at least a weekly email or two telling me that I am about to leave the faith or become a Roman Catholic.
In my own journey, I had happy days as a Calvinist. My days at Southern Baptist Founder’s Conference meetings as a “Timothy George” type SBC Calvinist were good times. Then there were the bad times. Posts about me at certain flaming blogs. Days of posts about me after the word went out through certain Calvinistic chat rooms that I was leading my audience outside of accepted boundaries. Letters to publishers and my employer, and weirdness on comment threads where my name was invoked as “emerging” and “apostate.”
When I finally swore all this off, it wasn’t to become an Arminian, or a Catholic or a one man band. It was to get the heck away from whatever was/is going on among the newly energized reformation police.
More than once- more than a hundred times- I thought to myself: “Is it just me?” Am I the only one who is experiencing as much fundamentalism as reformation here? And isn’t that just wrong?
Well apparently I’m not as crazy as some of you thought:
One of my favorite Reformed theologians is Michael Horton. We don’t agree on theology but I like this guy and I like to read his stuff. Michael recently wrote a piece that uses a different image than the big tent image above. He says evangelicalism is like the village green of early American communities. It was where folks, all folks, gathered to chat and share commonalities. He says evangelicalism is the village green but evangelicalism is not the church. Churches have confessions, and his confession is Reformed. He says we need to worship in our churches and that the village green is not enough; it is where we join with Christians most like us. The key point I make here is the distinction between being evangelical and being Reformed. Michael Horton, I am assuming, thinks the best form of evangelicalism is Reformed; and he probably thinks Arminians and Anabaptists are wrong at some important points. Fine. (I think the same of Reformed, and I think they are sometimes wrong at central points.) But Michael Horton knows that a local church (or denomination) is not the village green. I agree with him 100%.
But … and here’s our problem…
The NeoReformed, for a variety of reasons, some of them good, don’t recognize that evangelicalism as a village green. Instead, they want to build a gate at the gate-less village green and require Reformed confessions and credentials to enter onto the village green. Put differently, they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed. Really Reformed. In other words, they are “confessing” evangelicals. The only true evangelical is a Reformed evangelical. They are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination. The palpable observation here is that many of us think the NeoReformed are as attached to Tradition (read Westminster etc) as they are to sola scriptura.
In effect, the NeoReformed are a new form of Fundamentalism, so one might describe them accurately as the NeoFundamentalists. Which means they seem to need a trend or an opponent upon whom they can vent their frustrations (see Rene Girard). This results in two clear traits: the exaltation of some peripheral doctrine to central status and the demonization of a person. The goal in such cases seems to be to win at all costs.
I close with this:
I recently wrote to a friend of mine, a Reformed theologian, and described what is the essence of this post and this is what he wrote back:
The problem, as I see it is these, whom you are calling neoreformed, are to me simply the old fundamentalists in nicer clothes with better vocabularies. They are just as mean-spirited, just as graceless, and just as exclusive. I believe that the fundamentalism of my youth was harmful to the gospel. I believe that anyone who refuses to come out of his “room” (confessional church) and into the hall of “mere Christianity”, to use Lewis’s term, is doomed to a narrow and problematic exegesis of the text. Who is going to tell us that we are wrong if we only stay in our room and speak to people who agree with us all the time?
That’s most of Scot Mcknight’s new post at Jesus Creed, first in a series on the “Neo-Reformed.” (You can find them in the Jesus Creed archivesâ€”Feb. 16, 18, 2009.)
Call ‘em what you want. I’ve been saying this for three years now: In many places, it’s fundamentalism as much as it’s Calvinism. In fact, one of the worst internet tomato tosses I ever received was when I said the spirit of Jack Hyles was doing just fine among quite a few of the internet Calvinists.
Hey, I know a lot of Calvinistic good guys, and I know some of the neo-Reformed who are the best pastors/missionaries I could point at today. But the internet reformed have a tendency to ignore this issue of their own narrowing definition of evangelical and their increasing similarity to fundamentalism. If you don’t believe it, go to a popular reformed website in the neighborhood and say, “Many of the continental reformed would have found Answers in Genesis embarrassing.” Then watch what happens.
No, Scot is right, and it didn’t take a seminary professor to see it. Dress codes. Young earth creationism. Gothardite approaches to rules. Authoritarianism. Movies are evil and away we go. Find me a Rook deck.
Do I want to discourage anyone out of Calvinism? No, I respect your journey. I think it has edges though; edges that can hurt without realizing it, and edges that need to be looked at, not overlooked.
I’m not looking for Lutherans to go “A-ha!” or revivalist Baptists to say “Exactly.” You’re all pretty dangerous too sometimes. I just hope that all of you who have entered into the burgeoning subculture of Calvinism will read what Scot is writing, disagree wherever you please, but THINK for a moment if he’s not right in the main. That would be good.
Listen: you either see it/experience it or you don’t. Plenty of the reformed have no idea what Scot is talking about because where they sit, it isn’t happening. But are they aware of the web sites, churches and ministries where it IS happening? I believe so, and at that point, I don’t understand.
You want complementarianism to basically be essential to the Gospel, a la Driscoll? Fine. You believe any views of sovereignty that weren’t copied from Edwards are open theism? Fine. You believe anyone who benefits from The Shack is a new ager? Fine.
I think the whole story here is what I said when I wrote Evangelical Collapse: the neo-reformed will be one of the communities left when the big tent collapses, and they are going to proclaim their much smaller tent, the NEW tent. Make of it what you will.
- Further Reading: Trevin Wax agrees and disagrees with Scot.
- Further Reading: Now tell me again, where are they keeping that secret book?
- Further Reading: Justin Taylor finds the characterization of the neo-reformed as fundamentalist inaccurate, to say the least.