August 10, 2020

Apologized and Revised: Looking For the Elusive, Mysterious “Reformed, Calvinistic” Tent

tent.jpgJust before I left for work this morning, I made a several discoveries:

First, I discovered that “c.t.” in the current essay’s comment thread is a person who has been feeding off my web-sites for several weeks now.

Second, I discovered that this same person was the source of the original “Reformed/Calvinistic Tent” quote that I used as the launching point for my post. (I had noticed earlier that the quote was removed from the site where I found it, which doesn’t surprise me at all.)

While this doesn’t change a single word of the views I present in the essay, it did possibly violate a personal standard I have of not dialoging with or responding to certain kinds of people who are, either by their own choice or through no fault of their own, unable to participate in civilized conversation without resorting to death threats and racism. So I took it down, but will now post an edited version of it in the extended comments. The quote is gone, and the essay doesn’t feel right without it, but we can all just live with it. My apologies for the whole matter. Five years doing this and I’ve finally managed to have my own troll. I’m so special.

Warning! Heavy Parody Ahead! This post will require you to plug in your senses of humor, irony and comedy. You may need to remind yourself that none of us have arrived yet and, despite what you’ve heard, Reformation Christians are far more alike than different.

It’s dangerous waters out there in the world of those-who-are-reformed vs. those-who-thought-they-were-reformed-but-really-aren’t-reformed. The fur is flying fast and furious as one thing after another becomes the latest reason you aren’t really reformed at all. Ha!

[Edited: Someone has referred to the Auburn Avenue/Federal Visionaries, New Perspective on Paul Types, Sandlin-inspired Reformed Catholics and others as “outside of the “Reformed/Calvinistic tent.” They’ve called them “moles,” and comics. Pretenders to Calvinism, who, like in-name-only Republicans, always vote Democratic. ] I feel the pain. It’s a problem being part of a rather exclusive club, and all of a sudden, you’re sitting next to a burping, rude, unwashed barbarian. Or even worse, someone, somewhere might be having a good time reading authors not on the approved list. I can see a truly reformed Thurston Howell III protesting the whole affair. “Do you know who I am? Get this person OUT of here!!”

Dare to differ with the truly reformed? You are “comical.” Dare to cite allegiance to the solas, but don’t buy everything handed to you on every plate? It’s a shtick. You’re a “mole.” You’re just like the moonbat Michael Moore Democrats. Not suffering hyperventilation that someone is discussing Pauline terminology? You’re a knave. (Shakespeare loved that word. It’s hard for me to hate it.) This level of name-calling needs the Loony Tunes soundtrack in the background.

I have to admit to a certain fascination with the “Reformed, Calvinist” tent. What is that “tent?” Where can I take a look at it? I have more details on the tabernacle in Leviticus than I do this tent I’m supposed to be in or maybe not in. Where is the list of tent members? Where are the rules? Where are the definitions? How does one know if one is in or out? At what point do you apostasize from “Truly Reformedness” into the abyss outside the tent? Is there a way to know you’ve wandered out of the tent, or do you have to be thrown out to get the message?

I’m asking because, despite a mighty investment of time and effort, I can’t discover a lot of coherence in the NPP, AA, Wright, McLaren, reformed Catholicism, Shlissel, Armstrong, or the rest of the flashing exits from the tent. Yet, when I read both the advocates and the critics, I learn a lot and the conversation is a good one. It seems like a fresh and daring conversation among people who believe as the reformers believed when they said “The Lord has more light to yet break forth from His Word.” Ecclesia semper reformanda–“the Church is always reforming”– needs this conversation, no matter what anyone says. That the heirs of the Reformation are running around exiling people from their midst because of the New Perspective on Paul and the Auburn Avenue Bible conference still seems like an attack of theological insecurity way overplayed. Ongoing Reformation takes discussion. It takes exploration and the security to not panic when someone questions “reformed theology” as understood in this tent or that. Why all this name calling? (Knaves? Gerofalo?) Why this declaration that there is now a posted “safe zone” that all of us must play in if we want the nannies to not get upset?

The blogosphere isn’t, as far as I know, a confessional zone. It’s entirely legal and healthy for any one us to post our thoughts and speculations for the world to read, and then go back to our confessional communities- our churches and ministries- where our pastors and elders can look at our whole life and decide if we are “out” of the faith. It’s the same with anybody’s pastor’s conference, and anyone’s book. There are confessional realities that need to be respected, and then there is the “imaginary” reformed tent tended by those who apparently know more than the rest of us.

One of my best life/faith experiences took place during my six years at a real seminary (i.e., one with a campus, etc.) I really enjoyed all the differences in the theological and Biblical presentations of the various professors. While you would hear talk or “conservative” and “liberal,” it was really something else entirely. It was spirited conversation among scholars. It was the freedom to explore your discipline and, as N.T. Wright said, do your theological education in public. Some of the professors kept to the familiar paths, while others were more adventurous. There were some grand battles between profs in the theology and Bible departments over dozens of issues. I loved it. It did me good. Most of all, it showed me the way theology is supposed to be done in the rough and tumble of collegiality. Were some of those teachers outside the confessional “tent?” Possibly, but some of those who took the most heat weren’t heretics at all, but were challenging someone’s idea of the tent. The difference between the real “tent” of Christian essentials and confessions, and someone’s certainties about what the “tent” was supposed to be were two very different things.

We catechized our kids. I preach the confessions and the catechism at our church. I give them to all kinds of people as guidelines for life and faith. I love these confessions as an expression of the Reformed faith. At the same time, I recognize the diversity of the confessions, and I recognize serious and significant differences among reformed Christians. My favorite seminary professor was an expert in the radical reformation. I have tremendous respect for the confessionalism of my Baptist tradition and the commitment to following Jesus in the Anabaptist traditions. I have no problem committing myself to a MODEST confessionalism. The larger reformed confessions may fail in allowing larger communities of Christians to work and theologize together. The reformed faith, at its best, is a movement that continues in the direction of the Reformers, treasuring the discoveries of the past, but keeping the essentials for remaining in the tent MODEST. Turning every movement that challenges the “truly reformed” comfort zone into a reason to escort brothers and sisters out of the tent is unwise. The level of rhetoric being aimed at good people is unwise as well. It’s not merited and it’s not necessary.

Listening to the rhetoric that has been aimed at anyone identifying with ANY ASPECT of the New Perspective or N.T. Wright, one is permitted to wonder if all this is taking out a rather large shotgun to deal with the noise you are hearing in the kitchen. Could be a burglar. Or a mouse. Or your neighbor.

I did come up with some practical suggestions for improve things for all of us:

1. Please describe the “reformed tent” so we will know if we are in it. Maybe something like this (Parody ahead! Humor!!):

“Those who subscribe to TULIP (in one way or another, more or less), use a reformed confession (in some form, adjusted for denominational quirks and all), quote and admire the same 25 preachers and writers (more or less) who dislike and criticize the same 25 preacher and writers (more or less), admire the Puritans (at least a few of them), once submitted a book to J.I. Packer to review (which he did), subscribe to Calvinist magazines (but wonder why they don’t have more REAL ___________s in the articles), use the ESV version of the Reformation study Bible (which they won on a blog giveaway), are preaching a series of messages against Brian McLaren (whom they haven’t read) and the Emergent Church (which they’ve never visited and can’t actually find), consider all living theologians to be dangerous (unless they simply repeat what they read from dead theologians), are selectively outraged at those who disagree with the Reformed faith (even if that disagreement comes from a pursuit of the solas because only the insiders really know what the solas mean), and of course, who really enjoy a good angry mob scene if the right people are invited- these are the members of the “Reformed Calvinist” tent. They use the phrase. They know what it is. Trust us on this.

Let’s be simple: Is the Reformation the property of some group who accepts and rejects members based on things like interest in the NPP or calling yourself a Reformed Catholic? I don’t think so. The Reformation isn’t ANYONE’S property beyond what churches and other faith communities define confessionally. In the world of scholarship and writing, the heritage of the Reformation really is a open frontier more than it is a fenced pasture….or a guarded tent.

2. Here’s a second suggestion: Why don’t you publish a list. Use names. “These people aren’t really one of US.” I’m quite serious. Quit playing around. If you know who is in or out, say so. If you know why they are in or out, say so. Put my name near the top since it was my suggestion. Add to the list as needed. But, if you can, please just have one list. When you are proclaiming that those who differ with you are “moles” and “knaves,” we can’t have ten versions of the story. Make it authoritative.

3. If someone (or a group) is going to speak “authoritatively” for the “reformed tent,” let’s have their names, too. If we have a reformed pope or hierarchy, we need to do the cool re-names. “Reformed Pope Arthur W. Pink XVI.” If you don’t have any nominations, I have some, based on the rather unprotestant behavior that goes on in deference to those who have been given the mantle of sheriffs in the reformed tent. Maybe we could find a way to get the Calvinist equivalent of that white smoke trick when they elect a pope. It would look great on a webcam.

Now a real, non-parodied, real life suggestion. Let’s talk about the ideas. Let’s talk about the scriptures. Let’s talk about the matters that affect what scripture teaches and how we take hold of it. Let’s have an on-going conversation. Let’s take the confessions seriously, and let’s live in our churches with integrity to the Gospel, but let’s not convince ourselves that our opponents are an insidious conspiracy of knaves faking Calvinism to take over the “tent.” Let’s not stifle writing, scholarly pursuit or the intellectual/spiritual journeys of those who aren’t like us in every way. You may not like the phrase, but “generous orthodoxy” still sounds like a great idea to me.

Comments

  1. Amen!

  2. Oooh, ooh! Let’s have a contest and see who can take that last line out of context in the most outrageous fashion! iMonk’s in the McLaren camp! You read it here first!

  3. As one of those Calvinists who often gets lumped in the categories you mentioned (I was affiliated with the Reformed Catholicism website, and am now affiliated with the new Communio Sanctorum one which replaced it) this did my heart good, I tell you. Thanks so much! You are *so* on target here!

  4. Excellent, as usual!

  5. Mclaren is so far off the pasture that he has wandered into the funny grass.

    Seriously though, the conversation needs to be about “first things”.

  6. Thanks so much, you gave Pastor Art and I a good laugh before we went off to bed. And we agree with the “truth” within your humor. Since I have started blogging, I have felt like (using your tent metaphor) I am standing in a sea of tents, and don’t seem to have the right ticket to get into any of them.

  7. I once read a very interesting comment that was attributed to a Catholic priest when questioned about other Christian faiths. (Paraphrasing) he said that the Christian faith is one Church and all individual expressions of the faith are like windows in the Church. If we start throwing rocks at one of those windows, the whole Church suffers.

    I think there is a lot of truth in that.

    If anyone wants to look it up for exact wording, it was in Papa Married a Mormon, by John D. Fitzgerald. Good book about a Catholic journalist in pre-statehood Utah. My favorite parts of the whole book are the comment above and the part where the Mormon bishop refused to allow the journalist to convert to the Mormon religion. I like to think of that part when the Mormon missionaries come and ask me to join their church on the basis of a 30-minute video tape.

    In the end, I think too many labels are used in an exclusive, rather than inclusive fashion. As Christians, doesn’t it behoove us to look for the tent that includes all actual believers, rather than the one that excludes those who do not agree with us at least 93% of the time? Can we look at how Jesus defined who His followers were (and are), rather than how a small and elitist group among those who claim to follow Christ define inclusion? Can’t we say that the Catholics and Arminians are also brothers to the Calvinists? (My biological brother and I don’t agree on everything, nor do we really understand one-another’s specialties, but we are still brothers and look for common ground when we talk, not for the differences that we both know are there. Differences make us different, but they don’t make us cease to be brothers.) Or is that too close to saying that we don’t have to be devoted to a particular gnosis in order to have a part of the Kingdom? Does the heart count less than the reason? Does service count less than fact-checking and intellectual superiority? Or can we just say that we are all in the same church and all try together to patch up those windows that were once so lovely, but now are full of rock holes? Why can’t we all just agree on a minimum “Mere Christianity” that we all can accept as valid and core to what puts us under the same roof? I know it has been tried, but when did we quit trying?

    I think I had best shut up, now.

    -Patrick

  8. Chicago Jones says

    Monk youÂ’re wrong! Reformers do listen to one living theologian, John MacArthur. Yeah, and if there is to be a reformed pope or hierarchy itÂ’ll be that guy. IÂ’m serous, I have never met a reformer who didnÂ’t own the entire MacArthur collection.

    Kurt: Will this work for your contest? iMonk says all roads lead to heaven and heÂ’s thinking of going Buddha!

  9. Dolan McKnight says

    A thousand years ago, the church split ostensibly over the phrase “filioque.” Both the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other, and two attempts at healing never overcame the breach. Of course there was a lot more politics involved in the Great Schism than there was theology, but “filioque” gave each side a reason of faith in order to fight. Consequently, the church was split with each side calling the other heretical, so that Crusaders two centuries later had an excuse to plunder Constantinople and severely weaken the Byzantine empire. As a consequence, Islam had no strong presence to impede its progress through North Africa and Asia Minor.

    Today, Roman Catholics and Orthodox are trying to rectify their differences and “filioque”(and the Son)is considered equivalent “to through the Son,” so that both sides agree that their is not a theological divide on the issue. Yet the damage that was done cannot be rectified.

    This is a long example to say that there are consequences to allowing nitpicking theological differences to divide Christian brothers. “My theology is better than your theology” leads to more harm than good. Witness the divisions in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last twenty-five years over inerrancy, which are due to power struggles more than theology, but are represented as evil liberals vs. righteous conservatives.

    The same can and will happen in Reformed circles if we draw battle lines and engage in name calling.

  10. iMonk,

    I really appreciated your article, and I think it underscores the ecclesiology problems that we have as protestants in general. This goes far beyond the “Calvinistic/Reformed” debate. Frankly, it is one of the most embarrassing parts of being Protestant. (I.E. 25,000 denominations and counting).

    But regarding the NPP, I have to say that if you begin to redefine justification, then you have to expect to draw some criticism. If we do not agree on the nature of justification, then we have a real conflict. This goes beyond calling oneself a “4 point Calvinist” or some such thing. This is the heart of Protestant Reformed theology.

    As for electing a Reformed Pope, I am currently against that idea. Being a Baptist pastor in a community that is over 70% Roman Catholic, I have seen firsthand what “popery” can do. I may have lost you with that comment, I don’t know. But I truly did appreciate what you wrote.

    Thanks

  11. Chicago Jones: Nice, though my understanding is that the monk leans closer to Shintoism. He thinks that they get cooler robes. 😉

  12. Chris Coleman says

    I guess I am new to the “reformed” discussion, but I have noticed something troubling about the reformed side of the faith, and please correct me if I am wrong.

    It seems that many times the reformed tradition takes presedence over sola scriptura. Is it just me who feels this way? Or am I totally off the deep-end here?

    Also, if anyone is going to be the reformed Pope it better be Michael Horton. White Horse Inn Forever!

  13. Someone just messaged me with this: The problem seems to be that the reformed share confessions and creeds. The Federal Vision guys, for instance, all use and endorse the WCF. But now we have acceptable and unacceptable interpretations of the WCF. So there is an unwritten confession that interprets the written one.

  14. One BIG problem with your tirade, iMonk: “c.t.” (the guy who posted the comment you quoted and attributed to a “Truly Reformed” mindset) wasn’t “Reformed” at all and didn’t claim to be.

    He was a Ruckmanite KJVer who used more profanity than all the BHT regulars combined, and hated Calvinism a more than the sum total of all the “Communio Sanctorum” dudes who are giving you high fives (above).

    Steve Hays asked him a couple of days ago to cease and desist, and apparently he has now deleted c.t.’s comments.

    Ironic, don’t you think? You’re complaining about being lumped into categories you think you don’t belong in. And yet you have done the very same thing to conscientious Calvinists, whom you insist you never meant to offend in the first place.

    Meanwhile, the company you are attracting are the very people you say you don’t deserve to be lumped together with. Wow.

    You should at least have the cojones to stop whining when people notice and point out the fact that you are spiraling into the abyss of pomoism.

  15. Sorry if I misunderstood your position, c.t. From your remarks on Hays’s blog, you certainly didn’t seem like much of a Calvinist. You’re NOT like any Calvinist I ever knew, and I have known lots of them.

    In any case, Monk (passing over the vital fact that nothing this guy wrote had anything to do with you) he is hardly a classic example of “Truly Reformed.” He’s no more in the Calvinist mainstream than the “Reformed Confederate Theocrats” (racist cuthroats) over at the “Little Geneva” blog.

    So I still say you’re doing the very thing you profess to be a victim of–smearing all your critics with a caricature.

  16. I guess Brian is the annointed tentkeeper, then?

  17. Dan Crawford says

    Chicago Jones writes: “Monk youÂ’re wrong! Reformers do listen to one living theologian, John MacArthur. Yeah, and if there is to be a reformed pope or hierarchy itÂ’ll be that guy. IÂ’m serious.”

    And so is John MacArthur – John is probably the only truly infallible person in the Christian world. He makes it clear every time he speaks that he possesses the entire truth of the Christian message – since he asserts his infallibility infallibly, he must be. Those Romans had to get a whole Council of Bishops to declare the Pope infallible. John didn’t need others to declare him infallible – he declared himself. His exegesis of Biblical texts can get a little strange – listen to him expound on John 6 – and he can make what is obvious seem relatively obtuse, but he is infallible. And Chicago Jones is correct: John is the Protestant Pope. Even John admits that.

  18. So does this mean I DON’T get to be the anointed tentkeeper after all? MacArthur’s got it all wrapped up?

    Cnfound it! He’s the first guy I was going to kick out. He’s a dispensationalist. How did HE ever get to be a TR policeman?

  19. I made it completely clear in this post that I did not post the quote to make a personal issue out of the poster. Sheesh. You guys! Read!

    The poster simply used a metaphor and illustrative language that made response easy: the Reformed “tent,” i.e. the so-called “truly reformed” position that allows the papal candidates to speak to the rest of us as if we were in or out. Anyone knowing the recent history of this blog knows I am NOT TAKING ON CT in any way, but am referring to my own experiences. I just hadn’t seen a collection of terms for the non-truly reformed quite like this quote.

    CT: I used your quote because you said it well and with pizzazz, and that was all. You didn’t attack me and I said when I cited it that your post wasn’t personal. Hopefully, it’s clear I didn’t post to attack you, but only responded to your point of view and the metaphor you used.

    Brian knows more about me than I know about myself, so what’s to say? Spiraling into the abyss of pomo. Really cool. How many posts saying you can quit calling me a Calvinist will it take before you loss interest? And as for “smearing” people, just send me a specific example.

  20. I’ve become confused. I thought Calvinists are those who believe that Calvin correctly interpreted the Bible. When disagreements arise between Calvin and any other person, sect, denomination, or church, Calvin is right and the others are wrong. If that’s not Calvinism, what is?

    The authoritative voice of Calvinism is Calvin himself, or so I would think, and since Calvinism is a very tight reasonable system, why isn’t it easy to tell who is a Calvinist and who isn’t?

    I thought TULIP is Calvinism in a nutshell. All five points rise or fall together. Dissent from any of the five and you are no longer a Calvinist as defined by Calvin himself (who I think would know what Calvinism is better than anybody else).

    Are the squabbles I see here among Calvinists about points external to Calvinism, or internal?

    Maybe somebody can just tell me what are the Calvinist essentials?

  21. Mai wrote:
    “I’ve become confused. I thought Calvinists are those who believe that Calvin correctly interpreted the Bible. When disagreements arise between Calvin and any other person, sect, denomination, or church, Calvin is right and the others are wrong. If that’s not Calvinism, what is?”

    Calvin was a pastor and an exegete. He, like Luther, never set out to found a denomination on himself and his teaching. His *Institutes* are a massive theological work, but they are not a confession. I doubt even Presbyterians would agree 100% with what Calvin taught. What is known today as “Calvinism” is at best a synopsis, at worst a truncation, of what Calvin taught, usually focusing on the aspects of God’s sovereignty in the process of salvation. And most of these modern formulations are derived from theological sources (Westminster Confession, Synod of Dordt) at least one generation removed from Calvin. But for better or worse, his name is attached to it.

    “The authoritative voice of Calvinism is Calvin himself, or so I would think, and since Calvinism is a very tight reasonable system, why isn’t it easy to tell who is a Calvinist and who isn’t?”

    If you want a “tight, resonable system”, try Turretin – if you dare. ;-} Actually, Calvin’s *Institutes* are much more “spiritual” and Christocentric than most formulations of Calvinism you run across in Internet debates. And even within “Calvinism”, there are sharp debates about infant/believer’s baptism, infra vs supralapsarianism (DON’T ask), apologetic philosophy, church government, ad infinitum ad nauseam. It’s easy to tell who’s “calvinist” and who isn’t if you make “calvinism” more or less equal to “how *I* formulate calvinism”…

    “I thought TULIP is Calvinism in a nutshell.”

    If you mean the basic tenets of monergism in salvation by “calvinism”, yes, TULIP is a nutshell of it. But Calvin didn’t formulate TULIP, and his concerns ranged much wider than that.

    “All five points rise or fall together.”

    True, as far as that goes.

    “Dissent from any of the five and you are no longer a Calvinist as defined by Calvin himself (who I think would know what Calvinism is better than anybody else).”

    Again, Dordt defined the TULIP, not Calvin. But it is true that most of the fighting calvinists out there make the TULIP the dividing line. Some more so than others. But don’t blame Calvin for that…

    “Are the squabbles I see here among Calvinists about points external to Calvinism, or internal?”

    I hope what I’ve written has cleared that up somewhat…

    “Maybe somebody can just tell me what are the Calvinist essentials?”

    *Calvin’s* essentials can’t be pinned down that easily. His *Institutes* are much deeper and broad than that. The essentials of *calvinism* as it is known today seem to focus on the TULIP, and whatever confession their particular demonination subscribes to. The ultimate problem is that some of these folks seem to do with these confessions what the Romans and Orthodox do with *their* traditions…

  22. I just visited the troll’s blog. The irony of all this is just astounding. When will it dawn on this guy that his very behavior is validating every single beef you have against the more unsavory proponents of Calvinism? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were “ghosting” his blog as a satire of their position… ;-}

  23. OK, Monk. I just read the troll’s blog, and I realize that I owe you an apology. Here it is in all heartfelt sincerity:

    My original remark and follow-up in this comment thread were wrong on at least two counts.

    1. It’s evident from reading the guy’s blog that (despite his denials) the remarks you quoted WERE aimed your way. I accused you of undue paranoia. I was wrong.

    2. Obviously, this guy does fancy himself as “Reformed.” I doubted that he made that claim. I was wrong about that, too.

    Since those two points were the basis of my whole criticism, I retract what I wrote and ask your forgiveness for speaking out of turn. I ought to have found out more about where the whacko was coming from before accusing YOU of misunderstanding him. Turns out, he’s probably worse than even you imagined.

    It’s sadly too true that there are more than enough people like c.t. at the fringes of “Calvinism.” But they ARE at the fringe, and not really mainstream. c.t. doesn’t represent the historic reformed and Calvinistic position any more than Jack Chick represents the typical Protestant.

    Let it be known that I’m still available for the tentkeeper position. But I’ve changed my planned strategy a little. The first thing I would do is get rid of the mentally ill folk like c.t., John Robbins, and the guy who plans to use his first guest-preaching opportunity to preach that God just totally hates everyone He didn’t elect.

    MacArthur can stay as long as he plays nice and doesn’t talk about eschatology.

  24. Brian….yes, spending time at that blog has been a soul-cleansing experience for me as well. Thanks for the reconsideration. You’re still allowed to tell me I’m headed toward the abyss. It has a nice ring to it 🙂

  25. The praxis of the relational hermeneutic with characters such as ‘c.t.’ is instructive it seems.

    Is the inclusivity of the relational hermenteutic limited to a standard of inclusivity and a failure to attend to that standard of inclusivity then demand an exclusivist standard on those perceived having an extreme exclusivist standard?

    Or am I putting too much of a norm on all of this and a simple emotive standard applies?

  26. With all the craziness in evangelicalism today, I can understand why people would gravitate to a tent. I’ve been all over the doctrinal board, from speaking in tongues and praying for legs to grow back, to casting out demons of fear and infirmity. I have found much comfort and peace in Reformed theology because it centers on Christ and the cross without all the unhealthy additives and fanatisicm. I don’t think MacArthur, Horton, Sproul, or Calvin are infallible or right on all their points. I’m still learning and open to views outside of the Reformed perspective. I have grown to respect the teachings of Reformers more than others however I still read teachings of others. I just want to know who Christ is and who I am, got any good directions? We’re humans, we love labels, everything you own probably has a label on it. It’s important to us, the “label” I recommend for theology is Reformed because of its high view of Christ and the cross. If you like to “wear” another label, that’s ok we’re still family, we can talk.