January 24, 2021

Riffs: 02:18:09: Scot Mcknight on the “Neo-Reformed”

UPDATE II: Trevin Wax agrees and disagrees with Scot.

UPDATE: Now tell me again, where are they keeping that secret book?

Justin Taylor finds the characterization of the neo-reformed as fundamentalist inaccurate, to say the least.

‘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.” Here’s the second post. Keep track on your own.

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.


  1. I think it’s a review of his book responding to John Piper, but I don’t have a link or either book. TR attempts to make Wright into the great threat to Christianity make me want to put pencils in my head.

  2. Michael,

    I wonder if what you are observing is as much about the fact that people are immature and on the internet. One of the social outcomes of the internet is that you can find people who agree with you and ignore those who don’t, and immature people after awhile begin saying really mean and hurtful things about those who are outside their group. I’ve seen this kind of closed-minded groupthink in a lot of different places.

    If these people were actually going to the village green in their local communities, working hand-in-hand with other believers from a variety of churches, it seems less likely that they would feel free to caricature and condemn so freely.

  3. Patrick Lynch says

    “Just a reminder that this entire thread was predestined.”

    Actually, DOUBLE-predestined. But if you didn’t know that, you’re probably going to Hell anyways.

  4. willoh
    “Does anybody care that these arguments about what side of our eggs we crack at breakfast makes us all look like loons to the world?”

    When I first read this I thought it said egos…..

  5. Sean:

    How many Reformed Baptists, PCAs, SGM, Piper Baptists, etc work in ecumenical settings other than on conservative social and political issues and theology conferences? I don’t know.


  6. Calvinists and Emergents drive each other crazy, but they both have some valid points from time to time. If we could find a way to de-escalate this family fued within evangelicalism, we’d all be better off.

    If anyone is interested, I came up with 5 questions for each group to consider.


  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Adam O: They won’t name names, because 1) they don’t want to resolve where the true doctrine actually resides. It’s convenient for them to keep it out of sight and only referred to by those who are in the know… — IMonk

    Isn’t that the essence of Gnosticism? That there are these secret inner mysteries Only We The Anointed Are To Know?

    As well as “keep it out of sight” makes it very convenient to make up something out of whole cloth when needed. Book of Hezekaiah meets Fizzbin.

  8. Just for Quix says

    For those who asked:

    McKnight’s blurb that is bugging folks is for Wright’s new book “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision” (available now in the UK; coming in Jun 09 for North Am.)

    McKnight is quoted as saying:
    “Tom Wright has out-Reformed America’s newest religious zealots–the neo-Reformed–by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study.”

    Many are griping about McKnight obliquely trashing the likes of Piper, who wrote a rebuttal to Wright’s new perspective on Paul in “The Future of Justificaton: A Rebuttal to N.T. Wright”. True, in this newest work Wright is addressing critiques from the likes of Piper, but Wright, in fact, has been complementary of the way in which Piper put together his critical book. Listen to the interview at: http://saidatsouthern.com/nt-wright-interview-mp3/

    And while McKnight’s edited blurb demonstrates some marketing moxie that is good for book sales, I don’t think it’s enough material to get angry about whether he thinks Piper is one of those “neo-Reformed” “religious zealots.”

  9. “Actually, DOUBLE-predestined. But if you didn’t know that, you’re probably going to Hell anyways.”

    Truly. I’m a Methodist who attends a church pastored by a woman and who believes that God gave us a brain so that we could reason our way through scripture, so I’m obviously lost and in need of saving.

    Wait! I can’t be saved! God made me a damned liberal Methodist.

    I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years in trying to grow towards Christian perfection. I could’ve got a lot of good sinning in.

  10. Every time the neo-Reformed say that someone has been mean, I just fall over. Is anyone paying attention?

  11. It seems that the problem is identifying the neo-Reformed. For now, the term is applied too broadly.
    I know in JT’s thread that there was quite a bit of discussion about who exactly McKnight was referring to.
    I agree that they’re out there, but who are they?

  12. JT’s response is odd, considering he has had to shut down comments on threads because of attacks on people like Dr. Bock and then the whole kerfuffle over Dr. Moorhead.

    McKnights comment They are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines… is part of the whole new fundamentalists way of blogging. Not that it is wrong to discuss what Bock and Moorhead said, but it is the way they go about it – no mercy, no charity to consider any option other than the person is wrong wrong wrong, because they are off the reservation

  13. Yeah, we went through this when I started using the term Truly Reformed. Names. Addresses. Just push them under the office door while I finish my 900 page tome on the Emerging Church apostates and start my 95 Theses Against Arminians.

    Don’t call me a pot while I write my magnum opus on kettle.

    Here’s a list for you. Start with everyone who has Ken Silva on their sidebar.

    There are reformed who believe in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And there are reformed who think the Apostle’s Creed is too Catholic. Critics are supposed to sort that one out? While the PCA fights to stay together in the face of the revolt of the very people Scot is talking about? I think the Reformed brethren know exactly who Scot is talking about 9 out of 10 times, and it’s not Piper. But the guys sitting in the cage eating Piper books? Maybe.

  14. Emo,

    Thanks for the Emo Philips joke, that made my day.

  15. My 2 cents- Reformation and fundamentalism go hand in hand don’t they? The ethos of both is really the same– the ‘true’ believers making an effort through the Bible to keep the church pure. This is why historically the Presbyterians led the fundamentalist charge.

    Granted fundamentalism is much narrower in its scope and doesn’t hold the same theological convictions as the reformed today…this is due I think to the evolution of fundamentalism into a Baptist movement over the last 50 yrs or so.

    So its makes perfect sense tom me that “neo reformed” are fundamentalist in a lot of ways.

  16. Instead of picking a winner in this latest blogosphere skirmish or discussing the merits and flaws of each viewpoint, I would like to propose some sort of Calvinist-Emergent peace summit where diplomatic talks can take place. I have suggested five questions that, if answered in the affirmative, could begin to ease the family tensions. If someone as liberal as Jim Wallis and a former Bush speechwriter like Mike Gerson can co-found an advocacy group to address poverty, there is still hope for mutual respect and collaboration between evangelicals of different stripes.

    Five Question for Emergent/Post-Evangelical Christians
    1. Can you name a Calvinist writer/thinker who has written a book you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?
    2. Can you name a complementarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful follower of Jesus?
    3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Democratic Party’s general platform?
    4. Can you name something you appreciate about either J.I. Packer or John Piper?
    5. Can you name something that concerns you about either Brian McLaren or Rob Bell?

    Five Questions for Calvinist Christians
    1. Can you name an Arminian writer/thinker who has written a book that you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?
    2. Can you name an egalitarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful evangelical Christian?
    3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Republican Party’s general platform?
    4. Can you name something you appreciate about either Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson?
    5. Can you name something that concerns you about either John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll?

  17. Good questions Dan S., but plenty of new fundamentalists really hate Driscoll. Most others are simply concerned (sweearing and sex). But leave that last question at just Dr. Mac Arthur, and your good to go

  18. ….start with everyone who has Ken Silva on their sidebar…


  19. Dan S.–I’ll give it a try!

    1. Can you name a Calvinist writer/thinker who has written a book you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?

    The Race Set Before Us by Thomas R. Schreiner and A.B. Caneday

    2. Can you name a complementarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful follower of Jesus?

    Yes, my pastor Andy Gray (What! An egalitarian who goes to a complementarian church!?).

    3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Democratic Party’s general platform?

    Abortion rights and the support of Roe v Wade.

    4. Can you name something you appreciate about either J.I. Packer or John Piper?

    J.I. Packer sees the big picture, and appreciates unity between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Piper is very good with money.

    5. Can you name something that concerns you about either Brian McLaren or Rob Bell?

    Bell is a very bad writer that comes across as gimicky. Brian McLaren substitutes sentimentality for argument in about everything he writes.

    (I consider myself an evangelical Arminian… I don’t particularly like anything in the “emerging church.”)

  20. Fundy-ism is ugly wherever it expresses itself, whether in Arminian or Calvinistic or Anabaptist circles. The problem is not with reformation theology. Also, the internet is not a fair sampling. Many of the older and wiser among us do not venture into this virtual world. So, before labeling all Munchkins based on your experience with the Lollipop Guild, I would suggest “stirring up one another to love and good works” instead.

  21. Great great post. There is NeoReformed Fundamentalsm, Catholic Fundamentalism, etc. Doctrinally it can be bracing, but in terms of a spirit of grace, it can be choking.

  22. Someone will probably dog me for some of this, but I’m pretty open about these things among other Reformed folk, so why not here?

    Five Questions for Calvinist Christians
    1. Can you name an Arminian writer/thinker who has written a book that you consider to be a helpful and worthwhile read?

    I still have a podcast that I downloaded from Joe Dongell a few years ago that I listen to from time to time. Also, “Why I’m Not A Calvinist” was an excellent challenge to my thoughts.

    2. Can you name an egalitarian writer/thinker who you consider to be a faithful evangelical Christian?

    Ben Witherington III will always have my respect. His commentary on Galatians is excellent.

    3. Can you name a public policy issue on which your views are at odds with the Republican Party’s general platform?

    The Republican Party is completely inconsistent in it’s Sanctity of Life stance when it almost always unquestioningly supports war, and refers to health care as a privilege.

    4. Can you name something you appreciate about either Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson?

    Dallas Willard represents Christianity in academia, a place where a lot of derision is heaped on Christians.

    5. Can you name something that concerns you about either John MacArthur or Mark Driscoll?

    The main difference between Driscoll and myself is that he has a public platform on which to shoot his mouth off, whereas I have mainly done it in dorm rooms and coffee shops. I hope that people would show him the same grace that’s been shown to me when I’ve blown it. MacArthur’s approach to pure doctrine is like theological chemotherapy– it attacks a problem but often leaves the whole body in serious pain.

    Also, I would recommend anyone read Richard B. Hays’ book on NT ethics.

  23. Okay, help a Quaker out here – Double predestination? What does THAT mean??


    Now, THAT is funny!

  24. Sweating about Mark Driscoll saying “butt” as a test case for neo-reformed fundamentalism = Absolutely.

    Other test cases:

    Dress codes in church.

    Women’s attire in general.

    The Shack. Oh my.

    Wright. Duh.

  25. Just For Quix,

    Thanks for the synopsis and link. Very helpful!

  26. I’m Reformed, PCA, but would rather hang with Scott McKnight than lots of Reformed types. He’s exposing a real problem. Sure other traditions have their arrogant jerks, but that’s like excusing crime in Philadelphia by saying there’s crime in Ames, Iowa. The “Christian on Christian” muggings and attacks and intemperate speech, and arbitrary boundary lines is like Cabrini Green when it comes to REFORMED.

  27. Michael,

    Just a quick note here: I don’t find his description of the “neoReformed” to be inaccurate per se. I just think it’s a fairly muddled post. My sense is that Scot is taking a general impression and feeling and experiences with some Reformed jerks (who obviously and frustratingly exist) and then coining a term and going into great detail about their psychology and beliefs. Scot doesn’t think he should “name names”–fair enough. But he first used the term apparently as a reference to Piper (since he was praising a book that was a response to Piper). Then he used it to refer to me. But of course Piper and I don’t hold to most of the specific things he says about village green, evangelical historiography, inclusion of the non-Reformed, etc. etc. I’m actually more bothered by the lack of clear thinking that I am by the name-calling and ad hominem stuff!

    Hope that helps.


  28. Hi Monk,

    “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.”

    None of this has anything to do with Calvinism. I know it’s tedious and embarrassing to flog one’s own book but I’m going to do it anyway. Recovering the Reformed Confession was written to demonstrate that neither the sort of fundamentalism you’re decrying nor the sort of revivalism that others advocate constitutes genuine Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    I’m quite concerned that folks in those sorts of contexts and settings identify their fundamentalist or revivalist church with “Reformed,” and when they leave it for Alexandria, Rome, or the Emergent Village (see ch. 5 of RRC, “The Joy of Being Confessional”) they think they’ve left the Reformation. They haven’t! They’ve left fundamentalism or revivalism.

    There’s an alternative.

  29. Justin:

    Your views are highly valued in the Reformed community, but in all honesty, all one has to do is read the ESVSB to know that this isn’t fundamentalism or the “neo-reformed” (whom I was calling the “truly” reformed long ago.)

    It would seem to me that, once again, it’s incumbent on the reformed community to explain why there is an impending split in the PCA over creationism; why complementarianism is a “first order” issue with a large number of Calvinists; why YEC and the “Full Quiver” are assumed to be necessary deductions from Calvinism.

    I could cite one of the most prominent internet Calvinists right now, call him reformed, and in no time we’d see posts on why he isn’t actually reformed, isn’t actually Calvinistic, isn’t actually fundamentalist.

    This goes on and on and on to the confusion and irritation of thousands. One moment Calvinists and evangelicals are on the village green together, the next the “truly reformed” are having a secret meeting to discuss what’s wrong with Mark Driscoll.

    In the SBC, we’ve been dealing with the frequent announcement by Dr. Ergun Caner that Liberty Seminary was neither Calvinistic nor Arminian, but “Biblicist and Baptistic.” Never was so little said by saying so much.

    If Scot is wrong and confused, then let me defend him by saying that from Machen’s Warrior Children to Macarthur’s Why All Self Respecting Calvinists are Dispensationalists, he’s far from alone. A lot of us are very confused as well.

    peace friend


  30. One other note:

    The fact that Douglas Wilson is reviewing NT Wright positively and John Piper positively is a fine thing….until you realize that this is exactly where many thousands of the reformed go their separate ways. So where do we look? At Wilson’s generous and humble appreciation of both, or the hard-edged rejections of each by their stalwart “reformed” followers?


  31. Monk,

    There is an objective definition of the adjective “Reformed.” It’s not endlessly plastic or utterly subjective. It’s not merely predestination or even the 5 points of Dort. Those are essential but they aren’t exhaustive.

    From the point of view of a the confessional Reformed churches, who live with the Reformed theology, piety, and practice daily neither DW (here comes the bomb shell) JP are “Reformed.” They are both predestinarian but John wouldn’t be received by Dort or Westminster as a Reformed pastor and neither would Wilson. I don’t think John would be surprised by this. Doug might.

    This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily bad guys. It just means that we’re trying to define a baseball game by using football players. It doesn’t mean that we can’t all appreciate the good things that both do (Doug is good at apologetics) but Piper is what used to be known as a Particular Baptist and Wilson is an eclectic evangelical entrepreneur. He’s a culture warrior with an interest in aspects of Reformed theology but he’s not a minister in a church recognized by the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) and he’s been subject to very serious public ecclesiastical criticism concerning his doctrine of justification, which, as you know, Calvin called the “main hinge” of the Christian faith.

    I’m not saying that we don’t have wackos in the NAPARC world. We certainly do or I wouldn’t have written the book nor would be I trying to set the captives free on the HB daily but “Calvinism” is not Bob Jones. It’s Machen, it’s Horton, it’s Berkhof, its’ Godfrey, it’s Warfield. Those are much better representatives of what genuine Calvinism is in its outworking, in its ethos than the YEC guys etc. In fact, most of the NAPARC groups have reached a settlement on that issue. It’s only a deal-breaker in perhaps one or two NAPARC groups. In the 3 largest NAPARC denominations, there have been study committees or statements that have worked out boundaries modes of living together.

    Where do we look? Why not at the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and at the Westminster Standards? That’s why they were written and adopted by the Reformed Churches in Europe and Britain. The Reformed doctrine of justification isn’t that difficult. WCF ch. 11 is very clear. Our covenant theology isn’t that difficult. That Doug has made it so says more about his idiosyncratic theology than it does about “Calvinism.”

  32. R. Scott: An excellent case, which I understand your book makes in detail. Speaking for those of us who aren’t looking for the right reformed church, I suppose it’s obvious that whatever inter-mural contests go on, we will still be dealing with self-definitions more than confessional definitions.

    I do appreciate your point that the confessional reformed aren’t fundamentalists. My experiences doesn’t completely agree- OPCers seem pretty devoted t Kenn Hamm, the full Quiver, dress codes, etc around here.

    I’ll let other Presbys make their points, as I’m sure not all agree with you in terms of Scot’s basic premise.

  33. Christopher Lake says

    I am a Reformed Baptist who leans toward YEC because Genesis 1 makes the most sense to me in that framework. However, I would not question someone’s salvation based on a different stance on origins. Similarly, if I ever marry and father children, I would strongly desire that my wife and I homeschool them– BUT I would not vilify Christian parents who make a different choice.

    Because of certain beliefs, I know that compared to many commenters here, I may come across as “Truly Reformed.” I *hope* that my tone is one of graciousness though.

    I was once called a “second-order heretic” by a man who claimed to be Reformed, because I happen to believe in common grace and that God has a non-salvific love for the non-elect. I sensed no Christian love from this man, no desire on his part to extend any friendliness to me. It was frightening and sad. I don’t want to ever treat another Christian the way that man treated me.

  34. I’m not only not Reformed, but not Truly Reformed, nor Neo-Calvinist Reconstructionist Reformed. So … am I allowed in here?

  35. Since I’m not a Calvinist at all, I hope so.

  36. Michael and Christopher,

    Mike Horton has a term for folks like that. He says they’re in the “cage phase.” People discover the doctrines of grace and they go nuts. They sometimes become angry because they realize that they were misled. They’re too enthusiastic. They become zealots.

    Too often they simply append the doctrine of predestination to their pre-existing fundamentalism.

    We have a history of fundamentalism, in some respects, going back to the 16th and 17th centuries. I describe this pattern in the book. Several of our theologians were more resistant than they should have been to scientific change/development. The good news is that we overcame that problem in the 18th and 19th centuries but the reaction to liberalism in the 20th century has re-fueled some of the old fundamentalism. People are afraid and looking for certainty but they look in the wrong places. So they clamp down on exegetical issues like creation or women in society or they become soteriological moralists. I call it the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC).

    The book is about more than in-house definition, it’s also an invitation to others to look at or to examine what confessional Reformed theology, piety, and practice actually is.


    Tell this fellow to look at the Three Points of Synod Kalamazoo (1924).

    (1) On the basis of Scripture and Confession it is certain that there is, besides the saving grace of God shown only to the elect unto eternal life, also a kind of favor or grace of God which He manifests toward His creatures in general.

    (2) According to Scripture and Confession there is a restraint of sin in the life of the individual human being and in society.

    (3) According to Scripture and Confession unregenerate men, though incapable of any saving good, are capable of doing civil good. Acts 1924, Art. 132, pp. 145, 146; Acts 1926, Art. 89, pp. 114-131. (The context of these references gives the texts of Scripture and the passages in the Reformed Confessions on which these decisions rest.)

    These points have been defended by Van Til and L. Berkhof among others. Anyone who says that they’re not Reformed needs to have his head examined.

    Petrus van Mastricht (c. 1700), among others, taught a “non-salvific love” for the non-elect. This is not a terribly controversial idea among those who know their Reformed theology.

    Sadly, too many Reformed folk live up the caricature of of the hard-headed predestinarian jerk who has deduced an entire theology from one doctrine.

  37. Christopher Lake says

    R. Scott,

    Actually, the “Reformed” man told me that it was at the Synod Kalamazoo that the Christian Reformed Church supposedly “betrayed” the historical Reformed tradition by adopting the doctrine of common grace.

    It was extremely frustrating to dialogue with him, because he denied that the concepts of common grace and divine love for the non-elect could be found *anywhere* in Reformed theology until Abraham Kuyper. I showed the man passages to the contrary from Calvin’s works (and most importantly, from the Bible itself!), and he just countered with other passages of Calvin, taken out of their wider context, which “proved” his theology.

    I sincerely think that he was and is a hyper-Calvinist, though he denied it and called into question my own belief in Reformed soteriology. It was a long conversation that I probably allowed to go on for too long, hoping that I could reason with him…

  38. Christopher,

    Yes, your dialogue partner likely was a hyper-Calvinist. I think we can admit that the expression “common grace” is problematic without trashing the three points. Prior to Kuyper et al we used to speak simply of “providence” or “general providence.” That’s perhaps a more helpful terminology. We’ve always recognized that God gifts all humans with good gifts and restrains evil and grants mercies to all his creatures. The denial of these doctrines is really rooted in an over-realized eschatology (again part of the fundamentalist system). The substance of the three points has been present in Reformed Christianity since the 16th century.

    If you want to see a defense of one of the three points, see the essay in David VanDrunen ed. The Pattern of Sound Doctrine on “Janus and the Well-Meant Offer….” The essay shows that Hoeksema, G. Clark (no relation) and others who deny the WMO do so because they are rationalists. Ironically they actually agree with Arminius in their rejection of the fundamental Reformed distinction between knowing things as God does (which we call “archetypal theology”) and knowing as humans do (ectypal theology). We are analogues of God, not God. This is an important fact that too many Reformed folk either don’t know (because they’ve simply pasted the doctrine of predestination to their fundamentalism without bothering to actually learn Reformed theology) or because they know about it and reject it in favor of an intersection between the divine and human intellects.

    That old liberal Cornelius Van Til defended the TA/TE distinction (he called it “the Creator/creature distinction”) vigorously.

    Mike Horton does a great job with this in Covenant and Eschatology.

  39. Ky boy but not now says

    Is the hyper-Calvinist movement related to the teaching of teens that all they need to do to debate / convert their non Christian friends is to quote NT Bible verses? My kids came away from these “lessons” a bit jaded as to the inteligence of their teachers and each lost some “friends” at church over saying this does not work in many (most?) cases.

    They of course realize two things:
    1. Kids who claim to be atheist and the bible a fairy tale will ignore you.
    2. Jesus and the Christians of the first century or two seemed to do OK without a NT. Or even a KJV OT.

  40. Christopher Lake says

    Ky boy but not now,

    I wouldn’t call what you are describing a necessary characteristic of hyper-Calvinism. The mentality that you mention could just as easily be found in many completely non-Calvinist churches.

    Some Christians simply refuse to employ reasoning and logic when they speak to non-Christians about Christ. These Christians (mistakenly) think that to do so would be using the “wisdom of the world.” They forget that reason and logic have to be employed in the reading and understanding of the Bible itself.

  41. Christopher Lake says

    R. Scott,

    Thank you for the response and the helpful information. My conversation partner (his name was Charlie) flatly denied that God shows *any* true favor or mercy to the non-elect. Charlie stated that any apparent blessings from God to the non-elect are simply God’s way of providing more reason to ultimately pour out His wrath on them (given that they would not truly thank God for said blessings).

    Charlie gave me links to articles from the Protestant Reformed Churches of America to “prove” his points. I mentioned to him that the PRCA is often considered to be a hyper-Calvinist denomination (or very close to it), and he denied it, claiming that they were actually being faithful to the *true* historic Reformed tradition, when most other Reformed churches have supposedly “betrayed” it.

  42. Predestination and no mercy to the non-elect minimize the sin of abortion, don’t they? For all we know, the baby being killed is already despised by God. And the narrower the gate, the higher the odds are of that being true. It removes the cliche from “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

  43. Is it really fun to be a hyper Calvinist? I mean, what exactly are you doing with your life? How is that any different from Fred Phelps?

  44. Christopher Lake says


    When I was conversing with Charlie, I can tell you, he seemed to me to be a deeply unhappy man. I have no doubt he would call his attitude one of “contending for the truth,” but he just seemed really irascible and argumentative.

    Anyone who did not share his view of complete, no-quarter divine hatred for the non-elect was potentially suspect of being a “first-order” or “second-order” heretic (his words). A “first-order” heretic was not a Christian. A “second-order” one (which is what he called me)…. well, I still haven’t completely figured out that one.

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