Monday, December 21, 2009

Theological Self-Critique

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms...

Yesterday, I taught a church history Sunday School class on John Wesley. As I prepared it, and even as I taught it, some things finally came together in my mind. The relative youth of the New Calvinism is leading to a fair amount of immaturity among new Calvinists, which is unfortunately stoked by crude caricatures promulgated by older Calvinists.

This unhelpful trend is fueled by Radio discussion programs that are one extended snarky, smarmy inside theological joke (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean), the oversimplified view of Arminianism as if it were one monolithic Pelagian heretical movement, etc etc ad nauseam.

The great danger of this is when younger believers or the children of the young Calvinists start to peek behind the theological curtain, and, to mix a metaphor, begin to see that the emperor has less clothes on than heretofore thought. It is this, I think, that is partially fueling the "progressive" party of the PCA, pressing men really out of evangelicalism, and I repent for whatever part I have played in that in the past.

The straw man will not, I pray, be the death of the resurgent Calvinism. I am praying that our better lights prevail (and I would put Piper at the head of that list, but also Mohler, Ferguson, Keller, and Begg). These men are moderate in the right ways, have the wisdom of age, and understand how to keep the primary things primary. The test will come, I predict, when the movement is in the hands of younger men.

What we need is a warm-hearted Reformed evangelicalism, such as Murray describes in his book The Old Evangelicalism.

And, thus the importance of theological self-critique. I have not one doubt about the Reformed faith. I have many doubts about how it is practiced, enforced, and held, as if we had the right answers not only on theology, but also practice, and were doing a fantastic job of reaching the lost and engaging the culture. And, it is practice where we fall far short --a serious sin.

Why do we not have the missionary fire of the early Moravians? Why not the blessed kingdom productivity and zeal for good works of the early Methodists? Why are we not able to bridge racial, cultural, and economic divides like the Pentecostals?

Perhaps, I think, because we spend so much energy critiquing these folks, sneering down our theological noses at them, making circular, nonsensical arguments their positions (particularly continuationism), wrongly pegging Wesley as if he were a Pelagian, and dismissing the Moravians and their one-hundred-year prayer meeting, simple lifestyle, openhanded generosity, and fervent holiness as "pietism."

The Reformed world needs to wake up. We are so dead, and I doubt we even know it. We love to be right, and are satisfied with our rightness. Most of our efforts are aimed at self-preservation. The activities of our courts, and our boundary markers are excessively punctiliar. All our effort, it seems, goes into procedure and organization.

We would do well to heed this counsel from Wesley:

What is the end of all ecclesiastical order? Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God? And to build them up in his fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is worth nothing. Now I would fain know, where has order answered these ends? Not in any place where I have been: not among the tinners in Cornwall, the keelmen at Newcastle, the colliers in Kingswood or Staffordshire, not among the drunkards, swearers, Sabbath-breakers of Moorfields, or the harlots of Drury Lane. They could not be build up in the fear and love of God while they were open, bare-faced servants of the devil.”

But maybe it's just Monday.


  1. Hi Ken,

    Just read your post. I enjoyed the Sunday School lesson yesterday by-the-way. I noted the part in your post where you wrote:

    These men (Piper, Mohler, Keller, et. al) are moderate in the right ways, have the wisdom of the age, and understand how to keep the primary things primary.

    I was hoping you could explain that a bit more. What are the right ways to be moderate? What is wisdom of the age and why is it important for a Christian leader to have it? What are the primary things that must be kept primary?

    Geoff Gleason

  2. Geoff -- I think you've misread one phrase. It's "the wisdom of age," not "the wisdom of the age." The two are near to diametrical opposites when we're speaking of the wisdom of ~this~ age!

    Othewise, I'd be interested in Ken's response.

    Hello, Ken. I wandered over here from Chez Bayly. Looks intgeresting around here. If you don't mind, I'll stay a while and have a look around.

  3. Fr. Bill, of course.

    So glad Tim blogrolled me! What an honor.

    I'll post my response to my favorite intern. Okay, not favorite, but I like him a lot.

  4. "We love to be right, and are satisfied with our rightness." Amen. That's about all I have to say right now (see comment on previous post about brain full of Christmas mush). I am lacking in coherent thoughts today but would love to say that I have noticed the argumentative nature of people in the reformed faith (myself included). Self preservation is definitely at the root. And we could very much stand to take a leaf out of the books of those who are actively furhtering the kingdom. Maybe it has to do more with seeking God than arguing our cause...

  5. The right ways to be moderate are in temperament and a spirit of charity.

    Not wisdom of the age, but the wisdom of age. That is, they are older men. Much wisdom can’t come without gray hair, it seems.

    Primary things: the doctrines of grace, fervent evangelical piety, etc. Understanding where we stand on Reformed doctrine, and standing firm, but not in such a way to be denunciatory towards those who may not hold to it or understand it. The Old Evangelicalism described so well by Murray in his book of that name.

    Understanding that God works through people with theological errors, and that we have our own egregious errors especially in the areas of practice.

  6. PS Begg is my most favorite to listen to. I put his sermons on my ipod and listen while I'm cleaning, exercising, etc. I absolutely love his practicality.

  7. Sometimes I think the lack of vitality within the reformed pres church is the disregard for the Holy Spirit. We cling to our theological teachings of the Father, and we know we need the sacrifice for our sin and example of Christ, but we neglect the Spirit. So much I believed we have even quenched him. It's like we're afraid, because the Spirit isn't cut and dry and is, well unpredictable and so different in different people's lives. I love to read Tozer and read him speak of the Spirit. He brings such life to it!True piety clings to the Holy Spirit. Pieous people seem to be aware of the Spirit at all times. Presbys tend to be theologically correct, but I'm not sure this is piety. Hearing God's voice through the Spirit and acting upon it. Which sometimes to the world looks foolish, incautious, and unpractical. The Moravians sought true piety. and Wesley sought to model Christ and his teachings. the Holy Spirit is so necessary for inactment. but hearts must be softened and primed for listening, i'm afraid sometimes we have shut him (the Spirit) out so much, he has passed us by....


  8. You have your finger precisely on it, Cheryl.

    And so glad someone besides me loves Tozer!