Monday, December 21, 2009
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.