Who are the NeoReformed?

I have been using the term “NeoReformed” now for a year or two and a few of my friends have asked me what I mean and why I don’t just calls such folks “Reformed”. This post will sketch who they are and why I call them “Neo” Reformed. I begin with a confession: I’m not a Calvinist; I’m an anabaptist. But, I have never had any problems with the variety of theologies at work in the big tent of evangelicalism. Calvinists are not only among us, they have important elements to bring to the table. I’ve sat on the essence of this post for months, but I think it is time for us to make it public. I do so with a certain degree of sadness, but feel compelled to call us to a unity that is presently threatened.

BigTent.jpgThe evangelical tent is big enough to welcome to the table Calvinists and Arminians, anabaptists and charismatics, and I love it when Catholics and the Orthodox join us. This is not a personal battle for me with Calvinists; it’s a particular kind of divisive Calvinist that I have in view.

Formerly the disagreements with Calvinists or the ones they had with others didn’t stop us from gathering inside the big tent. But in the last decade something happened, and I call it the rise of the NeoReformed. Here we go but first a question or two:

Are you seeing a rise of reformed folks? Do you see some militancy — whatever their strengths? What are your thoughts? Why do you think some youth are attracted to this new form of Reformed theology?

VillGrn.jpgOne 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?

Well said. We’ll continue Wednesday morning.

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  • SuperStar

    Okay, you could be right on this. But I’m not sure what “gates” you are referring to and I wonder who the people are who they are keeping out. Could you get a little more specific about this gated village green?

  • The quote with which you close this post (from your Reformed theologian friend) hit the “on” switch on the lightbulb over my head this morning. The rules, the coded language and name-dropping, the need to win…of course! The neo-Reformed folks often exhibit the same life-sappping, graceless and Pharisaical approach to faith as my old friends, the Fundamentalists.
    I lived through the mean-spirited fundy wars of the 1970’s-1980’s – and we then homeschooled our kids in the 1990’s, which meant we spent an inordinate amount of time with fundy folk during those years. When I reflect on what of value that immersion into fundy world left behind in my life, most of it is empty and sad. (We do have some enduring friendships, for which I am grateful, but we also carry a lot of silly “Christians shooting their wounded” war wounds from living in an environment characterized by loveless rancor.)
    I currently work at a seminary, and see this same behavior at play in some I’ve known. But your words crystallized the connections this morning, and gave me a new way to pray and search for wise, godly responses to this behavior as a result. Thanks.

  • The quote with which you close this post (from your Reformed theologian friend) hit the “on” switch on the lightbulb over my head this morning. The rules, the coded language and name-dropping, the need to win…of course! The neo-Reformed folks often exhibit the same life-sappping, graceless and Pharisaical approach to faith as my old friends, the Fundamentalists.
    I lived through the mean-spirited fundy wars of the 1970’s-1980’s – and we then homeschooled our kids in the 1990’s, which meant we spent an inordinate amount of time with fundy folk during those years. When I reflect on what of value that immersion into fundy world left behind in my life, most of it is empty and sad. (We do have some enduring friendships, for which I am grateful, but we also carry a lot of silly “Christians shooting their wounded” war wounds from living in an environment characterized by loveless rancor.)
    I currently work at a seminary, and see this same behavior at play in some I’ve known. But your words crystallized the connections this morning, and gave me a new way to pray and search for wise, godly responses to this behavior as a result. Thanks.

  • RJS

    Isn’t an authority-minded approach at work here? We seek for certainty an authority on which to base our walk – in the world and with God.
    For some then a big tent or an open village green is a problem because it implies that such certainty, comfort, authority is not to be found, and perhaps does not exist.
    Of course I think that such “authority” or certainty doesn’t exist – our certainty is in God alone and every human expression of theology is in error, perhaps in many ways and places. This assessment requires some humility and applies to my own current convictions as well. This is also the I think the point of the comment of your friend at the end of the post.
    Some youth are attracted to this “Neo-reformed” expression of the gospel because it is secure, provides an authority to face the future. This desire for authority and certainty was also at play in some of the conversion stories in your book “Finding Faith Losing Faith” especially the stories of conversion to Roman Catholicism.

  • This quote sets the tone for me and echoes my own heart:
    “The evangelical tent is big enough to welcome to the table Calvinists and Arminians, anabaptists and charismatics, and I love it when Catholics and the Orthodox join us.”
    @ RJS -> do you mean this literally? “every human expression of theology is in error” I think I can understand the broader implications of our “absolutist” bent toward authority and certainty…and I think we can get over-inflated with ourselves on many occasions. On the other hand, I think we have been given the capacity to relate and commune with God and be guided by His indwelling Spirit. If there is any measure of consensus on this belief, cannot some of our expression of theology be accurate? The alternative to this thinking (IMO) is most discouraging and the idea of “every human expression of theology is in error” would leave me with a sense of no hope. That doesn’t sound as though it falls into agreement with scripture. My apologies if I have missed your point.

  • David

    “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.”
    “Fine” – This is the big tent! Rather than reinventing and renaming Protestantism again and again, why not focus your attention on the Church Christ founded?
    The Church is not the sum total of different confessions, it isn’t a parliamentary set-up with various parties.. Given that this overarching “Evangelicalism” (500 years of history or so) to which you belong clearly isn’t the Church, why the constant obsession with neo-this, neo-that?
    It’s so annoying, as a Catholic it’s deeply frustrating. Sure, there are problems inside the Catholic Church but that’s always the case, but what worries me about Protestantism is that it seems as if you’ll find any excuse not to really accept that there is one Church and that this coming together is going to have to happen at some stage. Instead there’s what I frankly consider to be fiddling about.
    Being Catholic is like getting into a taxi with a heavily intoxicated driver. You can’t help but think that you’ll be joining the little mermaid and co “under the sea”, but no, no, the driver has assured us that though the car will hit object after object, it’ll all be ok.

  • David

    Sorry If I’ve come across as rude. I’d just been reading the chapter on the Church in Karl Rahner’s “Foundations of Christian Faith”

  • Scot McKnight

    I didn’t take it as rude; we Protestants both deserve and can handle the big accusation that we are not part of the Catholic Church. Nor do we agree with you that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded.
    But, this post is not about the merits of the Protestants vs. the Catholics but a particular form of Reformed theology that has arisen within the American evangelical movement.
    The perspective of Catholics on our squabbles is always worth hearing.

  • I have been reading the ‘shelf of books’ I bought a few months ago. I bought about 70 dollars worth of books at the half price book store, they are worth a few hundred at least. The last three I just went thru were published by universities; Oxford, Princeton, etc. I have learned over the years that your time is well spent in the ‘higher education’ category. You can spend a lifetime reading the popular Christian culture stuff and never really get educated.
    The book I just started is called ‘Revival and Revivalism’ and covers the history of the first great awakenings. I want to give you a long quote from Samuel Davies, the son in law of Jonathan Edwards. The Lord used him in Hanover, Va. ‘In all the sermons I have preached in Virginia, I have not wasted one minute in reasoning against the peculiarities of the established church; nor so much as assigned my own reasons of non-conformity. I have not exhausted my zeal in railing against the established clergy, in exposing their imperfections, or in deprecating their characters. I have matters of infinite importance to spend my time and strength upon, to preach repentance towards God and faith towards Jesus Christ.’ ‘What an endless variety of denominations, taken from some men of character, or from some little peculiarities, has prevailed in the Christian world and crumbled it to pieces…what party names have been adopted by the Protestant churches, whose religion is substantially the same common Christianity, and who agree on much more important truths than in those they differ. To be a Christian is not enough now-a-days, but a man must be something more or better, that is he must be a strenuous bigot to this or that particular church…but to glory in the denomination of any particular church, as my highest character, to lay more stress on my denomination than on my being a Christian…to make it my zeal to win people to my peculiar denomination than to Christ, to overlook the faults of those in my own party and to be blind to the good in others, or to diminish them; these are the things that deserve condemnation from God and man. These proceed from a spirit of bigotry and faction, directly opposite to the generous catholic spirit of Christianity, and subversive of it. This spirit turns men from the important matters of Christianity, to vain jangling and competitions about circumstantials and trifles. Thus the Christian is swallowed up in the partisan, and the fundamentals are lost in extra essentials’
    [I paraphrased a little] I find it interesting that Davies and the other leaders in the awakening were anti sectarian, though most of them were Presbyterian/Reformed, yet they saw their task above denominationalism. In Davies case the main denomination he came up against was the Anglican church, many in Virginia contrasted the traditional church with the ‘new light’ brothers. Many associated with the revivals were seen this way. You can still find prejudicial comments made against Catholics during this period, but I find it interesting that many of the revival leaders were aware of the sectarian spirit and saw it as a danger to the work of God. They warned against what many of their ‘offspring’ would become. I find it hard to understand how many of the offshoots of the awakenings can read and study their history and not see the error that their own fore-fathers warned them about. But for the most part God was working in their day and they were wise enough to rise above religious bigotry.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS may be tied up; I suspect she meant “limited” more than “error.” But her comment was about our theologies not the gospel itself.

  • RJS

    Perhaps my meaning is better put like this: Every human expression of theology contains error and truth intermingled.
    Perhaps this is an expression of the fallen nature of man (every man/woman) perhaps it is an expression of the fact that we are called to relationship with God, not to a bunker with concrete boundaries.
    And yes – I mean it literally. But it doesn’t leave me without hope – but rather with great hope. First and foremost – because I am not saved by getting my theology right, but by loving God with heart, mind, soul, strength, and by following Jesus.

  • Scott, brilliant post here.
    I have a significant Reformed influence on my theology (though I would not wholeheartedly embrace the label), but the way the Reformed tradition is used, or abused rather, in what you have rightfully termed the neo-Reformed is tragic and serves to do little but alienate people.
    I too have seen an increase in this idea among certain Reformed circles that they, and perhaps only they, are the defenders of Orthodoxy and the true Gospel. As such they are exceedingly quick to attack anything that does not fit in their tradition, like N.T. Wright, anyone who might have emerging sympathies, postmodernism, people who don’t hold fast to TULIP etc.
    It’s really quite sad, because the historic Reformed tradition has a lot to bring to the table. Yet, if the hostile, us against the world, neo-Reformed rests control of the tradition’s direction here, I think it will in the end lead to Reformed theology being marginalized and sectarian, cut off from enriching the rest of Evangelicalism.

  • Paul

    Your topic will be a challenge.
    How are you going to say this without sounding too vague? If you name names and give examples, you will clarify. But will that achieve your inclusion goals? Is this something that is better done in private conversation with those you are concerned about?
    How are you going to say this without sounding mean-spirited yourself? e.g. Using the word fundamentalist is inflamatory in itself. I don’t sense a mean spirit in your aim, but the word lights a match none the less.
    You also need to be objective. This blog community can sounds as exclusive at times as the new reformed blog communities.
    I really enjoy your blog. Please be careful and speak the truth in love.

  • Matt

    Scot, I wonder if the rise of the Neo Reformed is due to the instability of evangelicalism. I think something like this may have happened in the Catholic Church after Vatican II. Allow me to try to explain. A prominniet Catholic priest revealed that in his opinion when Vatican II introduced many shades of grey into the theology, that the vigour and life of the priesthood suffered. He stated that pre-Vatican II the semminaries were full of men ready to die for the faith, because it was black and white and had a purpose and goal.
    While this story is far from scientific, it could illlustrate a similar phenomena in evangelicalisim. Bottom line, young men want black and white, they want cause and they want a leader. That os what the neo reformed movement has on thier side. A simple system of thought, charismatic leaders and a cause that they can live and die for and to thier credit they see it as the gospel.
    Maybe as other-minded evangelicals we should cultivate the same passion and clarity to our message. I am far from reformed, but as a pastor/missionary I see lots of young people wanting to be challenged to answer Christ call to be radical followers. We need to give them that challange, with some better theology.

  • Brian

    Interesting post, Scot. I appreciate Michael Horton’s village green analogy. But I’d be curious also to see who exactly you have in mind as constituting the “neo-Reformed” within the evangelical tent.
    As I see it -and I’m not (Dutch) Reformed, Presbyterian, or any other flavor of Reformed, by the way – much of what I am guessing you are calling the “neo-Reformed” in its militant form is actually a smattering of Reformed Baptists (Calvinist Baptists would be a more accurate label), Reformed Baptist charismatics, and a few of the self-described “old school” Presbyterians. I’m thinking here particularly of the opposition that N.T. Wright on justification, for instance, has received from certain sectors of the village green.

  • joanne

    1. Are you seeing a rise of reformed folks? in my area some come into churches that are not reformed and begin to try to convert everyone. It creates a lot of havoc because they assume everyone but themselves are wrong.
    2. Do you see some militancy — whatever their strengths? What are your thoughts? yes. I have experienced some real barbs and have been told i am outside the fold if I don’t accept every tenent. And of course being a woman pastor automatically makes me suspect of not being a Christian. The divisiveness is a problem.
    3. Why do you think some youth are attracted to this new form of Reformed theology? I am not sure but i think some are attracted to this because it provides clear cut answers about which one can be certain. In an age of uncertainty, this certainty provides some security. But i know that in time questions will develop and the security will not seem so secure.

  • Jeff Borden

    @ RJS re: #10
    Thank you for the clarification. Yes, I understand your intent now and agree with the position; “Every human expression of theology contains error and truth intermingled”. Glimpses of truth as we wrestle with our understanding (working out our salvation with fear and trembling in the presence of an completely other and holy God) is how I maintain my hope too. Concrete boundaries discourage me…in the sense of reigning into finite that which is infinite. Thank you again for the clarification.

  • Charles

    Interesting post and I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to clarify what you mean. There are several issues that I wonder about though. First, how do you relate the fact that your theological tradition is Anabaptist, a tradition that historically might have been considered very similar to the Neofundamentalism that you are critiquing here? Second, who would you suggest wears the Neoreformed hat that you are talking about here? It is unclear to me whether you consider Horton as such. Third, would your big tent also include the Neoreformed/Neofundamentalist?

  • ron

    “every human expression of theology is in error”
    Isn’t the delusion that we fallen humans know the will of the unknowable God that which we use to justify our imposition of those convictions on others by means other than friendly persuasion?

  • Scot McKnight

    Good question and it is one I wish were clear enough in the post.
    Liberals, who pride themselves on tolerance, are tolerant of everyone but the intolerant, which means they tolerate everyone as long as they are not conservative.
    Third Way, which I am advocating, is tolerant in the Big Tent or on the Village Green of anyone and everyone committed to the gospel. So, yes, by all means, we welcome the NeoReformed.

  • Rick

    I am not neo-Reformed, but the responses which indicate some belong to the NeoReformed camp because it provides “security” sound somewhat patronizing (although I don’t think comments were meant that way).
    Perhaps some are attracted to the NeoReformed camp because they actually believe it is correct.
    Ron #18-
    “Isn’t the delusion that we fallen humans know the will of the unknowable God…”
    Are you saying God (or His will) can’t be known (at all)?

  • Scot McKnight

    I agree that the suggestion that the NeoReformed attract those who want certainty can sound patronizing, but I’m not sure it is. Colleen Carroll, for instance, wrote about this recently and there is a palpable clarity that the rise of conservative Christianity in the wake of the postmodern turn has a yearning for some grounding in a day when too much ground is shifting.
    In a book of mine called Finding Faith, Losing Faith, I report that those who turn from evangelicalism to Catholicism do so, in part, out of a drive for authority and certainty, I did not feel at all patronizing or even as if I were explaining things psychologically, though we’d be foolish to ignore everything involved.
    So, yes, we need to avoid that suggestion while doing our best to describe both what is going on and why it might be so.

  • Hi Scot,
    Interesting post. I’ll be interested to see how you develop this.
    I do think it would be helpful to provide some names as examples of those who believe (a) non-Reformed evangelicals are not true evangelicals and (b) happily call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who does not believe in something like double predestination. Such folks of course exist, but I’d be curious to see who you have in mind.

  • Are you seeing a rise of reformed folks? Yes, particularly in the SBC circles I used to run in. There’s a cataclysm coming there.
    Do you see some militancy — whatever their strengths? Yes, although I’ve also known some gracious and inclusive Calvinists who are eager to dialogue, not harangue.
    What are your thoughts? Since I spend most of my time on the village green now (and wandering the countryside) it distresses me to see people come along and set up partitions and fences and whatnot. And of course, it is very irritating to be witnessed to as if you don’t already know and follow Jesus (whether the missionary is a fundamentalist, hyper-Calvinist, or what have you) or to be treated like a heretic (which is almost funny when it comes from Oneness Pentecostals).
    Why do you think some youth are attracted to this new form of Reformed theology? I think RJS hit the nail on the head. A lot of it has to do with fear of uncertainty and desire for a rigorous system of thought to deal with the world (a lot of it may be wrong thought, but perhaps that’s better than the great mass of non-thinking evangelicals).
    To be fair, a lot of it also has to do with a profound understanding of God’s grace and sovereignty, a true vision of one’s own sinfulness, and a willingness to follow convictions consistently wherever they lead (which in my opinion leads to a God who may be sovereign and powerful, but is just not very good). Unfortunately, I’ve just entered further into Calvinist thought than many (by no means all) of the folks we’re talking about are willing to go into mine.

  • Eric

    Are you seeing a rise of reformed folks? Among my Christian acquaintances in the age range 25-35, more than half would categorize themselves as neo-reformed — particularly the men.
    Do you see some militancy — whatever their strengths? Yes — it is usually associated with significant levels of anger, pride, lack of humility, misogyny, and attacks on other Christian groups. I wish it weren’t so, but I think their fellow Christians need to challenge it for what it is.
    Why do you think some youth are attracted to this new form of Reformed theology? In talking to many people in this group, I am convinced that RJS’s first post above is absolutely correct — these folks are all about bright lines, clearly drawn. And it is about safety, security, and comfort — that is what Christianity is all about to them.
    The characterization of this as Neo-fundamentalism is something I hadn’t thought about, but it strikes me as right. Neo-reformed folks wouldn’t perceive it that way because they emphasize grace over legalism. But that isn’t the point — its the other factors described above.
    I have been surprised that more Christian leaders haven’t called out the Neo-reformed for their behavior. So much of it — the anger, pride, lack of humility, misogyny and divisiness toward others — is contrary to what the body of Christ is supposed to be about.

  • Eric

    Rick # 20 — I wouldn’t make the statement about comfort and security unless it was based on seperate conversations with about half a dozen different people in this group. When I press them to figure out what the attraction is, it always comes back to the need for certainty and bright lines.

  • Bradm

    I have to agree with the comment above that said this topic is going to be a challenge. I have to admit I cringed a little when I read that response from your Reformed theologian friend. Calling somebody a “fundamentalist” in this day and age is little more than name-calling. And, for the record, I’ve met people who I think would qualify as “neo-Reformed” (i.e., “they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed”) who are neither mean-spirited, nor graceless. Those adjectives seem unnecessary and unhelpful – more name-calling.

  • Matt S.

    In the lives of certain friends and church circles to whom I am connected there has been an inexplicable rise in popularity of the “Way of the Master” material by Comfort and Cameron.
    I think the WOTM perspective represents the worst of the militant, neo-fundamentalist strain of this neo-reformed perspective.
    Scot, would you agree that WOTM is in this category and that your comments do/will apply to them?
    I ask because I have been mulling and jotting down thought on how best to help my friends see the dangers of the direction they are going. Your thoughts will help tremendously I’m sure.

  • Scot McKnight

    I agree and I’m trying to be gracious and fair but also genuinely descriptive. I wouldn’t write this post if I didn’t think we were facing a serious issue these days. I do agree: this is a NeoFundamentalism at work. I may be wrong, but that is how I see it. Others agree.
    I don’t know anything about Comfort and Cameron and the way of the master.

  • Rick

    Scot #21 and Eric #25-
    Thanks for that feedback. I get uncomfortable when the thoughts and motives of people are judged without sufficient evidence. If, as you (Eric) point out, some in that camp are open about that and have admitted to such motives, then I have no problem with that conclusion. I think some of those more high profile individuals who have gone to Catholicism also have been open about similar motives regarding authority.
    However, we still need to be careful about placing those motives on everyone in that NeoReformed camp. As Travis (#23) points out in his last paragraph, there may be (for many) some reasons for attraction to that theology that do not necessarily involve “fear”, “security”, or “comfort”.

  • I’d also want to push back, slightly, on the idea that many young people are embracing this so-called NeoReformed theology only because it offers certainty. I’m not Reformed (at least not typically… does Barth count at all?), but I’ve interacted quite a bit with some of these so-called NeoReformed. Yes, certainty was a compelling factor, but there were other factors as well. The certainty they found was rooted not in some abstract notion of certainty, but in a complex system of theology that they also found compelling. Beyond this, many had grown up with very vague, cliched notions and vocabulary thrown around in their churches (i.e. “for the glory of God”) and now they were encountering a theological construct that gave content, meaning, and teeth to these sayings that were a part of their heritage.

  • Your Name

    “Why do you think some youth are attracted to this new form of Reformed theology?”
    Among other reasons already given, I think many see this as kind of a re-reformation, and in this age, it’s “cool.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there are some very good, persuasive teachers out there, too. It also doesn’t hurt that proponents of these ideas have a majority “share” in a major seminary.
    A better question than “do you see militancy” is “why the militancy?”
    Everyone wants to think they’re right, but I usually see Calvinism taught in a particular way — namely, that those who disagree do so not because they don’t agree with “our” handling of the scriptures but because of a moral failure on their part (i.e., they can’t accept sovereign election because of their own hangups). They also have teachers who say that sovereign election “is the gospel” — the implication (and occasionally outright accusation) being that everyone else believes in a form of works righteousness whether they acknowledge it or not.
    A second reason may be that they perceive themselves to be under attack — at least recently, and not without reason. I have a feeling the SBC is about to clean house at their seminaries, which is too bad.
    A third reason may be historical — Baptists used to all be Calvinists. They moved away from Calvinism and then moved toward liberalism. The return of a bunch of Calvinists was instrumental in bringing the denomination back from liberalism. That may affect their view of the importance of their views.

  • Eric

    Rick # 29 — fair point: I’m sure there are some in that group who aren’t motivated by security and comfort. My comments are based on the people I have talked to. But I suspect it is true of others as well. After lots of discussions, this seemed to be at the core of why the people who follow Driscoll and others like him have thought processes that are so different from me.
    I would hold out Tim Keller as an example of someone who holds the same sorts of theological views, but isn’t angry or divisive, and has humility. So merely being Reformed (and having young folks follow you) doesn’t have to go hand in hand with this sort of stuff.

  • Sorry about leaving #31 anonymous.

  • Are you seeing a rise in reformed folks? Yes, but it is not overwhelming in my context.
    Do you see militancy? Yeah, this is the more disturbing feature. I have had a few interactions with neo-reformed types and i find the discussion can be helpful but it is challenging. I think because of the fundamental hermeneutical difference between many neo-reformed types and other evangelicals under the big tent. I have thought through this issue quite a bit. I find many features of reformed theology quite intriguing and helpful. And i admire the commitment to obedience and faithfulness to the text. But in my reading of the biblical text i give some room for culture, reason and experience to influence interpretation. I find that this is often treated with suspicion if not derision.
    I wrote a blog two summers ago about taking a philosophy class @ Mars Hill with Carl Raschke and then attending Mars Hill Church on Sunday. It was quite a contrast and the comments made by representatives of both camps was indicative of these challenging differences. I have also seen a recent blog thread on Roger Olsen’s new offering, “Finding God in The Shack”, that provides a critique of Olsen, “Shack” author P. Young but refuses to see the good work this novel has initiated in non-believing or alienated Christians lives.
    On a brighter note, i really enjoyed the “poster wars” between some emergent folks and the people over at Pyromaniacs had a year or so back. I thought the humorous, although maybe over the line at times, approach would help each side to stay honest and move away from either soft selling our evangelicalism or de-humanizing it. It seems we are a long way from that kind of charitable approach.

  • I think that a lot of young people are attracted to Reformed Theology because my generation grew up during the big apologetics push of the 80s and 90s and were constantly reminded that we should “always be ready with an answer.” Reformed Theology has an answer for everything. It’s an elegant system, and a good fit for those comfortable with Western Enlightenment rationality and its emphasis on absolutes, certainty, and binaries. I’ve never met a Calvinist who wasn’t absolutely, 100 percent certain that his theology was the right one. As Joanne said, Reformed theology is a good fit for people who equate faith with certainty.
    The problem this creates is that I feel like any time I try to have a conversation with someone of the Reformed persuasion, I am told that my disagreement is not with Calvin, Luther, or Augustine but with God himself.
    For a while, I was so surrounded by Neo-Reformed that I was convinced I was having a serious faith crisis, that by doubting predestination and limited atonement and so on, I was doubting God. It was a very difficult time for me, and I considered leaving the faith altogether. It took a while for me to realize that I wasn’t actually questioning God; I was just questioning Reformed theology.
    This is why fundamentalism, in any shape or form, is so dangerous. The more items we add to our list of fundamentals, the more vulnerable our faith becomes to questions/changes/doubts. When the Neo-Reformed claim that TULIP is an absolutely necessary element of Christian faith, I think they inadvertently set their young people up for future crises of faith.

  • james wheeler

    I neglected to mention the philosophy class i took was at Mars Hill Graduate School, which is committed to exploring all facets of human experience in relation to the Christian faith. It is a school which encourages curiosity and scholarship.

  • Scot,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months and have heard you refer to yourself as an anabaptist a number of times. I was wondering if you could flesh out what it means for you to be an anabaptist (is there a reason for the small a?). I am a Mennonite, so I consider myself an Anabaptist, and would love to read a post from you on Anabaptism. Perhaps you have done this elsewhere and could point me in the right direction?

  • It is an uncomfortable position to agree with the basic tenants of the Neo-reformed, but to disagree with the attitudes and exclusivity thereof. Come to think of it that is where I was with Fundamentalism
    30 years ago.
    Rachel is on a good point. What happened to “Walk humbly with thy God”? The only way to teach with the authority of Jesus, is to teach what Jesus taught, no extrapolation. Is that not enough?

  • Karl

    Yes! This post is sorely needed, although here you may be preaching to the choir a bit (don’t know, haven’t read the comments yet b/c I had to post a “thank you”).
    I agree with the closing quote that likens the New Reformed to Fundamentalists. Indeed, many of my former fundamentalist Baptist friends have embraced Reformed theology over the last decade, and bring with them into the Reformed camp their fundamentalist attitudes. One of them now lists as his favorite quote: “When a man is born he is Pelagian, when he gets saved he is an Armenian and when he understands the Bible he becomes a Calvinist.” Not a helpful nor a humble attitude, IMO.
    But I don’t think it’s just the former fundies who bring the combative attitude that you’re talking about to reformed churches. In our foray into a strongly reformed church, we encountered many lifelong reformed types who had with similar attitudes been fighting various theological battles with one another for decades. The internet has just allowed them, their children and those who find a certain brand of reformed certainty appealing, a greater outlet.
    John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary examines and laments this combative attitude and the intramural strife it has caused even among reformed flocks in his article “Machen’s Warrior Children”
    And this article is only about the Reformed’s fighting with each other! Not to mention their attitude toward others who would share the Village Green with them!

  • Dan

    I can’t help but think this “debate”, or whatever best characterizes it, is one seen and felt only in ministry leadership circles and in Christian academia. Frankly, being part of those circles but still deeply tied to the everyday praxis of faith with those not “on the inside,” I just don’t see this playing out. I might bring this up with 10 of my Believer friends and 10 of my non-Believer friends, and maybe 2 people will understand what you’re driving at…although I’m not sure I understand it, so…
    In my opinion, the Faithful, the Faith-not-so-ful, and the Faithless don’t likely know or understand any of what this thread is talking about. It’s simply confusing, too vague, suspiciously divisive itself as it judges divisiveness, and ultimately (in my opinion) doesn’t serve to mature the faith of anyone, challenge the lack of faith some have, or point people closer to Christ.
    I greatly appreciate your work, Dr. McKnight, but this hit me weird. What you’re addressing here must be something happening, but just somewhere else (from me).
    As I read it, I kept thinking, “Who is he talking about and where do these gates exist…and if they do, how are they negatively impacting service to Believers or the work of Evangelism?” The most vocal and popular Calvinists I can quickly think of are part of the Piper/Driscoll/Grudem/Carson posse. I’d hardly call them NeoReform (I’m still not clear on what that is.) I call them what they call themselves – Confessional-Reformational I also wouldn’t say they are building up “gates” which keep people from the Gospel who would otherwise hear and know it.
    [As an aside, I can’t help but wonder if this critique is less about a view of salvation and more about the practice of church, i.e. women in senior leadership, OR worse about traditionally decided doctrines re: homosexuality, inclusive/exclusiveness, biblical authority, virgin birth, nature of God, nature of Jesus, etc., etc. It reminds me of many Redemptive/Trajectory Hermeneutic conversations I’ve been in. I think that’s just my hang up, though.]
    Are there others who have the kind of influence that Piper and Driscoll and Grudem have that I’m just not aware of? Others who are keeping the Gospel from those who’d otherwise embrace it if they only would accept Calvinism as being “right?”
    I just don’t understand what the objection or the objective is here…
    Is it that Calvinists are “gaining” in the sphere of Chrisitian influence today? Are they? Is that threatening to those not Calvinist? Why would it be?
    I don’t know where I stand on the theological issue of how salvation works, but the Driscoll/Piper posse seem to address the issue better than anyone else I’ve heard today:
    If believing that axiom means I’m a NeoReform Calvinist, I don’t know what to say to that. If an Arminian, anabaptist, or whatever can explain the work of salvation better – I’d like to hear it.

  • KevinL

    I appreciate opening this discussion. I recently took a position in a large church with a strong reformed base in the student ministries (in which I serve). At first, I was highly worried that I wouldn’t fit in. I had heard stories of the past and how the reformed student ministries had alienated the rest of the church. Thankfully, I work with some of the most humble and caring people I know. Yes, they love their reformation theology with deep passion. Sure, they can sometimes make extreme statements. But they have welcomed me into their lives. When I told them that I wasn’t a Calvinist, they didn’t reject me. I believe, and so do they, that I serve to balance them out. All that being said, there are neoreformed (most were not brought up reformed), who are very gracious and open people.

  • ChrisE

    I’m taking bets on how long it will be before someone uses the phrase “their ilk” in this or related threads.
    Hopefully, at a future time, we will address the root question of how beleivers, I mean truly sincere disciples of Jesus, are obligated to treat other followers who do not agree with their theology. This thread is a good topic for there is a strain within the new(ly) Reformed that is judgemental and narrow-minded. I’m in the camp, broadly construed, so I know what I’m talking about.
    But I’ve encountered the exact same attitudes from Emergents (We’re right, you’re wrong. I reject your theology.). So who gets to say what’s acceptable, and more importantly, how are we to treat our brothers. Is a very public blog thread a good contribution to that dialog?

  • Younger folks are at times attracted to Neo-Reformed circles because their background lacked any serious systematic theology, at it did mine. It provided for some of us a very logical file cabinet where just about everything had a nice folder to go into.
    It took me a few years to stop watering my tulip, it wasn’t because of weeds, I just found something much better, namely, that Anglican priest affectionally known as Tom Wright. He just explained it a whole lot better and helped me realize the difference between Jesus and Christianity, whatever our preferred version might be.
    It’s amazing the viciousness which comes from within Reformed circles, at the end of the day I go back to our brother Thomas a Kempis’ quote: “Of what use is it to speak learnedly on the Trinity, when we lack compassion and therefore displease the Trinity. I rather feel contrition than be able to define it”.
    As my beloved wife reminds me: “So what? So what with your theological explanations on the Trinity, or Eschatology. How does your new learning help you love your family more, does it give you a bigger heart full of mercy to our neighbors? ”
    In spite of a thousand sermons or as many systematic theologies, are we loving God and others more?
    Growing in compassion, finding and giving mercy? Are we humbled by the depth of God’s love?
    It’s a big, big tent.

  • E.G.

    joanne #15 wrote “I am not sure but i think some are attracted to this because it provides clear cut answers about which one can be certain. In an age of uncertainty, this certainty provides some security. But i know that in time questions will develop and the security will not seem so secure.”
    In my personal experience, this has been the case. Many of my friends (we’re all in our mid-thirties, so we’re in the demographic that seems to be attracted to neoreformationism) who have begun to subscribe to these ideas were among the ones who – shall we say – sowed the most wild oats as youths.
    I have begun to wonder if the supposed certainty of Reformed theology, along with the underlying rules of fundamentalism, allow them to structure their spiritual and physical lives in a way in which the don’t have to fear once again going off of the rails.
    In other words, I suspect that the attraction of neoreformationism is the fact that one can check of theological and legal boxes and thus satisfy oneself that the right path is being followed.

  • RJS

    I hope that the conversation here would be about how believers are obligated to treat other followers who do not agree with their theology.
    The trick is to be sufficiently disciplined to keep it civil.
    Militancy, arrogance, and a dismissive attitude are not confined to anyone group.
    But I see a difference as well–
    Among “neoreformed” a search for authority, certainty, tends to be an important consideration.
    Among “neoliberal” the search is not for authority, but something else – perhaps justice? But justice then can become paramount and just as rigorously defined and vehemently (and ungraciously) defended as any doctrinal statement.

  • ChrisE

    >>>Put differently, they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed.

  • Socilogy, Polemics, and Theology
    I trust that the interplay of these three will be considered in this discussion. I am far from the skeptic who reduces all theology to sociology, but it does play a part…for all us!
    If you are saying that the Neoreformed are peculiarly prone to polemics, I am not convinced. I certainly have heard nasty comments among some in that particular tradition, but have heard much the same in every Christian tradition. Anyone who regularly reads blogs from different theological persuasions knows this to be true.

  • I wonder if this thread about neo-reformed and the broader evangelical groups, might harken back to the Barthian/Tillichian argument about the nature of God? That is, a la Barth, the God we receive in the text is the full expression of the living God with no remainder vs. the god beyond god view (the true God is always transcendent of our conceptions of him) of Tillich. One can make a fundamental commitment (although Barth is no fundamentalist) to the God found in the text or she/he can believe that the God described in the biblical text as simple human anthropomorphism used to describe what is ultimately beyond our scope of knowledge. Thus the line is drawn between one who is biblically driven and the other who emphasizes the frailty of human knowledge.
    The former might cause one to feel safe and secure in a sturdy system, the latter might allow one to explore life and experience with a great deal of freedom. One can be rigid and demanding, the other overly subjective and vague. Both approaches avoid certain problems as they relate to the Christian faith. Barth is certainly more reformed and was critiqued for the lack of room for the human to emerge in his writings. Tillich was critiqued for potentially abandoning the content of the Christian faith in favor of experience and rationality.
    The debate between Barth and Tillich’s approach to faith is deep, rich and thoughtful, certainly not a perfect example for the disagreement between neo-reformed types and other evangelical groups in our current social situation, but i wonder if their are some similarities? I look forward to how we might grasp the fundamental commitment to the God of the text with Barth, but simultaneously explore the ideas and beliefs of our world.

  • Andrew Hall

    “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.”
    While I think there is some truth to this, I find this perhaps-prevalent ideology revealing of American Protestantism today: it’s completely unaware of Lutheranism. The term “evangelical” itself was used to describe the early German Lutheran churches (evangelische), and Lutherans today will often refer to themselves as “confessing evangelicals” or as “Augsburg Catholics.” (The latter name implies that they hold the universal faith as found in the Augsburg Confession, that is, they’re confessional.) While I myself am Reformed/Presbyterian in conviction, I admire Lutherans a lot. They might not have a well-known name like John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John Stott, or Al Mohler, but they have quietly been doing what they do best: preaching God’s Word in both Law and Gospel, administering the sacraments, and freely serving their neighbors in love.
    As for the quote, I like what Horton says–a lot. I do see too many Reformed folk using, say, the Westminster Standards as THE true exposition of the Bible’s teachings (a la Lutherans with Augsburg) to the exclusion of all others. This is bad. If the church’s confessions can never be challenged or amended by Scripture itself, no matter how true they may be, then they take on an authority equivalent to Scripture itself. This is the same problem we see in Roman and Eastern theology, and one which no “confessing evangelical” ought to allow.
    Reformed theologian John Frame argues that all catechisms and confessions–all theology–is really meant to explain and apply the message of the Scriptures. Because the situation in which that word is explained and applied is, to some degree, constantly changing, yesterday’s confessions aren’t necessarily as relevant or applicable today as they were in years past. Older confessions say little, if anything, about universalism or homosexuality. But aren’t these the very matters which today are causing many Protestants to divide? (I am thinking of GAFCON and the Anglican Communion.) Surely these are today matters of creedal and confessional significance–exposing precisely Frame’s point.

  • elliot

    A couple of commenters have asked for Scot to be more specific when he talks about these people who “think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed.”
    I don’t know exactly who Scot had in mind, but I know exactly what I thought of when I read his post. A few months ago I heard of an organization called “The Gospel Coalition,” and the name sounded pretty good. It sounds like this is a group of people who are setting aside their differences for the sake of the gospel – you know, people gathering on the Village Green. However, reading the confessional statement on their Web site, I found that 1) they thought only men should be pastors, and 2) they had a short, but unmistakably Reformed, statement on the Plan of God.
    To my eyes, this looks like a group of Reformed complementarians who have decided to put aside their differences on baptism and form of church government; that’s all. But they apparently think that Reformed complementarianism is the gospel.

  • This is a conversation that I’m glad someone is willing to have. In an attempt to understand “the other side of the aisle”, I’ve responded to some NeoReformed blog posts. The conversations eventually lead to why I’m not Calvinist (and heretical every other theology is).
    The downside of blogs is the lack of hearing one’s heart. In other words, there’s only so much I and they can do with a keyboard that won’t be taken as less than civil. I believe that has led to a greater divide among even good friends. It’s a shame really.
    I agree with some of the responses above. What’s wrong with a civil debate, disagreeing with others, and loving them as fellow believers?

  • “Are you seeing a rise of reformed folks?”
    It is hard for me to determine whether I see a rise numerically or by influence. Whatever the case it does seem to me that I have seen a rise in the influence of Reformed thought amongst younger evangelicals. Certainly in the blogsphere
    “Do you see some militancy — whatever their strengths?”
    Absolutely. In a huge way. Brutal militancy.
    What are your thoughts? Why do you think some youth are attracted to this new form of Reformed theology?
    I think that many are drawn to it for security and longing for authority. The loose Evangelical ecumenism can be very confusing for young Christians. “Is this a theological buffet, or what?” “Do I need to pick one if we can all gather for Eucharist and conversation on the Village Green?” “Who’s bible reading is authoritative enough to base a life on?” It doesn’t hurt that Reformed thinkers say the word “biblical” before any statement, like a frat-party dare: “I dare you to say biblical more than me!” And so, it gives the bible reading and theology a seeming infallible authority, since it is “biblical.” I’ve noticed that other evangelicals use that word less rigidly.
    There is a somewhat positive aspect to this. Many who had little or no theological education see a Reformed Systematic as very thoughtful and insightful. Their used to listening to crappy Christian music, hearing sermons about “their dreams,” drinking Mountain Dew and eating pizza. It is sadly all that young evangelicals can expect from their youth pastors. So when they start hearing the Westminster Confession distill (and edit lol) the theology of Calvin, etc.., they feel that they are being brought into what thoughtful theology can be.
    That is similar to why I went from pentecostal to Anglican. The theology was so good!
    But, having said that, I feel that the militancy is getting really bad. By way of example, consider (some of) the editor(s) of the ESV trapsing around the Christian community calling everyone elses bibles, theologies, and salvation into question. So entirely anti-thetical to what Paul writes in II Tim. 2:23-25. (though, to be fair, a neo-reformed might well say that mainstream evangelicalism is like II Tim. 4:1-5!)
    Whatever the case, I find the militancy to be a fundamentalism which finds security in an idealogy, and not in the mind of Christ.

  • Bradm

    Rachel (#35) are plenty of Reformed folks who aren’t “100 percent certain that his theology was the right one.” I for one. I’m sorry you haven’t met any. Richard Mouw is a good example of a Calvinist who writes with both humility and a desire to be inclusive of people who hold to other theologies. See his Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, for example.
    I think this is one reason why you have to be careful with this topic. You’ve done a good job stating that you are only talking about a specific subset of Calvinists, but people are already making unwarranted remarks about Calvinists or Calvinism in general.

  • Scot McKnight

    Thanks for your reminder. I want to keep that up front and clear: I’m not talking about the Reformed or Calvinists but a specific new form of the Reformed.

  • But the old school fundamentalists still abound. There are still KJVonly followers. There are heresy organizations who consider Calvinists and Rick Warren apostate, and they have as much influence with uglier clothes and baser words. Dave Hunt? Perhaps you are noticing a trend among another growing segment of the church. I think even some segments of the emergent church are guilty of the same thing. Queermergent anyone?
    God is good

  • Luke

    For someone in Scot’s position, I think it is unwise for him to “call out” people and start naming names. Thus, I think it’s rude to ask him to do so. Most of us on here are familiar and have an idea of who he is speaking about, and name-calling splinters the fraction even more.
    We have already seen things mentioned such as the “Gospel Coalition,” which is similar to what I think Scot has in mind. Why call yourself the “Gospel Coalition” when you restrict the Gospel to a reformed complementarianism? These are two big issues that I see in the people Scot describes. The neoreformed elevate reformed theology and complementarianism to the highest pinnacle in their theology, and it becomes the driving force for their exegesis and ministry. Personally, I think this neoreformed attitude is prevalent among many. I also see an attempt to define as “Evangelical” only those who vote for Republicans, but that may just be a particular branch of the neo-reformed.
    There was an attempt recently to amend the ETS doctrinal statement to make it include a very detailed doctrinal statement all members would have to adhere to. In the statement, there seemed to be a particular Calvinistic ring to it. Thankfully, it didn’t come close to passing, but it communicates Scot’s point. Many reformed folks just don’t think those with an Arminian bent, those who believe women should be in leadership roles, and those who hold social justice to be extremely important and vote for democrats because of it, are reading their Bibles.
    Also, for those wanting Scot to name names and provide documentation, apart from it being unwise for Scot to name names, many who would fall under this umbrella of the neo-reformed would simply deny it, even though they very much fit the criteria. Some would not claim that not believing in double predestination means you’re not an evangelical, but their rhetoric portrays and communicates such. So it’s not that Scot’s claim is false b/c he doesn’t have tons of documentation, it’s that these beliefs are not explicit, but very implicit by the rhetoric of many.

  • RJS

    In fact there are many who are Calvinist or of a reformed heritage about whom this doesn’t apply at all. Some “strong” Calvinist, some weaker.
    We had a good long discussion around Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God.” While Keller is certainly reformed, Calvinist in outlook, he engages with a “mere Christianity” in this book in a very positive sense.
    But it is important too that all enter into a conversation guarding against a defensive reaction. People will make unwarranted generalizations – it is important to let those roll off the back and remain focused on the issue at hand. If every perceived slight means conversation gone bad, there is no way to hold a conversation and even begin to understand where we agree or disagree.

  • Labtrout

    I don’t know that I have seen a rise in the “Neoreformed”, I’m probably not old enough, but I have witnessed some of the effects this can have on the local Chrisian community. Maybe its effects are more visible in my small University town in Wyoming. We have a church in town that is very Calvinist and they take a strong “we are right, you are wrong” position. Anything they don’t agree with is shunned, the gate is closed. This hurts the local Christian community in many ways. It causes divisiveness between the local bodies. And more personally it has inhibited the “para”church ministry I work for in town, because we don’t have this church’s approval, we are written off as anything from a sub-par to heretical ministry. I’ve even had people that were interested in helping out or volunteering for our ministry that have then spoken witht he pastor of this church and have decided that they couldn’t help out. This closed gate, us vs them mindset can be very dangerous.

  • Here’s the irony of the neoReformed: they affirmed a strong theology of determinism, but interact like frantic Arminians. You’d think that a group biblically convinced that all who not agree with them have been predestined to believe just that would relax a little, lay down vitriolic language and enjoy a stroll on the village green. Their very screechiness belies their quest for and finding of certainty.

  • Bob Brague

    I’m so out of this loop that I don’t even know what “double predestination” is. Do you mean the old “some are predestined to be saved (i.e., the elect) and some are predestined to be lost”?
    I always fall back on the old “the ear is not the eye, and the hand is not the foot” argument when Christians disagree. You know, Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?”
    Apparently the answer is “No.”

  • Rachel (#35) and William (#43) really hit the nail on the head for me with this.
    I hate this. I hate conflict generally. I hate that I have to “side” with some group and by doing that have some other group label me dangerous or worse. I fear that there is a wave of division ready to explode in American evangelicalism, with what you are calling “neo-Reformed” leading the way in a new Bible / culture / worship / theology war. Hopefully that can be diffused and both grace and truth will prevail.

  • Travis Greene

    BOb @ 60, Do you mean the old “some are predestined to be saved (i.e., the elect) and some are predestined to be lost”?
    Yes, that’s what they mean.

  • Scot,
    Looking fwd to hearing more on this subject, but can I offer one suggestion? The term neo-Reformed is a bit confusing to many as the similar label “neo-Calvinism” has been used historically for about 100 years as it is associated with the Dutch Calvinism following Abraham Kuyper. While confessionally the same, neo-Calvinists are distinctive from their Westminster brethren in two ways: (1) Apologetic Methodology (the Dutch tend to follow the more philosophic bent of Dooyeward and Plantinga vice Van Til) and (2) They are more oriented towards the Nieburh category of “Christ Transforming Culture” and emphasize Christian vocations in politics, art, etc.
    Although I’m a Lutheran, I believe the term that has been used of the more militant Reformed is “Truly Reformed” (TRs). This is a label you find thrown around even in Reformed circles and may be less confusing to some of your readers. But of course, labels are always a troublesome business.

  • james wheeler

    Andrew Hall says: “The term “evangelical” itself was used to describe the early German Lutheran churches (evangelische), and Lutherans today will often refer to themselves as “confessing evangelicals” or as “Augsburg Catholics.”
    I wonder again, as i suggested earlier, if this statement about Lutheran churches (or any other “evangelical” group) and their break from the cold dogmatism of a governing church organizations (Catholicism in Luther’s case) means a move towards the experiential or practical side of theology. I think that Kierkegaard did something similar against the lukewarm faith of the Danish national church. But neither Luther nor Kierkegaard discarded the creeds or historical content of the faith for therapy. But what each railed against was experiencing religion uncritically and as simply a form of intellectual assent or legalism.
    Also Tony wrote: “Many who had little or no theological education see a Reformed Systematic as very thoughtful and insightful. Their used to listening to crappy Christian music, hearing sermons about “their dreams,” drinking Mountain Dew and eating pizza.”
    This is the other side. Practical or experiential theology is key but also no robust theology or transcendence is also vacuous and empty. Clearly the strengths of the neo-reformed is remedying the latter. Transcendence, glory, mercy and a powerful exposition of a robust theological tradition is compelling in a highly therapeutic culture. Maybe neo-reformed types and numerous other evangelicals can agree that the predominantly therapeutic mode of preaching and leadership is a dead end. Eugene Peterson and Marva Dawn are not Calvinistic enough for this group, but these are two voices crying out for a deeper, more historically grounded evangelical ecclesiology–this means including the theologically rich creeds and confessions of the church.

  • Scot,
    Your post prompted me to write one of my own that deals with the “Who should be included in the tent?” issue more in depth, and dealing with the issue of orthodoxy in general, which i think is an obvious and important implication of your discussion here.
    My basic thesis is this: We need to abandon orthodox dogma as the foundation of Christian koinonia and ecclesia, and adopt instead a hermeneutical common ground (one that is rooted in the objective fact of Scripture itself rather than our fallible attempts at constructing theological points).
    I look forward to your feedback and that of others. (Before you write the idea off as heretical, go read it. Please?)

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Some Reformed/ Calvinists are among the most open minded people in the world, I think, even if they still try to fit everything into some sort of Calvinist worldview. I live in Calvin country here in the U.S. And I appreciate much of what comes from Calvin College. (and I’m not a Calvinist) Though I don’t think these folks are those Scot is referring to.
    As to neo-Reformed, if I understand what this post is getting at, I too have been taken back by the lack of grace and Christian love displayed by many blogs and sites who seem to think they’re on a mission to bring us back to the Reformation. Some of them seem not to take seriously the oneness we have in Christ, as spoken of in Ephesians 4.
    We all have our theological positions. But we undermine what we say we believe if we have an elitism with reference to other Christians. We need far more humility, and we need to seek to learn from each other. And quit thinking we can cast all sorts of stones at those who are mistaken or wrong on something.

  • anonymous

    I appreciate what you are doing here more than you know. I am a MA student at TEDS and a fellow Anabaptist. I have had a VERY difficult time with the narrow “gate keeper” mentality of professors at TEDS. I even had a professor tell me that “something is wrong with me” because I was questioning the doctrine of inerrancy. Sometimes I wonder if these people worship the Bible (Biblioloatry) or Jesus? I honestly cant tell.

  • BeckyR

    It sounds like “neo-reformed” means present day calvinists. But perhaps more than that, hard lined calvinists. Calvinists who have more vested in winning the debate. Is this right? I am confused because you went from the term “neo-reformed” to talking about calvinists so I suppose that’s what you mean.

  • Your Name

    Those who use calvinism in the way of winning their point or the topic, I see it as they have a problem with anger. If not using calvinism that way, it would come out in something else. Maybe I’m just projecting but I sense and insecurity that drives that.

  • Eric

    This is the logic I’ve seen with some of the neo-Reformed: Since we are dealing with ultimate truth, there is only one right answer. The Bible warns that there will be false prophets in the end, so anyone who disagrees with the right answer — which we have discovered — is a false prophet. We should avoid reading what they write, lest we be led astray. I have heard this sort of logic repeatedly, and find it alarming. It leaves no room for reasonable disagreement on non-core issues.
    BeckyR — Mark Driscoll is an example (probably the foremost example) of what most people mean when they refer to Neo-reformed, in case that helps understand what people are referring to.

  • Chris E

    These are the sort of people that I’ve heard Michael Horton refer to as ‘cage-phase Calvinists’.
    I’m not sure it’s all down to fundamentalism; I think a lot of the neo-reformed were brought up in fairly moralistic churches who saw Christianity as an accessory to go along with a middle-class existence, and when they discover grace for themselves they are at first really really angry that the truth was denied to them for so long.
    Secondly, for the village green idea to work there has to be something basic that everyone subscribes to, a kind of ‘mere christianity’ if you like. Following on, there must be times when people are deemed to be beyond the realms of evangelical orthodoxy. Unfortunately, you just have to switch on your TV to see people who claim to be evangelicals and yet deny fairly basic tenets of the christian faith, or who seek to add something to the Gospel. When cage phase calvinists encounter such people they tend to go into attack dog mode.
    It takes for people to learn that it’s more important to win souls than win arguments and destroy your opponent. It’s a basic immaturity problem.

  • ChrisE

    Eric #71
    I think the problem is when one group thinks another group is giving away the core issues; and for Calvinist-types, noting is much more core than how Jesus saves us. These arguments are over the *big* stuff; sin and salvation, justification, the Bible. I think a NR would respond to much of this thread by saying, “Of COURSE, you don’t see what the big deal is. YOU’re the one giving the farm away!” [Not you individually, Eric.]

  • ChrisE

    Yes, there are now 2 Chris E on this thread. There’s Chris_E and ChrisE. Keep ’em straight y’all.
    The greatest thing in the world for this would be for the leaders of the Emergent and the NR to get together, do a conference together (like Together For the Gospel – it might be the shortest conference in history) and then go clean ditches and feed the poor together. The truth wars are pointless except to the converted within each camp.

  • Anonymous (#68),
    I’m a fellow TEDS student (MDiv), and your perception is spot on. Though their reason for making a mountain out of the inerrancy issue is, at the very least, understandable, if not laudable. Questioning inerrancy is fine, so long as you identify the implications of rejecting it. Ultimately, the decision over inerrancy vs. errancy is one requiring faith. Since the original manuscripts do not exist, we cannot prove one way or the other what the text is, even if we may be 90 some-odd percent certain by comparing the multitudes of copies. Likewise, we cannot prove that the text errs. People like Ken Sparks, who insist that inerrancy is an obvious fallacy, are making a leap of faith.
    Maybe those who disbelieve biblical inerrancy should bear the burden of defense of their position. That is, What basis do we have for faith in the Christ of the Bible if we do not trust the sole objective testimony to him? (And if we deny the objectivity of the only written source we have, then we deny the ability to make concrete statements, including that Jesus is the Messiah or God or anything else).

  • Charles

    Luke (357)
    I fail to see why naming names is wrong. If you feel strongly enough and are concerned enough about an issue, then call a spade a spade as it were. Doesn’t the Apostle Paul name names (e.g., Gal 2)? The same is true of John (e.g., 3 John). Therefore, I think that it is quite appropriate to ask someone to be specific.

  • Aaron

    I have to confess – nothing gives me more anxiety than this issue – I have struggled with the question of Calvinism and have never been able to embrace it because of its implications on the character of God. And I see Calvinists having to do just as many jumping jacks around verses to explain their theology as arminians do if not more… but I have never been able to shake this troubling question of “what if” what if their right – what if I am just blind??? It seriously freaks me out – especially when the heretic word and division starts getting thrown around! But how can we know – how can we really know who is right – there are brilliant people on both side, I just don’t get it – it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about this right now…

  • Eric

    Nobody is a heretic based on their views on that issue (or on many other issues that Christians divide themselves over). There are a lot of issues on which orthodox Christians reasonably disagree. As Scot points out in his post, we are all on the “village green.”

  • Interesting metaphor of the valley green and evangelicalism. I think part of the issue lies in a tension between being confessional and practicing catholicity. IE affirming a narrower theological set of commitments while wanting to welcome in others who may not share those commitments.
    For some the tension is too much to hold together and they fall into insular myopic interests. For others the tension is too much to hold and they loose all practical value of a confession in their theologizing and practice, what a friend of mine has dubbed “populus theology (whatever is popular at the time).” Very few people in the Reformed camp can hold the two in tension together well.
    I think your social critique is fair Scot there are no doubt neo-Reformed or what I’d rather call un-catholic Reformed types in the commune. And unfortunately in some ways I think its become increasingly popular to be measured by just how reformed you are in terms of who you throw under the bus and how you do it. But in my mind these are bad expressions of Reformed Theology at play. Defects that need to be labeled for what they are and not allowed to set the tone for other traditions portraits of what a young Reformed person looks like. But reversing that will be hard, and needs to be championed by leaders with clout and not just grass-roots bloggers and seminarians and young church planters if the Evangelical green is going to see it….

  • Amy

    “Reversing that will be hard, and needs to be championed by leaders with clout and not just grass-roots bloggers and seminarians and young church planters…”
    I bet the apostle Paul would have been a blogger.

  • Mike Mangold

    Scot: thanks for inviting charismatics into the village green. That was nice.
    I did like reading a Roman Catholic’s perspective on our in-fighting. Brings to mind the two priests I saw on EWTN who confidently stated that all Protestants are just little ducklings who have wondered away from the Mother Duck (the RC church) and will return to her again one day.
    In my limited experience, Dallas Willard represents the traditional Reformed mentality and I find nothing obnoxious about him; while Kirk Cameron represents the neo-Reformed mentality and I find myself thinking very unChristian thoughts when I hear him speak. Y’all may think he is just pop culture but he does have a tremendous following amoung youths.

  • MDT

    Thank you for your article. To show my cards, I must admit that I am Reformed. Maybe you could call me NeoReformed. I don’t know.
    I think one thing that is important to clarify is that the Reformed confessions are used as boundary markers to mark off Reformed orthodoxy. As far as I know there are no creeds or confessions for “evangelicalism” which as it intends to be is quite broad. So it would appear that your “NeoReformed” friends are a bit misguided of their own history. The major Reformed confessions predate evangelicalism so it does not make any sense to question one’s evangelicalism by using the Reformed confessions as a litmus test.
    On the other issue, I think it is historically inaccurate to try and label the NeoReformed as NeoFundamentalists. As I understand it Fundamentalism was spawned during the Fundamentalist controversy in the 1920s when a party of conservative Protestants broke away from the mainline liberal Protestant denominations which were embracing modernism. These fundamentalists had a high regard for the Bible, conversion, and zeal for holy living and converting others. However, Fundamentalists are best known for being narrow, desirous of religious certainty, and separatist. Another major component of Fundamentalism is dispensationalism and premillenialism.
    Now I guess some of the adjectives listed about could be applied to militant Reformed. But it is definitely a mistake to label confessional Reformed people as fundamentalists or neofundamentalists. They are Reformed if they confess to the Reformed confessions. The Reformed confessions stand in stark contrast to the theology, piety and practice of how I understand Fundamentalism. Maybe I am wrong. If I am, please let me know how you define fundamentalism.

  • Of course you already know my opinion on all this Scot. 🙂
    I actually just wrote a detailed research paper on this subject for my Masters program, and I wasn’t afraid to name names. As some of you have suggested The Gospel Coalition is a good place to start looking, but if you want to go even further back check out the roll-call at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Piper, MacArthur, Carson, Mohler… they’re all there). And for documentation of their bent towards exclusiveness and gate-keeping, read their 1996 Cambridge Declaration and note how many times it makes statements that specifically exclude Arminians, Pentecostals, and contemporary seeker churches among others.

  • Fred Harrell

    As someone who has been on the receiving end of “the exaltation of some peripheral doctrine to central status and the demonization of a person”, I could not agree more with this post. Thank you Scot, and thank you whoever your reformed friend is, for bringing this into the light.

  • Hanery

    I’d also like to express my gratitude for this post. Its a relief to see this movement openly discussed. I have seen a huge growth in the numbers of people whose disposition, and frightening passion for its advancement, is as you described it I have noticed a worrying trend in conversation with such people to add the prefix ‘reformed’ to Christianity. Christianity has become for many become ‘reformed Christianity’. I sat in one meeting where a missionary styled programme was begun where the purpose was to evaluate communities with no reformed church, and to promptly seek to establish the reformed faith there. Its amazing how this idea has assumed the position of the gospel. I’ve not made up my mind where exactly I stand on reformation doctrines yet, but the attitude and example of those who seek their propagation has thoroughly has put me off. That can never be a good thing.

  • RJS

    Mike (#83),
    As I see it the issue isn’t a fear of naming names. The real question is whether names help or hinder the conversation.
    The important issue is not who – but what and how the green is constricted and fenced. And we need to wrestle with the what and how because many of us show similar fault over different issues.

  • Add Acts 29 and company to the mix. They bring a lot to the table when it comes to church planting, but they are very dogmatically Reformed, i.e. they think you’re a dangerous heretic if you aren’t. That seems to be a consistent characteristic of the neoReformed: belief that they alone, in the footsteps of the infallible Reformers, are the true defenders of the gospel.

  • Rick

    Someone please tell me the relevance of all this theological jargon. Doesn’t the Bible clearly state it’s own case? Is there really anything to be argued? Jesus(Son of God) shed His blood in order to restore us to God. True?

  • Randy

    Response to Matt (#14)
    I wondered Matt, how much emphasis you meant on the gendered term “young men” in your post.
    I certainly see the kind of desire for “black and white that we can die for” in some churches right now. The thing is, I think it is particularly strong among young men, but I am not sure it is among the Reformed or Neo-Reformed any more than it is anywhere else.
    A note: I believe the Neo-Reformed are among an American branch of Reformed Theology, and conspicuously not among the ever less Dutch Reformed Theology of the Chrstian Reformed Church, from which I hail.
    Does anyone here have any commments on that?
    Randy Gabrielse

  • Matt (#75) — ok, this is maybe an OT rabbit trail, but I honestly don’t understand or buy this standard TEDS line of argument about inerrancy, for a bunch of reasons:
    First: the Gospels are not really “objective.” They are theologically shaped, as even most inerrantists acknowledge.
    Second: the testimonial witness of the Gospels to the truth of Jesus Christ does not stand alone, but is intertwined with the history and tradition of the early Church.
    Third: in no other venue do we insist that a testimonial witness be “inerrant” in order to be trustworthy. I’m a lawyer. Even in a capital murder case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This does not require every witness to be completely free from error in every affirmation.
    Fourth: the basis of Christian conversion is not primarily assent to factual propositions standing alone. It is primarily about a life-changing encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. This is directly illustrated in scripture by Paul’s Damascus Road experience. Jesus Christ remains living and active today in his Church, which futher testifies to his living presence.
    Fifth: the basis for assurance of salvation ultimately is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit remains living and active today in the lives of believers and authenticates the truth of the proclamation of Jesus contained in the scriptures.
    I’ve discussed the foregoing with some strong inerrantists from other seminaries who basically agree with me that the truth of Jesus Christ does not depend on inerrant scriptures. They affirm inerrancy because they believe it is a necessary deduction from God’s character, not because they believe it’s essential to the basic trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Gospel message. If you want to affirm inerrancy, I think that’s the right (and only) reason to do so.

  • Travis Greene

    Mike Mangold @ 81,
    I don’t think Dallas Willard is Reformed.
    Rick @ 88,
    “Jesus(Son of God) shed His blood in order to restore us to God. True?”
    True. That doesn’t mean other ideas don’t matter. More importantly, the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection means that elevating other things (including specific understandings of that central thing) to that central place is damaging to the church and the world. Especially when accompanied by unloving treatment of those who disagree.

  • This is interesting, and … sobering.
    Initially I thought I would be among neo-reformed circles, given that I am surrounded by Baptists the have turned passionately to Calvinism and are mostly young.
    However, I was surprised to read of your great concern (Scot and others that have agreen in the comments) about the rigid dogmatism. It seems that you see neo-Calvinists condemning all other evangelicals as being outside of the church? That surprised me and perhaps I am not in the circles you are talking about after all, because I really have not seen this attitude expressed in my circles.
    I agree that there is a rise in young Baptist-turned Calvinists. I think some of you have pointed out several of reasons for this trend (which, ironically, are many of the same reasons that drove the beginning of the emerging church). Many of these young people are coming out of somewhat shallow theological teaching in youth groups and are then taught systematic theology in Bible Colleges and other programs. The passion of youth and a drive to find depth is combined with the leftover modernist drive to find logical consistency (sytematic theology). Strict, 5-point Calvinism has the benefit of being a complete system, and it makes sense to many.
    Perhaps I am looking at a softer side of neo-Reformed, because my circles include a deep search into church history, including Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, etc. This has strengthened the movement. It has also, however, given people like my husband and increased appreciation for the unity and diversity of the historical and universal church. Although my husband and those like him are perhaps eager to debate the theological points of their reformed theology, they also are very willing to consider all of evangelicalism and even (at times) Catholic and Eastern-Orthodox as being part of the “big tent”.
    In fact, the neo-reformed world that I see interesects with the missional church in many ways.
    Scot, is it possible that the rigid dogmatism that you’re seeing in the neo-reformed movement is similar to the dogmatism that can be seen in the emerging/missional church on the part of some of their more divisive leaders? The voices are loud and are sometimes taken to represent a movement that on the whole is actually much more gentle and willing to dialogue theologically then these leaders would seem to show.
    Mike – #81, Kirk Cameron has a tremendous following among youth? Really? In my circles he is generally considered intolerably cheesy.

  • I wish people wouldn’t go around redefining terms – “fundamentalist” has a certain historic meaning and Scot’s use of it isn’t quite accurate if we stick to how it’s been used in the past to identify certain groups.
    Additionally, there seems to be some resistance to confessional Reformed thinking a la Van Til and others that saw their system and their theology as inherently correct. I guess I don’t understand what the problem is with that – I mean, Scott has to posit much the same on the other side to even begin his argument against these so-called “NeoReformed”.
    I know there are Calvinists out there who virtually think or act like they’re the only real Christians on the planet but that’s hardly new and it’s not exactly foreign to the anabaptist tradition either (which is where I understand Scot hails from). I don’t know why we need a new negatively based label such as “NeoReformed” to talk about people who may have an attitude problem. Why not just address the attitude?
    I mean, it’s not like there weren’t anabaptists in history with similar problems. During the Reformation, the first “rebaptism” on record in Zurich was done quite defiantly as a matter of civil disobedience after a council vote against their position and had nothing to do with the biblical reasons why a person really should be baptized.
    If anything, Scot should be going after those who popularize a Calvinism that is largely or completely foreign to the Reformation and its aims (Driscoll, Piper, MacArthur, and others). Maybe that is who he’s talking about – but these guys are anything but Reformed and using a term like “NeoReformed” can just be downright confusing especially if you’re familiar enough with the Reformed tradition to know what something like “NeoCalvinism” is.
    I believe it’s also fair to point out that historically speaking Scot’s own tradition is and has been dramatically opposed to anything Reformed and as a result it becomes even more important to make sure what is being said here is clear and leveled either without undue bias or at least an upfront admission that such thoughts are offered from a particular perspective foreign from the tradition being criticized.

  • [http://chrisridgeway.blogspot.com]
    Karl (#40) links to John Frame’s article, and after reading it, it’s great! I have much respect for John Frame as rather conservative Reformed thinker, a tradition I grew up but now hold much loosely. He teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, so is well respected in that world.
    After tracing 21 articles of contention in the Reformed campus since Old Princeton, Frame lists 10 concluding hopes:
    1. That Reformed thinkers continue to have bright, fresh ideas, but that they present these ideas with humility and treat with grace and patience those who are not immediately convinced.
    2. That Reformed thinkers with bright ideas discourage the rapid formation of parties to contend for those ideas.
    3. That those initially opposed to those bright ideas allow some time for gentle, thoughtful discussion before declaring the bright ideas to be heresy.
    4. That these opponents also discourage the rapid formation of partisan groups.
    5. That those contending for various doctrinal positions accept the burden of proof, willing to bear the difficulty of serious biblical exegesis.
    6. That we try much harder to guard our tongues (Jas. 3:1-12),
    saving the strongest language of condemnation (e.g., “denying the gospel”) for those who have been declared heretics by the judicial processes of the church.
    7. That Reformed churches, ministries, and institutions be open to a wider range of opinions than they are now—within limits, of course.
    8. That we honor one another as much for character and witness as we do for agreement with our theological positions.
    9. That occasionally we smile and jest about our relatively minor differences, while praying, worshiping, and working together in the love of Christ.
    The kicker? Frame calls this list “An Unrealistic Dream!”
    (with Mark Driscoll regularly violating #3… maybe we can sympathize with the discouraged tone).

  • Bradm

    I would echo the concern raised by Brian (#64)and Kevin (#93) that the term “neoReformed” is confusing given that the term “neocalvinism” is already used in a quite different way.

  • Tony Stiff

    Reply to Amy comment #80
    Amy I bet he would have been a blogger, facebooker, myspacer, twitter and more; but even Paul knew that engaging difficult issues in the ethos of his churches meant dealing with hierarchy and clout keepers. Case in point the Jerusalem council and Peter…

  • My 2 cents:
    Labelling is always dangerous. Because like it or not, we tend to paint with a broad brush, that tars some with the label when they don’t deserve it. On the other hand, I agree with McKnight that there is part of the current Reformed movement, is indeed NeoReformed, that is, it is different than historical Reformed theology.
    My sense is, NeoReformed is a narrowing of the gate – to a narrower dimension than is biblical. And whenever that happens, we do away with grace.

  • I wrote some of my own thoughts on this issue here (http://vanillatea.blogspot.com/2009/02/fundamentals-of-growing-tulips.html). I hadn’t known that “neo-Calvinism” was already a defined term, so I’ll have to edit that (good stuff here on the comments!).
    Basically, though, I would argue that the NeoReformed folks ought to keep in mind what the great (Reformed!) theologian Karl Barth once noted about systematic theology: it’s a term as paradoxical as “wooden iron”. There’s a lot of mystery that is missing in NeoReformed circles.

  • Hanery

    As I see it part of the problem is that, especially true for younger Christians, there is a desire to explore the depths of the Christian faith. Calvinism has marketed itself incredibly well. If you look at the popular preachers and theologians that most people in the church will read then Piper, Macarthur, Sproul and Grudem will all appear prominently. With the exception of Grudem, these teachers don’t just preach the gospel, they preach Calvinism. Calvinism is THE message, THE framework, THE scriptural doctrine that everything else fits around. They produce books, study guides, dvds, hold conferences. All of it driving Calvinsim. Is it any wonder with that kind of packaging and promotion that the neo-reformed are the outcome?
    When someone asked me about a month ago for a good primer on a book or DVD that explains Arminian beliefs, I found the choice was pretty limited. Only a few books really touch on the subject in a way that is meant for your general Christian reader. I know of no popular preacher or theologian who preaches an explicitly Arminian-based gospel, produces DVDs, books and discussion books on the matter (etc…) as Calvinist preachers do. If all you ever hear is one side, isn’t this outcome inevitable?

  • Nice thoughts. I think labels can help, but they can bad, if the one with the label is proud of his label, whatever it may be: I am of Calvin, I am of Wesley, I am of McKnight, I am of Sproul, or I am of Christ alone, which may be the most arrogant of the persons.
    I tell people I’m reformed, and then they have an idea where I’m coming from. If they say, “Are you a calvinist?”, I’ say yes, and then hopefully we can kick the Scriptures around a bit.
    I love Michael Horton.

  • Andy

    Hmm… in my experience, those in the Reformed traditions aren’t trying to claim the “evangelical” label for themselves. Rather, they tend to view evangelicals with some suspicion, as one step away from the nominal Christianity of the “emergent church.”

  • Scot, love your blog.
    I worry though without naming names or organizations in your post if you only incite speculation about who these “neoreformed” are. Which only leads to more rock throwing and demonetization by those who are just as intolerant of Reformed theology as some reformed people are of those who are not reformed. Does that make sense?
    I am not trying to stir up a hornets nest hear, but I really did not read any specifics in your article about who, what, and why you are making the claims you are making.
    Being a person who embraces reformed theology, but tries to walk in humility and grace to all my Christian brothers and sisters, I would say that I have faced just as much vitriol and intolerance from other groups of the evangelical community. I also wonder if what you are sensing is more a sense of “passion” and dedicated mission than intolerance and fundamentalism. In some conversations I’ve had with those outside the Reformed camp what really irks them is the massive success of some young Reformed movements in church planting, converts, and mission advancement.
    Now of course you can always find the caricature of the angry hyper-Calvinist that is ready to condemn everyone who does not align with his 7 points of Calvinism to Hell, but I think that is missing the big “E” on the eye chart. There are some very loving, passionate, mission-oriented reformed people right now who are having a tremendous impact in loving their cities, and communities.

  • Scot,
    I more or less agree with some of the points you raise here. I’m looking at your own blogroll and it seems that most of the blogs you plug are also people in ‘your own room’.

  • Interesting post. However, I have one issue, as I have seen this same attitude among various theological branches from reformed to arminian to a whole host of others. Is this not so much a neo-reformed attitude as it is a reflection of people within many segments of Christianity?

  • I’d also like to echo Ryan’s comments. As a Christian who has grown up mostly in an Evangelical Mennonite Church (no official position on soteriology, but heavily Arminian) and also in a Nazarene (Wesleyan) church, I have to think that there is a little bit of generalization happening here.
    I’m a recent convert to Reformed theology, and am passionate about the doctrines of grace. I’ve also stayed in my predominantly Arminian church and haven’t considered otherwise.
    You mention elevating secondary doctrine to central status (like double predestination), but who is advocating this? It sounds a bit more like a boogey-man than any of the Reformed thinkers that I’ve come across.
    It shouldn’t be surprising, though, that the young Reformed crowd are passionate about the doctrines of grace, as it is a refreshing and Christ-exalting view of the gospel that most of us didn’t grow up with. In fact, I think the same dissatisfaction with generic evangelicalism which has fueled the emerging movement has also fueled the young Reformed movement.
    We may not agree on the way forward, but we do agree on what the problems are.

  • “Reformed theology” has been a recently refreshing experience for me. This is what it has amounted to me–God is God, I’m not. Christ is supreme. Scripture means what it says. I have godly friends who don’t agree with me in what that means, but they love Jesus. Divisiveness is warranted sometimes though. Much of evangelicalism flirts with things that run contrary to “knowing nothing…except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

  • Louis

    The problem with evangelicalism is the fact that a great majority of them are not saved. (like Oprah) Many of the leaders are heretics. (Brian Mclaren, Rob Bell, Ted Haggard, etc. etc. etc.)
    When you consider evangelicalism as a village green made up of Christians, you err at the start. The village green of evangelicalism is a village green comprised of lost sinners. However, even worse than that, they are “religious” lost sinners. The exact replica of the Pharisee’s to whom Jesus said, “whitewashed tombs, sons of Satan. etc. etc.)
    The reason for this growing neo-reformed group comes from a backlash against the “greasy grace” of modern evangelicalism. The reason that many of the neo-reformed wish to huddle together in their own room, is due to fear of the brood of vipers that hang out in the “hall of mere Christianity.” I guess it has to do with the same reason that Jesus’ disciples didn’t hang out with the Pharisees.
    Sure, they could have all gotten together and said, “we’re all sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, let’s get together on the village green and hang out together, we all believe that God is one”
    The neo-reformed see the danger in the hall, and for their own safety, they stay in the room inviting others to come in and live.
    *I’m not saying that all non reformed are lost sinners. I’m saying that a great majority of evangelical Christians are lost sinners. (60-70%) Not all of them, just most of them. Most of them fit the stereotype of Oprah, Mclaren, and others.
    It’s just not a good idea to hang out with the Pharisees.

  • I pretty much totally agree. Most people who are Arminian aren’t acutely aware of their Arminianism. That is to say they may not even know what the term “Arminian” means, and they’re not deeply embroiled in the “debate” between Calvinism and Arminianism. Most Calvinists, though, are acutely aware of (and proud of) their Calvinism, and are generally much more militant about it. The typical Arminian feels no need to proselytize a Calvinist with his Arminianism, but I’m not sure the reverse is true.

  • Matt,
    “You mention elevating secondary doctrine to central status (like double predestination), but who is advocating this? It sounds a bit more like a boogey-man than any of the Reformed thinkers that I’ve come across.”
    You are right about that. Double predestination is not a “classic Reformed doctrine” and I assume that Scot knows that. Casual misrepresentations like that diminish his general point, some of which is accurate.

  • Kim

    I agree with some of your points, but aiming your criticisms strictly at those who are Reformed seems short-sighted. I am Reformed, but I attend a church that doesn’t hold to strict Calvinism. I find strange hostility coming from many in our church toward Reformed believers. In fact, they fit your description very well, but their target are those of us who call ourselves Reformed. As one commenter said, this is a phenomenon of Christendom in general, not just the Reformed.

  • Matt

    I read this post and some of the ensuing comments and I’ve got to say, I just don’t get it. I have a feeling that I am a member of one of those “NeoReformed” churches you are referring to, though I don’t really know because you were incredibly vague in your post. If you believe that a brother in Christ is sinning, then call that person and confront them with the truth in love rather than invite others to sin through the comments on your blog.
    One thing I really appreciate about some of the “Calvinist” preachers of today (e.g. Piper, Sproul, Driscoll etc.) is the frankness with which they address issues of doctrine and the church, whereas others tend to be vague. I long to taste the meat of the Word, and believe that I am being taught exactly that with these folks.
    I have also experienced militancy from Arminians just as much as Calvinists. By the way, I am Reformed, but my accountability partner attends a church that is decidedly not Reformed and we get along just great. He knows virtually everything about my life and I love him as a completely orthodox brother in Christ, though we disagree on some doctrinal matters.

  • This is why Kim Riddlebarger says that new Calvinists should be locked away for a year or two to “cool off” so they don’t go nuts like this. The “neo-Reformed” have always been around, but before the YRR movement, it wasn’t cool to become a Calvinist and, therefore, there were very few new Calvinists at any given time. We’re just dealing with a huge influx of new Reformed who are organizing into churches full of New Reformed. Hopefully, they will cool off at some point and take the chains off the gates. I pray. And I pray this as a hard core 30-year-old Calvinist.
    BTW, I had dinner with my friend (and yours) Ron Mayers a short time ago and he was still proudly proclaiming that you were one of his students back when. In my mind, that makes up for your being an anabaptist. 😉
    Soli Deo Gloria,

  • Joshua

    I think that the opposite is true as well. There those that are not of Calvinist belief that are equally mean-spirited towards those who do not believe as they do.
    I am a Calvinist and was berated and attacked at my last church for believing such things. I was name-called and put in the same camp as the heretical hyper-Calvinist, even though I did not hold to such doctrines. Even though I was polite about my Calvinism and did not insist that others had to believe these truths in order to be a true Christian, I was labeled as a “potential threat” to church unity. Consequently, I was mandated to leave without any formal act of church discipline taking place. Several other friends that I fellowship with have had similar things happen to them.
    So in all fairness, the attacks do happen from both sides. I love the church and have Arminian friends and we dialogue respectfully and passionately all the time, yet my love for these believers remains the same.
    I don’t think that the attacks have to do with holding to a certain set of beliefs. I think they have to do with our sin nature, regardless of what we believe. We all need further sanctification.

  • Tom Sturch

    Militant attitudes are endemic in our ‘WWF’ world. They are patently un-Christian. We can understand that as identities are lost in the context of global culture, tribal instincts attempt to fill the gap and we attempt to claim God in the lineage. Fact is, God claims us and to believe otherwise is not the belief that yields salvation.

  • SteveT

    I agree with several of the people on here who have observed that this seems to be an effort to paint reformed theology with the brush of a few outspoken examples. Some of the most vicious Christians I have met have been those who reject inerrancy — they think that those of us who still hold it are fools, knaves, irrational, etc. Another group that I could call out would be the Young Earth Creationists. Of course I can also point to the Old Earth Creationists. There are plenty of emergent types who are very condescending to traditional believers.
    Now, I could put out a post talking about my buddy Hugh Ross and the rise of the neoOldEarthers and how damaging they are. I could put out a post about my buddy Clark Pinnock and the rise of the neoAnnihilationists. I could put out a post about Brian MacLaren and the rise of the emergents.
    I think a post like this is really a bit out of bounds. It is calling on us to think of the worst examples we can think of and paint everybody who holds similar theology with that stereotype. Perhaps there are neoReformed who are not very charitable, but tell me, is it really so charitable to put up a post like this that encourages people to extend their frustration with the tactless individuals that all groups have to a major swath of our brothers and sisters in Christ?
    You may say that Scot tried to focus the discussion on a very specific few, but a fair reading of the comments here shows that most people have followed the exact mental track that I am describing.
    This is very frustrating coming so close with RJS’ posts smashing anybody who has a Young Earth view. Scot, you talk about wanting the big tent — why have these posts that are sniping within the camp?

  • Scot McKnight

    Sorry. I responded over on the second post to you.

  • huguenot

    The baptist form of fundamentalism is just as bad. I hear stories of BJU in the past where you get could disciplined for owning a copy of Calvin’s institutes 😉

  • Scot McKnight

    Wow, I wonder what punishment there would have been for owning Aquinas’ Summa.

  • David A Booth

    I enjoy reading your work, but I think your use of the term “NeoReformed” is a bit disingenuous. Aren’t the NeoReformed actually those who are more open to a broader evangelicalism?
    I can’t imagine that Calvin would have broadened the tent to include anabaptists nor Arminians.
    Your brother,

  • Ian Powell

    G’day stranger….better G’day brother,
    I serve in Sydney Australia in the Angican church – we pride ourselves on our reformed evangelicalism. I have been mouthing off, lamenting, for some years, that my tribe seems to be no longer what I call “classical evangelical” any more. Your description of the hard reaction to brothers seems exactly what has happened down here in Sydney. So, a church that believes it OK for women to preach is too often descibed as “liberal”, no matter how fully we belive in and preach the Divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, substitutional atonement, hell etc. Yet there is so much less on what women can and can’t do than there is on baptism and yet we can live with difference on baptism and not so well with women occassionally preaching which I think (perhaps wrongly) more closely aligns with prophecy than authorative teaching. This is just one example but it is the thought patterns that worry me.
    We seem to often work on the basis that scripture is clear, I read the scriptures this way, therefore people who disagree are obvioulsy not doing it with an honest reading of scripture or they would agree with me, therefore they are not submissive to scripture, Jesus submitted to scripture, these others are not being submissive to scripture therefore they are probably not really disciple or Christian. I have only heard this logic actually articulated out loud once but I feel (perhaps wrongly)it is churcning away in the background.
    Thanks for your courage and insight.
    Ian Powell

  • Jeremy

    “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?”
    This is a big big problem. I know lots of folks that only study their breed of theology, or look at others only to try and poke holes. Not helpful.

  • If Freud were here, he would diagnose this brouhaha as passive aggressive pope envy. 🙂

  • Scot McKnight

    Indeed, Frank, he might.
    How would Freud understand a return to Rome?

  • Let me ask my Mother. 🙂

  • Interesting

  • mary vanderkooi

    I am reformed. But what you wrote is a major frustration. On the Puritan Board blog, dominated by neo-reformed, they actually pit confession against scripture. In one case a guy wrote that a certain scripture passage could not mean something because the confession states—and he quoted the confession. While giving lip-service to sola scriptura, they practice sola confession, and that in the face of the confessions themselves maintaining sola scriptura.

  • Scot,
    Interesting post. I’m concerned, though, about the other side of the issue too. Do you see a trend beyond charity towards different historically orthodox positions towards NO position at all? In other words, I would agree as someone coming from a reformed point of view that the type of exclusivity you describe may well be wrong, but the trend I’m experiencing (in my highly unscientific survey) is towards the type of “deeds, not creeds” theology in which what is taught keeps dropping lower and lower.
    I’m not that old, but Substitutionary Atonement and Original Sin didn’t used to be debated in my circles. While I recognize others may not share my view, isn’t there a danger – when everything becomes optional – of diluting our message? If we hold no position with conviction (that is to say we believe it represents the Biblical view), aren’t we saying that the issue really doesn’t matter?
    Lewis noted in his illustration of the hallway and rooms that, while they were all in the house, the furniture and warmth were in the rooms. Let’s hope that in recognizing the commonality of the hallway we don’t go overboard and dilute our “room” message.

  • I myself feel that what we call creeds and confessions arise from systematic theology–our attempts to organize and summarize the message of scripture. The problem with systematic theology is the assumption that we know enough (that God has revealed enough) to put it all together. But what if God just told us what we needed to know without explaining it all to us? Does it mean that we are somehow compromising the truth because we refuse to be dogmatic (not refuse to discuss and consider different possibilities) about our systematic theological constructs?
    We are in a ship navigating a sea and we can see the continents and avoid the islands as we travel to our destination. But is it necessary to know all the landscape of the bottom of the ocean in order to get to our destination? Is it God’s will for us to arrive at our destination or to know all the mysteries of the deep? Even so, I still think it is good to explore those mysteries… just don’t be dogmatic about them.
    What God wants us to know the most is the clearest in scripture. Yes, I know it isn’t that sophisticated and I truly believe that sometimes our goal is theological sophistication. We would do better to give up our theological pride and live with simple faith, fighting temptations in our life and serving others.
    I studied science at the University. In physics there are a number of theories that we can’t really prove. But we still use them. One is the model of the atom. We are most familar with the common Bohr model of the atom. But it is not complete and doesn’t answer all the questions. A better model is the quantum model. But they are all models. Gravity is another one. We don’t know for sure what it is. We have Einstien’s General Theory of Relativity that proposes curvature in the space-time continuum. It is a model. Perhaps one day we can prove it; but not yet. The Big Bang, anti-matter, the density of the universe and the particle nature of light can be described, but we are still seeking a so-called Grand Unified Theory. The GUT would tie it all together.
    So far the GUT eludes us. However, that doesn’t mean that are universe doesn’t work or add up. Physicists are confident that it does all add up… we just don’t know how yet. Does it matter how it all adds up? Absolutely. Does it matter that we KNOW how it all adds up? No, not really. But it is interesting.

  • Your critique is well taken. More often than I would like to confess, I’m almost afraid to wear the moniker “Reformed,” even though that is the tradition I’m in. I’m very well aware of a couple of camps in the Reformed community who are ultra-polemical and tend to elevate certain cherished theological shibboleths above the historic doctrines held by all Christians in all places at all times during the history of the church.
    The problem is that we have these people who are orthodox in every point of their theology but may be worshiping Reformed Theology instead of the Triune God, affirming the doctrine of substitutionary atonement but actually embracing salvation by confessional subscription.
    Nearly three hundred years ago a New Light Presbyterian parson named Gilbert Tennent ran into the same problem – confessional subscription devoid of spiritual life, and preached about it in his famous “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry”. Only a few decades later, Søren Kierkegaard lamented the same phenomenon in the state Lutheran church of his native Denmark.
    I’m inclined to think the problem isn’t limited to the neoReformed – the spiritual pride that underlies it can surely occur in any stream of Christianity. And let us also take note that it’s just as easy to take spiritual pride in our tolerance, our hipness, even our winsomeness.
    Thanks for your even-handed treatment of the issue – the Reformed tradition has much to offer, but I am with you in appreciating the contributions of other streams, like your tradition (Anabaptist) and many others.

  • I briefly commented on McKnight’s endorsement of Wright’s new book on justification here.

  • Rob

    “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?” There’s a lot of wisdom to that comment, beyond simply the reformed vs. arminian viewpoint.

  • Meeka Pullan

    Disunity of doctrine and fellowship is a serious threat to non-Catholic christianity, and the Neo-Reformed know it. Specifically, they know that two or more opposing positions on core doctrines can’t both be true. One position is true, and the rest are lies.
    The root of protestant disunity is weak ecclesiology and the grave error that final authority rests in scripture *alone*. Since no two people read the bible alike, and since the bible isn’t a mere listing of doctrines, the bible can’t bring any unity of opinion on topics or doctrines. That is why “orthodox teaching” has always been developed via the Church councils, not by everyone reading the bible together to arrive at correct doctrine. (Plus, illiteracy rates and the lack of a printing press would have made individual bible reading an impossibility for most of Christian history.)
    So long as protestants reject the historic Church and its councils, they will be unable to maintain unity of doctrine, unity of fellowship, and unity of leadership. This protestant “unity crisis” was known even to the first Reformers. Concerning early Protestantism, Luther said: “There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit Baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God. There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”
    And Theodore Beza likewise said: “Our people are carried away by every wind of doctrine. If you know what their religion is today, you cannot tell what it may be tomorrow. In what single point are those churches, which declared war against the Pope, united among themselves? There is not one point which is not held by some of them as an article of the faith and by others is rejected as an impiety.”