Can We Dialogue? (RJS)

I am traveling this week and so will delay the next post on Theology After Darwin. I want to take a bit of a break and put up a question about our church and the way we deal with questions, problems, and conflict. Last spring I linked to the talks given at the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference with particular attention to the interaction with N.T. Wright and his book Jesus and the Victory of God.  The best talk of the conference, however, (my vote anyway) was not on JVG, but rather the talk by Kevin Vanhoozer “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation” on the interface between Wright’s work on Justification and reformed theology.  I’ve listened to it on my commute several times over the last six months including again just this last week.

Perhaps the best part of the talk is Vanhoozer’s concluding summary which is a call for dialogue. Speaking about the state of the discussion of justification and reformed theology Vanhoozer concludes:

(46:00 in or 4:54 remaining) The wisdom of Solomon in this case consists not in dividing, but dialoging. And in this regard I have to say that the saddest line in Tom’s new book on justification is his comment about the present moment of the justification debate. He says “we are not in dialogue” thinking of his would be interlocutors. So let me conclude with a call to all parties to beat their diatribic swords into dialogic plowshares.

Diatribic swords are wielded so often with our church – with all too ready self-righteousness;  justification, Calvinism, inerrancy, emergent, emerging, egalitarianism, complementarianism, and evolution, to name but a few of the tinderbox issues. Watchblogs and congratulatory high-fives abound. Of particular relevance to many of my posts … who can deny that the tendency Vanhoozer rightly calls out in the debate over justification is equally present in the discussion of creation, evolution, and intelligent design? The air is ringing with the sound of clashing diatribic swords. This hurts the church, the people of the church, and the witness of the church and leads to the question I would like to address today.

How can we build an atmosphere of dialogue in the spirit of Christian unity?

Vanhoozer does not stop with a simple call for a melting of swords to plowshares, he elaborates on some ways to achieve this result. After an interlude contrasting the elephant and the spider in the room he continues:

(48:36 in or 2:18 remaining)   The Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin believes that no one single voice can speak all the truth. Often it takes two voices or more, two different but complementary perspectives to say what is the case. And might this not be the case with Tom and the reformed tradition? I don’t hear too many blatant contradictions between their respective affirmations, yet each side perhaps needs to stop denying certain things. The reformed need to accept the ecclesiological implications of being declared in Christ, the necessity of reading everything in the big covenantal picture. Tom may need to retool his understanding of the law court and develop a fuller understanding of our adoption in Christ. No one person, not even one with Tom’s energy and prodigious intellectual gifts, can work a paradigm revolution singlehandedly. I think he needs to win, not more battles, but more allies.

But both sides of the discussion, however, need to keep working on what I’ll call the dialogical virtues. Habits of discourse that are conducive to understanding others and to making oneself understood. Among dialogical virtues such as honesty, fairness, and clarity, one stands out in particular, humility,  the opposite of pride or self-righteousness. The dialogical virtues, first cousin to the intellectual virtues, aim to inculcate right communication and right thinking. So in the end it is all about (w)rightness.

And make no mistake, the dialogical virtues that I’ve just enumerated are ultimately the fruit of the Holy Spirit. With that thought in mind I can perhaps guess what St. Paul might say back, not only to Tom, but to all of us, it might be “love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

There are several excellent points here.

First – we need each other. No single voice can speak all the truth, no single mind can concieve all the options, no single life is long enough to acquire all of the data.  I learn more from those who thoughtfully challenge my views and positions than from those who simply agree. This is especially true in the areas of theology and biblical studies. But we have to be able to sit down in dialogue and explore both our points of agreement and our points of disagreement.

Second – we all need to concentrate not on winning battles but on making allies. Ultimately our goal within the church is to search for truth in Christian unity, not to score points or win debates. We are not called to conquer our fellow Christians, victory is reflected in willing unity not enforced submission.

Third – we need to cultivate and practice the dialogical virtues – honesty, fairness, clarity, and humility. And, to add to Vanhoozer’s list the virtue of patient attentive listening.

Conceding a point to keep the peace is not a dialogical virtue. Nor is a wishy-washy anything goes tolerance.  There is truth and there is error. But we find the truth not by proclamation or intimidation, but by patient and thoughtful persuasion.

Are the dialogic virtues worth cultivating?  If so how can we cultivate them and build an atmosphere of dialogue in the spirit of Christian unity?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

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  • albion

    I was at that conference and I agree that Kevin’s was the best talk of the conference (it was certainly the funniest!). This is very wise advice. Thanks for highlighting it. All the talks are well worth a listen.

  • Carol Noren Johnson

    This is excellent. In our world of sound bites, text messages and tweets we are not really going for the constructive, fair, civil dialogue.

    Perhaps one way we can cultivate dialogue is to learn to repeat what another person has said in our own words and check back to see if the understanding is correct. This works in marriage. However with all the information out there and everyone’s time schedules unless there is a symposium dialogue may not happen.

  • tscott

    “But we find truth not by proclamation or intimidation, but by patient and thoughtful persuasion.”

    Google “process theology” and look at the first bullet in Wikipedia under Major Concepts……* “God is not omnipotent in the sense of being coercive. The divine has the power of persuasion….”

  • Robin

    I think the first step is dealing with people on their own terms. I don’t expect to have good dialogue with most liberals if I throw around words like pro-abortion and elitist. There are equivalent words in the Christian conversations.

  • Jeff Cook

    Speaking as a novice on the debate itself, it seems to me that the dialogue is not about what the Bible says. The debate is paradigmatic. There are strong non-rational value judgments which are pushing each side toward their differing conclusion. Until that is recognize and then debated at that level, the two sides will continue to speak past each other.
    But I do agree fully with your prescriptions for how this (and most debates) within Christianity should take place. Well done.

  • Ben Wheaton


    I agree; and words like “fundamentalist” are chief among dialogue-ending terms.


    Beware of Bulverism.

  • Derek

    We could start by putting away terms like “neo-reformed.”

    Since none of the young Reformed folk I know would see themselves as that, or in the way they are often described on this blog.

  • Robin

    I think the list of words that have the potential to cut off dialogue is endless; therefore I think the best rule is just to address people on their own terms. If they want to be called pro-choice, and I am interested in dialogue, I call them pro-choice. The same goes for conservative Christians that prefer to be called evangelicals, Catholics that don’t like being called papists, complementarians that prefer not to be called mysoginists, etc. If you want to score points, call them whatever you want; if you want to have a dialogue use the language they prefer.

  • Robin

    I’m reformed, I’ve never seen that term used anywhere but here (did that CT article on Mohler use the term), but I’m not really sure if it has a perjorative connotation. The only thing about the term that raises a red flag for me is that it reminds me of “neo-con” which I think has become perjorative in recent political discourse.

  • Jeff Cook

    Ben – How is #5 Bulveristic?

  • Jim Hoag

    On Trevin Wax’s website “Kingdom People” he quotes John Piper regarding how love for the Word can unite Calvinists and non Calvinists.I would say some of the the dividing lines are more sophisticated, really more about hermeneutics(which will show up eventually) regardless of our passion for the Word. I think we have to ask whether pursuing the familiar arguments of modern evangelicalism is the way to go about “building an atmosphere of dialogue in the spirit of Christian unity”.I’m looking for a somewhat different approach and outcome; that is, a collaborative effort to reconstruct a biblical narrative by which we can deal with issues of alternative, biblical(new creation) communities and how OUR eschatalogical reality defines our mission and relatationship to culture NOW.

  • Derek

    I could be wrong Robin but I believe Scot coined the neo-reformed term, and not in the most positive of ways. I have since seen it used on blogs and articles but always in a negative manner.

  • Karl

    Derek and Robin,

    From the non-reformed perspective (and from the perspective of many reformed folks I know as well) there is a marked difference between those reformed folk who speak to and about those with whom they disagree in, for example, the accent of a Tim Keller vs. those who speak with the accent of a Piper/Sproul. That latter group of reformed disciples is a distinct, noticeable and vocal subgroup, often aggressively combative and little interested in true dialogue (though very willing to debate or pontificate when they spot what they believe is error or heresy). As with people who eschew the label “fundamentalist” because they can always point to someone even further down the spectrum than themselves, most of them don’t want to own the labels of “new reformed” or “neoreformed.” And that is fine – but what then, should we call this very recognizeable subgroup when we want to refer to them?

  • Derek

    Karl your comment is something I often hear and am willing to consider. But as someone who has listened to hundreds of Piper sermons over the years and many more interviews I am unfamiliar with this combative disinterest attitude that you speak of him having.

    If anything I hear Piper often reflect on his own flaws, sins, and desire for humility and love for other people. I have had other tell me that this is their view of Piper and then when I ask them how they formed that opinion it has little to do with actually reading his books or listening to him speak. It is often just a caricature they have picked up from others, and not from personal knowledge. I am not saying that is the case with you Karl, but I do want to say that Jim just got done mentioning, Trevin Wax has an article up right now about how Piper thinks we can find unity around the Bible.

    All of this to say I am not sure how it would lend any support though for Scot developing labels that are unconstructive such as “neo-reformed” for folks he does not agree with. To me this seems somewhat aggressive, or whatever other attributes you wanted to put on Piper/Sproul.

  • Karl

    Derek, I think that attitude is most strongly evidenced in a subgroup of Piper’s devotees. In Piper himself it is less consistent, more subtle. But for all of his sincere, self-effacing words and his real desire for Christian unity around the Bible, Piper seems quite willing (in fact, I believe feels himself called) to weild “the diatribic sword” that RJS refers to. Maybe he doesn’t do so as abrasively as Sproul. But still, Piper speaks and teaches with certainty about secondary, disputable matters in a way that leaves his disciples less inclined to true dialogue with those who disagree with them, rather than more. But I’m more interested in the general trend that RJS and Vanhoozer are talking about, and secondarily how to refer to this reformed subgroup that is sometimes a part of that problem (though far from the whole problem), than in making this about Piper himself.

  • Sean LeRoy

    In answer to the question, I’d say with love for one another, while remembering that there’s a difference between “Unity of the Spirit” and “Unity of the Faith”.

  • Karl

    RJS, to address your questions I would say yes, the dialogic virtues are worth cultivating. How? A few off the top of my head thoughts include:

    Seek first to understand rather than to be understood.

    Really try to get inside the skin and mindset of your dialogue partner. Not to figure out how to “defeat” them. But in order to empathize with them and find possible common ground, common concerns, common goals, common “goods” that you are both concerned to preserve.

    Make a habit of stating the other person’s position in a way that he/she would recognize and own as their own. If the other person is repeatedly telling you that you’ve misrepresented what they believe then you are probably not in real dialogue and it’s probably not their fault.

    Be honest about what matters you think are essential vs. what what are nonessential. Treat others with charity regardless of whether discussing essentials or nonessentials, but be willing to hold nonessentials a little more loosely.

  • Robin


    If you want to dailogue with this “neo-reformed” group that you have singled out for special derision because you see them as part of the problem, then you are going to have to treat them as being worthy of dialogue and not name-calling… even if you want to call them names and distinguish them from “acceptable” reformed people. If you don’t want to dialogue with them, fine, just keep referring to them however you want.

    The bigger issue is how to have dialogue with the “acceptable” reformed people like Keller. Keller certainly views himself in general agreement and fellowship with Sproul, Piper, etc. I’m not a fundamentalist, I am reformed, but here lately I have definitely been more influenced by Keller than Piper. I have been coming here and commenting for a year so I think I’m definitely open to dialogue…but every time someone starts tossing out “fundamentalist” (and sometimes when they use neo-reformed) I am reminded that people with the exact same theology as me are regarded with derision, and that the only reason I’m not, and the only reason Tim Keller isn’t, is because we haven’t taken firm stances yet on the issues that Piper has.

    I know the name-calling definitely decreases my motivation for sincere dialogue; I would dare guess that even “acceptable” evangelicals like Keller wince, and burn a little bit inside, to see their dear brothers addressed in such a way.

  • Sherman Nobles

    “Are the dialogic virtues worth cultivating?”

    Absolutely! In fact, most are aspects of the character of Christ — honesty, fairness, and humility! The only one mentioned not a character trait but a skill is “clarity”. And to me, pride and self-rightness are the biggest obsticles to having an atmosphere of Christian unity, love, and respect. Pride cuts us off from one another, motivating us to seek only to be heard and not to hear. It’s when we assume that we have the truth that we refuse to consider evidence to the contrary.

    “If so how can we cultivate them and build an atmosphere of dialogue in the spirit of Christian unity?”

    The only way to accomplish this is through personally modeling attitudes and practices that promote such Christian unity.

    A good place to start is to realize that we could be wrong. In fact, I’ve come to assume that I’m blind in some (if not many) areas, and I do not have nearly perfect understanding of God, salvation, etc. Don’t misunderstand me, I am firmly convinced concerning some things, but I recognize that I could be completely wrong even in these convictions. In our discussions with others, let’s keep in mind that we might be the ones that are in error, the ones who need to change our thinking. And thus let’s be careful to listen to others who have a different understanding, perspective than we do.

    Let’s also model a hunger for righteousness, right thinking and right acting. There is a vast difference between listening to someone in the hopes of learning something and listening to correct them!

    And let us especially refrain from personal attacks and from assumptions concerning negative motives of others. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. In fact, if we’re going to assume anything, let’s assume that the person loves the Lord and is doing his best to follow the Lord according to the limited light we all walk in.

    Well, this would be a good place to start, I believe. But I could be wrong. :)

  • Barb

    how about a “blind taste test” like in the old Pepsi vs. Coke days. Just state what YOU believe and WHY you believe it. And the WHY should come from some part of God’s revelation.–not attached to a particular person (Piper, Keller, McKnight, etc. etc.)
    Then when these core essential beliefs are out there being discussed for what they are in and of themselves. THEN we might just start finding the unity in the body that we all long for.

  • Albion

    Robin (18): Karl said that the neo-reformed, in his view, are “often aggressively combative and little interested in true dialogue (though very willing to debate or pontificate when they spot what they believe is error or heresy)”

    This is not derision and name-calling. This is description. I can name ten bloggers who fit this to a T. But the question Karl raises is, how to identify them if not by the moniker neo-reformed. He asks a legitimate question to avoid precisely the response you gave him.

  • Robin


    If that is what he was saying then I misinterpreted and I apologize.

    I really don’t know why you would need to identify them at all. If you want to dialogue with Piper (and he agrees) do it, there is no need to, during the middle of that dialogue, say “other fundamentalists and neo-reformed like yourself.” Just address him and his points, if you need to refer to another person’s works, do it by name, not group descriptor. If you are forced to refer to a group of people, DO IT ON TERMS THEY APPROVE OF.

    If you cannot manage to describe a group of people in terms that they would use to describe themselves, or at least agree described them accurately, then there is almost no hope for dialogue.

  • Rick


    “This is not derision and name-calling. This is description.”

    But that is not a way to get the dialogue going. If, for example, before discussions even begin, the Wright camp categorizes the Piper group with such type descriptions, and the Piper group does the same to the Wright group, how is that healthy ground to start discussions?

  • Robin


    I am a confesionally reformed (1689 London Confession) Baptist from rural Kentucky. And when someone uses the term fundamentalist to describe brother slightly to the right of me, I have the same visceral reaction as when I hear the words redneck, hillbilly, and teabagger used to describe people slightly more rural, or fiscal conservative than myself.

    This usually ends genuine hope for dialogue because I now perceive the speaker as a bigot, or at least someone who tolerates derision of those unlike himself.

    Anway, besides addressing people on their own terms, there is still alot that has to occur for dialogue to work, it is just that I start shutting down at this initial point, from here on out it becomes defensive and diatribic.

  • DRT

    It seems to me that many in the theological debate are making arguments at different levels. If I am to adopt that the bible = god’s will, then that is quite different from the bible = one perspective of god’s will. If people are not willing to concede one or another perspective for the sake of a conversation then I see little hope for harmony.

    I agree with the First and Third points in the OP, but not the Second. I don’t think there is a unity in the conventional sense of the word that can be achieved if the *it* that is supposed to be in unity is a worldview or biblical view. Perhaps I can buy in if the *it* in unity is recognition that we are ….something else. But the premise for most of the discourse seems to be articulating a worldview or biblical view (or god view I suppose). Effective discourse demands that opposing views be rejected.

    So absolutely we need to practice “honesty, fairness, clarity, and humility. And, to add to Vanhoozer’s list the virtue of patient attentive listening.” But I think people need to agree on things like scope of argument before they start.

  • DRT

    Sorry, forgot to close the one bold….

  • Anna

    fwiw — recently I ran across a saying used by some folks in academia who were also dealing with potentially divisive issues. The watchwords they used were:

    “Speak as if you are right — and listen as if you are wrong.”

    I would add the caveat that ‘speaking as if you are right’ means speaking your convictions, but speaking ONLY for yourself, and not claiming to represent anyone else or characterizing the other side.

    Again, fwiw.

  • Derek

    Good thoughts here and thanks for the reply Karl.

    I wonder if there is much repentance that has to be done on both sides as many, if they are honest, do harbor some hostility and animosity for those on the opposite side. We do not truly desire to dialogue but to trump them. Examples of this can be found on both sides so it because a red herring to start listing people from either side who are name callers.

    Scot often helps this process on his blog when he focuses specifically on the words and ideas of pastors, and scholars, not just a caricature of them. For example when he did a post just a few weeks ago about Piper’s thoughts on missions, or when he did a series on Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church. In both cases he let the men speak for themselves and interacted with their ideas. This kind of engagement is very helpful.

    Yet then there are posts like Tony Jones from last week in which he critiqued a dissertation with no engagement of the author’s own words. He simply told us that this guy was wrong, did not get it, and came to the same old conclusions as Kevin DeYoung or DA Carson. It is when we jump right to our conclusion without seeing how you got there that dialogue is often rendered impossible.

  • Albion

    Robin: admittedly, it’s a gray area. Aggressively combative isn’t, per se, name calling or derisive; I know precisely what Karl is describing. But I take your point that it can raise the hackles of those who are put in that category who might identify theologically with the group but who do not practice that particular form of argumentation. So how to get beyond descriptions that might be accurate but still throw up the same roadblocks to dialogue?

    I know Scot has found it useful to identify the folks who are aggressively combative and more interested in argument than dialogue by some kind of shorthand descriptor. That makes sense to me.

    I guess I’m befuddled!

  • dopderbeck

    I disagree with this spineless drivel!

    Ok, only kidding… Great post.

    On the positive side, we (the Church) have made progress in the past few hundred years. At least we aren’t literally having a Hundred Years War over our theological and religious differences.

    The trick is having the freedom to speak plainly and directly about matters of truth without allowing that disputation to become personal and without questioning the basic Christian commitment of others.

  • Thomas Newell

    The problem with phrases like “aggressively combative” is twofold.
    1. It is to subjective and can be applied to just about anyone that you feel argues in a manner that is not as mild as yours. This sets one up somewhat as judge or ref also in which you declare or decide who is aggressive and who is not.

    2. The person or group that is being described as aggressively combative are almost entirely unlikely to agree with the label, and therefore we have once again thwarted dialogue.

    Calling people aggressively combative does not open ears or hearts, fails to describe people in a manner in which they would agree with and sets one up as the ref, even if you claim to be wanting to engage in conversation.

  • smcknight

    This thread is actually a good example of what RJS is getting at in dialogue itself. So I like what is going on … let me say something as part of all this…

    The term NeoReformed is useful for me and for others to describe a new movement with significance and substance. If some can speak of a Resurgence, and others of a new group called Gospel Coalition or Together for the Gospel, and this group see a new gathering (of older ideas, to be sure) then it makes sense to describe them fairly. They are not the older Reformed, who sometimes call themselves TR (truly Reformed) and some are saying they are really NeoPuritans, which might be even more accurate, but the moniker fits and it’s accurate and is affirmed in many ways by the groups themselves.

    That’s part of good dialogue. It’s necessary. Dismissal because of who they are is not — so bring them to the table, let’s talk, let’s disagree, but let’s honor one another to speak of one another in ways that are accurate and mutually agreeable terms.

  • Karl

    Robin and Derek, three of the most influential mentors in my life are “reformed” in their theology, including the pastor of the presbyterian church I grew up in, who is one of the most saintly men I know. Similarly, in the last few years the writings of Tim Keller have probably been more influential to me than those of anyone else. So it’s not the fact that someone holds reformed theology per se, that I am talking about. It’s tone, attitude, treatment of those with whom one disagrees, a readiness to “wield the dialogic sword.” A combative dogmatism about disputable matters that aren’t salvific. A seeming frequent emphasis on “why we are more right than other Christians” rather than an emphasis on “what we hold in common with all Christians.”

    This isn’t unique to reformed theology. But there is a recognizable, growing and quite vocal subset of reformed folks who are characterized by that way of interacting with others. Reformed theologian John Frame describes something like it in this essay entitled “Machen’s Warrior Children” in which Frame decries reformed folks’ inability to stop warring *with each other* over nonessential matters; he doesn’t even GET to the place of addressing the warrior attitude expressed toward those outside the reformed camp. You can get the gist of Frame’s thoughts by skipping to the end and reading his 11 “Observations” and his 9-point “Unrealistic Dream.” It is sad to me that Frame views his dream as “Unrealistic.” I’d like to see his dream be normative not just for reformed people, but for all Christians in dialogue with one another.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Great post, and with what time I have good comments! I think we have to ask questions and learn to listen well. And hear the other out. Hear each other out, actually. It takes two to make a true dialogue, of course.

  • AHH

    One important concept is to look at discussions more in terms of “dialogue” and less in terms of “debate”. In the former the goal is to grow and learn and be constructive, while in the latter the goal is to “win”. But this can run counter to a Christian culture where “contending for the faith” is often put forth in adversarial terms.

    I’m reminded of the recent science/faith conference in Texas, which briefly had a session scheduled where opposing views would be discussed back and forth. But then one “side” started describing it as a “debate” and even a “smackdown”, and ultimately the other “side” (somebody from Biologos and somebody from the ASA) withdrew because they had wanted and been led to expect something more along the lines of constructive dialogue.

    On the use of negative-sounding terms, there are fine lines. We should try to avoid terms that are primarily pejorative and primarily promoted by adversaries, like “Obamacare” or “anti-choice”.
    But one can’t totally abandon descriptive terms — you have to be able to use language to describe things and by any reasonable definition one should be able to describe Al Mohler or John MacArthur as “fundamentalist” or leadership of some mainline denominations as “liberal”. But we should also consider that those may not be the wisest terms to use if we are aiming for constructive dialogue.

  • Ryan

    Vanhoozer’s presentation and content were brilliant. Like you I have listened to that presentation a number of times since the conference. I genuinely hope for the the American evangelical church to get this point. Problem is so many of our pastors were taught the strict lines of orthodoxy without sufficient historical context and thus a lack of humility. This overconfidence in their interpretation of scripture is modeled in the pulpit, creating disciples that simplistic and over confident in their assessment of truth. This works right up to the point when they have to actually engage another human being with another viewpoint.

  • Rick


    “Problem is so many of our pastors were taught the strict lines of orthodoxy without sufficient historical context and thus a lack of humility. This overconfidence in their interpretation of scripture is modeled in the pulpit, creating disciples that simplistic and over confident in their assessment of truth.”

    Because you see that as a “problem”, the dialogue with many would shut down right away.

  • rjs


    I don’t think we as a church do a good job of fostering a spirit of dialogue. If you don’t think Ryan expresses the problem, or even part of the problem, where do you see the root of the problem?

    Or do you think that we do achieve a good spirit of dialogue?

  • Ben Wheaton

    I think we should call people what they call themselves.

    So, AHH, I think that you should avoid what you call “descriptive” terms unless the people to whom you refer use it of themselves. Many mainliners use the term “liberal” quite cheerfully; less so do evangelicals use the term “fundamentalist” to describe themselves.


    The term “neoreformed” is NOT affirmed by those whom you’ve tarred with it. I’m also unaware of many of the “older reformed” who use the initials TR to refer to themselves. Both have become negative labels.

  • megan

    As I see it, a major part of the humility aspect is being slow to take offense. I agree 150% that the speaker should try as much as possible to avoid unnecessarily inflammatory terms. But the listener’s responsibility is, as much as possible, to assume the best about the speaker.

    Terms like “fundamentalist” and “neoreformed” can be linguistically accurate ways of referring to a particular group of people. They can also be pejorative terms. Rather than taking immediate offense in assuming the speaker means the latter, I would say to assume the former and offer gentle questioning to help clarify their position. And once you’ve made the effort to understand their position, that gives you some grounding to say, “It makes me skittish to be referred to as a fundamentalist and here’s why…”

    As an aside, most people I know who use “neoreformed” as a pejorative have been burned in the past by an overly combative Calvinist. They may come off as angry, but there’s often real hurt behind that. While I understand the first impulse to protest that all Calvinists aren’t like that, giving them a little grace and a little space to process their anger and frustration is usually the better way to build allies.

  • Dana Ames

    As someone above said, the topic of discussion between Wright and Vanhoozer is not about love for the bible, but about differing hermeneutics. I think the differences between the hermeneutics are such that, in spite of the few nuances upon which both can agree, the one view of who God is and what he is up to pretty much precludes the other.

    From what I have read and heard of Wright and Vanhoozer, and most academics engaged in the debate as well, they both conduct themselves dialogically virtuously, IMO. And I’m with Dopderbeck- at least we’re not taking up actual guns and swords against one another.

    Derek @28, I agree with your first two paragraphs, but I’m not sure how you come to the conclusion that T. Jones didn’t engage the authors’ own words. In order to write the book review, he read the book, which was developed from the dissertation; how could he not have engaged the authors’ words? Unless you are making a point I don’t understand.


  • Rick


    No, I don’t think there is a good spirit of dialogue, but I do see improvements (many healthy blogs, conferences, etc… The upcoming ETS gathering should be an interesting test of this).

    We have to start dialogue by recognizing common ground, and that is not happening as people want to immediately jump into the differences. We are a diverse family, not enemies (or even different teams in the same conference).

  • Karl

    Thanks for that, Megan (#40).

    I agree with those urging us all to refer to people the way they want to be referred. Knowing that so many people take offense at the term “neoreformed” I’ll shy away from using it.

    But I spent 14 years preschool – 12th grade in a private Christian (Baptist) school that proudly wore the self-applied label “fundamentalist.” I also grew up in a wonderful Presbyterian church and then in young adulthood spent several years in one of those theologically combative, “we’re more right than everyone else and every sermon somehow comes back to TULIP” kinds of churches and yes, the latter was wounding and a far cry from what I had experienced from “reformed” folk growing up. So I feel like I know of what I speak when I use descriptive (not pejorative) terms like “fundamentalist” or “[whatever term we decide is accurate for those particularly combative, aggressive and dogmatic reformeds].”

    I also can sympathize with Robin and Derek because after that reformed congregation I spent several years in the Episcopal Church, USA, where I was called a fundamentalist for believing that Jesus really is the second Person of the Trinitarian God and that he really, bodily rose from the dead. I wanted to say “buddy, if you think I’m a fundamentalist you’ve never met a REAL fundamentalist.”

    As Megan says, sometimes one needs a linguistically accurate way to speak about an identifiable group or subgroup of people. The difficulty comes when an identifiable subgroup doesn’t want to be considered a subgroup and wants to wear only the label of the entire, larger group. Maybe charity demands that we acquiesce, but it seems like clarity and accuracy suffer.

  • Mich

    I have noticed that most of the folks who fail to have a conversation or dialog–am I the only person who is fed up with all this narrative, conversation, dialog cant? Can’t we just talk!!–are the actual Church LEADERS of various denominations. I find no difficulty in chatting with Christians from various denominations.

  • Peggy

    Thanks for this post, RJS. Wish I had time to listen and read all the good things out there.

    That being said, I have to say that there is a simple bottom line that gets to the heart of it (Megan started it). It is found in the meaning of this blog’s name: Jesus Creed.

    Just what do we think it means to love your neighbor as yourself?

    I hope it means that we see, first and foremost, a beloved Eikon of God, a brother or sister in Christ. No cliche here….

    Then I hope it means that we recognize that we need each other — for our own sakes and for the sake of the mission of God. “…they will know you are my disciples by your love for each other.”

    Finally I hope it means that we will “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” … because what we know is “through a glass darkly” at this point. Even the best and brightest of us have dark spots that we could benefit from being lovingly being addressed and cleaned.

    As long as it is about being “right”, we will by definition be wrong. Our words are powerful and the intention behind them even more so. We have talked over the years about the challenge in dialog over the internet and without relationship. It is important to remember.

    Inviting the Spirit in me to learn from the Spirit in you is a very good place to be. St. Patrick had it right when he said “be in the heart of each to whom I speak; in the mouth of each who speaks to me.”

    This year I have asked God to help me learn to listen well — to the Spirit and to others. I have also asked to learn restraint. These are challenges that must be undertaken by those who really want to love others. Especially when some folks have the idea that loving God means attacking those who have a different understanding and different way of loving that same God.

    Grace and peace to you all.

  • Ana Mullan

    A very challenging and helpful post. Among many other things that Christianity can offer to the world is how deal with conflict in a way that it is for the benefit of others and for the glory of god, how to agree to disagree.
    When we become extremists, we become defensive, we start to believe that God is on “our” side, we actually become insecure, we lash back because deep down fear is controlling us and we stop treating people as God’s creatin and gift to one another and we see them as enemies.

  • Rick

    One concern I have will some of the comments is a tone of “the other side has to change before we can gather at the table”, “They are the problem”. For the most part, people are being careful in how they are stating such things, but that is the tone.

    If we can build from the agreed upon essentials, and then reflect on our own responsibility in moving the dialogue forward, that will help the process.

    We also need to separate some annoying personalities from our overall perception of the “other side”. For example, if you think of a certain person or blog when the other side comes to mind, make an effort to seek out other, less annoying, voices that hold those positions.

  • Rick

    Happened to see this over at Trevin Wax’s site:

    “Piper was asked a question about increasing division in evangelicalism between those who are Reformed and those who are not. Toward the end of his answer, Piper makes a good point about how love for the Bible can be a unifying factor for evangelicals who hold differing theological views:
    ‘I love this Book. I love this Book way more than the Institutes… or way more than Jonathan Edwards.
    An Arminian who is a lover of this Book – and you can smell humility on that guy, an absolute submission to this Book – man, can I go a long way with that guy! I can talk to him all day long. But if a Calvinist comes along who never quotes this Book, but just quotes Calvin – I don’t want to spend any time with him. I’m not interested. He’s just always blabbering away. He’s read some latest catechism or some latest book, and he’s on to this doctrine or that doctrine… I want to say: “Would you give me a verse?! Give me a verse. I just want to hear God come out of your mouth!”
    In that sense, I hope that I’m a winsome person. If an Arminian says, “Look, I think that everything I say is in this Book.” I say: “Me too! Let’s talk! Let’s go to this Book together. Let’s worship the God we see in this Book.” It’s amazing how far you can go with those people.’

    —Piper’s point about love for the Word being a unifying factor for evangelicals is important to note. It shows that the dividing lines in evangelicalism are not merely about particular doctrines (Arminian vs. Calvinist, charismatic vs. cessationist, Baptist vs. Presbyterian, etc.), but about the centrality of the Word.”

    Trevin then goes on to say:
    “Plenty of young Reformed guys thrive in non-Reformed churches as long as those churches clearly uphold and passionately proclaim the Word. The best of the young Reformed movement is not concerned with Calvinizing all evangelicals; they’re too busy proclaiming the gospel to the lost. What the young Reformed movement is reacting against is not Arminianism (or non-Calvinism), but a superficial treatment of Scripture that fails to dig deep and grapple with the big questions the Bible raises.”