I’m Probably Right About the New Religious Right

A few months ago, I left a comment on the well-read blog of a friend (and hero) – and got into a little bit of trouble.

I suggested that the neo-reformed movement – the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” that emerged a decade or so ago and have consolidated most notably into The Gospel Coalition, segments of the PCA, Southern Seminary and segments of the SBC, and Mark Driscoll’s Acts 29 networkis giving rise to a new religious right in the U.S.

I was immediately, and gently, corrected by my friend, who was seeking to build a bridge between anabaptist missional people and neo-reformed people – a worthy pursuit, to be sure. He felt the language of “religious right” was too harsh in describing what the neo-reformed are on about. Then, several neo-reformed folks jumped in too, saying that statements like mine make them feel “unsafe” and that they were super offended.

Etcetera. 

Anyway, one of the NR dudes taking maximum extreme umbrage was a Gospel Coalition blogger and Reformed Baptist author/pastor from my home state of VT. He has an interesting public persona, in that he is quite aggressive toward non-reformed leaders and theology in his writing and tweeting but also quite good at playing victim whenever someone offers a valid critique of his position. He’ll troll Joel Osteen, mock progressive Christians, favorably quote misogynists on his blog, and post Spurgeon lines calling his opponents “cowards,” among other things. In other words, he fouls hard but also likes to flop.

At first, I thought I might leave this theory alone and move on, but recently I’ve seen even more evidence that my “religious right” scenario is probably…right.

And the oversensitive pushback from these influential NR leaders likely just confirms the validity of the point I’m proposing. See, it has been a mainstay of the neo-reformed perspective to officially eschew political preoccupation in favor of “the gospel” and staying “gospel-centered.” That is, where the moral majority and religious right that emerged in the 80′s seemed to equate evangelism with political influence (taking America back for God) and legislation on moral/religious issues, the neo-reformed have promoted evangelism through the message of the gospel apart from political action. But, as the movement is settling into more institutional forms and some of its leaders are getting into their forties and older, I am seeing a return to the political emphasis – even if the presentation is more coy and political action is more of an “implication.” That is, I am seeing neo-reformed gospel-centrality becoming something of a means to a conservative political end – getting Americans saved in order to get America back to the values which are reflective of “true” Christianity.

And I should add that there’s no need for oversensitivity here, nor avoidance of this reality. Neo-reformed folks, if you are moving conservative evangelicalism back into political action, just be honest about it. That will help the conversation more than all the faux umbrage.

The Resurgence

The catalyzing force behind what appears to be the rise of a new religious right from among the neo-reformed ranks is, of course, marriage equality legislation. Like abortion legislation before it, this will, as the aforementioned pastor likes to put it, “separate the men from the boys” among those who claim conservative (true) Christian faith. Who will be willing to continue standing against gay marriage – in the pulpit and in the polls? This will reveal who is “with us” and who is “against us.”

In other words, the neo-reformed movement has increasingly championed the notion that unity among evangelicals under the banner of conservative politics is desperately needed in order to stem the tide of moral and religious decline in America. And this, clearly, not just in evangelism but also in the political activity which results from conversion. By coalescing the conservative Christian identity under the essentially political issue of gay marriage (and, perhaps secondarily, “religious freedom”), gospel-centrality becomes a spiritual container for a fundamentally political identity; because ultimately what validates you as among the fold is your stance on these legislative issues.

One evidence of this was the infamous tweet by Mark Driscoll during President Obama’s recent inauguration, to the tune that Obama does not believe the Bible he’s swearing on, nor have any true knowledge of the God in its pages. While many took this as some kind of strong statement of the true gospel, really it had nothing to do with the gospel, as we know little about Obama’s particular understanding of what the gospel is. Instead, it was a decidedly political statement: Because the President is notoriously pro-choice and now pro-marriage equality, he is, therefore, a nonbeliever and, barring political conversion, an enemy of God.

Another evidence of this was the influx of articles and posts that occurred during Holy Week on The Gospel Coalition website about the Supreme Court marriage equality hearing that was underway (and the downright glut of articles on this topic both before and since). On every grid of the front page, there were prominent articles about the hearing, such that any articles about the most important week on the Christian calendar – and the truths historically crucial and precious to Christian identity – were overpowered to virtual nonexistence. It was more important at that moment for TGC to keep Christians apprised of political events so they would go on standing for the new essential of the faith – opposition to gay marriage. (During that week, Tim Keller even posted a retraction on the site that week for giving the impression in a talk that Christians could be pro legal marriage for gays and also hold to traditional sexuality!)

Perhaps the clearest and most recent example of this is the promotion for Mark Driscoll’s forthcoming book, A Call to Resurgence. From all appearances, this book will likely outline the precise theory I’m presenting here: that true Christians in America must unite around the values which would eventually lead to overturning these particular legislative issues. In a recent talk on the subject, Driscoll bemoaned the loss of “Christendom” which he defined as the time when it was necessary to have Christian faith in order to have prominence and respect in American culture. And the time when we had strong, traditional marriage and family values. He outlined that “civil religion” is not a good solution to this, as those who claim to be Christian lack authentic faith that really sticks to its guns on these values. But he mainly defined civil religion in terms of liberals who claim to be Christians. The goal for Driscoll, again, seems to be to return to the time when conservative Christians were respected, prominent, and powerful through legislating values commensurate with true Christian faith.

This is the new religious right.

And the reason that the neo-reformed will give rise to this movement is because of their influence among conservative evangelicals. They are the strongest theological voice. Even charismatics and more mainstream or seeker-type churches and movements are taking their theological cues from the neo-reformed. There is, indeed, a resurgence happening here, and it will move the whole of conservative Christianity to a coalescing around these legislative issues and political action as the definitive proof of true faith/conversion.

Another way of saying this is that from a marketing standpoint, a brand must always assess its ultimate goal and purpose. While the neo-reformed resoundingly say that their ultimate goal and purpose is the glory of God through the salvation of sinners by means of the gospel, a good marketing consultant would ask, To what current end? In other words, what’s the tangible goal of salvation for the movement? More people in churches? Well, yes. Changing the surrounding culture? Yes, that too. By promoting conservative values? Well, yeah… And seeing the government reflect these values by electing candidates who hold them? Yes, exactly.

This is the new religious right.

The Anabaptist Rebuttal

While I believe it’s important for neo-anabaptist type folks and neo-reformed type folks to find areas of common ground, to respect each other’s faith as valid, and to be civil and loving towards each other, I strongly question the notion that there is some kind of “greater goal” underneath which we ought to collaborate, if indeed the political climate is as I perceive it. In other words, if the rallying cry of the neo-reformed stream is broad-scale opposition to gay marriage legislation and other American political issues, it is fundamentally at odds with the heart of anabaptism. And, if I am hearing correctly that neo-reformed folks are understanding “post-Christendom” as a regrettable condition of an American culture that has rejected Christian values, and that returning Christendom is indeed preferable if not imperative (a call to resurgence!), then this may indeed be the ana-anabaptism.

The anabaptist rebuttal to this religious right ethos (even in its current gospel-clothed, theological incarnation) is that Christendom is always a bad thing. Always. It is never the bygone glory days to which we must return – it is the regrettable condition of an ungodly marriage between Christianity and the state, Christianity and government power, Christianity and corrupt coercive agendas. As such, the anabaptist impulse tears the mask off the empty politic of evangelicalism which primarily sees protecting its conservative territory as the ultimate goal instead of joining God in his mission to reconcile everyone, especially those on the fringes and the margins. In fact, the ideology to which the new religious right is so devoted militates against the welcome of the gospel, which inherently subverts the political barriers of coercion and violence – the master signifiers of “in” vs. “out” – in order to bring near the rejected and the despised.

If I am right about the new religious right – and I probably am – then we are currently in a space not too dissimilar from the original anabaptist protest (though thankfully with far less violence). It is the protest that the church must separate from the state in order to be salt and light for the world. It is the protest that political agendas of exclusion meant to preserve long-held power and influence are anathema to the gospel that is reconciling all, not counting anyone’s sins against them, imploding the strongholds of religious self-justification.

A church that separates from state-based religion in this way will find itself immersed on the ground in the realities of relationship, through which the Holy Spirit will work out the story of redemption in our time. An actual incarnational presence will begin to uniquely address the deeply encultured injustices, abuses, and absurdities which have harmed so many in years past, bringing renewal and revival to a church in crisis. Both contextualized expression and counter-cultural reform will take shape in neighborhood parishes submitted to the work of Jesus in this way. And the coercive, colonizing tendencies of religious right thinking will be subverted by this separation.

I do believe we’ve arrived at a tipping point where this anabaptist rebuttal must be stated clearly and without apology, that the church may move forward in North America. And it doesn’t require anabaptist card-carrying; it just requires the ethos. It just requires the church function as a society apart, not a means to an American political end.

And so, I guess, here I stand.

I can do no other.

Alright, I want you to weigh in. Neo-reformed folks – object! clarify! explain! Non-reformed folks – add! sharpen! tweak! contradict! All – bring it on!

About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • hespenshied

    Interesting thoughts….I’m a very regular reader at the The Gospel Coalition, and I have to admit, at least lately I’ve been feeling the “vibe” of which you speak…..getting a bit of tingly spidey-sense now when I go there with regard to the politicizing.
    So I’m tracking with you, but need some clarification.
    Can you define (for the discussion) what an anabaptist is?  As I’ve researched the origin of the term, I’m trying to reconcile it with how you’re using it here.  Sorry if I’m asking for clarification on something that most here are already clear on.  It seems like you use “anabaptist” as a label for those who would speak out against the established church order, or for our purposes here, against the “new religious right”.

  • Chris Attaway

    Important stuff here, Zach! Couldn’t agree more. It was essentially political notions which drove several neo-reformed people I know to do terrible things.

  • joelburdeaux

    I guess I’m neo-Reformed, yet for the *most* part, I agree with you.
    (1) I agree 100% with the assessment of Christendom as a bad thing. I agree 100% that the church MUST separate itself from the “ungodly marriage between Christianity and the state,
    Christianity and government power, Christianity and corrupt coercive
    agendas.” I have not ever followed the leadership of this “movement” into the political arena, for the same reasons you outline.

    However, the historical Anabaptist response is problematic, and I see that in this article. The tendency toward separatism is underlying this article, and that worries me. Yes, the church should function as a “society apart” from the political machine of any kingdom of man, for she serves THE KING and his KINGDOM. When she serves as a prop for any kingdom of man, she is lost. But, as part of this wayward church, the focus should be on bringing others along, not creating our own system of who is with us and who is against us. 
    BE MARGINAL. Call us to the beauty to be found there. But, don’t separate from us. This language of “tipping point” is worrisome.

    Who cares what foot-in-mouth leaders like Driscoll tweet/write? I pastor a church full of Reformed Baptists, and none of them would say Driscoll speaks for them. They just long to see people saved, lives changed, and God worshiped. He doesn’t speak for or influence me in any way either. He does exert influence over a large group of people, but I have found that gentle, bible-soaked, historically-informed responses go much further toward bringing others along than “taking a stand” is capable of. 
    (2) I don’t see a sustainable future for anything like a “Christian Right.” What you are witnessing is, at best, they dying breaths of Christendom, but I seriously doubt that it’s the birth of something new. It’s the same, tired, American Civil Religion, but in tight jeans and armed with Twitter accounts. It’s a blip. That’s all. I believe that we will live to see the end of widespread Christian influence in the US. Whether we like it or not, and whether we are ready or not, we will be marginalized and pushed aside. That’s cool. Then maybe pastors will start to be pastors instead of Social Studies teachers who serve as voting registrars more than prophets of the true King.

  • RyanThomasNeace

    Your assessment of the “new religious right” is spot on.

  • http://lifeasmission.com jrrozko

    hespenshied Stuart Murray William (in The Naked Anabaptist) offers the following list of 7 core convictions of Anabaptism. This is buy no means a definitive or comprehensive list, but a helpful starting place and reference nonetheless.
    1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church, and our engagement with society. 
    2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centered approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.
    3. We are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving.
    4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth, and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. 
    5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability, and multi-voiced worship. 
    6. Spirituality and economics are interconnected. 
    7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel.
    Not sure how those come across, but I’ll submit that the character and implications of these convictions are massive and timely, which is precisely why Zach is adamant about the need for a critical articulation of and engagement with them.

  • hespenshied

    jrrozko hespenshied Thanks this is very helpful – I had gone to 5 different sources and got 5 different answers, most of which made me think I didn’t hold the anabaptist view.  
     So I was trying to figure out why I found myself agreeing with Zach but not with what I was reading about anabaptists.

    But this explanation is more what I was looking for (and agree with) and helps frame the discussion.

  • Lydia

    I am not Reformed by a long shot but I do disagree. Not sure the Reformed movement is monolithic just as Ana Baptists are not. But I live at ground zero and can tell you that the Reformed movement reflects much of what I see as socialistic/collectivist attitudes of an oligarchy and many of the young YRR support Obama.
    I think guys like Mohler still preach a culture war because it sells and rallies folks and is part of his SBC shtick that has worked for him. But I think they want power and control, too. I don’t think it is a black and white thing with lines drawn.
    What I see happening in America is a culture that is looking to government to care for them materially and  a pastor to care for them spiritually. Self determinism is dying in this country. And Christian or not, that is a bad thing for everyone.  While I believe Christians are charged with caring for people’s needs and I take that seriously, I certainly do not want a government that mandates they always know best for my children. Government has shown they do a poor job and instead create an oligarchy. I think you are wrong on this one. I think the Neo Reformed will pony up with power, who ever it is. It is part of their historical tradition.
    As a Christian, I will always vote and vote for the one who wants government micromanaging our lives the least.

  • haettinger

    Yes. This.

  • ChrisMorton82

    zachhoag I’d like to hear and see more about your last paragraph. The anabaptist ideal is not just “anti-Christendom” (although I can get pretty riled up about that). It is pro-counter-society. 
    In other words, we cannot critique the broader culture or the waning Christendom culture without embodying the alternative. 
    The key to doing this is where many historical anabaptist (and interestingly enough, religious right) groups have struggled: how to be counter, yet engaged.

  • Jtheory2182

    Not many thoughts on the post itself though I see your point, just wanted to add that I met “one of the NR dudes” at a conference my church put on. He was actually a pretty nice guy and while I’ve probably alienated him since with continuing to disagree with him despite our nice conversation, I do think what he had to say about America and stuff was spot on, and didn’t come across like he wanted to create a Christendom culture at all.
    Okay, carry on.
    Also I can’t base all his beliefs on one sermon, so he might have said other things to the contrary of what that sermon meant to me.
    You can find my notes on that sermon here, as well as the rest of the weekend which included Neo Reformed pastor Bryan Chappell as well.
    http://andnowdeepthoughtswithjustin.blogspot.com/2013/06/sermon-4-gospel-vs-american-dream-jared.html

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    ChrisMorton82 zachhoag sure. i think that’s what i was getting at in the second to last paragraph though?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    joelburdeaux thanks for your points bro. i hear them, and i don’t think i’m proposing any kind of separation/disfellowship from the neo-reformed movement, nor am i suggesting that reformed folks can’t push against this tendency toward religious right thinking – they can (and you do). but I am trying to identify a general cultural reality among the neo-reformed. and i don’t think driscoll (or mohler or TGC) are marginal voices. they are the ones defining the culture of the movement.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    hespenshied jrrozko it also might be the whole “neo” thing – neo-anabaptists are getting to the foundational points of anabaptist identity but expressing it in a variety of ways. thanks for that list JR, so good.

  • MAGuyton

    Gosh I really hope not. My hope is that we’re heading into a very different era. I think that too many young evangelicals are jumping ship for there to be another resurgence of power. My hope is that we’re witnessing the beginning of the death of the Reagan era of American Christianity.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    MAGuyton yeah, i’m not saying it’s gonna work, or last. but i do think it’s a pervasive cultural reality among the new reformed.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Jtheory2182 justin, i hear you and validate the good stuff you see. but, this is a larger cultural reality and it underlies some of the stuff even in the post you linked – in perhaps unexpected ways. good to find common ground though.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    RyanThomasNeace thanks man.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Chris Attaway i hear you. and thanks.

  • Jtheory2182

    zachhoag Jtheory2182 definitely can see that. i think while i agreed with a lot of the sermon i might have agreed with his points in a way he didn’t mean them :)

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    @Lydia but lydia wouldn’t you agree that at the present moment TGC, SBC, Mohler, and Driscoll are the kinds of folks who define the direction of the movement, even if there are exceptions and pockets (esp. among the next generation)? also, not sure exactly the political point you may be trying to make here.

  • sethrichardson

    Thanks for these thoughts, Zach. I’m chewing on them. But as I chew, I need help digesting two questions: 
    (1) Even if you are “right,” what are you hoping to accomplish by being right about this?
    (2) If the NR’s “super offense” to your pronouncement about their disposition seemed excessive, then how would you classify your response?

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    sethrichardson seth, not hoping to accomplish anything other than shed light which might help some folks, and make people aware of the anabaptist alternative. as for the second, i’m not offended or expressing umbrage, just sharing my perspective. anything else?

  • sethrichardson

    zachhoag The line of difference between just “sharing your perspective” and their “umbrage” seems pretty grey to me. What am I missing?
    I wonder if the more we make generalized proclamations about the NR folk, and then situate our position in response to our proclamation about what’s wrong about their position, the more we’re cultivating the very ideology we hope to avoid. 
    Am I totally off base here?

  • jkabaerg

    I just had this realization, not so eloquently stated, but I’m sort of glad I’m not crazy for seeing it and at the same time slightly horrified that it has found not only traction but often ferverent support. As an Anabaptist (by choice and ethnicity – that’s always a little confusing) I cannot agree more that this is not the correct response from the Church, legalistic, politically influenced and influencing entrenchment but rather a countercultural response that seeks to engage in all the places where certainty of opinion is currently being touted as Gospel truth.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Seth, instead of this line of questioning (which seems rather leading), how about you just state your opinion clearly?

  • sethrichardson

    zachhoag Sorry bro. These really are questions – I really am wondering how we engage these issues in relation to our NR friends – without creating more antagonism.
    I could just say a bunch of stuff – and then you could say more stuff about the uninformed stuff I said. But then we’re just saying things and not really dialoging, no? 
    I repent of my leading and/or manipulative motives behind my questions. 
    That being said, are my questions unfair?  Does my second sentence give enough clarity to where I’m coming from? 
    Thanks, brother

  • http://epicblogerin.blogspot.com/ erin

    New
    to your blog; agree with your post fwiw.  My question is whether or not
    there is really anything new about the “new” religious right. What is 
    the genealogy of the movement?  It seems like the theological trends
    under-girding the religious right shift from time to time, but they are
    fundamentally bound together by a greater theological conviction about
    the relation of church and state and public morality.  But I don’t know
    that the religious right impulse is now coming from a different quarter.
      I would hazard a guess that while many have found a renewed reform
    awareness, their fundamental social and political opinions have not been
    changed, only empowered.  Is that fair?

  • JLLouthan

    If NR are the new Religious Right, then I can show you a whole bunch of people who have not thought all the way through their theology.
    Christ-centered, gospel proclamation, doctrines of grace, solas, and all around sound theology and  doctrine spits, nay, vomits in the face of the asinine notion of a Christendom and the absurdity of the idea of a “Relgious Right”.
    Christendom is antithetical to the gospel. Religion right is at war with the Word of God.
    If I actually believe some far-fetched theory that God saves sinners, that the gospel is the power of God in salvation for those who believe, that whosoever believes in the Son shall not perish but have ever lasting life, that if His word is proclaimed it will not return void, that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, that the very calling of God gives life to dead men, and that Christ alone championed and conquered Satan, demons, sin, hell, and death, then why on earth would I try to obtain Christendom?
    But if I don’t believe the gospel, then yes, I must achieve Christendom because we have bought into the lie that the change comes from the outside in.
    This accusation is outrageous.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    sethrichardson zachhoag so I am someone who doesn’t think that honesty/forthrightness inhibits communication but enhances it. in other words, to have civil and even loving dialogue with new reformed folks, let’s just be honest about the differences in our perspectives, and passionate about them too. one can have healthy conflict without antagonism. i see antagonism coming mainly from insecure defensiveness and dishonesty.

  • JLLouthan

    In addition, I will need to write a ten post response to this accusation (first seven of which has been written in my head.)

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    @erin yeah, i think that’s right. my sense is that the neo-reformed stream is getting older, more institutional, and thus settling in to an underlying conservative political identity. etc.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    JLLouthan well then, I look forward to the epic series. be sure to actually address something from my post, though ;).

  • J Carver

    zachhoag joelburdeaux Joel I really enjoy your response and largely agree with you. Let’s find as much common ground as we can and seek to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. I identify with the Neo Anabaptist theology yet I am the Associate pastor at Non denominational church and the pastor is a reformed Baptist like yourself and we work together very well. 
    But I’m not you represent the group that Zach is speaking to here. Zach can correct me if I’m wrong but it seems the group he is referring to are those that would gouge their eyes and give them to MD if he asked for them (and if won’t you’re not a real man). And I think his critique of that group is pretty accurate in the sense that they believe in taking back America for God by focusing on a gospel that will produce men that will rule their homes, nations and societies the way a “real” man of God should and did before Christian men turned into a bunch of sissy’s and the Feminists took over. In that sense I think that folks who hold to this Anabaptist ethic should distance themselves from the view that a Christian nation is our ultimate goal however we go about achieving it.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    J Carver zachhoag joelburdeaux Basically I’m on a mission to convince Joel he’s not reformed :)

  • JLLouthan

    zachhoag JLLouthan How’s this for starters?

    “While the neo-reformed resoundingly say that their ultimate goal and purpose is the glory of God through the salvation of sinners by means of the gospel, a good marketing consultant would ask, To what current end?”
    We already know to what end: to the glory of God.
    My worry is that NRs don’t know how to believe this because it isn’t tangible enough or God forbid, it isn’t pragmatic enough.
    My posts cannot be a direct response to your posting (although it can’t help but indirectly respond.) My response is really a restack and reload of all things Christ-centered, all things gospel, and all things Calvinism and how that is suppose to play out.
    The nutshell of it all: When Calvinism is carried out to the end, it’s only logical and rational conclusion is the glory of God and our enjoyment of Him forever. Likewise, the illogical and irrational conclusion is anything else but even more so if christendom and religious right is the end.

  • http://lifeasmission.com jrrozko

    Just had a chance to listen to the “recent talk” by Driscoll that Zach references in this post. As he often does, he speaks in pretty stark, B&W, polarizing terms. Especially in the last 3-5 minutes of the talk, he does seem to all but confirm that in his mind, evangelicalism and Christendom are on the same ideological wavelength – or at the very least running in tightly parallel tracks. If you do not fit into this camp (being an evangelical which means being for Christendom), then you are in the other camp of those who “have varying views on spirituality” and regard Christendom to be an “oppressive system” (ie. anti-Christendom liberals). 
    Besides the lack of nuance, the categories he is using here are incredibly confused. I don’t claim to know or understand to what degree Driscoll can be said to be speaking for the larger NR movement. But, even taken on their own, given his audience and the significant organizations he and Mars Hill stand behind and shape, this is simply not a helpful framing of the challenges the North American church is facing or representative of how a growing segment of Jesus-followers (those who may have a some kind affinity – conscious or not – for the convictions of neo-Anabaptism) is exploring a faithful witness in and engagement of our cultural context.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Agree! It really was a meandering way of saying, “Let’s get back to 1950′s Christendom at any cost!”

  • sethrichardson

    zachhoag That’s good stuff. I like that: honesty and forthrightness enhances dialogue.
    But honesty submitted under Jesus’ Lordship transforms how we come to someone with whom we’re in disagreement, no? I can’t imagine that looking one of my NR friends in the eye and saying, “I am right about you being the new religious right, and I think Anabaptism is the answer to all the ways you’re wrong,” would cultivate dialogue and reconciliation. In my experience those moves only further entrench us in our positions and cultivate defensiveness. Yes, we’re being honest and forthright, but there is no mutual submission under Jesus’ Lordship taking place.

    I think most NR folk would understand themselves, when they make their proclamations, to be speaking honestly and forthrightly about their perspective. But when they do that we accuse them of defending the ideology. What’s the difference between when we do and when they do it?  

    I see antagonism not coming from, but rather cultivating defensiveness and dishonesty. Antagonism, in my life, comes from *knowing* that I am right and they are wrong – the refusal on my part to die the death I need to die.

    This is why I wonder if dialogue is best nurtured both internally and externally when we refuse, or at least put a moratorium on, making generalized pronouncements about what “they” are or are not. Is this not the posture we’re already adopting in regard to those we disagree with in regard to other things, like sexuality? Why would that posture not apply here – the posture of seeking to understand/be mutually transformed rather than pronouncing? 
    Is that unfair? 
    ps – your ability to respond quickly and thoroughly to all these comments is impressive – like a superpower or something.

  • MarkADemers

    Zach, this post is brilliant,.   I admire you for resisting the temptation to offer some prescription for action.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    MarkADemers thanks Mark :).

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    sethrichardson zachhoag seth, I just disagree with some of your definitions/requirements for conversation here. but no worry, thanks for expressing your perspective!

  • JLLouthan

    zachhoaghttp://www.livefyre.com/profile/11132804/ That what makes this so frustrating. If Driscoll is trying to return to 1950′s fail-christendom-failure, then he is preaching against everything he ever preached up until the end of the Luke series. (I say that authoritatively because I have heard every single Driscoll sermon to the end of Luke.)
    If he is preaching christendom nonsense, then he is stepping away from Neo-Reformed and Calvinism and he should exclude himself from our camp.

  • MarkADemers

    zachhoag MarkADemers I had written a much longer response to your post, but in the final analysis, felt it was just better to say “Brilliant”.  Here is one piece of what I had written at greater length … that this conversation is happening in a kind of elite circle.  I agree with a response to one of Morgan Guytan’s posts on Facebook today – In part, Paul Clutterbuck wrote:  “it’s these kinds of doctrinal and philosophical gymnastics that tend to turn me away from Christianity with all its difficulties, and embrace either Buddhism or Taoism. I suspect that it also actually turns off a lot of our contemporaries.”
    I share some concern along those same lines.  While I understand and agree with you, I sometimes wonder if this kind of conversation is happening in the “ether” and not on the street.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t take place; but it does warrant our consideration of the effect it may have on people who just need the message in more straight forward and simple language.
    Still … Whether it makes it on the street or not, I am in agreement with you, and continue to be redemptively  challenged by you.

  • rhwimer

    Hi! Thanks for this post which addresses some very interesting and important points. I have read through all the comments and wonder how this may affect the dialogue:
    “Reformed teaching really only makes sense when I step back and look big picture. The minute you get small it doesn’t make as much sense and frustrates me. That might speak more to the shortcomings of any theological system.” -Nate Pyle (at his guest post on Micah Murray’s blog) Read it here:
    http://redemptionpictures.com/2013/08/09/reformed/#disqus_thread
    Many people I talk to have no idea who people like Piper or Driscoll are, and are more familiar with Kuyper. It’s just the loudest and most disagreeable types that get the most attention, it seems, and I’ve been considering writing a post titled “But I’m not *that* kind of Reformed!” -KYoungblood (again, at Micah’s blog post listed above..)
    Two Major Streams of Reformed Theology
    Have you heard of the “other Reformed theology”? Many in the Reformed resurgence only know one aspect of the broad historical stream of Reformed theology, and sadly, many stereotypes of “Calvinism” exist because John Calvin’s legacy has been unknowingly truncated.
    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/09/24/two-major-streams-of-reformed-theology/
    One final thought – When you follow the Kuyper side of Reformed thought, it seems you get more liberal ( i.e. Calvin College). If you follow the more Scottish stream, you get more conservative. How does that happen? ;)

  • StephenJohnson2

    Zach,  I think this is spot on.  
    I don’t self-identify as NR, though some would peg me as such.  I am more in line with the Anabaptist position on church and state.  As such, get dismissed as an outsider from both sides.  I also hold a more traditional view of sexual ethics, but don’t think that we should be making the issue of gay marriage any part of our stance, one way or the other.  Again, I get pegged from both sides.  
    I mention this to say the following: When people identify themselves with movements instead of Jesus, everything can get out of balance very quickly.  I am not saying this to suggest that people should not identify with perspectives or that they shouldn’t find themselves aligning with certain movements and teachers.  What I mean is that anytime we surrender our identity with Christ to that of a movement, we become pawns instead of players.  To me, this is the big problem of Christendom.  Christendom is a movement that seems historically to always have supplanted Christ as the Head.
    I think you do rightly see a negative trend in a very popular movement.  It worries me that so many people are taking their cues from Driscoll and others.  I wonder, do you see this as inherent in their theological system or rather a byproduct of the frailty of human beings when exposed to influence and power?  My understanding is that Anabaptists eschew power precisely because of our own inability to wield it with holiness.

  • joelburdeaux

    zachhoag the only problem is that I am reformed (soteriologically, at least). I read like an Anabaptist, yet come out reformed on the other side. Weird, I know, but there it is.

  • JLLouthan

    StephenJohnson2 “Christendom is a movement that seems historically to always have supplanted Christ as the Head.”
    Ding ding ding. Hit on the nose. Quote of all time ever. Thank you.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    I hear you on the Kuyperian culture-renewal brand of reformed thinking that in some cases leans more progressive. But I don’t think of that group as “neo-reformed” as they are typically tied to more traditional reformed denoms like the CRC. The organic I mention are setting the tone for the conservative evangelical ethos I mention here. Also, I appreciate Nate’s piece.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Glad to hear of your anabaptist politic – that’s awesome. And while I’d stop short of “inherent” what I would say is that both reformed theology and ecclesiology do lean in the direction of civil government involvement if not coercion. I think that’s why reformed thinkers have traditionally been quite comfortable with theocratic government (Geneva, Puritans, reconstructionists) or at least highly integrated conservative activism. Especially among the neo reformed.

  • http://lifeasmission.com jrrozko

    joelburdeaux zachhoag Joel, can I as an honest question? When you say that you are reformed, soteriologically, what do you mean exactly? This would be a big help to me as I am neck-deep in a doctoral project that is focused on drawing on the Anabaptist tradition to frame a Trinitarian and missional soteriology. Thanks.

  • http://Www.alanmolineaux.com/ Alan Molineaux

    Hi Zach – thanks for this. Just a thought from across the pond. As in other areas we are affected by US Christianity (if the USA sneezes, Britain catches a cold). Because, as you rightly indicate, the key marker for evangelical fidelity has become the same sex marriage issue, churches are finding strange bed-fellows (I couldn’t resist the joke).
    Even those who would have very little in common with Driscoll, Piper, et al are using their resources as if to signify that they haven’t gone ‘soft’ on morality. This mean that these preacher/authors are being accepted as key voices by wider congregation members without question. Their influence is larger than one might think.
    I think the issue here is that everyone has a constituency and it is very hard not to want to be accepted by them. This means that rather than debates being about the key issues raised by the theology of the NR we are presented with ‘but they haven’t gone liberal like….’. I tend to think this binary mentality is easier to use in a context that presents the gospel as definitively an ‘in’ and ‘out’ exercise.

  • joelburdeaux

    A more specific word, I guess, would be Calvinist. I agree with Calvin on the gospel, especially the idea from Jonah that salvation belongs to The Lord… That without the sovereign intervention of God (particular, not prevenient), no one could be saved. On reading like an Anabaptist, all of the above comes straight out of Jesus’ mouth and I read all other scripture seeking to interpret as he did/does. I do part with the “reformed” on implications of the gospel, since I take the Sermon on the Mount seriously.

  • ChrisMorton82

    zachhoag ChrisMorton82 For the most part. I would just second what another commentor said that the key is being Jesus-centered. 
    Some (not you) misread Jesus and anabaptist thought and become anti-state and eventually anarchic. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, just missing the point.

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  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Alan Molineaux great point, Alan. thanks.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    ChrisMorton82 zachhoag yeah, i’m not advocating Christian anarchy. but i do think gospel is fundamentally at odds with empire.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    joelburdeaux well, if you were consistently reading like an anabaptist, you wouldn’t read monergistic individual salvation into Jesus’s mouth. but we can agree to disagree on that :).

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  • http://mikesnow.org/ Michael Snow

    Here are some faithful lines from Spurgeon for the VT pastor and others http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Michael Snow definitely!

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    Since I am both reformed in theology and politically left, and by the latter I mean that I an anti-capitalist rather than I am a democrat, one might say that I travel on a road less travelled. It is from that perspective that I will approach this post.
    My problem with the New Or Old Religious Right is that it works from a romanticized view of America and its past. My problem with the Anabaptist position is that by not being involved in politics, it is complicit with the sins of the current politicians because noninvolvement means not preaching repentance which means silence which leads to complicity.
    The Anabaptist charge that involvement in political causes implies some form of Christendom throws the baby out with the bathwater. One can work for improvement by being involved with politics without trying to establish some kind of secular or spiritual utopia. And thus, this brings us to the question of, why should Christians be involved in politics and causes?

  • rhwimer

    Gotcha. This is where Evangelicalism gets complicated. Because of the emphasis Of the Scottish line on the five points of Calvinism -which Calvin himself never codified- the true spirit of Reformed gets lost in extremes? (Even though it’s the Gospel coalition piece ;) ) Justin Holcomb does a good job of bringing out this issue.

  • rhwimer

    I agree! I wonder if u’r of the “Kuyper side” of Reformed? (See my comment below. .)
    Looking fwd to zach’s thoughts on your input.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    rhwimer where do you think Justin lands in his political emphasis? I love his work on abuse in the church.

  • rhwimer

    I love his work too! Sigh. I would’ve never put him at Mars Hill Church. I really have no idea where he lands, but wherever it is, i would bet he would be gracious about it. :)

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    rhwimer 
    I don’t know enough about Kuyper to say I am on his side. I do know that my political leanings come from reading Martin Luther King along with the secular left. While reading them, I cam to my only conclusions regarding politics and Christianity. 
    As for comparing Scottish Calvinism with Continental Calvinism, I struggle with the emphasis on the self and individual that comes with pietism that comes from the first approach to Calvinism. I think it lends people to suffer from a spiritual autism where they are so preoccupied with their internal state that intrusions from the outside world become too agitating to tolerate.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Curt_Day Hey Curt, you need to talk to joelburdeaux! Also, neo-anabaptism, which doesn’t take the full separatist position of traditional anabaptists/mennonites, entails a spectrum of political involvement or lack thereof. The common thread is close to what you describe, in terms of a total rejection of the politic of the state as commensurate with the politic of the church. The two are utterly distinct. One is necessarily corrupting of those in power while the other seeks after a submitted, subversive power that eschews corruption. Etc.

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    zachhoag Curt_Day joelburdeaux 
    Thank you for the info and reference. Will have to check both out. I know one thing, there are not too many reformed theology people to talk to while attending Occupy events and other protests. And the Christians I have run into are usually the counter-protesters.

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    rhwimer 
    The 5 points are a summary by those studying Calvin. Their validity is determined by whether Calvin taught those concepts rather than whether he organized his teachings in that way.

  • Caleb

    To reference only Mark Driscoll and one post of Tim Keller’s is not convincing enough to say that the motives of all that would associate themselves with the “New Reformed Movement” is to establish an American political climate that more reflects that of the 50′s American political culture than to do all things for the glory of God as an end in and of itself.

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  • nathanmwagner

    I don’t think that the “neo-reformed” are trying to get America saved to get America back to the values of true Christianity. Rather, we are trying to spread the Word through love, acts of service, speaking the truth, and discipleship. Any subsequent change in political values has nothing to do with “winning America for God” but with bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    nathanmwagner conservative political values bring God’s kingdom to earth?

  • harry vest

    Just stumbled upon this article and I must say that I think you hit the nail right on the head!!! I’ve been worried about most of these so called “New Calvinists” and “Young, Restless and Reformed” for quite some time. Having studied the “Religious Right” for 30 years now I have been watching for a new “movement” to suddenly come to the forefront and I believe, as you you pointed out, this is indeed it. I feel like I’m an observer in Germany (circa 1929) and that what we’re getting a glimpse of is a Theocratic Government, which in a few years (or maybe a little more) will rise up in America. The seeds have been planted and really began to take hold with the likes of Falwell and Robertson and the “Moral Majority” then came the infamous “Promise Keepers” along with all kinds of Charismatic nonsense (Holy Laughter, Pensocola etc.) in the 90′s and now a Calvinist revival. There is something extremely sinister about all of this and I’m afraid it is indeed real. There is a rather strange group on the West Coast that has been writing about this for decades that I think you should check out. You may not agree with everything they have to say but I’ll tell you this much, they’ve had their eye on all of this for quite some time and are extremely serious about it. http://www.antipasministries.com 

    P.S. Thanks for a great article

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    harry vest 
    I think yours is an overreaction to the New Calvinists. I am in a Calvinist denomination and interspersed in my church are new Calvinists. Our minister has a high opinion of one of their leaders and am familiar with that person’s teaching.

    The new Calvinists are not theocrats, they are not dominionists. That does not mean that they don’t want some control over society, it is just that they don’t want as much control as other Christians do.

    Basically, there are three groups of Christians who want some measure of control over society. There are the theocrats/dominionists who want the Torah to serve as a basis for civil law. Then there are the Constantinians who want the country to be a Christian state. Finally, there are what I call the Paternalists who allow for more nonbiblical civil law but will insert, in selected cases, their understanding of natural law or Biblical law over democracy for the good of those who reject them. The new Calvinists generally fit into this latter category or at least their leaders do. And the new Calvinists are not the only ones who fit into this Christian Paternalists group, there are Arminians, who follow the teachings of James Arminius vs Calvin, who fit in this category as well.

    The Robertson/Falwell group tend to be anti-intellectual who are either theocrats or Constantinian. The new Calvinists take an intellectual approach to Christian Paternalism.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    harry vest thanks harry, and thanks for the link.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Curt_Day harry vest So Curt, I’m not entirely opposed to your breakdown here, but I’m wondering if the Paternalist designation doesn’t account for what might be (if I’m right) a new Constantinian emphasis among the neo-Reformed. With Driscoll as something of a case study, it seems clear that he’s departing from a more passive Reformed political stance to an active one over religious freedom, just war, gay marriage, and free market economics. In this sense, maybe it’s better stated that the neo-Reformed are producing a renewed religious right alongside those who are not Reformed and more traditionally Constantinian in their posture.

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    zachhoag Curt_Day harry vest 
    The difference between them can be seen in the degree of control sought. Constantinianism wants to make America into a Christian state. Those who practice Christian paternalism think that is going too far but that doesn’t mean that they are not trying to exercise too much control. I can only speak from my experiences in listening to and reading the neo-Calvinists. They are consciously avoiding Constantinianism. They aren’t seek to make America into a Christian country. However, that doesn’t stop them from exercising too much control. The same-sex marriage issue is one such example. Though they don’t want a Christian state, many who oppose the recognition of same-sex marriage in society have found an issue in which they can impose their views on others. And they will tell you that they are doing so for the benefit gays. If they were trying to create a Christian state, they would repeal religious freedom, criminalize homosexuality, and reestablish the blue laws. That is not happening.

    What you mentioned is more the result of feeling pressure to make the Bible say more than it does on issues because of the principles like sola scriptura.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Curt_Day zachhoag harry vest  “I can only speak from my experiences in listening to and reading the neo-Calvinists. They are consciously avoiding Constantinianism.”

    I think this is where your categorization is too generous. I actually DO see “take America back to Christian nation status” in the neo-reformed narrative, though it is admittedly more coy.

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/ Curt_Day

    zachhoag Curt_Day harry vest 
    I think that “take back the nation” crap is variable within the movement. I don’t see in the main characters like Keller or Piper. Neither do I see it in my own minister who follows neo-Calvinists. That is not to say that there aren’t those who are Constantinian at heart amongst the neo-Calvinsts. I just don’t think it is prevalent in the movement.

    Plus, isn’t it a good thing to be generous? The categories I use are valid. The debate is in which category do the neo-Calvinists belong to. And, for the most part, I find the Neo-Calvinists to be too intellectual to fall for the Constantinian ego trap.

  • http://lifeasmission.com jrrozko

    zachhoag Curt_Day harry vest More than that – and I have to admit I literallt lol’d here – neo-Calvinism is predicated on Constantinianism. To the degree we know people who are authentically “avoiding Constantinianism,” we know people who have parted ways with Calvinism in any meaningful form.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zachhoag

    Great point JR, thanks for putting it in those clear terms.


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