Within a few days of each other, two authors decided to attribute to Reformed Protestants (i.e. Calvinists) the worst features of tribalism. They did so at a time when everyday brings a news story about identitarian politics leading to banning some speaker from campus, or humiliating a public figure into resignation or even to court. But with all that noise, Tim Challies and Paul Carter decide to single out Reformed Protestants as instances of offensive Christian rhetoric and behavior.
For Challies the problem is cage-phase Calvinism:
The most common symptom of a cage-stager is the complete disregard for kindness—as though it were not a fruit of the Spirit. Humility, gentleness, love, and patience are not luxuries. They aren’t something we pursue if we have time—they are marks of discipleship with the risen Lord. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors—Calvinist, Arminian, or atheist—as ourselves. Always.
If kindness gets cut off when you talk about Calvinism, remember, “Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Cage Stagers are the self-appointed theology police. If you feel the need to correct every post on social media, critique every worship song that isn’t “deep enough,” or if you feel like you need to talk to your pastor about his lack of Calvin quotes—head to the cage.
If you tend towards a hyper-critical spirit, remember, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12–13).
For Carter, the problem is Reformed fundamentalism. This is a little trickier since he argues that Christians who insist too hard about social justice, or cannot hear criticism of their theological heroes, or decides to cut off other Christians because of disagreement. Carter admits that this is part and parcel of the toxic environment that characterizes the United States more generally:
It has become commonplace to observe that North American political culture has become unhelpfully polarized and tribal. Issues are sorted into “liberal” and “conservative” categories and individuals are treated as traitors if they should dare to speak positively about a program or initiative originating with “the other team”. This has brought the legislative process to a near stand still and has led to a level of incivility in political discourse, the likes of which have not been seen in the United States since the era of the Civil War.
So why call this REFORMED fundamentalism?
Many of the people identified with the [Young Restless and Reformed] movement are the children of Baby Boomer parents who were shaped by Seeker Sensitivity and by 30 years of theological minimalism. Children tend to react against what they perceive to be the errors of their forebears but in the case of some within the movement, this reaction has become a dangerous and potentially toxic over reaction. Whereas mom and dad unhelpfully (and untruthfully) claimed that they had “no creed but the Bible”, many of their children now seem to be “all creed and very little Bible.”
Arguments are decided by appeals to “the 1689” or “the Westminster Standards” rather than by chapter and verse of Holy Scripture.
Of course there is a place for creeds and confessions but that place must never be in front of or above the place given to the Bible. The reformers held to the principle of “semper reformanda” – always reforming. They believed that every generation must evaluate the assumptions of their day against the inspired and authoritative Word of God. The creeds and confessions of previous generation should be used as guides and teachers, but must never be allowed to become our Masters. We have but one Lord in the church and his name is Jesus. It is his Word, ultimately that must rule our hearts and govern our beliefs and behavior.
A reformed fundamentalist is in danger of putting men in the place of Christ.
So with all of the slings and arrows flying around social media from #woke Christians who see race almost around every corner, Carter and Challies take the safe route of employing Calvinists as easy targets. Why not Baptists? Acts 29ers? The black church? Heck, some people even regard John Piper and Tim Keller as Calvinists (I’m not so sure), but all of their popularity does little to lift the boats of ordinary Calvinists.