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tulipSome people do not like to be labeled. And no one likes to be misrepresented.

Some who seem to fit the “Emerging/Emergent” label don’t want to be pigeonholed into one category. Others resist terms like “liberal” and “conservative,” “fundamentalist” and “progressive,” “Calvinist” and ”Non-Calvinist” (or “Anti-Calvinist”!). But even those who don’t mind being called “Emerging” or “Progressive” or  ”Young, Restless, Reformed” (to borrow Collin Hansen’s clever phrase) want their views to be accurately represented.

Last week, Dr. Scot McKnight added a new name to our list – the “NeoReformed.”

Who are the NeoReformed? According to Scot, the NeoReformed represent a particularly aggressive group of people who embrace Reformed theology and demonstrate an attitude of exclusion reminiscent of pre-evangelical Fundamentalism. The NeoReformed see anyone outside of their circle as unfaithful to the gospel and only pseudo-evangelical. Therefore, they exalt peripheral doctrines to “central status” and then ”demonize” others that disagree. 
 
In Scot’s two posts about the rise of the NeoReformed, you will find some “fighting words.” He describes this group as “religious zealots” that are “wounding… evangelicalism.” Scot is not merely describing a particular group of people; he is hoping his readers will actively resist their influence.
 
What are we to make of Scot’s assessment? Here are some thoughts.
 
1. Does Scot exaggerate his case?
 
Yes, I think so. He writes: “When gospel is equated with double predestination, often said in harsh terms, we are seeing a good example of the spirit of a NeoReformed approach.” I have yet to come across anyone who thinks the gospel can be equated with ”double predestination.” 

Neither do I know of any Reformed individuals (whether leaders or followers) who want to put a fence around the evangelical “village green” and kick everyone else to the curb.  

Nor do I think that there is a large number of complementarians out there who view their position as the very center of orthodoxy. (Very important, maybe – but not the center of Christian truth.) 
 
2. Does this movement even exist?
 
Yes. Despite some of the overstated rhetoric employed by Scot McKnight in his blog post, I agree with his main premise.

There are those who equate “Calvinism” and “the Gospel”. I have encountered a good number of people who think this way: if you are less than a five-point Calvinist, you are less faithful to the gospel than the “truly Reformed”. The irony here is that some people who preach justification by faith alone in Jesus wind up making their understanding of the doctrine of justification the basis of justification!

3. Does this movement want to take over evangelicalism and kick everyone else off the “village green?”

Here is where I think Scot is off base. The NeoReformed movement may indeed be a new expression of old-school Fundamentalism. (I am not using the term “fundamentalist” in the best sense of the word, in that it points to fundamental Christian truths. I am speaking of Fundamentalism with a “capital F” – more an attitude, than a belief system.)

But, as I have written elsewhere, the typical “fundamentalist survival mechanism” causes these types of groups to splinter off into smaller and smaller groups, each one enclosed by more narrow parameters than the one that came before it. Once the group finds its identity in what it protests, it eventually goes on to discover less and less important things about which to protest.

The people Scot labels as NeoReformed are not trying to reclaim the title of “evangelical” for themselves. Those who truly fit his description are more interested in protesting evangelicalism in its current form than in saving it.

So… Scot should not worry about being kicked off the village green anytime soon. The NeoFundamentalists are not building fences; they are off to the side of the green holding up protest signs.

4. Is Scot referring to leaders or followers?

Scot has not clearly answered this question. Is he referring to leaders like John Piper and Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan and John MacArthur? Or is he referring to some of their less-than-gracious followers? I am quite sure Scot is referring to certain followers, but I wonder how much blame – if any – he puts on the leaders.

Take John Piper’s response to N.T. Wright for example. Piper’s book is a gracious critique of Wright’s view on justification. Piper clearly states that he does not believe Wright is under the curse of Galatians 1 for preaching another gospel. And yet one can find this very charge leveled at Wright by all sorts of people who might be fans of Piper and other Reformed expositors.

So, yes… some of the NeoReformed practically anathematize Tom Wright and refuse to read his work. But I have yet to find significant leaders of the Reformed movement who treat Wright this carelessly.  

5. Does Scot apply a double standard?

I agree with Scot’s premise regarding the existence of a NeoReformed, NeoFundamentalist strand in some Reformed circles. What puzzles me is why Scot comes down so hard on this particular group for being arrogant when there are other groups on the village green expressing the same attitude.

Just a couple of years ago, many in the Emerging movement were writing as if everything old is passing away and all is becoming new (meaning, “Emergent”). Many of these books could cause one to think that the evangelical green was turning brown. Things were greener on the Emerging side.

Though Scot has rightfully distanced himself from some of the liberal trends of Emergent and rightfully maintained distinctive evangelical beliefs over against the universalistic tendencies of writers like Spencer Burke, he seems to be more worried (at least publicly) about the sinful excesses of the Reformed Resurgence than the flirtations with apostasy among some in the Emerging Church.

It is hard to see how Doug Pagitt, a pastor who denies original sin, holds to an orthodox view of salvation in any way. In many of his public statements and interviews, he comes across as quite arrogant and brash. Yet Scot has not yet (publicly, that is) called him out on these faults.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading Scot McKnight’s blog and books is because of the careful way he seeks to understand different theological groups on their own terms. He has encouraged me to think carefully about Emerging, weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the movement, while avoiding quick judgments. I hope he will extend the same courtesy to some of the people he labels “NeoReformed” (assuming the group in question is open to dialogue!).

Conclusion

I am grieved by arrogance in all its forms (including the arrogance that I see too often at work in my own heart). In my own experience, it has been disheartening to hear a young Calvinist show disdain for a hero like John Wesley. And on the other side, to hear a young Emergent label a popular work of systematic theology as ”a bunch of crap” (he used a harsher word).

There is plenty of arrogance to go around. That is why it is imperative that all Christians everywhere must seek to stay faithful to Scripture, while loving our brothers and sisters in Christ (even when we disagree). Let us stand firm in our convictions, but always with graciousness. Would that we all be known for grace – no matter what our label!

written by Trevin Wax  © 2009 Kingdom People blog


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36 thoughts on “Thoughts on the NeoReformed”

  1. pastor jim sharp says:

    oh that those of us who proclaim the glorious, sovereign, biblical “doctrines of grace” practice the “grace of the doctrines”.

  2. Dr. Paul Foltz says:

    Jim Sharp’s words are true, but I want to add that one who knows that God chose him, is humbled by it. 2. Since it was revealed, he does not look down upon others to whom it has not been revealed with disdain. I have found the opposite to be true, it is those who hate these doctrines who are antagonistic to their brothers in Christ. I have many non-calvinistic friends, and we get along fine. It is the anti-calvinists who are causing all the trouble.

  3. Phil Gons says:

    On your point #2, Spurgeon immediately comes to mind:

    I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

  4. Trevin Wax says:

    Phil,

    As much as I love Spurgeon (and I really do), I have always shaken my head at that quote and agreed with Danny Akin – “Here, the great Charles Spurgeon got it wrong.”

  5. Dan Masshardt says:

    Phil seems like a gracious guy and his comment is sincere. Phil does not have the attitude that Scot speaks of, but he has said above that he does have the belief. This is a sincere conviction and seems extremely humble. But how can you hold this opinion and not think that other evangelicals have gotten the gospel very wrong and are thus not really evangelicals?

    I think that Phil is helping us get the the root of this conversation in a great way.

    It seems like this conversation is really only beginning. I’m glad if it can be done here graciously.

    Dan Masshardt

  6. nojremmil says:

    While Scot’s statements may have been overstated in that they are not universally true about the “NeoReformed” I have seen the people he is talking about in action in my own experience. They weren’t on the fringe as protesters, either. I have seen them mobilize some who would not be so aggressive on their own. I have seen them almost destroy a missionally based fellowship of churches in their quest to kick everyone else off of the village green.

    Sadly, I have watched from the inside as our group of Canadian churches was almost ripped apart by aggressive Calvinists and complementarians. The issue at stake…the role of women. But it was they who were pushing for fences. They weren’t acting in protest to anything. They brought the issue up. Their actions, in many cases, were militant. Their words, ungodly. If you talked to them about what is at the centre of orthodoxy, they likely wouldn’t have included their patriarchal (this was where some of them stood) or complementarian perspective, but their speech and actions said differently. I heard people on the floor of a convention say that if you didn’t believe the same as them that you obviously didn’t believe in the authority of scripture. For them it did become a matter of orthodoxy.

    Sadly, I was given every indication that if they had there way, the issue would not end with the role of women. They would begin to bring other things up to tighten the fences. I had one of the vocal minority, who did not know me, talk to me in the hall of the convention and ask excitedly, “So what issue should we try to get into the statement of faith next?!? Eschatology?” He was genuinely excited about erecting fences that would eliminate all but those who agreed with his narrower view of orthodoxy. Yes. For him. For many of them. It was their view of orthodoxy.

    To be fair, this is not true of all of those who were in favour of what what going on. For the fence building foremen, however, it was. And it almost ripped us apart.

  7. Steve D. says:

    You have written a very measured and well thought out response-probably the best I have read so far. I think Phil’s Spurgeon quote has been misunderstood. “What nowadays is called Calvinism” does not equate with the so-called Neo-Reformed, however defined, of our day. Spurgeon did not disassociate himself from non-Calvinists, but maintained that many non-Calvinists believed in the Amazing Grace of God, too, so that when they prayed “God save my friend” or testified of how God saved them, they unknowingly were proclaiming the sovereign grace of God. In practice, Spurgeon was very gracious. He did, however, fight hard against the watering down of the gospel in his day. He also fought equally hard against hyper-Calvinism. Much preaching today would qualify as downgrading the biblical gospel and the life to which it calls us. I have seen non-Calvinists-Scot’s Anabaptists included-preach the gospel clearly and unashamedly. I think Spurgeon would have applauded that.

  8. Frank Turk says:

    As someone who have been branded and re-branded with the description of the NeoReformed (if not the actual label), this sort of thing comes frequently from people who just don’t like to defend themselves. I have presbyterian friends who love to have the baptist/presby tussle, but at the end of the day we can together get up and go back to our camps enviroated that we can still be brothers in Christ, humbled by the fact that we don’t have all the answers but in fact a savior.

    BTW, that tussle can only happen “in the green”, even if while it ensures it looks like sumo wrestling. You can’t be a baptist if you’re a presbyterian; you can’t be a Lutheran if you’re, well, not a Lutheran. But making it clear that you believe what you believe and that there are plain reasons for believing this stuff is not an offense.

  9. thanks for the post, very well done brother.

  10. Fred Turkles says:

    Frank: Why should Christians have to defend themselves from other Christians? I guess it’s a blogosphere thing which tends to promote formation of camps and division and debating about the finer points of theology but does not promote unity within the body. Better that we all just go about life and have these discussions, when needed, face-to-face.

    Guess I should take my own advice!

  11. Derek Wong says:

    I, too, have noticed this attitude in some of my fellow believers. Often it has been a huge turnoff when they disdain what others are doing because they don’t appear to be as scholarly or serious about the Gospel. In general it has been hard for me, as a more Arminian-leaning believer, to even discuss the differences in a level-headed way.

    While I enjoy Spurgeon (and for that matter MacArthur and Piper) I cannot ever say that they aren’t wrong in any way. Doing so would elevate them from an honored position to inerrant. And no matter how much I agree with anyone, I always have to be able to accept the fact that they could be wrong. The Bible is the standard, not an individual.

  12. “The irony here is that some people who preach justification by faith alone in Jesus wind up making their understanding of the doctrine of justification the basis of justification!”

    At my Treasures site I have recently tumble with a “non”. And he doesn’t get what Frank was saying. We need to not be afraid to speak and “violently take the kingdom”. At the end of the day as Frank also says, we put away the gloves and come and sit at the table together. Yes, many do make the mistake of creating an implicit faith in the equation “Calvinism is the Gospel” and at Pyro I have argued against those who would make a system of beliefs the means of salvation rather than Christ. But we can do that without platitudes, too. As Tom Ascol says the Gospel is who He is and what He has done, nothing more and nothing less. But Tom Ascol also says that in the Reformation was the Gospel recovered, equating the DoG with the Gospel.

    It is just a platitude. One that needs to be explained. The worst thing that can happen is for us to make legal rules of what language cannot be used, as Alvin Reid suggests. We need to tussle, and I say, I have to agree with the picture of Summo Wrestlers in the green. We have a right to enter the wring by using whatever terminology we see fit, defined by us as to what it means, and to not allow it to be defined by others.

    No we don’t want to deny the remarkable works of John Wesley, but at the same time we must not forget to rebuke what was not the Gospel in what he preached. Reforming always, we must both be open to correction and free to correct and some times it is with a rod and sometimes with a staff.

    Let us fight for right and not settle for seats in the audience. That we have not arrived at all clearity does not relieve us of the responsibility to defend with our lives what we claim to be true. At the same time ours is not to wound to kill, but faithful are the wounds of a friend. The reality of gentleness is not the kind of speech but the object of it. It is not for mere argument, but each one speaking the truth in love sometimes carries a whip and overturns the tables and builds up.

  13. B. says:

    I have seen this ‘ Neo Reformed ‘ attitude as well. It’s the classic fundamentalist attitude of ‘ fighting ‘…..we have to fight everyone including other christians who aren’t as ‘biblical’ as us or who aren’t as ‘serious’ as us.

  14. pastor jim sharp says:

    not sure one can “contend for the faith” without some contension … one’s attitude and tone surely counts when striving to correct those who may be in error … “speaking the truth in love” is surely a great and godly discipline.

    puritan richard baxter counseled; “in necessary things unity, in doubtful things liberty, in all things charity”.

    sovereign grace rightly understood has humility as its chief fruit.

  15. Michael says:

    The sad thing about Dr. McKnight’s articles was that, though I unashamedly count myself among the Reformed, I couldn’t help but think of people I know who accurately fit each one of his accusations.

    His statement to the effect that “They haven’t yet learned that the grace of God is to make one gracious” resonated with me. If I as a Reformed pastor have been hurt by the ugliness of my Reformed brethren, how can I expect that outsiders perceive them (and us) as anything less than the way Dr. McKnight described?

    I agree with the criticisms leveled against Dr. McKnight’s statements. But I also hope that we don’t overlook or ignore the fundamental concerns that McKight was addressing.

    We have the theology correct, now we need to let that filter out into our dealings with others.

  16. “sovereign grace rightly understood has humility as its chief fruit”

    That’s what I am talking about, bradus, anoetos. We should learn from Christ, who humbled himself and took up a whip as a servant, brerated and belittled his disciples, dissed his mother, labelled everyone when appropriate. In that is true humility.

    Yes, this One who above all was Sovereign Grace. Take up, and follow Him.

    You know, anyone seriously looking at the life and work of Christ would think that he was just a jerk. But, as Paul said we once thought of him as just a man. The way men think is that if a person appears harsh, mean in speach, demanding and even cruel emotionally, as Jesus was, it means he’s without grace.

  17. Andy Chance says:

    I think I may have been, at one time, one of those whom McKnight describes. But that was a few years ago. I’m not as humble as I would like to be, but I think I’ve grown. Of the people I know who fit McKnight’s description, all of them are under twenty-five. Isn’t it possible that young men are prone to arrogance, regardless of their doctrinal convictions? Is it a coincidence that McKnight, who has these criticisms, is also a seminary prof? That’s a breeding ground for theologically-minded but arrogant young men if there ever was one.

  18. David B says:

    “The way men think is that if a person appears harsh, mean in speach, demanding and even cruel emotionally, as Jesus was, it means he’s without grace.”

    Jedi Thomas,

    Put away your lightsaber before you cut your own legs off. If you can make emotional cruelty equal humility, I can make subjective relativism equal truth. And I don’t want to do that.

  19. thomastwitchell says:

    David B.-

    Did you see this word: appears.

    Did you read: bradus, anoetos.

    This is what Jesus said to the two on the road to Emmaus. Take in the sight. Two men emotionally crushed at what had just occurred, and Jesus calls them stupid fools. Now, to most that would appear emotionally cruel.

    The problem David B., is you need to read the Scripture.

    May the farce be with you.

  20. David B says:

    Thomas,

    You could picture Jesus with a sneer on his face when he called them stupid fools. Or you could picture Him with the exasperated look of a father who is trying to get some earth-shatteringly good news through to his dim-witted sons. And that look makes all the difference, don’t you think? I choose the latter.

    Sure, we may be called to pick up the whip. But I bet it won’t be until we’ve been thoroughly trained in those other key implements of humility: the towel and the basin.

    Anyways, I don’t think we ought to be eager to emotionally crush our opponents in an intramural tussle. Which is what I thought this thread was talking about.

    Grace

  21. thomastwitchell says:

    “Or you could picture Him with the exasperated look of a father who is trying to get some earth-shatteringly good news through to his dim-witted sons. And that look makes all the difference, don’t you think?” Yes, and I don’t think he was being flip when he dissed his mother either. Still, the picture is not what we expect in today’s melieu, we condemn it. The language is sphinctered, and a proper avenue of relationship cut off by narrowing the allowed parameters of conversation.

    “the towel and the basin” This is right, we are to do good to our brothers, washing them, healing wounds, even the wounds we cause. Both are necessary, and as you said we must learn both.

    “eager to emotionally crush” we should never be. It should be the avenue of last resort, but that street can not be turned down if it has been blocked off by unbiblical rules of the road. One of those rules too prevalent is that we should not say certain things.

    “There is plenty of arrogance to go around. That is why it is imperative that all Christians everywhere must seek to stay faithful to Scripture, while loving our brothers and sisters in Christ (even when we disagree). Let us stand firm in our convictions, but always with graciousness. Would that we all be known for grace – no matter what our label!” And Trevin says that arrogance is in his own heart also. Me too, and I am always checking to see if what I am doing is self-seeking or other-seeking. But, the point must be made that we must have the freedom to expression, right or wrong, in whatever language or display of emotion is best fitted for it. Jesus was not a PC platitude. And we do damage to the reality of the text to make him or his followers what they were not. Christianity is messy business and as you have likened it, a frustrated father doesn’t use kind, gentle words, but is harsh. You cannot explain rebuke or snatching out of the fire in genteel terms. What we have become is a Rodney King church in many ways. Not zealotry for zealotries sake should we have zeal. But, our God is a zealous God, in fact his name is Jealous. They are the same word. There is a righteous jealousy. We must then not relegate emotional defense to the trashbin, rather we must learn how and when to use tools like anger without sin, properly. Grace is not grace that is ungracious in dishonestly, putting on airs for the sake of peace.

  22. RJ says:

    John 17:21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

    Those are awfully hard words when so many theologians are touting their own versions of Christianity. Given how it is today maybe the world will NEVER believe that God sent his Son. It is a good thing that the second coming does not depend of this verse as it would probably never happen.

  23. Ben says:

    Trevin, I’m happy for you that in your own experiences you “have yet to come across anyone who thinks the gospel can be equated with ”double predestination.”” Nor do you “know of any Reformed individuals (whether leaders or followers) who want to put a fence around the evangelical “village green” and kick everyone else to the curb.” Nor do you think that there is a large number of complementarians out there who view their position as the very center of orthodoxy.” (I guess you were spared the experience of going to my Reformed seminary.)

    Some of the rest of us have not been so lucky. I’m sure most Neo-reformed if pressed will deny that these caricatured beliefs apply to them. However if you watch their life, practice, emphasis, rhetoric, emotional energy, etc. . . it’s hard to say these issues aren’t central for them to the point of being a “necessary condition” for salvation.

  24. B. says:

    Thomas,

    ” Full of grace and truth “. We need both. Randy Alcorn has a good book called ” The Grace and Truth Paradox “. Here are some relevant quotes.

    ‘ Truth without grace breeds a self righteous legalism that poisons the church and pushes the world away from Christ. Grace without truth breeds moral indifference and keeps people from seeing their need for Christ ‘

    ‘ Most sinners loved being around Jesus. They enjoyed His company, sought Him out, invited Him to their homes and parties. Today most sinners don’t want to be around Christians. Unbelievers tore off the roof to get to Jesus. Sometimes they crawl out the windows to get away from us! Why is that? What did Jesus show them that we don’t? Grace. People sensed that Jesus loved them, even when He spoke difficult words. He was full of grace and truth. ‘

    ‘ Somethings wrong if all unbelievers hate us. Somethings wrong if all unbelievers like us. If we accurately demonstrate grace and truth, some will be drawn to us and others will be offended by us- just as they were by Jesus.
    When we offend everybody, it’s because we’ve taken on the truth mantle without grace. When we offend nobody, it’s because we’ve watered down truth in the name of grace. ‘

    ‘ When you stand for truth, you’re held in contempt by some non-Christians ( and even some Christians). When you try to demonstrate grace, you’re held in contempt by some Christians (and even some non-Christians). When you try to live by grace and truth, in some eyes you’ll be too radical, in other eyes not radical enough ‘.

    ‘ Truth without grace breeds self righteousness and crushing legalism. Grace without truth breeds deception and moral compromise ‘.
    – Randy Alcorn

    I think we should becareful of trying to shape Jesus into our own image or in the image of our favorite preacher or pastor or theologian or some other personality.

  25. pastor jim sharp says:

    thomas … thank you for the alcorn quotes. they resonate at some deeper part of me. thru this blog and the comments my zeal for God’s glory in His absolute sovereignty has not diminished but i do believe i have been made more senstiive and, by the grace of God, will instruct others with greater gentleness. “Thy gentleness hath made me great”

  26. Dan S. says:

    Thanks Trevin for this nuanced analysis of Scot’s observations. I found your perspective very refreshing amid the cacophony of heated words exchanged between Calvinists and emerging/post-modern Christians in the blogosphere.

    Like you, I’m a big fan of Scot’s work, but I think he overstates his case in this instance and applies a bit of double standard. At the same time, I give him a lot of credit for critiquing emerging-ites like McLaren, Bell and Burke when others within the movement will not.

    The way I see it, Calvinists and Emergents can certainly drive each other crazy, but they both have some valid points from time to time. If we could find a way to de-escalate this family feud within evangelicalism, we’d all be better off.

    If you’re interested, I came up with 5 questions for each group to consider. Scot was gracious enough to offer a response and I’d love to hear yours.

    http://thecommonloon.blogspot.com/2009/02/fued-rages-on-five-questions-for.html

  27. Trevin Wax says:

    Dan,

    Good questions. I just answered them over at your site.

  28. SWNID says:

    When he states something, Scot McKnight tends to overstate it. Nothing new in that.

    But he’s got a big point here. As a non-Calvinist who simply can’t see the biblical basis or theological attraction for the dogma, I’ve dealt all my life with condescending remarks about the seriousness of my faith or the sufficiency of my theological understanding. Those remarks used to bug me; as they persist, they bewilder me.

  29. Brian Wasicki says:

    We are never commanded to be nice. We are however, told to be loving and truthful. The problem is that both love and truth have been redefined as “niceness”.

    Neo-reformed and proud of it.

  30. Dork, I looked into this challenge, along with had been struggle to repeat the idea. Once you ended up contacting typically the picture, were anyone able to view the impression inside your communication? William

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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