Some 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!).
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!