Just before I left for work this morning, I made a several discoveries:
First, I discovered that “c.t.” in the current essay’s comment thread is a person who has been feeding off my web-sites for several weeks now.
Second, I discovered that this same person was the source of the original “Reformed/Calvinistic Tent” quote that I used as the launching point for my post. (I had noticed earlier that the quote was removed from the site where I found it, which doesn’t surprise me at all.)
While this doesn’t change a single word of the views I present in the essay, it did possibly violate a personal standard I have of not dialoging with or responding to certain kinds of people who are, either by their own choice or through no fault of their own, unable to participate in civilized conversation without resorting to death threats and racism. So I took it down, but will now post an edited version of it in the extended comments. The quote is gone, and the essay doesn’t feel right without it, but we can all just live with it. My apologies for the whole matter. Five years doing this and I’ve finally managed to have my own troll. I’m so special.
Warning! Heavy Parody Ahead! This post will require you to plug in your senses of humor, irony and comedy. You may need to remind yourself that none of us have arrived yet and, despite what you’ve heard, Reformation Christians are far more alike than different.
It’s dangerous waters out there in the world of those-who-are-reformed vs. those-who-thought-they-were-reformed-but-really-aren’t-reformed. The fur is flying fast and furious as one thing after another becomes the latest reason you aren’t really reformed at all. Ha!
[Edited: Someone has referred to the Auburn Avenue/Federal Visionaries, New Perspective on Paul Types, Sandlin-inspired Reformed Catholics and others as “outside of the “Reformed/Calvinistic tent.” They’ve called them “moles,” and comics. Pretenders to Calvinism, who, like in-name-only Republicans, always vote Democratic. ] I feel the pain. It’s a problem being part of a rather exclusive club, and all of a sudden, you’re sitting next to a burping, rude, unwashed barbarian. Or even worse, someone, somewhere might be having a good time reading authors not on the approved list. I can see a truly reformed Thurston Howell III protesting the whole affair. “Do you know who I am? Get this person OUT of here!!”
Dare to differ with the truly reformed? You are “comical.” Dare to cite allegiance to the solas, but don’t buy everything handed to you on every plate? It’s a shtick. You’re a “mole.” You’re just like the moonbat Michael Moore Democrats. Not suffering hyperventilation that someone is discussing Pauline terminology? You’re a knave. (Shakespeare loved that word. It’s hard for me to hate it.) This level of name-calling needs the Loony Tunes soundtrack in the background.
I have to admit to a certain fascination with the “Reformed, Calvinist” tent. What is that “tent?” Where can I take a look at it? I have more details on the tabernacle in Leviticus than I do this tent I’m supposed to be in or maybe not in. Where is the list of tent members? Where are the rules? Where are the definitions? How does one know if one is in or out? At what point do you apostasize from “Truly Reformedness” into the abyss outside the tent? Is there a way to know you’ve wandered out of the tent, or do you have to be thrown out to get the message?
I’m asking because, despite a mighty investment of time and effort, I can’t discover a lot of coherence in the NPP, AA, Wright, McLaren, reformed Catholicism, Shlissel, Armstrong, or the rest of the flashing exits from the tent. Yet, when I read both the advocates and the critics, I learn a lot and the conversation is a good one. It seems like a fresh and daring conversation among people who believe as the reformers believed when they said “The Lord has more light to yet break forth from His Word.” Ecclesia semper reformanda–“the Church is always reforming”– needs this conversation, no matter what anyone says. That the heirs of the Reformation are running around exiling people from their midst because of the New Perspective on Paul and the Auburn Avenue Bible conference still seems like an attack of theological insecurity way overplayed. Ongoing Reformation takes discussion. It takes exploration and the security to not panic when someone questions “reformed theology” as understood in this tent or that. Why all this name calling? (Knaves? Gerofalo?) Why this declaration that there is now a posted “safe zone” that all of us must play in if we want the nannies to not get upset?
The blogosphere isn’t, as far as I know, a confessional zone. It’s entirely legal and healthy for any one us to post our thoughts and speculations for the world to read, and then go back to our confessional communities- our churches and ministries- where our pastors and elders can look at our whole life and decide if we are “out” of the faith. It’s the same with anybody’s pastor’s conference, and anyone’s book. There are confessional realities that need to be respected, and then there is the “imaginary” reformed tent tended by those who apparently know more than the rest of us.
One of my best life/faith experiences took place during my six years at a real seminary (i.e., one with a campus, etc.) I really enjoyed all the differences in the theological and Biblical presentations of the various professors. While you would hear talk or “conservative” and “liberal,” it was really something else entirely. It was spirited conversation among scholars. It was the freedom to explore your discipline and, as N.T. Wright said, do your theological education in public. Some of the professors kept to the familiar paths, while others were more adventurous. There were some grand battles between profs in the theology and Bible departments over dozens of issues. I loved it. It did me good. Most of all, it showed me the way theology is supposed to be done in the rough and tumble of collegiality. Were some of those teachers outside the confessional “tent?” Possibly, but some of those who took the most heat weren’t heretics at all, but were challenging someone’s idea of the tent. The difference between the real “tent” of Christian essentials and confessions, and someone’s certainties about what the “tent” was supposed to be were two very different things.
We catechized our kids. I preach the confessions and the catechism at our church. I give them to all kinds of people as guidelines for life and faith. I love these confessions as an expression of the Reformed faith. At the same time, I recognize the diversity of the confessions, and I recognize serious and significant differences among reformed Christians. My favorite seminary professor was an expert in the radical reformation. I have tremendous respect for the confessionalism of my Baptist tradition and the commitment to following Jesus in the Anabaptist traditions. I have no problem committing myself to a MODEST confessionalism. The larger reformed confessions may fail in allowing larger communities of Christians to work and theologize together. The reformed faith, at its best, is a movement that continues in the direction of the Reformers, treasuring the discoveries of the past, but keeping the essentials for remaining in the tent MODEST. Turning every movement that challenges the “truly reformed” comfort zone into a reason to escort brothers and sisters out of the tent is unwise. The level of rhetoric being aimed at good people is unwise as well. It’s not merited and it’s not necessary.
Listening to the rhetoric that has been aimed at anyone identifying with ANY ASPECT of the New Perspective or N.T. Wright, one is permitted to wonder if all this is taking out a rather large shotgun to deal with the noise you are hearing in the kitchen. Could be a burglar. Or a mouse. Or your neighbor.
I did come up with some practical suggestions for improve things for all of us:
1. Please describe the “reformed tent” so we will know if we are in it. Maybe something like this (Parody ahead! Humor!!):
“Those who subscribe to TULIP (in one way or another, more or less), use a reformed confession (in some form, adjusted for denominational quirks and all), quote and admire the same 25 preachers and writers (more or less) who dislike and criticize the same 25 preacher and writers (more or less), admire the Puritans (at least a few of them), once submitted a book to J.I. Packer to review (which he did), subscribe to Calvinist magazines (but wonder why they don’t have more REAL ___________s in the articles), use the ESV version of the Reformation study Bible (which they won on a blog giveaway), are preaching a series of messages against Brian McLaren (whom they haven’t read) and the Emergent Church (which they’ve never visited and can’t actually find), consider all living theologians to be dangerous (unless they simply repeat what they read from dead theologians), are selectively outraged at those who disagree with the Reformed faith (even if that disagreement comes from a pursuit of the solas because only the insiders really know what the solas mean), and of course, who really enjoy a good angry mob scene if the right people are invited- these are the members of the “Reformed Calvinist” tent. They use the phrase. They know what it is. Trust us on this.
Let’s be simple: Is the Reformation the property of some group who accepts and rejects members based on things like interest in the NPP or calling yourself a Reformed Catholic? I don’t think so. The Reformation isn’t ANYONE’S property beyond what churches and other faith communities define confessionally. In the world of scholarship and writing, the heritage of the Reformation really is a open frontier more than it is a fenced pasture….or a guarded tent.
2. Here’s a second suggestion: Why don’t you publish a list. Use names. “These people aren’t really one of US.” I’m quite serious. Quit playing around. If you know who is in or out, say so. If you know why they are in or out, say so. Put my name near the top since it was my suggestion. Add to the list as needed. But, if you can, please just have one list. When you are proclaiming that those who differ with you are “moles” and “knaves,” we can’t have ten versions of the story. Make it authoritative.
3. If someone (or a group) is going to speak “authoritatively” for the “reformed tent,” let’s have their names, too. If we have a reformed pope or hierarchy, we need to do the cool re-names. “Reformed Pope Arthur W. Pink XVI.” If you don’t have any nominations, I have some, based on the rather unprotestant behavior that goes on in deference to those who have been given the mantle of sheriffs in the reformed tent. Maybe we could find a way to get the Calvinist equivalent of that white smoke trick when they elect a pope. It would look great on a webcam.
Now a real, non-parodied, real life suggestion. Let’s talk about the ideas. Let’s talk about the scriptures. Let’s talk about the matters that affect what scripture teaches and how we take hold of it. Let’s have an on-going conversation. Let’s take the confessions seriously, and let’s live in our churches with integrity to the Gospel, but let’s not convince ourselves that our opponents are an insidious conspiracy of knaves faking Calvinism to take over the “tent.” Let’s not stifle writing, scholarly pursuit or the intellectual/spiritual journeys of those who aren’t like us in every way. You may not like the phrase, but “generous orthodoxy” still sounds like a great idea to me.