11 August 2009

An Exilic Presbyterian's Manifesto, final thoughts

I realized last week that I didn't have much more to say about Stellman's project than what I've said already (see parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). I was expecting a little pushback from folks on the points I raised about the sacraments (if not the Sabbath)….

So, one final word of caution might be in order: a healthy skepticism of the modern church, and especially evangelicalism, on a bad day slides easily into cynicism, which is just a hair’s breath away from devolving into hatred for fellow believers. This was one of the major sins of the leaders of Israel during Jesus’ day, as they held contemptuous what God himself had wept over. For us, it’d be like sitting through a Bible study about the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not as bad a sinner as the tax collector and then closing that Bible study with a prayer thanking God that we’re not like that self-righteous Pharisee. Embracing two-kingdoms doctrine and the subversion and disdain of modern, Western Christian worldliness that it produces must be motivated by a deep and lasting love for Christ and his church (inextricably bound together as the two are). Put differently, if you’re not dedicated to being a living witness among God’s people (one who has his “head in heaven, fingers in the mire,” to follow Stellman in quoting Bono, 135) to the truths you’ve come to believe as a result of this book (or other study), then kindly keep criticisms of this sort to yourself.

*UPDATE and final thought: As long as there's stuff like this (be sure to watch promo #2) being promulgated by and for 'Christians', books like Dual Citizens must continue to be written. "Sometimes history does repeat itself." Indeed.


Bobby Grow said...

While not necessarily agreeing with the classic "two kingdoms" model (I like Barth's idea better . . . but let's not get into that ;-); I wholeheartedly agree with you, Chris!

I attended Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA once (Kim Riddlebarger's church; it was my friend's church at the time), and this very issue came up. They referred to themselves as "Reformed," and they actually were making some fun of "those Evangelicals" (Ryrie and Saddleback Church, quite the gamut) while we were there (I mean from the pulpit too). This was unfortunate, indeed. I found the distinction between "Reformed Christian" and "Evangelical Christian" false (although I understood their intent). Anyway sectarianism is never too far away for any of us, Chris . . . so again I appreciate your point!!

Chris Donato said...

Thanks, Bobby. And thanks for reading along and for taking the time to comment. We Christians are prigs. Alas.

While I would hesitate to equate "Reformed" with "Evangelical" these days, it's how one differentiates (in what manner, tone, etc.) that makes all the difference indeed.

Whatsoever we do with respect to the church's mission, let us do so out of a deep love for Christ and his body.

Bobby Grow said...


I think you caught the gist of what I was troubled by, more than anything else; it certainly was the "tone."

I know that "Evangelical" has fallen into disrepute, lately . . . I want to redeem that language though (in all the best senses that it has to offer, both historically construed first, then contemporaneously ;-).


John Schaefer said...

Someone needs to put their foot down about these labels. Since I'm right, I'll do it:

Reformed: a kind of catch-all term for Presbyterians and other Calvinish protestants.

Evangelical: Christian from any denomination who believes in the historical and exclusive incarnation of JC and the bodily resurrection of the dead (among other things).

So while many Reformed people are evangelicals (those Reformed folks who don't read the Bible only as myth and metaphor), very few evangelicals are Reformed (since there are so many Baptists, Methodists, Independents, Fundamentalists, Charismatics, Pentecostals, and others who neither know nor care about Calvin's Institutes.)

Bobby Grow said...

Well I'm an "Evangelical Calvinist;" put that in your pipe, and smoke it ;-) . . . I bet you've never heard of one of those before . . . and I'm not making the term up (see the Scot's Confession)!

Steve said...

All Reformed are evangelical, but not all evangelical are Reformed.

Bobby, I appreciate your uneasiness at the sort of snotty stuff one hears amongst many of us confessional Reformed. I have often tried to make the point that the evangelicals whom former evangies-now-Reformed taunt are simply being good evangelicals. It can make little sense to me why we so often blame evangelicals for being good ones instead of pointing out the problems of Reformed behaving like good evangelicals and bad Presbyterians.

At the same time, though, if you are going to make this a matter of tone, everyone loses. It really isn't about disposition but about content. And sometimes it's just a good joke and everyone needs to lighten up and take their ideas more seriously than themselves.

Chris Donato said...

Good points, all. No doubt if the issue is reduced to delivery alone, everyone does lose. But on the other hand we must be careful to not reduce the matter to content alone. "Be prepared," Saint Peter writes, "to give a defense. Yet do it with gentleness and respect…."

John Schaefer said...

I wrote "many Reformed are evangelical" and not "all Reformed..." because I know many who attend and even lead in Reformed churches who are not really comfortable with miracles, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, etc.

I wrote "very few evangelicals are Reformed" instead of "not all" because there are millions and millions of Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, Pietists, and Charismatics--and particularly members of African Independent Churches, who alone probably outnumber all members or all Reformed churches worldwide--all of whom are very, very far from the Heidelberg Catechism but who would nonetheless easily fit our definition of "evangelical."

Chris Donato said...

Some might say that they've thus ceased being "Reformed" at that point, John. Nonetheless, if the criterion is simply membership/ordination in a "Reformed" (by name) church that adheres in some sense to a Reformed confession, then of course your point stands.

'Conservatives' fight with 'conservatives' about this stuff all the time. It's kind of funny, really.

Bobby Grow said...


I think lightening up is fine. But as I recall, the original story I share here, there was nothing light about the tone; it was mocking, plain and simple. And this tone permeated the body there, as I experienced it . . . there was a rather oppresive sense in the air (for both me and my wife).

And as Chris pointed out, I think tone has a lot to do with content; I don't think they are separable realities. At least not according to the Apostle Paul.


And this is where I want to quibble. You assume that being "Reformed" = "Confessional." And you seem to further assume, that being "Confessional" = "Westminster flavor" (exclusively). My point of dispute here, is that this is just not reflective of the history of the "Reformed" tradition. You grab onto one strand of the "tradition" and hastily assume that this is the only strand represented within the burgeoning "Reformed" tradition of the 17th century --- this simply is not the case.

Janice Knight has noted, amongst others, two major strands within 17th century English and American Calvinism (Puritanism). She calls one "The Spiritual Brethren" (Richard Sibbes, Cotton, et al); and the other "The Intellectual Fathers" (William Perkins,William Ames et al). The latter of these two is what has come to be known as "Reformed" theology today (Westminster, Dordtrecht style); and this is what is just "assumed" as representative of the "Reformed" tradition --- this is just not the case.

Furthermore, TF Torrance further underscores this reality in his book: Scottish Theology; as he elucidates the same kind of development in Scottish Theology per the 'Scots Confession', and through folks like Jonathan Fraser of Brea and John Mcleod Campbell. These were equally, if not more so, 'Calvinist' and "Confessional;" yet stood against the Westminster development on key points (extent of atonement, etc.) of dogma.

My point with this tangent is to illustrate that being Reformed and Calvinist --- historically and dogmatically --- cannot be limited to its Westminster expression.

So what I am getting at, is that to say that Westminster represents what it means to be "Reformed" and "Confessional," is both inaccurate and unaware of the broader development of Calvinist and Scottish/English Theology. To assume that Dordt and Westminster is what it means to be "Orthodox," would be to assume the same kind of ad hoc posture and ecclesiology that Rome provides through who assumed magesterium.

So all I'm saying is that to assume that being both Evangelical and Reformed, which means that one affirms the "Confessions" (like Westminster represents) and the five points of "Fundamentalism," is just not an accurate representation of the bigger picture.

That's why I taunted a bit with "Evangelical Calvinist;" it has nothing to do with what is typically understood when someone hears "Calvinist" or "Evangelical." Yet there is historic and dogmatic precedent for this particular stream of Calvinist thought. I'm trying to take back the language of "Calvinist" by pointing out that it has a broader history than the rather myopic one we mostly know of today.


John Schaefer said...

"It's kind of funny, really." Yes.

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