Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To Be or Not to Be (Updated)

Ever get in on the last part of a conversation or debate and wonder what preceded it? Well, if you click on the link below you will enter an on-going conversation between those in the broadly evangelical camp, the Neo-reformed folk, and the Paleo-reformed folk.

Who is in the various camps? Under the evangelical banner I think you can add just about anybody who doesn't embrace reformed theology. This would include Wesleyans, most Baptists, Evangelical Free, Charismatics, Emergents and Pentecostals. Names like Richard Foster, T.D. Jakes, Dallas Willard, Rob Bell and Bill Hybels would all be at home in this camp. Under the Neo-reformed banner you will find men like Tim Keller, John Frame, Reggie Kidd, to name a few. Under the Paleo-reformed banner you will find men like R.C. Sproul, Mike Horton, David Wells, Ligon Duncan, Daryl Hart, and John Muether.

Here is a very important paragraph from the linked article:

"By invoking Horton, McKnight unwittingly makes an important point about the differences between Neo- and Paleo-Reformed, or between Old Life and New Life Presbyterians. The Reformed Protestants who are most intentional about recovering confessional (or better, ecclesial) Presbyterianism, the Paleos, are the ones least interested in taking over evangelicalism and excluding anyone. For them (and us), evangelicalism is over. Meanwhile, the Neo-Reformed, the ones who are most invested in reaching a consensus between Reformed and evangelicals, are also the ones who are most inclined to view evangelicalism from a perspective of Reformed doctrinal litmus tests and so turn a blind eye to the concerns of Wesleyans, Arminians, and Anabaptists. In other words, Neo-Reformed care about being evangelical; Paleos don’t."

I realize that this last line is a bit terse so let me balance it with another brief quote:

"Meanwhile, McKnight himself points with a measure of agreement to Horton’s idea that evangelicalism functions best as a village green that allows folks from different perspectives to talk to each other; the converse point Horton makes is that evangelicalism functions worst when it tries to make the village green into a permanent residence."

All of this might sound harsh at first but it really isn't. As far back as 2002 when R.C. Sproul came to Detroit he was squeamish about the word "evangelical." More recently David Wells has said the the same thing. Why? The word no longer means what it once meant: people who stood on the inerrant Word of God and who proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ - forgiveness of sins through the perfect life and atoning death of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this justification is acquired by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are alone sufficient for the believer. And finally, all of this is to the glory of God alone.

Put differently, evangelicalism has changed from its early days of Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham, etc. At that time Bible-believing Christians put away doctrinal distinctives so that they could work together. Ever since evangelicals have focused on what they have in common and increasingly forgotten their own distinctives. One person has said that the reason Evangelicalism worked so well in its early days was because people understood their Bibles much better than the people do today.

When reformed folk, Lutherans, or any other confessional denomination have participated in the evangelical discussion they were force to leave their creeds and confessions at the door. Thus their own identity, beliefs, and traditions were traded for a 10 point statement of faith. We see this playing itself out in the PCA with some churches acting and living as if the Westminster Confession of Faith never existed or that it is merely advisory. What results is a schizophrenic denomination where a church in town A is vastly different from a church 20 miles away in town B which itself is very different from another church 25 miles away in town C. Ever wonder why presbytery and General Assembly can be so contentious?

Many books have been written to analyze this discussion. For further reading try Ian Murray's, Evangelicalism Divided, David Wells', The Courage to Be Protestant, Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity, R. Scott Clark's, Recovering the Reformed Confessions, or Mike Horton's, People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology. Note: I am still working through this list of books.

In closing, let me say that you can call me Paleo-reformed. Or if you prefer, a Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon. Just don't call me late for dinner.

Click here to read more.

HT: Heidelblog

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