I’ve wrestled with how to say what I’m about to say for close to a year and a half. If there is one group of people who generally fail at self-criticism, it would probably be Reformed folks. Even now, I’m sure some people are preparing their copies of The Institutes of the Christian Religion to launch at me in a manner consistent with causing bodily harm. Please, hear me out first.
First off, this is not an anti-Reformed rant. I am a card-carrying five-point-Calvinist with a great appreciation for historical, confessional Reformed theology. I don’t agree with every tenet of classic Reformed thought (my view of the covenants would be one example – another would be my view of baptism) but I would say it speaks closest to what I believe as a Christian. In short, guys, I’m on your side.
It is exactly because I am on your side, friends and brethren, that I have to call a huddle in session. For folks who profess to believe in such earth-shattering truths, some of the attitudes worry me. Here are a selection…
Some of us are unnecessarily combative:
I thoroughly believe in contending for the faith but I don’t believe every hill is a hill to die on. Sometimes, I fear that the new generation of young Reformed folks – of which I would like to think I am one – just want to fight all the time and it’s not a good look. 2 Timothy 2 is clear:
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.
Even if they’re wrong, folks are not your punching bag for every time you want to lay a theological or methodological smack-down. No one cares how much you know when they don’t know how much you care.
Some of us have no distinction between open and closed-handed issues:
Some things are non-negotiable– we don’t get to debate the Trinity, justification by faith, the Bible as God’s Word (despite the intelligent minds of the day telling me that we should), etc. Other things are very negotiable– worship styles (gasp!), Bible translations, who wrote Hebrews, (some elements of) evangelistic strategy, whether you go to conferences or not (I’ve actually had this discussion in the past week).
You tread water when you try to make everything a closed-handed issue– and that is an attitude I observe with some reformed types. Not everything is of first importance– or even second importance– and it is both unrealistic and downright ugly when we think everything is of primary import.
Some of us worship the past without realizing we are in the present:
This is one thing about reformed circles that makes me very confused. Now understand– I do not advocate any form of what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. I think there are things we do in the twenty-first century (and plenty of them at that) which are bone stupid and we could do well to take a leaf out of the past. That said, the idea that anything contemporary1 is inherently deficient is simply untenable.
Few areas demonstrate this more than what some have called “the worship wars”. I like to believe there is a middle road when it comes to this and that, by God’s help, churches like the one I call home do our best at walking it. Not so among a lot of reformed folks (even the younger ones)– no, if it looks like Hillsong, it’s Hillsong and we want no part. Out with forms of percussion, out with guitars, out with anything written of late that doesn’t sound like it was made for the 18th or 19th century. Depending on who you speak to, you’ll hear it’s “irreverent… ungodly… worldly.”
Now this isn’t the place for talking out our view of corporate worship but I mention it because I fear in our reformed circles, there is a subtle idolatry of what X or Y would have done, such that when someone comes along and does it differently, the reaction ends up being:
THAT’S NOT REFORMED!
A fitting segue to my final grievance…
Some of us are too concerned with being “Reformed” and not with being Biblical:
This is where the crowd of Institute-throwers start working their throwing arm for a pitch. It is my opinion that, in the minds of some, the quest to be well and truly “Reformed” has taken on a perverse life of its own. Now we can’t appreciate preaching that is true for just that– no, we see whether it is “truly reformed”, we can’t sit in a meeting where the musical style used in the corporate singing might be different because “we’re reformed”, we can’t appreciate a commentary by someone because they’re “not confessionally reformed”, we can’t lift hands in corporate worship or say “Amen” too loud during preaching… because “we’re reformed”.
At some point, we have to get over this subtle desire to be accepted by the “team” and be prepared to say things that might challenge the “Reformed wisdom”– even if it leaves our Reformed credentials open to question. As I am very fond of saying these days, “I refuse to lose sleep about how Reformed I allegedly am or am not.”
That’s just disrespectful!
Well, maybe it is, but it is profoundly honest. There are some things in the Reformed tradition that are exactly that: tradition– and tradition is only as good as you re-examine and refine it, not rarify it and put it behind bulletproof glass and velvet ropes.
A bit ironic from a tradition that claims semper reformanda– always reforming– for a motto.