So I just read one of McLaren’s latest blog entries, Calling all Calvinists. In McLaren’s post, he basically states that there are basically two types of “Calvinists.” Interesting. He goes on to then break down these two Calvinistic groups by a summary. They are summed up in his following statements:
“… when people tell me they’re Calvinist or Reformed, I generally ask them what they mean. One line of response goes to TULIP (an acronym for five points of a type of deterministic Calvinism) and the Westminster Confession and a list of things they’re against. Folks in this camp seem eager to repeat and redo faithfully in the 21st century exactly what Calvin said and did in the 16th.”
“The other line of response refers to the Lordship of Christ over all of life, the priesthood of all believers, the absolute importance of God’s grace, and the integration of faith with every dimension of human enterprise … seeming more eager to imitate Calvin’s general example, seeking to translate into our times what Calvin generally sought to do in his times, even when that means disagreeing with specific things Calvin – and many Calvinists – have said and done.”
I apologize in advance if this sounds harsh, but I’m not sure if McLaren actually understands that Calvinists, as far as I’m concerned and aware of, would agree with both of these statements. In fact, he sets up what appears to be poor logic in that what he sets up is a false dichotomy. I hesitate to even write that because I’m sure that McLaren has to understand that every Evangelical who holds to Reformed theology would argue that both of the above statements are true; though I would hesitate to say that all Calvinists make long lists of things they are against and that they would seek to live according to the culture of the 16th century. Perhaps some, but not all. I’m sure a lot of Fundamentalists might do that, but that word does not own the theology of the Reformation!
Sure, some people might do just what McLaren is stating, but I can’t say that it reflects all or even the majority of folks who are Calvinists. I suppose that this would be the same as someone stating that all who are a part of the Emerging Church Movement are liberal Democrats who think that Jesus isn’t the only way to salvation and that the bible isn’t the inspired Word of God without error!
Yes, these definitions might be claimed by some who choose to hold to these terms, but that doesn’t mean that they actually do. This is to say that just because someone says they are Reformed doesn’t actually mean that they are. This is similar to how McLaren can attempt to define Calvinism with some brief sentances but those sentances don’t necessarily reflect the truth.
Perhaps McLaren should do a better job of defining terms and making his point without the false dichotomy or ad hominem arguments. In the past, I’ve appreciated a lot of what McLaren has written or said. It just seems that with this post he’s completely missed the mark.
Interesting… I guess I’m a Calvinist Calvinist who affirms TULIP and also the Lordship of Jesus, the priesthood of all believers, the importance of grace, and everything else that McLaren said defines only one type of Calvinist. Hmm…
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
I think what McLaren is getting at, is, what identifies the reformed?
Doctrine or mission?
He is not setting up a false dichotomy. He is asking, do the doctrines of grace and the Westminster Confessions activate something in the reformed; or are those doctrines a fortress one needs to live in?
Are they definitions that catalyze action in the world? They should be, but a lot of the time it is about the fortress and not about the missionary that leaves the comfort of home and pursues the world.
Which, is what the Reformed perspective is really all about; reforming the culture of the church and the world.
McLaren would ask the same question of any doctrinaire. Are you more committed to the doctrine or to Jesus?
Actually, there may be more here than you realize. Pastor Scott Hull from Hill Point Church pointed out in a recent posting that “one of the signs of dying organizations is elevating mission over core values – that is, desperately attempting to resuscitate and reactivate the mission at the expense of compromising or neglecting fundamental principles.” He warns that it is easy to fall into this in the Church, as well. We’ve seen that at various times in history, such as the C. H. Spurgeon Down Grade controversy, where he predicted the downward trend of English belief in the late 1800’s.
McLaren’s comment poses the same question for us today. It is essentially a question of priorities: is it more important to agree on what to do, or what we believe? Are we willing to base our action on our theology, or surrender our understanding of God and man (a.k.a “doctrine”) to accomplish “good” in our time. If we do the latter, I believe we will follow the Brit’s down the same slope and same compromise. McLaren favors the irenic (“peaceful or conciliatory”), like those in Spurgeon’s day who chose “pastors after their own hearts, men who could, and would, and did, cry ‘Peace, peace,’ when the only way of peace was ignored or denied.”
The point that concerns me most is that this is viewed as an either-or, not a both-and, as you noted, Luke: “we can have good doctrine, or accomplish good, but not both”, goes this (incorrect) way of thinking. We’ve started to lose the concept that there is peace found in orthodox belief, empowered by the Spirit, working out in practical ways in our culture. That’s a sad thing, in my opinion and, taking Spurgeon’s warning, a harbinger of more to come.
I am way out of my league on this discussion, but I thought I would stretch myself here, so be patient with me , ya’all. I read some of the articles you all included and this is my take on this ….
I’m wondering if Brian isn’t really saying that any disciplinarian action from the church is wrong? That we need to tone our selves down? That we better let everyone come on in, and even so much as become leaders in church, as though it’s more of a social club than a body of believers of Jesus Christ? It sounds like he favors that over church disciplines .
I agree with you, Luke, that it doesn’t even make sense to break down into two groups the factions that Brian described, unless of course you want the good without the structure, and with that structure comes discipline sometimes.
I also agree with you, michaelz, that , after reading that article on the “downgrade” that it makes even less sense to divide the bad calvinists and the good ones. That seems to me to have inforced my belief that he is not in favor of criticism and I wonder how well he handles discipline himself, if he is going so far as to say there are good Calvinists and bad.
So, if a church disciplines, is it a bad church?
What sort of discipline is a church allowed to do? Who disciplines in a church? Do you get a time out , go sit in the corner or what?
If there is no discipline going on in the church, is it a bad church? Have we given way to wanting to please the masses and get their nickels and serve our best Columbian coffee but for heaven’s sake, don’t make anyone angry?
RJasonSmith, thanks to the magic of blog moderation, I made my post before yours appeared on the site, so my opening statement was intended to address Luke’s comment, not yours, since I completely agree that if we “believe” without living changed lives, McClaren’s critcism is well deserved. I disagree, though, about the ultimate goal of Reformed perspective. I think Luke is right: we need to both grow to love and know Jesus (doctrine) and live lives that allow God to work in our culture. Either half alone is incomplete and powerless.
I agree with McClaren in dividing “good” Calvinists from “bad” (I loved Ivory’s picture of church “time outs”!!!), but the line for me would be those who hold that (a) right belief with a right spirit empowers right action vs. (b) belief is relative and immaterial, as long as you act in an “approved” way. This way of thinking is popular in our culture, and he joins others like OCRT who feel that the second choice is best: We do not criticize any person or any organized religion for their theological beliefs. However we do censure individuals and groups for any actions which harm people, limit their personal freedoms, or restrict their spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical growth. Thus, we are opposed to racist, sexist, and homophobic activities by individuals and groups.
While I respect their desire to be respectful and objective, I dislike where this leads: our theology (study of God) devolves to little more than anthropology (study of man). OCRT’s statement of belief affirms: the inherent worth and sanctity of humans; opposes discrimination (on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, physical disability, age, etc.); chooses democracy over authority; separation of church and state; freedom of speech; non absolute truth; views religion as positive (although they feel it causes most wars???); the power of the individual; and values education. The religious content of this “tolerant religion”? There they “lack agreement on almost all theological matters, such as belief in a supreme being, the nature of God, interpretation of the Bible and other holy texts, whether life after death exists, what form the afterlife may take, etc.” Ivory said it well: the Church becomes a social club and community service center, a place to connect to other people, rather than a place to connect with the living God, a place to be regenerated and transformed in heart and mind and soul.
We chose where to start: with man or with God. OCRT starts with man: “Imagine the results if more people in the world realized … it is impossible with our present knowledge to find out which is the “true” [religion]… if more people accepted their religion as the best faith for them, but at the same time recognized that there are other religions which teach about other deities… There might be fewer people willing to defend their particular religion by oppressing or killing followers of other religions and spiritual paths. Pretty weak, in my opinion, compared to Jesus’ command in the Beatitudes in Matt 5:43-45: the first is based on a tenuous hope, the second is based on the character of the eternal God who reveals himself. (In words Luke would like) Orthodoxy (right doctrine) leads to orthopraxy (right action); the converse rarely happens. We need to act (James 1:22,27) because reconciliation is WAY better than tolerance (2 Cor 5:18-20) but we do it out of love (2 Cor 5:14). Jesus himself in Matt 22:37-39 established the priority of loving God first in heart, soul, and mind (doctrine and worship) to enable service to others in the next verse.
McClaren is a self-described social activist and is looking for people to change society, so I can see why he sees value in the other approach, but if he is truly looking for true lasting change in our culture, he should be encouraging people to become devoted disciples of Jesus. That’s change that lasts. Forever.
I just looked back at my last posting and realized that it could be taken that I’m claiming that McClaren supports OCRT, which he doesn’t. I was just on the ReligiousTolerance.org site looking up some information for my friend Tom Peters (no, not the famous author) about the Presbyterian 1924 Auburn Declaration, and OCRT had a page covering a new version. I saw similarity between McClaren’s posting and the stuff I was reading online, and quoted it because it clearly describes some of what our culture believes. Re-reading my comment, I didn’t want anyone to think that McClaren holds all the same theological beliefs as, from what I’ve read from him, that’s so not the case. My point is that we, as believers, can fall into the same way of thinking. (And, for anyone pondering the fact that I was actually enjoying doing research on an 85 year old declaration from a Presbyterian seminary, yes, I do need to get a life.)
Hey, excellent discussion! I didn’t have much time for Internet activity this weekend, but I was reading them! With that in mind, here are some of my “official” thougths and responses.
rjasonsmith, thanks for joining us! I hope you can jump in more conversations and all that. Glad you’re here.
I must say that I still would consider what McLaren is doing is nothing but a false dichotomy. I have no doubt that McLaren is attempting to accomplish what you and others are speaking about (e.g., Reformed Theology, Missional aspects of living, the interaction between Reformed thinking and mean-spiritedness, etc.). I just think he has failed to accomplish his purpose. At least, he’s drawn some strong distinctions that seem to do nothing but form the “us” vs. “them” mentality. And those who are taking sides are simply reacting to the sides he has created.
Again, I agree with both “sides” of Calvinism that he presents. Why? Because I think they both are what Calvinists believe. They don’t oppose each other, as he so eloquently insists.
I have greatly appreciated some of what McLaren has written, but this time he seems to have failed to really added a positive contribution to the discussion. Also, you said,
How do you reach this conclusion regarding what the Reformed perspective is about? Do you hold to Reformed Theology (i.e., Calvinism)? This explanation, in my opinion, leaves a lot to be added! But that’s probably because I’m long-winded! I’ve always understood the Reformed perspective to be initially about two things: the glory and sovereignty of God. From those two axioms flow everything else. Your definition seems to be more in line with what Roger Olson suggests in Reformed and Always Reforming & Arminian Theology: Myths And Realities. I’ve enjoyed some of Olson as well, but I also find his revision of Reformed Theology to be somewhat misleading.
So, are you referring more to the wider concepts of the Reformation and Protestant Theology or specifically to Calvinism?
I really liked your response though. There is some truth to the idea that people can worship doctrines without worshipping Jesus, though we also need to realize that we can worship Jesus by holding and teaching true doctrine. That’s often a difficult “paradox” to attempt to do!
MichaelZ, as always, it is a pleasure. I hope you are doing well.
Yes, I find the comparison to be somewhat misleading because the first thought that came to me while reading McLaren’s post was, “Yes!”
“Yes,” we need both strong biblical convictions based upon the Scriptures and we need to also live it out. Yes and yes.
Also, you should throw in some orthopathos in your equation 🙂 Feelings are also important!
Ivory, I like the “time out” idea too. How do we do that!?!?!?!
P.S. – I also enjoy researching old Presbyterian dudes… can anyone say Gresham Machen?!?!?!?! We can learn soooo much from these guys!
Hey Luke, this is Nate Furlong
TINY LAP TOP BATTLE!!!
doesn’t every protestant agree with mclaren’s second statement? i thought we all agreed with the priesthood of all believers, grace, life transforming faith, and the lordship of jesus.
mclaren’s last sentance is what you all have been talking about. he says “I hope and pray many in the former camp will migrate to the latter camp in the years ahead”.
i wonder what his response would be if someone said that they hoped those in the latter camp would migrate to the former camp? i also wonder if mclaren REALLY thinks that those in the former camp don’t believe in the same things as the latter camp. it seems like he’s doing his usual ‘thinking out loud’ routine and saying stuff that really is just plain wierd. calvinists aren’t the only ones who are suspect of this guys witty ideas though. lots of others are too.
“Thinking out loud” for one of us is one thing, but McClaren calls himself an author, speaker, and activist. Any of those three require the ability to put an idea into words in a way that will be understood by others. He seems pretty clear, in my opinion, and if his word choice is just off-the-cuff, I’d hate to see what thoughtful consideration would produce! (I’m already wearing out my bookmark to http://www.dictionary.com!!!)
While he could post an “oops” if he didn’t really mean it, I haven’t seen one, so I think what he said was what he meant: people should embrace “grace” without worrying about the pesty “belief” stuff. The first (belief-based) group of critics is called “grandiloquent” (pompous or bombastic), while the second group is “irenic” (peaceful or conciliatory), “wisest and most thoughtful”. Sounds like the rule is that “good” Calvinists have to agree with McClaren as the primary test!
Michaelz – I agree, agree, agree! McLaren is king of saying things out loud and then expressing that he shouldn’t be held accountable for what he says. This is the fundamental problem with the Emergent Church. Rules and Doctrine and Belief and Theology are all negative terms unless you can express whatever you want with no consequences.
I highly doubt there are many Calvinists who agree with a guy who has written and said some troubling things about the atonement, homosexuality, and some other very basic truths that Christians have believed from the beginning.
Some day McLaren is going to find that the things we say have consequences, at least I hope so.
I find it difficult to lend any sort of weight to generalizations and summaries of a system of belief when they are written by someone who does not adhere to the system’s basic tenets. I wouldn’t call myself totally a Calvinist, but I find it a little embarrassing to see the way McLaren throws around these ideas about what the “two groups” of Calvinists believe. I think it’s okay that he is “thinking aloud” but I also agree with greekbiblegeek; when you make such statements and speculations, you have to be prepared to deal with the backlash. Things like this can really hurt a writer’s (or especially a speaker’s) credibility. Not that McLaren has a lot of credibility among the Orthodox in the first place….
Personally, I’m more concerned that this is actually what he meant to say. His link to an example of “good Calvinism” summarized Calvin’s life as accomplishing the following: he encouraged education and Old Testament scholarship, encouraged/enabled people to interact with the Bible directly, and removed church authority in personal belief. (I seem to recall he did something in the line of theology, but that wasn’t mentioned). The rest of the article on Calvin points out the danger in thinking that God has a plan for governments, especially our own:
The standard becomes laws and words of man (i.e. the “laws of distributive and retributive justice”), not the law and word of God. In this view, what we believe about God just isn’t important.