We didnâ€™t ask for this but when a respected Protestant scholar invokes the category of Neo-Reformed (which implies a Paleo version), members of the Old Life Theological Society take the bait with relish (tabasco would help).
In a blog that has gotten far more attention than it likely deserves, Scot McKnight complains about the efforts of the Neo-Reformed to capture evangelicalism. He faults them for being traditionalist as opposed to following the Bible, accuses them of displaying fundamentalist belligerency as opposed to evangelical niceness, and fears they aim to take over evangelicalism and exclude the non-Reformed as opposed to just getting along.
The intriguing aspect of McKnightâ€™s blog is the way it has been received. The Neo-Reformed have taken offense, as if McKnight is accusing them of shady dealings and unloving behavior. The non-Reformed have registered several amens and point to their own experience with the Neo-Reformed meanies. Throughout the interaction with McKnight are references to the Reformed theologians, Mike Horton and John Frame. Some of McKnightâ€™s sympathizers point to a similar diagnosis of Reformed pugnacity in Frame’sÂ much cited essay, “Machenâ€™s Warrior Children.” Meanwhile, McKnight himself points with a measure of agreement to Hortonâ€™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.
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.Â ForÂ them (and us), evangelicalism is over.Â 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 fromÂ a perspective of Reformed doctrinal litmus tests and so turn a blind eye to the concerns ofÂ Wesleyans, Arminians, and Anabaptists. In other words, Neo-Reformed care about being evangelical; Paleos donâ€™t.
It is not Machenâ€™s Warrior Children who want to evacuate the evangelical village green of non-Calvinists and other free will or opennessÂ types. Horton readily fits as one of Machenâ€™s Warrior Children, and Frame likely had ecclesial Reformed Protestants like Horton and the editors of the NTJ in mind when he wrote his provocative piece. Rather, it is the opponents of Machenâ€™s Warrior Children, the allegedly nice and tolerant Neo-Reformed, who have designs on commandeering evangelicalism and keeping it for themselves. The Neo-Reformed are the ones who still think evangelicalism is a useful category and a ChristianÂ reality that needs to be saved from those who do not adhere to biblical inerrancy, divine sovereignty, or the vicarious atonement.Â To use McKnightâ€™s own categories, it is Frame who defended something approaching biblicism and accused Horton of being a traditionalist. And it was Frame who wrote Evangelical Reunion, a book about finding a consensus among all conservative Protestants, not Horton whose last volume of Reformed dogmatics, People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, vindicates the Paleo-Reformed high view of the church and its ministry.
Maybe McKnight had a point, even if he didnâ€™t know it.