How Inorganic

Why do pseudo-Calvinists complain so much about mean Calvinists? If you thought much about total depravity in your own life, you might not be in a nice frame of mind during waking hours. Or if you pondered most of the Bible, saw what happens to law breakers or how Christ interacts with the self-righteous, you might not be inclined to don a yellow-happy-face pin. Or if you considered the majesty and sovereignty of God and tried to imagine how a holy and righteous God puts up with a world that — let’s say — falls short of his standards, your jaws might be tight a lot of the time. So why does Daniel Montgomery continue the meme of the Gospel Allies that TGC Calvinism is nice and other kinds aren’t? Do these folks actually think that Mr. Rogers is more interesting than Christopher Hitchens? Then why make avoidance of offense the hallmark of your brand?

The main point for considering Montgomery’s post, though, is an odd metaphor that he invokes from TKNY about theological vision (w-w anyone?):

Without the clarity of a comprehensive theological vision, we succumb to emphatic theology with no connection between all the different fragments of theology and the arenas of our lives. As Tim Keller argues, if theological confession is our hardware and methodological strategy our software, we desperately need the theological “middleware” of vision to bring our confession to life and inform our methodology. This is an extension of Richard Lints’s siren call in The Fabric of Theology. Reflecting on the necessity of having a coherent theological vision, Lints writes:

The Christian gospel calls us not only to a well-formed theistic matrix but also to make conscious connections between that matrix and the other matrices of our lives. What I believe about God ought to influence how I view my own identity, my vocation, my family, my leisure pursuits, and so on. It is this matrix of matrices that I have been calling the theological vision. It is composed more narrowly of the theistic matrix (what I will be calling a theological framework) and more broadly of the interconnections between the theistic matrix and all other matrices in one’s noetic structures. Theology involves not just the study of God (theistic matrix) but also the influence of that study on the rest of one’s life (theological vision). It is possible to distinguish these two levels, but they are never separable in practice.


One way to spot a true Kuyperian from a poser is to watch for metaphors. The more organic, the more Kuyperian since Abraham Kuyper himself everywhere employed images from the natural world — roots, branches, life-giving sources, the folk with ties to the fatherland. But Keller and Lovelace employ mechanical and even mathematical metaphors to try to explain the way that theology functions in Christian devotion.

I can’t think of a better way to remove a church’s confession from officers’ and church members’ consciousness than by likening it to computer hardware. If anything, ecclesiology is the hardware on which the software of confessions runs so that users may worship and serve God. But this is a poor analogy. I prefer the stool (preferably handmade) to the computer. Confessional Presbyterianism is like a three-legged stool with polity, confession, and liturgy each constituting a leg. Remove one and confessional Presbyterianism falls and confessional Presbyterians land on their arses.

But TKNY’s computing metaphor may explain the dynamics of TGC. When your fellowship is digital and web-based, you may wind up treating doctrine like computer hardware — invisible and beyond your competency. Keller may explain more than he knows.

By the way, Montgomery quotes Piper on the appeal of Calvinism to a certain type of person:

There is an attractiveness about [the doctrines of grace] to some people, in large matter, because of their intellectual rigor. They are powerfully coherent doctrines, and certain kinds of minds are drawn to that. And those kinds of minds tend to be argumentative. So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic. I’ll just confess that. It’s a sad and terrible thing that that’s the case. Some of this type aren’t even Christians, I think. You can embrace a system of theology and not even be born again.

Obviously, Piper has never encountered Jason and the Callers.


28 thoughts on “How Inorganic

  1. I’ve had organic on the mind lately as well:

    The word society points not only to the kind of coalition of people that arises through voluntary association and is established for an agreed-upon purpose. The same word is used frequently to refer to the kind of group of people that arises naturally in terms of various life relationships in mutual fellowship, something that is neither artificial nor judicial, but an organic, social entity. This kind of organic society can be understood in a broader and in a narrower sense. We might think of a group of people who live in a particular country and within a certain nation, and then we speak, for example, of the Greek society, or the Roman society, the French or the English society. We might expand the concept still further to include the organized association of people living on a continent, affected by certain historical influences, or spread across the entire globe, and thus we speak of Western society or Eastern civilization or Christian culture or Muslim culture, of European or American society-referring then to various societies in general.

    A person becomes a member of society understood in its organic, social meaning, not by voluntary agreement, but by nature through birth and life. No person is merely an individual; a single individual is not a person. Above the entrance to the history of humanity stands written this saying: “It is not good that the man should be alone” [Gen 2:18]. From conception onward, a human being is a product of fellowship; every person is born from, and in, fellowship; persons are cared for and nurtured in the context of fellowship, and continue in some kind of fellowship throughout life, all the way to one’s final breath. A human being is a convivial creature and remains so, all the hermits and bachelors notwithstanding.

    Herman Bavinck, The Christian Family, page 111.



  2. Agreed. We need emphatic theology in arenas of our lives with a theological “middleware” of vision to constitute our theistic matrix. We need conscious connections between that matrix and the other matrices of our lives and matrix of matrices interconnections between the theistic matrix and all other matrices in one’s noetic structures.

    “Matrix of Matrices” suggests a doxology to enhance our emphaticizing.


  3. Ah, the old “Angry Reformed” bit. It’s always easier to generalize and stereotype your critics rather than deal with them. And, double bonus, you can even call into question their salvation.

    To that point, I remember skimming through Piper’s biography of Machen a few years ago and it always stuck with me that Piper felt it important to explore Machen’s “possible weaknesses” and listed (1) personal prayer and devotional life, (2) humility and teachableness, and (3) personality.

    In any event, I know enough New Calvinist / TGC folks to say that they have their fair share of “hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic” types. But I’m sure they think they’re just zealous for the city.


  4. The main purpose for Mr Montgomery’s post was likely to sell his book and promote his TGC workshop (conveniently linked) and maybe to get him some consulting work. This is the The Gospel-Industrial Complex and their motto is/should be “always be selling.”


  5. Also, TGC perpetuates the myth with posts like this that Reformed = doctrines of grace. Maybe the reason people think you’re an angry Calvinist is that you’re fixated on a few doctrines pulled out of their larger framework and not proclaiming the whole of Reformed Christianity.


  6. And what the H-E-double toothpicks happened to “gospel ecosystems” — all the rage a few years ago. Now it’s computer stuff. Knowing these hipsters though we don’t have to ask “Mac, PC, or Linux?” do we? Soon they’ll go mobile and we’ll be hearing about how the (non-gender specific) diaconate is the church’s mercy app, etc.


  7. I say these Gospelites are engaging in the time-honored and highly-effective practice known as “baffle ’em with (the solid digestive waste of an adult male bovine). I mean, what’s harder — to exegete a biblical passage, apply a confession to the actual life of a church, or sling out a bunch of business-managerial-sociological-pseudo-academic (solid digestive waste of an adult male bovine)?


  8. But modern psychology is kinder to us (Reformed) INTJs:

    Other people may have a difficult time understanding an INTJ. They may see them as aloof and reserved. Indeed, the INTJ is not overly demonstrative of their affections, and is likely to not give as much praise or positive support as others may need or desire. That doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t truly have affection or regard for others, they simply do not typically feel the need to express it. Others may falsely perceive the INTJ as being rigid and set in their ways. Nothing could be further from the truth, because the INTJ is committed to always finding the objective best strategy to implement their ideas. The INTJ is usually quite open to hearing an alternative way of doing something.


  9. “if theological confession is our hardware and methodological strategy our software” then TKNY’s is a deadly Trojan horse.


  10. I can see the reason for the post, for the people being cited are saying to people like D.G that his legged stool is not enough. And indeed, none of the 3 legs he cites makes sufficient room for the kind of personal transformation that is described in Romans 12.

    BTW, wasn’t the original “mean Calvinist” Calvin himself has he contributed to the legal processes leading to the burning of witches and heretics. And so the original “mean Lutheran” was Luther himself as he implored his fellow Germans to do horrible things to the Jews. As much as we can learn from these two great teachers, we do need to know their respective places as sinners.


  11. dgh— “The more organic metaphors, the more Kuyperian since Abraham Kuyper himself everywhere employed images from the natural world — roots, branches, life-giving sources, the folk with ties to the fatherland. But Keller and Lovelace employ mechanical and even mathematical metaphors to try to explain the way that theology functions in Christian devotion.”

    mark—-I guess you are poxing both houses, because I can’t think you like the “organic” tendency to conflate church and territory (even if you do agree to some identity between covenant and family). But neither would you like the “non-local” detachment of Keller’s marketing “technique”.

    So what’s the alternative? Commercial metaphors? (Christ’s death was enough to save all for whom He died) Legal metaphors? (God imputed the sins of all the elect to Christ, and then later in time God imputed Christ’s death for the elect to the elect?)

    Or did you want to escape metaphor?

    What I really want to know is if Meredith Kline’s model too mechanical for you? Two layers, two levels—-some of the non- elect born in the new covenant, but the new covenant cannot curse them???

    Meredith Kline—The overarching Covenant of Grace … was to unfold in several pre messianic administrations and have its full, culminating expression in the New Covenant” (GHHM 75).

    Mk—“The Law covenant was a sub-administration of the Covenant of Grace, designed to further the purpose and program of the gospel” (GHHM 128).

    “the non-elect who are temporarily members of the New Covenant fail to believe in Christ and thus fail to receive the blessings purchased by Christ under the pactum salutis. But just because they fail to receive the blessings of the New Covenant, that does not mean they are cursed by the New Covenant. When they are finally removed from the New Covenant by excommunication, they are taken out to be judged by God. But then the curse comes from God himself according to the terms of the broken Adamic covenant of works, not from the New Covenant per se. So excommunication from the church of the New Covenant is not a covenant curse. It is merely an administrative act of being removed from the New Covenant by the officers of the visible church. Barring repentance and restoration, such apostates will indeed suffer an eschatological curse, but the curse comes from a separate covenant, the Adamic covenant of works.”


  12. Curt, yes — mean, mean, mean. And I need to confess my own (probably unfounded) prejudices towards your pals: mean Leninists, mean Stalinists, mean Communists, mean Socialists, mean Cambodian dictators, mean Che Guevara, mean Castro, mean Chavez, and mean (and dirty, lazy, immoral, and stupid) Occupiers. There, I feel better!


  13. William Rushton—-The Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all the saints are united, is the only foundation and bond of spiritual union. The whole family meet and center in Him. That which unites them is his glorious person and work, and that which demands their obedience is his voice. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” This voice which they hear is the truth of the gospel which they love and which produces among them love for each other for the truth’s sake.

    WR—In the kingdom of Christ the advancement of doctrines which obscure the glory of imputed righteousness and exalt human merit, is an offense of the most malignant kind, because it tends directly to abase the Lord Jesus and to destroy unity among His people. For this reason, much is said in Scripture against the teachers of such doctrines The effect of Arminianism is not only to produce divisions among the people of God, but also to exalt its preachers. The apostle abased himself, that the brethren might be exalted, 2 Cor. 11:7; but the false teachers exalted themselves, and brought the saints into bondage, 2 Cor. 11:20. Self-exaltation is a mark which invariably distinguishes the preachers of a perverted gospel. While their doctrine has a direct tendency to obscure the glory of Christ it tends to magnify themselves. Their followers, instead of hearing the voice of Christ, are brought into subjection to their preacher and this preacher becomes the bond of union among them.

    John Owen—The sum of their doctrine in this particular is laid down by one of ours in a tract entitled ‘God’s Love to Mankind,’ etc.; a book full of palpable ignorance, gross sophistry, and abominable blasphemy, whose author seems to have proposed nothing unto himself but to rake all the dunghills of a few of the most invective Arminians, and to collect the most filthy scum and pollution of their railings to cast upon the truth of God; and, under I know not what self- coined pretenses, belch out odious blasphemies against his holy name.”. (From A Display of Arminianism).


  14. mcmark, so maybe Kline’s method reflects the ANE cosmology. I’m okay with that.

    As a forensics guy, I like legal metaphor. You can’t avoid law in the Bible.


  15. Mr. Montgomery would do well not to post such poor metaphors. What he wants is a kernel or driver, depending on the OS. Second, middleware is such a variable term, depending on the context of the computing world, that the metaphor completely falls apart.

    Interestingly enough, middleware can be built to, among other things:

    1. read data from a database
    2. override data in database
    3. add to a database

    Finally, we are apparently unchastened by the mixing of business and Lord’s house. This is tired language from a generation of megachurches and larger than life parachurches.


  16. Like Paul, I wish these guys would cut themselves off. But with all this talking of weeping, meanie Calvinists, human flourishing, women deacons, bad poetry, motivational selfie posters, mealy mouthed equivocations and the like; I suspect they already have.


  17. “As one pastor recently admitted to me, “I have my theology over here and my ministry over here—with only pixie dust in between.”.. May we do better theology and mission together as passionate theologians and vibrant witnesses to the God of grace.”

    I love how it was Jesus’s own brothers, who grew up with Him, watched Him suffer and sacrifice Himself, and finally come to truly know Him, who were so zealous for ‘getting rid of the pixie dust’

    James 1:21-25; Jude 1:21


  18. CW,
    I could care less for Lenin, Stalin, et. al. as well. Did you know that those of us on the left are not all the same? There are some who like Lenin & Stalin et. al. and I’ve never figured that out. There are those of us who see them as being totally opposed to Socialism.

    But why bring them up anyway when I neither mentioned them nor Socialism in my comment above? Are you trying to divert attention from what I wrote about Calvin and Luther? BTW, I mentioned Calvin’s and Luther’s meanness because this post was about the mean old guard. If we are saved by grace, then when we mention another group, we should talk them as being a part of us rather than imply that we are far different from them and almost hold to another faith. Believers in Christ have more in common with each other than one would guess from reading this post.

    Also, when I read this post that included preferring a 3 legged stool, I asked myself this question: Where was Paul’s concern for the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians? Because as important as polity, confession, and liturgy are, we can’t leave out the results of the hearing with faith. To do so would be to reduce our Christian lives almost exclusively to the external.


  19. Two things:

    1. Anyone who uses a bogus phrase like “matrix of matrices” needs to be shunned immediately.

    2. “Obviously, Piper has never encountered Jason and the Callers.” R O F L O L.


  20. Obviously, Piper has never encountered Jason and the Callers.

    Oh please. Obviously someone is a mean calvinist themselves or they are baiting Tom/Curt.

    Speaking of, what do you make of the fact, Curt, that Calvin and Luther were not perfect, but sadly creatures of their times in some ways? Yes, we know the puritans killed some witches, but they also ceased and desisted of the practice. And the mean – Christian or no – West abolished slavery, while the Africans, Asians and Arabs haven’t to this day. You need to thin about getting another narrative and a megaphone with fresh batteries, the guilty white liberal paradigm is getting stale.


  21. I miss Grumpy Calvinists was this time last year:

    *In spite of best efforts of “The New Calvinists”, New York City remains stubbornly Jewish and untransformed.

    * Richard Smith first touts the virtue of nature walks on Old Life. Denounces non-revivalists as hopeless sinners and announces plans for 37-volume biography of Edwards to take the place of the Bible.

    * Sean loses job. Takes up residence on San Antonio street corner selling self-published memoir of his days in Catholic Seminary. Bryan denounces book as “not saying anything that has not been fully accounted for in my paradigm”, but book becomes a best seller nonetheless. Sean buys former Vision Forum building and revives ministry.

    * Zrim moves to Cambodia, fully convinced that he can submit to Pol Pot.

    * Chortles Weakly returns to Southern Baptist Church after realizing that his Southern PCA is made up of nothing more than Southern Baptists who can read.

    * Rabbi Bret is imprisoned for blowing up what he mistakenly thinks is Hart’s house. Didn’t receive memo that Hart had vacated in 1987. The Baylys disavow responsibility, in spite of the fact that they had given Rabbi Bret matches, TNT, a street map, the blueprints to Hart’s house, and the book “Blowing up S**t for Dummies.”

    * Hart is granted Tenure at Hillsdale. Ceases Old Life blog indefinitely to devote time to writing a “Wire” like series starring Jeff Bridges as lead detective. Coen’s reported to be interested.


  22. “Then why make avoidance of offense the hallmark of your brand?” This is the exact trajectory of the PCA. How many leaders are expressing concern over the FV and the NPP? None. But they’ve taken on “obedience” or the lack thereof and ignored the harm done to saints that do not have the gospel clearly proclaimed to them in the worship service.


  23. Amen, Brad—but the PCA will tell you, well at least we are not neo-orthodox but “evangelical”. How many of the men who still lust after speaking for the “evangelicals” want to be at the same time “evangelicals”?

    In “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”, p 110, Bruce McCormack argues for the priority of legal imputation over (organic) incremental improvement in “moral obedience” . But Mccormack is “neo-orthodox” ( the Bible becomes the Word…)

    McCormack—The image of vine and branches might easily be seen to connote an organic connectedness of Christ to the believer. The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus).

    McCormack–The difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. It does not require a legal act of the will. But in the case of Christ and the believer, we are dealing with a willed relation. The ethical ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification. John 15:3–‘You are already clean BECAUSE OF THE WORD I HAVE SPOKEN TO YOU.’

    McCormack–“The term ‘ingrafting’ is used in Romans 9-11 to speak of a share in gifts and privileges. That Paul would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal.. Since the gift of the Holy Spirit is itself a consequence of adoption (Romans 8:15) and not the condition of adoption, a legal metaphor is used to describe the objective side of the act in which God turns toward the individual in his grace without respect for the subjective consequences of that turning in us.”


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