Was He Thinking of Tim Keller?

I ran across an Eastern Orthodox reaction to the New York Times story on the immature and unsettled. And here is what one of the interlocutors wrote:

This is where the word “Calvinist” has no objective meaning. It is interesting from a sociological perspective, though. 25 years ago everyone thought the PCA was going to [be] the “Calvinist” option for thinking baptists. However, a number of articulate, deep Baptist thinkers who loosely adopted “Calvinist” loci were able to offer Calvinist Baptists something besides a Presbyterian alternative.

Implication: the PCA (and OPC) will grow at slower rates because Baptists will have fewer reasons to abandon some of their key identities.

What Does Reformed Modify?

Hint: the body of Christ we call church.

Kevin DeYoung defends a wide berth for Reformed Protestantism and quotes Herman Bavinck for support:

In particular, Bavinck claims, “From the outset Reformed theology in North America displayed a variety of diverse forms.” He then goes on to mention the arrivals of the Episcopal Church (1607), the Dutch Reformed (1609), the Congregationalists (1620), the Quakers (1680), the Baptists (1639), the Methodists (1735 with Wesley and 1738 with Whitefield), and finally the German churches. “Almost all of these churches and currents in these churches,” Bavinck observes, “were of Calvinistic origin. Of all religious movements in America, Calvinism has been the most vigorous. It is not limited to one church or other, but—in a variety of modifications—constitutes the animating element in Congregational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and German Reformed churches, and so forth” (1.201). In other words, not only is Bavinck comfortable using Calvinism has a synonym for Reformed theology (in this instance at least), he also has no problem affirming that Calvinism was not limited to one tradition alone but constituted the “animating element” in a variety of churches. Calvinism, as opposed to Lutheranism, flourished in colonial America as the typical orthodox, Reformational, sola scriptura-sola fide alternative to the various forms of comprised Arminianism and heterodox Socinianism.

The problem with this historically speaking, for starters, is that Lutheranism did precede Calvinism and so you could conceivably attribute all the variety of Calvinism to Lutheranism as the original Protestantism. Granted, the lines of continuity between Reformed Protestantism and the North American colonial churches were stronger than with Lutheranism. But that is much more a function of British Protestantism and what happened to Calvinism (or what didn’t) within the Church of England, the Union of England and Scotland, and the Puritans. British Protestantism turned Calvinism into a proverbial hot house of Calvinisms. This was not the case among the Dutch Calvinists who planted Reformed churches in North America. The colony of New Netherlands actually excluded Quakers and Lutherans, and enjoyed much greater uniformity than the Old World Dutch were capable of enforcing. Remember, the Netherlands, despite Dort, welcomed Descartes, Spinoza, and Anabaptists.

But aside from the history, the question is one of arbitrariness. If John MacArthur can exclude charismatics from being Reformed even though he doesn’t belong to a Reformed church, or if The Gospel Coalition can set up a tent broad enough to include disciplined Southern Baptists and wobbly PCA ministers, Calvinism, like evangelicalism, becomes simply what pleases the excluder/includer. Add to that the reality that conservative Presbyterian and Reformed communions invested great energy and resources to distinguishing themselves from communions, like DeYoung’s, those that are Reformed primarily in name rather than substance, and you begin to see why some Reformed Protestants are eager to give coherence to their wing of Western Christianity. I don’t mean that as a cheap shot. But so far, folks like MacArthur and the Gospel Allies have yet to acknowledge the hard work done by Reformed Christians to defend and maintain the ministry of word and sacrament within disciplined (read Reformed) churches. We had thought the task of reforming the church was arduous and long, but now you hold a conference or set up a blog and — voila — it’s Calvinism.

Dictionaries revise definitions all the time. But users of words and grammarians don’t approve of the revisions. The question comes down to whose pay grade it is to establish Calvinism’s meaning. Celebrity pastors? Parachurch agencies? Or church councils? I’m pretty sure I know how Calvin, Bucer, Knox, and Ursinus would vote. Do they carry as much clout as John Piper? As Bud Dickman is wont to say, “well. . .”

How John MacArthur Might Sound if He Were a Reformed Protestant

Tim Challies enables (thanks to Aquila Report):

I don’t think, however, that this issue is unclear in Scripture. The fact that Christians disagree on what the Bible teaches does not mean that there is a lack of clarity in Scripture, but rather in Christians. The Word of God is our authoritative rule for faith and practice—meaning that it is perfectly sufficient for teaching sound doctrine and governing right living. Certainly, an orthodox pneumatology sacramental theology fits under that umbrella.

On the one hand, I would agree that this is a second-level doctrinal issue—meaning that someone can be either a Baptist continuationist or a Reformed Protestant cessationist and still be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I have always maintained that position, and I reiterated that point several times during the conference. I have good friends who consider themselves continuationists Baptists, and I am confident that these men are fellow brothers in Christ. But that doesn’t excuse the seriousness of the error. In fact, I would appeal to my Baptist continuationist brethren to reconsider their views in light of what Scripture teaches.

On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue. For example, Baptist charismatic theology does corrupt the gospel when it expresses itself in the form of the prosperitya free-will gospel. Moreover, the global Baptist charismatic movement happily shelters other erroneous heretical movements—such as Southern Baptists Catholic Charismatics and American Baptists Oneness Pentecostals. Taken together, the number of Baptists charismatics who hold to a false form of the gospel (whether it is a gospel of revivalism and free will health and wealth or the Openness of God in some form a gospel of works righteousness) number in the hundreds of millions, which means they actually represent the majority of the global Baptist charismatic movement. That is why we took such a strong stand both at the conference and in the book.

Why the "Calvinist" Resurgence is Troubling

Mark Dever has tried to account for the prominence recently of Calvinism among Baptists and independents. Coming in at #6 out of 10 influences is the Presbyterian Church in America:

Born out of theological controversy in 1973, this denomination’s official doctrinal standard is a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith—a document “so associated with the history of Calvinism,” Dever suggests, “it could almost be said to define it in the English-speaking world.”

“By the late 1990s,” he recalls, you could virtually assume the “most seriously Bible-preaching and evangelistic congregations near major university campuses would not be Bible churches or Baptist churches, but PCA congregations.” From the success of various seminaries to the influence of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) on campuses to Tim Keller’s ministry in New York City, it’s clear the “organizing and growth” of the PCA has been a major contributing factor to the Reformed resurgence.

Not to be too disrespectful of a communion of like faith and practice, but if I were looking for theological chutzpah in the last quarter of the twentieth-century, I would not be turning to the PCA precisely because of Keller. In fact, since 1986 when Joining and Receiving failed, the PCA has broadened and become flabby, while the OPC has become lean (many thought it was always mean). Does this mean that Dever should have mentioned the OPC? Of course, not. We are small, marginal, and can’t make it in NYC the way Keller has. (Whether the PCA has actually made it in NYC is another question.)

But this account of the PCA and Keller suggests that the new “Calvinists” don’t really get Reformed Protestantism. Inside confessional Presbyterian circles folks are worried about the PCA and wonder why folks like Keller don’t spend some of their considerable capital on trying to help the denomination recover its Reformed faith and practice. (Oh, that’s right, Keller has.) Imagine a Southern Baptist minister or seminary professor mixing it up with Episcopalians or United Methodists and you might have a parallel with Keller’s unwillingness to play within the confines of Presbyterian polity and Reformed teaching.

But if CG’s comment about Baptists needing to venture out on their own and lose their wanna-be-Presbyterian outlook is correct, then perhaps Dever’s estimate of the PCA is just one more version of Baptists, who are only a guhzillion times bigger than Presbyterians, turning their heads to follow a tall Presbyterian blonde. Why they don’t find Lutherans that attractive is a mystery, though it may be an indication of Baptist provincialism. Imagine what the young and restless would look like if they were reading Luther instead of Piper channeling Edwards. Then again, Luther’s theology of the cross might require having to give up Billy Graham.

Who Transmitted "Calvinism"?

Some of the early responses to Calvinism have, in a friendly way, wondered why I excluded Baptists like Andrew Fuller, John Gill, and Charles Spurgeon from the narrative — even airbrushing them from the history of Calvinism. I understand some of this complaint since Calvinism is an expansive word that establishes long queues (at venues like the Gospel Coalition) in ways that Lutheranism and Anglicanism do not. A better title would have been Reformed Protestantism: A History but that would have been like calling a book about beer, India Pale Ale, when Budweiser is much more likely to draw a crowd. I admit my book is not about ideas as much as institutions, and specifically which institutions transmitted Calvinist ideas and practices. In that case, the Reformed and Presbyterian (with some room for Puritans and Congregationalists) get the nod. Baptists don’t. Sorry.

At the same time, Baptists should take comfort in the recent global history of Baptist churches by Robert E. Johnson. In fact, because that book was already in print, I felt at more liberty to narrow the field of scrutiny (not to mention that the publisher did not want five volumes but one modestly sized book). There Baptists will find (just checking the search engine at Amazon) references to Spurgeon, Fuller, and Gill, and none to Thomas Chalmers, Abraham Kuyper, Karl Barth, and J. Gresham Machen.

Seems fair and balanced to me.

Young, Restless, and Dunked

In case any Reformed confessionalists actually wondered, Justin Taylor has made it official that he is a credo-baptist and by implication that credo-baptism is the default position of the Gospel Co-Allies (despite the presence of Presbyterians in the Coalition). Have any of the Reformed Co-Allies actually raised a finger and applied it to a keyboard to protest?

To support his credo-baptist position, Taylor reprints an interview he conducted with Stephen Wellum, a professor of theology at Southern Baptist Seminary. Wellum attributes the infant baptist position to the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of grace:

. . .the “covenant of grace” is an organic unity across the ages, this entails—so the argument goes—that the people of God (Israel and the church) are essentially one (in nature and structure), and that the covenant signs (circumcision and baptism) are also essentially one, especially in regard to the spiritual significance of those signs. Furthermore, Reformed paedobaptists argue that since one cannot find any repeal in the NT of the OT command to place the sign of “the covenant of grace” upon covenant children, so the same practice should continue today in the church, given the underlying unity of the covenant across the ages. In a nutshell that is the Reformed covenantal argument for infant baptism.

The problem for Wellum (and Taylor) is that this conception obscures differences between the Old and New Testaments:

. . . the problem with the theological category—”the covenant of grace”—is that, if one is not careful, it tends to flatten the relationships between the biblical covenants across redemptive history without first allowing each covenant to be understood within its own redemptive-historical context, and then how each covenant relates to the other biblical covenants, and then how all the covenants find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. I have no problem in using the category “the covenant of grace” to underscore the unity of God’s plan of salvation and the essential spiritual unity of the people of God in all ages. But if it is used, which I contend is the case in Reformed theology, to downplay the significant amount of progression and discontinuity between the biblical covenants, especially as fulfillment takes place in the coming of Christ, then it is an unhelpful term. . . . In short, it is imperative that we do a biblical theology of the covenants which, in truth, is an exercise in inter-textual relations between the covenants which, in the end, preserves a proper balance of continuity and discontinuity across the canon in regard to the biblical covenants.

Actually, the covenant of grace as taught in Reformed confessions like that of the OPC has no trouble recognizing differences between the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the real flattening out took place when Baptists convened in London in 1689 to revise the affirmations of the Westminster Assembly and proceeded to delete important portions of the chapter (seven) on the covenant of grace, like the following:

4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

Aside from differences between the Westminster and Baptist Confessions of faith, the bigger problem for credo-baptists is an impoverished view of the person. Everywhere in Scripture, God deals with his people not individualistically but corporately, hence the reiteration that God will save Abraham and his children, or the Philippian jailer and his household (which likely included relatives and servants), or even Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7 that the children of a mixed marriage are holy because of the faith of the believing parent. The solidarity of persons with their families is at the heart of federal theology, with Adam as the head of the human race such that his sin is mine, and Christ is the head of the elect so that his righteousness is mine. As such, children of believing parents receive the sign of the covenant and now that Christ has come that sign is baptism.

Baptists like John Piper who defend male headship in the home should not have trouble with such a view of familial solidarity. But in point of fact Baptists do struggle with the covenantal objection to individualism and ironically embrace the modern view of human beings as isolated and autonomous selves. Of course, they can’t go all the way with such a chilling view of babies and their relationship to the household of God and so devise dedication as a way to bring children in by the back door. But one cannot begin to count the ways that dedication is a man-made contrivance, one of those examples of what Calvin called the idol-assembly line that exists in every person’s soul.

As an aside, Taylor’s post should put to rest the claim by the Young and Restless crowd that they are Reformed. Their position on the sacrament of baptism differs little from Anabaptist teaching. In fact, the Baptist requirement that paedo-baptists be rebaptized (hence ana-baptist) puts the teaching and practice of contemporary Baptists and Anabaptists into remarkable alignment. Does this mean that the Young and Restless or other Baptists are bad people? Of course, not. Does it mean they aren’t Christian? No. Does it mean that they should not claim to be Reformed? Well, duh!

Why Not Lutheran Baptist?

oxymoronOr, why do Baptists want to be Reformed (as opposed to Calvinistic or particular), and why do Reformed Protestants present an object more attractive than Lutherans to Baptists?

These questions continue to bump and push around the mush in my mind, especially when I read folks like James White taking exception to Presbyterians who want to say that Reformed Baptist is something of an oxymoron, and then read the follow-up discussion over at Scott Clark’s blog. I understand how some may take the narrowing of Reformed identity to exclude Baptists as needlessly exclusive. Though I also can’t understand why no reviewer complained about the Dictionary of the Reformed and Presbyterian Tradition in America’s exclusion of Baptists from the scope of entries. (Mark Noll and I didn’t even include those Baptists who do baptize infants – Congregationalists.) I also understand that a Baptist might try to be covenantal in his understanding of redemptive history and still reject infant baptism.

What I don’t comprehend is how few seem to notice or take issue with the traffic for so long running between confessional Reformed and Baptists instead of between confessional Reformed and other confessional Protestants. Mind you, I enjoy the company of Calvinistic Baptists as much as the next Orthodox Presbyterian, and find all sorts of signs of health among those congregations known as Reformed Baptist.

But why are Lutherans chopped liver? Why, in fact, has Lutheran become in some Reformed circles almost as objectionable as the other l-word – “liberal”? One could actually argue that confessional Lutherans share as much in common with confessional Reformed as particular Baptists, and our history is even longer (though it obviously has some rough spots). Could it be the objections to Lutherans run along ethnic lines – dare we say the twentieth-century German problem that forced German-Americans in Pennsylvania to become “Pennsylvania Dutch”? Or is it a problem of liturgy and the triumph of John Owen and Banner of Truth among American Presbyterians as opposed to the liturgical traditions of the Reformed churches on the continent?

If the latter, then as is so often the case, the turning point in American Presbyterian history is 1741 and the anointing of George Whitefield as the Boy George of vital Calvinism. Odd though that no one called that Episcopal priest Reformed.