If Ref21 had commboxes with their posts, I could simply make this point (or set of points) in response to Rick Phillips over there. But I guess ACE stands for Anti-Commbox Evangelicals.
At the risk of offending Bill McClay (as if he reads OL) who wrote a very fine piece on the “American narrative,” the invocation of the bad n-word, narrative, and attaching it to Presbyterian may allow me to make my point/s. Here is what McClay finds vexing about “narrative”:
It is one of those somewhat pretentious academic terms that has wormed its way into common speech, like “gender” or “significant other,” bringing hidden freight along with it. Everywhere you look, you find it being used, and by all kinds of people. Elite journalists, who are likely to be products of university life rather than years of shoe-leather reporting, are perhaps the most likely to employ it, as a way of indicating their intellectual sophistication. But conservative populists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as likely to use it too. Why is that so? What does this development mean?
I think the answer is clear. The ever more common use of “narrative” signifies the widespread and growing skepticism about any and all of the general accounts of events that have been, and are being, provided to us. We are living in an era of pervasive genteel disbelief—nothing so robust as relativism, but instead something more like a sustained “whatever”—and the word “narrative” provides a way of talking neutrally about such accounts while distancing ourselves from a consideration of their truth. Narratives are understood to be “constructed,” and it is assumed that their construction involves conscious or unconscious elements of selectivity—acts of suppression, inflation, and substitution, all meant to fashion the sequencing and coloration of events into an instrument that conveys what the narrator wants us to see and believe.
I invoke “narrative” less to be trendy than to introduce to Presbyterians (real Calvinists?) the idea that we all have narratives and that we may want to be more self-conscious about them even without using the word. (Self-aggrandizement alert — I am a historian and I am actually licensed to think about “narrative.”)
Rick Phillips has a Presbyterian narrative that generally derives from New Side Presbyterianism, the ones who supported the First Pretty Good Awakening. That gives him the leverage, apparently, to further identify with New Calvinism over the Old (at least as long as the Old are critical of the new — mind you, criticism isn’t bad because New Siders and New Calvinists criticize Lutherans; where the Old Calvinists go off the rails, apparently, is in siding with Lutherans over New Calvininsts). Phillip’s affection for the New likely cools when it comes to the New School Presbyterians since they weren’t very good Calvinists. The Old School Presbyterians were good Calvinists, but they were also generally New Siders at heart — they liked aspects of the Pretty Good Awakening of the 18th century. When it comes to New Life versus Old Life, I’m betting Phillips will side with the former since Tim Keller represents the former and OL (duh) represents the latter. Plus, ins’t Keller a New Calvinist?
The problem with this narrative is that it does not address the rupture that the First Pretty Good Awakening introduced into Reformed Protestantism. The stress on experimental piety and revivals undermined the formal ministry and routine piety that had characterized many pockets of the Reformed world prior to the first celebrity pastor – George Whitefield.
What is also important to notice is that Reformed Protestants prior to Whitefield had no trouble identifying with Lutherans. Just look at the Harmony of the Confessions (1581). According to Wikipedia (another no no, but it sure is handy):
It grew out of a desire for one common Creed, which was modified into the idea of a selected harmony. In this shape it was proposed by the Protestants of Zurich and Geneva. Jean-François Salvart, minister of the Church of Castres, is now recognized as the chief editor of the work with some assistance from Theodore Beza, Lambert Daneau, Antoine de la Roche Chandieu, and Simon Goulart. It was intended as a defense of Protestant, and particularly Reformed, doctrine against the attacks of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. It does not give the confessions in full, but extracts from them on the chief articles of faith, which are classified under nineteen sections. It anticipates Georg Benedikt Winer’s method, but for harmonistic purposes.
But look at what these Old Calvinists decided to include in the Harmony:
Besides the principal Reformed Confessions (i.e., the Tetrapolitan, Basel and Helvetic, and Belgic Confessions), three Lutheran Confessions are also used, viz., the Augsburg Confession, the Saxon Confession (Confessio Saxonica), and the Württemberg Confession, as well as the Bohemian Confession (1573) and Anglican Confession (1562). The work appeared almost simultaneously with the Lutheran Formula of Concord, and may be called a Reformed Formula of Concord, though differing from the former in being a mere compilation from previous symbols.
So the question is, where did the love go? Why not more love for New Calvinists instead of Lutherans? And more importantly, what does this reveal about the Presbyterian narrative? Doesn’t it show that we have lost touch with a part of our tradition that used to regard Lutherans as more in sympathy with Reformed Protestantism than charismatics? It’s a free country and Phillips can tell whatever narrative he wants. But shouldn’t he admit he’s not telling the whole story? And one of the main factors that have prevented American Presbyterians from telling the whole story is their love affair with the First Pretty Good Awakening — an event that had all sorts of detractors on good confessional and ecclesiological grounds, sometimes who go by the name Old Side (not Old Light a Congregationalist term). (Self-serving alert: see Seeking A Better Country.)
What should also be noticed is that the Old Calvinists who put together the Harmony did not affirm union with Christ to the degree that Phillips does, as if it is the central dogma that holds Reformed Protestantism together. In fact, union is never mentioned in either the Belgic Confession or the Three Forms of Unity. If it does appear it is always in the word communion. So is Phillips prepared to dismiss the Three Forms of Unity (no pun here) in his insistence on union with Christ?
Finally, I have to take issue with Phillips’ misrepresentation of 2k, which in my mind borders on the rhetoric of the BBs:
Moreover, if being a Lutheran-leaning Old Calvinist means that I must embrace a radical two kingdoms position that will keep me from speaking publicly against manifest evils like abortion and homosexual marriage, then once again I am willing to have my Old Calvinist credentials held in derision.
I would prefer that Phillips extend the same generosity to 2k that he does to New Calvinism. But if he doesn’t want to, he should know that 2kers all affirm the confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches which teach that murder and homosexual marriage are sinful. But even Lutherans know that carrying a baby to birth or marrying a person of the opposite sex is not going to merit God’s favor. And that is the point of 2k — for the guhzillionth time — that the good works performed in obedience to the law (state or ecclesiastical) won’t save. Can we get some credit here?
Postscript: Here’s is how a charismatic outsider sees it:
It is the revivalist style of at least some members of the New Calvinism punctuated by constant references to Jonathan Edwards and the rise of charismatic Calvinism that has many Old School Presbyterians concerned. Piper side-stepped the main issue between the two camps: from an Old-School perspective the New Calvinism smacks of the evangelical revivalism of a D. L. Moody, or, more to the point, the baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday (insert Mark Driscoll reference here). Sunday once called the novelist Sinclair Lewis “Satan’s cohort” in response to Lewis’s 1927 satirical novel Elmer Gantry, whose main character—a hypocritical evangelist—was modeled on Sunday’s flamboyant style.
That older coalition of Congregationalists, Baptists, and New School Presbyterians combined dispensationalism, celebrity revivalism, and fundamentalism—the very traits that Old School Presbyterians disliked then and now. It is not without some irony that Piper acknowledged the important role of Westminster Seminary while not even mentioning that it was the epicenter of Old School Presbyterianism with its anti-revivalist and cessationist stance (at the end of his lecture Piper got a laugh when he said, “you don’t even want to know my eschatology.” Indeed!). . . . All of this is to say that the New Calvinism looks a lot like the old New School Presbyterianism with a Baptist and charismatic flair to it.
Does this make me an outsider? Or can outsiders pick up better what’s going on than insiders?
Postpostscript: Look mom, no inflammation:
In speaking of Old Calvinism, I admit that I am using the expression loosely for the community of Calvinists generally connected with Old School Presbyterianism and their conservative Reformed Baptist counterparts. One thinks of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the Banner of Truth, and James Montgomery Boice and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (the host organization of this blog). They are united by a commitment to Five-Point Calvinism, ordinary means of grace ministry, the regulative principle of worship, and a traditional elder-rule approach to church polity.