Lutherans, Reformed, Baptists Apart

The following is an excerpt from my contribution to On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity. Here is how Amazon dot com describes the book:

This book provides a focus for future discussion in one of the most important debates within historical theology within the protestant tradition – the debate about the definition of a category of analysis that operates over five centuries of religious faith and practice and in a globalising religion. In March 2009, TIME magazine listed ‘the new Calvinism’ as being among the ‘ten ideas shaping the world.’ In response to this revitalisation of reformation thought, R. Scott Clark and D. G. Hart have proposed a definition of ‘Reformed’ that excludes many of the theologians who have done most to promote this driver of global religious change. In this book, the Clark-Hart proposal becomes the focus of a debate. Matthew Bingham, Chris Caughey, and Crawford Gribben suggest a broader and (they argue) more historically responsible definition for ‘Reformed,’ as Hart and Scott respond to their arguments.

Without further delay, one of the points that came to me in the exchange:

In both the case of Clark and myself, present-day concerns about Christian fellowship and communion inform assessments of the past, not the sort of integration of faith and historical learning that usually transpires in Conference of Faith and History circles where ecclesiology and creeds become barriers to scholars hoping to find fraternity warmed by religion. Pan-denominational efforts like Banner of Truth, ACE, or TGC need a Calvinism that includes Baptists, especially after the resurgence of predestinarian theology in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant communion in the United States. If Calvinism is narrow and strictly ecclesial, these parachurch organizations lose a potentially big audience for their enterprise. At the same time, confessional historians reveal their own biases as churchmen who use denominational boundaries to inform their reading of the past. The logic is fairly simple: if the United Reformed Churches do not allow Baptist pastors into the pulpit or behind the Lord’s Table, the history of Reformed Protestantism should reflect a similar understanding. Why exclude Baptists from Reformed ministry today but include them in the history of Reformed Protestantism? A scholarly move that is at odds with ecclesiastical practice makes no sense.

Even Lumping Has Its Limits

The six-hundred-pound gorilla in the historiography of Baptists and Reformed Protestantism is Lutheranism. Here the roles reverse, with predestinarian Baptists rarely including Lutherans in their recovery of historic Protestantism and confessional Reformed historians admiring Lutherans for their self-conscious ecclesial and creedal identity. Gribben, Caughey, and Bingham do not mention Lutherans, which makes sense because seventeenth-century English Protestantism showed no signs of a Lutheran influence. Clark and I, in contrast, regard Lutherans as confessionalists who are clearly not Reformed but who take their confessions, practice, and ministry seriously enough to regard broad evangelicalism and its parachurch aspects as solvents of a Protestant communion’s integrity. Consequently, Clark and I have little trouble recognizing and are willing to live with the reality that Lutherans cannot affirm the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity. For Gribben, Caughey, and Bingham, however, Lutherans are a mystery. According to their logic, if the London Confession is down stream from Westminster, then why not also argue that Westminster is an extension of Heidelberg, which leads back to Augsburg, which leaves Baptists an extension of the same theological movement that Martin Luther started? Instead of talking about Reformed Baptists, why not Lutheran Baptists? Furthermore, if parachurch predestinarians who refuse to baptize babies can claim that John Piper can affirm ninety-five percent of the Westminster Standards, one might also wonder how much of the Augsburg Confession the Minneapolis minister would dispute. Chances are that Piper could not affirm roughly four of the twenty-eight articles (on the sacraments and holy days), which makes him by one measure eighty-six percent Lutheran. Yet, Baptists of a predestinarian bent want to be included not among the Lutherans but Reformed Protestants.

One explanation might be that Luther was too earthy. His piety is much more off-putting than the earnest, worn-on-the-sleeve pursuit of holiness that typified the Puritans. Another factor is cultural. In the English-speaking Protestant world, Baptists and Presbyterians share a common history and culture that makes similarities easier to conceive than thinking of German Protestants, who have no stake in the British monarchy, the English ecclesiastical establishment and the dissenters it created, or American independence, as fellow believers. German and English Protestants have distinct histories and that makes Lutheranism seem foreign to most Anglo-American Protestants while Calvinism feels familiar, part of the religious landscape, for English-speaking Protestants.

In the end, though, the question is not historical or cultural but one of authority, namely, who decides whether Baptists are part of Reformed Protestantism? Do historians and parachurch leaders or is the decision the task of church officers? Of course, a royal commission of federal agency charged with categorizing Protestant groups could readily solve the dispute but those days are long behind. So the duty of policing Reformed Protestantism’s boundaries has to fall to non-governmental agencies.

This has bearings on both the Theological Dark Web and the Ecclesiastical Dark Web: Luther is too dark for evangelicals and Baptists, communions are too complicated.

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Mark Jones Finally Agrees with Scott Clark

Turns out Reformed Protestant is better than Calvinist.

First, Clark:

The greatest problem of the acronym TULIP is that it “perpetuates a basic misunderstanding about the Reformed tradition: that predestination is the center of Reformed theology from which all else flows.” Here Todd is echoing the criticism by Richard Muller and others against the “Central Dogma” theory of the history of doctrine, i.e., that the Lutheran “Central Dogma” was justification and the Reformed “Central Dogma” was predestination and that two distinct, parallel systems were deduced from these dogmas. This historiography has been thoroughly debunked but it continues to undergird the way many evangelicals and mainliners (and too many sideliners!) think about Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

In contrast to the caricature created by the TULIP Billings makes an argument that will be familiar to readers of RRC, namely, that there is much more to being Reformed, that to be Reformed is to be committed to a sacramental theology, to a “catholic” vision that connects the Reformed tradition to the whole church, and he argues less persuasively that it entails a “kingdom vision.” He says a, “Reformed view of the church avoids seeing it as a colony separated from society, or as the particular aspect of society that relates to ‘being religious.’” The truth of this claim depends on what one means by “church.” If by it one means “the visible, institutional, organized church” then his language is somewhat problematic. If,however, by “church” he means, “professing” Christians, then most would probably agree with him. The question of a sacred/secular distinction has been much controverted in this space. Todd’s identification of a Reformed “kingdom vision” with the “cultural mandate” is open to discussion and even debate. After the fall are they identical? See Calvin, Institutes 2.2.13, 20 where he clearly made a distinction between the “secular” and the “sacred” and associated the latter with the kingdom of God while not disparaging the goodness of the former.

We should certainly agree with Todd when he says the “New Calvinists pick the TULIP from the Reformed field, overlooking the other flowers. There is much besides the TULIP in this spacious field that has grown from the seed of God’s word.”

Then, Jones:

Opposition to the term came from the Reformed as early as 1555 where Reformed ministers in Lausanne protested against the term “Calvinists.” The French Reformed theologian, Daniel Tossanus (1541–1602) also clearly rejects the term. Herman Selderhuis gives the following account, “In his writings Tossanus speaks continually about the ‘so–called Calvinists.’ Others call us Calvinists, but we are the catholic evangelical church, said Tossanus. Moreover, we were not baptized in the name of Luther, nor in the name of Calvin, but in the name of Christ.” 5 Again, the fear is clearly real, acute among Protestants, that God and Christ are jealous for their glory.

By the time of the Synod of Dort (1618), the Reformed were still sometimes referred to as “Calvinists.” At Dort, the preferred terms were, however, “Reformed” or “Contra–Remonstrants” – the latter a term coined in reference to the Remonstrant (Arminian) theologians who wrote up a Remonstrance that contained five theses that most likely came from Arminius’s Declaration of 1608. The five articles of the Remonstrants were debated at Dort, but these five articles may not do justice to the broader theological project of Arminius, even though he surely would not have disagreed with what was presented by his “followers.” As a point of fact, just as many “Calvinists” do not wish to be known by that name, so too many “Arminians” would prefer to be known as “Remonstrants.”

Oh, happy day, but I wonder if Jones knows he agrees with the disagreeables.

Machen Day 2011

I am not sure if our favorite PCA blogger had J. Gresham Machen’s birthday in mind when he posted a piece on the fortunes of Machen’s kind of confessionalism within the PCA, but it was good preparation for today’s festivities. The same goes for Westminster Seminary California which has released Scott Clark’s interview with me about Machen’s legacy and the chapter I wrote for W. Robert Godfrey’s festschrift, a recording that may put party-goers quickly to sleep.

But whether these resources were designed to highlight today’s anniversary, the following may provide reasons for donning party hats and blowing horns:

There are entirely too many denominations in this country, says the modern ecclesiastical efficiency expert. Obviously, many of them must be merged. But the trouble is, they have different creeds. Here is one church, for example, that has a clearly Calvinistic creed; here is another whose creed is just as clearly Arminian, let us say, and anti-Calvinistic. How in the world are we going to get the two together? Why, obviously, says the ecclesiastical efficiency expert, the thing to do is to tone down that Calvinistic creed; just smooth off its sharp angles, until Arminians will be able to accept it. Or else we can do something better still. We can write an entirely new creed that will contain only what Arminianism and Calvinism have in common, so that it can serve as the basis for some propose new “United Church.” . . . .

When we pass from these modern statements to the great creeds, what a difference we discover! Instead of wordiness we find conciseness; instead of an unwillingness to offend, clear delimitation of truth from error; instead of obscurity, clearness; instead of vagueness, the utmost definiteness and precision.

All these differences are rooted in a fundamental difference of purpose. These modern statements are intnded to show how little of truth we can get along with and still be Christians, whereas the great creeds of the church are intended to show how much of truth God has revealed to us in His Word. (“Creeds and Doctrinal Advance”)

Faking It

A few more thoughts on the Duncan, Nevin, Helm, Edwards discussion.

The proponents of Edwards and the First Pretty Good Awakening (hereafter FPGA) are worried about nominal Christianity – that is, people who go through the motions of worship or Christian practice. Although this is an understandable concern – who would ever commend hypocrisy unless you are a vice paying tribute to a virtue – it is also an impossible concern. How does anyone know if another person is faking anything? Only God knows the heart. So the effort to eradicate going through the motions is a lot like a quest to be God (and wasn’t that what got our first parents into trouble?).

At the same time, why is it that insincerity only goes in one direction? Why is it only possible for Christian profession and practice to betray unbelief? Why can’t unholy actions betray a believing heart? Of course, I’m not trying to justify sin or worldliness. But if the heart is as fickle as pietists believe it is, why isn’t it possible for the duplicity to go both ways? Why can’t a believer’s impious actions actually betray real belief? What if someone is faking unbelief but really believes? If you think this seems preposterous, consider Peter’s thrice denying his Lord. And he became Pope!

Those skeptical about Edwards put less emphasis on the first word of “faking it” and worry more about the it. That is, they (okay, I) worry that the words or actions in question are actually fitting or biblical – fitting within the Reformed tradition or having a warrant from Scripture. Since we can’t know the human heart, at least we can take precaution that the things we do as believers and the things we say actually conform to what Scripture teaches. Let the Spirit take care of the heart, along with pastoral counsel in the privacy of one’s home.

So, for instance, when churches have Thanksgiving Day services where people stand to give testimonies, the Edwards proponents might be very much moved by the woman who stands to give thanks that she recently found a job afer a year of unemployment. And if the woman cries, the Edwardsean might be especially inclined to think this testimony spiritual and genuine. After all, the pro-FPGA saw lots of tears (and more) as evidence of the work of the Spirit. Never mind that sometimes people cry when speaking in public because they are nervous. If affections appear, then hallelujah, we have piety.

Edwards skeptics may also be moved by the emotion, but will also be sitting there going postal internally because of the impropriety of letting people, even saints, stand up and say things without any sort of screening by the pastor and elders. In other words, whether or not someone fakes a testimony, the issue in this case is that testimonies are wrong. The noun (“it”) matters more than the gerund (“faking”).

But Edwards rooters are rarely as worried about the “it” as Edwards skeptics and the reasons are that those who are interested in holy affections often take liberties with the “it” of Christian piety. That is, in order to cultivate and give expression to those genuine affections, pietistically inclined establish new practices, sometimes not having biblical warrant or foreign to the Reformed tradition, in order to fan real spirituality into aflame. The best example of this is the phenomenon of hymns. Prior to the FPGA, Presbyterians all sang psalms (or other biblical songs). But these songs were not as conducive to the revivals of Whitefield, Wesley, and Edwards as were the hymns being written expressly for revivalistic purposes by the likes of Watts and Wesley (Charles, that is).

Now maybe you are a hymn-singing kind of Presbyterian. I myself enjoy a good hymn now and then. But the historical record is remarkably undeniable that hymn singing prevailed among a group of believers previously committed to psalm-singing because those biblical songs weren’t cutting it in the effort to create believers who did not fake singing psalms but really sang hymns.

And now to bring it full circle, hymn-singing Presbyterians in the 1980s were besieged by praise-song singing Presbyterians because the old hymns weren’t up to speed with Jesus people piety.

So once you start down the road of the quest for genuine piety, it’s hard to get off before it turns into the charismatic highway.

I seem to recall Scott Clark writing a book about this.