Friday, December 28, 2012

Answering Monax

I'm dedicating this post to answering questions from a commenter named David, who goes by the handle "Monax", who recently commented on a post titled Neo-Calvinism In The Rear View Mirror.

I'm anxious to read more of your thoughts on this conservative segment of the reformed church. I have swam in these waters too.
Monax, I've written much here on my blog about this circle of people.  And, I'll be writing much more in the future, hopefully.  I'm not sure if you caught my update to the post on which you commented, but I think there is somewhat of a misnomer in the mix. I should probably refer to "New Calvinism" rather than "Neo-Calvinism."  Neo-Calvinism is a form of Dutch Calvinism influenced by Abraham Kuyper, where New Calvinism is the animal I'm talking about here.  In recent years it has become popular to use the term "Neo-Calvinism" to speak of the "New Calvinism" movement. I provided links to Wikipedia articles on each view in the previous sentence.

What is interesting about the list of people I gave in my recent post is that only after I updated for the misnomer did I compare it with the list in the Wikipedia article on New Calvinism.  Pretty similar.  One thing I would say about these people, is that they take certain Reformed distinctives, such as Reformed soteriology, the five solas, the five points of Calvinism, the tenets of the Protestant Reformation, and glean from Reformed writers from the past, including the Puritans.  But, what they don't do, necessarily, is take covenant theology, infant baptism, Reformed polity and many other points traditionally associated with Reformed theology into their beliefs.  They also add an emphasis on being "missional", that is, they make a priority of domestic church planting.  They want to reproduce their ideology.  Also, some of these groups can be plain Baptists or generic evangelicals that adopt the core beliefs of Calvinism.

One key difference, I believe, between these "new" Calvinists and a more traditional outlook, is the heavy emphasis they place on church authority.  Most of them hold to an "elder rule" view of church government.  And unlike congregationalism or Presbyterianism, where the elders are in a checks and balance system being held accountable to the congregation or to a presbytery, the elder rule system has very little accountability built in.  Thus all the authoritarianism and church abuse stuff we've all been reading about.  I have abandoned an "elder rule" system in favor of a "Christ rule/elder servant" system, which I think is more, uhm, if I may use the term, "biblical."

I’d be curious to know why Keller’s considered a “neo-calvinist,”

If you want my opinion, it's rather simple.  He holds to some similar teachings - although to Presbyterian polity - but he's a success.  He has a Reformed church in a big city that has a lot of people going there.  It has grown, rather than remaining stagnant.

Also, why I’m here. Do you consider yourself a layman? I think this layman / clergy distinction is one of those things that skews the proper understanding and working out of the Body of Christ.

Glad you're up front.  The answer is no, I don't consider myself a layman.  That's why I use the term in quotes at the top of my blog margin.  Traditionally I'm considered a layman because I'm not an ordained clergyman.  But, my blog subtitle comes into play here as well: "Because Theology Is Everybody's Task."  I don't care for such a clergy/layman distinction, either.  I believe there are some special responsibilities given to elders that aren't given to all others (such as being held responsible for the care of each individual's soul, teaching is a must for an elder, etc.) It is often held that it is the pastor's job to do theology and we just sit and listen to learn.  But I'm under the conviction that 45 minutes a week from a sermon is not nearly enough to learn everything you need to know.

I could probably write much more on all this, but I hope it answers some of your basic questions.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Question of Authority

Recently it was suggested to me rhetorically that I don't think we should submit to church leadership, based on a point I was trying to make about the church.  This raises a question.  What is the extent to which a church leader can exercise authority and I be expected to "submit"?

It comes down to a question of authority.  Really it does.  What authority do church leaders have?  Do they have the authority to tell me what I can eat and drink?  Do they have authority to dictate to me what movies I can and cannot watch, or even if I am allowed to watch movies at all?  Do they have the authority to dictate to me which translation(s) of the bible I may read?  Do they have the authority to tell me just how much I need to give, and how much I need to give to the church - their church?  And do they have the authority to demand to see my paycheck to make sure I'm giving the correct amount?  Do they have the authority to demand that I believe every jot and tittle of their church constitution, confessions, creeds and by-laws before I am allowed to attend?  Do they have the right to have control over the who, what, when, where, why and how of using my spiritual gifts in the edification of others?  Do they have the authority to tell me I cannot blog about theology?  Do they have the authority to determine whether blogging about theology is biblical in the first place?  Do they have the authority to tell me what kinds of cars I'm allowed to drive?  And, do they have the right to not be questioned about such things?

If they demand certain of these things, and their demands are beyond the authority given to them by scripture, may I act contrary to them?  Is there a higher authority over my life in these areas than church leaders?

No matter how absurd any one of these questions may seem - or all of them together - they are real questions that a great many people have to deal with on a daily basis.  Sometimes discernment on these issues may take a great deal of time.  Sometimes people notice over time that "submitting" to these things as put forth by church leadership results in bruises, aches and pains in life.  Then they start to question.  They may actually search matters out for themselves and come to the conclusion that they have been led astray all along.  Did Jesus or the disciples submit to all the teachings of the religious leaders of their day?  No?  Then why expect it from the rest of us?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Neo-Calvinism in the Rear View Mirror

For a number of years, I referred to myself as a cross stream swimmer in the John MacArthur/ RC Sproul/ John Piper/ DA Carson/ Michael Horton/ Wayne Mack/ Jay Adams/ Tedd Tripp/ Paul Tripp/ Martha Peace/ Joshua Harris/ CJ Mahaney/ Mark Dever/ Alexander Strauch/ Tim Keller /insert your favorite here/ ecosystem.  Then, I realized that I was done with my cross-stream swimming and had reached the other side of the stream, as opposed to going with the flow and being swept out to sea.  I was still in the ecosystem, mind you, but was standing on the opposite shore watching the stream flow.

Now I'm no longer in the ecosystem, but am still keeping contact with those who are, and keep up with some of the trends by way of internet.  And, I'm no longer coming to conclusions about the ecosystem all by myself, but have connections with people who critique it both from within and without, including former ecosystem critters.

What I should say at this point, is that the names I listed above are by no means people who I am enemies with, or who I disagree with most of the time, etc.  What I do have against the above mentioned ecosystem is that the teachings of these people are placed front and center in the particular brand of Calvinism in which I was immersed (to use a baptism term), and are looked at as blueprints for Christian living.  Each expert has his/her body of work that comes to be viewed as "the" biblical way to live.  It is turned into a formula for godly, biblical living.  Deviation from the formula is the root of all problems in that particular area of life.

What we learned... uhm, I mean, what God providentially revealed to us in His divine sovereignty, was that these formulaic ways of living have serious limitations, and it's quite possible to have God-ordained circumstances that place individuals or families outside of the boxes that circles of people create with these teachings.  And if you're outside the box, it's probably your fault.  But that's okay, because if you believe in God's sovereignty (as opposed to other people's sovereignty) you know that you're the one who knows more about your own situation than anybody else does, and that God had more to do with that situation than other people did anyway.  And God will have more influence on you learning to deal with things the best way than other people would (if you pay more attention to God, that is).

Maybe one of these days if I have the guts, nerve and unction, I'll write about how some of these people's teachings fall short in dealing with real life.  Real life like the one I have to live.

[Correction: I accidentally wrote Johnathan Harris, when I should have written Joshua Harris.  D'oh!  Thanks, JA, for catching it!]

[Update 12/27/12: I may have a misnomer here.  I should probably refer to "New Calvinism" rather than "Neo-Calvinism."  Neo-Calvinism is a form of Dutch Calvinism influenced by Abraham Kuyper, where New Calvinism is the animal I'm talking about here.  In recent years it has become popular to use the term "Neo-Calvinism" to speak of the "New Calvinism" movement.]