“Don’t Make Me Come Back There!”

That’s what I feel like saying when I hear about squabble after squabble erupting within the Reformed brotherhood. “Stop picking a fight with your brother . . . okay, that’s enough!”

Who am I? I’m nobody, and I yet feel like the longsuffering dad who needs to go straighten out his belligerent sons in the back of the family truckster.

Why is there so much squabbling and bickering among the Reformed?

Indulge me this quote from the preface to A Faith That Is Never Alone (Andrew Sandlin, ed.), to hear an explanation that I think is cogent and accurate.

Sandlin writes,

What is it that renders the Reformed so susceptible to controversy, including intramural controversy? There are likely several accurate answers, but one stands out. I told my friend at lunch that of all sectors of Christendom, the Reformed is likely the most theologically oriented, where theology is defined as “articulated rationality” (see Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions) — rational propositions (springing from primitive intuitions) that tend to generate a worldview. This apotheosis of “articulated rationality” is not a part of other leading traditions. For Rome, truth is encountered primarily in a collective context — the sacramental system of the church. For evangelicals, truth is founded on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ occasioned initially by conversion and regeneration and maintained by a warm experience with our Lord. For charismatics and Pentecostals, truth grows out of one’s experience of the Holy Spirit. For Lutherans, truth is Jesus as the Word of God, which is conveyed in baptism, the Eucharist, and preaching. Conversely, no sector of the church has devoted such attention to confessions of faith (although the Lutherans come close) as the Reformed. Why? Affirming truth is, practically if not theoretically, a matter of fidelity to a system of propositions. Being “in the truth” is a matter of believing the right things. Because all self-consciously orthodox Christians grasp the necessity of correct theological beliefs, none would deny what the Reformed are affirming. However, they would likely question the emphasis on “articulated rationality” that stands at the heart of the Reformed belief system. The Reformed are especially susceptible to theological controversy because, for this tradition, deviation from precise doctrine is an unforgivable offense. Where accurate, precise theology is deemed paramount, deviation from accurate, precise theology is deemed abhorrent. The present controversy [i.e., the Federal Vision brouhaha] , like nearly all preceding it, is fueled by just such a commitment to theological precision, an essential component of “articulated rationality.”

Do you think he’s right?

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10 responses to ““Don’t Make Me Come Back There!”

  1. “Did not!” “Did so!” “Did not!” “Uh-huh!” “Nuh-uh” “Oh, pbbbbttt!”

    Sorry, was listening to my kids. Seriously though, give us an example of Reformed brothers squabbling. Maybe I’m out of touch but I need some context.

  2. It is, in my estimation, a sad reality that we have hewn ourselves systems, and have elevated them to ultimate status. This is not to impugn the motives of those (we) who defend their (our) systems. Indeed, their (our) zeal for defending their (our) systems is, in a very real sense, a good thing. We should be diligent to defend the faith, protect the church, and proclaim the truth of God. Fighting error is a true function of the church (but, contra MacArthur, not the only function).

    Debate and controversy are healthy if done healthily. Sadly, our debate is often not done this way. When Jesus said, “By this they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another,” I wonder if he intended to communicate that the opposite is true. Namely, “By this they will know that you are not my disciples, that you lack love for one another.”

    Our problem is idolatry. At bottom it is violation of the First Commandment…and every other one. Pray mercy.

  3. Pingback: Gill Again « After The Handbasket

  4. Yes, Sandlin is right.

    I think reducing the Kingdom to abstracts has at least in part brought us here. If one wants to become an American citizen, it is not enough that they affirm our founding documents. They have to come and take a vow and become a part of this national identity. Likewise, the Church is more than a group of people that affirm similar propositions. We are a people united to Christ.

  5. I’m not experienced enough in Reformed circles to know how much internal bickering goes on; but in light of Rob’s comment here “When Jesus said, “By this they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another,”” I have enough experience to know there is far too much bickering within Christianity itself and I shudder to think what this does to the lost and those that already have the attitude the we are all hypocrites (which we mostly are, thank God for His mercy). We do not image forth the Glory of our Father very well. I’ve dreamt of a world where we truly united in preparing the bride for her Groom, where Christ was the focus – not fireplaces in the foyer, or what we’re sitting on, maybe we shouldn’t be sitting at all….
    (sorry this is more rant that conducive conversation)

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