October 21, 2006

Is Reformed Alternative Reality?

One of the fastest growing traditions among younger evangelicals right now is the reformed movement heralded by spokespersons like John Piper, Al Mohler, and Mark Driscoll. My friend Lucas has some good thoughts, which have got me thinking too about why the reformed tradition is catching so much momentum. One of Lucas' ideas is that Calvinism is strong because we live in a pluralistic society therefore a close-system religion is powerful. You don't have to listen or worry about anything else when you have all the answers, which 5 point Calvinism seems to do for evangelicals by providing answers for everything.

Here's my thoughts on why the reformed tradition has grown in strength for younger evangelicals. As the church, we live in a parallel and alternative reality to that which surround us. We are parallel in the sense that we live in the same world where we go to work, eat, sleep, send our children to school, and such. As a missional community though, we are to be different. The difference is our reality is shaped by a different narrative which takes its forms in song, sermon, community, ritual, tradition, doctrine, and beliefs that allow us to understand our reality so that when we face the alternative reality of the world, we can live counter-culturally.

Within our churches though, we find that our worship is informed and baptize by world. We've allowed culture to shape our ritual and song. This is why I think the reformed tradition is so strong. Within the reformed church you don't have to live alternatively, because your doctrine is very defined. Therefore, alternative reality takes shape in belief, but not practice. It's then easy to succumb to the "world's values of materialism and experiential consumerism, of narcissistic self importance, and personal taste, of solitary superficiality, and of ephemeral satisfaction (Dawn, A Royal Waste of Time, 335)."

Any community that desires to delineate itself and live a substantively different life from larger society must surround itself and maintain its own language, customs, habits, rituals, institutions, procedures, and practices that uphold this alternative reality. In this manner, the alternative life is nurtured and and encouraged in the face of pluralism. I think younger reformed evangelicals are doing the same thing that people in the emerging church are doing by looking at the church and seeing that it has failed to live in an alternative reality and thus lost all impact. Instead of reinventing the church for a pluralistic world though, the reformed movement allows for Calvinistic language and its alternative reality to effect itself in dogma. Orthodoxy is once again king, and orthopraxy is only secondary.

We must define and live in our alternative reality by knowing our story and practicing our rituals. It is easy to live in a tradition that has defined itself so narrowly and only reaches back 350 years. This is not an indictment to all reformed churches, but only an explanation of my viewpoint of why Calvinism has grown so strong as of late, especially among the younger materialistic, democratic, narcissistic generation that is my own.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

joe

i read your article and have pulled some nuggets that i agree with you on.

i have to say though, that i am somewhat confused :). i am sure that it is no fault of your own and that it is fully due to my lack of education, therefore making it dificult for me to follow your line of reasoning.

i thought that i figured out what you were saying near the end of your post when you wrote the following...

"Orthodoxy is once again king, and orthopraxy is only secondary."

because it appears that you are stating that practice is what should be drive orthodoxy. however your next sentance confused me further. it stated,

"We must define and live in our alternative reality by knowing our story and practicing our rituals."

then it appeared that you were saying when we know our story (i assume Bibilcal Truth)we are able to practice...

please explain so that i can grasp what you are saying.

thanks! mjl at joe

i read your article and have pulled some nuggets that i agree with you on.

i have to say though, that i am somewhat confused :). i am sure that it is no fault of your own and that it is fully due to my lack of education, therefore making it dificult for me to follow your line of reasoning.

i thought that i figured out what you were saying near the end of your post when you wrote the following...

"Orthodoxy is once again king, and orthopraxy is only secondary."

because it appears that you are stating that practice is what should be drive orthodoxy. however your next sentance confused me further. it stated,

"We must define and live in our alternative reality by knowing our story and practicing our rituals."

then it appeared that you were saying when we know our story (i assume Bibilcal Truth)we are able to practice...

please explain so that i can grasp what you are saying.

thanks! mjl

JoeBum said...

glad to here from you mjl, it's been a while.

here's what you wrote:
"then it appeared that you were saying when we know our story (i assume Bibilcal Truth)we are able to practice..."

i never said "when" or "then", thus i don't mean to make knowledge or orthodoxy a condition that must occur before practice/mission.

rather i said "and." thus its like a two-sided coin, where both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are on equal grounds.

I think they both flow out of one another. theology and forming doctrine IS a practice of DOING mission, but we must never divorce the two (which i think the reformed tradition does at times or can do by placing a framework or tightly knit pattern of thought first and foremost). I may be wrong, and as a calvinist maybe you can expound on practice in the reformed movement.


i said:

"We must define and live in our alternative reality by knowing our story and practicing our rituals."

I tried to juxtapose the two: define /live and knowing/practicing, so they are inseperable. the problem with calvinism and enilghtenment Christianity is that practice has taken a back seat to knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Joe

Thank you for clarifying things for me (I hope that I understand what you mean by alternative reality).

Is it possible that you are confusing hyper calvinsts with calvinists?

"Within the reformed church you don't have to live alternatively, because your doctrine is very defined. Therefore, alternative reality takes shape in belief, but not practice.”

There is A LOT of truth in your statement above in that defined doctrine “tends to take shape in belief but not practice”. I agree that there are many reformed people who hide behind reflecting Gods glory by hiding behind doctrine and filling their heads with all sorts of Biblical knowledge. The reformed folks who make "doctrine" their golden calf, do it for the same reason that others who are under the Christian umbrella, make their "practice" their golden calf. They do it because they are selfish, sinful beings who do not trust God and who do not believe what He has stated.

As right as you are in your statement above, however it does not make your thoughts on reformed theology true. Respectfully, I think that you misunderstand the "doctrines of grace" just as much as the ones who claim they believe in the "doctrines of grace", who you refer to. Reformed theology teaches that we are to “love the LORD with all out hearts…and to love our neighbors as our selves”. That is the core of reformed theology. If we are Biblically loving the LORD, the reciprocal love that radiates from Him WILL overflow onto the lives of others from ourselves. It cant help but do so.

The reason that a defined doctrine is so important is so that it is intended to, as precisely and accurately as possible, aim our hearts at our LORD. The result of this is joy in declaring His knowledge and the spreading of His fragrance to the world. Reformed folk that missed this (who I think that you are referring to) aren’t truly reformed. They are still standing on the shore because they missed the boat!

Reformed theology is a system that believes His Word. Reformed doctrine is based on an understanding of what His Word teaches.
Calvinism does not teach nor does it infer that Christians are to hide behind their doctrine. In fact the doctrines of grace are a road sign that points to God proclaiming His greatness and states that we are to proclaim that greatness.

If there are any (which im sure there are) younger evangelicals who as you said, believe they "don't have to live alternatively", it is not a result of the doctrine they hold to, it is due to their own sinfulness and wickedness. I think that we can both agree that it is easier to read and study "Grudems systematic theology" than it is to hold a starving child.

That doesn’t mean that we are to throw Grudem’s systematic theology in the trash (and it certainly doesn’t mean that we are to throw His Word into the trash). Again, doctrine is an arrow pointing to God. Therefore Gods Word is the driving force BEHIND reformed practice. One CANT have practice w/o an accurate understanding of His Word. The more we know about Him and understand Him the greater our love for Him and for others we will be. We can not TRULY love others w/o knowing Him.

Reformed theology calls for some VERY drastic measures in alternative reality.
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/EventMessages/ByDate/1813_Doing_Missions_When_Dying_Is_Gain/

http://www.challies.com/archives/002156.php#comments

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1482_You_Will_be_Eaten_by_Cannibals_Lessons_from_the_Life_of_John_G_Paton/

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1528_How_Few_There_Are_Who_Die_So_Hard/

Anonymous said...

For example visit the last two posts by Brent Thomas.

http://www.colossiansthreesixteen.com/archives/869

http://www.colossiansthreesixteen.com/archives/869

mjl

JoeBum said...

sorry to get back to you so late.

you say that the core of reformed theology is to love God and neighbor, but is this not the WAY of JEsus. This not a distinctive of the reformed tradition, but of the Christian faith. I might be mistaken, and this might not speak for you, but i thought the core of reformed theology was basically God's glory or TULIP.

you said:

"The reason that a defined doctrine is so important is so that it is intended to, as precisely and accurately as possible, aim our hearts at our LORD. The result of this is joy in declaring His knowledge"

Muslims received a book, we received a person. Therefore we don't preach right knowledge, or defined doctrine, but Jesus crucified. I think the reformed tradition equates faith with knowledge, but I don't. faith is much more wholistic than that. faith is an encompassing of the whole person and can be understood with reason, but also stands outside of it.

you said:

"Again, doctrine is an arrow pointing to God. Therefore Gods Word is the driving force BEHIND reformed practice. One CANT have practice w/o an accurate understanding of His Word."

I thank you for this. I don't oppose theology or doctrine, both of which I love to study and think are very important. The difference, I think, is that i don't think one can have an accurate understanding without right practice. Paul's theology was not formed in a vacuum, but arose out of practice and circumstance, and its the same in our own situation.

I'm afraid we may be speaking about different things at times in this discussion, but I'm not sure how to clear it up. I didn' read the articles, b/c I just don't have time, but I appreciate your enthusiasm.

maybe what i'm reacting against, not just in the reformed tradition, but most of western christianity is the emphasis on having to have right knowledge, or correct doctrine. I have to remind myself that I'm a heretic to somebody, but what is really important is following Christ and being formed (not just in mind) into his image.

Holiday At The Sea said...

"you say that the core of reformed theology is to love God and neighbor, but is this not the WAY of JEsus.This not a distinctive of the reformed tradition, but of the Christian faith."

sure it is.
surely you are not suggesting that reformed theology is not Christian.


you missed everythi9ng that i said in my first comment.
there are SOME who claim to hold to the docrtrines of grace who may state that ones knowledge has to be "correct". if they are that does not change what reformed theology teaches. reformed theology does teach Christ crucified...maybe i dont understand what you are saying.
just because a few teach such does not mean that ALL or even A LOT believe that way.



"I think the reformed tradition equates faith with knowledge"

politely i say that you are wrong.


"The difference, I think, is that i don't think one can have an accurate understanding without right practice."

if i understand you correctly i agree. so would the majority of reformers.

where i think that we would disagree is that our directions for practice come from the Word. therefore it is of utmost importance to know His Word.
I would also say that i disagree wiwth you in your stating that pauls theology arose from practice. i would say that it arose from Scripture which ultimatly came from the H.S.
so practice came from the H.S. not from trial and error.



"most of western christianity is the emphasis on having to have right knowledge, or correct doctrine."
would you not agree that paul and the apostles believed that you had to have "right knowldge, or correct doctrine"?
i think that the N.T. is replete in stating the need for "right knowldege and correct doctrine". i believe that without it, it will ultimatly lead to universalism.