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Are “The Neo-Reformed” Reformed? Or Are They Puritans? And Does it Even Matter?

As a follow-up to the post last week on Mark Driscoll’s escapade with Justin Brierley on his British radio program, Unbelievable, I’d like to respond to two substantive objections voiced in the comments (typified by Scot McKnight’s comments in the post). The objections were: 1.) It’s time to stop calling the Neo-Reformed people Reformed. Call them Puritan because they are not Reformed (Kuyperian) in the purest sense. 2.) Mark Driscoll is an outlier in the Neo-Reformed movement (er Neo-Puritan) that, in his excesses regarding sexuality and crude language and behavior,  does not represent the Neo-Reformed/Puritan movement.
1.) Are The New-Reformed Reformed?

I don’t know if I agree with Scot on this one. The fact is that the group as a whole has dubbed themselves as “Reformed.” By and large, they have not been challenged by their purist brothers and sisters in Grand Rapids or elsewhere. Why then should I not continue to use this nomenclature? Collin Hansen perhaps began the nomenclature when he wrote about the movement for Christianity Today (see here) and then wrote a book with the same title as the CT article, The Young, Restless and Reformed. Then Time magazine did a cover story basically lopping them into one group named the “New Calvinism” (see here). Since then the great majority of their organizations including the Gospel Coalition, various bloggers (for instance Tim Challies has “Reformed” in his blog title), and speakers accept the moniker. I recognize there is a difference between the Neo-Reformed and the purist Reformed, but isn’t who gets to garner the name an in-house squabble? Isn’t it up to the purist Kuyperians to defend their turf? If the more purist Calvinists (or less narrow culturally) do not want to be associated with this movement, isn’t it up to them to challenge them instead of ignoring them? Until there is some clarity, then, most people know what I am referring to when I say “Neo-Reformed” and it’s a term I have to use. Right?

Secondly, is not the alternative name Neo-Puritan confusing? Is not Puritan family a member within the Reformed family? In fact it is at times hard to distinguish the Puritans from the Reformed because they do overlap (the emphasis on the depravity of humanity for instance). Tim Keller seems to be of the Reformed camp and Don Carson of Puritan camp and yet they speak together here for the Gospel Coalition (one of the main forum sites for the Neo-Reformed bloggers/pastors etc.). Again, isn’t it picayune to differentiate? And if it isn’t, and it is important, isn’t this a job best left to those inside the camp? Please, work this out (Kuyperians from Grand Rapids and the Neo-Reformed), come to an agreement so I don’t have to worry about his any more :). What say u?

Third, despite the differences between Reformed and Puritan camps, I would like to propose a linkage that I think is undeniable and also illuminating. As I and others have argued, there is a linkage between European Reformed theology shaped under the Majesterial Reformation in Europe and what now appears as this kind of Puritan Evangelicalism in N America?

As I see it, when Reformed theology was uprooted from its cultural moorings in the Majesterial Reformation and transported to N. America, it lost what it was “reforming.” It’s reason to be – reforming Catholic Europe- was gone. It had to find an integrity in itself. Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Christus had to stand alone. Sola Scripture no longer stood as a reforming princple reforming the corrupt traditions of Catholic church structure. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of Scripture’s authority and principle of interpretation unto itself.  Sola Fide no longer stood as a reforming principle against the corrupt sacramental systems that fostered abuse and a works righteousness in Roman Catholic Europe. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of God’s saving operations in the world. And Sola Christus could no longer stand on its own as a reforming principle against a monolithic church structure that made all salvation take place through her structures. It had to stand on its own as an adequate understanding of the church. The developments here, so I suggest, eventually led to an individualization of Christian faith, one that is inherently aligned with modernity and certain democratic capitalist culture systems. (Read C. C. Pecknold’s brilliant and concise narrative of how this all took place in ch.5-8 of Christianity and Politics).  It looks a lot like the Neo-Reformed Neo Puritan evangelicalism of my brothers and sisters in the Neo-Reformed camps. I don’t know if I want to give this linkage up. It’s a main part of the questions I have concerning whether Neo- Reformed theology can lead a Missional engagement of the church into N America. I hate to obscure that linkage.

For all the reasons above then, I think one has to stick with “Neo-Reformed” until my friends in the movement itself and at Calvin/other Reformed institutions give me the signal to change (by hashing this out at a conference or something?). I’m waiting.

Is Mark Driscoll an Outlier?

Several people argued in the comments that Mark Driscoll is an outlier in the Neo-reformed movement. His behavior, brashness, excessive antagonistic outbursts should not be seen as characteristic of the Neo-Reformed group as a whole. In Scot’s words, Driscoll’s “brash and crude edges clash dramatically with the sanity, care, caution and focus of the Puritans.”

I agree with Scot on this one. I do not think Driscoll’s personality issues should be attributed to all of the good ministers/thinkers within the Neo-Reformed movement. But I wasn’t saying that. I was suggesting that Driscoll’s outburst may reveal a weakness in the theology itself and the practice of it. The defensive outburst may (or may not) be a clue to understanding this weakness. In the post I tried to show a disconnect between Driscoll’s theology (which I argue is canon Neo-Reformed thinking) and the post-Christendom context he found himself in (in Britian). He did not understand the context and therefore got defensive. But is this not emblematic of a larger reality? Again, take his personality out of it. Look at my analysis of what got Driscoll upset? Then ask, whether Driscoll’s explosion is not a symptom of something larger. Is there a reason why his defensive insulated yet bold posture seems to wear well in the Neo-Reformed world?

This is what I meant when I asked in the post, “is Mark Driscoll just an outlier for the Neo-Reformed movement or is he the truth that lies at its core?” Is he an eruption on the skin (thin skin) of the Neo-Reformed movement. I suggested that this episode at least warranted the Neo-Reformed taking a closer look at this episode, at the disconnect between the Neo-Reformed theology and practice and the post-Christendom context. This is where a conversation with the more purist cultural Reformeds from Grand Rapids might be able to help. I closed by saying, how Neo-Reformed leaders/bloggers respond to Driscoll, like Tim Challies,  Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Collin Hansen,  James McDonald, will reveal more about the reality of this possible disconnect with post-Christendom. It will tell us whether they totally agree with Driscoll and therefore also don’t understand what just happened? Or whether they see that Brierley has some things to say and perhaps they will interact better than Driscoll in a way which is promising for future theology. In other words, how they react will indicate whether their theology can engage the post-Christendom context from where Brierely’s questions came from.

In summary, I sincerely hope the Driscoll flare-up, my post and all the other hundred or so posts on the Driscoll flare-up lead the Neo-Reformed movement to these kind of discussions for the furtherance of Christ and His Kingdom in the world.

In the meantime, what do you think? Should we have to change what we call the Neo-Reformed? or should we let them figure that out?