Recently (in private e-mails) I have been getting some heat from some Neo-Reformed friends who feel I have either not been fair or too critical of Neo-Reformed theology on this blog. On other hand, some members of the committed Neo-Reformed have engaged me (again via private e-mail) letting me know they appreciate my insights and dialogue. They have been encouraging. All this to say, I think dialogue between Neo-Reformed folks and Neo-Anabaptist Evangelical Missional people like me would be a very good thing. And I have been convicted of not doing enough to move us in this direction.
This is why I was so glad (even freaked out a bit) when my Canadian bro Darryl Dash (otherwise know as “Triple D” by another Canadian bro because he as a recent Doctor of Ministry degree) put this list of questions before me and asked me to respond for his blog. I sense a good impulse here. Dialogue together for the Kingdom. So at the risk of losing my reputation as a grumpy Neo-Anabaptist (evangelical), I answered these questions and I post them here. Darryl will be posting them on his blog as well here! I have hopes this will lead to further discussions of this kind. Way to go Darryl!!
1. There seems to have been a resurgence of the Neo-Reformed and Anabaptists at the same time. It’s almost like they’re parallel movements. What’s behind that?
If you ask me, this has to do with the cultural turning point facing the North American church. There’s a unhinging of sorts happening in N. American culture where the larger culture is becoming unhinged from the Christian moorings of its past. One can easily see this happening in Canada, Europe and the northern United States. And so now we, here in N. America, find ourselves in a “mission field.” We are forced to ask the question, how do we engage this newly secularized, even antagonistic-to-the-gospel culture? How can we be faithful to God’s Mission in Jesus Christ? In my opinion, the rise of Neo-Reformed and Neo-Anabaptists comes from responding to this cultural shift. They can be interpreted as two parallel movements responding to this shift.
So I would say the “Neo-Reformed” group has responded to this shift by pushing for a purifying of the gospel. We’ve lost our way. We’ve given away the proclamation of the gospel in order to be relevant. And the church has declined. We need to restate it clearly and find ways to be present in that truth in our culture. This is a revival of past protestant orthodoxy (for some this is more towards Puritan thought than the Majesterial Reformation) for sure but it is more than that. It is an attempt to bridge that orthodoxy with a new sense of mission in the N American context.
In regards to the Neo-Anabaptists, I would say this group has responded by stressing a renewal of the embodiment of the gospel in local contexts. Here, we need to pay attention to the “witness” of the gospel in the rhythms of our everyday lives. There is a push to figure out traditional Anabaptist themes for today: themes such as a.) Community together for God’s Mission, b.) Discipleship, c.) the subversive yet non-coercive ways of service, reconciliation, and peacemaking in the neighborhood. The gospel is defined here more broadly than for many Neo-Reformed– think Scot McKnight or N. T. Wright. We Anabaptists, I suggest, are more happy to accept the post-Christendom state of things. This however requires new modes of cultural engagement, listening, postures of humility. This is not the sectarian Anabaptism of times past.
So these are two different responses to the new cultural conditions in the West.
2. What can Anabaptists learn from the Neo-Reformed?
In my opinion, the strength of the Reformed movement is the seriousness with which they take the Scriptures, doctrine and belief. They push us to think about uncomfortable subjects like hell, the seriousness of sin, eternity and even the nature of the Bible’s authority. In my opinion these issues are extremely important for the new journey of faithfulness we are on. They should not be sloughed off. I might also add that the renewed focus on preaching and God’s grace is important as well. Although I don’t agree with many of my Neo-Reformed friends, I have learned a lot from them on all these things. Think Tim Keller and some things I’ve learned about preaching. Think John Piper and the nature of desire being shaped before God in worship. That’s good stuff.
3. What can the Neo-Reformed learn from Anabaptists?
Too many to mention (haha sorry 🙂 ). But seriously, Neo-Anabaptism brings with it a serious critique and understanding about the ways the church aligns itself with power structures in society to therefore dilute and even neuter the gospel. We the church thereby become too easily co’opted by society instead of a transforming agent. I think the Neo-Reformed folks don’t get how much of their theology depends upon social constructs that don’t exist anymore for large parts of North America (could I have said that in an any more tactful manner?). I think Neo-Anabaptism pushes for integrity in our forms of gathering and being a people in the world for the gospel. Too much of Reformed ecclesiology is stuck in Geneva (could I have said that any less tactfully?). We need to think through a missional ecclesiology that takes seriously that the church is a witness to the Kingdom of God in Christ. The church is a sign to the world of where God is taking the rest of the world: the consummation of His Kingdom in Christ. This takes a way of being both in the world but as sent ones in the world. I could go on, but I might just write a book.
4. If you were invited to speak at a conference put on by The Gospel Coalition, what would you say to that group?
I would expand on questions 2.) and 3.) above and then have an altar call :).
5. You live in Chicago, yet you seem to be a Canadian at heart. What made you so interested in Canada?
I grew up in Hamilton Ontario. I missed being born in Owen Sound, Ontario by 2 months! (when my parents moved to the states for 6 years) So that means I was conceived a Canadian! My grandfather founded the C&MA church in Ottawa and then ministered in Winnipeg. So I have a rich rich ancesteral Canadian heritage in my family. Despite the fact that I have now lived the majority of my life in the U.S., I am not always comfortable here. The Empire mentality, the power posture of evangelicalism makes me ache. So my Canadian heritage is a gift because it gives me a unique perspective. And it also enables me to go visit all my friends in Canada on vacation every summer, hang in a Tim Horton’s and think hockey in the off season.
OK, that’s the interview! What do you think about the future of Neo-Reformed/Neo-Anabaptist dialogue? What would be first steps? Is this possible? What would be the hurdles? And for the sake of promoting dialogue, I will not reveal what the image in this post refers to!