A young Reformed believer heading off to college should be able to learn the five solas of the Reformation — yea, even the six ordinary days of creation. But this requires further development.
Over the last number of years, since the eruption of the FV controversy, we have of course been involved in the public back and forths that such a controversy involves. Much of it has been the doctrinal interaction, and the rest of it has been (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to clarify what we are in fact saying. But for some, these latter attempts are just like rubbing the spot on the wall — it just won’t clarify. Take, for example, Scott Clark’s most recent foray into fog. His summary of our position is this: “Get in by grace, stay in by cooperation with grace.” Forsooth, and double heh.
But throughout the course of this controversy, I have frequently been asked why the controversy exists, and why it has continued. This question comes from people who hear our qualifications, and note (accurately) that we are within the historic Reformed mainstream, and yet they have good reason to respect and take seriously those voices that are calling for our ouster from the historic Reformed mainstream. And so the question that most naturally occurs to them is why.
I have hesitated to answer the question in a public setting (like this one) because I have not wanted to look like I was impugning private motives, which only God can see, and I did not want to actually be guilty of impugning motives. I certainly did not want to impugn motives in a backhanded and sneaky way (“I am not saying that FV opponents are motivated by a secret problem with embezzlement . . .”).
But there nevertheless is a public side to this question of motive — think of it as a matter of public strategy, and less a matter of personal motives. Where are the pieces on the chessboard? I am happy to acknowledge that there are many opponents of the FV who are better Christians than I, and better Calvinists, and in that order. But this is quite different than conceding that I am not a Christian at all, or not a Calvinist at all. Those are questions of record, and are matters about which I might have something relevant to say.
All that said, here are three “pieces on the chessboard” explanations of why this controversy continues to play out.
First, the commitment of the historic Reformed groups to the doctrine of six day creation has gone wobbly, and the FV controversy has had two beneficial side effects for those who are cool with that wobbliness. The first is that the FV folks are, taking one thing with another, much more conservative on these questions of creation. For just one example, consider Jim Jordan’s Creation in Six Days. To bring the most likely critics of the wobble under suspicion on other grounds makes the denominations free to continue in their wobbly ways. The second side effect is that if you chase people out of your denomination for “denying the gospel of justification by faith alone,” that sure looks like something a conservative would do. So the people doing it must be “conservative” — even though they have in effect given away the store on the question of origins.
To sum it up, can you name any confessionally Reformed college, other than New St. Andrews, where students will be shaped and formed by the oneness of God, the two sides of the antithesis, the three Persons of the Trinity, the four gospels as true history, the five points of Calvinism, and the six ordinary days of creation?
A related and parallel point could be made about the whole question of women in office. The problem is not that the “conservatives” in the Reformed denominations are protecting the historic Christian faith. The problem is that they are making a great show of doing so, while leaving untouched the principal encroachments of modernity in their midst. It is a conservatism that fails in its principal office — it does not conserve.
The second reason why this is happening — in the chess pieces sense, remember — is that the 21 century is going to be the Reformed century in the North American church. So who will be allowed to be an acceptable representative leadership voice within that movement?
Because we are evangelicals and don’t have an established church hierarchy that includes us all, or a college of cardinals, we have to do this thing on an informal basis. So instead of a college of cardinals, we have an informally established speakers’ bureau for our big national conferences. In other words, what the Catholics do in their back door internal Vatican politicking, we Protestants try to do on the world wide web. These are ecclesiastical politics, and it might help to think of these as the final days of a particularly nasty and brutal campaign.
The good news is that God is not constrained by this kind of thing at all. He uses different tools and instruments entirely. When the various controversies came raining down upon our heads eight years ago, along with a few dead cats, Nancy asked me “what is this?” What I said to her then has only been confirmed by repeated and numerous blessings that could not have come to us in any other way. The last eight years have been a time of unparalleled blessing. I told her that this was my big promotion, and it was.
The last reason for the controversy is that here in Moscow we are teaching, urging, arguing for, and living out the logic of a renewed Christendom. Our secularist society is on its last legs, and the court prophets for that secularism are in something of a panic. Napoleon once said that he would rather meet ten thousand men, well-generaled, well-disciplined, and well-victualed, than one Calvinist who thought he was doing the will of God. Culturally-engaged Calvinism is a world-shaping force. It is potent. It has built more than one civilization, and is going to do so again. There is more than one seminary professor who likes to write learned monographs about what this particular giant used to do before it went to sleep, but who is extremely wary about any attempts to wake the giant up. That might make a mess, and the secularists might then revoke our library privileges.
So we here in Moscow are leaning against the widespread tendency to reduce the Reformed understanding of the world to a mere denominational distinctive within a broader secularist context. We do not believe that secularist context should be our axiomatic given. We don’t believe in it. Jesus is Lord, which means He is Lord of everything. This is simply classic Kuyperianism. But, you might say, the powers that be in the Reformed world acknowledge that Kuyper is within the mainstream. Sure they do, and that is a point to consider, certainly. But they only do this because . . . he’s dead.