We're Talking About Practice; Not a Game, Not A Game, Not a Game

CNN has the story (HT: RNS).  The ban still must pass the French Senate before it becomes law. This is a complicated issue. On the one hand the burqa (full body covering) and the niqab (partial face covering) are religious and political statements. They are associated with a political movement with violent tendencies and a history of political violence. On the other hand the rationale for outlawing them is straight out of the illiberal French Enlightenment textbooks. The assumption of the ban is that religion is a purely private matter. Contrary to the caricatures of the two-kingdoms (or two-spheres) approach to Christian ethics, Christian faith cannot be reduced a purely private matter. The Reformed confession entails theology, piety, and practice. Quoth Allen Iverson:

We’re not talking about a game. We’re taking about practice. The Reformed confession is neither pietist, which, in its worst expressions, reduces the faith to inward experiences of the transcendent, nor transformational (creating ostensibly Christian versions of secular life). Nevertheless, we hope and pray and work for religious freedom to live out our faith openly, according to Scripture, without fear of political reprisal. If, in the providence of God, such reprisals begin, we should accept them as hard providences from the hand of our gracious God but we ought not seek them nor need we be silent as the clouds build toward the storm.

The Christian has no interest per se in the burqa. We’re neither Judaizers nor Muslims. We’re not seeking to conquer any nations politically or culturally. We don’t speak a particular language. The Treatise to Diognetus (c. 150) illustrates that the apostolic view of Christ and culture persisted into the middle of the 2nd century:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. 2 For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life…4For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. 5The live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. 7They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven.10 They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. 11They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.

For more on this treatise 1) read the treatise. 2) Here is a very brief into. For more see C. E. Hill, The Lost Teaching of Polycarp (which I reviewed in The Confessional Presbyterian 5 (2009): 283-86).

Those violent sects of Islam which gained renewed strength since the late 19th century, seek to impose the burqa and all that it represents (sharia law) on everyone else they have brought civil reprisals upon themselves. Christians ought not make the same mistakes.

The Christian approach to the problem of the burqa is not that of the French Enlightenment, which radically privatized religion and religious expression and is thus fundamentally intolerant of any religion but Kant’s, and it is not that of the pietists (who gave us Kant), and it is not that of Islam and orthodox Judaism. It is in this world and it is world-affirming (not world-fleeing like monastic movements). It is not gnostic, i.e., it teaches no radical ontological dualism but but it is world-affirming. The same God who created the universe is the same God who became incarnate for the salvation of sinners but world-affirming isn’t necessarily world-transforming. The Christian way is a third way between flight and transformation: It is patient co-existence recognizing fundamental epistemic and religious differences between Christian belief and unbelief and, at the same time, areas of civil, common cooperation.

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24 comments

  1. Well stated. This is yet another reminder of the freedom the Gospel brings to people. We no longer need the shadows that divided God’s people in the OT from the Gentiles. Circumcision is not a requirement. Dietary laws are out (except when it causes the weaker to stumble). We don’t have to impose dress codes on society. We peacefully co-exist as sojourners/strangers/foreigners awaiting our heavenly redemption (I love Peter’s First Epistle!).

    • Dick,

      I think you mean van Prinsterer and that you’re referring to his Lectures on Unbelief and Revolution. Actually, I was thinking of van Prinsterer in my comments about the French Enlightenment.

  2. One of the interesting features of this debate is the very totalising, almost totalitarian, nature of modern Western thinking which it brings out. Supporters of a ban are not simply content to be themselves, and they are not simply content to try and persuade Muslim women of the benefits of a Western approach to dress informed by our cultural values: they want to force Muslim women to become like them, or else to force them to stay at home. So rather like the claim that Muslim men will force their women to conform to their values or to stay at home, the secular French totalisers will force Muslim women to conform to their values or to stay at home. They have become the force they pretend to oppose.

    And that’s something which goes for Christian transformationalists as much as the laïque ones, except that what is opposed is ‘worldly culture’, and what is created is a ‘Christian’ worldly culture.

  3. Of course to be strictly in line with the video, it seems you would have to change the title of your post to, “We Talking about Practice…” (O the wondrous effects of ebonics on the modern English language…)

  4. This French issue with the burqua is very, very important because it shows to the Muslim world in a very clear way that there is more than one way to be Western. The French have historically forced secularism on their citizens. America has allowed religious toleration. That’s a huge difference.

    I live in a community in rural Missouri where it is not unusual to see women in Islamic headscarves, face-veils or even full-body burquas at Wal-Mart. Who are they? Observant Muslim wives of military officers, often from Saudi Arabia, less often from Pakistan or Iraq, and sometimes from other Arab countries. Their husbands are coming to Fort Leonard Wood to learn alongside American officers in the Army’s engineer school, military police school and chemical (now CBRN) school. In addition, there are a lot of wives of officers from Muslim countries who choose to wear modest Western clothes in America to avoid drawing attention to theselves but would wear hijab in their own countries.

    There are reasons why observant Muslim graduate students and military officers generally prefer to come to the United States rather than other Western countries for their education — and it’s not just because we have some of the best universities in the world. That was not necessarily the case in the early 1900s, and there are still perfectly good European schools where people could go to study.

    The role of the French in the Middle East cannot be minimized; we forget at our peril the centuries-old role of the French in North Africa and post-World War I role of the French in Syria and Lebanon. There are reasons why Saddam Hussein, a secular pan-Arab nationalist, sent many of his elite students to French universities to study. There’s a very long history of linkage between French secularism and secular Arab nationalism.

    Secular Arab nationalism is not necessarily more favorable to America than Islamic fundamentalism. It actually led to socialism or connections with Soviet-bloc communism in a number of Arab countries. Many of the top military and civilian officials of Iraq and other Arab countries are graduates of the Sorbonne or other French universities, and we have to deal with the reality that the French have been a major model for a lot of people in the Middle East of what Western democracy looks like in practice.

    On the other hand, President Ronald Reagan presented a very different model of Western democracy to the Muslim world. Partly based on personal relationships between key American oil industry executives with the Saudi royal family dating back generations, Reagan was able to successfully exploit a longstanding belief in the Islamic world that America was not anti-Muslim in the same way as France or the Soviet Union. He was able to harness Islamic fundamentalism, especially radical clerics in Saudi Arabia, to mount Jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Of course, the results were not entirely positive and included the creation of Osama bin Laden and the mess we now face.

    Working with Islamic fundamentalists is not necessarily in the long-term interest of the United States. However, we do need to recognize that there is a longstanding tradition in the Muslim world arguing that America, while obviously not a Muslim state in the traditional sense of the world, is sharia-compliant by allowing observant Muslims to practice their religion in peace.

    • Two more things for Christians or secular conservatives who argue that Muslim headscarves, veils, and full-body burquas should be banned:

      First, on what Constitutional basis do we do that, when the original intent of the Constitution would **CLEARLY** have supported the practice of most Christian women of the 1700s and early 1800s in covering their hair and wearing clothing that looks a lot more like a burqua than what you’ll find in a Southern California church?

      Second, for a Muslim woman who sincerely believes it is immodest to show her face, hair or body, how do we argue that the law can require her to do so? Laws tend to become more consistent with time due to the role of precedents, so are we prepared to have laws a generation from now requiring Christian women to go topless on a beach? If not, why not? A strictly observant Muslim woman may very well regard exposing her face the same way a conservative Christian woman regards topless bathing, and if we’re not going to allow her sincerely held religious belief, we’re going to find our own sincerely held religious beliefs at risk.

      To show how much American attire has changed, one of the liberal Congregational leaders of the abolitionist movement in the pre-Civil War era had to deal with a woman in his church who refused to wear a head bonnet to cover her hair and claimed the head bonnet was so tight that it gave her a headache. His church board finally agreed to allow her to come to church without a headcovering on condition that she sat in the rear where her lack of modest covering for her hair would not be a distraction.

      Put bluntly, there’s a good chance that many women in a typical American evangelical church would be arrested for indecent exposure if they tried to wear on the streets of 1650 Boston what they wear to church in 2010 America. I realize that “modesty” differs from generation to generation and the last thing I want to do is start arguing about the proper length of hemlines, but it’s pretty hard for me to see the Apostle Paul defending what a lot of what women wear today.

      • Hi Darrell,

        Thanks for the very interesting comments with background information.

        First, I could not agree more about the immodest dress of women/girls in our churches. What has happened to parental sensibility? We told our daughter not to advertise anything that is not for sale, so that was the standard in our home. Contrary to popular style, she is adamant that when she marries she will not be married in a strapless gown because marriage is a sacred ceremony and an immodest gown dishonors her husband and her Lord.

        Regarding the burqa, I admit that the issue is somewhat complicated for me, so I look forward to reading the various viewpoints here. I believe that my state requires that a woman’s face be exposed for her driver’s license, and that seems reasonable. Workplace safety issues come to mind, as well.

      • One more thing I forgot. How do you Reformed elders/pastors deal with immodest and inappropriate dress? I’ve witnessed weddings performed by Reformed ministers where the bride was dressed immodestly, and I couldn’t quite believe it, but that seems to be where we are, or maybe I’m just cranky…

        • Hi Eileen,

          re: weddings, I can imagine. In our polity weddings are not ecclesiastical functions. They are private functions sanctioned by the church. This makes it a little more challenging to impose standards. Still, the minister is there representing the church and ought to talk with bride and groom before the wedding about decorum etc.

          Still, I’ve seen girls and women wearing things to church (and I’ve preached about it) that were, shall we say, highly problematic! Part of it is just thoughtlessness. Part of it is that people don’t understand what modesty is any more. Who knows from modesty when the mall has Fredericks of Hollywood and a huge Victoria’s Secret (where nothing is secret anymore)? Not to mention the web. Yikes!

          It’s hard to address this without sounding Amish.

          We need to re-orient folks to understand what it is to be human, what it is to be a sexual being, and how sexuality is to be treated and regarded what it means to be (i.e., what the implications are of being) a redeemed sinner. The American impulse is basically gnostic and the two trajectories for gnostics have been world-flight and licentiousness and we see both in American evangelicalism (which influences the Reformed).

  5. Dr. Scott,

    Once again, you’ve provided a helpful discussion, in this case of pietism, transformationalism, and 2K perspectives on a practical issue. I must say that the connections you drew and the way you put them together make perfect sense, but they would never have occurred to me! And that is why the HB is a must-read.

  6. There is no such thing as the Spirituality of the Mosque in Islam. There is no divide. Every Muslim that lives in the “Dar al-Harb” they are to engage in jihad to bring it into “Dar al-Islam”. Just because only a minority actually do this doesn’t mean that is not their purpose. Only when there is a single caliphate whose rule encompasses the entire world will the “Dar al-Harb” cease to exist.

    If Islam defines itself in terms of a single kingdom world-view then the state is more than entitled to treat Islam as a rival “government-in-exile” rebel insurgency and meet them on what ever battle ground the Muslims choose to engage, whether that be the “burqa” or Tours.

    Pretending Islam is just a religion is counter-productive.

    • Anyone who thinks Islam is “just a religion” with no political goals has not read the Koran, the history of the early growth of Islam (by which we can reasonably discern “original intent”) and the current practice of modern Islam once it obtained the necessary funding in the “oil boom” era to put into practice what had not been possible for several hundred years due to the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

      However, the same could be said of most other religions that have come to assume a dominant position in their societies at some point, past or present.

      It would be very difficult to read the history of early Reformed mission efforts in France, the role of John Knox in Scotland, or even the history of Abraham Kuyper’s work with the Anti-Revolutionary Party without coming to the conclusion that at key points in its history, Calvinism was not just indirectly but directly responsible for efforts to overthrow or replace the existing and allegedly corrupt civil government through military means or democratic means.

      I happen to believe that the Shi’a ayatollahs in Iraq who are advocating democracy in Iraq are entirely inconsistent with their religion’s history and have wrongly understood it. However, after listening to Iraqis remind me over and over and over again that Jihad can include everything from composing poetry glorifying their religion’s tenets to the use of the sword to enforce them, it’s pretty hard for me to argue that it’s a bad thing for America to encourage Muslim believers to put their energies into election fights to get their voters to show up at the ballot box rather than fighting with rifles and bombs. Advocating for a democratic state or for liberalism in Islam may very well be a lost cause and wasted effort, but given the history of how liberalism took over and wrecked the Reformed and Lutheran churches of Europe, I’m not convinced it would be a bad thing to try to encourage Muslim religious leaders who think democracy is a more effective way to advocate Islamic values in the Middle East.

    • Andrew,

      I agree with you but shouldn’t that fact (“no spirituality of the mosque”) give pause to critics of the spirituality of the church? Ought not mosque and church be as different as night and day? Shouldn’t it trouble transformationalists who don’t sound all that different from Islam?

      • Dr. Clark, I am not aware of any religious belief, when it has become a majority faith or a dominant faith within a particular culture, that **HASN’T** tried to change the culture to be more in keeping with its tenets. Likewise, political leaders in the pre-modern era have historically been quite selective in what religious beliefs they promote and encourage, believing that religion can be a key motivator to get people to do voluntarily what the state would otherwise have to force them to do.

        Can anyone seriously argue that the Shinto religion of Imperial Japan was not part and parcel of Japanese culture? Is not much of what’s wrong with India due to Hindiusm? Is not a Confucian-based work ethic, high esteem for education and teachers, and respect for parents, family and elders key to the secular progress of much of Asia in comparison with other former Third-World countries?

        If someone wants to argue that the culture of Southern California is so far gone that Christians can have no realistic influence on the culture, I’m open to that argument.

        However, the fact that Christian believers and Muslim believers both try to influence their culture merely shows that people who take their religion seriously can be expected to try to live in accord with its tenets outside their own personal lives.

        • Darrell,

          Polycarp (who arguably wrote the Treatise to Diognetus) argued exactly the contrary to your position. He claimed to Diognetus that Christians have no interest in transforming culture. Christ’s don’t have a “Christian language” (yes, there is a Christian theological vocabulary but we don’t have a distinctive vulgar/common language) and we don’t have “Christian” dress or “Christian” this or that. There is Christian conduct and Christian ways of thinking but his point, and the point of several of the 2nd-century apologists was that the Christians just wanted to be left alone. They weren’t trying to transform the established social order.

          Christianity ISN’T Islam or Shinto nationalism or any other religion. That’s the point. One very important way in which we are distinct from all other world religions is that we have no interest in doing what they want to do!

          The language Polycarp helps us understand the conspicuous absence of any social-transformational language in the NT

          • When Christians are a persecuted minority, as they were in the days of Polycarp, trying to transform culture is far from being possible.

            Even so, there are a few rare examples in the New Testament of Christians serving as civil magistrates (i.e., as a municipal treasurer), in positions of secular business and community leadership, and as military officers. That shows, contra the Anabaptists, that it is not immoral for Christians to serve in roles of secular community leadership.

            When Christians are not just a few rare exceptions serving in such leadership roles but are a sizeable minority, it becomes important to ask how a Christian should serve in governmental, business, community, and military leadership, and how a Christian soldier differs from his secular or pagan brother-in-arms. When professing Christians become a majority of society and are in positions of major leadership, it becomes not just important but essential to make very clear that the society not only can but must change from its non-Christian presuppositions and practices.

            Dr. Clark, if all the Two Kingdoms people are saying is that Christian businessmen, Christian politicians, Christian officers, and Christian civic leaders are better equipped than Christian pastors to answer the question of how to be distinctively Christian in civic life, we have no disagreement. It’s not the task of the church as institute to work out the details of what a Christian business looks like, though it most certainly **IS** the task of the church and its pastors and elders to teach Christian principles of morality and how they provide a basic framework for business, governmental, community and military life. A Christian in business doesn’t get a “free pass” to lie, cheat, steal and bribe just because he’s in business, and he has no right to leave his faith at the church door.

            However, I’m seeing and reading a great deal of things on this blog that make pretty clear to me that a lot of Two Kingdoms advocates are not just saying that Christian businesspeople rather than Christian pastors are the best people to explain how to run a Christian business, but rather saying that there’s no point in even trying to transform culture.

            That logic may apply to a Christian suffering under persecution in some gulag of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China where to even speak the name of Christ is to risk death. But under lesser forms of persecution and harassment such as what was seen in East Germany or Poland and what is today happening in secularist France or some of the less-vicious Muslim states, a Christian most certainly **CAN** do a great deal to show his or her faith outside the walls of the church.

            • Darrell,

              Here’s a link to many of the posts (and hundreds of comments) that discuss the “two kingdoms.”

              http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/category/two-kingdoms/

              What you say here bears little resemblance to what I’ve been saying.

              The NT evidence to which you refer seems like prima facie evidence for the two kingdoms. There’s not one iota of evidence that NT Christians sought to Christianize or transform politics or plumbing. There is, as you cite, evidence of Christians fulfilling their vocations in both kingdoms or spheres (I use the latter because VanDrunen has argued persuasively that Kuyper taught a sort of two-kingdoms distinction and it is neo-Ks who have abandoned him on that point). This is why I said that we are neither pietists (world-flight) NOR transformationalists. There is a third way.

              I understand your difficulty. Apart from my own reading there was little in my Reformed background that prepared me to understand or make use of these categories. As in so many other areas modern Reformed Christianity has wandered quite a ways from its roots. It is disconcerting to think that much of what passes for Reformed today isn’t but that does seem to be the case. Someone should write a book about that phenomenon!

              No, as I understand the implications of the applying a two-kingdoms distinction (we should be careful about speaking of “the two-kingdoms people; it’s an analytic tool not a monolithic set of conclusions) and indeed as I understand the doctrine of common grace taught by Kuyper and Van Til (ignoring the shades of difference for now) it would say that Christians are NOT necessarily “better equipped” to be plumbers or politicians. Under common grace non-believers are quite capable of being better politicians and plumbers than Christians. That’s hardly a radical point. It seems quasi-gnostic to say that Christians are necessarily better equipped to be politicians or plumbers by virtue of their faith since EXACTLY how that is so seems to be a secret that cannot be explained.

              See the many posts on this point (linked above). Take a listen to the Heidelcast on this (linked above).

              See the post on the distinction between the kingdom of God considered narrowly and broadly (Ursinus’ distinction!).

              Before you draw conclusions, take some time to do some reading and listening. It might take a few months Darrell. It’s a paradigm shift. It was for me.

      • Scott,

        I guess I just think that the mosque ought not to be at all, considering they (despite what many think) are first and foremost military bases. On the other hand though I quite agree and denying the Spirituality of the Church (SoC) is more injurious to Christians, since those churches or pastors who deny or simply ignore the SoC distract the church from its Great Commission. Yes I also agree it should trouble transformationalists when what they say sounds more like Islam than anything else.

        I agree that the goal of the church is not transformation of the culture or nation, but rather the calling of the church is the ministry of Word preaching the Good News of salvation by Christ alone through faith alone. Where we may disagree perhaps is, I think that the blessing of having the nation and culture transformed (at least somewhat) was something that God in his providence actually gave to the nations and their successors (at least for a while) where the Reformation flourished. I see the transformationalists primary error as trying to “drive” the providence of God and bring to completion (or now, since the culture has declined so much, reproduce, what they perceive as the high point) that transformation, rather than simply being thankful and satisfied with God had or has done. From my understanding the transformationalists erroneously think (at least subconsciously) that the observed transformational blessings of the past were caused by the activity of the church, and therefore cultural transformation is a legitimate goal or work of the church. The effects of that error have been and continue to be considerably harmful, interestingly enough, not only to the church but also to the nation and culture as well.

        I don’t see contemporary tranformationalists as terribly different than the proto-modernists of the 19th century. I wonder more why contemporary tranformationalists think it will work this time. They are doing (essentially) the same thing again and again expecting different results, and frankly it makes me question their sanity.

  7. I’ve been trying to figure out what “lives” in the culture of Westminster-West that has caused at least some of your professors to be so strongly opposed to Christians trying to transform culture. Frankly, what I’m reading on this blog is so utterly foreign to my experience of Reformed church life that I just don’t “get it.” What I am reading here most emphatically was **NOT** the vision of the founders of Westminster-West, or at least not the vision of the ministers and elders who told me why they spent massive amounts of time and money to organize a Reformed seminary on the West Coast in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Clark, but it sounds like this “two kingdoms” theology is a legacy of your seminary’s fight against theonomy. It sounds like you’ve taken the older Southern “spirituality of the church” concept, which until recently I thought was long ago dead, buried and forgotten, and resurrected it in a quite different form. That new form seems to give you a connection to an older theological heritage that allows you to say “theonomy is wrong, conservative Reformed Christians in the PCA’s Southern Presbyterian tradition have historically opposed anything that even looks like theonomy, and in today’s evangelical Christian world, we need to focus on rebuilding the doctrine and life of the church instead of trying to transform the culture while letting the church get distracted from its main mission.”

    Am I on the right track here?

    To answer a question that probably will get asked: I am certainly not a theonomist. Many of their theologians seem to be amateurs at best, and too many of them combine weak theology with a bitter and litigious spirit. Most important, their theology may bear superficial similarities to that of Puritan New England, Geneva, and Scotland, but it is not a logical conclusion of the Westminster Standards’ teaching on the role of the Old Testament civil law. It is quite possible to say, as I do, that theonomy is not in accord with the Westminster Standards, while still emphasizing that Christians are not merely allowed to but required to do what they can to work out what it means to be a Christian in the various professions and callings outside the doors of the institutional church.

    • Darrell,

      I think the story is much more complicated that you sketch here. My first encounter with “two kingdoms” was in college when I read Calvin’s Institutes cover to cover and did a good bit of research on Calvin’s political philosophy during my undergrad years. I did so in a somewhat neo-Kuyperian setting so I didn’t understand the implications of what I was reading. At sem (WSC) I went back to Calvin to investigate again his comments about natural law and was surprised at what I found. It wasn’t what a lot of folks were claiming as “Calvinist.” What I discovered was that a lot of neo-Calvinists had wandered quite a long ways from Calvin. I later re-worked that researched and developed it and published it:

      http://www.wscal.edu/clark/1998rsclexnat.pdf

      In my doctoral work, in covenant theology and early Reformed orthodoxy

      Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant

      I found more of the same: natural law as substantially identical to the moral law or decalogue, no theonomy (but theocracy), and two-kingdoms. These were categories I didn’t learn from the neo-Ks or the theonomists I had known since 1980. So, in my case, the more I actually read and learned the Reformed tradition the more I discovered a significant discontinuity between historical Reformed approaches to these questions and the neo-Kuyperian approach.

      This is why I’ve been pleading with you to read VanDrunen’s recently published history of the doctrine of two kingdoms. Darrell, you seem as if you accept the syllogism I criticized in RRC (have you read it?):

      1. I am Reformed (which may or may not be true)
      2. I think x
      3. Ergo x is Reformed

      That a good lot of people think that neo-Kuyperian transformationalism is Reformed doesn’t make it so. There is an objective definition of “Reformed” (see RRC).

      Reaction to theonomy? Yes and no. I encountered theonomy before I came to sem and at sem. I found it wholly unsatisfactory. It was reading Calvin that pushed me away from theonomy but reading Vos sealed it. I found it utterly foreign to the Reformed hermeneutic of the 16th and 17th centuries and utterly foreign to the biblical theology I learned from Vos et al. It is just a form of fundamentalism or QIRC.

      I’ve actually read very little Southern Presbyterian theology. On the spirituality of the church I’m much more influenced by Belgic Confession Art 29 than anything else.

  8. Thank you for your note, Dr. Clark. It is helpful. And yes, I agree I need to do some serious reading. I’ve seen enough on this blog to know that I have major problems with a lot of what is being said here by “Two Kingdoms” advocates, but if I’m going to criticize, compliment, or otherwise interact with a theological opinion, I need to read its primary advocates, not just listen to its supporters on interactive blogs. Obviously followers do not always understand what their teachers said.

    On the syllogism, I just don’t see that in myself. Could I be wrong? Obviously. However, I do not believe it would be either immodest or inaccurate to say that after being converted out of liberalism, I presumed that basically everything I had been taught or that I had believed was wrong and in need of being totally turned upside down by biblical exegesis. I certainly do not see myself saying “I am Reformed, I believe X, so X must be Reformed.”

    Some background: Within two years of my conversion, I had on my own, simply by reading Scripture apart from any solid teaching or preaching in a bible-believing church, come to a number of convictions on salvation and other basics of the Christian faith that I was later shocked to discover were what Calvin had taught. I had also come to a number of other conclusions that I later learned were also key parts of the Reformed faith, including the regulative principle and sola scriptura. I first came into contact with Calvin through reading the Institutes, which were given to me by a liberal theology professor in my liberal college who was trying to convince me that orthodoxy was a bad thing. He intended, by giving me the Institutes, to show me how bad it would be if I continued my insistence on a literal rather than a liberal reading of the Bible. I still today remember him calling Calvin’s Scripture quotes “maggots on the page.” What he accomplished was to turn me into a Calvinist, which most definitely was **NOT** his intent, and I ended up transferring to Calvin College to learn more about the Reformed faith.

    I had been raised in Grand Rapids where Calvin and the Christian Reformed Church were still wrongly believed by “outsiders” to be ultraconservative; most people didn’t yet realize how far left-wing the college had become and where the college had dragged the church. You know what I ran into at Calvin College once I enrolled, and I learned very quickly that lots of people who call themselves Reformed are nowhere close to being confessionally or historically Reformed.

    Finanancially and personally speaking, I would have had a great deal to gain by joining the Christian Reformed Church, but I saw no reason to walk out of one type of liberalism to join another. Down here in the South, it would be much easier for me to join a fundamental Baptist church or a large Southern Baptist congregation or even one of a few small Southern Baptist churches that have Reformed pastors, but I will not be rebaptized and I simply cannot deny what I think the Bible obviously says about total depravity and other key elements of the Reformed faith.

    I hoope that’s enough to document that I have not arrived at or maintained my views without careful evaluation, or without seriously counting the cost. Obviously I could be wrong. What cannot be said is that I have failed to carefully evaluate my beliefs based upon Scripture, and in fact there is very little that I believed three decades ago that I still believe today.

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