French Bakery or Winchells?

An HB Classic

winchellsSo there’s been a lot of discussion of John MacArthur’s recent comments at the Shepherd’s Conference. Kim Riddlebarger has replied and I’ve commented on the HB here and here and on the Puritainboard. I’ve promised to write something on Quistorp’s summary of Calvin’s eschatology. I’ve read and accept Phil Johnson’s account of what happened. Okay. John is a dispensational, pre-trib, premillennialist.

There are two questions.

1. For the sake of discussion only, granting the validity of such an anachronism, is there any reason to think that Calvin, were he alive would, in effect, be John MacArthur? There is, as I’ve already sketched, prima facie evidence to suggest that the answer is no.

2. The second question is more important: If Phil is correct and John doesn’t think of himself as Reformed, then why do so many Reformed folk seem to think of him as such? What does it say about the Reformed churches (e.g., NAPARC) that we describe him and others who are not ecclesiastically or confessionally Reformed as “Reformed”?

First, it suggests that many of us still operate with a minimalist definition of the word “Reformed.” We use it and “Calvinist” as a synonym of the word “predestinarian.” Of course, there is a lot more to Calvin’s Institutes than book 3 (where he discussed predestination). There is a lot more to our confessions than predestination. We have a doctrine of Scripture, we have a hermeneutic, a theological method, a doctrine of God, man, Christ, the church, sacraments, and last things. We have a theology, a piety, and praxis.

Second, it suggests that there is a certain pathology in the Reformed churches, that the problem is with us more than it is with him or his congregation or followers.

My theory is that we (NAPARC) are like the ugly girl at the dance. We sit in the dark corner waiting for someone, anyone, to speak to us. If someone will speak to us we latch on to them with sweaty palms and won’t let go. If they’ll use the same adjectives as we use to describe themselves, we seem more than happy to let them do so.

Rather than being the girl in the corner (switching metaphors abruptly) we should think of ourselves as a boutique or niche restaurant (Darryl Hart has made this argument somewhere). The only real value we have to the rest of the ecclesiastical world (e.g., to evangelicalism and the mainline) is to do well what we do and be fully what we confess. If, however, we continue to license every poor imitator with our brand name, it will come to have no significance whatever and it will be very confusing to the marketplace.

We aren’t Pentecostals and the truth is that we don’t do Pentecostalism well. We’re aren’t Anglicans – we have at least some distant memory about the Regulative Principle that is more powerful than mere aesthetics. We aren’t Bible Church fundamentalists or broad Scripture-song singing evangelicals. Neither are we circle-sitting, ecclectic emerging types.

If folk want those things, they can find the real thing almost anywhere.

I have an idea. Let the Reformed churches try actually being Reformed. After all, statistically we’re not very easy to find. How disappointing it must be when the pilgrim finally finds one of our congregations (and we do tend to hide them in funeral homes, gas stations, bank basements etc) only to discover that we’re doing a poor imitation of whatever. It must be like going into the local French bakery only to find them serving Winchell’s Doughnuts. If our poor pilgrim had wanted Winchell’s, he could have found it, don’t you think?

We have a theology, piety, and practice. Just for fun, we should try it sometime and see what happens.

[First published on the HB in 2007]