James K. A. Smith has an interesting post at CT: Teaching a Calvinist to Dance. In this post he says he longs for a “a kind of ‘Pentecostalized’ Reformed spirituality. He goes on to link his quest with that of Edwards. This might surprise some readers, but Smith is at least partly right. He’s exactly right to link his desire for an immediate experience of the risen Christ and for extraordinary phenomena to Edwards. This is the dirty little secret in the modern history of Reformed theology, piety, and practice. We cannot embrace Edwards and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones unequivocally as “one of us” and tell Jamie Smith that he can’t have the same piety that they had or sought.
Second, Jamie’s post illustrates the state of the definition of the words “Calvinist” and “Reformed.” Jamie mentions some modern Reformed folks (Bavinck and Kuyper), but he doesn’t mention (as I recall) folks such as Calvin and DeBres. Our older theologians, who wrote our confessions, confronted the very sort of spirituality Jamie advocates and seeks, and they rejected it. It isn’t well-known now, but the 16th-century Anabaptists were proto-Pentecostals. Indeed, every year in the Medieval Reformation course, when I describe the theology, piety, and practice of the Anabaptists, many students remark that it sounds a lot like the piety with which they were raised.
Guido DeBres, the primary author of the Belgic Confession (1561), one of the Reformed confessions adopted by the Reformed churches as part of the “Three Forms of Unity” (including the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort) wrote a treatise against the Anabaptists, in which he engaged the very questions posed by modern Pentecostalism: the attempt to replicate Apostolic phenomena, tongues, healing, etc. He engaged Thomas Muntzer, who accused the Protestants of being “dead” and he repudiated Munzter’s piety in favor of a Word and sacrament piety. For DeBres Reformed spirituality is antithetical to what is today called Pentecostalism.
The point is that, from the outset, the Reformed have always been aware that a piety of Word and sacrament will not be satisfactory to all, but that’s our piety. We understand that canonical age is past. We don’t live in redemptive history. The apostles are dead. The Spirit isn’t giving anyone the power to raise the dead or put the living to death. We’re not speaking in natural foreign languages by the power of the Spirit and we’re not receiving canonical or extra-canonical revelation.
To seek those things is to seek what Luther called “a theology of glory” and it’s antithetical to Reformed piety. I realize this makes us look “dead orthodox” to revivalists and restorationists, but I can live with that. I spent a long time questing after the “small, still voice” and living with the disappointment that I seemed to be the only one not to be receiving ongoing revelation—until I realized that my Pentecostal friends simply re-describe every ordinary thing that happens in extraordinary, apostolic, supernatural categories. When I did the biblical exegesis, I realized that much of what the Pentecostals seek isn’t even biblical. “Tongues of angels” has nothing to do whatever with languages spoken by angels and by Pentecostals. It’s just Pauline hyperbole to make a moral point.
Third, there is no question whether God could do the sorts of things Jamie (and the predestinarian revivalist tradition) wants. The question is whether He has promised to do so or whether we should expect such. Here I go to Deut. 29:29. I go to Luther’s theology of the cross. I go to the “ordinary means” piety of the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. We do see miracles on a regular basis. God sovereignly operates through the preached gospel (1 Cor. 1-2) to makes dead sinners alive, to give them faith, to unite them to Christ. Every Sabbath he confirms that faith and strengthens that union through the use of the holy sacraments. That’s mystery. That’s the power of the Spirit. No, I didn’t speak Swahili in the service, but I did hear the Gospel and God the Spirit did hover over the congregation (1 Pet. 4) and angels were present (1 Cor. 11). That’s enough for me.
All this is to say that I understand what Jamie wants, but it’s wrong. You cannot stuff John Calvin into the same sack as Thomas Muntzer or Hans Hut or Denck or sister Aimee or Cane Ridge or any of the others. These things are mutually exclusive. There is a Reformed piety. It doesn’t need to be augmented or fixed. It needs to be attempted.
Originally published May 16, 2008