Why Are They Getting It Wrong?
Thomas Baxter has another post up at Ministry Watchman, which you can see here. This time Baxter is aiming at the entire reformed Mafia, which obviously includes hit-man Doug Wilson. Baxter asks the question, “Why is the Reformed Community Getting It Wrong?” I am not sure Baxter answers the question, although he gives a nice portrayal of the problem:
… it is important to reflect on the following truth. Dr. RC Sproul Sr, Dr. RC Sproul Jr, Mr. Tim Dick, Mr. John Duncan, Rev. Doug Wilson, Mr. Doug Phillips, Esq., and a host of other Reformed “Christian Celebrities” contradict their public teachings …On the other hand, Ted Haggard is now enjoying the freedom of confession, repentance, and God-ordained discipline. Unfortunately, today’s group of Reformed “celebrities” that appear so willing to engage in or provide the rationale for disciplining others … also appear to avoid any type of accountability themselves, preferring the bluster of threats or the filing of actual lawsuits…
As for answering the question, I think there is a full set of partial answers that I do not have time to fully address at the moment. For now however, please consider the following:
The “reformed community” has hardly been a vibrant form of Christianity the last century, and it was the Celebrities that helped put it more on the map to begin with. RC Sproul was highly effective in putting on the makeup and rolling the cameras: evangelicals could now have a deeper and enjoyable knowledge of certain fascinating doctrines. “Renewing Your Mind” became the fun time talking about gnosis at RC’s coffee shop lectures. (Of course, the Pauline phrase “renewing your mind” has little to do with doctrine to begin with; but reformed folks have always been good at finding pieces of language to get them out of the real Pauline story.) That RC was one of those pop-philosophers and pop-apologists made it all the more fun, particularly given his evidentialist bent.
And it was precisely what was so dead about much reformed theology, including its ludicrous timeless systems, ideas, and concepts, that made it so agreeable to many people. One could now get their head into the heavenly proposition sets of eternal knowledge, grasping Boettner’s determinism or the scholastic’s covenant idea. Technical theological terms and definitions could be memorized in order to separate one’s self from the unclean animals we call arminians and evangelicals. It should not be surprising then to find the most notable gnostic heresy in the contemporary church to be a direct spin off from the “truly reformed”: Theonomy is a timeless, non-eschatological, anti-narrative approach applied to the biblical language of “law.” It mangles and distorts everything important about the gospel story, and yet it finds itself so much at home within the reformed tradition, as does Reconstructionism. Kinism and patriarchy are also significantly wedded to this sort of hermeneutic, and clearly also spin offs specifically from the reformed tradition. Look at the fruits.
As for the problem of “accountability,” one clear reason for this is the way that notions about authority, covenant, and Lordship permeate thought and practice in the reformed community. Marriage becomes oath-bond, worship becomes renewal of land-grant Treaty, and religious experience reduces to covenant keeping. Men become patriarchs with intrinsic “authority,” and church leaders become primarily “rulers,” who demand loyalty and obedience after building an entire ecclesiology out of one or two statements from the New Testament. Baptism becomes only a half-way covenantal stance; what is required for full Christian status is membership oaths, pledging fidelity to a particular group of men. You are not fully a covenant-folk until you are in covenant with a local congregation. Perverse dichotomies are erected, separating leaders from laymen. Wilson went so far as to separate the priesthood of the ordained minister from the laymen of both elders and non-elders.
Finally, the pride expressed by leadership is expressed by the tradition at large. The reformed community is the most arrogant American splinter group around. “We have arrived” seems like a good motto for the reformed tradition to me; but as Brian McLaren insightfully noted, the Reformed Tradition will be the first to have an identity crisis given how wedded it is to the intellectual tools of modernity. Indeed, I think this is precisely what you see right now, both in the moral scandals, and also theological confusion: I must say, I have to side with the Federal Vision group to some extent simply because of how arrogant, close minded, and incompetent the reformed response to it was. And this is really the role Doug Wilson plays in all of this: he is a leach sucking from a half-dead corpse. It was the “truly reformed” theological foolishness as well as the horrible lack of family and church “culture” within even reformed leadership that allowed Wilson to be an accurate prophet; people ate up his stuff because of how starved they were. RC Sproul was out playing golf and the pastor’s kid was busy
banging with the girl next door.