In Defense of the Neo-Reformed

September 2, 2013 § 5 Comments

An honest question for you, because I’m really struggling to figure this out: what do you do with teachings about God that bring hope and life to one person, but for a different person, cause her to see God as a monster, a thing to dread rather than worship?

And how does the latter person worship alongside a monster-God-lover on Sunday mornings? How could she bring her soul into agreement with her sister’s, joining her in affirming that “God is good,” when each sister’s way of defining God’s goodness is an affront to the other?

In the Christian communities I hang around, where we like to think of God’s sovereign love as rooted in the freedom he grants rather than in the authority he wields, you might hear someone talk about her sister like this: “Her god is not my G-d! Her god is a sadistic puppet master. Her view of God constitutes blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. So she’s not even a real Christian either. If only Jesus were here—oh wait!” And then you get some Bible verses.

Oh, so many times I’ve been this person. I’ve shouted “fuck you Pastor Mark!!” from the Twitter-tops. But wouldn’t you know, it got me in big trouble, and I had to apologize to someone very close to me. Because the difficult truth is that Mark Driscoll and the neo-reformed movement have—gulp—well, they have brought many people closer to the love of Christ.

And this love isn’t a caricature. It’s not a delusion. It’s just not. It’s just not. It’s real. For example, for every family that suffers under the crushing weight of neo-reformed gender roles there is another family that finds release from—let’s just say—addiction, strife, and the prison of self-sufficiency by ordering their lives around the neo-reformed teachings about marriage.

I’m not saying it’s a good teaching. I think it’s horrible stuff. But what do you do with the fact of lives changed, families changed, truly, truly, not just as an affectation or social posture but truly, down to the core, there is now love where there used to be none, and it’s a miracle? What do you do with that?

What do you do when your husband discovers supreme, tear-inducing joy from knowing he is condemned in his horrible sin but Christ has chosen him through grace to be saved from it? Can you call his God-who-chooses a monster, can you say the true love of Christ is not in his heart? You chose to share your life with him because the light of Christ is so beautifully burning in his heart—his faith is so utterly genuine, honest, wise, scripturally-informed, absolutely loving and so obviously Christian.

This is my situation. I have seen lives changed in the crucible of neo-reformed theology. I have seen lives crushed and lives changed, and I don’t know what to do with that. It would be intellectually and spiritually dishonest, not to mention incredibly prideful and condescending, to write off the neo-reformed as being outside orthodoxy, declaring TULIP a heresy, and decrying “their Christ” as a false god—and it would be too easy, too.

Powerful folks are all about “calling each other out” for the cause of preserving some kind of legitimate faith—oh, we do it “in love,” of course!—but even among the peace-lovers it so quickly turns into hard-hearted judgment games, Bible-verse wars to prove who is “in” and who is “out.”

The more Christians I meet the more I am convinced that the struggle for control over who gets to define “legitimate” faith—ehm, often it’s called “theology”—is simply the demonic distraction of powerful men. The beautiful little weird faiths found among the great cloud of witnesses—the people who pastor doesn’t know, but the rest of us do—these are my theology. And when you see theology wrapped up in a real body, with its own legitimate will and its own beautiful heart—neo-reformed as it might be—wow, it’s always hard not to look her in the eye and say, “Well now, there’s Jesus, right there.”

This is what it really looks like to opt-out.

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§ 5 Responses to In Defense of the Neo-Reformed

  • I have been in the same boat for a while now. Some of my very best and most faithful, loving friends are from the (mostly) neo-Reformed church I went to in high school, where God’s wild grace is preached every Sunday and where it seeped into my bones. I have been in both conversations – “how could anyone be Calvinist? Sadists…”, and “how could anyone not be Calvinist? Idiots…”

    Depending on the day I wince, fight, or cry later.

    I think there’s something about paradox at the heart of it. About how it’s all true somehow in the God-man Truth, and some of us need to cling harder to different bits.

    Even regarding gender roles.

  • I’ve been very troubled by this question myself. Someone I care a lot about went through a struggle and came out on the other end of it a zealous fundamentalist because the deliverance he experienced came from that theology. I’m fine with him having that theology for himself but when he starts attacking other people in order to prove himself, that’s when I feel obligated to push back.

    Of course the flip side of this is how do I show solidarity to people who started out fundamentalist and are now scarred for life from it. Sometimes solidarity involves denouncing what hurt somebody else. Jesus has to dis Simon the Pharisee in order to honor the dignity of the woman who anointed his feet in Luke 7.

    Something really touching I read this past year was the end of this book Devangelical. It was sort of the stereotypical snarky ex-evangelical spiritual memoir up until the very end. At the end, the author described her father’s death and the way that she would have given anything to be reconciled with him despite their differences in belief. And she left it there dangling, unresolved. It wounded me in a good way to read that.

  • charityjill says:

    i’m in the same boat, Morgan. After many heated conversations, which continue to happen from time to time, I still have to figure out how to worship Jesus with my closest friends. I have heard of that book; I will definitely have to check it out soon. It sounds…devastating, but good. :)

  • Oh my sister :). This was a beautiful read and brought me to tears. I have many of these same thoughts and feelings but…the opposites! Haha! I love you and your ability to, you know write and stuff.

  • I knew I liked you. I knew we agreed on a lot. YES. This.

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