Everyone by now must have noticed that there is a large and unsightly crack running down the middle of that highly vocal and energetic sector of Western Christianity that thinks of itself in the broadest sense as “evangelical”. It is not the only fault line—Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism and what I suppose we must still call “liberal” Christianity (it seems a waste of a good word) are similarly divided from one another and from evangelicalism. But this is the one that I live closest to—actually, very close to at the moment; and I have a hard time explaining it.
On one side of the fault line is a fairly coherent grouping of Reformed churches and theologies, recently reinvigorated. On the other side… well, things are not quite so clear.
A year ago David Fitch identified it as a loose ecclesial-theological coalition of “Neo-Anabaptist, Centrist-communal-wholistic-Baptist, Holiness/Charismatic oriented, Kingdom minded, evangelical Missionals”. To make “Missionals” the key denominator is probably too restrictive, and “Kingdom minded” is an inadequate basis for developing an alternative evangelical theology. But clearly we are struggling to put a name to the large territory that lies to the left of the great divide. So for now I will call it “post-Reformed”, because I think it is held together primarily by the conviction that it is too much to expect the Reformation to provide resources to meet the complex set of challenges that the church faces at the end of Christendom.
This has to be the basic reason why the ground has opened up in this way—the land mass of evangelicalism has come under immense “eschatological” strain, and we are having to decide where the future lies. Then perhaps what happens is that the fundamental structural oppositions of the collective mind align themselves with the cultural shift—certainty against uncertainty, tradition against reason, deduction against inference, progress against reaction, answers against questions, inclusion against exclusion, control against release, universals against particulars, word against spirit, singularity against plurality, and so on. And there we have it—the thoroughgoing dissociation of the Reformed mindset from the post-Reformed mindset.
But I approach the matter right now largely on a personal basis. The church that we are part of has a moderate Reformed theology (combined with a rather immoderate charismatic practice), and I find myself often having to negotiate what can feel like genetic differences of outlook and belief. It appears that we are far enough apart to be distinct species, sufficiently divergent at the genetic level that we are unable to interbreed, even if by the grace of God we find that we can safely intermingle.
As an simple exercise in self-understanding, therefore, I have listed here a number of contrasting features. They are approximate, somewhat random, and a little disorderly. They reflect my own perspective on the situation, which is necessarily limited and to whatever degree ill-informed. Others will, no doubt, map things differently.
|The Reformed position||The post-Reformed position|
|affirms the values and belief system of the Protestant Reformation, is backward-looking, conservative;||is unwilling to be bound by the values and belief system of the Protestant Reformation, is forward-looking, progressive;|
|takes a largely rational and dogmatic approach to the development of a Christian mindset;||takes a historical and narrative approach to the development of a Christian mindset;|
|insists that masculine Theology takes the lead in the awkward interpretive dance of Theology and History (I have Nicholas Perrin to thank for this metaphor);||lets feminine History take the lead in the awkward interpretive dance of Theology and History;|
|assumes an essentially foundationalist epistemology, emphasizing rationality and internal coherence;||assumes a more post-modern epistemology that emphasizes the personal, relational, experiential, cultural and historical nature of “truth”;|
|sees no reason to put “truth” in quotation marks;||makes frequent use of quotation marks;|
|discards particularities in favour of universals;||deconstructs universals in favour of particularities;|
|downplays the significance of context for the construction of meaning;||thinks that meaning without context is like a person without a genealogy, a country without a history, a door without a wall, traffic lights without a road, and so on…;|
|is top down, synchronic, right of centre;||is bottom up, diachronic, left of centre;|
|is uncomfortable with questions, ambiguity and doubt, resists messiness;||is uncomfortable with confidence, authority and certainty, relishes messiness;|
|sees the world in black and white;||sees the world in shades of grey;|
|likes to listen to doctrines at bedtime;||likes to listen to stories at bedtime;|
|is less receptive of critical thought, is resistant to the power of secular metanarratives, is more likely to reject evolutionism;||is more receptive of critical thought, is intrigued by the power of secular metanarratives, is open to scientific accounts of origins;|
|takes the Bible very seriously;||takes the Bible very seriously, only not in the same way;|
|regards New Testament theology as essentially post-Jewish, sees more discontinuity than continuity;||regards New Testament theology as essentially Jewish, sees more continuity than discontinuity;|
|likes theology to be constructed determinately rather than indeterminately, in closed rather than open categories;||is unhappy with deterministic accounts of election and divine intention, is not greatly impressed by arguments for inerrancy;|
|has a belief system that is like a top spinning on the point of the atoning death of Jesus and around the axis of justification by faith, which will fall over if it loses momentum;||has a belief system that is more like a network of pathways through a forest, in which it is easy to get lost;|
|gets very upset if the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is compromised;||gets very upset by the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement;|
|is more likely to emphasize separation and exclusion;||is more likely to emphasize embrace and inclusion;|
|is complementarian;||is egalitarian;|
|promotes community and justice but not at the expense of a gospel of personal salvation;||promotes community and justice;|
|does evangelism;||does mission;|
|expects to go to heaven;||would prefer to end up in a new heavens and new earth;|
|is much more likely to believe in a literal hell.||thinks that “hell” is at best a serious misunderstanding of scripture and at worst a moral and theological abomination.|