Seattle Pacific

This afternoon I have the opportunity to guest lecture at Seattle Pacific University for a dear friend, Bob Drovdahl, who is a professor there. I will be speaking on my experience with adult education and I am very much looking forward to meeting the students and hearing more about their hearts for ministry in the church. I hope that i will have something of value to offer them from my own experience, and it will be fun to be on the SPU campus (a school I considered attending before deciding on North Park).

Scot McKnight recently posted some thoughts on the rise of the “NeoReformed“. He writes:

The NeoReformed, for a variety of reasons, some of them good, don’t recognize that evangelicalism as a village green. Instead, they want to build a gate at the gate-less village green and require Reformed confessions and credentials to enter onto the village green. Put differently, they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed. Really Reformed. In other words, they are “confessing” evangelicals. The only true evangelical is a Reformed evangelical. They are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination.

In effect, the NeoReformed are a new form of Fundamentalism, so one might describe them accurately as the NeoFundamentalists. Which means they seem to need a trend or an opponent upon whom they can vent their frustrations (see Rene Girard). This results in two clear traits: the exaltation of some peripheral doctrine to central status and the demonization of a person. The goal in such cases seems to be to win at all costs.

I have heard that the influence of Mars Hill on the students at SPU has been significant. One student told me that for young women on campus, there is a heavy trend away from considering careers or many ministry callings because of that particular church’s teaching on the role of women at church and in the home. It will be interesting to see if that trend is evident in this class today.

On his blog, Scot asks why younger adults are so drawn to what he calls the NeoReformed movement as evident in places like Mars Hill Church. Desire for certainty, hierarchy, and heavy leadership are a few observations some have made that seem to resonate with me, but I am not totally sure.


  1. I’ll need to sit with this awhile before I can give a proper response (if I am ultimately even able to do so), but Michelle and I have often talked about how so many of our friends (often with IV backgrounds) have gravitated to the Episcopal Churches in our area (as you may know, Michelle is Episcopalian. I’m PCUSA).

    Although “certainly” is obviously not something that Episcopalians tend to value, “hierarchy” seems to be. Also, to that I’d add that the liturgy itself, as high as it is, is something that many find comforting.

    Obviously, that last element (as is also the case with “certainty”) are in direct opposition to the Mars Hill phenomenon. But it does seem to me that both poles are drawing in numbers of people, often for similar (if polarized on each side) reasons.

  2. I have written elsewhere about how we all have “spiritual personalities,” and tend to resonate with one of the Persons more than the Others.

    Reformed, Lutheran and Episcopal folk are Theocentric; Pentecostals are Pneumacentric, and Anabaptists and evangelicals who are less Reformed tend to be Christocentric. If you’re a protestant with Theocentric leanings, your choices are pretty stark.

    Of course, you could seek to find a balance listening to all Three voices and then you’d be a good Covenanter! 😉

  3. Erika – First time commenter, long time reader. Really love the blog, I recently deleted about 90% of the blogs I read (incidentally, almost all of them were reformed) because they make me cranky, but yours was one I kept because it’s generally enjoyable to read :).

    Anyway, I’d probably fit in that young reformed group fairly well. I’m a 21-year-old Calvinist, paedobaptist, I-think-complementarian (still working through the issue, but that’s where I’m leaning now) happy member of a PCA church here in Lincoln, NE where I’m currently a student at the University of Nebraska (Go Big Red!). However, I share your reservations with the more stridently reformed that you and Scot are talking about.

    Not sure if these are helpful or not, but take them for what they’re worth:
    1) Everyone goes through a period where they’re a real a-hole after accepting a certain theological framework. This is true in most traditions and I think is especially true in the reformed tradition. Calvinism, wrongly understood, can be horribly destructive and I think you see that in many young reformed types.
    2) Many of the young reformed are coming out of very shallow and dead evangelical churches and have found something with some life in it in the reformed world. A little misplaced fire is almost to be expected at the beginning.
    3) Many of the young reformed are immature young men with no life experience and tons of book knowledge. (In this respect they’re quite similar to a young John Calvin, but that’s a separate issue entirely…) It takes time for them to mature, chill out, and realize that evangelicalism is much more of a large tent than a gated community in which a signed copy of the Westminster Confession is required for admittance.
    4) In the case of Driscoll, part of the issue is that his highly-contextualized ministry in Seattle gets exported via podcast to places where it simply doesn’t work. But again, the young reformed are immature, frequently-stupid young men who don’t take the time to realize this important fact. Driscoll’s approach is distinctive to Seattle and in Seattle, it works to a large extent. Elsewhere… not so much. I think most the young reformed would do better to learn from a Matt Chandler than a Mark Driscoll, not because one is better than the other, but because for most young American evangelicals, our context is closer to Chandler’s Dallas than Driscoll’s Seattle. Of course, it’d be best if we’d learn principally from Scripture and then from a great variety of traditions (Reformed, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Anabaptist, etc.) but realistically that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

    Thanks for posting about this, I’d love to hear about how it goes at SPU :).


  4. I’d be willing to be that most of the groups mentioned above would be willing to be debate the amount to which they are “–centric” to the exclusion/”preference over” other persons of the Trinity….

  5. Jake,

    Thanks for such a great response! I really appreciate your insight and your tone in sharing it. It’s always great to “meet” the readers here and I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  6. Beth and Mark,

    I remember Dr. Mouw talking about this at Fuller: he made the point that while we are all trinitarian, most of us will gravitate toward one of the Persons as our primary “God”. He said this is often most apparent in our language when praying in whom we choose to address most often in our prayers. I know that among my InterVarsity friends, for example, I can almost always expect to pray to “Jesus”. I am much more likely to pray to “God”. It is interesting to pay attention to this among different groups of people.

  7. hah, Jake’s point #1 made me laugh and I think his response is very insightful and true.

    Erika, I am also a long-time lurker, though I might have commented once. I always appreciate your gentle insights.

    I wanted to add here some of what I wrote on Scot’s post. I was surprised by his post because while I find myself in neo-reformed circles, I haven’t experienced the angry dogmatism that Scot and many of his other commenters are concerned about.

    I agree that there is a rise in young Baptist turned Calvinists. Many of the comments pointed out several of the reasons for this trend (which, ironically, are many of the same reasons that drove the beginning of the emerging church). Many of these young people are coming out of somewhat shallow theological teaching in youth groups and are then taught systematic theology in Bible Colleges and other programs. The passion of youth and a drive to find depth is combined with the leftover modernist drive to find logical consistency (in systematic theology). Strict, 5-point Calvinism has the benefit of being a complete system, and it makes sense to many.

    And then, of course, it is sort of the cool thing right now in some circles.

    Perhaps I am looking at a softer side of the neo-Reformed movement, because my circles include a deep search into church history, including Jonathan Edwards, Calvin, etc. This has strengthened their commitment to the Reformed tradition, but it has also given people like my husband an increased appreciation for the unity and diversity of the historical and universal church. Although my husband and those like him are perhaps eager to debate the theological points of their reformed theology, they also are very willing to consider all of evangelicalism and even (at times) Catholic and Eastern-Orthodox as being part of the “big tent”.

    In fact, the neo-reformed world that I see intersects with the missional church in many ways.

    I suspect that the rigid dogmatism that you’re seeing in the neo-reformed movement is similar to the dogmatism that can be seen at times in the emerging/missional church on the part of some of their more divisive leaders? I do not say that as a critique – I consider myself a part of the missional movement. However, there are voices in the movement that are loud, controversial, dogmatic, and a bit judgmental towards people they view as judgmental. 🙂 In both the missional and neo-orthodox movement I think that these voices are sometimes taken to represent a movement that on the whole is actually much more gentle and willing to dialogue theologically then these leaders would seem to show.

  8. Just had a discussion at the soup kitchen and at Ace Hardware last weekend about the merits of Neo-Calvinism….

    In my experience it’s on the lips and minds of all kinds of poor and middle class people around the world :^).

    I know ideas have consequences, and particularly religious ideas, but maybe it’s time for religious conservatives of all persuasions to give it a rest for a while and focus their energy on how to serve people better.

    I’m pretty bored and disillusioned by the whole ideological/theological thing at this point.

    Whether Anabaptist or Calvinist or a ‘third way.’ the whole thing normally just seems like words heaped up on more words.

    I’ve been following these kinds of arguments closely for decades, but things don’t seem to change too much on the ground one way or the other no matter who temporarily gets the inside ideological/theological track.

    Maybe the brightest Christian people should be passionately arguing about how best to serve others in practical ways. Particularly those most in need.

    Faithful in little, faithful in much. Maybe the theological abstractions would come easier if we got our priorities straighter.

  9. Thanks, Kacie! I think you add some valuable pieces to the discussion. I also laughed at Jake’s#1.

    I think you are right that there are a few loud voices with loud followers and of course these guys get the attention. Having just moved back to Seattle, the one I obviously hear the most about is Mark Driscoll.

  10. Tom,

    I get what you are saying but I would add that for lots of women all over, the rise in popularity of teaching that dictates to them the very nature of how they can serve their neighbor and their God is much more than ideological chatter.

  11. It’s interesting that so many folks laughed at Jake’s #1. Although, like Erika, I appreciate the tone of his post, I can’t agree with that one. I was particularly obnoxious at other points in my religious life but finding the emergent movement and it’s focus on eliminating the boundaries of who’s in and who’s out immediately had an effect on how well I loved my neighbors. Knowing we were all moving in the same direction, regardless of starting point, freed me from having to be that a-hole again.

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