Feb

18

2009

Justin Taylor|9:51 am CT

Scot McKnight’s Caricature of the NeoReformed

In his blurb for N.T. Wright’s new book, Scot McKnight labeled “the neo-Reformed” as “America’s newest religious zealots” who are “more committed to tradition than to the sacred text.” Pretty strong words. Since Wright’s book is a response to Piper (and other critics like Carson and Seifrid), most readers will understand McKnight’s name-calling and accusation as categorizing these pastors and scholars in this broad-brush category.

Now McKnight has begun a new blog series seeking to explain what he means by his designation “neo-Reformed.” You can read his first and second posts.

McKnight sees this group as representing a “new form of Fundamentalism”–one could call them the NeoFundamentalists. McKnight identifies their motives and psychology. The NeoReformed/Fundamentalists have:

  • a need: a trend or an opponent upon whom they can vent their frustrations.
  • two resulting traits: (1) some peripheral doctrine is exalted to central status, and (2) a person is demonized.
  • the goal: to win at all costs.

Michael Horton has argued:

[E]vangelicalism is like a village green, where people, leaving their homes and stores, come to mix and mingle. Or, as C. S. Lewis suggested, it is “mere Christianity”–the hallway where people meet and where non-Christians can hear Christ’s central claims. We were not meant to live on the village green or in the hallway, however, but in the homes and rooms. Evangelicalism is most useful as a meeting place, but disastrous for anyone who tries to make it a home. For a home, we need a church.

McKnight likes Horton and the “village green” imagery. McKnight does not consider him to be in the NeoReformed/Fundamentalist camp.

The NeoReformed/Fundamentalist movement does three things:

  • attempts to capture evangelicalism
  • redefines evangelicalism by Reformed doctrines
  • kicks all of the non-Reformed off the village green

What do these NeoReformed/Fundamentalist believe?

  • The NeoReformed do not view evangelicalism as a village green
  • The NeoReformed want to build a gate on the gateless village green–such that to get onto the green you have to submit to the Reformed confessions and have Reformed credentials
  • The NeoReformed think that the only legitimate and faithful evangelicals are Reformed
  • The NeoReformed think that if you are not a Reformed evangelical you are not a true evangelical
  • The NeoReformed are “more than happy” to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t agree with things like double predestination

I suggested in a blog comment to McKnight’s first post that it would be helpful to hear who he has in mind here. He didn’t respond.

In today’s post, he comes closer to “naming names”:

I blurbed Tom Wright’s book recently with some strong words, and one blogger posted my blurb — a blogger who had not read Tom Wright’s book — and it drew within one day about 75 comments, and I’m pretty sure only one commenter on the entire thread had read both Piper’s book and Wright’s book. The rest were pretty sure I was wrong. Those who were all riled up about the blurb are the NeoReformed — ironically, they were wondering who I had in mind when I used “NeoReformed” in the blurb. I thought that was obvious.

I want to be careful with my language here, but I have to say that this seems a little bizarre. Let’s review: Wright wrote a response to Piper and his other critics. McKnight blurbed the response, and praised the response as a critique of the “neo-Reformed.” He then labeled this group as being “religious zealots” who are more committed to tradition than God’s Word. Those are pretty harsh words, and I hardly think they apply to someone like John Piper and Don Carson.

But if you are “riled up” by such an harsh words, then you are the NeoReformed/Fundamentalists. (By the way, why would one have had to read Wright’s book to have an opinion on whether or not McKnight was being fair or mean-spirited in his blurb?) And if you are NeoReformed/Fundamentalists, then you believe that the only true evangelicals are those that believe in double predestination and you have a win-at-all-costs mentality that seeks to demonize your opponents! This simply doesn’t follow. John Piper, Don Carson, Al Mohler, David Wells, etc. certainly don’t think this sort of thing. Even if you disagree with their theology and their methodology, McKnight’s description is still a pretty stunning caricature. None of them believes that if you reject double predestination that you are not an evangelical and must be kicked off the village green. Some marginal folks believe this, but not these men.

I want to be open to critique, and I know these other men do to. But honestly, McKnight–who has frequently complained about statements about Emergent/ing that don’t make distinctions and paint with broad brush strokes–is doing the same in spades. In addition, he’s publicly caricaturing his brothers and sisters in Christ and doing so in a rather crude way. I hope he reconsiders.

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