The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Saturday, May 14, 2016

How Evangelicalism's Ignorance is the Reformed's Fault

By: Thomas F. Booher

I want to begin by saying that I have not written much for The Tulip Driven Life in the last couple of years. Time constraints have been a large factor, but the biggest reason I haven't written much is that I haven't really seen the point in doing so. I left (I think and hope) the cage stage of Calvinism, and after my fiery volleys, I realized I burnt some bridges unnecessarily, and was left with an echo chamber of other fire-wielding Calvinists who loved anything I posted that really "stuck it" to free will, but only kinda sorta liked other Reformedish stuff that I posted. Facebook has become (for me at least) an ineffectual way to reach non-likeminded Christians. All my Christian friends, apart from some in my family, are Reformed. Most on the Tulip Driven Life are Reformed. I like preaching to the choir, but really, there's plenty of websites with more qualified men of God to get your theology fix from. 

But something changed internally with me when Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race. Yes, it took that, of all things, to really press upon me a sense of urgency that I should have already had but had been lacking. I hoped and prayed that Cruz would win the nomination over Trump, or frankly just about any republican candidate would win over Trump. That, apparently, is not going to happen now. Yet it wasn't simply Ted Cruz dropping out that stoked the dying embers of my mind, it was the reason that he had to. Cruz did not get sufficient support from Evangelicals. 

While statistics do indicate that those who attend church weekly are less likely to vote for Trump than those who attend rarely, many weekly attenders still voted for Trump as the Washington Post link shows. In their chart, Trump took in votes from more than 35 percent of evangelicals that attended church weekly (over 50 percent who seldom or never attend, and still near 50 percent for those who "sometimes" attend church), and the next closest was a combination of Cruz/ Ben Carson at about 31 percent. Even if we assumed that every weekly evangelical who voted for someone other than Trump voted for a decent candidate, that still leaves more than 1/3 who voted for the Donald. 

I can only imagine that even more weekly evangelicals will vote for Trump now that he is the presumptive nominee, and that more will vote for him against the democratic nominee. I don't think it's unreasonable to say that 50 percent or more would vote for Trump rather than a 3rd party candidate or nobody (and we know some are advocating for Clinton!). 

The article by the Washington Post revealed more striking data, particularly that only 40 percent of frequent church attenders thought that morals (particularly abortion and the place of morality and religion in society) were important in determining who to vote for as President! I hope that that 40 percent is the same that voted for Trump. 

None of this should be that surprising to me. Just today at a theology conference I heard the speaker throw out these figures: over 70 percent of evangelicals do not believe in absolute truth and believe that mankind is basically good. So do they even care about gay marriage, transgenderism, and abortion? Even if they do, 70 percent of them have ruled out any possibility of arguing for right and wrong on anything, and of the remaining 30 percent, how many could actually articulate why they believe what they believe? 

Evangelicals have an ignorance epidemic of biblical proportions, and this ignorance has been swelling for a long time. It's their fault, but it's also our fault. As Reformed believers, we know that we know more than most Evangelicals. We know that we could wax them in a theology debate. We laugh at their silly doctrines or their "just love Jesus" slogans. But what we do not do enough of is disciple them. That's right, disciple them. And what we might call discipling is often little more than mud-slinging, scoffing, and browbeating. We exude arrogance rather than humility and godliness (and I believe certain strands of presuppositional apologetics and theonomy actually systematizes this highbrow and hubristic approach to discipling). 

I've been guilty of this myself. After first learning and embracing the five points (because I of course assumed that was the sum total of Reformed thought) I turned into a holy terror, on Facebook and this very blog, to my non-Reformed Christian friends from the non-Reformed Christian school that I attended from K-5 through graduation. While some would privately (through an inbox message) tell me they really appreciated what I said, they were too afraid to do so publicly because associating with me was like associating with your best friend's ex-boyfriend who got caught cheating. While I did apologize about a year later, it was too little too late. Most all the non-Reformed folk had blocked me or de-friended me, and only the hardcore Reformed (people I didn't even know personally) added me, probably because I was so forward with my convictions. 

Zeal is good. Light is good. But smoke is not desirable, and I had a lot of smoke coming out of my ears. I think lots of new Calvinists blow smoke and then must, like Luther, do a lot of repenting and backtracking. Some never really do, sadly, and begin to embrace the iron bars of their Calvinist cage. This gives the biblical truth as expounded in Reformed theology a bad name. This gives God a bad name and prevents others from coming to a knowledge of the truth!

So my new reason for writing is to write for two audiences, and two narrow purposes with each audience. I am writing firstly for Reformed believers, but particularly to give them ideas on how to speak, interact with, and write to non-Reformed believers (Evangelicals) in order to lovingly and gradually (yes, gradually) teach them better theology, aiming to give them a more accurate understanding of Scripture. Secondly, I am writing directly for Evangelicals, and I have to find ways to attract them to this blog and to the Facebook page for the blog. I have already found one way to do that, and that is by running ads targeting Evangelicals for my book "If Jesus Died for All, Why Aren't All Saved." That book was my attempt to gradually and lovingly bring Evangelicals on board with a deeper, richer, and more biblical understanding of the atonement, and if you shared the link to it on your non-Reformed friend's wall, I think it could be a great aid to them. I set it up for a free promotion on Amazon, and over 40 people grabbed it, and most of them, given my ad targeting, were likely non-Reformed Evangelicals. So that's a start. 

Maybe that E-Book can be a way I can help teach and disciple and love non-Reformed believers around the globe (so long as they read English). Locally, I'm also teaching at a classical Christian school and serving as Dean of the Upper School. There I get to teach a mix of Presbyterians who don't know their Reformed heritage (as I didn't despite going to a PCA church my whole life), a bunch of non-denominational (with likely little emphasis on theology in general) kids, one southern baptist, and one Roman Catholic who wants to become a nun. And guess who knows their theology the best and could hold their own with Protestant theology? Yep, the Roman Catholic. In fact, I am having her and one of the non-denominational guys debate on the doctrine of justification in my Rhetoric class. They are learning a ton and really loving it, and they have come to see the importance of the doctrine. Neither of them really knew that this was the doctrine that stirred up Luther and divided the church. This is the doctrine that caused the Protestant Reformation and is the dividing line between paper orthodoxy and paper apostasy. 

Do I think either of these two students will become Calvinists? No, not yet at least. But by the grace of God I'm moving the needle. By the grace of God I am getting them to think more deeply. By the grace of God they are stronger in their faith and more equipped to give a biblical and true defense of it. Most all my students seem to recognize that Trump is not the answer as President, and though they cannot vote, I've told them that soon they will (by the next election) and it's up to them to tip the scales back to Christian values and sanity. Whoever controls the young, the next generation, controls the country, and so we need to especially target young evangelicals. But, there's an issue with that as well. We run into it at the school. If you teach Reformed theology to non-Reformed kids too aggressively or dogmatically, sometimes the non-Reformed parents get upset, or worse, bolt. There's a balancing act, and in truth our impact is limited because we are one lone voice in these childrens' lives. They hear from mommy and daddy and Pastor Skinny Jeans that theology isn't that important and Jesus is all you need. But if we could get the parents on board and teach them the importance of training their children theologically and calling them to be sacrificial so that their children can know what Christian sacrifice looks like, well now we've tipped the scales, and the parents will likely leave to find a healthier, more doctrinally sound church, or else begin the process of reforming the one they are in!

The point I'm trying to make is that I have wasted a lot of time and energy developing thoughts on supralapsarianism and super-sabbatarianism that should have been shared with efforts to reach out to the regularly attending, non-Reformed evangelicals. They are the best mission field we have (along with Roman Catholics). They are ripe for the picking. Their minds may be underdeveloped, but we can develop them. They may have resistance to our probing, but by the grace of God and our loving tactics they may come to embrace critical thinking about the things of God!     

This, then, is our task as Reformed believers. We need to break our holy huddles, cut back on our daily Spurgeon and heavy Reformed blog reading, and build bridges to the Evangelicals. And the way we should do this should be the opposite of all the stereotypes of Calvinism, especially those that bring to mind the name Servetus. I was patiently taught the Reformed faith, and now I need to patiently teach it to others outside of it. And so should you.