January 7, 2008

Hyper-Reformation Theology

I am increasingly of the belief that one of the biggest problems - and the root of many other problems - with contemporary Evangelicalism is what I call "hyper-Reformation theology." I don't mean hyper-Calvinism. I use the term "Reformation theology" to refer to five points which are far more fundamental to the Reformation that the points of Calvinism: namely, the five solas. By the term "hyper-Reformation theology," I mean a collection of exaggerated caricatures of these essential doctrines which are currently popular among Evangelicals. The most visible of these is "hyper-sola scriptura", which I have discussed before, but there are similar positions for each of the others: "sola fide" and "sola gratia" become an excuse for antinomianism; "solus Christus" and "soli deo gloria" mean we shouldn't ever mention any dead saints, and Mary the mother of Christ is not to be mentioned except at Christmas. Now, I deliberately state these absurdly, but I really think that these sorts of caricatures are behind a lot of the problems in contemporary Evangelicalism, and I know that, for my part, it was not until recently that I had any real idea of how to finish the sentences ("scripture alone ... what?"). Now Johnny-Dee is pointing to a very interesting article by J.P. Moreland on "hyper-sola scriptura" which he provocatively calls "Evangelical over-commitment to the Bible." I don't agree with everything he says, but I think he appreciates the nature of the problem and the fact that it can be addressed without rejecting inerrancy or "sola scriptura," properly understood. He also has some interesting reflections on how we got here, which have to do with the sociology of education.

Posted by Kenny at January 7, 2008 10:32 PM
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Comments

I find your following comment hard to swallow: "I am increasingly of the belief that one of the biggest problems - and the root of many other problems - with contemporary Evangelicalism is what I call "hyper-Reformation theology.""

Undoubtedly, there are Piper-ites and Calvin-lovers who are overly-zealous for their perspective; but a return to Reformational roots (even if over-emphasized) is NOT one of the biggest problems for Evangelicalism today.

One of the reasons for this increase in "hyper-Reformation" today is that Evangelicalism is suffering from an identity crisis. In my estimation the Emergent Church movement with its association to watered-down philosophical theories, known as "postmodernism", is a far more pernicious problem in Evangelicalism today. It offers no true anchor for grounding our faith (the same faith that Jude claims was once delivered to the saints).

It should therefore not surprise us that many are attracted to traditional Reformational doctrines looking for a sure ground. (It should also not surprise us that Evangelicals are returning to other traditions as well--Catholicism, Episcopalianism, etc.)

I think you should revise your assessment of Evangelicalism.

Posted by: Glach at January 11, 2008 5:58 AM

Glach - I think that we are more or less in agreement, and that you have misunderstood me. I don't mean a return to Reformational roots. In fact, the whole problem is that the average Evangelical doesn't understand what the Reformation was about, and Evangelicals have these really ridiculous exaggerated views of the claims the Reformers were making (which they might not even know enough to tie to the Reformers, but for the most part they think it's at least part of being "Protestant"). In calling it "hyper-Reformation theology" I don't mean to link it to an intentional attempt to recover the principles of the Reformation, I simply mean to say that these theological problems can be traced to a tendency over the course of hundreds of years to exaggerate Reformation principles more and more as time goes on. A return to the actual principles of the Reformation in their proper form is, in my view, the solution, not the problem. People like Piper are generally not the bad ones.

However watered-down emergentism may be, it is also interested in recovering Church tradition, or at least recovering elements of Christian worship that have been thrown out by most Protestants over the years. I think that the attractions of emergentism or of the return to Catholicism or Orthodoxy on the part of so many former Evangelicals can be traced at least in part to a realization of the ridiculousness of these exaggerated doctrines followed by a swing to the opposite extreme.

In this post I didn't take time to explain what I'm talking about in a fully adequate way, but if you look at the linked article and you view the problem as an exaggerated caricature of sola scriptura, I think you can see how Evangelicalism today is also characterized by exaggerated caricatures of each of the other four solas.

Posted by: Kenny at January 11, 2008 8:09 AM

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