Friday, February 27, 2009


Today was The Day. That is, today is when non-tenured teachers were supposed to find out if they weren't going to be rehired for next year. I anxiously dared to open my e-mail inbox, wondering if I was going to have The Meeting today.

No news is good news, I guess.

As the day went on, I found out that two other hard-working science teachers got let go (and one was a two-sport coach, at that!). It was really a numbers game. The district is in debt, the curriculum is changing, and enrollment actually dropped. I'm not entirely in the clear yet, but I heard that today would be "the day" for anyone getting let go.

I hate turning on the news anymore, and the atmosphere is equally paranoid every day in public schools. I heard that a large local district released all of their first-year teachers. But it makes me ever so thankful that God has graciously answered my near-daily prayers for continued employment. (On top of this, two of my students even brought me some of the scrumptious cake they made last night during a "study party"!)

As Olivia has so often reminded me, "The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5-7). Thank you, Father, for your kindness toward me through your Son, Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Whose orthodoxy is it?

A recent issue of Christianity Today magazine examined the rise of Calvinism in an article titled, "Young, Restless, and Reformed." Rallying around the likes of John Piper and John MacArthur (at least as much as they can be considered confessionally Reformed), the theology of "Calvinism" has been growing in evangelical circles. But not everyone is pleased by this. Scot McKnight says this about the so-called "Neo-Reformed" in a few recent posts at the BeliefNet blog (part 1; part 2):

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 believein classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination.

Whether or not Reformed Protestants actually believe about "double predestination" what everyone else thinks they do--a gross caricature in my estimate--I find McKnight's criticisms a sharp rebuke to folks like me. You see, I would consider my theological understandings most in conformity with the Reformed tradition. What I think McKnight labels as "Reformed theology" is really the mislabeled "five points of Calvinism," better known as the "doctrines of grace." Granted, this has little to do with the meat of real Reformed theology, which is that all of God's dealings with humanity are subsumed under one of two overarching covenants: a covenant of works and a covenant of grace.

In trying to defend the gospel, though, do we really need the "doctrines of grace"? Are they themselves essential to the gospel--so much so that if someone doesn't adhere to them he has bastardized the message of Christ and is not a true "evangelical"?

In short--yes and no. For starters, it was Lutherans during the 16th-century Reformation who were first called "evangelical," coming from the Latin evangel, or "gospel." Oops. (Granted, Reformed theology during the 16th and 17th centuries looked a whole lot more like Lutheranism than it does now.) Without being too minimalist or vague, here is what I consider essential to the gospel. (I hope you will see that, unlike some versions that are merely propositions or "points," the gospel is really a story in history.)

  1. God created the world "very good" and man--Adam and Eve--in his image, for the goal of wholehearted fellowship with and enjoyment of God himself.

  2. Through the deceptive agency of Satan, Adam exercised distrust and rebellion and brought God's curse of death--both physical and spiritual--upon all his progeny, that is, all of mankind. All of humanity is covenantally represented "in Adam" and are therefore under sin's guilt, shame, and power. Though God still requires all persons to fully obey God's moral law, they cannot do so and under just condemnation.

  3. God graciously promised to provide a Redeemer in whom man would be rescued from sin, and through whom God would reign in righteousness to bring blessing and life to a world dead in sin. (*Addition: These blessings were originally pledged in Eden and then to Abraham and his offspring, later to be given to all persons who shared in Abraham's faith.)

  4. Because of man's inability to effect his own restoration through works, God himself lovingly and mercifully took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to achieve the obedience he required from man and to become an unblemished substitute to bear in his own death God's holy and just punishment for man's sin. This loving sacrifice reconciled sinful man to God.

  5. Christ's was vindicated by God at his resurrection, and he now reigns from heaven to give his Spirit to all who would repent of their works, futility, and pride, and turn to him for salvation. Such persons are now, by the Spirit, given new birth "in" or "into Christ," are forgiven and declared righteous in him, and receive as a free gift the life Christ himself earned by his obedience.

  6. Spiritual fellowship with Christ now transforms believers into a truer image of God.

  7. Christ will return physically and visibly before the sight of all the world, and all persons will be raised bodily. Christ will condemn unbelievers to eternal torment and to welcome believers into eternal bliss in the kingdom of God--a new world which is again "very good" where we will honor and enjoy God unendingly.

The Reformed "doctrines of grace" do help to clarify these points and add depth and meaning. But this gospel goes a long way even without such beneficial clarifications. This message is our center. What I think the Heidelberg Catechism or Westminster Confession or Canons of Dordrecht do for us (and why they're ultimately necessary) is that they teach us to place saving agency--and thus all boasting and thanksgiving and honor and praise--squarely with God himself and God alone. They unpack more fully the message that "God saves sinners." We still have much the same gospel. It's just that without the Reformed lens on Scripture we wouldn't know how much praise and credit to really ascribe to God for the salvation we now have. We wouldn't know as well the security with which we lie in God's love and power.

In one sense, the Reformation's theology could be summed up as "Salvation belongs to the Lord; damnation belongs to man." It's a story of two cities, two mediators, two destinies, two ways to be human. So what the church really needs right now is not so much explicit, confessional Reformed orthodoxy, but finely tuned Law-Gospel sensors. We need pastors who are able to rightly able to expose how futile is our merit and how great and continual is our need for justification and life. And such pastors will also be able to lead us to the One in whom this justification and life is freely given.