Thursday, October 06, 2005

Andrew Sandlin on problems with the reformed faith

Andrew Sandlin has spoken a few times at my home church (Church of the King), he is within the reformed camp, but has these critizisms that I find worth thinking about:

"Today Richard, my oldest son, a senior philosophy major at Cal, asked me, "If you had it to do over again, would you have joined your present religious affiliation." I retorted that he was very perceptive; silently thought a few moments; and then responded that, while I would have embraced Reformational themes, I would not have identified myself as staunchly Reformed.

I have come to believe that while this paradigm is quite tenable, it suffers from systemic (and not merely operational) flaws. I'll mention only two.

First, its overemphasis on the judicial dimension of the Bible tends correspondingly to deemphasize the active, immediate, dynamic role of the Holy Spirit in the world and the Bible and the church. The Holy Spirit is the Absent One.

Second, its doctrinalism tends to produce mean, insulting, schismatic people. They have All The Truth, are akin to epistemic rationalists, and grind in the dust good Christians who disagree with them. They (alone?) read the mind of God. I think often they come close to commtting the sin of idolatry.

This is by no means a blanket condemnation. It does seem to follow the Reformed Faith (in its historic, unreconstructed version, anyway) wherever it goes. "

You can read his blog here:

and the Center for Cultural Leadership here


Blogger John Jackson said...

You know Stephen, I have to tell you, I have some problems with what Sandlin has said.
First off, Sandlin criticises doctrinalism, but refers to himself as "Reformational". This is a doctrinal position. By him even referring to himself as this much, he distinguishes himself from other doctrinal positions (eg. dispensationalism, molinism, semi-pelagianism, etc..)
Second, when Sandlin says, " Its (reformed theology's) overemphasis on the judicial dimension of the Bible tends correspondingly to deemphasize the active, immediate, dynamic role of the Holy Spirit in the world and the Bible and the church. The Holy Spirit is the Absent One," he completely misunderstands how Reformed theologians have, throughout history understood the Holy Spirit. He would have a hard time convincing such greats as Charles Spurgeon, (who wrote more about the converting work of the Holy Spirit than anything else) John Bunyan, (who wrote prolifically about the Holy Spirit, both in his fictional and nonfictional works) John Owen, (who wrote a long book about the converting work of the Holy Spirit, entitled The Death of Death in the Death of Christ) and of course John Calvin that they wrote less than those outside of the Reformed camp about the Holy Spirit.
Third, Sandlin continues, "Second, its doctrinalism tends to produce mean, insulting, schismatic people. They have All The Truth, are akin to epistemic rationalists, and grind in the dust good Christians who disagree with them. They (alone?) read the mind of God. I think often they come close to commtting the sin of idolatry." To which I ask, do not Arminians, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics do this as well. Let us be real here and say that Reformed folks can, and often do do this sort of thing, but is this reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater? These problems are a result, not of reformed theology, but of the inherent pride that is present in every man.
Which brings me to my fourth and final point. None of what Sandlin has written here has addressed the all important question of whether Reformed theology is true or not. This should be the all encompassing question, and it is never even addressed. As such, Sandlin, unfortunately uses the same sort of illogic as the unbeliever who says, "I'm not a Christian anymore (as though he ever was) because I had a bad experience with a church". It is an ad hominum attack. Sandlin is dismissing the message of Reformed theology because those who believe in it have not always been Christlike in their presentation of it.

10/06/2005 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Kristin Henderson said...

Good thoughts..I appreciate Sandlin's perspective. (Taking everything w/ a grain of salt, of course..)

10/06/2005 11:44 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

=D HA....I love it, Stephen! Thanks for posting.

Have seperated myself a bit from reformed circles, I can look back in and see that quite a bit of what Sandlin said is completely true. We have often held ourselves out as ones with all truth and knowledge.

I attend a church now that has a very heavy emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and on building a relationship with the Spirit. To abide with the Trinity all day, every day. The Trinity. Not just the Father and the Son but the Spirit (our helper, HELLO!), too.

I have to whole heartedly agree with Sandlin in saying that the Holy Spirit is very frequently uninvited into reformed circles. Now, I can agree with John, here, that it is not always the case. I can agree with John that reformed churches call upon the Spirit to come and be among them. But *do they believe the words*? Yes AND no. It's one thing to know and have faith and another to act upon the faith. Are we always doers of the word? Do we actively engage with the Spirit on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis? I would have to say -- in all my years of being built up and grown up in The Reformed Church (various expressions) -- "NO."

I'm discovering, for the first time in my life, what having a relationship really means. Sure, I'd been taught it. I'd been taught to think about it and argue about it. But never to live it. It's a whole new world.

SO I'll agree with Sandlin's viewpoints and respectfully disagree with John.

Personally, I think we as Reformed Ones are very quick to take offense at any challenge and say, "But isn't what I think TRUE?! Answer me THAT!" And I can say that in peace and good conscious......because I've said those very words myself. I'm outside the box for the first time in 20 years!!!

10/06/2005 12:37 PM  
Blogger John Jackson said...

Okayy... I see that no one has given any serious analysis to my points, so, it leads me to believe that one thing, and one thing only is at work here on the part of Carrie and Kristin, prejudicial bias. Now, I point this out not to denegrate them, (Lord knows I've been guilty of that plenty of times in my own life) but until my points are analyzed and disected, this will be the last comment that I post on this discussion. Afterall, what is the point of posting if no serious consideration is given to my points. To continue, under such conditions, would be a waste of time, effort, and words.

10/06/2005 3:07 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

John Jackson: I think that you misunderstood the quoted segment. Sandlin is not dismissing the Reformed faith itself, but pointing out negative attributes associated (all too accurately) with the Reformed faith. When Sandlin says that he would not have identified himself as staunchly Reformed, he is careful to add that he still would have embraced Reformed themes; that is, he wants to identify himself with the ideas of the Reformation, but not with the often mean-spirited culture that accompanies it.

I have lived on both sides of the fence, so to speak. I grew up in an Assemblies of God background and transitioned to a Reformed understanding of Christian theology. Compared to my previous experience, yes, mention of the Holy Spirit is noticeably absent from many Reformed circles, and I believe that this is a serious detriment. Perhaps out of reactionary fear of being associated with the oft-hysteric Pentecostal movement, Reformed folk seem to fear speaking of the Holy Spirit at all. This is a terrible shame, and naming a few Reformed authors who address the Holy Spirit will not atone for the neglect among a great many Reformed church-goers.

That said, Sandlin is also right-on when it comes to his observations of mean-spiritedness in Reformed circles. In fact, the problem has been addressed over and over in both my church and the Reformed Bible study I attend; it is a problem that drives many other Christians away. I’ve met mean people in every church I’ve attended, but only in Reformed churches have I met people who use theology as grounds to be mean to others. I have friends who despised Calvinists for years because they’d never met a nice one. If every theology produces unkind people, the proportion among the Reformed faith is abnormally high. They become logic machines, systematically building arguments so as to destroy the opposition; but life is not a chess game.

No, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If Reformed theology is true, then we should cling to it. However, if Reformed theology blinds us to the commands in the Bible to love one another and speak only that which is edifying, then either it is not a complete theology, or our grasp of the theology is flawed. I think that in this sense there’s plenty of evidence that the Reformed crowd needs reforming.

10/07/2005 8:36 AM  
Blogger Stejahen said...

Hey, thanks for the thoughts everyone.

Carrie, good to hear from you, glad you agree.

John, as for you first comment, I think Amber did a great job clarifing what Sandlin said. As to your second comment, John, for one thing, this is just a personal blog, not a debate, not everyone has the time or will to check it every 2 hours. Kristin posted at the same time as you, thus didn't see your comment and Carrie addressed your points. And if you are really wanting serious discussion, wait a week perhaps, but not 4 hours, before assuming everyone else has 'prejudicial bias'.

Amber, thanks for your comments, great job of explaining what Sandlin said.

10/07/2005 1:22 PM  
Blogger John Jackson said...

Well Stephen, I didn't say that Amber didn't do a good job of analyzing what I had written. I couldn't have, as she had not yet written when I wrote. I said that Carrie and Kristin did not do that good of a job analyzing what I had written, (Yes I understand that Kristin is your sister, and I respect that, but my point still stands) and I don't believe that they did.

10/08/2005 9:01 AM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Thanks again for posting, Stephen. It was all very fun.

And I say "it was" because it iiiiss....over! =D I've had good fun with it and I agree with Sandlin's points. I believe I explained why and feel no inherent need to say more.

All in the best of fun and being able to point out our flaws as well as stregnths,


p.s. For future reference, John, you can disagree with me for the rest of my life and that's fine. The only thing you know about me, please remember, is that I am Stephen's (and Kristin's, btw) friend. And with that, we shall call it enough.

10/09/2005 1:40 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

John: The reason I responded to your comment was because I saw what appeared to be a simple but serious misunderstanding in your analysis and wanted to address it, not because I felt any obligation to do so. As Stephen has said, this is a personal blog and not a debate forum. The focus should be on Stephen’s entries and not on the comments, which are supplementary and, indeed, optional. Readers have the right to express their opinions on the post without going through what you’ve written first; the right to speak is not paired with the right to be listened to or analyzed or whatever it is you want. In truth, I rather wish I had not addressed your original comment at all, as you seem less interested in the topic itself than in your own opinions.

10/09/2005 3:46 PM  
Blogger John Jackson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/09/2005 7:25 PM  
Blogger John Jackson said...

I mean no disrespect, Stephen, but this discussion has shown me that I can no longer comment on your blog. You are, however, always welcome to post on mine, where telling the truth matters more than worrying about peoples feelings. Nuts to that I say!

10/09/2005 8:59 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Having just recently been awakened to reformed theology (within the last few years), I have never ran across the idea of the Holy Spirit being left out. In fact, most significantly, I have been amazed and humbled at the gracious work of regeneration performed on my heart by the HOLY SPIRIT. I never would have viewed my personal salvation in this light had it not been for the Reformed viewpoint on predestination. I would have continued to minimize the regerneration performed by the Holy Spirit in my life. I understand that this issues alone is not the central issue of the reformation, nor the most important, but in other issues as well, I have heard the tone of emphasizing the Holy Spirit's involvement in our lives reverberate throughout my studies from reformed thinkers. Anyways, after reading John Jackson's comment, he has a much more informed post, so... what he said...

10/11/2005 1:23 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Haha, actually this is really kinda funny to someone outside the circle of the previous posts. I do aggree with Sandlin's point on the smug attitude of some reformed church-goes today, for I have encountered and experienced it myself. It is a terrible thing. I just haven't ran across a void in acknowledging the Holy Spirit and/or an awareness of His presence. After reading john jackson's post (not very thoroughly) I noticed examples of works from reformed theologians that I had read partially. And in those works I did not get the impression of "leaving out the Holy Spirit". Then, following the comment trail, I chuckled and figured I would post again to let stephen and other relatives know I wasn't "choosing sides". I just wanted to post on my cousin's blog some of my thoughts. My "point" in posting was simply to share my friendly thoughts with Stephen.

10/11/2005 1:44 PM  
Blogger John Jackson said...

Hey Stephen, I wanted to apologize to you and everyone else. While I still believe that any wavering from the completely sovereign God of Calvinism is hazardous to one's spiritual growth, ones witness, and at times (depending on the depth of misunderstanding) one's salvation, and does violence to ones interpretation of scripture, I also probably could have approached this discussion with a cooler head. In any case, I want to offer the olive branch to you, my dear brother in Christ, and ask for a truce.

10/11/2005 2:34 PM  
Blogger John Jackson said...

as well as everyone else of course.

10/11/2005 2:35 PM  
Blogger Stejahen said...

Hey Tim, good comments.

Apology acepted, John, Good thoughts.

10/12/2005 3:41 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Apology accepted, John! No problems.....

Conversation is good. Discussion is awesome. As iron sharpens iron, right?

And please don't assume that just because I'm questioning a reformed circle's ATTITUDE means that I'm questioning the sovereignty of God.

Have a great day all!

10/12/2005 5:09 PM  

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