What follows is a refreshingly honest look into how a leading Calvinist, Dr. Kevin DeYoung, views opponents of Reformed theology and the role of Reformed Theology in the Church.
The article from Crossway I’m going to respond to was light on context and so I did some digging. Here is what I found:
I had previously heard of Kevin DeYoung in the spheres of articles-on-the-internet and memes-on-Reformed-social-media. I did not know what he did for a day job. According to his bio for his new book Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God says:
Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, and assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte). He serves as board chairman of the Gospel Coalition and blogs at DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed. He is the author of several books, including Just Do Something; Crazy Busy; and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have eight children.
The Canons of Dort (1618-1619) are one of the three defining doctrines of many Reformed churches around the world (thanks Wikipedia!). The “Three Forms of Unity” are the Canons of Dort, Belgic Confessions, and the Heidelberg Catechism. Specifically, the Canons of Dort are a response to the Arminian Remonstrance (1610) and, though it was not the original intention of the Canons, have been remembered and re-branded by the acronym TULIP. It seems from the summary of the book, and the endorsements of it, that Dr. DeYoung’s purpose is to bring this historical confession into the present-day concerns of the Church.
The importance of this history and purpose will hopefully become clear.
The article, called 4 False Accusations of Reformed Theology, claims to be “adapted from” Dr. DeYoung’s latest book. What does “adapted from” mean? I’m not too interested in taking what some anonymous editor of Crossway says about the book; I need something more solid here. The “Grace Defined and Defended” page the article linked to turned up the table of contents for the book which includes “Appendix 2: Conclusion: Rejection of False Accusations”. We seem to be on a firmer footing to respond to the article if it was pulled directly from the book and edited for a short article on Crossway.
Instead of addressing each “false accusation” in detail, I will instead critique the structure of the argument and endeavor to show how this kind of rhetoric in the contemporary soteriological controversies leaves us with no common ground for healthy dialogue and seeks only to divide the Body of Christ further.
Redefining Words is Effective
Each of the “4 False Accusations” is actually a summary statement of rational objections, ie. arguments, to Reformed Theology.
“The doctrine of predestination is a hindrance to godliness”
“The doctrine of predestination makes God the author of sin”
“The doctrine of predestination makes Christians complacent”
“The doctrine of predestination means God predestined some people to hell”
The entire purpose of a discussion is to reason through whether or not the argument is true or false, accurate or inaccurate. Redefining arguments as false accusations poison the discussion before it happens.
This reminds me of the current debate surrounding “illegal immigration”. One side argues that any nation has the right to set the laws as to who enters their country and under what conditions. The other side argues that a country does not have the right to turn people away under a certain set of circumstances; specifically, we have a primary moral duty to help anyone who needs it. One of the main tactics of the “pro-immigration” crowd is to never use the word “illegal” in conjunction with an immigrant. In order to further their cause, whenever someone is turned away at the border or deported, the headline is “Hundreds of Immigrants Kicked Out!” and if you support such action you are “anti-immigrant”.
Or when a Democrat says something foolish or damaging and is criticized for it, the headline is “Republicans Pounce!”.
See, the tactic is to change the language. Change the language, you change the narrative. By never using the word “illegal” the narrative is moved away from a discussion about law and towards a discussion about morality or race. By focusing on how Republicans pounce the narrative is turned away from what the Democrat said and toward the Republican reaction. Similarly, when DeYoung redefines arguments as false accusations the narrative is pushed away from the merits of the arguments and toward the morality of the objector. What kind of person makes false accusations? A morally deficient one, of course.
Argument = Slander
Notice that for each “false accusation” DeYoung merely summarizes them without response. Then, at the end of summarizing each “false accusation”, the Canons conclude there are
…very many other slanderous accusations of this kind which the Reformed churches not only disavow but even denounce with their whole heart.
From this DeYoung reveals two statements he considered axiomatically true:
A reasoned objection to Reformed theology is “slander”,
The denouncement of said objections by Reformed churches renders these objections false.
But, of course, this reveals a basic misunderstanding of these objections. Our objection is not that Reformed churches preach “God is the author of sin” but that Reformed theology inescapably leads to that logical conclusion. So, even acknowledging that Reformed churches denounce these objections, which I do, does not refute the objection.
The Reformed Church Is the One True Church
The article begins by equating Reformed theology with Jesus Christ’s Church.
At the end of the Canons of Dort—the document produced out of the Synod of Dort summarizing the key tenets of Reformed theology—there is a section dedicated to refuting common false accusations against Reformed theology. We see here Dort’s desire to defend Reformed theology from slander and to call upon Christ to protect the truth and sanctify his church.
Look at those two sentences in the quote above again. If they were contained in a Psalm we would call it a “couplet” and say it is an example of “Hebrew parallelism” (can you tell I just finished up my Hebrew tract?). In other words, the two sentences are clearly meant to be expressing the same idea twice. Look at how they are structured: Summarizing and defending Reformed theology is the same as Christ protecting and setting apart His church for holiness.
I’m not sure how much of Reformed thought Dr. DeYoung represents, but he is the board chairman of The Gospel Coalition. Make no mistake, Dr. DeYoung, and those who think like him, do not see the soteriological controversies as an ecumenical dispute or sibling squabble in the family of God. Instead, they are the defenders of the Church of Jesus Christ and those who object to Reformed theology are the attackers of the Church of Jesus Christ.
What is the appropriate response to those who attack Christ’s Church? Warn them of God’s judgment, of course.
Moreover, the Synod earnestly warns the false accusers themselves to consider how heavy a judgment of God awaits those who give false testimony against so many churches and their confessions, trouble the consciences of the weak, and seek to prejudice the minds of many against the fellowship of true believers.
Those believers of the Reformed tradition are the “true believers” which leaves anyone outside of the Reformed tradition where exactly?
I am not criticizing a historical document like the Canons of Dort for failing to align with our contemporary sensibilities of what makes for healthy dialogue. While I disagree with their theology, of course, my criticism is less aimed at the Canons the Synod produced and more at Dr. DeYoung’s purpose for them. According to the Crossway article, it seems like his point is to give Reformed folks the impression their theology deserves a privileged place of reverence by Christians and protection by Jesus Christ Himself. DeYoung seeks to transport a four-hundred-year-old confession into the contemporary soteriological controversies in order to give Reformed theology the privileged position of defining what The One True Church is today and to claim that today it is completely exempt from criticism upon pain of being under the judgment of God.
How is this helpful for dialogue? Unless, of course, DeYoung’s purpose is not to find common ground with the non-Reformed and instead desires to divide the Body even further.
What is needed is a healthy dose of DeYoung’s own advice for the non-Reformed:
The Synod then goes on to call all people to evaluate Reformed theology in a fair and consistent way
Perhaps we could get Kevin DeYoung to bring the Synod into the present by evaluating objections to Reformed theology in a fair and consistent way as well. More effective, certainly, would be the wholesale rejection of this kind of ecumenical preening. No theology deserves the privileged place of being above reformation and correction. The great and tragic irony is that Dr. DeYoung has not “reformed” away from Catholic thought but has only traded one Catechism for another, one Magisterium for another.