Monday, November 28, 2005

A Belated Apology

(I’m cross posting this here and at the BHT)

Well, now it’s *my* turn to do a “confessional blogpost”.

Several years ago, I got into a very heated argument with a friend of mine. At the time I was planning on dropping my (admittedly “student” level) membership in the Evangelical Theological Society, over their refusal to excommunicate Clark Pinnock for his Open Theism views. (I eventually did drop my membership, for that and other reasons.) That was only the incidental start of the argument. The point of it was that I was primarily depending on what other people in the Reformed camp had written about Pinnock’s views to reach my conclusions.

“You can’t do that!” my friend said. “You have to read what he wrote himself to draw those kinds of conclusions!” My reply was, “Look, smart and godly men who share my theology have already done that, and come to such and such conclusions. I can trust them! Why should I waste my time reinventing the wheel?!?” Neither of us ended up convining the other on that day, and I just walked away mad – and with a gnawing feeling in my gut that she just may have been right. Fortunately, feelings can be squashed for the sake of preserving one’s arguments...

And my argument sounds reasonable on the surface, does it not? I mean, after all, who has the time to read every single word that every theologian and pastor has written? And what do we have denominational theologians for, if not to examine these things by the light of Scripture (and our confessions), and draw conclusions for us? If we can’t trust the guys on our own team, who can we trust?

Well, I have come around to reconsidering this whole thing. Especially in the light of several recent incidents.

I have been shifting towards a view of the Church and its mission that dovetails with the movement identified as “the Emergent Church”. Now, I will be the first to admit that there are problems, especially with its most public and prolific spokesman, Brian McLaren. But the poor level of interaction between the Emergent movement and some theologians – men who I generally agreed with, people I trusted – astonished me. The more serious critiques and essays proffered by Emergents – fine examples can be found here and here – are barely noticed. McLaren is made out as representing what *everybody* in the Emergent movement thinks – and even his works are often taken out of context.

Then, there was the Dooyeweerd Affair. A discussion on the BHT about this article by James Jordan brought up the role Dooyeweerd played in Calvinist thought. Now, I had been taught – by people who generally agreed with me theologically, people I trusted – that Dooyeweerd was a theonomist, a first kissing-cousin to Rushdoony and “Scary Gary” North, and therefore was problematic. I stated as such, publicly and vehemently – and got chewed out for it. I couldn’t reconcile why these people I was interacting with, of all people, would defend a *theonomist*! It never occurred to me until far, far, into the argument, that what I had been told about Dooyeweerd was wrong. But lately, I have been reading James Smith’s book Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, which includes a running commentary by Smith on the relation between RO and Dutch Calvinism, focusing on Dooyeweerd. And the Dooyeweerd I’m reading about in Smith’s book bears as much relation to the Dooyeweerd I was told about, as Demi Moore’s Hester Prynne does to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s. I was sadly misinformed.

Lastly, my own rethinking of how "reason" is used by people, even in the Church, has forced me to recognize that even people who agree with me, people who are Christians, can be mistaken, can utilize bad arguments to defend pet positions. Heck, I’ve done it myself on far too many occasions. And it is therefore very dangerous to let someone else do all your thinking for you.

So, to everyone involved at the BHT regarding the Dooyeweerd mess, I apologize. I was wrong.

To my friend, I apologize. I was wrong.

To those whose works I misused, I apologize too. I was wrong. I should not have used you as a shield to cover my own intellectual sloth.

And to Dooyeweerd and Barth, I apologize. I should not have totally pre-judged you on the basis of what others told me.

And now, I have some work to do. In the Twilight of Western Thought and Church Dogmatics just got bumped up on my reading list...


Blogger Macht said...

In case you don't remember me, I'm the guy who wrote a blog post on why you were wrong about Dooyeweerd. I'm sure we've all rushed to judgement on somebody's views based on bad summaries, so I didn't think it was that big of a deal. I'm glad you're reading Smith and I hope you enjoy Twilight.

12:28 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

That's the sad part. I don't even have the lame excuse of being able to blame my seminary profs for my misconceptions of Dooyeweerd. If anything, my seminary classes helped shake me out of the TR box in a number of ways. I consider myself fortunate in that regard.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Kevin D. Johnson said...

Smith's book is incredible and I hope to do a review of it soon at

I also can't wait to get my hands on his second book.

But in regards to your comments...we're all growing in our understanding and it's refreshing to see others who transcend from one step to another in understanding of things and have the honesty to admit that much of what we do as theology and the writing that goes along with it is a lifelong journey.

6:36 AM  

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