Dale, I appreciate your unfolding these concerns at greater length. I understand your concerns more fully now.

Before I come to the heart of this discussion, which is the Catholic-Protestant issue, let me address what I think is another problem lurking in the background of intra-Protestant disputes over charismata. Your difference with Hoekema points to it. Yes, I’m going to become even more harsh on my Reformed friends here! I’ll follow up next week (Lord willing) with a post on the Protestant-Catholic issue.

Note the word “mainline” in Hoekema’s statement “it has been the almost unanimous conviction of the mainline Protestant churches that these miraculous gifts ceased at the close of the Apostolic Age.” If that word means what I think it means, isn’t he right? Hoekema’s mistake is not that he gets the history wrong but that he sabotages our side of the argument by associating us with the mainline. Talk about infections of paganism spoiling the purity of the church!

His statement “the Reformers and most of the Protestant tradition until the 20th century believed the gifts had ceased” is more problematic, but can be at least conditionally defended. The word “Protestant” is being used as an adjective to modify “tradition,” so the question is, what is a tradition, and what is “the” “Protestant” “tradition”? If you take the view, which prevails in Reformed circles, that “the Protestant tradition” is embodied in confessions of Protestant systematic theology that have been socially organized and institutionalized (e.g. in the drafting of formal confessions and the formation of denominational structures dedicated to them) then I think Hoekema’s statement is formally correct. However, this definition of “the Protestant tradition” is obviously contestable.

You and Hoekema start with different views of what kind of history—which subset of the total set of historical facts—is most relevant. This points to what I think is “the other gorilla in the room” in these discussions.

Reformed theology is self-consciously a product of the Magisterial Reformation. Part of our identity is an understanding of the role of tradition and institutions in the formation of theology—a view that is not at home in an Evangelical world dominated by a very different sociology of belief. To be blunt, many people in the Reformed world have not yet gotten over our expulsion from the mainline; they have not yet accepted our new identity as Evangelicals in the socio-cultural use of that term. And so they develop a compensatory disdain for non-Reformed Evangelicals, and an equally compensatory anxiety to preserve (like Noah in the ark) the last remaining shreds of the Magisterial Tradition against what they view as the fragmenting, disintegrative sociology of Evangelicalism. And this lies behind a lot of the response to charismatic Protestantism, as I think Hoekstra’s appeals to the history of the “mainline” and “tradition” show.

In this regard, Gresham Machen is a hero to me. His friends were absolutely scandalized when he started going around giving speeches and writing newsletter articles for “fundamentalists.” What’s wrong with you? Don’t you see that these people are the enemy? They’re dispensationalists, they’re teetotalers, they have altar callsthis is legalism and Pelagianism! was the unspoken import of their response to Machen’s activities. Machen wasn’t comfortable with the fundamentalists, either, but he saw that after the apostasy of the mainline, the fundamentalists had become “we” to him - that these were his people now.

I’m a proud magisterial myself and share all the concerns about the fragmentary, subjective sociology that predominates in Evangelicalism. But we have to let go of our sense of identity as exiles from the mainline. In fact, the starting point for our more magisterial sociology is precisely that we do not get to decide our cultural or sociological identity entirely for ourselves. Choice plays a crucial role, but to some degree the social structures that define our choices, and the limits of our choices, are simply handed to us by circumstance (which is another way of saying “by Providence”). The social conditions that would allow us to continue acting as a sort of Noah’s Ark of the mainline are not present. We have to deal with that.

By God’s grace the mainline may someday be reclaimed—“all things are possible” and all that—but that is not who we are any more. We are Evangelicals now, like it or not. Embracing that truth means accepting a theological identity that we share with charismatics and others whose views make us uncomfortable. We can establish ourselves as an influence within Evangelicalism for our distinctive concerns. Or we can go on shaking our cane at Evangelicals and yelling at them to get off our lawn.

Articles by Greg Forster

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