The Doctrine of Doctrine: I Like To Eat When I Go Out To Eat

Back in another galaxy, when I was kicking around in the Evangelical Bible church circles of my initial conversion, the old-timers used to talk a lot about “having doctrine.” I came to conclude that this was a residual archetype which was leftover from the Modernist controversies of the early 20th Century; they were absentmindedly talking about the Liberal who at least had the chutzpa to overtly deny the historicity of Christianity. The operative term here is “about.” They talked about doctrine but never really served it up. It was like going to a restaurant night after night and having the wait staff tell you all about the delicacies they had in store but leave your plate cold empty. The doctrine of doctrine was their way of quelling that bothersome voice telling them that their overwhelming backdrop of experiential, pietistic revivalism signaled their duplicitous and thorough-going non-doctrinalness. The problem was really no longer that phantom the Liberal they shadow boxed so much as themselves.

In making his case for what he calls “Observant Protestantism,” DG Hart opens his Afterword in Recovering Mother Kirk with an anecdote. He was giving a lecture at a Presbyterian church. A man kept inquiring, “But are Presbyterians evangelical”?

If true Presbyterianism is marked by a more observant and churchly piety of creed and confession, liturgical public worship led by ordained clergy in word and sacrament and catechesis for covenant children, then Evangelicalism engenders notions of a piety that sees these things as obstacles to true faith and emphasizes a much less “tied-down” expression marked by Bible-toting, tee shirts and bracelets, entertainment and therapeutic sub-culture, and a glint in the eye about the inward experience with the risen Christ. What one has to do with the other seems fairly antithetical. The question itself, inasmuch as it seems to imply a desire to be counted amongst the rank and file of Big Tent revivalism, betrays that the Evangelical victory, if not fully secured, has seriously obscured how even Presbyterians understand themselves. If that is true, and I think it certainly is, what does the effort to maintain doctrine look like in what is supposed to be a more principled Reformation tradition than revivalist, Bible church Fundamentalism?

The phenomenon of the “doctrine of doctrine” becomes especially acute in Reformed and Presbyterian circles that betray just how much they too have succumbed to the Evangelical victory of experiential heart-religion. When the context is one in which most are, figuratively speaking, desperately waving their hands wanting to finally be both acknowledged and confirmed as card-carrying pietists, the rabid calls for theological purity (witness the Federal Vision controversy) look more and more like the doctrine of doctrine. I tend to get that funny feeling again that my plate is clearing before my eyes. Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way a champion of the Federal Vision, etc., etc. and so forth and so on. But the charges they make to those of us perplexed and troubled by their efforts as being mere doctrinaire’s stings a bit. They are ostensibly correct; while it is for all the wrong reasons, they do seem to have unwittingly backed into a point. When we are really a bunch of pietistists in business suits instead of gowns who like to talk, more or less, in terms close to a “personal relationship with the risen Christ in our hearts and lives,” we ought to be more consistent and shed the doctrinal exactitude. When we don’t, it comes off as being not a little disingenuous. In other words, there seems a serious disconnect between our orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Such a reality casts doubts about both the short- and long-range credibility of shouting down something like the FV in the courts of the Church on theological grounds when the praxis of those who do so is more akin to those who have little use for it. And, voila!, a doctrine of doctrine.

Of course, it is no answer to shed doctrinal exactitude in this Confessionalist’s mind. I say we maintain the exactitude and adopt a piety more in sync with such an effort. Calls to a Reformed theology, piety and practice need all those elements. A praxis such as one engendered in something like Observant (Reformed) Protestantism is more in line with those who have a high view of doctrinal exactitude. Put down Dallas Willard’s “Spiritual Disciplines” and pick up the “Book of Common Prayer”; replace the insipid, moralistic “keep ‘em pure” rings on our daughter’s fingers with a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism in their back pockets, as it were.

Then I’d feel better about my night out at the Confessional Presbyterian eatery.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The Doctrine of Doctrine: I Like To Eat When I Go Out To Eat

  1. RubeRad says:

    Hmmm. So are you saying:

    Most Reformed don’t have enough walk with their talk, so FV overreacted by talking a lot more walk, which is bad talk, so TR raised their correct talk to a shout, without fixing their walk, which doesn’t help because it doesn’t address the reason the FV started talking differently in the first place


    I certainly agree that the way to fix whatever low-church/antinomian tendencies FV is overreacting to, is to be more Reformed, not to change what Reformed is and be that instead.

  2. Zrim says:


    I think you get me, yes.

    The PCA has been called “a bunch of Evangelicals who read RC Sproul.” I think that came out of a FV mouth, but I have to admit, it seems to hit home. Plus, I have come to see my local URC scene (sorry, Rick, but here comes) seems like a Reformed version of BCF (Bible Church Fundamantalism…add that to the graffitti, would you?) [RR: added]…same for the PRC scene, which I don’t care about since they only seem able to negatively self-ID as “those who deny common grace,” plus some hyper-Calvinism implications as they seem to deny the well-meant (read: free) offer of the Gospel…

    …anyway, you know, “3-5 songs and a lecture in a business suit.” With an embodiment like that, I begin to wonder if the waiter is toying with me again.

    I recall hearing Sproul years ago talking about how it is the duty of the individual to prepare himself for worship a day in advance, etc. I have always thought that a weird thing to say, until I realized that he was actually revealing just how low our expression is; it is the low-church mentality to place the burden on the inward/individual in order to make up for what has been robbed from the confessional ethos, namely, a corporate/public/outward/observant emphasis. In a manner of speaking in order to make a point, I should be able to enagage in the cacophony of the wider world up until I enter the narthex.

    In other words, it is the Church that should prepare me for worship, not me.

    You will often hear FVers like Meyers talk about individualistic preparedness for worship la la Sproul…which I find ironic.

    …what is the TR reference?


  3. Rick says:

    Zrim, you don’t have to apologize because it’s true for the most part. I think our church (TURC) is unique on the GR URC scene and we have been shaking off what you’ve described for years now. We have set backs every once and a while but the Word is faithfully and powerfully preached and our liturgy keeps getting fine-tuned for the better. I’ve said it before, there is not one other URC in this area that I would even consider joining with. While most are ‘four songs and a lecture’ but we most certainly are not. (Our liturgy HERE)

    That said, I would probably leave our church rather quickly if our pastor (my brother-in-law) were to leave – because that would certainly reverse our progress and we would start to look like the other URC’s around here again.

  4. Zrim says:


    This liturgy makes it seem as if you observe weekly, but you don’t, right?

    I wish Redeemer TC would post their liturgy. As good as TURC is, Redeemer’s is an example of the sort of embodiment I mean to communicate.

    Rick, do you find it at all troubling that your presence at TURC may be dependent upon your pastor? Are the poeple persuaded enough of the things he is helping put into place that his absence would make little difference? Likely you mean that things are still new in these matters and they need his strong leadership, etc. I just get queasy when so much emphasis is placed on the minister. Granted, our Calvin is in the midst of filling our pulpit, and I have to say that if certain candidates were called, I would not be beyond this either.


  5. RubeRad says:

    what is the TR reference

    Traditionally/Truly Reformed is the opposite of FV. We take the label gladly, and FV uses it sarcastically.

  6. RubeRad says:

    BCF (Bible Church Fundamantalism…add that to the graffitti, would you?)

    I added it, although it is lacking a concise description (should probably include the word “Biblicism”, no?)

  7. Rick says:

    We don’t observe the Supper weekly – but, like when Calvin wasn’t allowed to celebrate it weekly anymore, he left it in the liturgy. If you read it it says “When celebrated.”

    My presence there is not based on the pastor – but I’m afraid that if he were to leave, the wrong door might be left open. Sometimes the minority rules – when the folks in the minority get there way, even a little, folks like me might start looking elsewhere. Most of our change for the positive has come from folks who joined us (folks like me) because they were drawn by the preaching. These folks have been able to work with the pastor and the elders to steer us in the right direction.

    BTW, I have a friend at church who is a student here from TC. He’s a member at Redeemer and he says that TURC is the closest thing he’s found to Redeemer in GR. Brian Lee was a member here when he was at Calvin – he came from Riddlebargers Church.

    now I’d like to edit this comment by adding a “So nah nah na boo boo”


  8. Zrim says:

    Yeah, you already told me about your TC friend (I believe he attends Cornerstone…ahem) and Brian Lee.

    How do they know it is the closet thing? Have they been everywhere? Did they try Seventh Reformed, because from what I recall (it was our first GR Reformed church), that was closer yet. Tee-hee.


  9. Zrim says:

    “I added it, although it is lacking a concise description (should probably include the word “Biblicism”, no?)”

    Thanks. I think that might be redudant, since Bible Church is biblicistic. For me, whenever the Bible is referred to in a name, it says it all. Sorta like that Ragu jingle (“it’s all in there!”), or the term Reformed…well, I wish. What’s Reformed Bible Church?


  10. Rick says:

    My friend from TC searched [edit – because it was misleading] a few places but I’m not sure about 7th I don’t know about Mr. Lee, but being the smart guy he is, I assume he checked out several churches.

    7th? What’s so different about them? Robes? We have the nearly the same liturgy and they have communion less than we do. I was forever turned off from 7th this year as I tuned in to thier radio broadcast on 4th of July weekend and their choir was singing a medley of patriotic songs. It was funny because Trumper came on right after them and thanked them. Funny because Trumper has a thick Scottish accent. I was turned off before that though because their choir sings in the worship service.

  11. Rick says:

    I should add, *when Redeemer TC folks are coming to GR, their pastor recommends our church to them. He’s worshipped with us himself. So this may be the main reason why this student landed at our Church.

    *OK, maybe not. How about this; our church has been recommended as one option by him.

  12. Zrim says:

    When we were there, robes, yes. Also, they were creedal and I recall a lot more congregational participation. I recall a “heavier” feel than when at TURC. I hope you know I am not swiping at TURC.

    Ew on the whole patriotic songs thing. Ew.

    “I was turned off before that though because their choir sings in the worship service.”

    Is there another venue in which a choir sings? I am confused.

    Really? Dan commends them to TURC? Interesting. He’s worshipped with you? Huh, I would have thought, being PCA, he’d be at the only PCA in town, seeing as how he and the pastor there such good friends.


  13. rana says:

    you know i emailed Brian Lee last month asking for church recommendations among the CRC or RCA per our requirements at CC, and all he couldn’t give me any recs b/c he attended TURC. so i don’t think he looked around much.

  14. RubeRad says:

    Is there another venue in which a choir sings?

    Perhaps choirs exists solely for the purpose of preaching to?

  15. RubeRad says:

    The PCA has been called “a bunch of Evangelicals who read RC Sproul.”

    Speaking of which, Heidelblog today highlights a similar line about the PCA: “Fundamentalists learning to be Presbyterians

    (Also, is this the same Brian Lee?)

  16. Rick says:

    Isn’t the Worship Service from the Call to Worship to the Benediction? Our Choir sings before the call to worship when they sing.

    TURC recites creeds during night services and when we have communion in the morning. We are moving toward more congregational response – during the invocation and the declaration of pardon (I hope).

    Dan has worshipped with us, twice I think. One of the times our own pastor was at his Church that very Sunday. As for the commendation from him…that’s what I heard from someone. So, maybe not. It could be one option out of a few he recommends.

    Yes, it’s the same Brian Lee.

  17. Zrim says:

    Well, anyway, any more thoughts on the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxis?

    I guess my main point was that the charge of “doctrinarism” seems to have a lot of merit when the praxis doesn’t line up. I mean, if theology is what informs our worship (and vice versa), why do so many Reformed and Presbyterians look so much like what one would expect of modern Anabaptists? Reformed simplicity, whatever else it implies, doesn’t seem to imply a stripped down and white washed praxis.

    Maybe this is the difference between low-church Calvinists and high-church ones?


  18. Rick says:

    Thanks. I guess he didn’t shop around. So many of my comments in this thread have hearsay in them…so I’m now getting off of the “this is why my church is OK” grandstand.

  19. Rick says:

    sorry for going off topic – but you’re the one who lumped all the GR URC’s together to try to prove your point. I felt the need to defend my communion.

  20. rana says:

    Rick, embrace it! I know the church I go to is not ok, but until my husband tells them he ain’t leading worship I either ditch him and shop (for a church) or stick around the imperfect but sometimes ok church.

  21. Zrim says:


    “…but you’re the one who lumped all the GR URC’s together to try to prove your point.”

    There is a difference between proving a point and making one. I was only trying to do the latter. But I hear you on defending your communion (and I tried to stop here and there and make sure you knew I wasn’t swiping at yours). I do the same for my Calvin. I think familial metaphors are perfect for the church.


  22. Zrim says:


    I think the longer one stays, and the higher one’s view of Mother Kirk, the harder it is to use words like shop. Despite my mother’s and my wife’s thorough training, I am still my father’s son and hate all forms of consumerism, including denominational ones. I attend a church, not a denomination. I get called a Congregationalist for saying stuff like that.

    Also, there is a difference between the true church and a perfect one. I might get looked at funny, but as many problems as Calvin/the CRC has, I will stay put and endure. I like to think that shows A LOT more confessional ethic than the CRC seems to show me in return.


  23. rana says:

    in my defense, we are not members anywhere, yet! also you would advise me otherwise if you saw what a low view of the church they support.

    so, if you are staying put should i assume that my tacos, beans and rice invite will not bear fruit for more confessional holy ground in GR?

    i agree with you on the true church issue, exactly why if i could right now baptize my girls in the same church from 350 ad that i was baptized in i would. too bad i need an Israeli permit to get through though, not happening.

  24. Rick says:

    Zrim, you got me on two words. Your point has been made.

    Sorry about the word ‘shop,’ I just used a quick term and didn’t think it through.

    So how ’bout them Red Sox!

  25. Zrim says:


    “so, if you are staying put should i assume that my tacos, beans and rice invite will not bear fruit for more confessional holy ground in GR?”

    Not at all; I love tacos. I can walk and chew gum at the same time. I suppose my point is that I have some fairly high and well-defined standards for just what will entice me away. Someone once said that one ought to contemplate leaving one’s church with the same sobriety and pain one would endure leaving one’s spouse. Analogies cannot be pressed too far (!), but the point is that if one truly has a high view of the church s/he endures for Her sake. If I ever get to the point of taking my family from Calvin, rest assured it will be with great solemnity and indebtedness for Her nurture all these years in the Reformed tradition and without a hint of flippancy, the kind seen in so many shoppers who come and go like it’s Rivertown Mall. Toss in some sadness for good measure. I think this would be the appropriate attitude.

    Interesting you mention the baptizing of your girls…humor me some more words here…part of my own thinking as I contemplate these things is that very issue. My girls were baptized at Calvin. If I could, I would see them married there and be buried there, etc. May one with a covenant theology NOT place such a premium on continuity? My first choice is to see Calvin be faithful and behave confessionally. But I am also a realist and can read writing on walls.

    As excited as I get about the possibility of a confessional work here in GR, another side of me doesn’t want it to happen and wants my current communion to turn around. Feel me?


  26. Rana says:

    i am totally with you, sometimes i think there is hope for the church we attend to jump on a more confessionally reformed wagon. but alas it attract homesteaders without wagons. so maybe we’ll see you soon on your ground.

    i think it would be great to baptize, marry and bury in the same church that is how 350 years of my family did it before we immigrated. i can return to the monastaries and look through their archives for my geneology, cool stuff, at least i think so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s