During this year’s PCA General Assembly Tim Keller (and Ligon Duncan) held a seminar on why he thinks the denomination should strive to stay together and resist any tendency to split apart. He invoked Marsden’s classic typology of American Reformed and Presbyterian which classifies the tradition into the triad of doctrinalists, pietist and culturalists. The doctrinalist, best embodied by the Princetonian likes of Machen and Hodge, holds that “The Christian religion is based upon a body of truth, a body of doctrine, which will remain true beyond the end of time.” The pietist, perhaps best embodied by the likes of Jonathon Edwards, seeks to cultivate the interior religious life and experience of the individual believer and is much more open to revivalism. The culturalist outlook owes much to the work of Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper who, upon his address at the opening of the Free University famously stated that, “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Thus was born, or at least given voice, the so-called Reformed world-and-life view.
Keller’s main point was that all three strains need each other in order to survive. The doctrinalist needs the pietist to make sure he doesn’t fall into “dead orthodoxy,” and the pietist needs the dotrinalist to make sure he doesn’t veer off into heterodoxy. And they both need the culturalist so neither becomes irrelevant.
But as some have pointed out, whatever else might be said about it, the whole taxonomy itself seems to forget that not everyone locates himself neatly in any one of these categories. Some of us understand our religious expression to be more ecclesiastical in nature. As Hart suggests in Recovering Mother Kirk:
As accurate as this typology of the contemporary Reformed world in North America may be, its strangeness is also glaring to anyone at all familiar with the ministry and work of John Calvin, who did so much to define the Reformed tradition. What this description lacks is one of the chief features of church reform that Calvin spearheaded. In addition to clarifying the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the French Reformer believed that the Protestant Reformation would not amount to much without the reform of worship. In fact, Calvin placed worship ahead of justification in his list of things that, as he put it, encompassed “the whole substance of Christianity”: “first, the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and second of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.” (The Necessity of Reforming the Church, 4) If worship was so important to Calvin and the Reformed wing of the Reformation, why are contemporary expressions of the Reformed tradition not known for their interest in worship? In other words, why aren’t there at least four groups of the Reformed—the doctrinalists, the culturalists, the pietists, and the liturgicalists? (RMK, 12).
Meanwhile, Jonathon Bonomo has recently given us a helpful sketch of a little known yet highly important debate between two figures in the American Reformed and Presbyterian landscape. In Incarnation and Sacrament: The Eucharistic Controversy between Charles Hodge and John Williamson Nevin, Bonomo traces out the details of what set each man against the other with regard to both Christology and sacramentology. His main concern seems to be to give Nevin a fairer and more sympathetic hearing than history, or Hodge, seems to have done. What is interesting here is that Hodge may be said to represent the doctrinalist wing of Reformed-dom and Nevin, it may be said, the ecclesiastical. Nevin was Hodge’s student who later became the subject of Hodge’s intense scrutiny, to the point even of suggesting that Nevin’s teaching was in opposition to Protestant orthodoxy. It could be that at least part of the reason that the liturgicalist tradition never got off the ground owes to this theological rumble. As Bonomo points out, the liturgical may have “won the historical battle,” but the doctrinalist “won the theological war.” And to the extent that the latter, amongst other seemingly less-than-charitable conclusions, cast Nevin as simply a re-formulation of Schleiermacher, a pox on the liturgical house may have been sealed. Writes Bonomo:
The great American born theologian John Williamson Nevin, it seems, was just not American enough for his ideas to have gained a fair hearing in a country so enamored with the ideals of common sense. And on top of being too German, Nevin’s theology was too historically oriented, too sacramental, and in general too “churchly” to have had much hope for survival in “the land of the free.” (I & S, 126)
Indeed, Keller would have it that the doctrinalist and the pietist and the culturalist all need each other, to the relative exclusion of the liturgicalist, but let’s throw him into the mix in order to help make the point. How can one be all four when they seem to be at odds with each other? The pietist guffaws at the liturgical’s extrinsic notion that Word and sacrament worship is the principle good work of the individual believer and corporate church, saying instead it’s an intrinsic matter of personal holiness and grooming the inward life. And the liturgical is opposed to the culturalist’s idea that all of life is worship, as well as the naïveté resident within notions of transformationism. And if the Hodge/Nevin debate is any measure, it would appear that the doctrinalist and the liturgical are at loggerheads. But could it be that despite the enmity between the one doctrinalist and the one liturgical that they actually have more in common with each other than either has with the other two? Bonomo cites B.A Gerrish who observes that, “Hodge was a predestinarian Calvinist, Nevin was a sacramental Calvinist, and their debate may make one wonder if it is possible to be both at once.” (Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude, 170).
Contra Keller, the only pair conceivably working together in the present era like peanut butter and chocolate would be the doctrinalist and the liturgical. The others seem to be three great tastes that don’t really go so great together, especially the pietist and the liturgical. Nevin versus Finney and Hart versus Keller seem as obvious as Geneva versus Rome, but Nevin versus Hodge might be a fight worth turning into a tag-team combination. As Bonomo concludes:
Yet, Calvin himself was both at once. So for those who wish to hold on to their Calvinist heritage fully—both in terms of its doctrine of the divine decrees as well as Calvin’s robust sacramental theology—the situation is not hopeless. From such a perspective, it might be held that both Hodge and Nevin erred equally in that they allowed one of these important elements of traditional Calvinist theology to drown out the other. And it might also be held, from such a perspective, that it is of utmost importance for Reformed Christians of the present day to listen attentively to the concerns of both Charles Hodge and John Nevin, so that we do not end up unwittingly covering over important elements of the very historic tradition to which we confess to adhere. From this standpoint, in fact, it might even be argued that the theological schools of Princeton and Mercersburg needed each other in the nineteenth century, and that they continue to need each other today. (I & S, 127)