Monday, 4 October 2010

Young fogeys and the future shape of the church

Noun: A person, typically an old one, who is considered to be old-fashioned or conservative in attitude or tastes.

I first heard the term from my grandmother. She was frustrated by a generation of young Christian men with shoulder length hair and guitars (and probably beards). Any physical resemblance to the Lord, she did not recognise. "They'd just dismiss us all as old fogeys" was how she interpreted their attitude to her generation. A "fogey"! What a great word!

Fast forward about ten years...I encountered a whole new phenomenon: the young fogey.

There were certain differences between the young fogey and the old fogey. The old fogey was not self-consciously a fogey. He or she was just being himself or herself and found that he/she was out of step with the times. The older person might well have been offended if you had called him a "fogey" and the term might even have been considered a put down. It must be said that whether the older person could have accurately been described as a fogey or not, their fogeyism was often endearing and was only a symptom of them being true to themselves and their values. Of course, many who dismissed my grandmother's generation as "old fogeys" might well now be "old fogeys" themselves, or worse still they might be retro cool in an embarrassing kind of way or worst of all just "outdated groovers" whose hearts are forever stuck in 1973. Potential fogeyism awaits us all.

The young fogeys were entirely different. They wanted to be fogeys. They dressed in such a way that people would consider them "young fogeys" and spoke in a way that made them seem like upper-middle class Edwardians. They were very conscious of the image they were projecting and sometimes, perhaps more often than not, the image bore very little connection to who they really were, serving only to betray their own insecurities. Young fogeyism is sometimes more "wannabee" than substance.

So why, you might ask, am I writing about fogeyism on a Monday morning? Because I believe the fogeys are after the soul of the church! Not my church - the church at large!

And it's not old fogeyism that concerns me - after all give me a few years and people might think I'm an old fogey. It's....young fogeyism! Or perhaps young-ish fogeyism.

If you read around a bit in the Christian world, you might well be aware of the renaissance in Reformed theology. Calvin, it seems, is cool again. Got any questions? Calvin and his mates Augustine and Luther have most of the answers. Calvin's offspring have lots of answers as well. And if you have got some "problems" - especially ones that aren't conveniently theological - consult "the Doctor" - the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that is (Through his books of course, not through a seance). I have to add that I think the Dr. is very good indeed.

In all seriousness, I am concerned.

(i) I am concerned that like fogeyism in the truest sense of the word, that some of this is just a reaction to the fuzzy theology or lack of theology of the emerging church. There's no doubt that much of what goes under that label is heading in the direction of theological liberalism. Calvinism presents a good bulwark against such a trend. However, the price might well be a new exclusivism and an intolerance of anything that doesn't fit squarely into the reformed theological box.

I have tried to keep up to date with the reformed blogosphere for a couple of years. John Wesley hardly gets a mention in any appraisal of church history or revival, despite the fact that he is undoubtedly the single most influential Christian leader of the last three hundred years. At worst there is a revisionist tendency within some reformed circles. The Sally Army, the Brethren and, of course, the Pentecostals, et al. - even in the charismatic wing of the reformed world, have effectively been airbrushed out of church history, certainly in terms of making any positive contribution.

Calvinism tends to be bookish and ruthlessly critical of any challenge to its central tenets. One of the dangers is that it will kill off any charismatic impulses.

(ii) My second concern, is that the desire to define the faith and defend the faith against liberalism is actually going to destroy evangelicalism. If it doesn't destroy it, it will make "evangelical" equal "calvinist". Anyone who wants revival and wants to win back the West, should consider all the great revival movements. Thank God for great Presbyterian and Baptist preachers. And thank God also for the Methodists and the Salvation Army and the Brethren. And for the Pentecostals. By all means preach sin and grace. And repentance and justification. But don't forget that what fired evangelism in the early twentieth century was preaching on the return of Christ. The church is bigger and more diverse than its reformed expression.

(iii) Finally, I do find much of the output that parades one's reformed credentials incredibly inward looking and tedious. Why trot out terminology and phraseology that is well past its sell by date? Sorry, but some of it does smack of young fogeyism, and I don't think the world is waiting for the young fogeys!

I write the above observations as someone sympathetic to the reformed outlook, but also as one who has discovered that the world is a bigger place and the gospel a bigger message than the playground of any particular theological school, however worthwhile it might be.

This will give you an insight into cool Calvinism.

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lynn said...

James, I think this is a great post and you are echoing a feeling I have heard in other denominational circles.
It does seem, in a way, to be a kickback reaction to perceived wooliness. I completely agree with you.

Reading church history - the periods of "effusion" - as my textbooks called periods of revival - saw each move towards a hard edge softened by a return to basics: the cry: "we need you desperately, Lord!" Such a cry needs no predestination statement, no arguments on the atonement, no egalitarian/complemetarianism positional statement - just pure, unadulterated hunger. I read this quote yesterday: "hunger is the most irrestible commodity in the Kingdom of Heaven".

Stuck in my mind from all my of my studies is the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky in 1801 which marked the Second Great Awakening - spiritual hunger drew people from many denominations; united slave and free, black and white - the reason? Desire to meet with God, not score theological knowledge points.

Oh for that desire to emanate from us again!

James said...

Thanks Lynn. Wasn't sure how this post would be received - perhaps you're the only one who read it!

I am sympathetic to these guys, but I think some of it is just ott - like the criticism Piper endured for inviting Rick Warren to his conference. Unbelievable.

Anyway, I thought of a little limerick you might like:

"There was a young man from Geneva,
Who thought lady preachers were divas,
He consulted John Calvin,
Decided to ban them,
But he still says that women are equal."

lynn said...

That made my evening, that limerick did. Maybe we should post it on our office wall here!


Absolutely right, I do agree with your post. By the way I am a member of Baptist Church at Sacramento. Our church use church calendar software designed by Congregation Builder, It is really good software to use. It gives us Camp Management, Church Web Calendar & Event Registration.