Are Millennials Joining High Church Traditions?

high church protestantism

You can reject the faddishness and superficiality of contemporary evangelicalism without rejecting evangelicalism itself.

Gracy Olmstead has written the latest edition of an article that is in danger of becoming a meme amongst traditionalist conservatives: Millennial Christians are, apparently, converting to high church traditions en masse. Rebecca Van DoodewaardJeremy Tate, and Scot McKnight have also discussed this issue recently so it’s hardly a new story. There’s two things that need to be raised every time this article is written and, as best I can tell, none of them are discussed at any length in any of the pieces I’ve found.

First, there isn’t a ton of data showing how many people actually are converting to Catholicism or Orthodoxy or Anglicanism out of more evangelical backgrounds. (And we probably shouldn’t be including Anglicanism with Orthodoxy or Catholicism anyway, but that’s an entirely separate discussion.) Here’s the data we do have: Data from February of 2011 from the Pew Forum found that 9% of all Americans are former Catholics whereas only 7% of Americans are ex-Protestants. Of that 9% that have left Catholicism, 5% converted to Protestantism.

While it’s fair for members of high church traditions to point out that many of the converts to Protestantism are less engaged to begin with, while converts to Catholicism tend to be more noteworthy (Scott Hahn, Francis Beckwith, Jason Stellman, etc.), that doesn’t change the fact that more people convert from Catholicism to Protestantism than vice versa—a fact that most of these stories ignore completely.

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The Invisible Anglicanism of CS Lewis

cs lewis

(image source wikipedia:

If you spend any length of time interacting with contemporary writing about CS Lewis, you’ll discover one thing almost instantly: Lewis has become a theological Rorshach test for his readers. This was one of the dominant themes of the many tributes published about him on the 50th anniversary of his death this past November.

A certain group of Catholic readers—let’s call them “Chesterton’s warrior children”—cannot imagine someone like Lewis writing the things he did and not converting to Catholicism at some point. And since they cannot grant the possibility that one can write like Lewis and be Protestant, they are forced to conjure up fanciful theories to explain Lewis’s Protestantism. The best example of this is the “Ulsterior motive” theory, which claims that Lewis never got over the deep-seated anti-Catholic sentiments of his youth. (These critics conveniently fail to note that his family never seemed to possess any strong anti-Catholic sentiments to begin with, given that their servants were Catholic and Lewis’s parents were not terribly committed to the more radical brands of Irish protestantism.) The warrior children manage to say this with a straight face, which is somewhat remarkable given that many of Lewis’s closest friends were, of course, Catholic.

Meanwhile, American evangelical readers tend to see Lewis as a proto-evangelical, a man utterly committed to classic creedal orthodoxy and utterly uninterested in delving any deeper than that. He is the mere Christian par excellance in their minds and represents a tacit endorsement of the evangelical tendency to avoid the thornier theological questions that usually prompt one to seek out a confessional identity of some sort.

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Beyond Eclectic Christianity

To say that I come from a mixed background is an understatement. I was raised in the Independent Christian Church movement, discipled in a rising megachurch run by one of the current promoters of Radical Christianity, and have enjoyed close brushes with Eastern Orthodoxy and most varieties of Anglicanism. I now embrace Reformed theology, but I got my first steps down that road through reading Thomas Aquinas. I spent several years self-identifying as a “generic evangelical”, and somehow I was almost completely unironic about it. I absorbed all of those influences between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, and I have spent the time since sorting through it all.

Given that background, I could almost be a poster child for evangelical eclecticism. But a funny thing happened along the way.

In The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton describes Gabriel Syme’s pedigree in this way:

Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left—sanity.

Exposed to wildly varied theological influences in my late youth and early adulthood, I find myself likewise revolting into particularity. I was once proudly inclined to pick and choose the “best” parts of thinkers across centuries and competing schools of thought—and proudly called myself humble for it.


thursday (Photo credit: cjkershner)

I once somewhat admired the notion of heeding the Calvinists on election, the Arminians on free will, Catholic mystics on spirituality, and certain Charismatics on the Spirit. I am now more inclined to see that as the route of universal condescension. Drilling down into one particular tradition, its predecessors and its context, as a more humbling discipline. Continue reading

Debate, Inquiry and Learning to Tell the Difference

Someone sent me Rachael Slick’s commentary about growing up in the home of an apologist and asked for my comment.  There’s almost no way to do so, though: it’s her testimony and so is inevitably one-sided, and the portrait she paints of her father is not flattering.  But I think regardless of your stance toward Christianity the whole thing reads like an unmitigated tragedy.

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still, while the judgment about the story’s truthfulness is well beyond our capacity, that does not mean we can’t learn anything from it. Perceptions matter, after all, and Slick distills a popular stereotype about conservative Christians who have a disposition to engage in apologetics.  It’s an unfair stereotype, as many apologetics folks are some of the most patient and winsome people you’ll meet.  But persist it does, so let us consider it, again without necessarily granting the truthfulness of this particular description:

As my knowledge of Christianity grew, so did my questions — many of them the “classic” kind. If God was all-powerful and all-knowing, why did He create a race He knew was destined for Hell? How did evil exist if all of Creation was sustained by the mind of God? Why didn’t I feel His presence when I prayed?

Having a dad highly schooled in Christian apologetics meant that every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly. Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away.

I don’t have children, so I can’t imagine the temptation from that standpoint.  But  I have sat with friends who have struggled with such questions and know that sort of response well.  You might say I’ve been a practicioner of it, in fact, once.  Or maybe twice.  (You know, the memory goes in old age.)

The instinct to answer and defend is, in fact, one of the most difficult temptations for those with an interest in apologetics to resist.  Some of that is sometimes rooted in insecurities:  we don’t want to let the questions fester for fear of where they may ultimately take us.  Sometimes, though, it’s simply rooted in an overactive eagerness to help, a hastiness that wants to skip past the discomfort of the questions for the sake of putting them to rest and moving on to the next topic.  Such answering appears to be a love for ideas and the truth, but ultimately isn’t.  Unlike Pilate, it takes answers seriously.  But it treats such answers as reasons to close the discussion, rather than the substance for more contemplation and deliberate reflection about them.   (More on all that, of course, here.)

And therein lies the difference between debating and inquiring, a distinction that people often miss but is fundamental to keep hold of if we are to question well.  There is a time and place for bringing out the intellectual gloves and going a few rounds. Pugnacity isn’t a spiritual gift, but it has its uses within the kingdom.  We need  more Doug Wilsons, who models this better than anyone we’ve got today.

But the time and place for that is generally not in our friendships or families, and not with those whose faith is quavering.  Nor can we make a steady diet of debating, at least not if we don’t want it to corrode our intellectual life.  A steady diet of polemics will inevitably dry us up:  it’s inquiry and understanding that we are made for, and if those are not the automatic reflexes of our minds and hearts than we have more growth ahead of us.  Debate needs to be the form we undertake deliberately:  inquiry should be the default mode of the intellectual life.

I say all this with some trepidation, especially as it could come across as suggesting that had things gone otherwise Rachael might have stayed in the faith.  These movements in and out of Christianity are mysterious and the reasons and causes often come from places that we do not realize while they are underfoot.  There is a danger of a “parenting-health-and-wealth” gospel that I want no part of that suggests that if people only questioned well then their children would stay Christians.  I suspect it improves the odds, but the ways of teenagers are stranger than the ways of God.  And “staying a Christian” should never be the goal of being a parent, it seems to me.  ”Training up a child” in righteousness, peace, joy and the rest of them is a much more robust vision and one defined by its positives, not by the tacit negation of “remaining a Christian.”

Women Bishops, N.T. Wright, and Douglas Wilson

I am thrilled to introduce Brad Littlejohn to Mere-O’s readers.  Brad is a D.Phil. candidate at Edinburgh, working with Oliver and Joan O’Donovan.  He’s one of the sharpest young theologians I have read.  I commend the below to you, not all of which I agree with but all of which is worth your time.  Read more from Brad at his blog The Sword and the Ploughshare-MLA

Two weeks ago, the Church of England was thrown into disarray by the House of Laity’s unexpected rejection of the measure introducing women bishops into the church.  The measure failed by the narrowest of margins, winning 64% of the votes when two-thirds were needed, after having already gained the overwhelming support of the House of Bishops (94%) and the House of Clergy (77%).  As with last month’s US Presidential election, the most surprising thing about the vote was how surprising it was.  The House of Laity’s failure to approve the measure was greeted not merely with disappointment, but with shock, incredulity, and even outrage.  Supporters of the measure had great difficulty grasping the fact that a significant number of their fellow citizens and churchgoers could actually be willing to stick with the status quo.  As with the US Presidential election, this incredulity was the more odd given that nothing was changing.  For an electorate to strike out in a bold new direction, embracing a political outsider or a revolutionary new measure, might well elicit surprise and incomprehension.  But for an electorate to decide that it was willing to keep living with what it had already been living with for some years, while perhaps disappointing to those ready for change, should hardly be seen as an inexplicable bolt from the blue.  This is particularly the case in the English church’s decision.  Given that for nearly 2,000 years, that church had never had women bishops, that many of its members have shown grave misgivings with the idea of women’s ordination since it first became a prominent issue 40 or so years ago, and that the English are still renowned for their reflexive conservatism, a bit of hesitation on the brink before taking the plunge ought to be perceived as the most natural thing in the world, however frustrating to activists.

Canterbury Cathedral: West Front, Nave and Cen...

Canterbury Cathedral: West Front, Nave and Central Tower. Seen from south. Image assembled from 4 photos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That it was not so perceived betrays the collapse of British public discourse, as of American, into a fog of incomprehension; and as with the US elections, the result, far from prompting a call to self-examination and renewed engagement, has shown the losers at their worst, attacking the moral integrity of their opponents and threatening to resort to force.  The progressive agenda, in short, for all of its rhetoric of dialogue, democracy, charity, and concern for minorities, has shown that it is really just interested in getting its way, and is ready to resort to bullying if that’s what it takes.  Even David Cameron, the Tory, declared, “the Church needs to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme” and that it needed a “sharp prod” from Parliament.  His comments were reserved, however, compared to that of many of his Parliamentary colleagues, who, suddenly aroused from their chronic apathy regarding the Established Church they are supposed to oversee, sought to outdo one another in their expressions of outrage and veiled threats.  MP Diana Johnson lamented “The Church of England now stands to be left behind by the society it seeks to serve and made to look outdated, irrelevant and frankly eccentric by this decision. It appears that a broad Church is being held to ransom by a few narrow minds.”  MP Eleanor Laing suggested proposed disestablishment—”Does he agree that when the decision-making body of the established Church deliberately sets itself against the general principles of the society that it represents, its position as the established Church must be called into question?” while MP Chris Bryant, on the contrary, proposed making aggressive use of Parliament’s legal authority over the Church—”we will have no truck with more concessions to the hard-liners who want to make women second-rate bishops. We need to speed this up. Would it not make sense to have a moratorium on the appointment of any more male bishops until there could also be women bishops—no nomination without feminisation?”  MP David Winnick offered one of the most apoplectic outbursts, declaring, “this opposition to women bishops bears comparison with the opposition 100 years ago to women having the right to vote and to sit in the House of Commons? It is an anti-women attitude—a feeling that women have no place in public life, in religion or in politics—that I find contemptible,” and MP Helen Goodman paradoxically blamed the vote on too many concessions to the dissenters (when the evidence suggests,  rather, that it was concern about the lack of concessions, not flat opposition to women bishops, that influenced most of the “No” votes).

Much of the criticism focused on the clear injustice of a decision-making process in which a majority view could be defeated by a minority, in which a two-thirds majority of all three houses was needed for a binding decision.  Of course, the irony that those whose creed is the empowerment of minorities were hell-bent on letting the majority impose its will went unnoticed, perhaps because it was nothing new.  Progressivism, by its zealous fidelity to progress, can champion the cause of minorities only in order to establish new majorities, after which the old majority, now a minority, may be safely trampled underfoot.  In the present case, this irony was rendered more than usually awkward by the fact that it was not the out-of-touch, hoity-toity bishops who had rejected the measure (they’d approved it almost unanimously), or even the straight-laced, narrow-minded clergy (who had passed it by a comfortable margin), but the average everyday folks in the pew, the ecclesiastical proletariat.  Progressives were forced to express their solidarity with the hierarchy, and their contempt for bigoted ordinary folks.  Again, however, this irony is in fact a regular feature of progressive politics, since ordinary folks are those most likely to have conservative instincts.

The overwhelming consensus, voiced only slightly more delicately by leading churchmen, was that the Church was stuck in a positively medieval attitude that was unthinkable in a 21st-century society, and that as a national church, it had a duty to modernize itself so as to mirror that wider society.

N.T. Wright offered a typically refreshing dismissal of all this nonsense in a brief essay for Fulcrum, quoting C.S. Lewis, which is always a good sign: Continue reading

Beauty and Power in Church Architecture

Last month, I began to build the case that Evangelicals possess an aesthetic that is reasoned, deliberative, and theologically informed. Contra the critics who charge that beauty is neglected in Evangelical circles, I find the comeliness in multipurpose worship centers equipped with retractable basketball stanchions. No, really.

To support this contention, I offered the parallel of Mormon architecture. Their institutional commitment to beauty—evidenced by their extravagant cathedral-like temples—has not dissuaded them from building cookie-cutter stake centers for the ordinary use of local congregations. They choose that fresh-from-Costco look deliberately because it serves the proper ends of week-in, week-out congregational life. Evangelicals, I maintain, have been equally reasoned in their design of church buildings and, therefore, should not be dismissed as aesthetic philistines.

But, the interlocutor protests, if Mormons have temples and Roman Catholics have cathedrals, what appropriately lavish oblation to beauty is found amidst the Evangelicals? When does extravagant, non-utilitarian artistic expression come to the fore and result in the construction of a truly marvelous facility?

Evangelical Church, Grand Valley, Ontario, Can...

Evangelical Church, Grand Valley, Ontario, Canada (1910) (Photo credit: Toronto Public Library Special Collections)


Well, not precisely never, but basically never. And this, too, is theologically informed.

The Institutional Church is Corruptible

Look around in your town. If it is anything like mine, most of the “beautiful” church buildings are inhabited by congregations who deny the resurrection, the virgin birth, or the deity of Christ. Yet the name-brands on those institutions—men like Martin Luther or John Wesley—were certainly orthodox, Spirit-filled men of God. Indeed, if you go back to when those local congregations were founded, I would bet many of them were constructed by God-fearing folk and the heresy and heart-hardening seeped in subsequent generations. Continue reading

What Mormons Can Teach Evangelicals About Church Architecture

Last month I had occasion to visit Utah. (Twice, in fact.) While driving around the state, I took note of the culture constructed by the religion of a certain presidential hopeful. As you might imagine, the number of Mormon “stake centers” there borders on the absurd. They are easy to spot, even from the Interstate, due to their distinctively modular architecture.

If you’ve never lived within the proposed boundaries of the putative state of Deseret, this may sound weird, but I can identify the age of a Mormon meetinghouse at a glance. You see, each building from the 60s looks pretty much identical to the others built at that time. Same for any other vintage. It seems about once a decade, high command decides what a new church should look like and passes the blueprint down the line.

English: A stake center of The Church of Jesus...

English: A stake center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Located in West Valley City, Utah, USA, this architectural style is typical of those built in the 1990′s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The current model looks like a New England congregational church building ordered from a SkyMall catalogue:

“The Colonial”
If God is indeed “in the details” then this incredible church building speaks to the American spirit! The extraordinary red brick and white panelling is hand painted for startling realism. Impress guests with the charm of your elegant 84″ Concord steeple which stands as a symbol of the strength and freedom of an enduring generation.*

*Any similarity to actual SkyMall listings is purely coincidental.

But seriously, while it is easy to make fun of industrial uniformity and steeples that look like they were purchased at Costco, there is a reason the Mormons do what they do. By streamlining production and design, they gain the same efficiencies of scale that a McMansion developer gains. Sure, each church isn’t its own individual snowflake, but they are functional, well-appointed, and cost-effective. Continue reading

Joel Osteen and Reality TV

On November 29th, TMZ reported that “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett will be teaming with Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s largest church, for a primetime network show in 2012. Burnett told TMZ, “The premise of the show is that ordinary people will give up several days or longer to go on a mission with Joel Osteen, one of the most popular pastors in the world. All of the missions will be in the confines of US soil to “start fixing things.”

And that’s when I started feeling scared.

Turns out, this is not the first time the Osteens (Osteen’s wife Victoria is co-pastor of their Lakewood Church in Houston) have been approached about a reality show, but according to their spokesman, Don Iloff, this was the first premise that fit their mission. “We do these projects without the cameras rolling,” Iloff told the Houston Chronicle. “But Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine. Don’t hide it under a bushel.’”

Osteen seems in no danger of being accused of hiding under a bushel. His white smile and thick shock of wavy hair is already emblazoned across several bestselling books, such as Your Best Life Now (which I could have sworn was the title of Oprah’s personal trainer’s products), Become a Better You, It’s Your Time, and his latest, Every Day a Friday: How to be Happier 7 Days a Week. According to Osteen’s website his sermon broadcast reaches over 100 million homes in the US alone, and his podcasts are listened to by over 1 million people a week, but it seems he feels he can do more. Or at least, be on more TV screens.

As a native Southern Californian, I am no stranger to mega-churches and star pastors; Orange County’s own Rick Warren might be one of the few pastors in America who is more recognizable than Osteen. Friends of mine working at Saddleback and Mariner’s Church in Irvine told me that the pastors of these behemoths have been approached about reality shows as well, but turned the opportunity down. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that producers are interested in pastors. With reality shows littered across networks focusing on everything from state troopers, modern day polygamists or jousting knights, moms of multiples and people who fish with their bare hands, it seems it was just a matter of time before Christian ministries entered the fray.

But, but, but, does this have to happen? I mean, I like the Duggars just fine, but I don’t think I’m wrong to say that reality TV hasn’t proven to be the best medium for communicating the depth and intricacies of the Christian faith. A personality based show like Osteen’s soon to be named American Fix-It Project just seems doomed to failure. If the show itself isn’t completely embarrassing, it seems only a matter of time before Osteen and his wife are. Am I being too skeptical (it wouldn’t be the first time)?

As much as I’d like to think that my cynicism is misplaced and all will be well, it turns out I’m not the only one who’s worried. USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture’s Richard Flory is skeptical of Osteen’s project. He told the Houston Chronicle, “It turns (mission trips) into an entertainment model, where you feel good watching it, people feel good doing it and Joel Osteen gets exposure. In an era where media exposure is the Holy Grail, this is to be expected.”

Though exposure of the every day lives and ministries of Christian men and women couldn’t be considered a necessarily bad thing, the potential for sensationalism and artifice seems all too possible. As Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research told the Christian Post, “I see no problem with a pastor in a reality show if it shows pastors as real people, the church on a real mission, and the pastor can point to the real Gospel.” I guess if I were to pick one guy in America to show the rest how real Christians can be, and what the real Gospel is made of, I don’t think I’d have picked the permanently be-suited and smiling happiness guru that is Osteen.

I suppose we can only wait and see if he’s is able to helm a reality show that keeps anything particularly real.

Required Reading: Hauerwas’ ‘Resident Aliens.’

Pick up any popular-level article on college-age church attendance or attend any church growth webinar, and you’ll almost assuredly find some hip, church growth expert bemoaning the “church’s” failure to retain its young adults. With latte in hand, we’ll be instructed to go more casual, to be more “authentic,” to dalliance with a favorited fermented brew in order capture the “unchurched.” The “church,” we’re told, is at best inconsequential and at worst, unnoticing, of young adults and their true needs—what is often little more than a reflexive affirmation of college age immaturity and indecisiveness.  I’ve read it, you’ve read it; let’s move on.

Like most anything, the problem of church attendance with young people is a battle of competing loyalties and competing narratives. For college-age freshmen, the air of fresh adventure combined with intellectual curiosity often spells doom. The lure to stay up late and attend Bedside Baptist is all too accommodating.

My diagnosis (with far less hipness in the mix): I believe we’ve failed to offer our young people a compelling reason to be “church”—not to go to church and fulfill obligatory duties (though this is both good and necessary), but to actually be the church, to cultivate an awareness and significance of the sole institution Christ left on earth after his ascension. To situate yourself primarily as a member of the church, and not primarily as a benefactor of America’s accoutrements, is quite difficult.

Through college, the writings of Stanley Hauerwas helped me to see how peculiar and how important the church is in shaping identity.

This is why Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s book Resident Aliens: Life in Christian Colony is so important and should be required reading for young Christians entering college. It’s the one book, at this point, that I’d slip into the backpack of my daughter as she trots off to college.

To embrace Hauerwas, it is easy to assume that the wholesale rejection of America and the warm embrace of separatism must follow. I think choosing Hauerwas or loving America is a false dichotomy. But that is another topic for another day.

As they write,

“In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, all human history must be reviewed. The coming of Christ has cosmic implications. He has changed the course of things. So the theological (and I’d add, the ecclesial) task is not merely the interpretive matter of translating Jesus into modern categories but rather to translate the world to him. The theologian’s job (and I’d add, the pastor’s, too) is not to make the gospel credible to the modern world, but to make the world credible to the gospel.” (24)

“We are saying that the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world. One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church.” (38).

Hauerwas and Willimon insist that the church as polis is inscribed with its own set of virtues and can only be learned as one begins to see themselves as church, instead of going “to church.” Making the gospel credible to the world presupposes that one’s worldview is shaped more by the crucifixion and resurrection than by the nation-state. And for the gospel to be understood, it must be found where it is proclaimed and embodied: the church.

I’d conjecture that there would be less disillusionment with the church should youth understand Stanley Hauerwas’ proposals. His proposals aren’t easy. I fail at them. As much as I try, I must remind myself that it’s a church in Louisville, KY that retains more rights over myself than I am entitled to proclaim as my own—a concept at conflict with liberal democracy. But the beauty of the church is that it is the lifelong process of absorption within the church that one finally recognizes that they could be nothing other than the church. It’s church as osmosis. 

If children were taught from an early age that church is not so much a place to visit, but a thing to be, the idea of not being the church as one reaches a certain age would be impossible. The church, at that point, would be a learned trait, a habit of virtue. And habits are hard things to cast off…even when you reach college.

Voluntarity, Variety, and the Young Reformed

I want to offer something between an addendum and a counterpoint to Matt’s excellent guest post at Ben Simpson’s blog. He rightly describes how, in late modern society, membership in social institutions and social structures have become radically voluntary. Online social media has both reflected and accelerated that trend. Read his post. It’s good, especially in the connection he suggests between the popularity of Calvinism and the rise of voluntary society.

There are many types within the Young Reformed crowd. I think there are two particular kinds that are relevant for Matt’s post. Both are Evangelical, and both strongly embrace the doctrines of grace.  You might call them Parachurch YR’s and Church YR’s. Or perhaps the New School and Old School wings of the movement. For the sticklers, I’ll admit they are overlapping categories that are not meant to cover all comers. Likewise, these are descriptive labels, not pointed claims. Judgement calls come a few steps after distinction-setting, right?

The “Parachurch” or “New School” prefer more informal church networks and more emphasize the big conferences as the anchor points for the movement. They are more likely to identify as missional and to be part of independent churches or newer church connections. (e.g., Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29, Mohlerite Southern Baptists) The parts of Reformed Theology that they emphasize are sovereignty and the doctrines of grace. You might call them the “Evangelical Reformed.”

The “Church” or “Old School” have a stronger emphasis on confessionalism and formal church polity. They more emphasize the visible church as a covenant community. The conventions are more of a supplementary fellowship opportunity. Like the 19th century Old School Presbyterians, they think revivalist, pietistic evangelicalism is a good thing, that can go hand-in-hand with the best of Protestant scholastic theology. They are more likely to emphasize Reformed ecclesiology as the context for the doctrines of grace and election. You might call them “Reformed Evangelicals.”

So, what does this have to do with Matt’s post? I suggest that these two approaches to the Young Reformed thing also represent two different approaches to voluntary culture. For the New School, with their more casual approach to doing church, the voluntary nature of church affiliation, theological approach, and conference fellowship is emphasized. And, like Matt said, tempered and chastened by the recognition that God is the King of History. We choose to attend Together for the Gospel 2011, but we remember that God had declared its attendance roster before the foundation of the world.

But I think the Old School, with its more formal and institutional approach to church, has a slightly different approach to the highly voluntary nature of present culture. We are to voluntarily choose, out of respect for God and His glory, to vow membership to this congregation and submission to these elders. Once entered, membership and fellowship become a holy obligation and a familial bond, not to be broken lightly. The visible fellowship of the church is made (ideally) a living critique of unstable, self-defined voluntary culture.