Consider the young Reformed movement, for instance, which I am currently a part of. On the one hand, an outsider (or an insider!) might suggest that the associations are little more than a club or tribe, where a particular set of doctrines provides the touchstone for peoples’ voluntary membership. But on the other hand, the emphasis on the doctrines that have made the movement unique, namely election and sovereignty, has minimized the voluntariness of the association. Yes, people might come because they choose to. But if the Reformed folks are right, that too is a chimera.
It’s not too much of a surprise, then, that the explosion in Reformed theology has happened hand-in-hand with the rise of what I might call the voluntary culture. Because when it’s all been written, voluntary associations of an arbitrary sort simply do not provide the stability and depth that we need for human flourishing. For that, we must look elsewhere, to God Himself, which is the first movement of the church and the fountainhead of virtue.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.