A link came across my Facebook page today to a scathing article written by one of the Reformed watchbloggers lambasting Mark Driscoll for a video he did at his “Resurgence” conference this year. So, I watched the 21 minute video. It was typical Driscoll – everything some love and others hate about him. He made a lot of sense and his tone was often cloying at the same time. I will put a link to the video below, so you can watch it if you wish.
WARNING: I’m talking about Driscoll just to set up the post today. This is NOT about him and comments that are made about him – pro or con – will be put up against a wall and summarily executed by firing squad. I’m not interested in restarting that foodfight. I’m focusing on the topic he addressed and thought I should explain why I am addressing it. I find some of the things Driscoll does to be alarming, even inexcusable. On the other hand, when he speaks, I find that he makes a lot of sense sometimes. That is what struck me here. I am not endorsing Driscoll in any way, but his video started me thinking about a topic I think we need to address. Hence, I am addressing it – the topic, not Driscoll.
The video was about the tribalism in the modern America church. His thesis is that we have divided into tribes, with tribal chiefs, tribal markers, and an unhealthy dose of tribal warfare! That part seemed to make a lot of sense to me. Most of our tribes are based on our beliefs in 4 major areas, he says.
1) Reformed. 2) Arminian
3) Complementarian 4) Egalitarian
5) Charismatic 6) Cessationist
7) Missional 8) Fundamentalist
He then ticked off some of the tribes. A 2-4-5 is a classic Arminian. A 1-3 would describe the Gospel Coalition tribe. 1-3-5 is Sovereign Grace while 1-3-7 is the Tim Keller tribe. The Calvary Chapel tribe could be described as a 2-3-5-7. He describes several more in the video, which you may watch if you wish.
1) The obvious flaw here is that these differentiations are more continuum than fixed points. The world is not made of of Reformed folks and Arminians. Most Christians fall in between those two options in some way. I live in the middle between cessationism and being a Charismatic.
2) The tribes of the SBC follow these general guidelines in some ways, but we represent a more limited continuum. We have few outright charismatics, nor are there many among us who embrace the term Arminian.
3) The last differentiation, Missional and Fundamentalist, is pejorative and unhelpful. What he is talking about is philosophy of social engagement. Missional seems to have a different connotation outside the Baptist world sometimes. Missional is used to refer to those who seek cultural relevance. Fundamental describes those who confront or withdraw from culture. Obviously, Driscoll favors the missional side and the fundamental side is held in low esteem. A better set of descriptors needs to be devised.
Still, I think he is on to something here. These are the issues we argue about to a large degree. I would describe our tribes in this way. If you feel like I am being pejorative, it is not my intent. I’m trying to be descriptive and informative here – thinking through what I have gleaned from observing Baptist life.
1)Reformed to Modified Arminian.
There are so few full Arminians in the SBC (especially those who believe in apostasy) that it hardly bears mention. There are a few modified Arminians out there on one end and a sizeable minority of Reformed Baptists on the other. Most of us describe ourselves between those 2 poles. Traditionalists-other non-Calvinists-Molinists-Antinomists – 3 and 4 pointers.
My sense is that there is a smaller (size is obviously in the eye of the beholder) group on both ends – primarily for 5-pointers and for some Traditionalists – for which this is the only key tribal issue. They are either in the Reformed Tribe or the Traditionalist Tribe and little else matters. For most of us in the in-between groups, Reformed vs. Traditionalist is not the be-all, end-all of tribal identity. We see the Calvinism Wars as pointless, fruitless and a distraction. Those passionately in the Traditionalist Tribe or the Reformed Tribe do not always agree. For them, either promoting Calvinism or stopping its threat is a first-order, watershed issue. I’ve had people on both sides of this tell me I am naive for saying this is not a huge issue. To me, it is not. To others, it is.
2) Complementarian to Egalitarian.
This is one of the more clearly defined issues. While there are certainly levels of complementarianism – from almost patriarchal views to more centrist positions – you can’t really be in-between on this. Either the husband is meant to be head of the home and the wife is meant to walk in equality of person with a complementary role, or the wife’s value as a person is determined by equality of role and responsibility. You are either complementarian or egalitarian – there is precious little wiggle room here.
3) Continuationist to Cessationist.
Continuationists believe that much of the gifting/manifesting work of the Holy Spirit continued after the Apostolic era. The Cessationist believes such is not the case, that tongues, prophetic words and such “miraculous” gifts passed away at either the closing of the canon or the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. This one is more easily described. It is also a key Southern Baptist differentiation. While there are plenty of cessationists across the spectrum, one of the key points of conflict between the Reformed Tribe and other groups has been the extent of the role of the Holy Spirit. Much of what many of us think of as normal Christian living is disdained by those in the Cessationist Tribe, especially those of the Reformed Cessationist Tribe. It becomes a major point of conflict.
4) Cooperationists to Confrontationalists
How should Christians engage culture? This is my attempt to improve on Driscoll’s wording – missional and fundamental. Maybe you can come up with better nomenclature. The Cooperationist looks at our culture and tries to engage it in a relevant way. The Confrontationalist looks at the culture as sinful and wicked and approaches it more suspiciously.
I don’t want to get too personal here, but let me use an example. Jared Moore wrote a Bible Study book based on the Harry Potter series. Those of you who thought that was brilliant cultural engagement would likely be Cooperationists. We cooperate with elements of the culture to shine the light of Christ and to transform lives. Those of you who thought it was a horribly bad idea to use Rowling’s book series as the basis for a Bible study would tend toward the Confrontationalist Tribe.
5) Yessies to NoNos.
This is one I’m adding just for us Southern Baptists. It is an outflow of the Cooperation/Confrontation conundrum, but it is different enough that it deserves separate billing. Many of our most intense battles in blogging have been battles between the Yessie Tribe and the NoNo tribe. I would direct you to a previous article of mine that examined Romans 14 and the meat sacrificed to idols issue in the early church. To (over?)simplify, Yessies believe that if something is not specifically forbidden in Scripture, it is permitted to the follower of Jesus Christ, if he does it with a clear conscience and a sense of Christ’s Lordship. The NoNoes believe that there are many things that should not be done by Christians even though they may not be specifically prohibited. Read the linked article for a fuller and hopefully more nuanced explanation.
We would often use the terms legalists and antinomians to describe these ends of the spectrum, but those are the kind of pejorative terms I’m trying to stay away from.
This was meant to be much briefer than it has turned out to be. Let me close with some conclusions.
1) Tribalism is a normal human reaction. Just look at how we cheer for sports.
2) Tribalism is not de facto sinful. There’s nothing wrong with me enjoying the company of like-minded people.
3) Tribalism can become destructive when we isolate from one another, when we start viewing the other Baptist tribes as our enemies, or worse, the enemies of Christ and the gospel.
4) One of our problems is that we a lot of time talking about one another. I’m discouraged at the way members of one tribe ridicule or denigrate those in the other tribe. It is sad, and yes, I’m going to say it – it often becomes sin! We need to engage one another with godly grace, brotherly kindness and proper honor.
Should I tell you which of the tribes is the biblically correct one? Perhaps that would be counterproductive.
Here is Driscoll’s video if you are interested in watching it.