Friday, December 03, 2010

Letter to a Young Baptist

Dear Baptist Reviewer,

Thanks very much for your interest in Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition--and for taking the time to read my little tome of missives. I really appreciate that you're willing to engage the book. In many ways, it was written with you in mind. I know we don't cross paths all that often: I inhabit a Reformed world that doesn't tend to intersect with your corner of "Reformedom." I knew the book was a bit of a risk and a wager in that regard: an attempt to build bridges where they either don't exist, or at least strengthen collaboration where such bridges remain rather ramshackle, precarious rope-and-sticks connections.

So I really do appreciate your review, and I'm grateful for the positive things you have to say about the book, despite our obvious differences. I tried hard to write the book in a pastoral tone, with an intentional concern about pedagogy: that's why the letters are arranged in a way to bring the reader slowly through what constitutes a cumulative argument about the shape of the Reformed tradition.

And as you rightly note, there is an argument there: I am admittedly pushing back a bit on the so-called "resurgence of Reformed theology," pressing the issue of just what counts as "Reformed." But please note, I'm not doing so in order to call in the "truly Reformed" police force, but because I genuinely think there are aspects of the Reformed theological heritage that have been underappreciated by the young Baptist crowd enthusiastic about TULIP. Reformed theology is a many-splendored thing, and my goal is not to draw new boundaries and issue official "Reformed identity" cards. (Believe me, if the "truly Reformed" police get called in, you and I are both getting thrown in the paddy wagon.) Rather, my hope was that, by showing you new and unfamiliar sides of the Reformed tradition, you might find treasures that were buried still deeper than the TULIP bulbs.

As I said, this is the argument of the book. And if I had one wish, it would be that your review might have treated the book as an argument. As it stands, your review tends to simply treat this as a matter of taste, a matter of preference. So rather than criticizing the argument, you tend to simply point out where, "as a Baptist," you "disagree." Or you simply signal for your readers where I "cross the line," or where I diverge from what "counts" as Reformed in your orbit.

But let me just say, for the future, that what would be most helpful is not simply pointing out where you disagree--since that's no surprise and doesn't really advance the conversation. What would be interesting to hear is how and why you disagree--and, more importantly, how you would begin to refute the argument the book is trying to make. I would welcome that , not because I love polemics (well, I do a little bit, but I'm not proud of the fact. ;-) but because I think you'll better serve our readers--both of your review and my book--by engaging the argument rather than simply naming "positions."

My hope is that Letters to a Young Calvinist could be the beginning of a conversation, rather than a conversation stopper. And so I write with that goal in mind. I hope you'll receive this letter in that spirit.

Advent blessings, in hope,