The pandemic elephant in the room. What happened to our reformed theology?

This is a little bit of a lament.  I come from the Reformed tradition theologically.  We pride ourselves in this tradition on deep theological reflection. This theological reflection is meant to be rooted in detailed exegesis of the text set within two important theological disciplines, Biblical Theology which enables us to see how God’s redemptive plan progressively opens up through Scripture as we work from Genesis to Revelation and see the big Gospel themes unfold nd Systematic Theology which enables us to order and structure our thinking around key teaching topics.

What this should enable us to do is to approach any subject matter and think about it carefully. We should be able to apply what God says, what we believe to how we are meant to live in that context.  That’s been one of the big aims of over the past few years, to see how what we believe affects how we live.

The pandemic has provided us with the opportunity to use those gifts for the benefit of the church and indeed through common grace to the wider church. Yet, I’m not convinced we’ve done a good job of it.  I think primarily around our engagement on three particular questions, the most recent of which I engaged with only this week.

  1. The level to which churches should comply with government rules and regulations when they touch on the life of the church.
  2. Whether or not it is possible to take communion when using computer technology to enable a form of gathering.
  3. Whether or not measures including face mask mandates, vaccine passports are a good thing and whether Christians should readily comply with them.

Now each of these examples had specific concrete implications for us over the past two years and required us to make immediate decisions. However, they also by way of analogy, each in their way had potential longer term implications for life, ethics and ministry.  Yet, I’m not convinced that we did a good job of engaging with them and offering that deep theological reflection we pride ourselves in.

I think that at times we had a tendency towards the very things that we are quick to challenge other believers about. We were too ready with our proof texts but did not spend time on the deep exegesis to ensure that we understanding them correctly in their context. We had our surveys/overviews of themes in Scripture but I’m not sure that this really counted as Biblical theology as we failed to think about exactly where the issue in question placed us in that big story or how and where the big story addressed the specific nature of the problem.

At times, I would argue, there was a bit of eisegesis going on.  Our constituency was too quick to align with particular political cultures. There’s nothing wrong with having and expressing political sympathies. In fact, it’s the libertarian one that had a bit of a renaissance here in the UK, more associated with US evangelicalism that I personally am most sympathetic towards.  Yet, the risk was that political philosophies became over conflated with Biblical ethics. 

I also think that we didn’t do too well in listening to others. Far too often I found myself reading something where the position of others was described and thinking “I’m not sure they would recognise that as their position.” Far too often we resorted to hyperbole and name calling. Those who disagreed with us were Gnostics and compromisers or unloving. 

As I said, this is primarily a lament. I just wanted to pause and reflect because I think this should be a point of sadness for us. Instead of being helpful, too often, we reformed evangelicals were unhelpful.

We might need to recognise that we aren’t as robust at this theological stuff as we like to think we are. Not, I would hasten to add that the problem is with reformed theology itself.  I’m just not convinced we fully employed all the rich tools available to us within our tradition.

There will, I think be a need as we come to the end of the pandemic for us to recognise that we might need to admit where we got things wrong both in terms of content and tone. We might need to reaffirm that despite sharp disagreements we are united with other brothers and sisters and we might need to say sorry for those times when instead of helping we’ve in fact hindered or even hurt.

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