Recognizing and Avoiding False Dichotomies: The Key to Missio-Confessio Ecclesial Unity

As most of my readers are aware, I am a Reformed Presbyterian. This doesn’t necessarily give sufficient information about my views and philosophy of ministry as there are different strands of confessional identity in the Reformed world. Indeed, I might have the same confessional strand as another Presbyterian, but our philosophies of ministry might greatly differ. More than that, our confessional identity and philosophies of ministry might be unified, but one of us might be labeled as a “neo” this or “truly” that.

My friend, Geoff Holsclaw (who isn’t Reformed or Presbyterian, just ask him) told Andy Stager and me on the Gospel Neighboring Podcast that he sees us as “paleo-Reformed” as opposed to “neo-Reformed”. Geoff’s designation confused me – yet made me joyful. Paleo is all the rage these days (though I am still waiting for the paleo-pepperoni pizza diet). To be neo is bad (especially since Matrix sermon illustrations were banned starting five years ago). Plus, I’m still confused as to what a neo-Reformed theologian or pastor is, since The Gospel Coalition has the diversity Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Ligon Duncan, and Kevin DeYoung. It seems that to be a neo-Reformed person is to believe in TULIP (unless your name is Trevin Wax) and are a complementarian (which is a fluid term given how John Piper and Tim Keller speak about women in ministry).

I appreciate Geoff’s compliment, and I’m hopeful that contemporary Reformed and Anabaptist dialogue will continue. I think one way to move forward in conversations between Reformed Presbyterians like myself and neo-Anabaptists like Geoff is to acknowledge and reject false dichotomies. Indeed, this is a primary way to move forward in many intramural Reformed debates.

So, here are some dichotomies presented in many theological discussions that need not necessarily exist in the church:

  • Faith Alone vs a Faith That is Never Alone
  • means of grace vs contextualization
  • kingdom already vs kingdom not yet
  • indicative vs imperatives (gospel vs law)
  • confessional vs missional
  • Word-based vs Spirit-driven
  • Scripture is God’s Inerrant Word vs Scripture is God’s Infallible Medium
  • Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology
  • Welcoming Sinners vs Challenging Sinners
  • Doctrine vs Narrative
  • Gospel of Justification by Faith vs Gospel of the Kingdom
  • Church organized (gathered) vs Church organic (scattered)
  • expository preaching vs redemptive-historical preaching
  • Creedal vs Ecumenical
  • Doxological Worship vs Evangelistic Worship
  • God’s Universal, Efficacious Lordship vs Man’s Moral Significance and Responsibility
  • Gender Distinction vs Gender Equality
  • Jesus the Lion vs Jesus the Lamb
  • Corporate Salvation and Election vs Individual Salvation and Election

There are plenty more dichotomies to list, but this is a good start. In addition, I understand that definitions are integral to this discussion. So just listing these dichotomies is step one. Having an open forum for charitable dialogue is the next (and perhaps most crucial) step.


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