A Man Better Than His Tradition’s Noisiest Voices

I have never really seen the appeal of at least the main versions of Reformed Christianity that I have encountered in the US, though I have great respect for many Christians who were raised in this tradition, and seem to like them better in the Netherlands than here!

The hypercognitive confessionalism of some Reformed Christians is intellectually rigorous but feels arid and lacking in heart — indeed, in grace.

The same could be said of many of the uber-Reformed Christian leaders one meets in today’s conservative white North American Christianity. As a Baptist, I especially resent the impact on our community by hardline Calvinists.

Doctrinaire Calvinists seem especially unable to process themselves or their movement as socially located rather than theologically driven. If they believe they have gotten somewhere by thinking it theologically, they cannot hear the critique that their ideas are probably more a reflection of their social location, such as whiteness, maleness, and political conservatism, than of the Gospel. This speaks to Wes Granberg-Michaelson’s searing, and accurate critique of Dutch Reformed involvement in the slave trade. All of our traditions need humility about how we know and what we think we know. And all need the ability to repent.

I love Wes, and have known him primarily through the progressive, social-justice-oriented Christianity of a group he and I have both been a part of — the Sojourners community in Washington. But his essay also helps me see him as a representative of the best version of the Reformed tradition, which I also have encountered at great schools like Hope (and Calvin College) and great publishing houses like Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, Michigan is the Vatican City of the Dutch Reformed community in the US, and it is full of smart, wonderful, devout Christian people.

Every tradition in the US appears to be producing and reproducing the same fissures. Wes Granberg-Michaelson is not responsible for  John Piper and his ilk. The fact that they come from the same confessional tradition means little. One of the interesting things about our religious landscape today continues to be the fact that the left/right binary seems to mean more than Rome, Geneva, Wittenberg, or Zurich.


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