Over at The Anxious Bench, historian Dan Williams historicizes the battles over racial justice currently taking place within the Reformed (Calvinist) wing of American evangelicalism. The battle is over what to do about critical race theory and the Black Lives Matter movement.
This month, Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (as well as a popular author and a major figure in the “young, restless, and Reformed” movement) wrote an insightful article for the Gospel Coalition tracing a movement fissure that is in the making. On one side of the divide are Reformed racial progressives who support Black Lives Matter and denounce Donald Trump and Christian nationalism. On the opposite side are Reformed political conservatives who voted for Trump and who believe that Black Lives Matter is anti-Christian. And in the middle are two groups of moderates – one group that leans toward the progressives and probably did not vote for Trump but wants to keep the peace with the conservatives, and the other that leans toward the conservatives but does not want to disfellowship the progressives even while questioning some of their decisions.
DeYoung places himself in this last camp of conservative-moderates. He would like to reunite the coalition, but fears that it already may be too late to bring the progressives and conservatives together again – a situation that he finds lamentable, especially in view of the common theological ground that the two camps share on so many other issues. After all, as DeYoung noted, all groups in this coalition of conservative Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists, and the like are biblical inerrantists and strong Calvinists, and most are complementarians or at least lean in that general direction. With so much to unite them theologically and even culturally, are issues of race and politics really sufficient to permanently break apart this coalition?
Williams then points to the nineteenth-century Stone-Campbell Restorationist movement, an evangelical movement that divided over race and politics.
Larger national culture wars can divide the most apparently united and apolitical religious movements. It’s easy for Christians to claim that the church will rise above politics and offer a kingdom-centered vision that crosses party lines. But when moral issues are at stake, and Christians within a movement decide that their fellow brothers and sisters are making immoral political choices, whatever unity they once professed becomes remarkably hard to maintain.
I still believe that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a determination to resist the siren songs of the partisan slogans on both sides of a culture war divide, Christian unity can be maintained even among those with sharp partisan differences. But maintaining this unity will require a concerted effort to look past the political labels of the Christians on each side of a political divide and focus on the orthodox Christian principles that both groups are seeking to maintain even as they fight over significant political differences that cannot be ignored. The Stone-Campbellites failed to look beyond the partisanship a century and a half ago, and their movement therefore experienced a permanent fissure. Unless they make a conscious effort to forge a different path, the “young, restless, and Reformed” Christians may experience a similar division today.
Read the entire piece here.