Christianity,  Theology/Bible

A Quibble with McKnight’s “Neo-Reformed” Essay

Last week, Scot McKnight wrote a two-part essay defining a derogatory moniker that he has coined: neo-reformed (part 1, part 2). McKnight describes the neo-reformed as those who believe in double-predestination and who want to exclude all other Christians who do not. McKnight says that the neo-reformed are actually neo-fundamentalists who are threatening the tranquility of the evangelical village green.

I do not wish to engage McKnight here on every point, but I do wish to correct one item that I think he has gotten horribly wrong. Here’s the relevant excerpt from his essay followed by my response.

“And here’s another issue: the NeoReformed are deeply concerned with complementarianism and see it as a test case of fidelity. Fine, argue your points, but complementarianism is hardly the center of orthodoxy. You wouldn’t know that by the way they write or talk. Some see it as the litmus test of evangelical orthodoxy these days. This grieves me. Don’t we have more significant battles to wage?”

It is true that there is a revival of Calvinism among many younger evangelicals. Colin Hansen reported on this diffuse movement in his book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. It is also true that these Calvinists have a view of gender that is closer to Wayne Grudem’s than to Roger Nicole’s. They are by and large committed complementarians, and they are earnest in their defense of the view.

That being said, however, it is not accurate to criticize people in this fledgling Reformed revival as if they regard complementarianism as the “center of orthodoxy.” They don’t. Perhaps McKnight has observed the earnest attention that Reformed folks give to the gender issue and has concluded that this topic must be at the heart of their doctrinal priorities. Though the issue certainly is important for the life, health, and witness of churches, that is not all there is to Reformed enthusiasm for complementarianism.

In a recent issue of The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, Mark Dever explains,

“It seems to me and others (many who are younger than myself) that this issue of egalitarianism and complementarianism is increasingly acting as the watershed distinguishing those who will accommodate Scripture to culture, and those who will attempt to shape culture by Scripture. You may disagree, but this is our honest concern before God. It is no lack of charity, nor honesty. It is no desire for power or tradition for tradition’s sake. It is our sober conclusion from observing the last fifty years.”

In other words, Reformed people are concerned to confront egalitarianism because they see it as a threat to the authority of the Bible. This is why Wayne Grudem, for instance, argued so vociferously against William Webb’s trajectory hermeneutic. Webb’s whole project is a threat to the functional authority of the Bible in the life of God’s people.

Reformed evangelicals aren’t the only ones who are confronting egalitarianism and its consequent impact on the authority of scripture. There are many others non-Calvinists who share this concern. What Calvinists and non-Calvinist complementarians have in common is not so much the opinion that complementarianism is the “center of orthodoxy.” They share the view that the authority of scripture is a central issue that is worth contending for, and I hope more people will rally to this cause.


  • Crabapple Winthorpe

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I once heard you yourself point out that denying the complementarian view of gender relationships was (in effect) denying the functional subordination of the Son to the Father within the Godhead. That would, it may seem, make it a ‘center of orthodoxy.’

    Have you backed of this sort of gravity on the issue? And again, I may be incorrect, it was some years ago when you said that.

  • Mike Bird


    I have to confess that the impression that I get is that for some in the USA it is complementarianism (in fact Grudem’s rather than someone like Blomberg’s) and (Warfieldian) inerrancy that are the badges of being on the right team. I wouldn’t say people regard it as the hallmarks of orthodoxy, but in a social sense it does seem to be the two boxes you have to tick to be one of the boys.

  • John Holmberg

    “Authority of Scripture”???


    Are you serious? You think non-Calvinists and egalitarians can’t call you guys out on certain things within the Scriptures where you guys clearly don’t regard it as authoritative (just war anybody? unlimited atonement anybody? women can be deacons and were clearly leaders anybody?)? You ignore some texts about women and lift others up to a universal status. You cherry-pick verses more than any other system I’ve seen. Your rhetoric is truly disturbing. More than that, you’re not even consistent and truly “Biblical” with your complementarian ethic anyways. In any case, you make it sound like those who don’t believe like you do don’t give a rip about the Scriptures and don’t have a high view of them. Some of the most godly and Christ-like people I know are egalitarian. Whenever I hear you guys talk about “Biblical authority” and being “Biblical,” I just have to laugh, b/c it’s amazing the things you guys ignore and push to the side in order to push your agenda. I mean, you’re like the gay activists, only that you’re not gay.

    When I read the “neo-reformed” articles, the first named that popped into my head was “Denny Burk.”

    You are the man, sir.

  • John Holmberg

    Good word Mike, you’re exactly right. Coming from a scholar who’s not in the country and only observing, I think your voice should be given more weight than others.

  • Steve Hayes

    I see where McKnight’s coming from. I don’t believe that neo-ref’s view gender as the “center of orthodoxy”, but I do think that they have a problem with overstating many of their views. I am a Calvinist, so I affirm the foundational beliefs of neo-ref’s, but it saddens me that so many of them come across as though the lynchpin of their faith has nothing to do with depravity! In other words, Calvinists claim total depravity, yet many use their belief system as a battering ram against those who have differing views. How can depravity lead to superiority?

    Calvinists should be the most humble of all Christians. They should also recognize that unless God awakens one to proper belief, one will never be able to attain proper belief. As Tim Keller said, “What you need (in this world) is people who’ve got an exclusive truth that humbles them.” I am not always humble, but I am extremely humbled by the truth of the tenets of the Reformation.

    I’d just like to see a little less hostility and a little more humility from many of the young Calvinists I know. Sorry if this post wasn’t humble.

  • Matthew Staton

    The impression I get from the reformed revival or neo-reformed team is:

    1) Egalitarianism = rejection of Scripture’s authority.

    2) Complementarianism = fighting on the right side of the battle.

    3) It is a battle and you need to choose sides. Which side are you on?

    If this is your view, you may put a civil face on talking to non-complementarians in public, but you would not allow them near the inner circles of your church. So perhaps the issue is not “the center” but it is at the center of orthodoxy. Functionally, it is a litmus test of orthodoxy. But how is that different from what Scot said?

    Not trying to be ungracious, just trying to state the shape of the issue as I perceive it. I don’t completely agree with Scot on the issue itself, but I don’t see where he got it wrong when describing its importance to the Reformed group in question. I am open to being corrected.

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    Denny, help me understand. Affirming complementarianism is not “the center of orthodoxy,” but the authority of Scripture is. But from your remarks as well as Mark Devers it seems to be the case that to deny complementarianism is to deny the authority of Scripture. That is, after all, Grudem’s thesis, and it is not only focused on Webb’s material (it is focused on all egalitarians).

    I’m sorry to say, but that just smacks of double-speak. Fundamentalism works by elevating peripheral doctrines to central doctrines, by connecting them as necessary implications to the central doctrines.

  • Russ Ware

    McKnight nails it… again. The proof is in the pudding on this one. One only needs to read the threads on the subject on this blog… heck one only needs to read this one to see that McKnight’s criticism rings true!

    Another thing that characterizes the neo-refs is a staggering inability to be circumspect or teachable.

  • Ryan Kearns

    Russ did you even read the comment thread here before posting?

    Not one is affirming of Denny’s post and even hints of a Reformed arrogance. If I am wrong let me know which comment does.

    I am saddened by the response here. While I am not fully on board with all Denny said Scot really missed the boat on this one. he played coy in regards to who these “neoreformed” specifically were and then levied unfair attacks about them saying those who do not ascribe to Calvinism not being Christians. I am still waiting for any evidence to support the claim that any of the major evangelical Calvinist leaders out there have even come close to saying such a thing.

    Also I would suggest that the same level of passion and importance that Scot assumes neoreformed folk have on the gender issue, he does as well, just on the opposite side.

    And of course what follows here will be all those who think Scot is a 100% right telling personal stories of Calvinists being mean to them or uncharitable. And while I do not want to dismiss those experiences, as a reformed fellow I have felt that same exclusion and grief from emergent crowds and those that have been quite intolerant of my theological convictions.

    Why don’t we drop the stones and have more thoughtful conversations, and speak in specifics instead of ambiguous accusations that only fuel the fire of plank/speck.

  • Russ Ware


    I should have been more clear regarding this thread, I was not referring to the comments here, but Denny’s original post, which I do think proves Scot’s point. I agree with the comments here. 🙂

  • Bradley Cochran


    Wouldn’t you say that many Calvinists also think that Arminianism is a litmus test to see whether someone is going to conform their thinking to scripture or accommodate it to preconceived notions of free will and fairness (which they get from their culture, which makes it tantamount to cultural accommodation, which makes it no different from the egalitarian issue?).

    It seems arbitrary to me, that a Calvinist would make egalitarianism a litmus test to biblical authority, but then see the Arminian position as not equally compromising biblical authority.

    NOTICE: That’s not to say that these Calvinists are right, but only that given their stance, it’s inconsistent. If egalitarianism is a “biblical authority issue,” for Calvinists, why not Arminianism?


  • Mike Aubrey

    I’m sorry, but your response to McKnight seems incoherent to me:

    [I]t is not accurate to criticize people in this fledgling Reformed revival as if they regard complementarianism as the “center of orthodoxy.” They don’t.

    Reformed people are concerned to confront egalitarianism because they see it as a threat to the authority of the Bible.

    Right. Your words here really sound like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.

    If complementarianism is not part of the center of orthodoxy, but at the same time, egalitarianism is a threat against Biblical authority, then are you saying that Biblical authority is not part of the center of orthodoxy either?

    Which is it?

  • Viviana Véjar H.

    I think you´re having a discussion so out of the biblical principles.

    Neo-reformers, neo-calvinism, neo-orthodoxy, neo-liberalism, etc,etc

    You’ll say: “It is true that there is a revival of Calvinism among many younger evangelicals”. I think that you`ve got to stop to call us, christian people, as a calvinism or this or that.
    Stop putting names, we worship to One True God, and follow the teaches of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Nothing else…

    Sorry for my english, I live in CHILE.

  • Providential1611

    I am late to this discussion, but I must say, as a thoroughly Arminian Pentecostal /Charismatic /Holiness /Dispensationalist, that I DO VIEW Egalitarianism as heresy. Complementarianism is the BIBLICAL VIEW, and the depature from it has wreaked havoc upon our churches, families, and unleased the divorce epidemic, and the homosexual plague. That may sound strong, and to some it may sound “wild”, but it is true. When women began to clamour for their “rights” and began to leave home for their “careers”, divorce and homosexuality has risen.

    Egalitarianism leads to the feminization of men, and worse, of God. They are trying to eliminate gender-specific words from Scripture, and some go so far as to not want God to be referred to as Father, or He. The spirit behind all of this is from Hell, and the fruit and the doctrine within those espousing these ideas makes it clear.

    Feminism is of the devil.

    Man was made in God’s image and glory, the woman made from man and FOR man-1Cor.11, and man is the head in government, home and the church. Period.

    I get in trouble for teaching and preaching this is my camp, but I will preach and and PROVE it to all.

  • Amadea

    Are women even allowed into heaven? I’m left to wonder if they truly are, after reading these posts on complementarianism. Perhaps in heaven we will get to serve the men their ambrosia, or even become the virgins given to Islamic ‘martyrs’. It is beyond me how educated, informed men such as Burk, Grudem and Piper and some of the posters here cannot see that it was this kind of thinking that led to the polygamy of Mormonism, the epidemic of child sexual abuse in homes and churches, and wife abuse in even some of the best Christian homes. All of these things were happening for centuries before feminism was even thought of, let alone given a name. The man who has power over others will inevitably misuse it, even if it is simply to frighten or browbeat women away from the pulpit. No, I am NOT a feminist, and of course I will get to heaven, for according to Paul there is no male nor female in heaven. As a Christian woman I love the LORD God Almighty with all my heart and mind and strength and soul. As a Christian, I choose to follow the teachings of Christ Jesus, only. I do not choose to follow some self-serving, Pharisaical interpretation of Gospel. Will you please note that Paul said, “I (first person singular)do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1Timothy 2:12)
    He did not say, “The Lord God Almighty or Jesus does not permit a woman to have authority over a man.” It is more than obvious that, in these letters, Paul was talking about specific congregations. It was also clear that Paul talked about women serving in the church as ‘apostles’ (Romans 16) and ‘hard workers for Christ’.” Paul tells us clearly that Priscilla (along with Aquila) taught Apollos the correct Christian theology. Jesus Christ Himself announced the Good News to a Samaritan women and, as a result of her testimony, many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus. (John 4:39) In giving her testimony she would have preached … to men … and many became believers because of her testimony. Jesus also admonished Martha to quit worrying about many things, when “only one thing is needed.” Jesus actually told Martha it would be beneficial to her if she got out of the kitchen for a while and, like her sister Mary, chose instead what is better and would not be taken away (His Word). (Luke 10:41) Jesus chose Mary Magdalene as the first person to show Himself following resurrection. He sent her to tell the disciples, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” The Gospel goes on, “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘Ihave seen the Lord!’ And she told them that He had said these things to her.” (John 20:17-18) Mary Magdalene, announcing to the brethren the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, preached to the brethren (men and women) that day. And, (note well) she preached at the behest of the Saviour. And that, gentlemen, is all I need to know. Everything else is simply Pharisaical hair-splitting nit picking. QED

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