A Reflection and Kind of Review of The Reformed Pub

Have you ever heard of the Reformed Pub? I hadn’t, probably not until about eight months ago or so. They started out as a podcast, and then that morphed into a massive (currently at 17,000 members and adding) Facebook group called, indeed, the Reformed Pub (they also have a website). Here is how they describe their founding:

monkdrinkingHOW THE PUB STARTED

The Reformed Pub started mostly by accident by Les and Tanner, as a Facebook fan page for the Reformed Pubcast. It quickly became apparent that people wanted a relaxed environment where they could discuss beer, food, and pop-culture, while also discussing and debating theology.

The Reformed Pub quickly grew into an eclectic and unique online community, that also spawned a whole spectrum of new podcasts. The Reformed Pub is the natural outworking of reformed minds in this generation. May it continue to be a blessing to many.[1]

By the sounds of it you would think that if you’re of the Reformed persuasion, and even if you’re not, that it might be an interesting place to interact and debate theological ideas. One might be led to believe, by how they describe it, that it is a causal place, like a real life Pub, where the free flow of theological ideas might ebb and flow and grow as the iron sharpening iron process is engaged in. But once you step into the Pub you realize that your initial impression would just have to remain that, an initial impression; the reality is that they follow a strict code of regulations, especially in regard to what one can and can’t say within the Pub. Here’s how they describe their Facebook version of how they want things to go:

The Reformed Pub is the place to be when you want to kick back, have a beer, and talk about the important things in life with like-minded brothers and sisters. We love theology, craft beer, and pop-culture, but above all we want to see God glorified through Jesus’ name being lifted high. Check out the Pub Rules before posting, pull up a stool, crack open a beer and a Bible, and enjoy the discussions. Cheers and Amen!

The emphasis in this description should be on like-minded brothers and sisters. If you don’t fit what they think constitutes orthodox Reformed theology, even if you’re a Reformed theologian like me, then you’re not in, you’re out.

My tenure in the Reformed Pub didn’t last long. I was almost immediately admonished, when I first joined about eight months ago, not to speak about Karl Barth or Thomas Torrance’s theology. Indeed, when I persisted in that for a bit, I was called a heretic by a couple of the admins.

Of course as an evangelical Calvinist I already knew I wouldn’t fit into what the Pub holds to be orthodox Reformed theology; i.e. I don’t hold to Westminster confessional theology. But that’s the whole point, I would think, they say they want discussion and debate of theology, yet if everyone is in agreement with say the Westminster Confession of the Faith or the London Baptist Confession of Faith (as they all seem to be), then there isn’t going to be much substantial or material difference between the participants in this group. What I experienced in my short time in the Pub was an immature banter, mostly communicated through memes, about craft beer, and paedo-baptism (along with sabbatarianism). The “admins” seem to revel in their “power” and ability to censor people who they deem outside the bounds of their conception of ‘confessional Reformed’ theology.[2]

What is most lacking, in my view, in the Reformed Pub, is a diversity of voices from within the Reformed faith. As is typical among many classical Reformed Christians in North America there is a massive tribalism, and even sectarianism associated with that understanding. As a result the discussion that takes place in the Pub is very controlled, and unfortunately has a kind of immaturity about its tone; i.e. in regard to the actual theological substance that one encounters in the group in the main.

Now, please don’t confuse what I’m observing about the Reformed Pub with all people who affirm Westminster Calvinism etc. Indeed, I know many who do affirm Westminster styled Calvinism who have the same impression about the Reformed Pub that I do. The problem with the Pub, beyond its kind of heavy handed regulation by its admins, again, is that substantive theological discussion about Reformed theology rarely if ever takes place in the Pub. So for those of us, who indeed are Reformed, who are looking for a substantial exchange (like blogs used to engender), the Reformed Pub is not the place for you. If you think that Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance are Reformed theologians, the Pub is not for you. If you are an evangelical Calvinist, the Pub is not for you. If you like to have mature and material theological discussion, the Pub is not for you.

The Reformed Pub just permanently banned me. Based upon my past forays in the Pub, and then my last offering, which was a link to my last blog post (they don’t allow links that “self-promote” your personal blogs or apparently personal ideas, especially if they don’t conform to what they consider “orthodox”), one of their more prominent admins, Tony Arsenal, reached into his Arsenal and shot me down. I left on bad terms, and my response to Tony was not the most Christian when I left.

I would never recommend the Reformed Pub to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Reformed faith. The Pub is not the place, online, where that’s going to happen. The only value I see in following them is a kind of sociological exercise in seeing where some of the Young, Restless, and Reformed have either ended up, or where they are starting out for the first time. It’s not a promising thing to watch.

 

[1] Source.

[2] In fact this is an area in the Pub where I had a pretty long debate with some of its members as well as its admins; this is the point where they called me a heretic (by implication, and some of the members more overtly). I appealed to Jan Rohls book Reformed Confessions: Theology from Zurich to Barmen. He makes substantial material points about what constitutes Reformed confessional Christianity, but once they realized, in the Pub, that Rohls is a Presbyterian Church (USA), it was all over; I was a heretic, along with Rohls.

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14 comments

  1. Thanks for your honest reflections on the Reformed Pub, and your truthful responses to them on line. I like a beer now and again, but usually not (actually, never) while I’m reading theology or studying a passage in detail. In light of your reflections about the Reformed Pub’s failure to engage a broad range of Reformed perspectives, I’m curious as to the ways you might limit your own understandings and perspectives of other ‘Reformed’ positions. What topics, if any, are off limits in your blog? Also. what is your take on David Engelsma from Reformed Theological Seminary in Michigan, and others who write and publish in Protestant Reformed Theological Journal? Likewise, what would you say that your personal position is, as well as Barth’s and Torrance’s positions, on the well meant offer? Thanks in advance.

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  2. Rick,

    Thank you. Whether or not someone “drinks” and in particular beer is up to them, but the culture of that can become another story (https://growrag.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/theology-of-retrieval-not-retrieval-of-cultures-per-se-how-craft-beers-cigars-and-big-beards-can-get-in-the-way-of-jesus/). There are no topics off limits here, but I obviously speak from a certain mood or aspect of the Reformed tradition that does not necessarily cohere well with what many in N America think of when they hear “Reformed theology” or adhere to it themselves. I find that many many people who are Reformed really are not aware of the history of ideas behind Reformed theology which has the potential to lead to some pretty sectarian and dare I see naive attitudes towards those who don’t fit in with the narrow understanding of Reformed theology they have. That said I do offer some pretty heavy critique of Westminster and/or decretal (materially) Reformed theology and understanding of God. But I enjoy engaging with all aspects of Reformed theology, so the approach here is very open; and I also don’t mind getting into heavy discussion about it.

    I have never heard of David Engelsma. What is unique about his style of Reformed theology and writing that might make him stand out from standard accounts?

    I don’t understand on what you mean about the “well meant offer,” what do you mean by that?

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  3. Caleb,

    I had forgotten that it was you who had made me aware of the RP, I thought it was Jonathan Kleis. No matter, I knew it would never be a place for me; I’m actually surprised I was able to hang on as long as I did. I think I was able to simply because I pretty much avoided it. Whenever I didn’t I got in trouble :).

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  4. I was kicked out of the pub years ago. I told one of the moderators that if he did not stop calling me a liberal I was going to start calling him a fundamentalist with a drinking problem. I was also very hard on their iconoclasm.

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  5. Yeah, I wasn’t nice at all when I left. I had already developed a quick history with one of the admins as I note in my post. It’s not a good place, that’s why I’m sad that they get so much exposure.

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  6. I will say I met some good folks there and a few have become close friends with some in “real life”. I miss the place but if they let me back in I am sure I would be out on my ear again in a heart beat.

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  7. This was my exact experience. I am a Westminsterian Presbyterian, yet Tony the Tiger had a beef with me and kicked me out. He even went after my wife. I think that shows the overal feel of the pub. There are some good guys in there but man it’s a war zone. Thank you for this.

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  8. Hi D.M. Scroggins, thanks for sharing your experience; it helps to know we’re not alone 🙂 . After your wife?! That’s hardcore!

    I kind of unloaded on Tony, and not in the best of ways, when he banned me. He told me I was lacking in sanctification and he’d be praying.

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