I doubt anyone is surprised that a teetotal crusader attacked Apologia Studios and the Reformed Pub (with inaccurate info btw) for their positions on beer and tattoos. Nor were they probably surprised when a particular critic of both (Pub members will know) leveraged the occasion to twist the knife in what is clearly nothing more than resuming some old personal grudges. Haters gonna. What is surprising to some, however, is the extraordinarily low and ugly nature of this attack on what any informed person would readily confess are the most truly undeserving targets. I have a few comments on the first part of that, but will focus in a moment on the latter, particularly here in defense of the Reformed Pub.
There are generally three rhetorical levels on which criticism can be done: 1) standard, 2) hatchet job, 3) smear. The first level can still be very powerful, direct, and stark, even if gentlemanly. The second level is merciless, but can still be warranted. The third level, however, is mere insults and ad hominem designed to destroy reputations.
The second article I read attacking The Reformed Pub is somewhere beneath even the third level. It is not only insults, it is lies. The Reformed Pub is not only not the “cesspool” described in the attack, it is actually more spiritually mature than other Facebook groups I’ve seen in its class. This is especially true of a particular Bunker haunted by the subject author—a place unparalleled in the professing Christian world in its snark, backbiting, blacklisting, name-calling, insulting, unrepentance, and hair-trigger bans.
Anyone who knows me knows that I appreciate genuine criticism, no matter how stark, strong, or thorough. I, in fact, court it. The harder it comes, either the better chance I have to show the supremacy of my position, or the harder I have to work to improve it. In any of these cases, even if I end up changing a position, the harder the criticism—if it’s genuine criticism—the better I will be from it. What Christian would not want that?
But when purported criticism involves disinformation and insults designed to discredit and destroy reputations, you have departed from anything that can be called criticism; you have engaged in textbook defamation. If it could be shown that there were actual damages resulting (loss of revenue, suffering, etc.), there could probably be a legal case. (I’m not suggesting anything or giving legal advice, just stating a fact to drive home the point of how wrong this is.) It can no longer be called criticism. It also cannot be called Christian. (Don’t even make me laugh by calling it discernment.)
But my point here is not only to highlight other people’s sins, but to encourage the Pub to remember what it knows is true, but can get clouded in times like this. The number of people who criticize the Pub is actually quite low, and it is usually only after being blocked from it for their own belligerence, and after being warned multiple times. This loud minority usually lands on one consolidated criticism: the Pub is immature. But contrary to this wrongful perception, the Pub is actually a quite spiritually mature place.
Is there silliness? Yes. Is there trolling and horseplay? Yep. And your point? I would guess the Pub has a good Pareto distribution between light heartedness and 20serious theological discussion. The lightheartedness I’ve witnessed includes banter about beer, clever memes designed for a laugh, “shots” fired, playful jabs, etc. Some people call this immaturity, but it is not really such a big deal. It is rather the people who take themselves too seriously and get perpetually offended by such things who are actually spiritually immature. They are the ones unwilling or unable to give space for something different, or relaxation, or something they’re not used to, or something that someone else thinks is funny but they find annoying. If they asked themselves why they’re annoyed, they probably couldn’t even answer. Scratch the surface of that and you’ll probably find an uptight, legalistic, and/or generally angry or insecure person. Just let it go, bro.
I don’t get wary when people act with lighthearted silliness. I get very wary when people try to shield themselves from criticism, react overly-negatively at any criticism, act annoyed when others enjoy themselves, or worse, when they enjoy success. These people are the spiritual children. The world is the floor for their temper tantrums. Adults are people who carry on in self-control despite things they don’t like.
There are some people who just don’t “get it.” This is the Reformed PUB. It is a PUB people. It is very much like an online, virtual version of a tradition British Public House, aka “Pub”: a place to grab a pint, unwind, talk about the day, politics, religion, the queen, your disagreement with ol’ Jimmy over there, have a laugh, talk about how bad the Braves are this year, etc. The fact that about a fifth of the conversation actually focuses on, and stays focused on, solid Reformed theology is a tremendous gift, and the mix is a tremendous achievement. There are people in this Pub from diverse theological traditions, backgrounds, races, countries, etc. Just like any physical Pub, you would not walk in and start a fight or disrupt the peace without being tossed out on your rear. To stay in, you have to learn to tolerate people from other backgrounds, of other interests, and have an understanding of the basic rules of civility and the purpose of the place—just as you would in a real Pub. Don’t like that conversation over there across the room? Ignore it. Stay out of it. Leave it alone. Mind your own.
Les Lanphere and Tanner Barfield have created a place with the welcoming atmosphere of a classic Pub, in which you can grab your favorite brew or try a new one (or let them try it for you first), converse on general things, or converse on the most serious questions in the world from the best theological tradition in the world. In short, there is no place like this anywhere else, and I am not sure any other place gets it right better than this place.
And I say all of this fully aware that there are many people in here who dislike me and my theological positions, some who have probably bit and insulted my name at times, and that there are few who have publicly acknowledged that they think I’m a heretic and would like to see me kicked out. The fact that such elements never rule the day—like they do in some other Bunkers—is proof positive of the argument I’m making.
I not only think the Pub is a great achievement in its own right, I think it is probably one of the most influential outlets for Reformed Theology right now. Is that over the top? No. In there there is a mixture of mostly young Reformed people tempered with still many older persons seasoned with experience and grace, some ordained elders and pastors. The community is young, with some just beginning, and all always reforming, but there is enough sound theology here that virtually any thread will eventually arrive at a sound Reformed answer or equilibrium between positions. It’s 12,000+ people teaching 12,000+ people Reformed theology under the general influence of many well-trained and well-read thinkers.
So, essentially Les and Tanner have created the largest Reformed Bible School in history.
Let that sink in.
There is not a single school, college, seminary, or university anywhere dedicated to Reformed theology that has anywhere near 12,000+ students and faculty. The Pub does, and in answering Reformed theology questions and encouraging healthy dialogue and debate, regularly, the Pub is doing the work of such institutions for such a large audience and with no tuition or fees. In doing this also in an atmosphere of hospitality and joy, it is doing that work better than the others as well. And with beer.
(Ironically, the White Horse Inn today does not feature beer, unlike the original—the real one.)
Are the members mostly credos? Probably. Are they mostly two kingdoms, natural law types (even if they haven’t heard those phrases)? More pietist than transformationalist? I assume. Do they esteem Michael Horton and R. Scott Clark more than Joel McDurmon? To my chagrin. Don’t I wish they were all followers of American Vision? You bet! Do I wish all 12k would become theonomists? You better believe I’d buy all the rounds on that day. No I don’t agree with everything said and taught in the Pub. But big deal. There is a foundation of basic Reformed theology, apologetics, and presuppositions being laid here. That’s about the best starting point anyone could ask for. I love watching it happen. And as long as it retains its character and integrity, I will defend it until then end.