OK, I’m really tired of all the Grand Rapids-bashing that keeps rearing it’s ugly head in the Reformed blogosphere.

grand rapids

Anyone visiting from Moscow, would think that the city is simply the biggest drag on the Reformed resurgence.

What, you mean that’s just happened?

Yes, the latest salvo of contempt is from Doug Wilson:

And by Calvinist, I do not mean someone who grew up in the environs of Grand Rapids, and whose thought processes are tinctured with some elements of a by-gone Reformed tradition. I mean somebody who actually thinks that God is God, all the way up, all the way down, and all the way across.

I mean, what a crime, to have been raised in or near Grand Rapids, and to actually have some sense of theological connection to God’s work in past ages. You couldn’t possibly be that and ”think that God is God, all the way up, all the way down, and all the way across” could you?

But, thankfully, according to Mr Wilson, deliverance is near. Yes, apparently a striking new “Kuyperian aesthetic” is the answer. “Get out of the way, Historical Theology; make way, Confessional Standards; we’re coming through with our novels, movies, music and paintings. Vive la revolution!”


Now, I admit, Grand Rapids is far from perfect. It’s seen better days – economically and spiritually. The triple viruses of academic liberalism, dead orthodoxy, and cold nominalism have done their deadly work – as they have in every other American city. But much good remains. God’s work goes on – even in Grand Rapids. There are a number of excellent preachers here, and many wonderful Christians. It’s a fantastic place to live, work, and raise a family. I’ve preached in numerous churches here, representing various denominations, and found so much to thank God for.

But even if we’re as bad as we’re made out to be, how should you go about trying to help us? Well, when Jesus saw another “Reformed Jerusalem” in a poor spiritual condition, he didn’t spit out scornful spiritual and cultural superiority, but after forceful critique He wept tears of compassion and pled for her to return to Him.

I see something similar to this concerned pity in the sentiments Tweeted by Shai Linne when he visited Grand Rapids last week:

  • In Grand Rapids, MI for the weekend. Lots of old churches. Seems like revival came and went.
  • Few things more sad than seeing evidence of a once-thriving-but-now-dead Christianity. A warning for us.
  • Seems like it happened early last century would be my guess. I want to research to see what happened here.
  • Most of the seemingly dead churches here in GR have “reformed” in the title. Shows that right doctrine alone isn’t enough.
  • Can anyone point me to a resource that deals with the dutch reformed movement in the Grand Rapids, MI area?

Shai and I have disagreed in the past, but I certainly agree with the spirit and content of these remarks: first-hand knowledge, recognition of God’s past work, sadness over present decay, appeal to learn lessons, a desire to know more, a concerned warning, and a serious commitment to understand an important and beautiful branch of Christ’s church.

What an example to others who have a genuine desire for the good of the city, the strengthening of the church, and the salvation of lost souls.

  • http://ponderingsofapilgrimpastor.blogspot.com/ Jason Van Bemmel

    I think the decline of the Dutch Reformed church, the CRC, can be traced to an academic liberalism that has infected Calvin College and a drifting liberalism that has seeped into the churches. In my studies of church history, it’s never a good sign when a denomonation starts ordaining women. It’s usually the fruit of decades of slow decline/drift. I see the same trends in the broader evangelical movement- getting bored with orthodoxy, wanting something that is more relevant and respectable than the same-old Gospel truth, embracing key elements of the liberal/secular worldview (evolution, feminism, Biblical criticism), etc. I wonder if the trend doesn’t run something like this: cold orthodoxy –> formalism –> apathy –> desire for novelty/relvance/respectability –> rejection of old standards –> slide into liberalism and false gospels.

  • http://homeschoolonthecroft.blogspot.com/ Anne

    Ooooh, methinks *someone*,,, *somebodies* have an axe to grind. Well, we’re not from Grand Rapids, but our souls have been blessed abundantly by preaching from that city :)

  • A follower

    After 14 years here in GR, my exposure to reformed theology came in recent years, partly from a bright young pastor called to a once-flourishing but struggling non-denom church that seemed to have little clue about, or care for, theology or sound biblical doctrine. The resistance to his beliefs and views of church eventually drove him away, but not before God used him to light a fire under a handful of us. I don’t hold out much hope for our church, but no more am I blinded to the supremacy of Scripture and criticality of expository preaching in the life of the church; getting serious buy-in on that is unfortunately a tall order. There are a handful of biblically true churches on my side of town, but not many, as most have caved in to one or more of the many forms of pragmatism.

    I confess I don’t know much of “old Grand Rapids” as I wasn’t here, but this is the city that I know. We are ripe for a modern reformation, as this area has many of the same problems as the American church anywhere else. Among my more hopeful times have been when I’ve attended the Phila. Conference in Byron Center (I’ve not made it to a PRTS conference yet!), so while things look bleak at my own church I’m not giving up altogether. At least they make me feel that I’m not alone!

  • Kara

    Well said. What better place for a revival than a place that has foundations but needs the house built up again.

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Well, I’m glad I’m not a one member GR fan club.

  • A follower

    David, I’m a GR fan too, to be clear. You wrote:

    “But, thankfully, according to Mr Wilson, deliverance is near. Yes, apparently a striking new ‘Kuyperian aesthetic’ is the answer. ‘Get out of the way, Historical Theology; make way, Confessional Standards; we’re coming through with our novels, movies, music and paintings. Vive la revolution!’


    I agree.

    My non-denom church did that decades ago, fully embracing the creative arts. Scripture alone? Heavens no, creative expression is the accompanying authoritative “church tradition” we embrace! A counter-revolution might be to actually BRING IN some confessional standards to our church and others that have deemed them offensive to “seekers” and have therefore held them at arm’s length. But minimization of doctrine seems to be the order of the day.

  • http://nathan.eshelman.blogspot.com Nathan

    Grand Rapids served my family well for 12 years as an incubator for sound theology and practical experience. I thank God for Grand Rapids.

  • Mark MacLeod

    It strikes me that we often forget those great words “Ecclesia Reformata, semper Reformanda.” It is good to be a Reformed Church, but sometimes I see the risk that we forget that we are also “semper Reformanda”. Reformanda, being a gerundive, I understand this phrase to mean “always in need of being Reformed.” This, of course, must be done in accord with Scripture and our Connfession, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I fear that sometimes our churches have come to a grinding halt, or into a slide of unbiblical reform. I am also aware that it is very easy for us to have blinkered vision about what God is doing in “broader” denominations. I am training for the Church of Scotland Ministry, and I am heartened by the number of Biblical men who are currently coming through the ranks at present.

    As someone involved in active Ministry, I’ve been tremendously blessed by listening to preaching from HNRC particularly. The Lord is good!

  • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

    Great to get Nathan’s vote! And encouraging to hear about God’s work in the old country from Mark.