Against Group Hugs (and One PDF of All Fesko Review Posts)
Given current interest in the topics of good works, the Reformed tradition, and salvation, I have a linked document for you below, but first, some background.
Several months ago, I posted a series of review posts on the first chapters of John Fesko's recent book, Beyond Calvin. Pressing ecclesiastical needs pulled me away from the project of working through the book as a whole, yet what I had written already equaled a small book in size. Then, while the reviews have been well-received, some readers have suggested that, given the climate of discourse, they won't be read by the ones who most need to wrestle with them. Thus, perhaps the posts already available are more than sufficient so that I should feel free to turn to the projects I have kept at bay for too long. I wish these voices were mistaken, but I cannot say with confidence that they are. My last words in my most recent Fesko review post continue to reflect my more comprehensive concern about our situation:
But it is critically important to recognize these problems [i.e., the panoply of problems I noted in Fesko's book in the preceding review posts] as more than technical and, thus, to understand the reason for these many review posts: this is nothing like pedantry, and in the context of current debates and publications, as well as ecclesiastical realities, these essays contribute fuel to the sober sentiment that, however much we may wish to believe otherwise, we face in our day a complicated crisis in contemporary confessional Reformed scholarship.
Those sentiments are rooted not only in the truly astounding problems and weaknesses of Fesko's latest book - problems and weaknesses that reach from its precipitous beginning to its ignominious end -, or in Fesko's other publications only. They are rooted in the arguably worse phenomenon of the praise and reception of works like this among Reformed teachers and ministers.
Now, let us be clear. I have no doubt that John Fesko is a nice man and that he has done some helpful work on other topics, but that is irrelevant to a careful review of his work. Neither is it unloving or uncharitable to take a writer at his words and find them disastrously wide of the mark. The analysis of published scholarship is strengthened, not weakened, by a Christian commitment to truth in love. Thoughtful, public, Christian evaluation of a work of purported scholarship is not a group hug. Especially in an environment when so much heresy-rhetoric is thrown around, and the attacks are ostensibly based on works like this one, spade-calling, rather than paper-thin skin, is the need of the hour and the most loving thing to do.
But now I would also suggest that spade-calling should be happening much earlier on than in a series of review posts. If we were better friends to one another, we would be far quicker to say, "don't dare publish this stuff," and then give the reasons why. I have had to do this on occasion when reviewing a manuscript for a friend (or, more commonly, a research paper by a student), but I admit I should have done it more often than I have. My friends should be able to trust me to tell them they are out of their league on the topic of their book, and that it will only hurt their name, foolishly waste trees and time, and harm Christ's Church if they choose to publish it anyway. If we are unwilling to do this, we become part of the problem, and our puffs on the back of books like these should be taken more seriously as a reflection of our own suspect competence.
All this to say we must insist on quality work among our teachers, or we risk more than our reputations; we risk the health and future of Reformed scholarship. While I may return to the series of Fesko review posts to complete my analysis of the book, I also may not. For now I will focus my writing energies on a few important articles and books I'd like very much to finish.
To help readers who wish to have easier access to the review posts, I am now making available all the Fesko review posts in a single PDF, which can be accessed here.