An Open Letter of Apology to Bobby Grow (with some clarifications and indications for the future of Reformissio)

If anyone happened to see the comments following my last post, he or she will know that Bobby Grow, whose own blog first inspired me to create my own, has expressed frustration with the approach to blogging that I have adopted here, especially with what pertains to the Evangelical Calvinism that he and Myk Habets have promoted. It seems that contrary to my desires and best intentions, I have given the impression that I have wanted in some way to profit by, steal from, or otherwise use Bobby and his work for my own ulterior motives. To hear that I have done this is heartbreaking, because nothing could be further from the truth, although I admit that I can understand why Bobby (or anyone else for that matter) would think this. Unfortunately at times, despite our best intentions, the things we do to help and support others can often come across as just the opposite. And since this has occurred between Bobby and I in a somewhat public way (through the blog and Facebook), I thought it appropriate to write a response as a blog post with the hopes that I can, if possible, make amends and restore a relationship with someone whom I admire and respect.

So first off, I want to apologize. I want to apologize primarily to Bobby for anything that I’ve done to give the impression that my intention was to profit by, steal from, or otherwise use him and his work for my own ulterior motives. In this case, it is not enough simply to say “I didn’t mean to do that!”. Nothing short of a public apology will suffice, and so that is what I want to offer here and ask for Bobby’s forgiveness. I also want to apologize to anyone else to whom I’ve given this same impression, not least to Myk Habets who has worked closely with Bobby to shape and present the Evangelical Calvinism for which I have tried to advocate. My desire has never been to treat EC as though it were something of my own creation. If I have given that impression, then I am genuinely sorry.

I would like to offer, by way of my own story, a bit of clarification as to why I have taken the approach that I have to this blog. I do not mean this as self-defense or self-justification, merely to (hopefully) clear up any misunderstanding that might exist. Prior to latching on to Bobby’s and Myk’s vision of EC, I had been a fairly typical, Piper-like 5-point Calvinist for quite some time. A couple of years ago, there were a number of factors that caused me to begin to question this position. Things came to a head when, during the course of my MA studies, I began to study Karl Barth and, not long after, T.F. Torrance. The research that I was doing for my MA thesis heavily involved a similar kind of theological retrieval and emphases that characterize Bobby’s and Myk’s EC, although at the time I was unaware of what they were doing.

It was only a matter of time, however, until I finally found their book, which I devoured like a starving man at a banquet. The direction that my own studies were taking me, in line with Barth and Torrance, seemed crystallized by them in a clear and concise way. There is not, of course, an official EC confession as such, in contrast with the federal Calvinism which can find its primary grammar in the Westminster Confession. So when I discovered EC as Bobby and Myk were offering it, it provided something concrete and tangible that I could latch on to, something that both confirmed the many thoughts swirling around in my own head and further illuminated the path forward to learning more. It offered me, as it were, a community of like-minded individuals who, rather than simply being Barthian, Torrancean, or (God forbid!) neo-orthodox, could band together under the auspices of the EC vision that Bobby and Myk were outlining.

The more I learned (especially from reading Bobby’s bog), the more my desire grew to support what Bobby and Myk were doing and to help spread and promote EC as much as I was able. I contacted Bobby, expressed my deep appreciation for what he was doing, and floated the idea of starting a blog of my own as I had been so inspired by his. He was very encouraging, and so I created Reformissio, with the goal of, if not exclusively, at least largely writing posts discussing and promoting EC-related themes. I thought that although not perhaps on the same level as Bobby, I could possibly play at least a small role in spreading the word, so to speak, about EC and in sharing my excitement over what I had discovered. I am, after all, a missionary at heart.

This is where, however, the problem started. I realized that in order to write about EC, I couldn’t simply write about whatever I perceived it to be. There are, of course, many other bloggers who write on related themes – Barth, Torrance, Reformed theology, etc. – but few (if any other than Bobby!) that style their ideas specifically as EC. Since I was interested in writing not simply about Barth, Torrance, Calvin, etc. but in writing specifically in promotion of EC, I thought it necessary to make sure that my posts were similar enough in substance to Bobby’s in order to qualify as legitimately EC. Just as Westminsterian types get upset when Barth and Torrance as referred to as Reformed, I believed that Bobby and Myk would be less than pleased were I to start writing about EC but say things which were different from or even in contradiction with the vision that they had laid out in their fifteen theses. Thus, in these few months that I have been blogging, I have attempted to be consistent with and faithful to that vision, looking to Bobby’s blog as a kind of baseline according to which I (and others) could judge the compatibility between what I promote as EC and what EC truly is according to Bobby and Myk. If I was to promote EC, I wanted readers of my blog to be able to identify what I was offering as in harmony with the EC that has come to be known through the book and Bobby’s blog. I didn’t want to create confusion about EC; it was out of my deep respect for and excitement about Bobby’s and Myk’s work that I wanted stay as close as possible to the kind of thing they were offering. My impression was that Bobby was excited about what I was doing.

It seems that I was wrong, and this attempt appears to have misfired. I fear that rather than being a help and support to Myk, and particularly to Bobby, I have given the impression that I am simply out to take over the space that they have created, that I only want to enjoy the fruits of their hard work without having been there from the beginning to laboriously prepare and till the soil. Looking back, I can see how I have given this impression. I would have loved, more than anything, to have started studying Barth and Torrance years earlier, to have been in on the EC conversation from the beginning, to have started blogging back in the days when Bobby started himself. However, there is no turning back the clock. At this point in time, I can only extend my deepest apologies for any frustration or problems that I may have created, and ask for their forgiveness.

So where does this leaves things for Reformissio? I don’t want to stop blogging. I have found it immensely helpful to myself in working out ideas, and I have also been able to reach some people that prior to reading my blog had no knowledge of Myk, Bobby, or EC. I’m still excited about EC, and I still desire to help and support (not supplant or usurp!) Myk and Bobby in their work. However, I’m not exactly sure how I can do that without continuing to give the impression that my underlying intention is, as mentioned above, to profit by, steal from, or otherwise use Bobby, Myk, and their work for my own ulterior motives. Perhaps rather than calling what I’m doing “Evangelical Calvinism”, I need to find another name for it or simply not call it anything at all. Perhaps I should stop promoting EC as such and simply return to and blog about the original sources that led me to EC in the first place. I’m not sure how that would help Myk and Bobby in promoting EC, but I am willing to make that change if it would salvage relationships and clear up misunderstandings.

I am also open to advice or suggestions. I know that many have expressed their appreciation for what I am writing. Perhaps some of you may have some ideas as to where I can go from here. My interests remain what they are – theological retrieval, patristics, the Reformation, Roman Catholicism, Calvin, Barth, and Torrance – and I hope to be able to continue writing about these topics in the future. I just want to do so in such a way that I avoid giving offense, creating problems, or inadvertently repackaging someone else’s ideas as my own. If Bobby and Myk are, like Luther, the first-generation Reformers that got EC off the ground, then I, as the second-generation EC, am still seeking my own voice. I ask for your patience and prayer.

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15 Responses to An Open Letter of Apology to Bobby Grow (with some clarifications and indications for the future of Reformissio)

  1. Anthony Fagan says:

    Here is my opinion on this matter. In the short while that I have been reading your bloggs, I find it helpful to have someone translate the writings of theologians such as Tom Torrance, simply because the way his books are written makes it nearly impossible to understand what exactly the author was getting at. These academically trained minds speak at a level far above mine. The more people who can understand these writings are in demand for a world hungry for truth. There seems to be plenty of books and writings to break down into simpler messages for ordinary people to understand. More people like you is just what the world needs. If wires are getting crossed, then try to respect certain boundaries, but keep on doing what you do so welll.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Caleb Smith says:

    I feel like, however much your substance may be dependent upon Bobby’s blog, what you offer here is a much different style which is simply much easier for the average reader to grasp, even compared to his EC in Plain Language blog. My brother and his roommate have both mentioned this to me, the former of whom identifies with EC and the latter of whom does not.

    I can definitely, having read his comments, understand the frustration, but everyone else seems glad you’re doing this how you are. All things are mixed, I suppose. Do keep up your good work, however it may need to be modified.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Caleb. I appreciate hearing your perspective! As I said in my post, I am indeed thinking about what I need to modify going forward. Keep up the good work yourself!

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  3. Myk Habets says:

    Hi Jonathan. I have taken no offence by your blog or by you and welcome any and every attempt by anyone to do theology and to do it well. So no apology to me is necessary. I think Bobby’s only point was that at times he felt your blog used his blog in a way which looked like the equivalent of plagiarism. That would be too strong but I think was Bobby’s concern. I simply think he wanted his academic ideas acknowledged, as an author of a book or article would. For my part, and I think Bobby’s, although he will and can certainly speak for himself, to have another blogger, writer, Christian, and friend talking about good theology is simply a good thing and we hope and pray that God strengthens your arm and your mind, and keeps your hard drive healthy so you can continue to think and write as you do. All of which is to say, perhaps the only lesson here is that you should feel free to keep going but have the confidence to forge your own path with this tradition and not think you or anyone else has to follow me (or Bobby). It is not about me it is about God made known in Christ for us and our salvation. I know Bobby deeply appreciates you and your work too (that is, in fact, how you and I ‘met’, through Bobby’s introduction). So more power to you Jonathan. God bless.

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    • Thanks Myk, I appreciate your comments. The only reason that I mentioned you was because Bobby had made the point (rightly) that EC as presented in the fifteen theses was just as much your work as his. Thus, I felt it necessary, just to be safe in case offense was taken, to include you as well, since I was writing under the banner of something that you and Bobby have spearheaded. Thanks again for your kind words. They are much appreciated.

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    • Bobby Grow says:

      Yes, of course it’s not about me or you, Myk, but that’s not what this is about. It’s not “at times” it’s the whole thing. There’s two separate issues there; i.e. 1) about God and to his glory, and 2) about intentional intellectual theft. It is of course the latter that is of issue here, and remains so. The problem at this point is an issue of trust; I don’t trust Jonathan’s intentions. So I don’t see how this can easily be glossed over, or an issue of “let’s just get along” and get on with it. I don’t see this “open letter” as genuine, and neither do some others I know (who are familiar with my blog and now Jonathan’s). There’s more to this, from my perspective,than meets the eye.

      But here’s how it is going to be: Jonathan, you indeed, carry on as you are, continue promoting EC, and I will abandon my current blog (of 7 years). Apparently my job of promoting EC online and giving it an online presence has been completed, and you are now free to pick up where I’ve left off. I don’t take what you’ve done lightly (obviously), and I also don’t find this open letter of yours as persuasive as Myk apparently does.

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      • Bobby, clearly there’s nothing more that I can say or do at this point. It seems your mind is made up. It saddens me greatly, but I think that I’ve done everything I possibly could to try and reconcile with you. There’s no way of course that I can prove to you the sincerity of what I’ve written, so I will simply leave it in the hands of God and trust that he will work this out. I can stand before God with a clear conscience on this one, so that will have to suffice for now. But whatever you do, please, please don’t abandon your blog. If there is anyone to needs to make some changes, it’s me, not you. Regardless of whether you follow me or not, I will certainly keep up with what you write and continue to benefit from it, as I know many others will as well.

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  4. Mick B says:

    Hi Jonathan
    I concur with the preceding comments. I feel that you have a contribution to make that is different to EC. EC has its place in the Body as well as your style and views. Please keep on blogging as it does edify. I would venture to say that in the main Barth and Torrance et al are not easily accessible to the lay person which has been my frustration over the years. It is up to people like yourselves and others to write at that accessible level so that to keep it simple God may be accurately known and related to. Thats not easy but we need to be faithful to this serious responsibility depending on your gifts. Keep blogging away Brother. Michael B

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kenneth Macari says:

    hi colleague

    FIRST of all as a now 66 year old retired PCUSA pastor, I do enjoy your blog. Never in my mind has it occurred a negative rivalry between you and Bobby. I have read the EC book of Bobby and Myk–it is QUITE a tome. Two of the contributors, Charles Partee and Andrew Purves are folks with whom I have chatted with at conference and deeply respect. (They are both PCUSA teaching elder/ minsters.

    Frankly, as I read both of your blogs, you are much more gracious and charitable in your verbal tone and demeanor. I admire Bobby–nevertheless, he can use nuclear weapons in his reactions to folks. His entire Richard A. Muller series has left me rather frustrated—folks talking past each other. Your posts on Muller and on R C Sproul have been more pastoral and reconciliatory. In another post, I will jump into the Barth-Van Til quagmire–I have a LOT of personal history on this which I will share with you on your blog. BOTH sides have use nuclear weapons on each other since the 1930’s. Princeton Seminary is only 22 miles south of where I live and I have been in seminars with both George Hunsinger and Bruce McCormack—I have also supervised over 20 students from Princeton over the years(Barth is the undisputed heavyweight champion there) Westminster Sem in about 68 miles from Edison. I have several friends who have graduated from there and I have attended several seminars there as well.

    In any event, DO NOT give up your blog!!!! I also would ally myself with EC especially in its roots from TF Torrance more than from Barth with whom I have BOTH great admiration and profound frustration with some of his assertions (especially the practical outworkings of his perspective on election and grace)

    As a suggestion, maybe you should refer more directly to the big name guys and THEN refer back to EC as an occasional reference point.

    On a personal note, are you and your family back in Italy? How is your health?

    Benedicte

    Ken the Roman Neopolitan American

    ________________________________

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kenneth, you have been a great encouragement to me since the beginning, and you continue to be so now, so I thank you. I will certainly keep blogging. As for myself and my family in Italy, we are well for the most part. My health has improved somewhat (compared to what it was this summer), but I still have a ways to go to recuperate my strength. I’ve found a couple good doctors here that I have started working with, and I’m hopeful that further improvements can be made. Thanks for asking!

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  6. Wesley Grubb says:

    I think everyone just needs to calm down.

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