Thread 1.1

(A series on the history of Calvinism)

Fourteen years after the sausage-eating incident in Zurich, on May 25, 1535, the citizens of Geneva pledged to Alive according to the Law of the Gospel and the Word of God, and to abolish all Papal abuses. The apparent orderliness and consensus of that expression of popular sovereignty in Geneva could not hide the turmoil by which the Reformation had come to a city that, although not part of the Swiss confederacy, would soon rival Zurich for leadership among Reformed Protestants. For the better part of a decade, the citizens of Geneva had been trying to gain independence from the House of Savoy. To do this Geneva needed the support of nearby Swiss cities, Fribourg and Bern. When political autonomy of the 1520s led to religious reforms in the 1530s, political rivalries turned ugly. Fribourg officials, who were Roman Catholic, used the death of one of their citizens during a religious riot in Geneva in 1533 to pressure the Genevans back into the fold of Rome. But thanks to friendly relations with the Protestant Bern, Geneva resisted Fribourg=s intimidation. In turn, Geneva sponsored two public debates between Protestant and Roman Catholic representatives, one in January, 1534, the second in June, 1535. Both led to riots. They also increased Geneva=s resolve for political independence and the prerogative to establish the city’s religious identity. By the time that Geneva=s citizens vowed to submit to the word of God in the spring of 1535, the city had withstood intimidation from both Fribourg and Bern, and had informed its Roman Catholic clergy that they either needed to convert to Protestantism or leave.

Remember the Paradigm

It feels like Old Life is on the cutting edge of commentary on Roman Catholicism. First, Edgardo Mortara surfaced last week for some at First Things and The American Conservative. Old Life was there and did that four years ago.

Now comes word that the pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin (so much for the spirituality of the church), thinks Pope Francis is tapping a paradigm shift in Roman Catholicism:

“At the end of the day, what resulted from Amoris Laetitia is a new paradigm that Pope Francis is carrying forward with wisdom, with prudence, and also with patience,” said Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the most senior figure in the Church after the pope himself.

“Probably, the difficulties that came up [around the document] and that still exist in the Church, beyond certain aspects of its content, are due precisely to this change of attitude that the pope is asking of us,” Parolin said.

“It’s a paradigm change, and the text itself insists on this, that’s what is asked of us – this new spirit, this new approach! … Every change always brings difficulties, but these difficulties have to be dealt with and faced with commitment,” Parolin said.

Old Life was on paradigms a good five years ago.

But the bigger issue is whether Bryan Cross’ paradigm has caught up to his Holy Father.

Maybe not Audacious, but Supreme

Look ma, an argument against the imperial Supreme Court without the crutches of w-w (trigger warning – not written by a Protestant):

Brown is the most important decision ever rendered by the United States Supreme Court. Its significance lies much less in its impact on the civil rights movement, which was indirect at most, than in establishing the idea that the judicial branch holds a monopoly on constitutional interpretation. Though controversial in 1954, the Segregation Cases (as Brown was initially called) are today almost universally regarded as the epitome of judicial wisdom and courage. Because the Supreme Court did what is considered so obviously right when the rest of the political system would not, it came to be considered preeminent among the three branches of the federal government.

It is still living off the moral capital acquired in Brown. Three years after that decision, the Court, enforcing the desegregation of Little Rock High School in Arkansas, went so far as to assert that its interpretation of the Constitution was the Constitution, the “supreme law of the land.” In 1992, the majority wrote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

The American people’s belief in themselves . . . as a people who aspire to live according to the rule of law is not readily separable from their understanding of the Court invested with the authority to decide their constitutional cases and speak before all others for their constitutional ideals.

In other words, the rule of law depends on the rule of judges. The American people and their elected officials have largely acquiesced in this usurpation. Public opinion polls show that the Court is near the top of institutions that Americans trust—way above Congress and the media, behind only the police, the military, and small business.

See? It is possible to reach politically conservative positions without resorting to theology or the Bible. In fact, theologians and pastors who write about politics as theologians and pastors usually let theology and the Bible get in the way of the Constitution.

What If Redeemer NYC Were Big Enough?

Some big changes at the most influential PCA congregation IN THE WORLD!

Here is the text of yesterday’s announcement:

The Center for Faith & Work (CFW) is pleased to announce the newest phase of its fifteen-year history as its staff joins Redeemer City to City (CTC) and continues to serve the Redeemer churches and New York City, while over time broadening its reach to global cities.

“Redeemer is changing with CFW because Redeemer is now not one church, it’s a family of three churches, which means it’s immediately looking outward to bless the whole city,” says Redeemer’s founding pastor Tim Keller. “Redeemer has become centrifugal; that is, it’s starting to push out to start new churches and help others start new churches. And so Redeemer is actually looking outwards, just like CFW will be looking outward, beyond Redeemer. They’re both making the same change at the same time. If CFW stays locked in Redeemer alone, then I don’t think a lot of its wisdom will be as available to the world. This is why now is the optimal time to do this.”

So apparently, Redeemer NYC is too New York to be of use to the rest of the world, unlike Redeemer CTC which is apparently global in orientation and structure. Do the folks who are New York Presbyterians really mean to imply that understandings of vocation in New York are parochial and cannot work in other parts of the world, unless integrated into a global organization? Since Tim Keller recently explained his worries about nationalism, what must he make of metropolitanism, something like the hyping of the Big Apple above the needs and realities of the rest of the world?

As the announcement explains:

Throughout its existence, CFW has encountered New Yorkers of all backgrounds facing a decidedly more global vocational culture. In our quickly changing world, the need for new tools, curriculum, and communities that help Christians wisely and meaningfully bring their faith to bear at work, across all spheres, is paramount.

City to City provides a developed network and infrastructure to strengthen CFW in its three-fold aim of equipping, connecting, and mobilizing Christians around the world in faith and work integration. City to City ensures a centralized effort towards that global expansion, while continuing a close and collaborative relationship with the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches.

So being a Christian banker in Beijing is decidedly different from banking on Wall Street?

Aside from vocation, this announcement raises questions about organizational footprint of Redeemer’s operations and Keller’s alliances. Are we really supposed to believe that Redeemer NYC — whichever congregation — was too inflexible a platform for the Center for Faith & Work? When did ecclesiology or administrative restrictions prevent Redeemer NYC from expanding its reach, or starting new programs? Heck, I suspect the PCA’s Mission to the World could have incorporated the work that the Center does if New York’s administrators had decided to work with PCA missionaries and their offices in different parts of the world? Is the Center’s activity really so special that the PCA’s structures can’t handle it? After all, the reading list available at the Center’s website is very, oh so very neo-Calvinist, with Al Wolter’s Creation Regained occupying the “advanced” understanding of vocation:

Few contemporary books have been cited as often by those who are writing about taking up callings and vocations faithfully. This this serious little book walks us through the key Biblical themes of the goodness of creation, the seriousness of the fall into sin, the decisive redemption gained by Christ, and the implications of working out the promised hope for a creation-wide restoration. With the keen eye of a philosopher and the passion of a Bible scholar, Wolter’s offers one of the definitive, concise books about a Christian worldview. One of the most important books for those of us in CFW and highly recommended to understand a uniquely Christian view of cultural and vocational engagement.

Granted, the neo-Calvinists never took root in NYC after the English displaced the Dutch colonists about two-thirds into the seventeenth century. But what is distinctly global about a set of readings that come largely from Christian Reformed writers living in North America and published Dutch-American editors in Grand Rapids?

And what about The Gospel Coalition? Is it parachurch chopped liver? Don’t the Allies have branches all over the world? If Redeemer can partner with TGC on The New City Catechism (TGC has a link at it’s menu page), why can’t the Center for Faith & Work collaborate with the Coalition in it’s own Faith & Work work?

The word that comes to mind is marvelous. But the marvel experienced here is that anyone in Presbyterian ministry has time for all of these structural niceties even when the bells and whistles of Presbyterian polity don’t seem to be all that important.

The 600 Pound Modern Gorilla in the Church

This review of Jamie Smith’s new book, Awaiting the King, got me thinking about Smith’s understanding of cultural liturgies. Here are some quotes from the book in the review:

There is something political at stake in our worship and something religious at stake in our politics. (3)

Implicit in the practices of Christian worship is an economics, a sociology, a politics. (54)

The church’s worship does not “become” political when it is translated into policy or hooked to partisan agendas. The politics of worship is tied to the renewal of moral agency of the people of God, who are formed to be sent. (59–60)

[I]t is equally important that we see Christian worship as political in nature—not in the sense of being “partisan” or tied to “earthly city” special interest groups, but insofar as it is the enactment of a public ritual centered on an ascended King. (53)

Jonathan Leeman rephrases Smith this way:

Your trip to the mall, your Monday Night Football party, your standing for the national anthem both express your worship, identity, and morality and also shape them, for better or worse. You’re not just a “thinking thing,” you’re a desiring and a loving thing, and these various cultural practices shape your desiring and your loving, like the liturgies at church.

What Smith wants us to take away from the book, then, is more awareness concerning how the world’s liturgies affect and shape our worship and politics, and then to center our political life around the church’s liturgies. Doing so will cause us to take a more ambivalent posture toward public engagement.

What I don’t understand is how women’s ordination escapes Smith’s close reading of cultural liturgies. Is the ordination of women a way of resisting modernity or a capitulation to it? If watching football on Sunday afternoons is part of a liturgical tradition that undermines the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, why isn’t the ordination of women a sign of the church’s capitulation to individualism and egalitarianism? In terms of cultural tropes, after all, women’s ordination closer to shopping at Walmart than it is to supporting the mom and pop shop on Main St.

You don’t need to interpret women’s ordination in terms of orthodoxy or heterodoxy as Smith argued:

Now, no one for a second can deny that such views of sexual morality and marriage have been the historic teaching of the church. The weight of Scripture, tradition, and perhaps even “natural law” have sustained these views and beliefs for millennia. And one could argue that the silence on such matters in, say, Machen or The Fundamentals only reflects what was taken for granted, not what was unimportant. Certainly. And just because they are not matters of creedal definition doesn’t mean they are matters of indifference. The creeds don’t say anything about Christian nonviolence, for example, but that hardly means Christians are therefore free to adopt any posture or position they want if they follow the Prince of Peace.

But it is surely also worth pointing out that conciliar standards of orthodoxy do not articulate such standards. If the adjective “orthodox” is untethered from such ecumenical standards, it quickly becomes a cheap epithet we idiosyncratically attach to views and positions in order to write off those we disagree with as “heretics” and unbelievers. If “orthodox” becomes an adjective that is unhooked from these conciliar canons, then it becomes a word we use to make sacrosanct the things that matter to “us” in order to exclude “them.”

Precisely so. So if you depart from the historic position of the church on ordination, how are you sufficiently worried about cultural liturgies that promote ideas and expectations that make God’s people like the larger society? And if you believe that part of Protestant orthodoxy involves the sufficiency of Scripture, how do you go against clear biblical teaching on ordination and say you are committed to conciliar orthodoxy? How for that matter, are you going to be a reliable ally in disputes about matters of conciliar orthodoxy? The CRC may still confess the Canons of Dort, but will it refuse membership in ecumenical organizations that include Arminians?

Theonomists All

If you thought Calvinists and Muslims had a problem accepting political liberalism, wait til you see this (from a review of American Law from a Catholic Perspective: Through A Clearer Lens):

Over and over again, we see the deep chasm between the Catholic understanding of the human person and the anthropology implied by American liberalism. The difference is stark. The former conceives of each human being as a person—a relational being, in relationship to God and others and dependent on God and others. The latter sees each human being as an individual who can make and fashion his own being and existence autonomously and apart from God and others. God is a valid choice, but he is just that, a choice. The Catholic lawyer cannot help but feel a dissonance between his deepest beliefs and the law he is called to practice each day. American Law from a Catholic Perspective helps to remind readers where their allegiances must lie. The attentive reader can begin to see the ways in which he must work to change American law at its very roots to help it conform to the truth proclaimed by the Church. (Briefly Noted)

Doesn’t “at its very roots” mean radical?

And here I thought 2k was rad.

Machen Death Day 2018

From Samuel J. Allen, “The Last Battle of Dr. Machen,” Presbyterian Guardian, Jan. 23, 1937:

Thursday evening I had a precious visit with him. I prayed with him. After prayer he told me of a vision he had. He said that he thought he had already died. “Sam, it was glorious, it was glorious.” One could see that he had had a vision of heaven. He had already seen his Lord. He ended by saying, “Sam, isn’t the Reformed Faith grand?” This conversation was enough in itself to cause me to dedicate myself anew to propagate the Reformed Faith as God gave grace, wisdom, and strength.

The nurse told me that he was resigned and had repeatedly told her, “Let God’s will be done.”

New Year’s Eve at 11.30 P. M. I called on the nurse who told me that he was doing poorly. In the morning he was very low, but still had a chance. I stayed in the hospital, sometimes outside of his room and sometimes in the room. At rare intervals he would awake. He was fighting for breath. His lungs were fast closing up. One time he was telling Charlie Woodbridge something, and then Paul Woolley. Then the nurse told him that Sam Allen had called. He said, “Fine fellow, Sam. Give him my regards.” Then his eyes saw me and he said, “I’m just about conscious, Sam, just about conscious.” This was the only time I know that his mind wandered even for a minute. This was about 2.00 P. M: Friday. I never dreamed that he would ever regain consciousness again. To my surprise, when I went to his room at 4.00 P. M. with the Rev. E. E. Matteson and the Rev. C. A. Balcom he was conscious and his mind was clear as crystal, and he said, “Sam, old boy, everything is all right.”

I was quite excited at this turn for the better and left the room,not wishing to hurt his chances any. I knew that there was only a very small part of the left lung remaining to breathe through, but I hoped against hope and prayed for a miracle. He was very desirous of seeing his beloved brother, Arthur, and his sister-in-law. He had thought they were coming on the noon train and it was tragic to see his disappointment when they failed to appear. I do not know why he had the idea that they were coming on the noon train, but he surely thought they were. When his brother and his brother’s wife were pulling into Bismarck at 7.45 P. M. this great soul, – this marvelous, cultured, child-like, noble, courageous, Christian leader breathed his last, and his soul went to be with his Lord.

His last words were put down in a very precise way in a message to John Murray, “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ: no hope without it.” His nurse took this message.

When I could finally think after seeing one go whom I loved as much as I loved any human, three Scripture passages come to my mind. Philippians 1: 23, 24-it was indeed better for him to be with Christ and it did seem to me that it was absolutely necessary for him to abide in the flock to continue to lift up our hands; II Samuel 3: 38-a prince and a great man had fallen in Israel, and II Timothy 4: 7-1 have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

“Dassie” kept telling me that I wasn’t seeing him at his best, but I believe that the Lord gave me the privilege of seeing him at his very, very best. I know that his last few days will always inspire me, for they gave me a picture of a truly humble, courteous, Christian gentleman, and of an indomitable spirit controlled by a passionate desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Postscript: see also the Dakota Datebook.

Old Lifey

In my (all about mmmmmeeeeEEE) estimation, the Coen brothers worst movies were Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. I have seen each only once and the thought of re-viewing does not generate the pheromones that their other movies do. (Recently watched Hail, Caesar! and experienced much mirth.) I am not sure what happened on these movies, but I’ve always felt Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were the kind of productions the Hollywood system would yield if trying to be Coenesque. It’s like Hollywood trying to give that Coen Brothers’ feel (and remember what Hollywood did when it tried to bring to the screen that Barton Fink feeling.)

All of which is to say that when Justin Taylor praises cynicism (granted in the voice of Carl Trueman), you begin to wonder if The Gospel Coalition is trying to produce something not quite so pietistic.

Here’s Trueman:

And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon. Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before. Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.

Here’s Taylor:

Of course, cynicism is not the only thing a historian offers to the church, and cynicism by itself can be a vice and not a virtue. Neverthless, Trueman is right. We should listen to those who have a built-in skepticism about the latest hype because they know enough to have a proper perspective.

Seriously? Has anyone at TGC listened to any of the skepticism about the hype of celebrity pastors and the alliances they form?

It’s not history that teaches you to take the Allies of the gospel with a grain of salt, it’s doctrine of the church. Don’t do ministry without one.

Imagine if the PCA were Big Enough

Then you wouldn’t need the Gospel Coalition.

So why don’t the leaders of neo-neo-evangelicalism acknowledge that a parachurch organization with a public profile generated largely by the world-wide interweb used by celebrity pastors who sometimes go to conferences and meet with ordinary neo-neo-evangelicals is a capitulation to contemporary culture? Where is all the discernment that comes from reading sociology, history, and cultural and art criticism?

What if limiting your ministry to the confines of a communion is counter-cultural? Is being counter-cultural simply a pose or does it also require subtraction — rejecting (at least some aspects of) culture?

Then, these reflections might lose some of their pietistic earnestness (sorry for the redundancy):

“If they are not controlled by Scripture and confessionalism, then of course [evangelicals] are going to fit into the grid of the broader and more secular culture,” Carson said. “By and large, these cultural evangelicals work out their cultural bondage in more conservative ways than their agnostic counterparts, but it is difficult to believe that racism is less evil than sexual promiscuity.”

Exactly. And if pastors let confessions and church polity control their ministry, they might put their own communion, the one in which they vowed to minister God’s word and the holy sacraments, ahead of all other extra-denominational activities. In other words, can you really act like you are being counter cultural when the rest of the culture is turning from denominational Christianity to none (denominational) Christianity?

“I see TGC as occupying the same space that evangelicalism’s founding fathers—like Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Billy Graham—occupied,” Keller said. They wanted to be evangelicals, not fundamentalists; to engage with non believers and with society, and not just to withdraw, Keller said.

“We don’t want to be pietists, but we don’t want to be captive to the spirit of the age either,” Keller said. “But that is actually a hard place to be. It’s a lot easier to retreat to your fortress or to just go along with the crowd. But TGC, from the very beginning, wanted to avoid going in either direction. We wanted to be prophetic from the center, as Don [Carson] says.”

What would really be counter-cultural would be commitment to word-and-sacrament ministry when the spirit of the age, thanks to Henry, Ockenga et al, is to overlook considerations like baptism, the Lord’s supper, ordination, and the sufficiency of Scripture (which would limit pastors from dabbling in sociology and cultural criticism).

In point of fact, creating a brand though social media, the way the gospel allies do, is about as beholden to the zeitgeist as someone could imagine. When I think of being counter-cultural, I don’t think of the Gospel Coalition. I think of the Amish.

Post-script: notice that evangelicalism didn’t start with Luther, the Puritans, Edwards, or Finney. It began in the 1940s. What I’m saying.

Alabamans Went with Augustine

Or so argues William Jason Wallace:

Christianity is not very helpful for negotiating political differences. In AD 410, when the Rome fell to Alaric and the Goths, traditional Romans believed instinctively Christians were responsible for weakening the empire and causing the calamity of decline and invasion. Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, determined to respond to this claim in his enormous work The City of God. After a careful deconstruction of Rome’s history and beliefs, Augustine turned his attention to theology and the meaning of history in light of Christianity. His stunning conclusion is that although Christians and pagans share separate eternal destinies, and understand human purpose and ends differently, they nevertheless desire the same peace and justice that good politics provides. Christians, he argues, can pursue the common good with non-Christians while rejecting the notion that politics is the highest human pursuit. Liberals and conservatives, especially in Alabama, are guilty of claiming ownership of the Christian message. Augustine implores that while the aims of Christianity and the aims of politics are infrequently congruous, they both should be respected. Alabama, in this election, was with the ancient bishop.

That’s even biblical — put no trust in princes (or Democrats or Republicans).