It was not an innocent time. Robert Hughes, art critic for Time magazine, wrote a book about cultural antagonisms in the United States, The Culture of Complaint. David Denby, a movie critic for New York… More
Sometimes w-w’s collide and this is a problem for neo-Calvinists who think that integrating faith and learning is possible. What makes it especially hard to integrate one’s personal religious convictions and professional expertise is that being an expert usually means putting aside personal beliefs as much as possible in order to achieve some level of impartiality. This is not simply a question of hiding one’s faith under a bushel but also trying not to be subject to racial, nationalist, class, and gender prejudices. Of course, it never happens perfectly. But the idea of science — even historical science — is to resist personal bias. A Christian’s plea, “to live is Christ, to die is gain,” is not exactly impartial.
John Fea recently has uncovered, though I think intentionally, the challenge of being a Christian and/or doing history. In the wake of the recent news that Gordon College is doing away with a history major, he wrote this:
The skills and ways of thinking that one learns from the study of history are not something that can happen in a few courses as part of an “integrated major” like Politics-Philosophy-History. In over two decades of teaching at Christian liberal arts institutions I can attest to the fact that a historical way of seeing the world–one informed by contextual thinking, the understanding of contingency, the complexity of the human experience, a grasp of causality and change over time–is something that is cultivated through a deep dive into the discipline. You can’t come to an interdisciplinary or “integrated” conversation without grounding in a discipline.
I can’t stress the formation piece here enough–especially at a Christian college in the liberal arts tradition. (I don’t care if it is evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, etc.) Research universities and big regional public institutions are sometimes different animals since faculty do not often have the sustained engagement with undergraduates.
How are we forming our Christian students intellectually if we don’t give them the opportunity to dive into a particular discipline–a particular way of seeing the world with its own set of thinking skills?
Even if conducted at an evangelical institutions, the skills of thinking historically are different from thinking Christianly, and the same goes for other academic disciplines. That also means that simply being regenerate, or having a Christian w-w, does not guarantee a historical awareness. (Though, knowing the difference in redemptive history before and after Christ’s first advent is a start.) I am not certain that a student needs to major in history to think historically. Where I teach out two course history sequence in the core curriculum gives students some awareness of historical methods and sensibility — at least that is the design. Even so, a Christian historian like Fea senses that he has a higher loyalty (in the hyphenated world we inhabit) to history than to Christianity.
Or does he?
At other times, Fea has described himself as a Christian historian:
As a faculty member at a Christian college who tries to do good historical work and be a contributing member of my profession, I realize that my decision to devote the first half of my career to a place called “Messiah College” has raised red flags. I will never know how my work as a professor at a Christian college has influenced the ways the profession has received me or my work, but I have no doubt that it has and it does. I am sure that most of my historian colleagues do not have to explain as much as I do why they teach at the place where they teach. As much as I honor and respect the work of historians, and try to participate in that work when I can, I will never feel part of the historical profession nor do I think I will ever be fully accepted within it. This used to make me feel lonely, but the older I get the less I am bothered by it.
I am an evangelical Christian. That comes with certain beliefs and ways of understanding the world that make me different from other historians and even different from other Christians at my institution, especially those in the humanities who tend to gravitate toward other Christian traditions.
In this case, Fea senses that his Christian faith separates him from historians in the guild of professional history. This is not exactly a full-bore affirmation of the neo-Calvinist notion that faith changes the way we conduct our scholarship. Fea has actually registered some dissent to the neo-Calvinist understanding of history by saying that w-w has been “enormously fruitful” but is not where he lands as a self-consciously Christian historian. Instead, he prefers the notion of vocation as an organizing principle for Christian historians. And yet, Fea does think that faith makes him different from unbelieving historians.
One area where Christian and non-Christian historians agree, is this:
I am a faculty member who wants to defend the traditional liberal arts, the discipline of history and its patterns of thinking, and the pursuit of a humanities education that transcends political and social agendas. I am often criticized by those–many of whom teach humanities in my own institution–who see the goal of Christian college education differently. I find myself constantly fighting against those who perceive the Christian college classroom as a place to moralize and preach about social and political issues. I wonder about my place in the mix.
That was in May of 2017. Since then, as I have often argued, Fea has not been free from applying a political or moralistic outlook to his understanding of political and religious history.
I wonder what happened. I sure hope it isn’t that he got #woke for Jesus.
Joe Carter wants us to be cautious about attributing “cultural Marxism” to AN NEE BODEE!!
Over the past decade online culture and political tribalism have combined to bring ideas once relegated to the margins into the mainstream. We can add the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.
A prime example is the term “cultural Marxism,” which is included in Earnest’s grievances for which “every Jew is responsible.” … When those on the political right make claims about the people at the Frankfurt School conspired to bring down Western culture or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether they recognize it or not—using the redefined and racialized meaning given by Lind.*** Of course most Christians who uses terms like cultural Marxism are not kinist. Many of them are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin. Yet it’s disconcerting when conservative Christians use language that originated from a racist worldview perpetuated by anti-Semites.****
. . .Because the term CM has become tainted its continued use by Christians undermines our ability to warn about the dangers of concepts like Critical Theory. We should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing. Doing so will help us to be better communicate what intend in a loving manner.
At Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zubatov is not so sure:
A short tour through some notable landmarks should suffice to show how 19th-century Marxism evolved into 20th-century “cultural Marxism” and the culture war of our present day: . . .
It is a short step from Gramsci’s “hegemony” to the now-ubiquitous toxic memes of “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “white fragility” and “whiteness.” It is a short step from his and Marcuse’s reconceptualization of the role of radical intellectuals to our sensationalized and politicized media outlets playing the part of a self-styled progressive vanguard riling up the allegedly oppressed and turning their incoherent rage loose on the rest of us. …It is a short step from the Marxist and cultural Marxist premise that ideas are, at their core, expressions of power to rampant, divisive identity politics and the routine judging of people and their cultural contributions based on their race, gender, sexuality and religion — precisely the kinds of judgments that the high ideals of liberal universalism and the foremost thinkers of the Civil Rights Era thought to be foul plays in the game. And it is a short step from this collection of reductive and simplistic conceptions of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” to public shaming, forced resignations and all manner of institutional and corporate policy dictated by enraged Twitter mobs, the sexual McCarthyism of #MeToo’s excesses, and the incessant, resounding, comically misdirected and increasingly hollow cries of “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe” and more that have yet to be invented to demonize all those with whom the brittle hordes partaking in such calumnies happen to disagree.
Whatever the merits of phrases like cultural Marxism, I do find it peculiar that Joe Carter has not objected to pet categories by the Gospel Allies’ most celebrated members.
For instance, is Christian hedonism a very good way to describe sanctification?
What about Gospel Ecosystem? Why wouldn’t something like — well — church or communion work? And what’s up with using organic metaphors for urban locales? (Wendell would not approve.)
Can we produce a gospel city movement? No. A movement is the result of two sets of factors. Take for example, a garden. A garden flourishes because of the skill and diligence of the gardener and the condition of the soil and the weather. The first set of factors—-gardening—-is the way we humanly contribute to the movement. This encompasses a self-sustaining, naturally growing set of ministries and networks, which we will look at in more detail below.
If we “should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing,” why are some celebrity pastors immune?
But I say to you, #woke Calvinists are meaner.
Here’s what one wrote recently:
Recent books such as Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” highlight that there is incontrovertible proof that theologically conservative Christians historically created, protected and benefited from racially unjust practices and ideologies. Research has shown how the Reformed tradition in the United States has a dark history of defending slaveholding and advocating for segregation in our churches and Christian schools.
Princeton Theological Seminary, once the flagship institution of the Reformed tradition in the United States, has a well-documented history of employing faculty members who ardently defended slaveholding in their teaching and ministry and took significant donations from slave-related enterprises.
One of these faculty members, J. Gresham Machen, who went on to found the OPC and Westminster Theological Seminary, brought complaints to his fellow faculty members when a black student was assigned to live in seminary dormitories with white students.
Other writers, such as Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, in “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, show how racism and white supremacy are a present reality in the church. The experience of many people of color in Reformed churches can further attest that our churches are no exception.
Within our churches, there is a general pushback against charging Christians with dismantling racism. The fear of white supremacy is considered to be overblown, and talking about racism is equated with progressive theology outside of the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. We’ve failed to combat white supremacy with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.
Not only has the assertion that President Trump is a racist become an axiom of American math, but now we also know with apodictic certainty that white Presbyterian denominations are also.
But the OPC is handicapped in its effort to combat white nationalism by the application of the very theology it promotes.
Too often Christian individuals and institutions act as if general statements condemning bigotry and saccharine assertions of racial and ethnic equality are sufficient to combat white nationalism. . . .
If denominations like the OPC wish to make their churches inhospitable to people who harbor white nationalist views — or to confront the sins of racism and white nationalism in hopes that church members will repent of them — then they’re going to have to offer unequivocal and direct teaching refuting the ideology.
White denominations, especially in the theologically Reformed branch of the church, should hold specific workshops, classes and special events explaining white nationalist beliefs and tactics so their members can guard against subversion.
White churches and leaders must bring members who express white nationalist views or sympathies under church discipline, with the ultimate goal of discipleship and restoration. But, if necessary, suspension from the Lord’s Supper and excommunication should be an option.
In addition, white churches in Reformed traditions must probe exactly why people who hold white nationalist and other racist beliefs may find a comfortable home in their fellowships.
Perhaps it’s because pro-slavery theologians such as R.L. Dabney are still cited as positive examples of godly men.
Maybe it’s because black liberation theologians such as James Cone are demonized and if they are read at all, it is merely to discount their viewpoints.
Perhaps it’s because of the almost unshakable loyalty of many white evangelicals to Republican officials who express racist ideas.
Maybe white racists and nationalists can sit comfortably in the pews of certain churches because whenever calls for social justice arise their leaders say that such issues are a “distraction” from the gospel.
I absolutely do not believe that pastors in the OPC or any similar denomination are regularly spewing anti-Semitism and racism from the pulpit or on any other occasion.
But the rigid exclusion of discussions of racial injustice from the regular preaching and teaching in these churches means that white nationalists are seldom challenged in their beliefs.
Notice that “spewing” racism or anti-Semitism is not a regular part of preaching in Presbyterian pulpits. It only happens occasionally. Thanks for that qualification.
At the same time, if pastors do not speak out against these hatreds and prejudices they are guilty of racism and anti-Semitism.
By that standard, some of the #woke Calvinists favor waterboarding, carbon emissions, the Patriot Act, William Barr’s letter, and Senator Ben Sasse. Why? Because #woke Christians haven’t said anything about these subjects.
Among several public remarks that pastors made to the press last week after the tragedy in Poway, PCA pastor, Duke Kwon’s to the Washington Post stand out for a failure of imagination. Here are some of the quotations:
In the manifesto, “you actually hear a frighteningly clear articulation of Christian theology in certain sentences and paragraphs. He has, in some ways, been well taught in the church,” said the Rev. Duke Kwon, a Washington pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, another evangelical denomination which shares many of its beliefs with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Kwon said he does not think most people should read the manifesto, which calls for its readers to also go out and attack Jews and tries to convince them they can do so without getting caught. But he found the letter darkly instructive for pastors. He tweeted snippets of it, and before Twitter removed those tweets, they prompted intense debate among evangelicals. Some castigated Kwon for casting blame on the church in any way. Some argued Earnest must be mentally ill; many sought to make clear that anti-Semitism is incompatible with biblical belief.
Kwon disagreed. He pointed to the evidence that the writer shares the Reformed theology of evangelical Presbyterians: that only God can offer salvation to those he preselects. “Obviously something went wrong. I think it’s important for Christians, both those in the pews as well as those in the pulpit, to take a moment for some self-reflection and to ask hard questions,” Kwon said.
Kwon said he already exercises caution when he gets to some of the very same verses of the New Testament that are quoted, verses that have long been popular among anti-Semites because they seem to cast blame on the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.
“For any of us who are preaching who are aware of the history of how these passages have been misused . . . there’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” Kwon said. He said the shooting should lead other pastors to greater awareness that they need to explain to their congregations what the Bible means when it says Jews killed Jesus. To Kwon, it means some specific Jews alive 2,000 years ago were involved, alongside Roman officials, in Jesus’ death — not that Jewish people today bear any guilt for the crucifixion.
But that nuance often gets lost, Kwon said. “There’s a deep and ugly history of anti-Semitism that’s crept into the Christian church, that needs to be continuously addressed, condemned and corrected,” he said.
Imagine if you were the pastor under whose ministry the shooter sat. How would you read those quotes?
The gunman “shares Reformed theology.”
“Obviously something went wrong.”
Pastors need to “take a moment for self-reflection and to ask hard questions.”
“There’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” which apparent the shooter’s pastor did not seem to have had.
Anti-Semitism in the church needs to “continuously addressed, condemned and corrected.”
The penultimate paragraph in the story belonged to Kwon:
“It’s possible to teach people in the church about personal individual salvation in Jesus Christ and still fail to instruct them regarding the ethical implications of that faith,” he said. Going forward, Kwon called for “a vision of the gospel that includes implications for the love of neighbor and those that are different from ourselves, to teach it as an essential feature of the gospel of grace and not just an add-on or an appendage to more important matters.”
Imagine this: thinking you understand and present the gospel in ways that show how Christians should love neighbors who are different and not considering that you yourself may have church members who are capable of sin and don’t apply your teaching to all aspects of their lives. An event like this may not be the time to instruct conservative Presbyterians about the social implications of the gospel or to promote your own theology.
You may have a point and you may want to instruct the rest of the church and America about a fuller explanation of the gospel. But why not let the dust settle, the tears dry, even the courts work? Why use this moment to display your own sensitivity to the gospel’s breadth? Why not imagine what it must be like for pastors and sessions (not to mention parents and Sunday school teachers) to see one of their own go so wildly astray?
Does not a better understanding of the gospel go with a wider moral imagination? What is so hard about “there go I but for the grace of God”?
Sometimes, people who grew up in the church make news in a variety of ways.
Here is a story about a woman who is the daughter of an executive in OPC foreign missions:
Chrissy Clawson, 35, a manager at Baker Street Bread Co., 8009 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, is on a mission to raise $50,000 by June 8 in memory of her sister, Dr. Kathleen “Katie” Clawson, who passed away from Hodgkins Lymphoma on March 2, 2019.
And thanks to businesses and shoppers who have contributed to the upcoming Chestnut Hill Gives Back on May 1, Clawson is a step closer to meeting her goal. Eighteen local businesses donated a portion of their proceeds or made a donation to support her campaign for the 2019 Leukemia Lymphoma Society Man and Woman of the Year.
“MWOY is a fundraising competition in the United States to raise funds for LLS, the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers,” Clawson said. “LLS’s goal is to cure Leukemia, Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and Myeloma, as well as improve the quality of life for patients and their families.
“Since my sister’s diagnosis in late 2016 and up until she passed away, Katie and I co-captained the LLS Speedy Turtles, a group of volunteers who have raised nearly $17,000 for LLS. As one of Katie’s caregivers who was by her side through more than 60 treatments of chemo, radiation, immunotherapy and clinical trials, I know the benefit of research. Although the thought of raising $50,000 by June 8 is quite intimidating, Katie nominated me for Woman of the Year before she passed away because she understood the necessity of cancer research.”
Then comes word that the school Cornelius Van Til played a significant role in founding invited Anthony Bradley to speak at its 75th anniversary festivities:
Philadelphia Montgomery Christian Academy (Phil- Mont) in Erdenheim will welcome alumni, families, staff and friends to the school campus for a 75th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, April 27. The celebration will honor the school’s history of serving and nurturing Christian families since 1943.
Phil-Mont has a rich history of college-preparatory education in an environment with students from diverse backgrounds, an emphasis on Christian worldview, and opportunities for excellence in sports, drama and the fine arts.
The gala serves as a fundraiser for many of the school’s core priorities and has been lovingly shepherded by Will Liegel, secondary English teacher, head of the drama department and director of advancement.
“This event is about celebrating all that God has done here for over seven decades. We are planning an exciting evening of food, music, testimony and, yes, even fundraising,” he said.
The evening will include a silent auction with an array of offerings ranging from kayaking and sailing trips, to services like estate planning and vocal lessons, to theatre tickets and ethnic cuisine prepared in the comfort of your own home.
“The hope is to encourage, excite and explain our plans for the years ahead,” Liegel said.
Dr. Anthony B. Bradley will serve as the keynote speaker for the celebration, which will also feature perspectives from current and former students, parents and staff, and performances by the school’s award-winning high school jazz band. Bradley served as Dean of Students at Phil-Mont from 2001 to 2002, and is an internationally known author and speaker on a wide variety of topics related to African Americans and American Christianity, including discussions on theology and legal issues.
If you are in the business of connecting dots, please have longer hours.
Remember when anti-2kers put the “R” before 2k to assert that two-kingdom theology is radical? A recent Twitter thread keeps that complaint alive:
9/ and Radical 2K’ers who rail against anyone believing the Church has any social responsibility beyond preaching and sacraments, WesCal professors (oh yes, names: R. Scott Clark) and Southern Machen Warriors alike. It includes whole groups like Sovereign Nations, AOMin, …
— Bradly Mason (@AlsoACarpenter) April 30, 2019
The odd thing is the way critics will leap to connect dots between ideas and events (like the shooting in Poway that involved an OPC church member) and never read the sources closest to the congregation and its pastor. Here is a paragraph from the book on covenant theology that the pastor of that OPC congregation wrote:
The doctrine of the new covenant guards us against triumphalism. The new covenant shows us that the kingdom of God is no longer identified with any geopolitical nation on earth. This is particularly critical to grasp in American culture, where there is a tendency to confuse the kingdom of God with the United States. Americas, however, is not in covenant with God as a nation. It had no representative on Mount Sinai. The only nation in covenant with God is God’s new global nation, that is, his new covenant church. “But you are a chosen race,” says the apostle Peter, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). In the new covenant, the church is no longer limited to the physical descendants of Abraham but is made up of all the nations of the earth, people of every race, color, and language. While the old covenant was an era of driving the nations out of God’s holy land, the new covenant is an era of believers living side by side with unbelievers in patience and love. Today is the day of salvation, not judgment. God’s judgment is delayed until his return. (148)
That is not radical. It is moderate in the sense that it compels Christians to recognize that they live this side of glory in societies with non-Christians. It also reduces expectations for the Christian or moral capacities of a nation and its government. It is precisely an understanding of covenant theology and the gospel that contra Jemar Tisby and Timothy Cho is fundamentally at odds with white nationalism. There is nothing nationalist about it.
But the critics who for years have wailed and nashed teeth over 2k’s capitulation to secular society and “neutral” government are precisely those who wanted a nation with a Christian identity. Even those people who protest the United States’ long history of racism, want the nation to become Christian in the way it oversees and regulates race relations. Believe it or not, that understanding of church and state does not make a lot of room for non-Christians.
But 2k is radical. I get it.
Details from Presbyterian church history about race relations in the United States are not pretty. Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, for instance, saw members and officers leave when Mariano Di Gangi, predecessor to James Montgomery Boice, preached about racial prejudice, opened the church and session to African Americans, and served on the mayor’s commission on civil rights. At the time, Tenth Church was still part of the Presbyterian Church USA and did not join the Presbyterian Church in America until 1982; but that denomination had hurdles of its own to overcome. Sean Michael Lucas’s history of the PCA’s founding, For a Continuing Church (2015), includes stories of Southern Presbyterian conservatives who defended racial segregation on biblical grounds and sought ways to guard the church from important figures regarded as having erroneous understandings of racial equality.
The OPC herself debated the merits of civil rights during the 1960s in the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian that showed opposition to political reforms designed to end segregation. A black pastor in the church, Herbert Oliver, wrote an article about the positive contribution the Christian church had made to social reforms in the past and that supporting Civil Rights for African-Americans was another instance when Christians could be instruments of social change. Letters to the editor indicated that Oliver had failed to persuade some Orthodox Presbyterians. E. J. Young, for instance, wrote a letter to the editors in which he objected to both a view of egalitarianism that was clearly unbiblical and an understanding of the church’s role in society that failed to highlight the ministry of the gospel. If these instances seem inconsequential, perhaps J. Gresham Machen’s 1913 letter to his mother, strongly objecting to the integration of Princeton Seminary, will show how much ideas of white supremacy afflicted conservative Presbyterians who contemporary Orthodox Presbyterians esteem. If a black man were to take up residence in Alexander Hall, Machen wrote, he would consider moving out, which would have been “a great sacrifice to me.”
More reflections on the meaning of Notre Dame from Alan Jacobs:
What it reminds us about the long and complex intertwining of the western church with the modern nation-state. You can’t understand the current rebuilding project without understanding the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Day of the year 800; and Pope Gregory VII’s role the Investiture Controversy, with its culmination in the humiliation of Henry IV in the snow at Canossa; and the emergence of the Cuius regio, eius religio principle in the Reformation era; and the violent dechristianizing of France during the Revolution; and the vain struggle of Pio Nono against the unification of Italy, ending in the elimination of the Papal States and the loss of all secular power for the Papacy; and the emergence of the Deutsche Christen in the Nazi era, when German pastors competed with one another to defend the celebrate the subservience of (especially but not only) the Lutherans to Hitler.
That long slow transfer of power is over now. The tiger the Church hoped to tame has eaten it. The building on the Île de la Cité dedicated 800 years ago to the Blessed Virgin Mary belongs wholly to the bureaucrats now. The rest of us will just have to stand by to see what they do with it.
Two cheers for Lockean liberalism?
From the file of why you’d never think of becoming Protestant even when Roman Catholicism has fallen so far. Rusty Reno keeps it real depressing for those not Called to Communion:
The present pontificate has sown confusion, division, and conflict. Francis is advancing a doctrinally suspect revision of the discipline for divorced and remarried Catholics. This affects a vanishingly small percentage of churchgoers. Yet he presses forward against objections, apparently because he wants to empower those who seek a wide-ranging concordat with the sexual revolution. Meanwhile, as he hails the inauguration of a more pastoral and inclusive Church, he spews invective and denounces critics. He seeks to influence the secular politics of capital punishment, immigration, and global warming while ignoring the theological poverty and spiritual corruption of the supernatural body of Christ. In all likelihood, Francis will precipitate a deep and destructive crisis in the Church. That’s been his modus operandi throughout his clerical career, evident during his tenure as Jesuit provincial in Argentina. Again, this is demoralizing.
One friend publicly announced his departure from the Catholic Church. Another friend tells me he won’t go to Mass in a church that protects the likes of McCarrick. Many others wonder how they can persevere as faithful Catholics when it’s increasingly clear that this pope is unworthy of their loyalty and respect.
That is not much of a pitch for becoming Roman Catholic.
But it so far superior to Protestantism that Reno would never consider becoming Protestant (even though he was one once upon a time):
Catholicism is the font of nearly all Christian witness in our societies (Eastern Orthodoxy provides some exceptions). Some of that spiritual potency has spun out of the orbit of the Church of Rome, to be sure, but it carries her DNA. As John Henry Newman observed as an Anglican, Catholicism “has preoccupied the ground.”
When one is lost, it is wise to retrace one’s steps and return to the starting point and begin again. This is why we need always to return to Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, and to the apostolic fellowship that stretches from his Resurrection to the present in the continuous life of his bride, the Church. The more disoriented we are, the more we need to return to the original source of our faith, which in the West means drawing closer to the Roman Church. These are difficult times. But for precisely this reason, Catholicism is for me more essential. It is the source of consolation and strength amid our collective failures.
My counsel, therefore, is simple. In this season of corruptions revealed and teachings betrayed, we must not underestimate the sheer fact of the Church: the unceasing prayers of the faithful, the witness of her saints, and the reality of Christ present in the sacrifice of the Mass. The corporate body of Christ sustains us, even amid clerical betrayals, even in the face of our own doubts, mediocrity, and sin.
In this understanding of Christianity, corporate and institutional expressions matter. You need that visible continuity from Peter to Francis to see where Christianity is, to be in fellowship with Christ. When Protestants merely talk about spiritual continuity or spiritual succession, I imagine you get snickers in the editorial offices at First Things.
Except, Rome’s institutional edifice came way way after Jesus. The patriarchate of Jerusalem makes a much better claim to institutional/formal continuity with Christ than Rome (and what of Mormons’ claim that Jesus came to North America and minister here for centuries?). Plus, the Bishop of Rome himself did not begin to consolidate Christianity in the West until the seventh or eighth centuries — hardly the church Jesus founded, unless you want to appeal to the spirit of Christ’s founding.
The oddest part of Reno’s lament and apology is what he says implicitly about the evangelical and Protestant writers, readers, and staff of his magazine. Protestants are second-class believers compared to Roman Catholics who have all the rock of Peter bling. At what point do Protestants object to such patronizing dismissal?
Oliver O’Donovan, a favorite political theologian of many Protestants who may not be comfortable with Stanley Hauerwas’ anti-establishmentarian outlook but also want an alternative to the Religious Right (and won’t even consider the spirituality of the church), has a review of Abraham Kuyper and the returns are not good:
Kuyper’s manner is self-consciously didactic. He seems to speak from a pulpit with a Bible in hand and a congregation to wag a finger at. He luxuriates in general social observations rounded up with peremptorily declared conclusions, which can sometimes seem very arbitrary. Exaggerated oppositions, over-compartmentalized classifications, silence on what others are thinking or saying (except where they can be dismissed with a wave of the hand)—these are the weaknesses that belong to his communicative strategy. And most trying of all is his confidence that whatever he says is proved at the bar of Scripture, though what he finds in a text and what he makes of a text are rarely distinguishable. The paths of argument are circuitous, and what appears to be firmly settled at one point may turn out to be surprisingly open to qualification later. All that, if we will read Kuyper, we must bear with patience. But if we will let him lead us by the paths of his own choosing, and alert us to the spiritual and cultural challenges he discerns, we shall find ourselves inducted into a vision of the world that deeply impressed its first readers. The list of interesting and distinguished twentieth-century figures who confessed a debt to Kuyper’s influence speaks for itself.
Kooky but influential. Isn’t that true of Donald Trump? This may explain why Jamie Smith spends much more time interacting with O’Dovovan than Kuyper.
And for those Kuyperians who look down on Old School Presbyterianism, O’Donovan’s estimate of Kuyper is even less kind — though it suggests spirituality of the church thinkers may need to spend more time with the former Dutch Prime Minister:
While insisting that Christ’s kingship must not be spiritualized, Kuyper says that it must not be politicized, either. For while his dominion has everything to do with public cultural endeavor in science, agriculture, poetry, education, and music, it has nothing to do with civil government (paradoxically the sphere of Kuyper’s own public endeavors!). In this way, Kuyper saves the face of a Reformed tradition that assigns the civil state to God the Father’s care, the Church to the care of the Son.
Is not the idea of a heavenly “king” without political authority a bad case of “spiritualizing” (a harsher term might be “mythicizing”)? It raises problems enough for the traditional political analogies, on which much of Kuyper’s rhetoric depends. It deprives him of the use of some of the most fruitful biblical material for reflecting on authority, that of the Hebrew kings. It raises problems for his own programmatic boast that there is “not a square inch . . . over which Christ does not say ‘Mine!’” And it raises problems for Christian politics itself, ambiguously placed among the spheres of Christian service.
And that is exactly where O’Donovan needs to pay attention to Kuyper and those outside ecclesiastical establishments like the Church of England. The Hebrew kings were good — well not really — for their time but when Jesus came the Hebrew monarchy took a different form, one in which the Son of David could say with a straight face, “my kingdom is not of this world.” At the same time, the Gospels present lots of material for thinking about political authority in relation to Christ — how he interacts with government officials, with Jewish authorities, how he answers questions about political rule or instructs his disciples (like telling Peter, “put the sword away”), how he went into exile during the slaughter of the innocents, how he submitted to Roman execution, how he claims all authority in the Great Commission.
Lots of biblical material there but I am betting it does not add up to Christendom, whether the Roman or Anglican version.