Machen Death Day (2021)

This unprecedented decline in literature and art is only one manifestation of a more far-reaching phenomenon; it is only one instance of that narrowing of the range of personality which has been going on in the modern world. The whole development of modern society has tended mightily toward the limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man. The tendency is most clearly seen in socialism; a socialistic state would mean the reduction to a minimum of the sphere of individual choice. Labor and recreation, under a socialistic government, would both be prescribed, and individual liberty would be gone. But the same tendency exhibits itself today even in those communities where the name of socialism is most abhorred. When once the majority has determined that a certain regime is beneficial, that regime without further hesitation is forced ruthlessly upon the individual man. It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad. In other words, utilitarianism is being carried out to its logical conclusions; in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds.

… The truth is that the materialistic paternalism of the present day, if allowed to go on unchecked, will rapidly make of America one huge “Main Street,” where spiritual adventure will be discouraged and democracy will be regarded as consisting in the reduction of all mankind to the proportions of the narrowest and least gifted of the citizens. God grant that there may come a reaction, and that the great principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty may be rediscovered before it is too late! But whatever solution be found for the educational and social problems of our own country, a lamentable condition must be detected in the world at large. It cannot be denied that great men are few or non-existent, and that there has been a general contracting of the area of personal life. Material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.

Such a condition of the world ought to cause the choice between modernism and traditionalism, liberalism and conservatism, to be approached without any of the prejudice which is too often displayed. In view of the lamentable defects of modern life, a type of religion certainly should not be commended simply because it is modern or condemned simply because it is old. On the contrary, the condition of mankind is such that one may well ask what it is that made the men of past generations so great and the men of the present generation so small. In the midst of all the material achievements of modern life, one may well ask the question whether in gaining the whole world we have not lost our own soul. Are we forever condemned to live the sordid life of utilitarianism? Or is there some lost secret which if rediscovered will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past? (Christianity and Liberalism)

Tag-Team Wrestling with Jonathan Edwards

Scott Clark has a fuller entry of reservations about Edwards than what follows, but his post seemed like a good reason to jump on the bandwagon (what is a bandwagon, anyway?). The paragraphs below are from a chapter, “Jonathan Edwards and the Origins of Experimental Calvinism, in collection of essays co-edited by Sean Michael Lucas, Stephen J. Nichols, and mmmeeeEEE:

In an introductory essay to the book, Reformed Theology in America, George M. Marsden provides what still is a remarkably useful map of the Reformed tradition in the United States. According to Marsden, who experienced first-hand the different constituencies of American Reformed life, there exist three distinct and yet overlapping ways of answering the question, “what does it mean to be Reformed?” In one group, which he identifies with the church of his upbringing, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the answer comes with careful attention to precise doctrinal formulation. Here only Christians who take subscription to the Reformed creeds are “fully within the pale.” For another group being Reformed means cultural transformation, a pose most noticeable to Marsden during his years in the Christian Reformed Church. According to this outlook, Reformed Christianity is characterized by a “world-and-life view” that applies Christian principles to all walks of life. The last answer to the question of what it means to be Reformed comes from those who regard themselves as both Reformed and evangelical, and for whom being Reformed is best embodied in such evangelical forms of piety as evangelistic fervor, “personal devotion, Methodist mores, and openness in expressing one’s evangelical commitment.” In sum, Marsden identifies three schools of Reformed thought and spirituality, namely, the doctrinalist, the culturalist and the pietist.

This map of twentieth-century North American Reformed life raises an interesting question regarding Jonathan Edwards: if he were alive today with which school would he identify? To give the question bite, let me raise the stakes by asking whether Edwards would be teaching at Westminster Seminary, Calvin Seminary, or Trinity Evangelical Divinity School? No fair avoiding an answer by responding that Edwards would not be teaching but instead would be the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Marsden provides a helpful preliminary answer by arguing that the Puritan tradition in which Edwards stood embodied all three schools since the Puritans highly esteemed theological rigor, established a culture modelled on Christian teaching, and were ever on guard for the dangers of head knowledge without heart religion.

As helpful as this partial answer may be, Edwards does not easily fit in any of the schools that Marsden identifies. For instance, it is not altogether clear that Edwards would pass a licensure or ordination exam in the OPC, nor is it certain that the Kuyperians in Annapolis, Toronto and Grand Rapids would make him a poster boy for their efforts to press the Lordship of Christ in the arenas of faith-based initiatives, labor unions and office furniture. The one school where Edwards fits best is that of Reformed pietism, though if Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is its best manifestation it is not certain that Edwards would be a natural fit with that school’s Scandanavian free church tradition, Doug Sweeney’s protests to the contrary. Perhaps the best way to characterize Edwards is as an experimental Calvinist, which would make his modern-day soul mates the folks who write for and edit the books and literature produced by the Banner of Truth Trust in Edinburgh. In fact, the one correction that Marsden’s otherwise helpful guide to the Reformed tradition could use is to suggest that the pietist school is best represented by the sorts of themes that the Banner folk have developed over the last forty years or so. They are earnestly Calvinistic in their soteriology and very friendly toward revivals as an ongoing means of saving souls and edifying the faithful. What could be a better way of describing Jonathan Edwards?

If the Banner of Truth Trust is the modern-day embodiment of Edward’s theology and piety, then a plausible argument may be that in the Northampton pastor’s ministry and writings we see the origins of the pietist school of Reformed Christianity. While this line of reasoning is not inherently startling — after all the Banner’s recently retired executive has written a glowing biography of Edwards — it does raise questions to which experimental Calvinists may need to give greater heed. For instance, if experimental Calvinism is a combination of the Reformed doctines of grace and pietistic forms of devotion, and if Edwards was one of the first exponents of this outlook, are there aspects of Edwards’ thought and ministry that raise doubts about such a mix of theology and piety? Here specifically the nature of conversion about which Edwards wrote so extensively in Religious Affections comes to mind. Did his laudable effort to detect signs of regeneration actually betray Reformed teaching on conversion and so compromise Calvinism’s doctrine of salvation? What follows is an exploration of Edwards’ teaching on conversion and its manifestation in holy affections in the context of historic Reformed teaching on regeneration and the Christian life. The point of this endeavor is not to detract from Edwards’ greatness but to generate a better understanding of Reformed teaching about conversion and how the great theologian and pastor of eighteenth-century Massachusetts may have unintentionally undermined the Calvinism that he intended to defend.

Follow the Parents

Sometimes I wonder if journalists who cover the virus actually believe the narrative that leads to panic (which means they are as gullible as the fear-driven Trump voters) or are cynically reporting in a way to generate clicks and listens. A few weeks ago, Scott Simon, the master of journalistic empathy, revealed that journalists may actually prefer strong parents to reporters who question authority.

NPR’s Scott Simon talks with Dr. Curtis Chan, Deputy Health Officer for San Mateo County, CA about the county’s decision NOT to issue a stay-at-home order, as neighboring counties have.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying each day now from COVID-19. Hospital beds are full. ICU units are overwhelmed. Mayors and governors are saying stay home. Five counties near San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are in shutdown, but not San Mateo County. We’re joined now by Dr. Curtis Chan, who is deputy health officer for San Mateo County. Dr. Chan, thanks so much for being with us.

CURTIS CHAN: Nice to be here.

SIMON: Why has San Mateo decided to do something different?

CHAN: San Mateo County is following the federal guidelines and state guidelines, including the ones that were just released explaining that we should be staying at home once ICU capacity is below 15%. And we intend to follow that. You know, we also looked at our data. And we said, who is not staying home? Who’s causing the most transmissions? And we wanted to have targeted interventions for those people who are not staying at home and those people who are causing transmissions.

SIMON: Well, what does the data show?

CHAN: As for the specific cases going up, what we’ve seen in the last four weeks, it’s primarily amongst young adults between 20 to 30 years old. And those were the rates of highest rise. And we’re already in the very restrictive purple tier in California. And we didn’t think that immediately having health officer orders was going to be the strategy that would change behaviors immediately.

SIMON: Well, why not? I mean, why not issue the order and use that as, if nothing else, dramatic emphasis to make your point?

CHAN: Yeah. I think it’s an approach of harm reduction and thinking about people’s mental state. We’ve seen from the CDC reports that young people are the ones who are experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress and depression. And many of them are accustomed to social gatherings. And they’ve been continuing to social gather despite our health officer orders previously.

SIMON: You know, you’re stating some very good scientific facts, but I still don’t understand what makes you then shy away from some kind of stay-at-home order. I mean, I say this as a father. Help me translate it. It strikes me that in some ways you’re saying, look; if you tell people you must stay at home, this young group, this young demographic we’re trying to reach will do just the opposite.

CHAN: Well, the first thing is that it’s not enforceable. If we could actually enforce this and it was statewide or across the region or the country, I would think it’s a great idea. But I think, you know, it’s going to be counterproductive because it’s going to drive behaviors underground. And we think that there would be resentment that they can’t socially gather, let’s say, outside. But we don’t have the enforcement to prevent people from gathering inside, and there could be, you know, 10 young people or eight young people. So we think it’s a tremendously good idea. And those are our public health recommendations. But we didn’t have that as a legal order that suggests that it’s going to be enforced by law enforcement officials.

The reporter’s tell: “you’re stating some very good scientific facts, but I still don’t understand what makes you then shy away from some kind of stay-at-home order. I mean, I say this as a father.”

The Public Health official’s honesty: “the first thing is that it’s not enforceable. If we could actually enforce this and it was statewide or across the region or the country, I would think it’s a great idea. But I think, you know, it’s going to be counterproductive because it’s going to drive behaviors underground.”

Imagine that. Balancing science, human nature, and possibility.

Can You Write This After 2019? (finale)

Another entry under the category of timelines, to go with part one and part two.

What did the black church need roughly fifteen years ago?

We are now living in a generation of African Americans who are significantly unchurched. For three centuries, the black church stood as the central institution of black life. Its relevance was unquestioned and its moral and spiritual capital unparalleled. Now, the church is largely viewed as irrelevant by vast numbers of mostly young African Americans, despite concerted efforts to make the church a multipurpose human service organization with housing, child care, after school, health care, economic development and other social service programs. It seems the more the church does the less relevant it becomes.

The reason for this state of affairs is that the unbelieving world tacitly understands that the primary reason for the church’s existence is not temporal. Though the world is wracked with pain and suffering, it intuitively grasps the fact that the answers it longs for are transcendent, not earthly. So, the more the church appeals to the world’s felt needs and physical deprivations, the more irrelevant it becomes to those who lack a true and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. (Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [2007] 244-45)

This Would be Transformationalist(izational)

Imagine if Christmas songs started this way in the eighteenth century:

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Man it doesn’t show signs of stoppin’
And I brought me some corn for poppin’
The lights are turned way down low
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

When we finally kiss good-night
How I’ll hate going out in the storm
But if you really hold me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm

And the fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we’re still good-bye-ing
But as long as you’d love me so
Let it snow, let it snow, and snow

When we finally kiss good-night
How I’ll hate going out in the storm
But if you’d really grab me tight
All the way home I’ll be warm

Oh the fire is slowly dying
And, my dear, we’re still goodbye-ing
But as long as you’d love me so
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Then, two hundred years later, most English-speakers were singing (or hearing in the convenience story, for example) this:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

That would be something on the order of taking a song with reference only to the affects of a holiday and giving them serious Christian significance.

Why, though, does transformationalism so invariably go the other way? Leigh Schmidt had a theory. It was commerce and no one did it better than (sort of) New School Presbyterian, John Wanamaker, founder and owner of Philadelphia’s great department store, Wanamaker’s (now Macy’s):

The store’s holiday slogan in the 1950s was “Christmas Isn’t Christmas without a Day at Wanamaker’s,” and the slogan contained a grain of ethnographic description along with its advertising hype. A Catholic nun and schoolteacher, for example, wrote warmly to the store in 1950: “I made a special trip, as many of us do, just to ‘see Wanamaker’s.'” These excursions to behold the Grand Court each year at the holidays had become, she said, part of her “Christmas ritual.” (167)

Schmidt added:

For more than a century, the American marketplace has displayed a striking capacity for consecration at Christmas. Christian symbols have been repeatedly brought into the public square and made a matter of public recognition through commercial institutions. . . . At no other time in the year have the tensions over religious pluralism been more evident: Christmas has been set up as an all-embracing cultural celebration often with only passing sensitivity to those whom the holiday marginalizes. (169)

That was 1996.

How Roman Catholicism Works

Congregationalism and Presbyterianism have their issues, but at what point do you become Sideshow Bob, repeatedly stepping on the rakes, handles hitting you in the head, groaning in response, if you keep running the church this way?

Once the office of bishop was clearly established in the early Church as the unitary head of a diocese (a Roman administrative unit), that office was filled by someone chosen by local people and priests, then ratified by the neighboring bishops, as a sign of the unity of the Church. Even the unbaptized were eligible, as we know from the oft-told story of St. Ambrose, whom the clergy and people of Milan chose as their bishop while he was still a catechumen. The first bishop of the United States, John Carroll, was elected by the priests of Maryland and confirmed by the pope. Today, we are so used to the pope choosing our bishops for us that we think it was always that way. It wasn’t. In fact, the right of the pope to choose bishops was only settled with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, a papal document that clearly allocated that power to the holder of the papal office.

Arguably, there is some limited lay input in the selection of bishops. When a priest is being considered for appointment as bishop, the papal nuncio sends out what are called apostolic letters to a select group, which may include laypeople from the area, asking their opinion of the candidate based on some very specific questions. Since the papal nuncio does not actually know the laypeople of a diocese, he normally gets their names from the outgoing bishop, which means that the recipients of the letters are usually wealthy donors. Under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the areas of query in the apostolic letters were: Has the man ever said anything about birth control, abortion, married priests, female priests, the remarriage of divorced Catholics, same-sex marriage? These questions reveal the biases that gave us so many culture-warrior bishops under those popes. Since the election of Pope Francis, the questions focus more on pastoral concerns. But most of the letters still tend to go to influential (i.e. wealthy) people.

Apart from these letters, there is no other lay input into the choice of bishops. The system is still pretty much an old boys’ network. Each diocese in the United States is part of an ecclesiastical province—every diocese in Illinois, for example, is in the province of Chicago; every diocese in Pennsylvania is in the province of Philadelphia. At their annual provincial meetings, the bishops of each province can put the names of priests they favor on a list of potential candidates for bishop. This is called the provincial list, and every so often the bishops update it. When there is a need for a diocesan or auxiliary bishop in the province, the papal nuncio begins the hunt by looking at the candidates on the provincial list. Laypeople do not get to put names on the provincial lists. And the papal nuncio is not even bound by the provincial list: it is only a starting point in putting together his list of potential candidates. On his own initiative, the nuncio may add the names of priests from other provincial lists around the country, or names that aren’t on provincial lists, to create the list of candidates that he sends to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

The Congregation for Bishops, currently headed by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, has thirty or so members, including cardinals who work at the Vatican, plus cardinals and bishops from around the world. The congregation vets the nuncio’s list (called a terna because it has three names on it) and may add different names before sending it to the pope. An American bishop (usually a cardinal) who is a member of the Congregation for Bishops has inordinate influence on who becomes a bishop in the United States. McCarrick’s appointment required no consultation with the body of clergy of New York, and no consultation with the body of the laity, beyond those few apostolic letters.

After receiving the terna, the pope can accept it and select a name from it; he can reject it entirely and ask the congregation for a new terna, with names on it that he suggests; or he can ignore the terna completely and just choose his own man.

That’s the system. Here is how bad apples like McCarrick circulate:

His first appointment as bishop was as an auxiliary in his home archdiocese of New York in 1977, where he had been serving as secretary to Cardinal Terence Cooke since 1971. Cardinal Cooke, with the consent of the other bishops of the province of New York, had his secretary’s name placed on the provincial list. When the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Jean Jadot, went looking for names for a terna for auxiliary bishop of New York, there was McCarrick on the provincial list. The Vatican report says that between 1968, when McCarrick was first considered for auxiliary bishop, until 1977, when he was appointed, fifty-two apostolic letters were sent out, mostly to bishops and priests in the New York area, suggesting that very few apostolic letters were sent to laypeople. With his limited investigation complete, Jadot placed McCarrick’s name on the terna that he sent to Rome. The Congregation for Bishops did its vetting, the list went to Pope Paul VI (who probably had a conversation or two with Cardinal Cooke), and McCarrick was chosen. His appointment required no consultation with the body of clergy of New York, and no consultation with the body of the laity, beyond those few apostolic letters. It mostly required Cardinal Cooke’s patronage.

The Challenge of Being Dick Allen

The Philadelphia Phillies’ slugger’s death yesterday (okay, he also played for the Dodgers, Cardinals, White Sox, and Athletics) brought back a lot of memories from boyhood when Allen was this author’s favorite (and adored) athlete. Bruce Kuklick’s wonderful book on the stadium where Allen started his career, To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976, is particularly useful for putting Allen’s troubled career — not to mention Philadelphia’s racism — in perspective:

In Philadelphia in 1964, fans held a Richie Allen Night at the end of September. The National League later designated him Rookie of the Year. He batted .318 and hit twenty-nine homeruns. Allen drew fans to the stadium. Part of his appeal was his power. Everyone who went to Connie Mack Stadium in the sixties had a story about a shot fired off the right-center field scoreboard or, even better, an Allen home run, “those blasts,” said one fan, “disappearing – still on a rising trajectory – into steaming North Philadelphia summer nights.” one nonfan had been taken to the park once during the sixties and remembered only driving through “rundown slums . . . with worn out people out on their steps trying to beat the August heat” and “a home run by Richie Allen.” A fan who regularly went to opening nights reminisced about “Philadelphians booing Jim Tate [Democratic mayor] when he threw out the first ball, and “rockets by Richie Allen.” On at least three occasions he hit shots over the wall in dead center field, between 410 and 450 feet from home plate. Old-timers remembered that only Jimmie Foxx, a mythic figure by the 1960s, had equally crushed the ball. Allen was, one fan wrote, a “uniquely fearsome” batter. Twenty-five years later, Allen said, people would still recall to him their memories of home runs he hit over the Coke and Cadillac signs on the part’s left-center field roof. The sight of Number 15 digging in at the plate brought a surge of excitement to Philadelphia crowds, who stayed in the park until his last at bat, no matter what the score.

Some writers attributed the Phillies collapse after the 1964 riot [in August] to a dark unease that overtook Allen, the effect on him of the widespread tension and his emerging racial consciousness. A native of a small town that had a tiny black community, he claimed not to have known bigotry until he got into organized baseball. In fact, before Carpenter [Phillies’ owner] brought him up to the Phillies, Allen spent 1963 in the minors in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, where southern whites ridiculed him, he broke the sports color line. The essential thing, Allen said, was that “I came here black . . . [and] militant.” No crisis occurred, however, until the next year, 1965. That July Frank Thomas, an outfielder known as “the Big Donkey” because he said the wrong things to the wrong people, fought with Allen during batting practice. Thomas made racial slurs, Allen swung, and Thomas hit him with a bat. Five hours later the Phillies placed Thomas on waivers and ordered Allen not to discuss the incident, although it crystallized his own anger about his problems as a black baseball star. Many white fans responded negatively to Thomas’s dismissal. More and more of them delighted in jeering Allen. Some of the hostility was explicitly racial: “Nigger! Go back to South Street with the monkeys.” Allen certainly thought that “racial prejudice and segregation” caused his troubles with the patrons.

Yet matters were more complex. Carpenter later adamantly asserted that although Allen as “pro black” he was not “a militant.” And the extensive public record does not show that civil rights, the political protests of the 1960s, or social principle preoccupied Allen. Rather, he bought some racehorses and developed a love for the track, where he sometimes went, in expensive and exaggerated clothing, instead of to his job. By the late 1960s Allen was periodically and predictably late for games. He got into a celebrated barroom fight in 1967. Sometimes he came to the park drunk or did not come at all.

Allen became a star just before the unheroic side of ballplayers became common knowledge. Some of his antics did not differ from the activities of less notorious white players. Still, the need to hide his fears and insecurities drove Allen to destructive excess. I was labeled an outlaw,” he said, “and after a while that’s what I became.” (157, 159-160)

This wrinkle in my youth may be the source of some later irregularities in the pursuit of holiness and being human.

Can You Write This After 2019? (part two)

Another entry under the category of timelines, this time with a striking contrast of narratives.

This is the narrative of the black evangelical church from 2019:

White Christianity is the offspring of evangelical revivalism and various forms of American exceptionalism. White Christianity then is a combination of biblical religion and a certain view of power, privilege, access and influence. It’s a religion that sees itself as best-suited for life at the top. It assumes that at the very least it should have influence over the entire culture and that it should shape the moral and ethical outlook of the citizenry. Certain varieties see the country as a “Christian nation” and sees progress as a matter of reclaiming this Christian ideal now largely lost or threatened. 

Black Christianity is the offspring of American evangelicalism and the “hush arbor.” The hush arbor is the term used to describe the worship of slaves who snuck away into the bush, usually at night, and worshipped according to the dictates of their own conscience and the needs of their own community. So black Christianity is one part biblical religion and public piety (evangelical revivalism). But it is also one part clandestine resistance and self-care. It views itself as working from the bottom and the margins, not to climb atop of everyone else, but to be free, whole, joyful, and useful. 

Because they share one parent (evangelical revivalism), they have a great deal in common. But because they also have different parents, they have very different characteristics too.

In 2007 the genealogy of the black church looked different and its recent expressions not so welcome:

Three theological streams flowed through the doctrine of salvation in African American history. The first stream was the Calvinism adopted by the earliest generation of northern writers, preachers and thinkers and the broadly reformed thinking of African Americans in the plantation South. Their convictions included the doctrines of radical depravity, sovereign election, the necessity of regeneration and a general denial of free will. . . .

The Wesleyan/Arminian tradition, sparked among African Americans by the labors of Methodist churchmen, was the second stream of thought. Institutionalized by Richard Allen and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Arminian soteriology with its higher view of human moral ability and freedom spread in African American faith communities during the 1800s. . . Holiness and Pentecostal revivals in the late 1800s and early 1900s represented flash floods of Arminianism and helped establish this soteriological view as the dominant perspective among African Americans to the present. . . .

The worst part of the decline came now with the move to Wesleyan/Arminiansm, which retained significant elements of orthodox doctrine found in the broader Reformation, but with the distortions of theological liberalism and word-of-faith and prosperity “gospel excesses on the other. Theologically liberal streams opened up in the mid-1900s in the mainstream ideas of the Civil Rights movement and the revolutionary propositions of Black Theology. Black Theology achieved some academic success and reputation, and the iconic stature of theologically liberal leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped shape much of the church’s social ethics. However African Americans remained largely evangelical in their view of Scripture and conversion. (Thabiti Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity [2007] 211-213)

The Whatever Confession of Faith

I don’t suspect David French will be blowing the Machen Horn anytime soon, at least if his reflections on evangelicalism from three years ago (recently discovered) are any indication. Then French agreed with Tim Keller that evangelicalism may have reached its expiration date:

I grew up in a fundamentalist, sectarian church — the a capella churches of Christ — and when I left that church I eagerly called myself Evangelical. For most of us who came of age in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a way of distinguishing yourself from the mainline and the extremes. It broadcast that you took your faith seriously, but you didn’t obsess over denominational differences. Within evangelical circles the term was a clear marker of friendship and unity. As Keller notes, it used to clearly distinguish you from the fundamentalists. Now, sadly, it’s more likely to identify you as a fundamentalist. 

Now, evangelical has become too political even though French first identified himself as an evangelical at peak Jerry-Falwell-Pat-Robertson-James-Dobson evangelicals. (Timelines.)

Or maybe it just increasingly identifies you as a Republican. When you hear the word, who do you think it describes? A large number of conservative voters describe themselves as Evangelical to pollsters when they’re no such thing — at least according to the classic definitions. For them, “evangelical” is simply the term that best fits their demographic amongst the limited menu of options in an exit poll. But these polling options have consequences, leading to self-identification and public identification that’s clearly at odds with historic definitions. 

Don’t definitions lead to denominational differences?

French suggests that “Christian” is better than “evangelical”:

After all, denominational and sectarian lines are blurring so much that basically every day except Reformation Day there’s a Catholic/Protestant lovefest online and in the real world. Old rivalries have largely disappeared. Old theological arguments have become increasingly academic. The questions are increasingly basic. “Do you believe the Apostle’s Creed?” “Is the Bible the inspired Word of God?” Cool. We’re brothers. Let’s roll. 

I remember my first few weeks at Harvard Law School. For the first time in my life I was part of a fellowship group that featured virtually every major Protestant denomination and even (sometimes) a Catholic or two. I came from a world that debated whether Baptists could get into heaven. I entered a world where Baptists and Pentecostals and Anglicans worshipped side-by-side, united by their mere Christianity. A quarter-century later, American culture is more like Harvard than I ever thought it would be. When the word “evangelical” sheds more heat than light, then perhaps “Christian” is the only label we need. 

French may not realize, but he reinvented the Old School/New School Reunion wheel. In 1869 the PCUSA declared that the old debates that had produced different strands of Protestantism were no longer relevant in the light of the United State’s recent changes:

The changes which have occurred in our own country and throughout the world, during the last thirty years – the period of our separation – arrest and compel attention.  Within this time the original number of our States has been very nearly doubled. . . . And all this vast domain is to be supplied with the means of education and the institutions of religion, as the only source and protection of our national life.  The population crowding into this immense area is heterogeneous.  Six millions of emigrants, representing various religious and nationalities, have arrived on our shores within the last thirty years; and four millions of slaves, recently enfranchised, demand Christian education.  It is no secret that anti-Christian forces – Romanism, Ecclesiasticism, Rationalism, Infidelity, Materialism, and Paganism itself – assuming new vitality, are struggling for the ascendency.  Christian forces should be combined and deployed, according to the new movements of their adversaries. It is no time for small and weak detachments, which may easily be defeated in detail. . . .

Many of the ecclesiastical organizations of Protestant Europe had their origins in remote controversies connected with the Reformation.  That was a time for the assertion of truth, rather than for the expression of love. . . Nothing is so long-lived and inveterate as ancestral memories and prejudices.  Before the world we are now engaged, as a nation, in solving the problem of whether it is possible for all the incongruous and antagonistic nationalities thrown upon our shores, exerting their mutual attraction and repulsion, to become fixed in one new American sentiment.  If the several branches of the Presbyterian Church in this country, representing to a great degree ancestral differences, should become cordially united, it must have not only a direct effect upon the question of our national unity, but, reacting by the force of a successful example on the Old World, must render aid in that direction, to all who are striving to reconsider and readjust those combinations, which had their origin either in the faults or the necessities of a remote past. (1869 Plan of Union, Old School-New School)

This is how doctrinal indifferentism happens.

How Puritans Shaped Anglicanism

Some will not like reading this, but Alec Ryrie cannot be canceled so readily .

Between the Elizabethan settlement and the English Civil War, the Church of England was unapologetically a Reformed Protestant church. It was also much closer to being a truly national Church than it has ever been since. This has left some awkward legacies to later Anglicanism. The fact that many Puritans were driven into nonconformity after the Restoration has given rise to a wholly unjustified myth among Anglicans: that Puritans had been cuckoos in the Church of England’s nest since the beginning, and so are not truly a part of Anglicanism’s history. The majority of Anglicans are in long-standing denial over their Puritan heritage, reluctant to recognize that these people are part of Anglicanism’s story — and fully so, not on sufferance. Meanwhile, a minority strain within Anglicanism is so enthusiastic to claim England’s Protestant, Puritan Reformation as its heritage that it asserts that Reformation ought to be normative for Anglicanism, not merely a strand within it.

The plain facts are, first, that the Church of England was once a mainstream Reformed Protestant church; and second, that is is not any more. How it, and the English-speaking world more widely, should deal with that mixed heritage is a story of two books.

The Book of Common Prayer is the more complicated of the two. When Thomas Cramner introduced its first two editions in 1549 and 1552, it was an alarmingly radical engine of reform. . . this new English ‘common prayer’ was intended to be a united voice, in which the minister spoke to the people as much as to God and in which the greatest part of worship was instruction. The outwardly traditional elements of the new liturgy were a digestif intended to make two novel features palatable to a largely conservative people: first, the huge slabs of the Bible that comprise the bulk of most of the services; and second, the robustly Protestant theology that is texts taught. . . . But when the Prayer Book was re-imposed by Charles II in 1662, although its text was virtually unchanged from a century earlier, its meaning was reversed. Despite its title, it no longer aspired to national ‘common prayer.’ It was an instrument of division, not of unity. It was designed to smoke out those who wished to remain part of the national church but could not tolerate this half-reformed liturgy. . . .

The second book is of course the English Bible. The English Reformation produced no theologians of European stature, but in Tyndale it did produce a truly great translator. It is a plain fact that he did more than any other individual to shape the modern English language, and that the English Bible he set in motion would become central to English identity for centuries. (The English Reformation, 63-65)