Now that Glenn Beck seems to have moved on from the faith of the founders to the faith behind the Pledge of Allegiance, taking stock of the minor celebrity of a Westminster Seminary president courtesy of the talk-show enfomationist is possible. What stands out is how little controversy Peter Lillbackâ€™s ideas about the faith of George Washington or the Christian origins of the United States created.
One looks in vain through Googleâ€™s various search oppositions for a blogger or writer who questions Lillbackâ€™s interpretation. Sure, some have emerged. The folks over at American Creation have given serious attention to Lillbackâ€™s claims on behalf of Washington. Also, another g
history professor, Brad Hart (no known relation) subjects Lillbackâ€™s Washington to the kind of inspection youâ€™d expect from an Orthodox Presbyterian. But aside from the efforts of your humble oldlife servants, the conservative Reformed world seems to be willing to give Lillback a pass. (By the way, of some interest in this regard is the absence of news about Lillbackâ€™s appearance on the Beck show at the WTS website. When one of your faculty or administrators appears on a nationally televised broadcast â€“ or even in the pages of the London Times â€“ your institutional public relations engines generally rev, not to mention when one of your faculty memberâ€™s books ascends to number one at Amazon.)
Meanwhile, the folks at Westminster California canâ€™t get off their beach blanket to enjoy the surf without the anti-2k bullies kicking sand, talking trash, and heaping scorn. (Many of these kerfuffles have received comment at oldlife. Curious readers should take advantage of the search capacity and look for â€œWestminster.â€) Whether it is Machenâ€™s Warrior Children, two-kingdom theology, the framework hypothesis, the republication doctrine, or natural law, the faculty at WSC have the reputation of being viral among many people (or is it a vocal minority?) who lead and flock to conservative Reformed and Presbyterian communions in the United States.
One can plausibly conclude that Lillbackâ€™s ideas are much more acceptable than those, for instance, of Meredith Kline, the apparent font of WSCâ€™s worst features. For those who are genuinely concerned about the insights of biblical theology â€“ and Kline was certainly in the tradition â€“ this is a depressing even if unsurprising conclusion. Change happens slowly and convincing American Protestants, with habits of considering the United States as the New Israel, that their nation is not the site of Godâ€™s redemptive plan but that his work of salvation takes place in the church, an institution that transcends races, nations, and languages, is a hard sell. Even so, it is surprising that more people who have a background with WTS, another institution where biblical theology runs deep if not in the same direction as Kline, would not be more vocal in raising questions about Lillbackâ€™s understanding of the United Statesâ€™ religious meaning and its first presidentâ€™s faith.
What makes this lack of interest in Lillbackâ€™s understanding of Christian America all the more remarkable is that it goes beyond how to read George Washington to how to interpret the Bible. Lillbackâ€™s non-profit organization dedicated to faith and freedom in America, the Providence Forum, has published a Faith and Freedom Guide to Philadelphia in which the cityâ€™s top fifty historic sites are paired with biblical texts that illustrate the religious significance of the history made in the United Statesâ€™ first capital. For instance, the nationâ€™s first Supreme Court building comes with these remarks: â€œThe Bibleâ€™s teaching on the importance of the judges maintaining justice is declared in Deuteronomy 25:1, â€˜When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.â€™â€ This may seem harmless enough but it is likely not the best way to divide rightly the word of truth.
When the guide comes to the Masonic Cathedral, across the street from City Hall, the brochure goes off the rails:
The Masonic Order is an international, secret fraternity that played a significant role among the officers of the American revolution. The most famous member of the Masonic Order was George Washington. While their history is debated, the tradition argues that Masonry can be traced to Hiram, who helped build the temple of Solomon that is recorded in 1 Kings 6-7. Their classic symbol is a builderâ€™s square with a compass and the letter G. This symbol is called â€œGAOTU,â€ which is an acrostic for â€œGreat Architect Of The Universeâ€ suggesting the geometric orderliness of the universe that argues for a creator and designer of all things. Genesis 1:31 says, â€œAnd God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth dayâ€ (KJV).
Not only is an effort to find a biblical origin for Free Masonry highly dubious on historical and theological grounds, but the guide seems to have little awareness that Reformed and Presbyterian churches in Europe and the United States have staunchly opposed to membership in Masonic Lodges as activity worthy of discipline. The only explanation for this intellectual construction of Masonry would appear to be George Washingtonâ€™s membership. So instead of using Masonry against Washington as something that would raise questions about his orthodoxy, his identity as a Mason becomes a reason to delve into the Free Masonsâ€™ biblical origins. This raises an important question for WTS and her alumni â€“ if it is wrong to read the Old Testament through the lens of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, is it any better to read it through the squint of contemporary Americaâ€™s culture wars?
And through it all, Covenant Seminary goes on its merry way with a president who has shepherded through the PCAâ€™s Strategic Plan and takes a very different estimate of the United States founding from Lillback. The lack of response to Bryan Chapellâ€™s video about Americaâ€™s Christian identity, combined with his slugging percentage in PCA politics, suggests there is hope for WSC faculty who would like to enjoy the waves.