The Gospel Coalition Goes Racial

Several recent developments among the gospel allies have revealed that no matter how much we denounce racism, race is a category that is alive, well, obscure, and still divisive. Race, for instance, is almost as foggy as evangelicalism. Try to tell the difference and explain it briefly between race and ethnicity. Try to tell someone of African descent who came to the United States by way of Haiti that they are “black” in the same way that descendants of African-American slaves are. Try even to explain how President Obama is more black than white. Or for lighter shades of racial characteristics, try to explain how the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese, despite historic animosities, are all “Asian.” And don’t forget about the Irish, white people whom other whites – in this case Boston Brahmins – called black. Race is, as you may be able to tell, slippery. What is more, the persistent appeal to it ironically keeps alive the kind of quasi-scientific claims that fueled eugenics and other early twentieth-century schemes for preserving racial purity.

But the folks with good intentions, the allies of the gospel, keep stepping in the gooey subject of race with consequences unbecoming their wholesome (even if sappy) aims. First it was Christianity Today’s publication of an excerpt from John Piper’s new book, Bloodlines. The provocative title of the piece was, “I Was A Racist.” It chronicles Piper’s life, from his southern youth where he presumed the superiority of whites to blacks, to his days at Wheaton College where he was confronted at an InterVarsity Fellowship conference to consider the legitimacy of inter-racial marriage, to his studies in Germany which allowed him to visit concentration camps designed by the “master” Aryan race, to his decision as a middle-aged man to adopt an African-American child. Along the way, Piper employs tropes and taps sentiments designed to show the wickedness of racism, all the while he avoids a technical definition of the concept. And without a definite idea of what constitutes racism, readers don’t know if Piper really was a racist or whether his self-absolved declaration of innocence is justified.

Here’s one example of the sentimentality that lurks around Piper’s reflections:

I was, in those years, manifestly racist. As a child and a teenager my attitudes and actions assumed the superiority of my race in almost every way without knowing or wanting to know anybody who was black, except Lucy. Lucy came to our house on Saturdays to help my mother clean. I liked Lucy, but the whole structure of the relationship was demeaning. Those who defend the noble spirit of Southern slaveholders by pointing to how nice they were to their slaves, and how deep the affections were, and how they even attended each other’s personal celebrations, seem to be naïve about what makes a relationship degrading.

No, she was not a slave. But the point still stands. Of course, we were nice. Of course, we loved Lucy. Of course, she was invited to my sister’s wedding. As long as she and her family “knew their place.” Being nice to, and having strong affections for, and including in our lives is what we do for our dogs too. It doesn’t say much about honor and respect and equality before God. My affections for Lucy did not provide the slightest restraint on my racist mouth when I was with my friends. . . .

So Lucy was only as good as a dog? Is that really the way that whites viewed blacks when they taught them the Bible? Do dogs have souls? Were Boston Protestants “nice” to Irish Roman Catholics? And was this sort of treatment the same that the Nazis showed to Jews? Whatever the answers to these questions – and they will be decidedly mixed depending on the answerers’ bloodlines – Piper avoids a systematic treatment of race and opts instead for associations. Please do not misunderstand. Slavery was abhorrent, skin-color based slavery more so. But do we need to liken slavery to the Holocaust in order to condemn it? Meanwhile, notice the flip side of these associations – Piper’s kin were the equivalent of the Nazis. Is this any way to regard our families (as if Nazis were only evil all the time, as if people who believe in total depravity would locate wickedness in one ethnic group)?

Another observation to make about Piper’s piece is the way that adopting a child of African descent seems bestow racial innocence. I admire Piper for doing this, and for the kind of life he tries to lead by living in a specific neighborhood in Minneapolis. But is he not aware of African-Americans who might regard his adoption as simply another way of saying that “some of my best friends are black”? Of course, the folks who might say this about Piper, from Al Sharpton to Cornel West, could be harboring views of race and racism that a person of European descent could never avoid. But if that’s the case – which it is (think about Don Imus and the Rutgers women’s basketball team) – then why bring up race at all? Why not write a book about families, adoption, and urban living? Why the need to talk about private matters that are so patently alarming and have the potential for manipulation? If evangelicals read and adopt this book as a clear and incisive statement on race, they will surely be surprised the next time they enter a discussion or read a news item which reveals how deep and contested are the politics of identity.

One more thing — why does Piper not apply his assumptions about diversity to African-American churches? When I taught a course on religion in Philadelphia I showed students some videos from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, not at the same time, but to cover the African-American experience one week and the experience of some ethnic-Europeans another. What was striking in these videos was how proud the African-American churches were of being black. They made no effort to reflect the diversity of their congregations because they didn’t have much racial or ethnic diversity. But not so for the Lutherans. We saw Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and even European-Americans in the Lutheran videos, even though the appeal of Lutheranism outside German and Scandinavian settings is tiny.

This does not mean that Lutherans or Piper are wrong to seek diversity in their churches. It does mean that if diversity is a biblical imperative – as opposed to an outgrowth of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism – then Piper should be communicating to black church leaders the importance of enfolding white’s and Asians into their congregations. But if he did that, would he be able to claim that he WAS a racist and isn’t one anymore?

Around the same time that Piper’s piece appeared in Christianity Today, the Gospel Coalition was engaged in some soul searching thanks to James McDonald’s decision to interview T. D. Jakes for Elephant Room. The problem apparently (since I don’t know the work of MacDonald except for the excruciatingly painful video he did with Mark Driscoll and Mark Dever about pastoral ministry, nor do I know about T. D. Jakes except for Don Imus’ regular invoking of and praise for the bishop — note the irony) was the terms under which MacDonald invited Jakes. Was Jakes a fellow believer in gospel? Or was and is he guilty of faulty view of the Trinity? MacDonald’s explanation of the situation was not good enough for a number of bloggers, white and black. The problem was particularly the mixed message that MacDonald (and by extension) the Gospel Coalition would send to the black church about the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Thabiti Anyabwile:

The news of T.D. Jakes’ invitation to The Elephant Room is widespread and rightly lamented by many. I’m just adding a perspective that hasn’t yet been stated: This kind of invitation undermines that long, hard battle many of us have been waging in a community often neglected by many of our peers. And because we’ve often been attempting to introduce African-American Christians to the wider Evangelical and Reformed world as an alternative to the heresy and blasphemy so commonplace in some African-American churches and on popular television outlets, the invitation of Jakes to perform in ‘our circles’ simply feels like a swift tug of the rug from beneath our feet and our efforts to bring health to a sick church.

Justin Taylor jumped on the bandwagon. “The most sobering and painful commentary on this controversy has been penned by Thabiti Anyabwile and Anthony Carter, who have both labored winsomely and heroically for a reformation in the black church and see this invitation as a tremendous setback for the cause of grace and truth. I’d encourage you to consider their perspective on something like this.”

What is remarkable in this reaction to MacDonald is, first, the assumption that the white church has a sound doctrine of the Trinity. Unless I missed something, the Gospel Coalition is a wart to the Matterhorn (thank you Henry Lewis) of the Trinity Broadcast Network and the larger Pentecostal and charismatic world which consists of Americans of European descent as much as blacks. In other words, the black church has no corner of heresy and the Gospel Coalition has a lot of work to do if it is going to labor winsomely and heroically for a reformation in the white church.

Second, the Gospel Coalition’s doctrine of the Trinity is not exactly Nicea. The first point of their doctrinal statement reads:

We believe in one God, eternally existing in three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who know, love, and glorify one another. This one true and living God is infinitely perfect both in his love and in his holiness. He is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible, and is therefore worthy to receive all glory and adoration. Immortal and eternal, he perfectly and exhaustively knows the end from the beginning, sustains and sovereignly rules over all things, and providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.

Compare this to the Westminster Confession and you see a lack of precision:

1. There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

2. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Of course, the Westminster Confession is not Nicea either. But it does have the important Nicene bits – the affirmations about substance and person, and the one about the Son being eternally begotten of the Father. In which case, if the Gospel Coalition wants to set itself as the standard for orthodoxy in the white church, especially on the Trinity, why not actually affirm (or teach about) the Nicene doctrine of God?

In the end, I’m not sure what race has to do with the current status of orthodox Trinitarianism in the United States, or with one pastor’s decision to adopt a child. But a lot of people seem to think that race still matters and that is not a recipe for overcoming racism but for keeping the vague concept of race alive.


61 thoughts on “The Gospel Coalition Goes Racial

  1. This was an extra insightful post, Dr. Hart, hitting a bulls eye on so many aspects in this difficult situation. I would love to make a long comment and join the upcoming discussion, but cannot because of time constrains. I would like to make a quick observation about their poverty on the Trinity:

    It’s mind boggling, beyond weird, and heart-breaking. Not only is the lack of clarity in their statement appalling, but when I looked at the link for the missing teaching on the Trinity – I was stunned to see the heading of God, with the categories of Father and Son, but no Holy Spirit. This seems to inevitably happen when people try to reinvent the wheel. I don’t need to sing to the choir that it would be so much better if they would adhere to a confession of faith where this has all been painstakingly worked out. Why people want tricycles when they can have Mercedes is beyond me.

    P.S. I do have another heading suggestion for their catalog of courses that could prove helpful: Heresies (’nuff said).


  2. Very well done Dr. Hart. As one who has spent a good part of my adult life as a (white) minority in Nicaragua I have had a lot to think about. When I went to Nicaragua my ideas of race and identity were simplistic. As a result I played the white messiah for a long time. The damage done durign that time lasted until I left, even after understanding what I was doing, repenting, and changing my ways.

    Now I am a pastor of a church plant in a majority minority part of Nashville, TN. The minorities are a diverse group that do not get along at all. Thankfully, my time in Nicaragua and much time spent reading and talking to people who have thought hard about race, diversity, etc, has helped me get to the business of being the church without an over preoccupation with matters of cultural sensitivity and such. It is a fact that doing things the way we do them will draw some and repel others (speaking English for example). An obsession with how to be “all things to all people” has, in my estimation, overtaken the ministry of quite a few churches that work in diverse settings.

    Thanks to a robust understanding of 2k theology many things that could serve to drive people away are not even on the table for us. This has helped to both focus our mission (great commission) and to remove obstacles to faith from those who are not like most of us in our church.

    We haven’t forgotten the fact that we’re not all the same color, it just does not serve as our main emphasis. It is amazing what happens when you just glory in the gospel in word and sacrament every week and love (all) your neighbors.


  3. I don’t see that there is any issue with a church trying to examine why it may not be completely reflective of the community it is placed in.

    That said, success in these terms seems – in my experience – to be inversely proportional to the amount of noise made about it.


  4. Dr. Hart, you need to correct the spelling of “Thabiti” in the tags as well. Otherwise, I found this to be a very thought-provoking and insightful post. Your willingness to tackle a topic like this is commendable, particularly considering the widespread hypersensitivity it inevitably invokes.


  5. Great post, Darryl. Your questions and observations help dissipate some of the fog of sentiment and symbolism that is so often taken for granted as unassailable truth. I would hope that Piper and others would engage you in this conversation.



  6. I’m as born, bred and buttered Yank as they come. But even a beloved white (Yugoslav?) man who came to the house once week to fix things for my father would be expected to “know his place” at my brother’s wedding, as in he’s not included in the photos or seated with the immediate family, etc. Does that make us Nazi-esque? Some southerners seem to be naïve about the complexities of human relationships.

    Less seriously, though they’re inherently better than cats, I’d never invite a dog to a wedding, even a white male (Yugoslav?) one.


  7. Watching the PBS program last night on Jefferson Davis was timely. Your post brings up the dilemma of which is the more aristocratic behavior, the Southern Gentleman who only wants to helps the inferior race, or the moral reformer for whom the oppressed class needs to overcome their oppression?

    Did Old School Presbyterianism inculcate Southern aristocratic behavior? Undoubtedly.

    Does Evangelicalism inculcate aristocratic behavior of moral reformers? Undoubtedly.


  8. The provocative title of the piece was, “I Was A Racist.” It chronicles Piper’s life, from his southern youth where he presumed the superiority of whites to blacks, to his days at Wheaton College where he was confronted at an InterVarsity Fellowship conference to consider the legitimacy of inter-racial marriage, to his studies in Germany which allowed him to visit concentration camps designed by the “master” Aryan race, to his decision as a middle-aged man to adopt an African-American child. Along the way, Piper employs tropes and taps sentiments designed to show the wickedness of racism, all the while he avoids a technical definition of the concept. And without a definite idea of what constitutes racism, readers don’t know if Piper really was a racist or whether his self-absolved declaration of innocence is justified.

    This reads like a Maoist self-criticism session. “Comrades, even I could be rehabilitated.”

    Meanwhile, notice the flip side of these associations – Piper’s kin were the equivalent of the Nazis. Is this any way to regard our families (as if Nazis were only evil all the time, as if people who believe in total depravity would locate wickedness in one ethnic group)?

    Take that, Mom and Dad! (So much for the 5th Commandment)

    What was striking in these videos was how proud the African-American churches were of being black.

    Diversity for thee, but not for me! This seems to be a common theme in the non-white church.

    I admire Piper for doing this, and for the kind of life he tries to lead by living in a specific neighborhood in Minneapolis. But is he not aware of African-Americans who might regard his adoption as simply another way of saying that “some of my best friends are black”?

    Of course they regard it this way, and they find Piper’s behavior shameful as they should.


  9. Benjamin, I was responding to Piper’s reflections about Lucy. By “some southerners” I meant Piper. But being from the backwoods of the great white north, I know what you mean.


  10. After reading the comments from Ron and Jon I am curious as to the number of theonomists in the United States and how many churches there are here that could be considered theonomist churches. What denomination do most theonomists belong to (I am assuming they are mostly Presbyterian- but what branch of the Presbyterian church?) Have they ever considered starting their own denomination? What are their total numbers? Have they ever considered building a walled community near Salt Lake City, Utah or some remote region where they can be self-sufficient and govern the community according to Theonomic principles? Therefore, we would not have to worry that they would seek to impose these theonomic priciples on others. Of course, they are all about world domination- and they think it it God’s will that they do this. How else can you read their literature and come to any other conclusion?


  11. I used to be a mean Calvinist. Now, YOU are a mean Calvinist!

    I used to be a racist! Now, YOU are a racist!

    I used to be a homophobe. Now, YOU are a homophobe!

    What does any of this have to do with the Gospel and/or a coalition? It seems as though
    a list is being compiled so as to revise Edwards’ book on Relgious Affections.


  12. Ben, I appreciate the humour with which you answered my inquiries. If your numbers are correct, which I have my doubts, you might have a hard time taking dominion in the US. Although you might pull off the miraculous like Gideon and Joshua did- it would take much divine intervention though. You gave me a good chuckle.


  13. Been thinking about this post off and on today. Piper’s book seems to be yet another example of reflecting culture rather than Christ. TGC is another example of reflecting culture rather than Christ with TD Jakes. Gotta be cutting edge and relevant for the world. At any rate, that was what the gist of it looked like to me.

    From a laywoman’s point of view, it concerns me greatly when leaders take these kinds of tracks, people can easily be led astray into thinking Jake’s theology is okay or the popular media mantra that all white people are closet racists and those who can’t see it are in denial.

    It would be wonderful if you wrote about this in more depth, Dr. Hart – a book or a paper perhaps? I would love to see you deconstruct it all and place Christ front and center. Would you consider thinking about it?

    Jeremy Meeks – your comment is/was/and will be refreshing in your clarity on what the church should be and for doing it – bravo and thank you! May your tribe increase! 😉


  14. Thanks Lily. I wish I could say that I see my tribe increasing, but I don’t…hopefully it is going on unseen. Unfortunately I have regular interaction with many church planters and pastors who are white and hating it. Pragmatics rules the day and many speak openly of the need for their church to model the demographics of their neighborhoods in exact proportions. I’d like that to be true in the case of our church, but it might not ever happen and that would be ok. We will remain faithful to commit ourselves to the ordinary means of grace and watch God work through us and, as is often the case, in spite of us.


  15. Lily writes: >>>>Piper’s book seems to be yet another example of reflecting culture rather than Christ.<<<<

    Lily you are right on! It's as if some people, presuming to speak for the body of Christ, are trying to communicate to the world the message of, "See, I used to be a mean Calvinist/racist but no more. Now, I even get after my friends for being mean Calvinists/racists!"

    Rehab, contrition and the message that what you used to be was wrong, can help endear you in America. It worked for Michael Vick.


  16. Dear Dr. Hart,

    “Piper avoids a systematic treatment of race and opts instead for associations.”

    I am not familiar with your writings other than this blog piece, nor have I read the book in question in the first part of your blog, but since the words “race”, “identity” and “ethnic” seem so important to you, please define these terms for me, otherwise I have trouble knowing what you mean.
    It appears to me that you are making some errors of judgment that have to do with your frame of reference; otherwise, you wouldn’t make global statements about an excerpt from a book that, judging from its TOC has more than one chapter.

    Also, I wonder what end you are pursuing with this piece and would also appreciate a definition of “sappy”. I’ve been away from the North American continent for several decades of my life and seem to remember “sappy” as stupid or thick. Upon whom specifically are you applying this fluid and how thick is it? What exactly are the unbecoming consequences you write of?

    I have the privilege and somewhat daunting task of working in a public-service, politically-correctly managed mixed group of men and women of approximately 50 (within a department of ~200), nearly half of whom came to the country I presently live in from around 20 other countries of the world. If I am successful in presenting God’s glory, our sin and the gospel to any of them AND if the Holy Spirit, in the sovereignty of God gives them life, how do I deal with the ecclesiastical component of their discipleship and where may we or they worship in your view? What in the Bible speaks against cosmopolitan promotion of churches filled with people from everywhere in cities that are inevitably melting pots?

    “And without a definite idea of what constitutes racism, readers don’t know if Piper really was a racist or whether his self-absolved declaration of innocence is justified “

    “self-absolved” ???

    Do I understand you correctly that, (after I looked again at the definition of “absolve” AHD), this sentence accuses Dr. Piper of co-opting the work of Christ?…

    Oh, now I get it, you’re quoting from a magazine piece, a book excerpt– and then globalizing the quote to stand for the book to stand for the man. I haven’t read the book either, but it is possible, as I have at least looked at the table of contents and read part of the preface, for me to hope that the issues you diss him for are actually dealt with in the chapters of the book that expound on those issues– I’m not sure, but maybe he wrote about those things in the chapter of the book that is called something like: the black-white issue and why I’m concentrating on it in an even more diverse world. I’m working from memory here, it’s around chapter 5 or 6, at least in the TOC you can read for free on Amazon…

    I looked up “trope”, too. If I remember from my early teens, that word had a negative connotation, although that was long ago. However, it seems that although your active vocabulary is wider than mine– at least in English– it also seems that you may have forgotten the difference between similitudes and equations. I make this provocative statement because in criticizing Dr. Piper’s tropes, you make an equation between his description of the likening in the situations between treatment of dogs and treatment of people of color (I’ve been away from America for almost all the time since 1978, is “people of color” still acceptable?) instead of realizing that a trope is only paralleling part of the characteristics of the members on both sides of the “:”. At least that’s what they taught me, I think it was in about 6th grade.
    [ (a:b) /=/ (a=b) ] The same goes for the [ (black:white) /=/ (Nazi:Jew/Sinti/Roma/homosexual/menta-_physically challenged) ] non-equation.

    I worked through the creed of Nicea again back when my friend Joe Brown finished his book: “Heresies…” I think there might be possibilities of conforming to the thinking behind it (Nicea), while possibly not going into the “finer print” issues to the degree of the Heidelberg or Westminster wording for the purpose of forming a coalition. I don’t think it’s healthy to ignore the Nicean and other creeds that are orthodox, as many so-called evangelicals do. But I think there is salient distinction to be noted between when someone leaves something out of a doctrinal _summary_ as opposed to denying sound doctrine.


  17. The impression I get from both the GC/Piper and the perspective adopted by most modern adherents to the WCF, is that there is an unspoken, unconscious, and underlying assumption that God is an object possessing certain qualities like holiness, love, mercy, goodness, etc. and an all powerful will that will bring about His purposes for His glory. As a result, we unintentionally and unconsciously believe that we too are objects through which He brings about His purpose, and we do that by thinking we can develop our affection for Him through a combination of whipping up our emotions, our intellects, and our wills to “serve” Him.

    I wonder what a new confession that consciously recognized God as purely subjective and His creatures/creation as participants in His subjective being for the mutual delight and pleasure of the Trinity/creation as an organic whole would look like. Maybe this is the different “paradigm” that Leithart has in mind and why post enlightenment thinkers can’t possibly understand.


  18. Ben, that’s enough for a mega-church. But as I understand it, the inhabitants of Moscow have found the local would-be theocrats more off-putting than inviting.


  19. R. W. H.

    I don’t presume to know the definitions of race or racism. I’m particularly loathe to define them because they have been put to such diverse and at times nefarious ends. But my point in writing this piece was first to show that no white man should declare himself to be no longer a racist without some person of color vouching for the claim. It’s like a man who beats his wife saying he no longer beats his wife. Some might still have doubts about the former wife beater. And Piper does not seem to see that he may invite a similar reaction outside the circles where he is appreciate. And this gets at the matter of sappy — it means sentimental. And plenty of evangelicals seem to traffic in sentiment more than sobriety.

    You don’t seem to like that I have criticized Piper or the Gospel Coalition. Why? Are they not men like me (with whom you don’t mind disagreeing)?


  20. Dear Zrim, could you define for us “theonomist”? I was under the impression that many “federal visionists” were more than theonomists, but not less. Are there folks left behind in “theonomy” (Mark Rushdoony, Joe Morecraft?) who still hold on to the traditions of “faith alone” and “imputation”? Why is it that those who have moved on to paedocommunion and sacramental “objectivity” and “faith alone is works also” no longer “theonomic”?

    I am not denying differences. I ask for definitions. As far as I know, Norman Shepherd has never said anything about God’s standards for the politics of violence. But are James Jordan and Leithart somehow no longer “theonomic” simply because they have dressed up their Constantianism in the language of John Milbank and Oliver O’Donovan? I understand that they no longer want the baggage of Rushdoony and the non-pietistic puritans.

    Are you defining “theonomist” as somebody who proposed the Mosaic covenant as the literal law of the land? As Bahnsen made clear, nobody ever wanted that, neither the separatists nor the non separatists who came over from England. The genocide of the Native American was justified with reference to God’s holy war for the promised land, not by the Mosaic legislation.

    This is not meant as an apology for any thenomist. I never was a theonomist, and I am not a theonomist now. Even though I am some kind of father (two children) I don’t even hang out with Doug Wilson.


  21. Ben, it was a joke. But just to stay a little more on topic, theocrats and theonomists all look the same to me. Does that make me a theo-cist?


  22. James Jordan: We depart from the whole Reformation tradition at certain pretty basic points. It’s no good pretending otherwise. I think the PCA is perfectly within its rights to say no to all types . We are NOT traditional presbyterians. The PCA suffers us within itself, but we are poison to traditional presbyterianism. We are new wine, and the PCA is an old skin. So, for the sake of the people we are called to minister to, we do our best. But we don’t really “belong” there.

    “I mean, think about it. Would any of you seek ordination in a Baptist denomination? No. Then why do you seek ordination in non-paedocommuning Presbyterian/Reformed denominations? Don’t tell me that these aren’t the same question, because at the practical level, American presbyterianism is just “Baptist light.” That’s what Banner of Truth Calvinism is, and why it’s been Reformed Baptists who most appreciate it…. That’s what the Southern Presbyterian tradition is. That’s what American individualist conversionist presbyterianism is: Baptists who sprinkle babies.

    “So, why are you trying to get ordained Presbyterian? Why not seek to get ordained Baptist? There are a whole lot more baptists out there. A bigger pond. Larger sphere of influence.

    “Well, it’s because the baptists won’t have us, and so far the presbys will. But there’s no reason why the presbys should receive us, since sacramentally speaking we are NOT Reformed and NOT presbyterian.

    “I’m a little bit sympathetic with Duncan & Co. when they suspect some of you guys are not being honest when you try to show that you’re just good traditional Reformed guys. I guess it’s a good thing I did not make it to the Knox Seminary discussion, because I would have openly said, “I’m not on the same page as Calvin and the Reformation in these regards.” Showing that the Reformed tradition is wider and muddier than Duncan wants it to be is fine, but the fact is that if you believe in pc, you’re not in the Reformed tradition at all in a very significant and profound sense.


  23. Sorry, I see my question should have been addressed to Ben and not to Zrim. Not that I wouldn’t welcome definitions and distinctions (clean or thick) from Zrim!


  24. MMc, it might be better to let the local theo define his program for himself. A 2ker doing so might be like a black man defining apartheid. Or a white guy rapping. Or me rapping.


  25. James Jordan stopped being a Theonomist in the late 80’s and publicly dissociates himself from the movement.

    “We are not committed to the particular theoretical approach to the Mosaic law advocated by Bahnsenian “theonomy…”.

    Also Greg Bahnsen publicly opposed James Jordan’s hermeneutics and teachings which would lead to FV.

    John Otis (of the RPCUS) has written a book on FV that shows the erroneous claims of those that say FV is a natural progression of Theonomy.


  26. Ben,

    I just visited your blog and read the article you posted about the debate over sufficiency of scripture written by Ben Strange. Here is the liink if anyone is interested:

    It is, as you say, very thought provoking. The only correction I would make is that Ken Myers is no longer in the camp of the “Common Kingdom” believers. He very much believes that, to be true, culture must discipline and nurture man to the glory of God.


  27. James Jordan writes about the dead : “Greg Bahnsen was thoroughly Vantillian and Shepherdian, and would have been completely at home with all the important aspects of “FederalVision.” I know this for certain as I worked with him for many years and had many conversations with him over just these topics. A meritorious notion of a “covenant of works” was ridiculous to him.”

    I would agree that there is no “natural obvious” connection of paedobaptism to theonomy and no “inherent progression” from theonomy to the mono-covenantalistic “federal vision”. But I do doubt that there is a “federal vision” which is not Constantinian in its disregard for the law of Christ.


  28. Lily, I would like to write something on church membership and the politics of identity. Thanks.

    I think this would be very interesting. There would be quite a market for a book that examined church membership and ethnicity and how they were handled throughout church history, especially in the New Testament era. Anything that avoided the same tired victimhood/oppressor narratives (ie. guilt just for being white/victimhood for being non-white etc) would be welcome also. IOW, something that tried to just exegete Scripture and provided a 2-Kingdom view of looking at how one can belong to a particular ethnic group – if they indeed can take on such an identity – and at the same time be a part of the catholic Body of Christ.

    I would think a thorough examination of the 5th Commandment and all of its positive duties and negative prohibitions would be warranted also. It seems that too many people nowadays who are so eager to prove they are TOTALLY NOT RACIST do so at the (quite public) expense of the very ancestors and kin who worked so hard to bring them to where they are today. Defaming people in your family tree – even by extension – seems shameful to me. I’ve noticed most non-whites feel the same way.

    Lastly, it would be interesting to know that if you can legitimately claim to be part of an ethnic group under the New Covenant, do you also have obligations towards that group even if they’re non-Christians?


  29. David Gordon explains the temporary nature of the need for ethnic purity:

    “The Mosaic covenant, burdensome as it was for the hapless Israelites, was needed for a variety of reasons. In terms of Paul’s concerns in Galatians, it was necessary for there to be a covenant that, at a minimum, preserved two things: memory of the gracious promises made to Abraham and his “seed,” and the biological integrity of the “seed” itself. Sinai’s dietary laws and prohibitions against inter-marrying with the Gentiles, along with Sinai’s calendar and its circumcision, set Abraham’s descendants apart from the Gentiles, saving them (in some degree) from their desire to inter-marry with the Am ha-Aretz until the time came to do away with such a designation forever.

    There were things necessary to teach, via the types and sacrifices of the Old Testament system, in order for the work of the coming Christ to make any sense when he appeared. And during this season of preparing the world for the coming Christ, it was necessary to have a covenant that by the harshest threats of curse-sanctions would prevent inter-marriage and idolatry among a people particularly attracted to both. Sinai’s thunders did not prevent this perfectly, but they did so sufficiently that a people still existed on earth who recalled the promises to Abraham when Christ appeared, and the genealogy of Matthew’s gospel could be written.


  30. Abrahamic and Sinaitic Contrasts, by David Gordon

    “John Murray’s disciples inevitably move in a monocovenantal direction; all covenants become essentially the same: Norman Shephard cannot easily distinguish Abrahamic faith from Sinaitic works; Greg Bahnsen could not distinguish Israel’s laws from the laws of non-theocratic nations; the paedo-communionists cannot distinguish a house meal (Passover) from a corporate meal (the Lord’s Supper); the so-called Federal Vision cannot easily distinguish the visible (the “outward Jew” of Romans 2) from the invisible (the “inward Jew” of Romans 2) church. Though John Murray himself committed none of these errors, his monocovenantal tendency would inevitably have the effects it has had in each of these areas.


  31. Walt, it seems like a hyphenated Christianity would answer in the affirmative. After all, if believers are commanded to remain married to unbelievers, which is to say carry out the obligations involved in the highest temporal institution, then it would seem to follow that they are just as obligated to lesser natural bonds that don’t enjoy supernatural coating.

    Still, there is also the New Covenant command to hate one’s family, which is a way to suggest that eternal bonds supersede temporal ones. It would seem that what we’re left with is the sort of tension that comes with the fifth commandment and Luke 14:26.


  32. Zrim,

    That’s what I mean – the answer is A LOT more complicated that white contemporary Dudley Do-rights make it out to be, which is probably why non-whites have not jumped on the bandwagon.


  33. Mark 10:29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

    Who is my family? Those who do the will of God. It’s interesting (to me) that in this “promised to get back” list, there is no mention about getting back any fathers. There is only one Father, who is some sense absent, in heaven, not yet here.

    Perhaps there is some discontinuity between the covenants on this matter of God being father. But also there were different ways for God to be father in the Abrahamic covenant. Not to deny that God is the father to the Esau and Ishmael, but this is not the same as God being the father of the elect who believe the gospel which promises resurrection and eternal life.

    Abraham was a father in more than one way. We can agree that the more important way is not at all about genetics, without denying that Abraham was also father to Esau and Ishmael. And no, I don’t know about any “halfway covenant” whereby the biological children of at least one grandparent who believes the gospel is promised something extra that those with no believing grandparents are not promised. “I will be your God”???

    Romans 9:3…for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh, they are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants….v 7, but not all are children of Abraham because they are his children…


  34. Dr. Hart,

    I am a bit surprised at some of your critiques of Piper’s new book. For example, you criticize Piper for linking slavery and segregation to Nazism. If Piper is at fault for doing so, then you’d have to condemn many 1940s civil rights leaders who made the same comparison. Heck, even Carl McIntire–hardly a paragon of civil rights consciousness–ran an article in the Christian Beacon which compared Jim Crow to the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews. Historians have made explicit comparisons between slavery and the Holocaust, like Stanley Elkins in his classic “Slavery : A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life.”

    In general, you seem inclined to fault Piper for not writing another book. Although I agree that a scholarly monograph on race and evangelicalism would be very edifying for the church, Piper’s autobiographical account has value as well, perhaps as an encouragement to other evangelicals of his generation who experienced a similar racist upbringing but who not even begun to grapple with how that experience shaped them or the society around them.



  35. I often wondered why we couldn’t stop comparing things to the Holocaust and start comparing them to the Holodomor or the Gulag or the Great Terror, which – after all – killed far more people over a longer period of time. Maybe we could start comparing things to American post-1945 behavior when we let the Soviets just swallow up Eastern Europe and deport hundreds of thousands of people to Siberia.

    Maybe I’ll get my wish when Solzhenitsyn finds an English publisher for his last book posthumously.

    Piper linking slavery to Nazism is, first of all, retarded since millions of blacks weren’t gassed and loaded into ovens or mass graves. Also, that ended in 1865, which was roughly 60 years before Nazism was conceived of during the Weimar debauchery. Black slavery in the Americas is akin to – well – itself: black slavery in the Americas. Piper is making this comparison not because it’s historically accurate or analogous, but because it’s PC to do so. If you want to gain favor with the Right People (who are often the people with “Never Forgive, Never Forget” as their credo) you need to do this sort of thing. Also, it’s a good way of pre-emptively silencing any critics.

    I’ve also often wondered why guys who were known philanderers, plagiarists, and opportunists (the latter was how MLK was often viewed at the time by other black activists, the former were also true of him), have become almost godlike amongst Americans today.


  36. Paul, I am criticizing the article. I haven’t seen the book. The editors at CT believed what they printed was good enough to appear by itself.

    I’ve been told over at TGC by Justin Taylor — who knows everything Piper — that the book has a definition of racism. Fine. I’m still not sure that Piper should call attention to his past, his family, in this way. I also don’t think that white people are the best judges of whether they are or are not racist (if we’re going to use the contested category).

    I don’t see why that’s a faulty critique.

    BTW, if Stanley Elkins made the comparison, he was wrong. But he didn’t write an article for CT.


  37. Walt, I tend to think the Third Reich functions, much like slavery, as that great American template for fear and loathing. The point seems to be to tap into that collective consciousness and link it to whatever social/moral/cultural/religious/political phenomenon one doesn’t like. Rightists do this regularly with RvW and the Jihad Watchers want us to see the similarity of patterns between Ahmadinejad and Hitler. Anti-2kers want to blame the holocaust at least as much on principled Protestants as the actual perpetrators (never mind the proximity of worldviewery to Apartheid). If some wanted to be as counter-cultural as they claim, they might start with exercising more skepticism on this American tendency.


  38. Walt, I tend to think the Third Reich functions, much like slavery, as that great American template for fear and loathing.

    I understand that. I also understand that there’s a reason for this, explained in the subtext of my comments.

    Despite it, I think Americans should stop insulting other peoples who have also suffered by talking only about the Holocaust. The fact that we can only reach for reductio ad Hitlerum means that we really have no clue what we’re talking about. We are a profoundly ignorant, narrow-minded people.


  39. Walt, or take a break altogether from exploiting the suffering of some in order to either lionize or demonize others. I’m not sure simply expanding the template for fear and loathing helps. Besides, I can’t help but hear more American arrogance in the notion that nobody really suffers until Americans enlist it to manipulate emotions.


  40. Dr. Hart,

    One of the major themes of Shelby Steele’s “White Guilt” is how widespread white support for segregation destroyed white people’s “moral authority” and created a lingering sense of white guilt that prevents white intellectuals from contesting ideas of race. I hear echoes of that argument in your statement, “I also don’t think that white people are the best judges of whether they are or are not racist.”

    My question, then, would be: Is the alternative healthier? Should white people just be quiet and leave all discussion of race to African-American intellectuals? Wouldn’t that just encourage whites to submerge their racist pasts, to leave them unexamined, and possibly encourage the perpetuation of racist views? Wouldn’t that also be a hindrance to white preachers who want to challenge the sin of racism in their congregation if they cannot decide if they are racist or not themselves?



  41. Walt, or take a break altogether from exploiting the suffering of some in order to either lionize or demonize others.

    Right, or this.


  42. Paul, it sure seems to me that Piper (based on the article) is exhibiting the trait that Steele wrote about. I don’t see Piper contesting ideas about race but submitting to them and applying them to his own family and community. Plus, the issue isn’t whether whites or blacks are going to talk about racism. The question is whether a person himself is a racist and who is best to judge. So far, I haven’t seen the word applied to blacks because racism is supposed to include power on the part of the one who believes in the superiority of his race. In which case, the issue has been whether or not whites are racist. The point I’m making is that the one who is or was a racist is not likely the best judge of his prejudice.

    It is like a wife-beater saying he no longer abuses his wife. Wouldn’t you want to hear the wife’s perspective before believing the wife-beater?


  43. Paul, another angle to come at this is ethnicity instead of race. I’m a white non-Dutch goyim who lives amongst the white Dutch ons volk. Without wanting at all to deride otherwise good people, many of them tend to conceive of ethnicism the way Piper speaks about racism. That is to say, many Dutch like to think they have burned the proverbial wooden shoes the way Piper seems to like to think he has shed his racism. But this all seems fairly superficial; I really do think one needs to be non-Dutch to see how certain realities don’t really go away with mere pious sentiment. For my part, I am not sure I really understood what it might be like to be black in white America until I became non-Dutch in Little Geneva. This isn’t to say that certain sub-groups cannot speculate on whether they have integrated well. Rather, that they should probably take more pause before they begin thinking they have heroically hurdled things like ethnicism or racism.


  44. I don’t know if any black person is up to the task of absolving Piper either, as I doubt Piper’s racism was as overt as a wife beater or particular to any person.


  45. Dr. Hart, thank you for your post. I think you’re bringing up good questions about Piper’s book, and it’s a good way to continue the discussion. Being a young white male, I’ve only just started to deal with the issue of race. I was glad that Piper is willing to bring up the topic. It’s something evangelicals, in my personal experience, have not been willing to discuss very openly.

    Moving on, I thought your method of questioning was a bit poor though. For instance, you say “So Lucy was only as good as a dog? Is that really the way that whites viewed blacks when they taught them the Bible? Do dogs have souls? Were Boston Protestants ‘nice’ to Irish Roman Catholics? And was this sort of treatment the same that the Nazis showed to Jews?”

    Sure it’s important to bring about clarity to the topic, but you’re asking rhetorical questions which can easily come across as vicious. (As in the opposite of virtuous) It’s really important to be sensitive to other people about this topic while being honest.

    Furthermore, it’s not a clear way of getting your point across. It often muddles the discussion rather then carrying it along.

    Lastly, if you intend for these of questions to be answered, why did you ask so many in such a “shot-gun” mode? When I read your piece, I had trouble focusing on what the core issue you have with Piper. If you want people to think more carefully about this topic then couldn’t your questions be made a bit more carefully?

    So yeah, those are my thoughts and questions. Thanks again for the post. Hope my comments/questions were helpful.


  46. David P., I asked those questions because they occurred to me while reading Piper’s article. I find it remarkable that he would not consider how some readers might receive his inflammatory and manipulative words. If he had considered the way that some readers would react, he might have been more careful.

    My issue is that Piper really hasn’t opened up the topic but has closed it. He seems (on the basis of the article) to have settled the issue. He is not a racist — period. And his fans can now consider the topic settled — we too were racists but we can overcome it like Piper did. What I’m suggesting is that racisim is an inappropriate category to use for forms of prejudice. And I’m also suggesting that this way of conducting the conversation will not satisfy many (like a Jeremiah Wright) who continue to charge whites with racism. In which case, if Piper is going to bring this up, he better satisfy Wright or at least acknowledge that he hasn’t and offer the terms of another solution. What he seems to have done is use Wright’s category and then put himself in Wright’s position and declare himself no longer a racist. This strikes me as naive.


  47. Thanks Dr. Hart, yeah I think you have a good point. I do need to admit that I haven’t read Piper’s book. (I should have mentioned that earlier. lol) I am hoping to, but can’t get access to it where I’m living. I found it encouraging that he’s bringing up the topic.

    I also wonder whether it’s possible to shed racism, (To lose your racism, so to speak.) but still be perceived as a racist. Those are two different things, I think?


  48. Benjamin Glaser said:

    “In fact Northerners are far more uncomfortable around blacks than those of us down here in the backwoods, ignorant South.”

    Let me tell you a story about a young seminarian.
    Went to Mississippi to get his training.
    Then one Sunday he saw a black man walking down the street,
    and invited him into the Presbyterian Church for a meet and greet.
    “No way”… said the Elder,
    “They have their own churches”.
    So he sent the black man on his way.
    (This story is best told if sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies.)


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