How Silly Do Protestants Sound When Pining for Christendom?

The cadences coming out of Moscow, Idaho (we will know that Doug Wilson is the victor when the city changes its name to Constantinople — it is available) invariably carry appreciation for Christendom. Peter Leithart has a biography of Constantine in which he defends a Christian empire and a Eusebian political theology. Doug Wilson himself has a series of posts under the tag Mere Christendom. And recently, Steven Wedgeworth reviewed John Frame’s book on the so-called Escondido Theology by also invoking Christendom.

In my estimation, this makes no sense and is borderline loopy. Christendom, as I understand it, was something that developed in the Middle Ages and is largely the intellectual property of Roman Catholics. You can follow Christopher Dawson on the decline of Christendom to find reasons other than the Reformation for Christendom’s decline. But Protestantism was not a welcome development for Christendom — duh. Here’s the take from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Such speculation is, however, as idle as it is fascinating, instead of the reform, of the renewal of the spiritual life of the Church round the old principles of Christian faith and unity, there came the Reformation, and Christian society was broken up beyond the hope of at least proximate reunion. But it was long before this fact was realized even by the Reformers and indeed it must have been more difficult for a subject of Henry VIII to convince himself that the Latin Church was really being torn asunder than for us to conceive the full meaning and all the consequences of a united Christendom. Much of the weakness of ordinary men in the earlier years of the Reformation, much of their attitude towards the papacy, can be explained by their blindness to what was happening. They thought, no doubt, that all would come right in the end. So dangerous is it, particularly in times of revolution, to trust to anything but principle.

The effect of the Reformation was to separate from the Church all the Scandinavian, most of the Teutonic, and a few of the Latin-speaking populations of Europe but the spirit of division once established worked further mischief, and the antagonism between Lutheran and Calvinist was almost as bitter as that between Catholic and Protestant. At the beginning, however, of the seventeenth century, Christendom was weary of religious war and persecution, and for a moment it almost seemed as if the breach were to be closed. The deaths of Philip II and Elizabeth, the conversion and the tolerant policy of Henry IV of France, the accession of the House of Stuart to the English throne, the pacification between and Spain and the Dutch, all these events pointed to the same direction. A like tendency is apparent in the theological speculation of the time: the learning and judgment of Hooker, the first beginning of the High Church movement, the spread of Arminianism in Holland, these were all signs that in the Protestant Churches, thought, study, and piety had begun to moderate the fires of controversy, while in the monumental works of Francisco Suárez and the other Spanish doctors, the Catholic theology seems to be resuming that stately, comprehensive view of its problems which is so impressive in the great Scholastics. It is not surprising that this moment, when the cause of reconciliation seemed in the ascendant, was marked by a scheme of Christian political union. Much importance was at one time attributed to the grand dessein of Henry IV. Recent historians are inclined to assign most of the design to Henry’s Protestant minister, Sully, the king’s share in the plan was probably but small. A coalition war against Austria was first to secure Europe against the domination of the Hapsburgs but an era of peace was to follow. The different Christian States, whether Catholic or Protestant were to preserve their independence, to practise toleration, to be united in a “Christian Republic” under the presidency of the pope, and to find an outlet for their energies in the recovery of the East. These dreams of Christian reunion soon melted away. Religious divisions were too deep-seated to permit the reconstruction of a Christian polity, and the cure for international ills has been sought in other directions. The international law of the seventeenth century jurists was based upon national law, not upon Christian fellowship, the balance of power of the eighteenth century on the elementary instinct of self-defence, and the nationalism of the nineteenth on racial or linguistic distinctions.

In other words, the genie is out of the bottle and blog posts, magazines, conferences, and colleges won’t put it back together, especially if you (as a Protestant) were one of the ones responsible for upending Christendom. But that won’t stop Wilson who recently showed the folly of his own defense of Christendom. The first came when he defended blasphemy laws:

In Scripture, blasphemy is railing, vituperative, incendiary, and inflammatory language. It it not mild disagreement — even if the disagreement is registered on a very important topic. In my book 5 Cities That Ruled the World, there is a sentence that noted at one point in his career Muhammad was a marauder and a pirate (which he was), and this sentiment was treated in Jakarta as if it were blasphemous, and the book was burned. But according to a biblical definition, it was not blasphemous at all.

Also in Scripture, blasphemy is defined by what is going on — the manner or content of speaking — and not defined by whether or not it is directed against divine things. For example, blasphemy is the word that is used for simple slander against others (Col. 3:8). In addition, it would be possible to blaspheme false gods, which Paul’s pagan friends in Ephesus were glad he had not done (Acts 19:37).

So in my ideal Christian republic, would it be legal for someone to say that he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Of course. Would it be legal for a bunch of rowdies to parade outside a Muslim’s home, taunting him with insulting descriptions of Muhammad? Of course not. The reason is that the civil magistrate is charged with keeping the peace, and such fighting words are inconsistent with that. The gospel overthrew the worship of Diana in Ephesus, and not incendiary taunts. In my ideal Christian republic, slander would be against the law — and it would be against the law even if directed against pagans, heathens, antinomians, or congressmen.

But having said this, it is crucial to note again that the prohibition of fighting words is to be defined by the Bible, and not by the hypers. Christians ought to have complete freedom to hand out Christian literature, even if they live in Dearborn. Cartoonists should have the freedom to draw pictures of Muhammad. Robust debate, satire, give and take, parry and thrust . . . all good.

So what we have is an an Americanized Third Commandment. It is, somehow, an affirmation of God’s law and a celebration of freedom of speech. I don’t know about Wilson’s interpretation of biblical teaching on blasphemy (the Baylys who generally approve of all things Moscow weren’t buying), but I have a pretty good idea that even mild denunciations of Yahweh in Israel could get you executed. So what Wilson does, in order to preserve Christendom, is define blasphemy down, which is similar to what the Protestant mainstream did in the United States in the era of the Social Gospel, namely, whittle Christianity down to morality and abandon doctrine. I am not saying that Wilson is abandoning doctrine (though his teaching on justification could be a lot better). I am saying that Wilson is doing something similar to what mainline Protestants did in order to preserve a Christian culture — make biblical norms fit a social agenda.

The second instance Wilson’s questionable invocation of Christendom came when he responded to Old Life about the comparison of the Religious Right to political Islam. His general point, that Christianity is true and Islam is false, works pretty well, though I’m not sure how the assertion of one’s faith as true over against other citizens who don’t believe your faith gets you a society with lots of protections for free speech and freedom of religion. Wilson seems to believe that Christian intolerance will yield civil liberties (and yet he seems to know where that position led in Europe when states balkanized according to their various Christian confessions and thus made Christendom impossible). And he ups the ante when he gets huffy about secular governments.

I know. Let’s worship the bitch goddess of neutrality. That fixes everything. I think.

Maybe his problem is thinking that we can “fix” anything this side of the new heavens and new earth. Two kingdom doesn’t pretend to solve anything. It does attempt to come to terms with a world where Christians live side by side with non-Christians. Mere Christendom won’t fix anything in this time between the comings of Christ. It either forces the removal of non-Christians (a la Christendom, which wasn’t all that great for Jews and Muslims, in case Doug didn’t notice) or it waters down Christianity for the sake of the political order. Two-kingdom theology differentiates the worlds of the church and politics so that the church can remain faithful and so that the state can provide some order for a people of diverse religions.

It sure seems that Wilson would be better off to own up to the end of Christendom and recalculate his cultural program along the biblical lines of pilgrimage and exile instead of trying to make this world and this age home to the eschaton.

39 thoughts on “How Silly Do Protestants Sound When Pining for Christendom?

  1. Well said, sir. To paraphrase Roger Williams, founder of the Rhode Island colony (and a Puritan pastor), those at the helm should remember what it’s like to be under the hatches.

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  2. Bud; So, so your saying that Christians being really really Christian is like Islamists being really really Muslim.?

    Margaret; What?! NO! What?! What he’s saying is that just like Muslim men are not complementary of Muslim women, so Christians like Doug Wilson are not complementary of Christian women.

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  3. Between reading Wilson’s defense of Christendom and the news that TGC is planning on releasing their own catechism, I have serious concerns where the evangelical world is heading. Given TGC’s penchant for publishing Wilson’s articles, it seems we may be headed toward a TGC national church AND TGC republic. Piper, Keller, Wilson, and JT will be our Dear Leaders and we will have a Great Leap Forward to Experiential Calvinism. I think Darryl will be first in line for the re-education camp.

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  4. Lewis: Piper, Keller, Wilson, and JT will be our Dear Leaders and we will have a Great Leap Forward to Experiential Calvinism. I think Darryl will be first in line for the re-education camp.

    RS: Please don’t confuse men like Piper, Keller, and Wilson with the older and truer version of experiential Calvinism. I know that Packer wrote that the ghost of Jonathan Edwards walked through the pages of his disciple (Piper), but perhaps it would have been better to say that the mere ghost of the writings of Edwards as opposed to the substance of Edwards appears in his writings. Keller is not even remotely close to the older version of experiential Calvinism, if he is a Calvinist at all. Wilson, shall we say, is not close to justification by faith alone as it was understood by the older Calvinism. It is true that Dr. Hart needs to be forced to read Relgious Affections over and over until it sinks in, but please don’t re-educate him along the lines of Piper, Keller, and Wilson.

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  5. This is another occasion to consider what we would think of Wilson’s talk if we would just pretend for a minute that we hadn’t been exposed to it so much. Show this to your colleague in the next cubicle and s/he will view him pretty much like s/he views the guy who covers his windows in tinfoil to keep out the aliens or rogue militias. Yet the GOSPEL coalition publishes him?

    Yeah, we really need to put down those 2k crazies, don’t we?

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  6. Have I ever mentioned that Wilson and most of the guys in the CREC are postmillennial? If you are ever bewildered by anything they say, revert to this fact.

    It’s a theology of glory and a theology of triumph. I imagine they would say 2k & Amillennialism are for wimps & girly-men.

    Just as Sean will refer you to the mass when discussing Rome, I will refer you to Postmillennialsm when discussing the CREC.

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  7. Richard – Good luck in getting D.G. to warm to Edwards. Notice this blog is called “Old (Side Presbyterian) Life”.

    I’m teaching about the Tennents in Sunday School Sunday. After I study up tomorrow I’ll give you the reference re. Gilbert repenting over his excesses.

    Did you get your M.Div from the Log College?

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  8. Regardless of what you think of Wilson every man here should watch the 2 hour Q&A after his talk at the University of Indiana. Canon Wired has video. Highly entertaining.

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  9. Erik,
    ” I will refer you to Postmillennialsm when discussing the CREC.”

    Maybe. Except, everytime I think Wilson I think papacy without the pointy hats.

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  10. Most of the 1K, theonomy type literature presupposes something like 80% popular support. I’m not even sure if their systems with their mix of strict Christianity and Democracy would be able to rule effectively with even those levels of support but for the purpose of argument lets assume that number would do it.

    At its height in the USA the Green Party got about 3m votes. After a decade of decay it is down to about 300k members. The PCA is at its height, now, has 300k members. So in another words the entire conservative Reformed community is roughly on par with the size of a minor party that has been effectively defunct for a decade. Is there any plausible method by which PCA like churches could take their membership up by a factor of 10 to make them on par with Ralph Nader era Greens?

    The Republican Party, has 55m members and a strong majority of the 42 million registered independent lean Republican. So lets say the number of Republican and Republican leaners is in the 250-300x range as far as the entire conservative Reformed population. Those numbers don’t get you an overwhelming majority BTW they just get you to a slight numerical disadvantage the remainder of the independents and the 72 million registered Democrats.

    Or to put this another way. If conservative Reformed churches were to get 100% support from evangelical Protestants, a group 90x their size, they’d have 1/2 the number of people they need for a bare majority. Talking about the conservative Reformed governing this country with a theonomy structure is like talking about governing the US by elves on dragons.

    DGH is absolutely right here. There are solid majorities for “Jesus is good”, “churches should try to do nice stuff” and “government should honor God”. Go much beyond those platitudes and the majority collapses. The mainline churches that were doctrinally vacuous represent what a religion capable of getting a consensus in 1950s/60s America would look like. And we are far more diverse today.

    So lets make this practical. Just guessing the numbers but, Barack Obama is probably around the 30% level in terms of social conservatism, ie. about 30% of the country is to his left socially, Joe Biden about 20% and Nancy Pelosi about 10%. A Doug Wilson if he wants social policies that would have 80% support should be thinking in terms of things that Nancy Pelosi would be willing to ban. If he wants more like 95% support then he’s negotiating social policy with Hugh Hefner.

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  11. That’s the spirit RS. While I don’t think we can get D.G. “to read Relgious Affections over and over until it sinks in,” I do think we can treat him via the Ludovico Technique a la A Clockwork Orange:

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  12. Erik Charter: Richard – Good luck in getting D.G. to warm to Edwards. Notice this blog is called “Old (Side Presbyterian) Life”.

    RS: I knew you were an Arminian. What is luck but an Arminian’s way of speaking of the sovereignty of God. Indeed it is called OldLife, but Edwards was the one with the LIFE.

    Erik C: I’m teaching about the Tennents in Sunday School Sunday. After I study up tomorrow I’ll give you the reference re. Gilbert repenting over his excesses.

    RS: I would appreciate that.

    EriK C: Did you get your M.Div from the Log College?

    RS: I could only wish that I could have studied at the Log College. If you have a copy of the book Log College, you will find some interesting reading on pages 96-99. I have an 1845 edition, so it may be different in the more modern ones. It is where some extracts of a letter from Gilbert Tennent to the Rev Prince of Boston.

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  13. Lewis: That’s the spirit RS. While I don’t think we can get D.G. “to read Relgious Affections over and over until it sinks in,” I do think we can treat him via the Ludovico Technique a la A Clockwork Orange:

    RS: What a fantastic idea. I could only imagine having Dr. Hart with his eyes forced open and having to read Edwards day after day after day. It would be his own good.

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  14. RS,

    Since Piper does not have the substance of Edwards, is there someone else alive today who better exudes the substance of Edwards and therefore more representative of Experiential Calvinism?

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  15. Erik, 60 minutes into the video at the University of Indiana and I am more near tears than laughter. The outward group display and description of Total Depravity is not shocking but always sad to watch.

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  16. Erik Charter wrote: “Have I ever mentioned that Wilson and most of the guys in the CREC are postmillennial? If you are ever bewildered by anything they say, revert to this fact.

    It’s a theology of glory and a theology of triumph. I imagine they would say 2k & Amillennialism are for wimps & girly-men.”

    GW: This is guilt by association. Not all postmillenialism is the same. Theonomic, culture-warrior and Wilson-style postmillenialism are not the same as the more churchly, old school Princeton postmillenialism of B.B. Warfield and the Hodges. Nor does a churchly postmillenial position, properly conceived, promote a theology of glory or an overrealized eschatology, or undermine the biblical conception of the church as a pilgrim people.

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  17. I’d guess that the Bayly brothers are the closest modern-day embodiments of the theology of Edwards and Tennant.

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  18. Lewis: RS, Since Piper does not have the substance of Edwards, is there someone else alive today who better exudes the substance of Edwards and therefore more representative of Experiential Calvinism?

    RS: I have not read or heard of anyone that does. I really believe that Piper combines a serious misreading of Edwards and combines that with some Charismatic influences. This ends up being far from where he thinks he is. But then again, when guys like C.J. Mahaney and Doug Wilson are running around and some big names consider then Reformed and/or Calvinists, then the words “Reformed” and “Calvinists” no longer mean what they used to. There is an awful lot of Arminianism running around in the guise of Calvinism today just as there is even more Pelagianism running around in the Arminian dress.

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  19. Bob: I’d guess that the Bayly brothers are the closest modern-day embodiments of the theology of Edwards and Tennant.

    RS: Having tried to listen to Tim Bayly before trying to preach (online), I don’t think that he has a lot in common with Edwards and Tennent other than being born of a woman.

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  20. Geoff – Where can I find “the more churchly, old school Princeton postmillenialism of B.B. Warfield and the Hodges” on display today?

    I think Wilson & the CREC are sucking all of the oxygen out of the postimillennial room.

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  21. B – Maybe I should have said entertaining in a train wreck kind of way.

    I did sense a biit of softening in much of the audience as the night went on. He had an especially interesting interaction with the queer, male, sociology instructor (probably a grad student) who appeared to be a ringleader. It makes me wish Wilson wasn’t so idiosyncratic in some areas of his theology because he has tremendous ability as a communicator and apologist.

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  22. Margaret: Phil, I don’t need to be told how to address the ‘tard’. I know what I’m doing when I talk. You really do hate women don’t you?! You think so little of us that now you’re going to tell us how to talk. I was an actress you know. I know how to speak such that I’m heard. I’m quite aware of every word that I’m saying and I even know the effect my inflection will have on my audience.

    Bud: Yeah, yeah you you must really hate women

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  23. Erik,

    I agree with you on Wilson’s abilities as an apologist. The crowd kept proving his points on ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’. It is amazing how many people are out there thinking they can 1) live in open sin/rebellion against God and be in good standing before God; and or 2) they can be a ‘Christian’ openly denying some or most of the Blbe and believing their interpretation of some of the rest.

    Here is where I think Wilson did best. In not going after sodomy as the unforgivable sin but pointing out that all sin is worthy of death…including his own. Instead he called people to repentance and showed them that through the work of Christ, their sins could be forgiven, like his are/were. He also silenced the crowd by flipping the one question of people’s universal goodness upside down and showing the truth of all being born in sin and therefore evil rather than good. The place really thinned out after the first hour.

    Not surprisingly, groups of homosexuals say some of the most ‘hateful’ things imaginable. They kind of feed off of their numbers and hatred of anyone who thinks them sinful. I had the opportunity recently to talk to an individual homosexual and we had a fairly peaceful conversation. When he heard me say that Scripture calls all sin worthy of death, the tide of the conversation changed and it turned to talking about Christ and his work and the call to repentance for all sin, not just homosexuality. I am sure we would not have had this conversation if there had been other homosexuals out protesting Chickfila with him. Ultimately, like many of the ‘students’ in the Wilson video, this guy i spoke to was confident he was a Christian and going to heaven because the parts of the Bible speaking about his sin were not form God but added in by men who hated homosexuals.

    I am wondering, how does 2k address the role of an ordained evangelist? No issues with an evangelist taking an invitation to speak at a secular institution, right? I consider myself 2k, like Scripture, and have been greatly helped by this blog and appreciate DGH’s work.

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  24. It seems like Clearwood Church invited Wilson of Christ Church to come to speak at an event they were putting on at the University (through their student ministry). I don’t object to that. Any time a church can get an audience of hostile people to hear preaching I think that’s pretty cool. If the gay activists wanted to send a message they might have been better off not showing up at all. Instead they sat through an hour of Christian preaching.

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  25. I always like it when untrained “jack of all trades” types of the classical, wilsonite, american christendom cloth call Darryl out on his mistaken views of history. I brings to mind civil servants teaching seminars on entrepreneurialism, or penguins running tanning salons.

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  26. Sean – I sometimes do wonder how many of these folks have read much on the subjects they are commenting on that has been published by anyone other than Canon Press. If a classical education should produce anything it should not be a herd of like-thinking minds.

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  27. Richard,

    In what way would you distinguish the Baylys’ brand of experimental Calvinism from that of Edwards and Tennent? I don’t see much difference, except that the Baylys don’t seem to emphasize the notion of national covenant to the extent that Edwards did.

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  28. As a member of a Reformed communion with standards for ordination, I don’t understand how Wilson or the CREC can claim to be part of the church in the first place. He was raised as a baptist and was the guitar player in his church when it split under controversial circumstances. He emerged as the de facto leader of what would become Christ Church, but he was never a member of a Reformed church or anything we would consider of like practice, let alone under care or in seminary. I might be misreading the WCF, but if a valid response to having no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the church is to dismiss everyone and start your own, then what’s the point?

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  29. Bob: Richard, In what way would you distinguish the Baylys’ brand of experimental Calvinism from that of Edwards and Tennent? I don’t see much difference, except that the Baylys don’t seem to emphasize the notion of national covenant to the extent that Edwards did.

    RS: Edwards was thoroughly centered upon God (as triune) in his preaching and in the works of God in the soul of man. His work on Religious Affections was motivated to a large degree as an effort to curb the excesses that were going on. While I cannot make myself listen to a lot of Tim Bayly, the parts I listened to did not sound distinctly Reformed and were not God-centered at all. There was no real speaking of the work of God in the soul either. Below is a quote of Edwards which I don’t think is anything like what Tim Bayly is able to muster up.

    “God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession an enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased, God is the inheritance of the saints; He is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling-place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honour and glory. They have none in heaven but God; He is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world. The Lord God is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the “river of the water of life” that runs, and “the tree of life that grows, in the midst of the paradise of God.” The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will for ever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another:but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.”

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  30. RS,

    I was hoping for a name. If the ghost of Edwards is not present today, maybe we could find some of Edward’s DNA lying around somewhere and create an Edwards clone. Why stop with Edwards, we could clone Gilbert Tennent and create a Jurassic Park of revivalists! Better yet, maybe we could travel back in time via a phone booth like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We can pick up Edwards, Tennent, and maybe even Finney. We will then have a bunch of wacky adventures as our revivalists become acquainted with the modern world. It all culminates in us presenting our revivalists at T4G where we receive a standing ovation for Finney’s New Measures. Most excellent! REVIVAL ON, DUDES!

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  31. Lewis: RS, I was hoping for a name.

    RS: Sorry, I just don’t know of any. Too many today strive for cultural relevance and trying to whip people up. Edwards did not do that.

    Lewis: If the ghost of Edwards is not present today, maybe we could find some of Edward’s DNA lying around somewhere and create an Edwards clone. Why stop with Edwards, we could clone Gilbert Tennent and create a Jurassic Park of revivalists! Better yet, maybe we could travel back in time via a phone booth like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We can pick up Edwards, Tennent, and maybe even Finney.

    RS: You can leave Finney behind. He did not believe in true revival, but instead was a revivalist. He was also a Pelagian which is what his New Measures were built on.

    Lewis: We will then have a bunch of wacky adventures as our revivalists become acquainted with the modern world. It all culminates in us presenting our revivalists at T4G where we receive a standing ovation for Finney’s New Measures. Most excellent! REVIVAL ON, DUDES!

    RS: I don’t have a hard time imagining that Finney could get a standing ovation at T4G, but they would most likely hate Edwards and Tennent. Those two would not be nice and winsome enough and would sharply chastise them for their sharp veer away from biblical truth.

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  32. Mike K —

    Are you asserting something like apostolic succession? That is that someone could setup a Christian church preach the gospel, attempt to administer the sacraments and maintain discipline and it wouldn’t be a church because of who founded it?

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  33. “Christendom, as I understand it, was something that developed in the Middle Ages and is largely the intellectual property of Roman Catholics.”

    THAT’S certainly not guilt-by-association.

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