Why Neo-Calvinism Sounds Novel

I understand Dr. K. is trying to give 2k theology another try and for this Matthew Tuininga deserves much of the credit. I would have thought this an instance of “if you’re not Dutch you’re not much.” But since VanDrunen is a Dutch name — at least — and since Dr. K. has not begun to take back his 13-part take down of Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, factors other than ethnicity are at play.

But before anti-2k aggreessors lie down with 2k innocents, we need to keep our wits and check the fine print. In a recent post Dr. K., again in a mood of generosity toward Tuininga’s 2k, wondered if 2kers and neo-Calvinists might have more in common than he thought. The occasion for the piece was the recent decision of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Colorado Springs not to serve communion to Vice President Biden because of the latter’s support for abortion rights. This controversy led to considerations about when Roman Catholic politicians violate church teaching and are guilty of sin, as well as whether Roman Catholic church members are also guilty of sin for voting for candidates that don’t follow church teaching. Since Tuininga applauded Rome’s consistent opposition to an “evil so grave,” Dr. K. thought he saw an opening for further 2k and neo-Calvinist agreement.

This encouragement should be applauded because eliminating this evil is also required by “the principle of moral obedience binding on a disciple of Christ that simply cannot be compromised.” We would be troubled if our applause for the church-as-institute were permitted by our NL2K friends to be one-sided—applauding the church’s opposition toward intolerable evil, but not the church’s promotion of the good over against that evil.

Dr. K.’s point about the church as institute supporting opposition to evil seems to break down in Tuininga’s case since he is hardly the church as institute — he was merely one Christian opining about the Roman Catholic Church.

My concern is not with the Kuyperian distinction between church as institute or as organism but with the Calvinistic notion of evil. Dr. K. used the phrase “eliminating evil” or “eliminate evil” at least three times in his piece.

Eliminate? Really?

Can any good Calvinist, who takes Total Depravity seriously, ever entertain the idea that evil will be eradicated this side of the new heavens and new earth? Is not the notion of eradicating evil utopian and radical, sort of like the breathless idealism of Charles Finney’s perfectionism? For instance, in strictly legal terms, we have laws against murder. Have those laws stopped murder? So does Dr. K. actually believe that the criminalization of abortion will actually eliminate this evil?

But outside the ephemeral and fleeting world of law and the courts, does Dr. K. actually think that people who don’t murder are not guilty of murder? Has he not heard what Christ said about hate being an instance of murder? The reason evil cannot be eliminated this side of glory is that wickedness pervades the human heart — even the hearts of the regenerate.

And if Dr. K. followed the teachings of historic Calvinism (not to mention if he were a political conservative) he would never use the words “eliminate” and “evil” together. Of course, his word choice could be simply a slip of the word processor. But my suspicion is that Dr. K.’s mistake is actually an expression of the postmillennial tranformationalism that generally follows from taking “every square” inch captive. And this difference — whether the kingdom comes here and now in affairs outside the church or whether the renewal of all things awaits the return of Christ — is what keeps 2k lambs on the watch for anti-2k lions.

68 thoughts on “Why Neo-Calvinism Sounds Novel

  1. I’m not sure if “post illennial” is a typo, a Freudian slip, or a really good pun.

    Somewhat relevant to this post is Billy Graham’s removing Mormonism from a list of cults on his website after meeting with (and basically endorsing) Mitt Romney. Doing theology via the pragmatic concerns of the Presidential election?

    The basic problem I have with all of this is we tend to cheapen the law of God and the gospel in always having the church weigh in on these temporal matters. Can Christians who are into politics not draw the “right” conclusions themselves without the church connecting the dots for them? If not, then maybe the problem is not a lack of instruction by the church on the political matters of the day, but the church itself (Ahem, Rome….).

    In the Reformed world this all descends into the CRC taking a position on global warming or the PC-USA advancing the social gospel while ignoring Machen’s pleas for orthodoxy. Church’s don’t walk and chew gum well at the same time. Let’s stick to the basics.

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  2. When a church advocates a policy position the next step is to attach that policy position to specific politicians. Specific politicians are always a package of positions on issues. Some of these positions may be consistent with the Christian faith while others may not be. The opponents of the gospel are not stupid and they will zero in on the positions of this politician that are inconsistent with the gospel. From there they will connect that politician back to the church and label us (perhaps correctly) as hypocrites. Opponents of the gospel have enough to hate us for already without giving them legitimate reasons to do so.

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  3. It really is too bad that trying to protect the unborn has become a policy position. BTW, I am under no delusion that the “pro-life” candidate will do anything to stop abortion. My question is when sin has been codified and written into our laws, how do we rectify it, or do we stand by and do nothing? It is wearisome to see the republicans pander to their Christian base and the church to follow along because this seems to be the lesser of two evils. It seems like in reformed circles, for the most part, our only concern is for those inside the four walls of the church and not society as a whole. I wonder if things might be different if infanticide was made legal? You know, outta sight,outta mind.

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  4. Some linky linky here; regarding “…wondered if 2kers and neo-Calvinists might have more in common than he thought…” see here Dr. Godfrey’s thoughts on this from the 2010 WSCAL Conference.

    And concerning dutch people and abortion, here are some quotes from DVD

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  5. John – Is it not enough to preach what the Bible & the confessions say on the matter and leave it to people to apply it in the political realm (and in their daily lives) as they see fit?

    A conservative radio host sent a tweet the other day saying that Franklin Graham said that gay marriage was the most important issue if our age. Really? What a segment of 3.4% of our population is doing is that important? How many Christians are splitting up their families by divorcing? Might not that have a greater impact on our future?

    Ever since the founding of our country Christianity and the Enlightenment have been opposing forces in our culture and in our politics. All this is nothing new.

    The ironic thing about the gospel is that the only way to trivialize it is to try to make it relevant. It’s always relevant on its own for those who have ears to hear.

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  6. Erik, I am with you on the divorce issue. What kind of outcry was there when the “no-fault” divorce became a reality? Was there any church discipline for it? Now it is common place among the Christian community. It has gained acceptance and I fear that abortion is gaining a tacit acceptance, albeit begrudgingly. Obviously, the primary mission of the church is the propagation of the gospel. I am not saying that pastors should be endorsing candidates. Do we not have a responsibility to our unbelieving neighbors? Would you have a different answer if we were talking infanticide?

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  7. Do we not have a responsibility to our unbelieving neighbors? Would you have a different answer if we were talking infanticide?

    I think for the most part our unbelieving neighbors already know what we think on these issues. Also, I’m not discouraging Christian neighbor talking to unchristian neighbor. I’m discouraging Christian church/pastor from calling a press conference or taking out a full-page ad in the paper.

    Unrelated but Keller & Driscoll got some press in the Journal on Friday:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444138104578032973183690626.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

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  8. John, if something like 1 Cor 5 has anything to say, it may be that concern is for the lives being lived by those inside the church regardless of whatever legislation is going on outside it. All sorts of things may be legal out there but they aren’t permitted in here—sort of like the old line we parents give our kids about not caring what other parents let their kids do since they belong to us and our rules.

    But speaking of kids, I’ll see Darryl’s point about the curious ways conservative Calvinists speak about the reality of abortion (“eliminate, eradicate”) and raise another eyebrow about how its victims are just as often portrayed as “innocent,” almost a special class of human being beyond the pains and injuries of life in ways the rest of us aren’t. Does the quasi-perfectionism span utopian notions of society to the very nature of imago Dei creatures? I can see Pelagians and semi-Pelagians speaking in these angelic tones, but Augustinian-Calvinists? Curious to say the very least.

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  9. If you Google “andy crouch wsj” and click on the third search result where the URL starts with “online..” then the whole article comes up for free. Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, wrote the article. http://www.culture-making.com/about/book/ Piece strikes me more as a commercial for evangelicals in the city than an op/ed. Sophisticated, shameless self promotion I guess.

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  10. The Journal is weird. Most stuff comes up online but some articles are apparently for WSJ.com subscribers only. I get the print edition but don’t subscribe online. I swear they change their policy from month-to-month. All of the old media providers are still trying to figure out what to do about the internet.

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  11. Zrim – So you’re saying if all of my 10th grade daughter’s friends have cars provided, don’t have to have jobs, and have their moms clean their rooms that means I don’t have to do the same?

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  12. Zrim – I would say we can draw lines between those who are judicially innocent (an unborn child being an example) and those who are innocent before God (as in, without original sin — meaning no one).

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  13. What do we do when our neighbor has no voice? In that sense, the unborn are a special class of human. Zrim, i don’t follow your reasoning about the unborn being so special that they are beyond the pain and injury of life. This seems to be a rather callous approach to those who have their lives snuffed out before they can barely experience anything of this life. Obviously, they are conceived in sin, and therefore not innocent. But to say, “Well, what makes them so special that they shouldn’t experience the pain and trials of this life?” Well, they are babies, totally dependent on someone else to provide for them. I fear that are response is, “Abortion is here to stay, might as well accept it already.” As I have stated before, I don’t have the answers, just observing what seems to be acceptance, that we are helpless. After all abortion is legal, so……..

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  14. Erik, nobody is calling the unborn judicially guilty, so it’s not clear how saying they are judicially innocent is relevant. So it seems more plausible that the innocent language is meant to convey something about the nature of children, which not only seems to correspond to a modern pedestalizing of youth over age but likely serves to bolster the sense of urgency at best and stir up a sense of moral righteousness at worst.

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  15. John, my point isn’t to be cavalier. It’s actually to say that it’s better to portray the unborn as weak and defenseless than innocent. The former is hardly grounds for flippancy or apathy, rather grounds to champion the plight of such persons. My worry is that conservative Calvinists don’t often show much awareness of the differences and seem quite at ease with the latter language, which actually corresponds not only to a less than Reformed view of human nature but also to a more sentimental and moralistic view in general. And I am not convinced that the plight of the unborn is served well by religious sentimentalism and moralism, but better by a more biblical view of their natures and realistic assessment of the world.

    PS, you say it’s “too bad that trying to protect the unborn has become a policy position.” But doesn’t this all have to become a policy position for the unborn to receive the sort of protection you want to see?

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  16. Zrim,

    You wrote this earlier over at Turretinfan’s place “the alleged right to life and alleged innocence of children, which are foreign notions to the Bible”

    1) the judicial innocence of children is not a foreign concept to the bible nor the Confessional Documents

    Psa 106:37 They even sacrificed their sons And their daughters to demons,
    Psa 106:38 And shed innocent blood, The blood of their sons and daughters, Whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan

    2) Q 135 of the WLC requires us to be about, regarding the 6th commandent, “comforting and succouring the distressed and protecting and defending the innocent.” This has been documented here more than once by PM.

    3) I don’t know of anyone who is claiming that children are judicially innocent (without sin) before the Lord. To claim otherwise would be a Strawmen

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  17. James, but what about Psalm 51: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” But I’m no law expert. My point about bringing Calvinist doubt on American made notions of human innocence (and rights) is simply meant to correspond to Calvinist doubts about American made notions of human freedom and the Good Society. I thought we were supposed to be counter-cultural?

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  18. My former pastor, quoting one of his former WTS East profs: “We not only believe in total depravity; we practice it.” I think the problem is that some in the Reformed world believe the first part of the equation, but not the second. And they also probably never consider that it is the deceitfulness of sin that allows them to hold two contradictory positions simultaneously. Whatever happened to “the heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?” I’ve thought for some time now that we don’t meditate upon and take our own sin nearly as seriously as the Bible does and that if we did, these culture warrior and utopian projects would seem much less realistic to their optimistic promoters. It would also do away with the silliness you hear so often about “If someone was really, truly a Christian, then they would never do X” and “Someone did X so now it is obvious that they aren’t a Christian.”

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  19. Ash: Whatever happened to “the heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?” I’ve thought for some time now that we don’t meditate upon and take our own sin nearly as seriously as the Bible does and that if we did, these culture warrior and utopian projects would seem much less realistic to their optimistic promoters.

    RS: Careful, some might accuse of sounding puritanical or a pietistic when you start talking about the inner being or the heart. Despite that, however, you are absolutely correct.

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  20. Zrim,

    I don’t think most are using ‘innocent’ here to mean sinless, but innocent of any wrongdoing for which they might be put to death.

    That is a misrepresentation

    Most would mean innocent in the sense of Ps 106:38

    It is biblical language and confessional language

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  21. James, that only makes the case that some lifers are out of touch, because again, choicers don’t say that the unborn are judicially guilty. But much of the the rhetorical debate is typically framed in terms of rights, not guilt or innocence. Those who go the innocence route either show they aren’t really listening to their opponents or want to push the inherent innocence of unborn human beings instead of inherent weakness. Why the former would have any purchase at all among conservative Calvinists is baffling. It suggests an undue influence of something less than an Augustinian-Calvinism, or at least winking at it in order to win a culture war. Either way, not very conservative.

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  22. Gentlemen, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘premillennial’ was first noted in 1846, ‘postmillennial’ was first noted in 1851 and ‘amillennialism’ does not have an entry at all. Therefore it does not exist, and certainly cannot be right. The end.

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  23. Darryl, if you look under “baptist” – really hard – it’s in there. The devil being in the detail etc…

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  24. Sean, the chapter discussed in the link you’ve provided is basically a re-print of the article in WTJ I mentioned to Zrim a couple of weeks ago (though the blogger gets my surname wrong).

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  25. Sean – Correct me if I’m wrong but Rutherford’s Two Kingdoms sounds a lot like One Kingdom which sounds a lot like Theonomy.

    Why does this remind me of Democrats calling taxation & deficit spending “investment” (when what they are actually doing is retarding investment).

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  26. Yeah, there are two kingdoms but they are both governed using the same rulebook, except one of the kings has a sword and can kill people with it. Better hope that king interprets the rules the same way you do.

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  27. If we serve a God to promises to cast His enemies into hell for eternity after their deaths, what’s the hurry? I would make the same point to Muslim Jihadists. If you’ve ultimately won, can’t Allah punish the Great Satan himself without your help?

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  28. Erik, I have no difficulty with you describing Rutherford’s position as essentially theonomic – the article discussed in the Sean’s links does so too. But, whatever our concerns, his language is that of “two kingdoms” – don’t confuse the new definition of “two kingdoms” with that of the reformation.

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  29. C Gribben, but you’re not saying that Rutherford represented THE 16th-c. 2k position, are you? It strikes me that the differences between Geneva and Zurich (Erastianism) suggest real differences — especially about how to view the magistrate’s work with regard to the heavenly kingdom.

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  30. Adam, thanks!

    Darryl, no, I’m not making a claim as big as that. But, in narrower terms, Rutherford would be representing the standard Scottish Reformed position, I think, at least in the earlier period. And, as a good Covenanter, that might be why Adam likes him!

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  31. Sean, I am not. But no one living this side of 1789 does. At the same time, I think I stand closer to Calvin on dualism than Kuyperians do. All of that anti-dualism winds up garbling Augustine, whom Calvin and Luther tried to follow despite living in a Constantinian political order.

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  32. So the only people in the Reformed world that matter are mainline American Presbyterians? And people call me sectarian.

    Besides, you don’t actually hold to the American revisions of the Westminster Confession — not unless you believe that, “as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord” (I don’t think they were calling magistrates “nursing fathers” of Jews, Mahometans, or pagans).

    And retaining Calvin’s dualism while rejecting his doctrine of civil government is nothing more than Anabaptism in Presbyterian garb.

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  33. Sean, all the Reformed churches — for the kazillionth time — revised what the Reformers taught on the magistrate. You’re right. You’re sectarian. It suits you.

    I’d appreciate help in understanding the American revisions and the American political order, even from a sectarian. What is precisely “the common church” of the Lord? Does that include Baptists living in VA and Anabaptists living in PA? You dismiss anabaptists. So maybe you don’t think the magistrate should protect them as a “nursing father.”

    But since the American political order gave rights to the groups about which you sneer, you must not be real comfortable with the nursing father that John Witherspoon underwrote.

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  34. Sean,

    If you’re gonna be on the wrong side of the 2k divide, then you’re gonna need a name change. I’m calling dibs on the name. Jus sayin’ and pls don’t tell me you are of scotch or Irish or even scotch-Irish descent but favor a cromwellian understanding of the relationship between church and state! I’ll have to call into question your heart and heritage if it’s so. Go get right.

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  35. I am less concerned about the novelty of the 2k position or the “neo” in neo-calvinist than I am about possible danger to the gospel of justification by grace and not by our works. Therefore I have a question for all who advocate 2k. Are preachers who are neo-Calvinist (ie, anti-2k or non-2k) more likely to deviate from the gospel of justification by Christ’s outside atoning work? As a test, name for me 3 neo-calvinists who despite their “total” w-view clearly teach the forensic gospel taught in the WCF. I won’t ask for a list of 2kers who don’t teach the gospel.

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  36. mcMark, as far as anti-2kers and the gospel, the Federal Visionaries would seem to be an instance where the circles overlap — anti-2k and waffling on justification.

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  37. The American Founders were mostly somewhat nominal Anglicans & Deists (yes, Witherspoon was a Presbyterian) so there is no way they were using the original Westminster as a guide. Take Christianity and mix it with the Enlightenment and you get our system which has lasted for 236 years now.

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  38. Dr. Hart,

    By 1789, the only Scottish Presbyterian church to reject the establishment principle was the Synod of Relief. Controversies over the subject produced divisions in both the Burgher and Anti-Burgher Associate bodies, with the minorities in both cases retaining the historic position. Thomas Chalmers, moderating the first Free Church General Assembly in 1843, declared that they quit the establishment while retaining the establishment principle, and that they were not voluntaries. All of the Presbyterians in Ireland (excepting the New Light Reformed Presbyterians) maintained the same principles. Even in this country, the Dutch did not modify the Belgic Confession until the 1900s. Charles and A.A. Hodge were members and promoters of the National Reform Association. At this present hour, there are a number of Presbyterian churches in Scotland, Ireland, America, and elsewhere which retain the unaltered, original Westminster Standards; as well as Dutch denominations in the Netherlands, America, and elsewhere which retain the unupdated Article 36 in the Belgic Confession. Which history are you reading?

    I don’t adhere to the American revisions. I’m simply pointing out that you are inconsistent with the revisions that you keep touting.

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  39. sean, I just refuse to be an Anabaptist in my doctrie of civil government. Is that so bad? I happen to be of Scottish and Scotch Irish descent (amongst the rest of it), and I personally deplore Cromwell’s covenant-breaking and tolerationism.

    Mr. McCulley: Historically, rejection of the establishment principle has preceded rejection of more basic and fundamental truths. As far as Presbyterians are concerned, the denominations that first abandoned the Reformed doctrine of civil government were the first to abandon purity of worship, then (later) started waffling on the doctrines of grace. This has been a demonstrable trend in virtually every instance, the sole exception (so far as I am aware) being the established Church of Scotland, which began abandoning purity of worship and doctrine while retaining the establishment principle. On the other hand, those denominations which withstood innovation on the point of civil government (noting again the above exception) were far less likely to adopt innovations in worship and more basic doctrines.

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  40. Is this former Catholic Sean or a different Sean? This would be easier if everyone just used their real, full name with a link to a website. (ahem, Richard Smith).

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  41. Sean, I am reading all the history that you seem to ignore with your Scotocentric view of the world. Do you really mean to suggest that the rest of the Presbyterian world outside the UK is Anabaptist? And if that’s so, why do the Scottish communions have fellowship with the revisers of WCF? Or could it be that you are making the civil magistrate into a fundamental of Christianity — a belief, mind you, not even shared by our Lord (Render Unto Caesar and all that).

    Interesting though that you would bring up the Associates. They no longer exist in Scotland as Associates. So which history are you reading?

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  42. Sean and McMark, there go Machen, Vos, Van Til, Warfield, and Berkhof. They don’t accept the Scottish doctrine of the civil magistrate. They’re liberals, best not to be read.

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  43. it’s always good to read those with whom you disagree. That’s why I read John Howard Yoder, Stan Hauerwas, and Peter Leithart. The book to read from Leithart is The Reduction of Christianity; all since then is merely bells and whistles. What did you think of Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom? I know you helped him some with it.

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  44. “Is this former Catholic Sean or a different Sean? This would be easier if everyone just used their real, full name with a link to a website. (ahem, Richard Smith).”

    Amen, Erik, “Sean” is already taken. And I’m so glad my parents the. Elmanns named me “M. Ike.”

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  45. McMark, I haven’t read all of David’s book. But one of the takeaways so far is that he seems to think any kind of moral claim is an abridgment of religious liberty. But he doesn’t seem to put feminism, egalitarianism, or anti-slavery in the column of moral claims. I find that very odd since the U.S. has been drowning in moralism since the election of 1800.

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  46. Colonel Sean, I could take or leave the rest of that movie, but the young smart a$$ new school lawyer Cruz examining the grizzled & old school military man Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) is, for about ten minutes, as good as it gets in the movies.

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  47. MM,

    I’m never quite sure where I fit in the greater scheme of societal sensibilities when Nicholson’s character garners my sympathy and Scientology boy’s character my derision.

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  48. Last name has been added. Happy now?

    “Scottish doctrine of the civil magistrate”

    I didn’t know that Calvin, Beza, Bucer, de Bres, Ursinus, Junius, Turretin, et al. were Scottish. This keeps getting more informative. You’re not trying to pit the Scots against the rest of the Reformed world on this subject, are you? There was a pan-Reformed doctrine of the civil magistrate: custos et vindex utriusque tabulae. It’s still here, we’re still holding it, and we’re not going away.

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  49. Sean, keep your eye on the Mcball. You said that none of the Scottish churches had revised the confession. I contend that all Reformed and Presbyterian churches outside Scotland have revised the confession. What may have been a pan-Reformed doctrine of the magistrate — was Erastianism held by all the churches? hardly — is no longer the case.

    So again, what are you going to do with Scottish churches that maintain fellowship with churches that have departed from the “pan-Reformed” doctrine? What’s wrong with the Scots that the fellowship with Anabaptist Presbyterians?

    Or maybe the problem is yours.

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  50. “I contend that all Reformed and Presbyterian churches outside Scotland have revised the confession.”

    At least three denominations that are members of NAPARC use either the unupdated Westminster Confession or the unupdated Belgic Confession, namely, the Presbyterian Reformed Church (founded under the direction of John Murray), the Heritage Reformed Congregations, and the Free Reformed Churches of North America. There are also numerous American denominations outside of NAPARC which maintain the same standards.

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  51. Dr. Hart,

    I’m sorry for the way I have written to you… particularly the name-calling, but also the boastful way in which I’ve tried to assert that I am right, and you are wrong. Even if I am right, pride is an un-Christian, anti-Christian thing, and especially unbecoming those that confess the sovereign, discriminating grace of God. I must ask your forgiveness.

    I may continue to express my disagreement with you in the future; but I assure you, I will attempt to do so with respect toward your person and office, as a ruling elder in Christ’s church.

    In Christ,
    Sean McDonald

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  52. Sean posted October 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    If you’re gonna be on the wrong side of the 2k divide, then you’re gonna need a name change. I’m calling dibs on the name. Jus sayin’ and pls don’t tell me you are of scotch or Irish or even scotch-Irish descent but favor a cromwellian understanding of the relationship between church and state! I’ll have to call into question your heart and heritage if it’s so. Go get right.

    I’d appreciate clarification of what you mean by a “Cromwellian” understanding here. I’ve got some guesses but I’d prefer to get accurate information rather than just guessing.

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