Who’s Afraid of Orthodox Presbyterians?

I may have asked this before, but do Hasidic Jews or Amish engage in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that afflicts white Protestants in America? Where are the Hasidic Jews coming out in support of Trump because we need a president to appoint the right Supreme Court justices? And Amish on Twitter? Oxymoron doesn’t cover it. But the Amish do have a record of carving out their own existence in the United States without any ambition to take over “English” society.

Samual Goldman’s review of Mary Eberstadt’s new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe, prompts a repeat of the question: do Jews and Amish engage in the same sort of outrage about America’s decadence as Christians (and relatedly, why don’t Christians, if they really are strangers and aliens, act more like Hasidic Jews and Amish?)? Here’s one part of Goldman’s review:

Why do Jews escape the opprobrium to which traditionalist Catholics or Baptists are subjected? Partly because they have never been more than a tiny minority, but also because they make few claims on political and cultural authority. Apart from a few neighborhoods in and around New York City, no one fears that religious Jews will attempt to dictate how they live their own lives. As a result, they are able to avoid most forms of interference with their communities.

There is a lesson here for the Christian traditionalists for whom Eberstadt speaks. They are more likely to win space to live according to their
consciences to the extent that they are able to convince a majority that includes more liberal Christians and non-Christian believers, as well as
outright secularists, that they are not simply biding their time until they are able to storm the public square. In addition, they will have to develop institutions of community life that are relatively low-visibility and that can survive without many forms of official support. The price of inclusion in an increasingly pluralistic society may be some degree of voluntary exclusion from the dominant culture.

Keep that in mind when thinking about Camden Bucey’s post about the differences between the OPC and PCA. Two quotations stand out in that piece. The first goes to the transformationalism to which the PCA aspired from the get-go well before the elixir of TKNY. According to Sean Lucas:

The PCA has sought to be evangelical Presbyterians and Presbyterian evangelicals, which has given the church a voice to the broader culture. Holding the church together has not been easy. For some, frustrations have arisen from the church’s tendency to opt for an identity that is more comprehensive than pure. Others are disappointed that the church often spends a great deal of time on relatively fine points of Reformed doctrine instead of focusing on mission, cultural engagement, or evangelism.

But the OPC has functioned on the margins of American society and whether intentionally or not, its lack of size and financial resources has nurtured a communion with the outlook of a pilgrim people. According to Charlie Dennison:

While everyone in the OPC understands our opposition to liberalism, some have had trouble understanding the aversion that others have to evangelicalism. They have been unable to accept the conclusion of Cornelius Van Til and others that evangelicalism, as a system, is Arminian. They have been unable to accept the criticism that modern evangelicalism’s view of regeneration is subjective, incapable of rising above a personal experience of sin and grace to the level of the covenant and the federal headship of Adam and Christ. Further, they have been unable to accept the growing historical and social evidence that contemporary evangelicalism is worldly, individualistic, and adolescent, craving acceptance and desperately wanting to make an impact.

I (mmmmeeeEEEE) discussed these differences with CW and Wresby at Presbycast this week (feel the love).

What I have trouble grasping is the appeal of transformationalism and changing the culture. On the one hand, that is so Moral Majoritarian. Haven’t we seen the colossal failure of such efforts, not to mention how self-defeating they are if you want a hip, urban profile in the cultural mainstream? On the other hand, if you want to pass on the faith, which is lower-case-t transformationalism, do you really think you can do it in the public square? Didn’t Mary lose her son in the marketplace?

As Goldman writes, it won’t be easy giving up on Francis Schaeffer’s Christian nationalism. But at some point you need to adjust to the hand you’ve been dealt:

There is no doubt that this will be a hard bargain for adherents of traditions that enjoyed such immense authority until recently. As Eberstadt points out, however, it will also be difficult for progressives who resemble Falwell in their moral majoritarianism. The basis for coexistence must be a shared understanding that the Christian America for which some long and that others fear isn’t coming back—not only because it was Christian but also because it involved a level of consensus that is no longer available to us. There are opportunities for believers and nonbelievers alike in this absence.

If transformationalists finally recognize that Schaeffer and TKNY are in the same Christian nationalist orbit as Falwell, will they finally say “ewww”?


Postscript: In other words, you don’t pray in the public square (even if it’s in the hallowed city):

Mainline Presbyterians and later, evangelicals, may once have been the Republican party at prayer. There may once have been an easy alliance, an assumption of shared religious values between those entities but Ms Dhillon’s prayer last night illustrates how that alliance is coming to an end. This is not a lament. The alliance should never have been. Christians as individuals and private societies (groups) may affiliate as they will but Christians as a group and certainly the visible, institutional church should never become utterly identified with any political party. If evangelicals and other Protestants (e.g., confessionalists) were uneasy with Ms Dhillon’s prayer, I can easily imagine how awkward it must have been for Ms Dhillon to witness the closing prayer and imprecation. Watching it on YouTube last night made me uncomfortable and he professes to be a minister of (some version) of the faith I confess.

Both the opening and closing of last night’s events are a good argument for doing away with public, shared prayers in such, common, secular events. It’s not that delegates to political conventions should not pray. They should. It’s not that candidates should not pray. They should. It’s not that voters should not pray. They should. The question is not whether but when? It is dubious whether it is appropriate to open a common, secular, assembly with prayer. To whom are we praying? In whose name? What are we praying? As a Christian minister of the United Reformed Churches in North America I am not free to offer prayers to God that he has not authorized. I am not free to pray to any other deity than the Triune God of Scripture, to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not authorized to approach God in any other name than the name of Jesus. It is not a matter of bigotry. It is a matter of truth, eternal life, and salvation. Jesus was raised from the dead. He is the truth (John 14:6). There are not multiple ways to God. Religion is not multifaceted expression of a common religious experience. It is revealed by God to us.

26 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of Orthodox Presbyterians?

  1. Your point on the podcast about Calvinists tending to prefer triumphalism or influence to lowly pilgrim/stranger status was an interesting one. We certainly see that in the theoretical establishmentarianism of some. By the way, it was good to see the Old Life spokescat Cordelia on our video feed.


  2. From the responds that have been given in Camden Bucey article (link above), it appears that your question should be rather, “Who is afraid of Van Til OPC?” Or something to that affect?

    Do you know why?


  3. Gil, because Van Til was so critical of evangelicalism and wanted the OPC to remain separate? Sean Lucas’ article explains that.

    Why these days anyone would self-identify with a group known to vote for George W. Bush and Donald Trump is beyond me.


  4. My beloved Dr. Van Til was, much to my chagrin, a transformationalist. Or what amounts to one. A divine reminder that even the greatest of non-theopneustos men of God will err grievously this side of the resurrection.


  5. Greg, it’s certainly misguided, maybe even a cultural variant of law/gospel confusion, but transformationalism isn’t a “grievous error.” Sheesh, and here I thought 2kers were the rrrrrrrradicals.

    But you’re also a worldviewer. Worldview is what animates transformationalism. Rake alert.


  6. Grievously erroneous worldview is what animates today’s transformationalism.
    Everybody’s a worldviewer Zrim, including you. A worldview by any other name is… well, nevermind, you’ll get it one day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Greg, oh, so there’s grievously erroneous worldview and then there’s pious worldview. Is that like good social gospel and bad social gospel (whatever is yours is the good kind and whatever isn’t is the bad kind)? By worldview you mean I have particular opinions and outlooks on various provisional things but don’t baptize them because they are adiaphora? Well, sure, no 2ker has even denied that.

    But the category confusion is between worldview (everyone has one) and faith (only some have it). Stick that in your forthcoming book about category confusions and don’t forget to cite me.


  8. How does american evangelicalism and Presbyterianism work together? And if the progressives are Kellerite and the dominant cultural strata within the PCA, how do they not get the blame for the white homogeny? How do you(progressives) get away with blaming a pre-PCA Jim Crow south for your white middle to upper class demographic? You are the intentional ones and consuming the lion’s share of the church plant money. How do you do that and then blame a prior generation for your lack of diversity? Maybe your urbanism is only as urban as the real estate developers gentrification of the inner city. Which would also explain the new openness to the LGBTQ+ community. There’s another demographic plank of single and married women, black and white, and homosexual friends and agitating to have a place at the table(inclusive) but that’s a long and winding road with Taylor Swift being comforted by her cats and Tarantino casting Beyoncé as her lemonade character. We’ll call it Hateful Sisters.


  9. CW, it’s just amazing to me the hubris the Kellerites continue to exhibit. ” Yes, they’re our churches, we made damn sure of it, we weren’t even willing to serve as associates at other churches, and we have an actual handbook we utilize, and then we use Rick Warren’s get in line or get out stick, but this lack of black people, that’s on our parents and grandparents who were part of a different denomination. We’re here in our inner city lofts rubbing shoulders with the LGBTQ+ community and at our Starbucks incarnating and, so, if blacks aren’t coming to our churches it must be because of what happened in the 60’s to their parents and grandparents or even during the slave trade. We’ll apologize for them and then they’ll come.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. there is another boat, but it’s sectarian boat and does not accept the water of Rome

    Luke 10: 17 The Seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.” 18 Jesus said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash. 19 Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you. 20 However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

    Revelation 20: 12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. ANOTHER BOOK was opened, which is the book of life


  11. Sean: “How do you(progressives) get away with blaming a pre-PCA Jim Crow south for your white middle to upper class demographic? You are the intentional ones and consuming the lion’s share of the church plant money. How do you do that and then blame a prior generation for your lack of diversity? Maybe your urbanism is only as urban as the real estate developers gentrification of the inner city”



  12. First, I was wondering if all of the people in the picture above were members of the OPC.

    Second, working for change in society isn’t necessarily the same as Christian Nationalism. We should note that Keller’s view of America offers much more reflective criticism of America than either Falwell or Schaeffer. For that reason alone, comparing the three should be done with more nuance. But even with the criticisms that could be made of Keller, this isn’t an OPC v PCA tag-team wrestling match. Rather, it is a Transformationalist v. 2KT intramural contest with each side having its own strengths and weaknesses.


  13. REV. ASHBEL GREEN. And his work on appropriate Government prayers… .

    On one occasion, while Philadelphia was the seat of government, (1790-1800) and Dr. Green chaplain, the senate being called to order for prayer, he saw a senator still sitting and engaged in writing. Determined to exact at least external reverence for that Almighty Being they were about to worship, he stood silent till the senator, startled by the prolonged silence, arose upon his feet, and assumed a becoming attitude. He then proceeded to offer prayer.


    John Adams, the elder, President of the United States, applied to Dr. Green to write for him a procla¬mation, recommending to the people the observance of a day of humiliation and prayer. Having consented to do what was requested by the Chief Magistrate, he determined to write one that would correspond with the character of a President professing religion, and set over a Christian nation. Accordingly he contrived to bring out in the proclamation an acknowledgment of the leading doctrines of the gospel; and what was remarkable, although it passed through the hands of Timothy Pickering, who was then Secretary of State, and believed to be a Unitarian, it was published as written, without any alteration. The proclamation created surprise and admiration. The party opposed to Mr. Adams’ administration, thought it too good to come from his pen. They suspected the author; and one of them, a minister of the gospel, determined to discover the truth, came to his colleague and proposed a question so adroitly, that his silence satisfied him of the fact. *Appendix, K.

    THE LIFE OF ASHBEL GREEN, V. D. M. 1849. pp. 553-554.

    If so desired, I’ll post the prayer Dr. Green wrote for President Adams… .


  14. Do the Koreans owe us an apology for needing us to save their country from Commies? (My father-in-law suffered greatly at the Chosin Reservoir, so much so that he had to move to Florida when he got back — the horrah!). While we’re at it, where’s the appreciation for the Anglos who kept this continent from becoming a Spanish or French territory? I’m sure they’d have been super kind to people of color.


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