If More Congregationalists Read Machen

They might understand the difference between a Baptist and Presbyterian. But to UCC pastor, Peter Laarman, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne’s proposal to re-brand evangelicalism (post-Trump) is a fool’s errand:

Campolo and Claiborne even get their history wrong. What they regard as the first successful re-branding of Bible-centered “orthodox” American Christianity in the early 20th century was in fact a complete failure, just as their proposed “Red Letter” re-branding will be this era.

They cite Carl F.H. Henry as the principal re-brander in the 1930s, but Carl Henry was not really a force to be reckoned with prior to the 1940s and 1950s. Moreover, Carl Henry’s beliefs were immediately understood to be contaminated by the same poisons that had fatally tainted Fundamentalism: i.e., a rigid view of biblical inerrancy (including a literalist view of the miracle stories), insistence that mere individual conversion fulfills God’s will, complete acceptance of the old patriarchal frame, etc.

It would be hard to find any daylight at all between the theological commitments of Carl Henry and those of J. Gresham Machen, who was heralded during the 1930s as the single brightest light among the Fundamentalists.

See what he did there? Machen signals fundamentalism (and Laarman didn’t even give Orthodox Presbyterians a trigger warning). Therefore, invoking Carl Henry is really to say you haven’t progressed beyond fundamentalism (yuck!), which makes Campolo and Claiborne even more clueless from a mainline Protestant perspective than even progressive evangelicals can fathom.

The problem is that you can see separation between Machen and Henry if you actually care more about theology, sacraments, and polity than about being in the American mainstream. Henry may have been a Calvinist on soteriology but his Reformedness didn’t go much beyond that (plus his high view of the Bible). Henry also refused to baptize babies, which puts Machen closer to Laarman than to Henry. And then Machen took Presbyterian polity seriously — hello, his church refused interdenominational cooperation in settings like the National Association of Evangelicals where Henry was an intellectual guru.

But that kind of Protestant fussiness only comes up fundamentalist for mainliners. Even though telling the difference between Congregationalists and mainline Presbyterians is impossible (and something you’re not supposed to do in polite Protestant ecumenical company), if you do did in your heels on denominational identity you are merely a separatist. You lack the good graces and tolerant bonhomie of mainstream, well-connected Protestantism. Never mind that after 135 years of ecumenical activism, the UCC and the PCUSA remain — get this — separate. And by all means don’t notice that Congregationalists and Presbyterians descend from the mother of all church separations — 1054, the year that the church Christ founded (as some put it) split up.

Lots of separations out there in church history, but the UCC puts “United” in church unity. As if.

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52 thoughts on “If More Congregationalists Read Machen

  1. This is one of your sickest burns in while!

    I had a conversation with some high school friends (all of us were raised fundy-methodist) recently and we were talking about how our beliefs had changed and I told them what Presbys believe and they said, “so you’re basically still a Methodist.” I was very sad.

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  2. I’ve noticed the SJW Redeemer coalition are making these same sort of distinctions now that the election is over. Vetting people out based on how they voted in this last election, Trump supporters are WP(supremacists), bigoted(fundy) and need to show that they’re still affirming of progressive concerns-LGBTQ, Urbanization, Racial reconciliation, and duly apologetic over their insensitivity toward the politically marginalized grievance groups. The PCA progressives are almost at the point where everything melts down into politics and social activism, give ’em five more years on the high side.

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  3. I read the Campolo – Claiborne article yesterday and concluded that what they need is a healthy dose of 2K theology and a thorough read of De-Constructing Evangelicalism.

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  4. Dr. Hart remember when you said blow up evangelicalism? I wish oh how I wish the whole thing would go away. I’m caving at my husbands request and we will soon be headed to a PCA church when we move next month. I’m scared to death what I am going to encounter. Is the OPC doing lots of church planting???

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  5. If you head over to the site where Mr. Laarman writes, you will see lots of agreement, etc. But nobody seems to notice 1. His first objection to Campolo et al is that the project is still led by “white males,” which is very bad.
    2. Mr Laarman is a white male.

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  6. If we are going to have a series on why denomination ________ should read Machen, shouldn’t we make Machen some kind of protestant pope? Perhaps we could, and this would be ironic, canonize his writings.

    IN addition, if we are going to have such a series, shouldn’t we also have a series on why political conservatives, liberals, and leftists should read people like Martin Luther King Jr., Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn?

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  7. Over the years I have been graciously invited to OPC Presbyterian meetings and the graciousness of many OPC elders, cannot be overstated, but there are always presbyters who are positioning themselves as experts and authorities on the confession, polity, etc..
    I am not impressed.

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  8. You also fail to know that Carl Henry was a disciple of Gordon Clark–oh that is right Gordon Clark was banished out of the OPC for no good theological reason. Wow what a wonderful church polity.

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  9. Dan, banish is not a technical term. In point of fact, Clark left after opposition to his ordination. And speaking of technicalities, he had not gone to seminary (as I recall).

    I bet you’d be impressed with Presbyterianism if it kept out of the ministry Osteen or Hybels.

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  10. Ockenga, Carnell, and Henry realized that any denomination that would banish a brilliant theologian and philosopher over analogical vs univocal knowledge was irrelevant to the cause of Christ. You may rightfully lament the fruits of their approach, but at least acknowledge the mistakes of your polity in contributing to the rise of neo-evangelicalism.

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  11. Dan, banish?

    If you want to object to Carnell’s fait, fine. But at least get the facts right.

    BTW, Ockenga and Henry were not on board with the OPC before the Clark controversy. So you find a text for your kvetching. Good for you.

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  12. Any denomination that makes analogical knowledge vs. equivocal knowledge a test of orthodoxy has a historical problem. I defer to you Dr. Hart, but I don’t see that issue addressed in the WCF. I am not a follower of Clark or Henry, my only point is that Presbyterian polity and its mistakes have affected the history of evangelism. You are wrong to claim purity of polity solves everything. By the way, why not inform me of the correct Presbyterian term for what occurred to Clark? I apologize for not being conversant with the Presbyterian parlance. No disrespect for Presbyterianism intended.

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  13. It was the Presbytery (of Phila.) that disputed Clark’s ordination, on the procedural ground that he was licensed and then ordained at the same meeting. That was the formal issue, and it was an issue that the Presbytery ultimately lost when the G.A. upheld Clark’s ordination. They admitted the procedure was improper; but that Clark had a valid call. His ministerial credential was validated by the OPC.

    Clark recognized that the theological issues that steeled his opponents for a fight were not going away. Clark’s position stood in contrast to the historic position of the Protestants stated in classical terms: on archtypal (univocal in the modern debate) and ectypal (analogical in the debate) theology and knowledge. The former has always been considered God’s alone; the latter, human and derivative.

    The modern debate never left the pages of academic and philosophical theology. Historical theology was never called in to assist establishing positions. One can find Southern Presbyterian J.H. Thornwell already using more modern terms, defending “analogical” knowledge in his collected writings.

    In any case, Clark turned about and left the OPC of his own volition. He went to the UPC, and wrote a book titled, “What Presbyterians Believe.” His new denomination then promptly joined the PCUSA. Frustrated, he sought refuge in the RPCES. When that denomination was joining the PCA, he resigned the ministry rather than serve a church that would soon (he thought) absorb not only the RPCES, but also the OPC.

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  14. Dan, the technical term in this case is transfer. Clark transferred his membership and credentials to the United Presbyterian Church. Turns out the OPC licensed and ordained Clark. No fault, no banishment. So why do you hold such a grudge against the OPC (and who said that presbyterian polity solves “EVERYTHING” though in this case it looks pretty good — from Fighting the Good Fight):

    The controversy began in 1943 when Clark sought ordination by the OPC’s Presbytery of Philadelphia. From 1936 until 1943 Clark had been professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. J. Oliver Buswell had hired him to teach at the evangelical liberal arts college. But Buswell’s involvement in the Presbyterian controversies of the 1930s led college officials to request his resignation. And with Buswell gone, Clark’s Calvinistic teaching and strong views on predestination found few sympathetic ears. In 1943 the new president of Wheaton College, V. Raymond Edman, asked Clark to resign because his theology was said to undermine the school’s commitment to evangelism and missions.
    With a view toward teaching at Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia Clark requested ordination from the OPC’s Presbytery of Philadelphia. Though he lacked formal theological training, Clark was a gifted philosopher, having earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Philadelphia and authored several textbooks in various aspects of philosophy. He also had a reputation for being a scintillating lecturer who captivated students with his powers of reasoning. Furthermore, Clark had been an active elder in the church, and a frequent contributor to the Presbyterian Guardian. Consequently, the Presbytery of Philadelphia waived some of its ordination requirements and proceeded to examine Clark’s theological views. While the presbytery voted 15-13 to sustain Clark’s candidacy for the ministry, the OPC’s Form of Government requires that ministerial candidates be approved by a three-fourths majority. So Clark would have to face another examination by the presbytery, which occurred in July, 1944. This time Clark passed. He was licensed to preach and ordained at the same meeting.
    What emerged during debates in the presbytery over Clark’s views were two different perspectives, very similar to the one’s which in 1937 had disrupted the OPC. Those who supported Clark comprised the party of “American Presbyterianism.” After the departure of Carl McIntire and the formation of the Bible Presbyterian Synod the doctrines of dispensationalism and premillennialism were no longer at issue, but other points of contention remained. Those in the Americanist party opposed the leadership which the faculty of Westminster Seminary exerted in the OPC. They blamed such Dutch and Scotch Calvinists as Cornelius Van Til, Ned Stonehouse, and John Murray for giving the church an image of being overly doctrinaire and unnecessarily sectarian. American Presbyterianism, according to Clark’s supporters, had always made room for cooperating with Christians who were not Calvinists and promoted such social causes as Prohibition.
    Differences between these two points of view came to the surface in an exchange in the Presbyterian Guardian. Dr. Edward J. Young, professor of Old Testament at Westminster, in the September 25, 1944 issue asked the question, “Is Arminianism the Gospel?” His answer was a definitive “no!” Young rejected Arminian teaching which gave man the final say in salvation and affirmed the characteristic Calvinistic notion that God alone is sovereign in redemption. To this article Dr. Robert Strong, minister to an OPC congregation just outside Philadelphia, replied that Young was guilty of “loose reasoning,” argued that many Arminians did in fact preach the gospel, and warned lest the OPC define Christianity only in terms of Calvinism.
    As it happened, Strong had stepped in at the beginning of the struggle over Clark’s ordination. For at the same time that Strong challenged Young’s defense of Calvinism, thirteen members of the Presbytery of Philadelphia objected to Clark’s licensure and ordination, led by Ned Stonehouse, Cornelius Van Til, R. B. Kuiper, Paul Woolley, and Edward J. Young. Their complaint pointed out that the proceedings of the July presbytery meeting were irregular and that Clark’s theological views should have prevented him from being ordained. Specifically, the complainants objected to Clark’s ideas about human knowledge of God. Even though they agreed that God could be known by men and women because of his revelation in Scripture and through the work of the Holy Spirit, they maintained against Clark that such human knowledge is never identical to God’s knowledge. Indeed, Clark’s opponents believed that Clark came perilously close to denying the qualitative distinction between the knowledge of the Creator and the knowledge of the creature. They also accused Clark of denying the difference between the knowledge of God which believers and unbelievers have (the effect of regeneration on the intellect), and of holding hyper-Calvinistic views about the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the free offer of the gospel. To his credit, there can be no doubt of Clark’s sincerity and zeal to defend the truths of Scripture. But Clark’s claim to explain the great mysteries of the Bible appeared to lead to rationalistic qualifications of the very truths he had set out to defend.
    Even though Clark was in no respect friendly toward Arminianism, his ordination became part of the larger struggle between the party of American Presbyterianism and the faculty at Westminster Seminary. The Americanists particularly believed that Clark sympathized with their goals. He was also known to oppose key elements in the presuppositional apologetics of Dr. Van Til. Hence, for Americanists in the Presbytery of Philadelphia defending Clark was a key element in their cause. In fact, Dr. Strong in 1944 went so far as to issue “A Program of Action in the OPC,” a plan which involved four specific objectives: 1) the ordination of Gordon H. Clark; 2) affiliation with one of the larger interdenominational fundamentalist associations; 3) an official declaration against the sale and distribution of liquor; and 4) supervision by the OPC of Westminster Seminary and the Presbyterian Guardian. Clark’s ordination, therefore, was just one facet of a much larger effort to control the denomination.
    In response to the complaint filed by opponents of Clark’s ordination, the Presbytery of Philadelphia appointed a committee of five, including Clark and Strong. Their task was to reply to the Clark’s critics. The committee cleared Clark of the charges that he denied the distinction between the Creator and creature, that he held a faulty understanding of regeneration, and that his views on salvation deviated from the theology of the Westminster Confession. In effect, Clark, through the committee, denied all charges, and where the points at issue concerned philosophical differences he held that the Confession of Faith allowed for a diversity of views, especially regarding the nature of human knowledge of God. Clark’s response was not merely defensive. He also protested that his critics encouraged agnosticism and skepticism. If we do not know the things God has revealed in the same way as God knows them, then there is no connection between God’s and our knowledge and we are left with “unmitigated skepticism.” The committee’s report received close scrutiny and initiated a lengthy debate. Though it was not adopted by presbytery, it did allow Clark the chance to explain his views.
    With the matter unresolved the Clark controversy came before the General Assembly of 1945 by appeal. This body ruled that the Presbytery of Philadelphia had erred in ordaining Clark, not because of problems in his theology, but because the presbytery had not allowed for sufficient time between Clark’s licensure and ordination. The presbytery should not have decided upon Clark’s licensure and ordination at the same meeting. Still, the assembly did not overturn Clark’s ordination. The General Assembly was, however, concerned about the doctrinal problems raised in the Clark affair and appointed a committee to look into this aspect of the debate, thus upholding the OPC’s reputation for theological and procedural precision. At the same time that other Protestant churches in America considered how they might best respond to the temporal crises stemming from World War II, the OPC pursued vigorously an issue which must have seemed an extraneous consideration to a world ravaged by war. But the OPC has always viewed questions of grace and eternal salvation as the most weighty of human considerations and has understood that the primary task of the church is to address matters such as this even if unimportant by the world’s standards.
    The majority report from the committee appointed by the General Assembly to look into the affair sided with Clark. As the reports indicated, part of the problem stemmed from a flawed stenographic record of Clark’s examination before presbytery. It was not complete and in many instances communicated inaccuracies. This made the task of figuring out Clark’s views extremely difficult. The majority, taking into account the problems of the record, concluded that the complaints against Clark could not be sustained. While committee members may not have cared for some of Clark’s expressions and would have asked for further clarification had they been at the exam, they decided that Clark’s ideas did not contradict Scripture or the Westminster Standards.
    One of the members of the committee appointed by the General Assembly was John Murray, professor of systematic theology at Westminster. Until this time he had taken no direct part in the controversy because he belonged to the Presbytery of New York and New England. In comparison with other systematic theologians of his time, Murray was notable, if not unique, for his ability to derive clear doctrinal formulations from careful exegesis, thus showing that the truths of the Reformed Faith come straight from Scripture. In the end Murray was the decisive figure in the Clark controversy, especially because of his teaching on God’s incomprehensibility and the free offer of the gospel. Murray’s learned and faithful work in these matters, though decisive for the Clark controversy, also made a lasting contribution to twentieth-century Reformed theology.
    In the minority report, Murray agreed with the majority in many respects, but was disturbed as much by the presbytery’s ordination of Clark as by his views. He did not think that Clark had contradicted the Bible or the Confession, but did believe that the presbytery should not have been satisfied with Clark’s answers and should have pushed him for a fuller expression of all his views before approving his candidacy. Murray detected insufficient as opposed to erroneous statements in Clark’s answers about the incomprehensibility of God. Rather than describing God’s incomprehensibility in relation to the various ways that humans receive knowledge about God, Murray wrote, “the incomprehensibility of God should be stated in terms of the transcendent glory and mystery of the being, relations, perfections and counsel of God.” In other words, it was not so much that Clark’s ideas about the relationship between human and divine knowledge were incorrect. Rather Clark’s thoughts did not do justice to the majesty and glory of God. Murray sensed that Clark had not given a “satisfactory and unequivocal” expression of the magnitude and mystery of God’s glory. Rather than arguing that Clark should not have been ordained, the minority report asked for further examination of Clark before approving him for the ministry.
    Both reports, then, typified the OPC’s high regard for Reformed confessionalism. The majority believed that as long as a candidate was in agreement with the teaching of Scripture as expressed in the Westminster Confession, he should be licensed and ordained. Murray’s minority report reflected the theological convictions at the heart of Reformed theology. As the first answer to the Shorter Catechism states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Indeed, Calvinist theology begins and ends with God’s glory. And because Clark did not unequivocally make the majesty and mystery of God’s glory the foundation for theology, Murray, who spoke for other critics of Clark, believed that Clark should be called upon to give a fuller and better expression of his views. This report confirmed what many had suspected, namely, that significant theological matters were at stake. In turn, the General Assembly of 1946 appointed another committee to study and clarify the doctrines of “the incomprehensibility of God, the position of the intellect in reference to other faculties, the relation of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and the free offer of the gospel.”
    The new committee, which included Murray and Stonehouse, labored diligently and prepared a report of 54 pages that was printed in the Agenda for the 1947 Assembly. But the report never made it to the floor of the General Assembly owing to a dramatic turn during the proceedings of the 1947 gathering. The event which absorbed the attention of the delegates was the decision by the Committee on Foreign Missions not to send Floyd E. Hamilton to Korea. A veteran of missionary work in Korea, Hamilton had been invited to return and teach at a seminary. The Committee on Foreign Missions, however, which included John Murray, was unwilling to send Hamilton because of his advocacy and defense of Clark’s views.
    Thus, the Clark controversy spilled over on to other aspects of the OPC’s work. And again, the “American Presbyterian” party took up the task of overruling the Committee on Foreign Missions. The same theological problems were debated afresh, but now they were clothed in the rhetoric of missions and the nature of the call to the ministry. Delegates on both sides of the debate presented vigorous speeches, but the Assembly could not reach a decision about whether to send Hamilton. What finally broke the deadlock was the re-election of Murray to the Committee on Foreign Missions by the margin of a single vote. At this point the coalition supporting Clark began to disintegrate. Hamilton withdrew as a missionary, and others resigned from membership on various committees. This began a gradual withdrawal of significant ministers (e.g. Clark, Strong, and Hamilton) and congregations from the OPC. Clark, who in 1945 had become professor of philosophy at Butler University, would eventually join the United Presbyterian Church of North America.
    Still, the great theological issues raised in the Clark controversy had not been resoled. To that end the General Assembly of 1947 appointed yet a third committee, again including Murray and Stonehouse. This body presented to the assembly the following year a 96-page document which was printed in the Minutes and contained a majority report and four minority reports. In the end the doctrinal position of the faculty of Westminster Seminary prevailed, especially because of the strength of the majority report.
    Several factors were at work in this controversy. One important difference between Clark and the faculty at Westminster, especially Cornelius Van Til, concerned divergent apologetical methods. Clark came from a tradition of Protestant apologetics that stressed the reasonableness of the Christian religion and the powers of human logic. He advanced the notion that the intellectual powers of fallen men and women still permitted the recognition of truth, even in spiritual matters. Van Til, in contrast, developed an apologetic for Christianity called presuppositionalism. This outlook took seriously the effects of human sin upon reason. Van Til posited a fundamental antithesis between the intellects of believers and unbelievers. In the same way that the fall caused the will and the emotions to hate God, so sin also incapacitated the mind from seeing reality truly. In effect, Van Til’s understanding of the effects of sin upon the intellect taught, contrary to the modern myth of objective science and disinterested observation, that the mind as well as the will and emotions were prone to distort reality in the interests of sinful human nature.
    But the Clark controversy involved more than different schools of defending the faith. This explains why Murray, not Van Til, emerged as the chief critic of Clark. Indeed, it is significant, contrary to the impression created by referring to this conflict as the “Clark-Van Til Controversy,” that Van Til did not write about the affair until 1949 after the crisis had ended. Clark’s overestimation of the ability of the mind to see truth accurately apart from the work of the Holy Spirit had important and pernicious theological consequences. Not only did Clark’s views imply that regeneration was unnecessary for some true knowledge, but the idea that human knowledge, even that of unbelievers, was the same in some ways to God’s knowledge, appeared to contradict the clear teaching of Scripture and the Reformed confessions that an enormous chasm exists between the sovereign Lord of the universe and his finite creation, even those creatures who bear the divine image. Van Til’s apologetics, in other words, started with the fundamental Reformed teaching about the fall and the necessity of grace for all human endeavors. What is more, Van Til’s teaching underscored the Calvinistic emphasis upon God’s sovereignty and glory. God’s revelation and activity in removing the blinding effects of sin were at the heart of Van Til’s system, not the character and power of the human mind. As Murray wrote in 1946, the issue was not apologetical methods but rather “the place that the transcendent mystery of God’s being, perfections, counsel and will should occupy both in our thinking and in our theology.” In sum, Clark failed to express unequivocally a God-centered understanding of the Christian religion.

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  15. It would seem that a God-Centered understanding of the Christian religion would find it’s particularity and redemptive focus in the person of Jesus Christ, solely. To locate a God-centered understanding in the mystery of God’s being, perfections, counsel and will, would seem to bypass the mediatorial focus and reality of both the fall of man and the incarnation, life and resurrection of the messiah. Encountering God in the perfection of His being and attributes is to encounter the ‘naked’ God, in which there is no mercy or permission(if we’re going to really ‘respect’ the chasm between God and man) to encounter him. That’s not an argument for Clark, btw, just an observation.

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  16. Letme, is it a God-centered understanding of Christianity or the incomprehensibility of God — “the incomprehensibility of God should be stated in terms of the transcendent glory and mystery of the being, relations, perfections and counsel of God”?

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  17. Well, I was going off the summation, but, still, if we’re talking about man’s religious posture toward God, the invite, the gate, if you will, is still a mediated one and the comprehensibility that I might have is still to be had through the son. He’s(son) explained Him(Father). The incomprehensibility of God would seem to be incomprehensible, so, mystery, though not inconsistent with what It is revealed. I never was impressed with the philosophical inquiries into ‘god’. But I’m simple that way. Still, if you’re one who is flattening out the covenants and losing the particularity of the gospel compared to the law, maybe you’re tempted to find other ways to distinguish your understanding of God?

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  18. My point is that the history of the OPC and the history of neo-evangelicalism are not separate universes. They have a common intersection.
    My thesis is that the Gordon Clark controversy demonstrated that micro theology in the OPC would triumph over mission to the future leaders of evangelicalism.

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  19. I think that we agree that evangelical pragmatism did not bring about good results. But I also think the church polity must not be use to protect small theological interests. I don’t think that Presbyterian church polity is the safe harbor that you describe.

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  20. I transferred from Moody Bible Institute to Covenant College in 1983. I knew nothing about 20th century Presbyterian history. I liked to ask Dr. Clark theological questions. I was walking across campus and caught up with Dr. Clark. I mentioned to him that I was reading John Murray’s volume on Systematic Theology and I asked me what he thought of John Murray as a theologian. He look at me oddly, But he went on to describe John Murray as a fine theologian and made some other observations about Murray. All of his comments were thoughtful and kind. I learned later why he looked at me oddly long after that day. In my opinion, Gordon Clark was a humble man from my experience. Nothing like his reputation.

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  21. As to my having a grudge with the OPC, the most godly man I ever met was Calvin Cumming Sr. who came to Chicago to pastor a mission work when he was over 70 years old. I will can never be more grateful to Henry Krabbendam who was my advisor at Covenant College. Ivan Demaster invited to do a summer pastoral internship when I was not sure what God wanted for my life. I can never express enough thanks to John Shaw who befriended and encouraged me when I left the church where I was a pastor.

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  22. The point is to be “reformed” but without becoming baptists or biblicists. In seeking to magnify the significance of the Church’s sacramental identity, Nevin even taught us that the unity of civil society depends on not becoming congregationalists. It turns out you CAN have two masters and two kingdoms, just so long as you keep a distinction between sacramental unity of “the visible church” and “denominations”.

    Mercersburg theologians also developed a social theology from their concept of the organic unity of the Church as Adam S. Borneman discusses in his 2011 book,Church, Sacrament, and American Democracy: The Social and Political Dimensions of John Williamson Nevin’s Theology of Incarnation.

    Nevin, “No Church, No Christ.”— A relationship to Christ is determined by one’s identity with Christ’s church. In opposition to voluntarism, which taught that the individual and not the church was the primary locus of God’s saving act,

    https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/05/mercersburg-theology-eucharistic-union-and-civil-society

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  23. Oliver O Donovan—“Alarm about governments is alarm about society. For it is society that makes outsiders. Government may wrong dissidents by repression but government does not make them dissidents by recognizing and affirming things upon which its society agrees and they disagree. Deep social disagreements unreflected in the government would merely delegitimise the government.

    Oliver O Donovan—“A liberal anti-Constantinian view springs from a radical suspicion of society as such and of the agreements that constitute it—to be traced back, perhaps, to the contractarian myth which bound individuals directly together into political societies without any acknowledgment of the mediating social reality.”

    Not that D G Hart wants the “sphere sovereignty” of Kuyper and the neo-calvinists. Hart only wants the myth of presbyterianism to make him feel in his heart that the reality of the opc is different (and better) than congregationalism.

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/neonomian-presbyterians-vs-antinomian-congregationalists/

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  24. Machen–“A true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. A true church will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience. A true church will never confuse the useful with the true, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life. Into the welter of changing human opinion, into the modern despair with regard to any knowledge of the meaning of life, the true church will come with a clear and imperious message. That message it will find in the Bible, which it will hold to contain not a record of man’s religious experience but a record of a revelation from God.”

    Oliver O Donovan–“it is not Christendom but Christianity that is attacked. If any social agreement is potentially coercive and to be justified by the needs of the civil order, then the agreements which constitute the church are also coercive. If there is no religious test on the right to vote, or to have access to education or medical care, why should there be one on… receiving communion, which is, after all, an important means of social participation? ”

    Oliver O Donovan–“This conclusion, that the church should not be defined by belief, seems to me to follow from the general refusal of ideology, though I do not know of anyone who has yet drawn it, except for the incomparable Simone Weil, who proposed ( in The Need for Roots) that it should be prohibited to publish any opinion on any subject in the name of a collective body. Any society defined by its belief was to be banned.”

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/protestprotest/2015/10/would-n-t-wright-be-popular-if-people-knew-his-politics/

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  25. Crawford Gribbon describes the Reformed slippery slide into the “detestable error” of Belgic 34. —“The doctrine of the two kingdoms, where church and state operated independently but with mutual reliance on the law of God, did not at all favor a religiously neutral state. On March 26 1646 the Assembly discussed a draft chapter on Christian liberty and liberty of conscience, concluding that “the gospel consists. . . in freedom from. . .the ceremonial and judicial law.” By the final draft of the Confession, however, the status of the judicial laws had been changed; WCF 20 contains no reference to the believer’s freedom from the judicial law, 20.4 demands that those who publish opinions or maintain practices contrary to the “light of nature,” the “known principles of Christianity,” or the “power of godliness,” or “those whose opinions or practices are “destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church,” may be called to account by the “censures of the Church, and by the power of
    the civil magistrate. The proof texts include Deuteronomy 13:6-11.”

    CG—“we cannot simply read the Confession as a summary statement retaining the unqualified approval of all those who participated in its negotiation. The final text of the Confession was “a consensus statement, broad enough to be agreed with by Divines who held somewhat different views of the contemporary applications of the Mosaic judicial laws.” Rutherford seems to stand at one extreme of the Assembly’s range of opinions, arguing, with the apparent approval of the Commission of the Kirk’s General Assembly, that the OT judicial laws ought indeed to be the basis of the Presbyterian state for which they were working. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that Rutherford’s theonomic opinions were shared by many puritans who could not have endorsed his narrow ecclesiastical ambitions. Even those who favored a broader toleration of those orthodox Calvinists outside the Presbyterian system looked to the OT judicial laws as their program of action. Cromwell’s Rump Parliament established the death penalty for incest, adultery, and blasphemy.’” John Owen was prepared to argue that some of the judicial laws were “everlastingly binding.” “Samuel Rutherford and liberty of conscience,” Westminster Theological Journal 71:2 (2009),

    https://davenanttrust.org/christian-citizenship-post-christian-america-nyc/

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  26. Dan, in 1550 those theological interests were big and Carl Henry and you would not exist without them.

    But fine. You’re the Cardinals. Theology of partial glory.

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  27. D.G.,
    And you are so sarcastic when you read, not respond to, other opinions. BTW, the warning about pedestals applies to all including me. And your answer suggests that you have no problems with pedestals.

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  28. D.G.,
    But what architecture are we talking about here.

    How self-righteous I sound? Is that because I offer some opposing opinions? Let me ask, when you criticize Keller, how many of your own faults and sins do you mention?

    What is sad when you criticize him is not the criticisms, but it is the failure to recognize the good he has done. Just like you, he has things to offer to the Church. And just like you, he has made mistakes, has faults, and has sins. But one would never know that with the way you criticize him.

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  29. Verduin, p 68–“Great allegorizer that he was, Augustine managed to overpower Scripture to suit his purpose. Augustine found what he needed in the family situation of Abraham where there were two wives, one a free woman and the other a slave. By this Augustine justified the presence of two kinds of Christians in the church, with one kind by faith and the other kind without faith….If anyone does not of his own accord have himself regenerated by baptism, he shall be coerced to it by the king.”

    If the mob makes the wrong choice, we must keep on praising democracy but do what needs to be done. Machen might still want more than one kingdom, but his second kingdom is going to get “paid double” as punishment for not doing what needed to be done.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2013/03/how-progressive-or-liberal-christianity-destroys-the-church/

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  30. D.G.,
    Sorry, I am the only self-righteous here in your view? But don’t your criticisms imply that he is sinning at least in some of his views and ventures? For if he was not sinning, then would he be free to pursue what he is doing?

    It it expected to be ironic that that the people who are the most critical are also the most sensitive to criticism. But it should be expected rather than be ironic. And what your note is claiming is that you are the KFC of critics because you do criticism right. In the meantime, you look down on critics like me who do not know how to criticize like you.

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  31. http://reformedlibertarian.com/blog/brandonadams/visible-saints-the-history-of-a-puritan-idea/

    Bannerman — “Formal profession devoid of saving faith (what is known as “historical faith”) is all that is required for membership in the visible church. The professor may not possess that faith UNFEIGNED and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the INTERNAL and saving blessing which the REAL believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession… This relation of the mere formal member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union. There is such a relationship, involving both real RESPONSIBILITIES and real privileges.”

    Samuel Rutherford—“Nothing more is required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents, as concerning any REAL union of faith, be plain strangers to the covenant, and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body. Otherwise, God would not have commanded Joshua to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness. To profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him even when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deuteronomy 29:4). “

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  32. D.G.,
    Look at it this way, if one is not a sinner, one can’t be saved by Christ. And, going back to an old point, if you deny that systemic sin exists, then it follows that Nazi Germany did not sin when it invaded its neighbors or persecuted and exterminated the Jews. Your cal.

    But note something else here. The original question I asked you was this: ‘If we are going to have a series on why denomination ________ should read Machen, shouldn’t we make Machen some kind of protestant pope?‘ Then you also responded with: ‘Curt, you’re so prophetic. Always warning me of my sins. What about yours?‘ when I mentioned pedestals. And you continued to focus on me even after I readily acknowledged that pedestals is a temptation we are all vulnerable to.

    Now as flattering as it is that you would want to focus on me, the original question remains unanswered. And the original concern that too much credit is being given to Machen still remains. One doesn’t have to take that question and concern personally, but you seemed to have in a way that avoids answering the question and concern.

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  33. Curt, your original question here was about Machen or about Nazi Germany? I can’t keep your self-righteousness straight.

    BTW, I really can’t worry about Germany. I’m too worried about the U.S.A. That’s where I live but your high horse takes you all over the world with no remedy for sin.

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  34. dgh—“Machen took Presbyterian polity seriously — his church refused interdenominational cooperation in settings like the National Association of Evangelicals where Carl Henry was an intellectual guru. But that kind of Protestant fussiness comes up fundamentalist….

    mcmark—Fundamentalist separatists used to not care if they had influence on the culture of democracy. Once upon a time separatists (congregationalist or Presbyterian) were more excited about Christ’s second coming than they were about the prosperity gospel of worldview capitalism. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/12/habetis-papam

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  35. D.G.,
    In my last comment, I posted what I said first. And even without that, it is not too difficult for you to look back to see what I posted first. And now, you respond aggressively and have been responding with accusations. So I will repeat what I asked first:


    If we are going to have a series on why denomination ________ should read Machen, shouldn’t we make Machen some kind of protestant pope?‘

    Feel free to answer

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  36. Curt,
    Your question indicates a connection between the suggestion that reading Machen and taking his arguments seriously would serve as corrective to issues in various denoms and the idea that Machen is an infallible authority to whom all must submit. Your analytical skills are dizzying…

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  37. If you are such a Machen fan, does he become responsible for your aggression and sensitivity, that is your behavior, to challenges? Certainly I haven’t read him as much as you. From what I have read, I notice that he has made some valid points worth considering. But the world is larger than Machen and my point isn’t about Machen himself, but the pedestal on which he is placed.

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  38. sdb,
    Let me ask this: are your insults the result of Machen’s influence or the work of the flesh as mentioned by Paul in Galatians? When we insult or attack each other, we are insulting and attacking people for whom Christ died.

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