Machen, Golden State, and Social Justice

What binds these three items together? Warrior, as in Machen’s Warrior Children, Golden State Warriors, and Social Justice Warriors.

The average American (unless you are LeBron James) thinks positively of the NBA franchise. If that American is under 30, she likely adds Social Justice to Golden State since both are very popular.

Your average Presbyterian in one of the NAPARC communions, you might think, would add Machen happily to the Golden State Warriors since J. Gresham Machen was arguably the greatest defender of historic Presbyterianism during the twentieth century. And if you are a conservative Presbyterian under 30 you might also want to add Social Justice to Machen and the Golden State team because Social Justice and Golden State are very popular.

But what does the PCA do? It embraces Social Justice and disdains Machen — Golden State is probably agreeable.

Consider that two of the more prominent figures in the PCA during the last twenty years are John Frame, who coined the phrase, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” and Tim Keller. Almost everyone knows Frame’s opposition to Machen’s spiritual offspring. Keller less so. Here is part of his take on twentieth-century conservative Presbyterianism:

A more normal result of church splits is the pruning off of branches in a way that both wounds and yet, ironically, does not last. Something of this pattern, I think, can be seen in the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Early in its history, after the death of J. Gresham Machen, the OPC went through a split in which its New Side/New School branch left, led by J.Oliver Buswell of Wheaton College and Carl T. McIntire. But, no surprise, by the 1970s the OPC had grown a new ‘pietist/revivalist’ wing under the influence of Jack Miller. The New Life Churches and their Sonship course was classic revivalism, and it did not fit well with the more doctrinalist cast of the OPC. While not a formal split, like that of 1937, the New Life churches were made to feel unwelcome and nearly all left in the early 90s to swell the pietist ranks of the PCA.

Whenever a Reformed church purifies itself by purging itself of one of its impulses, it finds that within a generation or two, its younger leaders are starting to at look in a friendly way toward the lost parts.

With that kind of suspicion about Machen’s Warriors, the liturgy at the PCA’s General Assembly this week was notable:

Notice that last line, the contrast between social justice warriors and servants of the gospel.  The idea that social justice is an extension of critical race theory was one that the curmudgeon, Bill Smith, proposed. Curiously enough, Sean Lucas accused Bill Smith of the genetic fallacy.

And that raises a question of whether Pastor Lucas himself has committed the liturgical fallacy. Does simply praying that Social Justice Warriors need to be celebrated as “servants of the gospel” measure up to the rigors of logic? Simply praying it doesn’t make it so.

But it does seem safe to say that Bill Smith is in Sean Lucas’ head.

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30 thoughts on “Machen, Golden State, and Social Justice

  1. To be fair, the above liturgy was part of a pre-assembly prayer meeting which the stated clerk disavowed. The occasion of this disavowal (or of saying that it could not be discussed since it occurred before the opening of the assembly) was a presbyter’s complaint at the very opening of the assembly’s business session about the content and tone of the prayer service. The complaint was declared out of order. The disavowal rang somewhat hollow since the prayer meeting was promoted in the assembly brochure. One assumes that the host committee (local presbyteries are responsible for much of the non-business content and scheduling) was responsible for it, but it was certainly promoted and present as “official”.

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  2. Not only are “Social Justice Warriors” servants of Christ, apparently, so are “cultural Marxists.”

    Maybe if Dr. Lucas keeps on saying it, without doubting but rather believing that he receives whatever he says, he’ll eventually have whatsoever he saith. I think that worked for Kenneth E. Hagin and Kenneth Copeland.

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  3. That being said, praying “at” people can be a bit distasteful…unless your’e an OT prophet.

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  4. Sean is definitely New Side/New School, so this is what happens when ‘Experimental Calvinism’ is embraced, with respect to this issue. The Gospel provides everything for healing between all races, and yet, even so, we are promised to have trials and tribulations, even stemming from an issue like this. There has been so much injustice on the part of the white race toward the black race – sinful, tragic, and heinous. I don’t think the PCA’s present course is headed in the right direction. A smile, a kind word, a warm handshake in greeting/relating to your black neighbor, treating them with respect and as a fellow human being made in the image of God truly glorifies Christ the most. People can sign a resolution, and do something for a while in a group, however, eventually they return to the old attitudes/habits. Looking only to the Law/obeying the Law can only take you so far, but the Gospel is the power for reconciling us to God through Christ, and to one another (using the Law as our friend and guide). Faith works by love……..

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  5. Lucas, is serving up liberation theology leftovers. It’s been said before and better by others and it was wrong then too. The affirmations and denials are a cover up for an erroneous and now dishonest engagement. In common parlance, they want to piss on your head and tell you it’s raining.

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  6. Whenever Israel purified itself by purging itself of Canaanite influences, it found that within a generation or two, its younger leaders looked in a friendly way toward the lost parts.

    It’s almost as if these things took place as examples for us…therefore flee from idolatry. Seems we should expect to constantly need reformation.

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  7. This group was so fair and even handed in it’s Race and Rec report that when they received responses from REs to their survey on race that was not in agreement with the CRT premises of the questionnaire and predetermined remedies, they accused them of latent racism. You could just feel the grace and charity and passive aggressive gentility.

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  8. I agree, sdb and Letmesplainsean, with your views/perspectives………these issues are very complex, and require much in the way of prayer and wisdom for resolution.

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  9. Liberation leftovers. Exactly. And a teaching after Catholic social doctrine. Neither of which have good track records. Francis Schaeffer well-intentionally started this… another reason his legacy seems both admirable and mixed.

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  10. The contrast between social justice warrior and servant of the Gospel pointed to by D. G. is not as great Lucas’s prayer as he supposes. For the reaction Lucas is pointing to is the same reaction that supporters of Jim Crow gave to those who favored equal rights for Blacks and integration: they were accused of advancing communism. Lucas is simply lamenting over attempts by some to discredit others who were applying God’s Word to racism.

    Likewise, I don’t see disdain for Machen by either Frame or Keller in the material provided even though Machen does merit some constructive criticisms.

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  11. If I had an objection in Lucas’ prayer, it would be to the sentence about supporting politicians who prey on racial fears more than supporting black or brown people in the Church. This comes very close to binding one’s conscience on their political candidate of choice. Even then I’m not sure he’s saying don’t support a given candidate, but if that candidate stokes resentment of minority races, don’t defend the behavior. In other words, it’s ok to support Trump in general, but don’t support or defend the scare tactics that target minority races. The prayer itself is tedious, tendentious and over-wrought, but hardly worth an objection on the floor of the GA: that was equally tedious, tendentious, and overwrought.

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  12. CW,

    I appreciate your comment about the complaint raised, the stated clerk’s disavowal, and the hollow ring of it all. As you can see the clerk was hiding behind the presbytery – it’s a form of plausible deniability – “the presbytery is in charge, I am not responsible.” That said, a complaint ought to be filed in the host presbytery. We all know that the chances of that going anywhere are about nil.

    I was on OC in Chattanooga when Lucas brought his original overture on racial reconciliation. The stated clerk met us when we convened to give us some instructions and direction about our work. At that opening meeting on Monday AM he told us about Lucas’ personal overture. Later Lucas appeared before us to present the overture, excerpts from his forthcoming book as supporting evidence, and answer questions. When the GA opened on Tuesday night Bryan Chapell preached on Psalm 32 and the importance of confession (of sin). I believe that the aim of that sermon was to sway the hearts of GA commissioners and make them receptive for Lucas’ personal overture, which was introduced later that evening by Ligon Duncan and Sean Lucas. What I am describing is massive coordination between Lucas, the stated clerk, the GA moderator, the presbytery planning committee and likely others (The Cooperative Ministries Committee), to achieve a certain outcome. I think that there is evidence that some elders went to GA to serve on the OC that year specifically to push this overture through (I know that definitely happened the following year in Mobile where I also served on OC).

    I conclude by saying that it very hard to believe that there was not similar coordination going on this year with this worship service. Its been that way for years and its not going to change. Y’all are just a bunch of rubes to those at the top in the PCA.

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  13. D.G.

    About Bill Smith living in Sean’s head: I think that they were in the same presbytery for a while. It might be that they have had many discussions and disagreements over the years on this topic. As you know, I think that Bill is spot on.

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  14. Veever, if something as irresponsible and unrepresentative as this (which was an official event despite protestations to the contrary) is not wortht of a floor objection I can scarcely imagine what is. And the objection was brief and temperate — seemed to be from a man who was actually stunned by what he heard, was actually aggrieved. Did not seem to be for show.

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  15. cw – what exactly is “irresponsible and unrepresentative” about it? Do you think there was never a single instance of prejudice (against anyone) or racism (against any race) in any PCA church this year? Is the PCA absolutely perfect on these issues? If not, then a corporate prayer of lament is appropriate, even if (in this case) poorly executed.

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  16. @vv Which churches have been more loyal to whiteness than to Jesus? If the ones who wrote this prayer know of such congregations, they should bring charges. This passive-aggressive approach is offensive.

    They did grieve support for comments that offend black and brown people, they grieved loyalty to politicians who were offensive (though curiously this particular offensive president garnered a larger share of the black and brown vote than the last three republicans). They charged that some in the PCA purposely erected walls of hostility against black and brown people. Who did this and why not bring charges?
    The final grievance implies that those who have spoken up about racism in the PCA are speaking gospel truth and disagreement with them is sinful. There is no acknowledgement of over reach or missteps on their part. This strikes me as legalism. In fact, PCA members speaking out against racism have aligned themselves with BLM – a movement founded on a lie, that misuses statistics, and embraces the CRT the folks in the PCA have been specifically charged with embracing.

    I don’t doubt that there are PCA members who are racist and that our denomination can (and should) do a better job of making our congregations more welcoming to all people. It is also clear that there are excesses among the advocates. If they were truly interested in reconciliation, they would concentrate on confessing their own sides’ sins of legalism, judgmentalism, uncharitableness, and dishonesty.

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  17. cw – sure, I’ll agree with your list: disregard for the Lord’s Day, disregard for the sacraments, laxity in family worship, etc. But that doesn’t negate the basic truth of Lucas’ prayer.

    sdb – you are mischaracterizing the prayer in several ways. First, it didn’t grieve politicians who are offensive, it grieved putting politicians who stoke fear of minorities above those same minorities. Second, specific cases are not needed to pray a general grievance for sin. I can lament the presence of adultery in the PCA without knowing of any specific instances firsthand. Third, it doesn’t say that those who have spoken up against racism are automatically speaking Gospel truth. It said we have labeled those “who HAVE SPOKEN the Gospel truth” as cultural Marxists and social justice warriors. He is 100% correct about that – just look at DGH’s post.

    I agree that there are “excesses among the advocates,” and that there is plenty of virtue signaling to go around. What I disagree with is that anything in the prayer is inherently wrong or inappropriate. Again, not the clearest, best written prayer, but not incorrect. The official objection on the floor of the GA was just as much virtue signaling as the prayer itself.

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  18. Does simply praying that Social Justice Warriors need to be celebrated as “servants of the gospel” measure up to the rigors of logic? Simply praying it doesn’t make it so.

    Re :”Social justice warriors”.. good commentary here the last few days
    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/profile/don-carson-2/

    Today:
    Deuteronomy 24; Psalms 114-115; Isaiah 51; Revelation 21
    “IT IS STRIKING HOW THE Mosaic Law provides for the poor……
    ..…Second, the incentive in every case is to act rightly under the gaze of God, especially remembering the years the people themselves spent in Egypt (Deut. 24:13-22). These verses demand close reading. Where people live in the fear, love, and knowledge of God, social compassion and practical generosity are entailed; where God fades into the mists of sentimentalism, robust compassion also withers — bringing down the biting denunciation of prophets like Amos.”

    Yesterday:
    Deuteronomy 23; Psalms 112 — 113; Isaiah 50; Revelation 20
    …”Many, many statutes from the Mosaic Law, rightly probed, reflect a godly balance of complementary interests.”

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  19. b, sd, “I don’t doubt that there are PCA members who are racist and that our denomination can (and should) do a better job of making our congregations more welcoming to all people.”

    And if racism is as pervasive as the anti-racists say, then the people behind the prayer are as racist as the rest. But I guess the difference is racism vs. #woke racism.

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  20. Dave, somehow I missed your earlier comments. I have talked to an insider who absolutely confirms your suspicions of coordination at the highest levels. Some say the playing field is not level. Some say there is no playing field.

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  21. DGH – “And if racism is as pervasive as the anti-racists say, then the people behind the prayer are as racist as the rest.”

    I doubt the author of the prayer would deny this. Does a pastor need to be sinless to write a communal prayer of grievance/repentance?

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  22. Pretty sure admission of woke racism won’t cost them a visit from HR. The rest is us are not so…privileged.

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  23. D. G.,
    Glad to see that my talents are appreciated here. But being able to criticize our heroes keeps them from becoming our idols. And being able to criticize our heroes shows that we actually understand them.

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