Jesus for President

He’s about the only one left when it comes to a presidential candidate with character. Alan Noble laments:

In just five years, white evangelicals went from overwhelmingly denying a division between private and public character to overwhelmingly embracing the division. It is very difficult for me to imagine an explanation of this shift other than the candidacy of Donald Trump.

I do not want to speculate here on what exactly in Trump’s candidacy caused this shift in white evangelicals. Most of the possibilities are grim and warrant their own thorough exploration. But right now evangelicals can turn back to our traditional teaching that character matters and correct the mistake of supporting Donald Trump.

He concedes that Hillary has issues (which is why Jesus is left standing in that great day):

Some evangelical leaders have claimed that we just have two morally flawed candidates. They point to Hillary Clinton’s flawed character and her sins and conclude that since they are both sinners, we have to simply judge them on their policies. But that does not reflect a Christian conception of character and behavior.

Like many evangelicals, I cannot vote for Clinton because I do not believe she would be a good president for my neighbor. Since I believe that life begins at conception, Clinton’s intention to repeal the Hyde Amendment so that federal funds can be spent on abortions reveals a profound flaw in her character.

But her flaw does not magically make Trump’s flaws any less grievous.

What I enjoy about Trump’s candidacy as someone with a seat in the theater of American electoral politics, is how fundamentalists are now in fashion for both evangelicals and Democrats:

Having grown up as a conservative evangelical during Bill Clinton’s administration, I believe that character matters. This is what leaders on the religious right taught me when Clinton was caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky. At the time, some people tried to shrug off Clinton’s infidelity as a private matter: Of course he shouldn’t have done it, but this didn’t affect his ability to be president. But conservative evangelicals rejected this logic, and they were right.

In response to President Clinton’s infidelity, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials”:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 9-11, 1998, in Salt Lake City, Utah, affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.

So is Noble ready for the isolation that always comes to evangelicals who scold modern America for its sins? I thought evangelicals wanted a seat at the table, and fashioned a kinder, gentler Protestantism (than fundamentalism) to get there.

Now Falwell and Co. were right? Who knew?

Lordship of Christ Over Every Spiritual Inch

Joseph Moore has a new book out on the Covenanters that argues in part that these radical Scottish Presbyterians make the proponents of Christian America look like posers. Covenanters, for instance, refused to take oaths that included an acceptance of the Constitution because the United States’ legal provisions failed to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ:

Many hard-liners, imitating their Anti-Burgher ancestors, refused to swear an oath implying support of an ungodly government. . . . Founding the nation on the authority of “We the People” represented, the RP’s maintained, a flaw in Revolutionary logic: it removed Christ from his rightful place about the state. The US Constitution was a “manifest dethroning of the Lord and his Anointed from the government. As mediator between God and all humankind, Jesus gave legitimacy to civil governments. Governments, in turn, acted to bring people to knowledge of God’s Goodness and law. Law, then, should be based on God’s word even when that law seemed to harsh for liberal American sentiments. (Founding Sins, 62-63)

For a 2k Protestant, US government poses no such difficulty. Christ is king as both mediator and creator. His creational rule over secular government doesn’t now require the ruler to acknowledge Christ’s rule as mediator. But for comprehensive Christians, making the distinction between redemption and providence is a high wire act forbidden to anyone who wants a safe earthly existence.

For that reason, the comprehensive Christian, if the Covenanters are right, could never serve as an attorney in the United States. How, for instance, could a Christian take the oath required of attorneys in Michigan?

I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Michigan;

I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers;

I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceeding which shall appear to me to be unjust, nor any defense except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land;

I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me such means only as are consistent with truth and honor, and will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law;

I will maintain the confidence and preserve inviolate the secrets of my client, and will accept no compensation in connection with my client’s business except with my client’s knowledge and approval;

I will abstain from all offensive personality, and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged;

I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any cause for lucre or malice;

I will in all other respects conduct myself personally and professionally in conformity with the high standards of conduct imposed upon members of the bar as conditions for the privilege to practice law in this State.

No mention of God, no Lordship of Christ.

This means that Moore’s point about David Barton may be as relevant for those critics of 2k who jeer from the cheap seats of neo-Calvinism.

America’s original religious Right, the Covenanters’ . . . centuries-long struggle contradicts suggests that the Constitution hallowed Christianity or allowed for the church to influence the state. European nations before and after the founding claimed their nationhood in part from their religious identity. America did not. The implication was clear. Its failure to honor God in the Constitution made the United States the first government in Western history to disassociate itself from Christianity. The Covenanters created the most thorough, logical, and sustained critique of the Christian America thesis in history by assaulting the Constitution on its own terms. Taken as a whole, this logic challenges the religious Right from its own right flank.

The expensive seats are those occupied by the Covenanters. Every other Christian nation advocate is faking.

Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

Didn’t the Reformation start with objections to the cash nexus between grace and financial contributions? So how much did the Council of Trent reform ecclesiastical abuses in the light of recent announcements about new criteria for becoming a saint?

To approve a miracle, at least 5 out of the 7 members of the body of medical experts within the congregation must approve, or 4 out of 6, depending on the size of the group, as opposed to a simple majority.

In case a miracle report is rejected on the first go-around, it may only be reexamined a total of three times.

In order to reexamine a miracle claim, new members must be named to the consulting body.

The president of the consulting body may only be confirmed to one additional five-year term after the original mandate expires.

While in the past payments to experts could be made in person by cash or check, now the experts must be paid exclusively through a bank transfer.

I don’t know about you, but my impression of the miraculous is that if part of a group of believers thinks an unusual event was not miraculous, then it probably was not. Generally speaking, the works of God are pretty straight forward to those with eyes of faith (questions about ongoing miracles notwithstanding). And do we really need science to tell validate a miracle? Isn’t faith sufficient?

But the kicker is the financial aspect to these policy changes:

In his book “Merchants in the Temple,” Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi charged the congregation was among the most reluctant Vatican offices to cooperate with new transparency measures imposed as part of Francis’s project of Vatican reform, and asserted that the average cost of a sainthood cause was about $550,000.

U.S. Catholic officials traditionally have used $250,000 as a benchmark for the cost of a cause from the initial investigation on a diocesan level, to a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, though that cost can increase depending in part of how many people take part in the canonization ceremony and the logistics of organizing the event.

In March, Pope Francis had already approved a new set of financial procedures for the congregation, outlining procedures for handling contributions and specifying which authorities are charged with overseeing the flow of money.

Also notice that even though the path to sainthood has become more — let’s say — complicated, those already saints stay saints:

The new rules are not retroactive, and hence they do not invalidate any beatifications or canonizations performed under earlier procedures.

Fulton Sheen’s advocates are no doubt disappointed.

For any apologist out there, this is the sort of thing that makes no sense to a Protestant (and is truly audacious). We do concede that sainthood can be bought. The price that Jesus paid with his precious blood is worth more than all the silver and gold you can put in a Vatican bank safe. So yes, there is a payment for sanctity. But it is entirely beyond the economic calculations of this world.

One might think that after five hundred years, Roman Catholic bishops might have learned that lesson.

Why the Adjective “Christian” before Intellectual Might be Offputting

Michael Lind notices how odd intellectuals are and includes this observation:

The mere phrases “Aryan science” and “Jewish science” or “socialist scholarship” and “bourgeois scholarship” should send chills down the spine. Furthermore, many successful academics study, teach, and live in different countries in the course of their careers.

So why are Christians tone deaf to the consequences of modifying academic life with the adjective “Christian”? If Jewish science doesn’t make sense, will “Christian intellectual” make the medicine go down?

Alan Jacobs will not relent:

The notion that the intellectual resources of Christianity might be useful in reflecting on politics — or technology, or the arts, or engineering, or war, or climate change — and useful not only to Christians but to everyone — that’s a long-lost notion indeed. We generally assume that on any given issue of social import there might be a socialist take, or a feminist take, or a take rooted in the experience of a particular ethnic identity, that we’d benefit from hearing; but a Christian take? Not typically one of the options. There are no prominent Christian intellectuals addressing whatever happens to concern the body politic in a distinctively Christian way and for a general audience.

Jacobs assumes (along with comprensivalists like neo-Calvinists and anti-modern Roman Catholics) that Christianity has something distinct to say about modern society. The Bible is a pretty important piece of Christian reflection and its teachings about modern society seem to be minor. Jacobs also forgets that modernity is in part a reaction against Christians having too much to say for too long about politics, the arts, and war. All of a sudden moderns are supposed to forget 1100 years of western history?

The idea that Christians need to find a new way to find a seat at liberalism’s table is also anachronistic:

So it seems to me that Christians can either look for ways to get back to that table or accept their exile from it and make the best of the possibilities that exile affords. (Learning to be dissidents rather than intellectuals.) But the claim that Christians really are comfortably seated at liberalism’s table seems to be an unsustainable one.

The way to the table is the one that Jacobs and other academics have chosen — graduate school, advanced research, a Ph.D., and a teaching post. All along the way believing scholars need to negotiate the claims of science/academics and personal faith/divine revelation. To make it through to the Ph.D., land a job, and publish books with academic presses is to be prepared to sit at liberalism’s table. Gaining a seat requires a notable contribution.

I don’t think Jacobs means this, but he seems to imply that Christianity and intellectual life are so at odds that Christians really should not go to graduate school (which is why I have always thought that neo-Calvinism is theonomy lite). But the way to expertise, which is what generally counts for being an intellectual, is not through Christianity. The West tried that an moved on.

Has the Bible Become So Common that People Don’t Go to Church for It?

One of the questions I raised in my review of John Fea’s book on the American Bible Society was whether making the book so widely available, even more common than Wifi, has undermined its uniqueness:

What happens when you take something that is special and make it ubiquitous? In other words, to what degree did ABS operations render a holy book trivial? Hollywood, after all, lost its glamour when Americans could watch movies not only in palatial theaters but also on television in their living rooms. Perhaps, as well, this riddle is connected to the nationalistic dimensions of ABS history. By linking the Bible’s greatness to American exceptionalism, the American Bible Society was attempting to counter how ordinary the Bible would become through over-distribution.

The recent Pew survey on what people look for in going to church underscores this point. Do people go to church to understand God’s word — because it is in Scripture that he reveals himself — or are they looking for ways to be a better Christian that may or may not involve understanding Scripture? They may say that look for a church with good preaching, but the content of that preaching is not in view in the survey:

“Of the country’s largest religious traditions, evangelical Protestants are among the most likely to say they have looked for a new congregation,” Pew wrote. “For Catholics, this may reflect that choosing a new congregation (after a move, for example) can be as straightforward as determining which Catholic parish they reside in, removing the need for a more extensive search. Members of the historically black Protestant tradition move to new communities less often than other Protestants, which may be one reason they also are less likely to have ever looked for a new congregation.”

When evaluating a new church, top-quality sermons are the most important thing both evangelicals (94%) and historically black Protestants (92%) are looking for. They also want to feel welcomed by leaders (82%).

Evangelicals put slightly more emphasis than historically black Protestants in the style of worship services (80% vs. 76%) and location (69% vs. 62%).

Is that preaching or ministering God’s word or merely the pastor’s thought about religious matters in a sermon?

But if Glenn Paauw thinks Christians need to encounter bigger passages of Scripture than the McNuggets they generally read for personal edification, wouldn’t a worship service or two on Sunday with exposition of Scripture be a good place to start?

First of all, I mean it literally; we need to increase the size of our Bible readings. Start reading the words around your cherry-picked passages. Then you’re immediately confronted with context. If you’re reading in Philippians—“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”—then you’ll start reading about the situation that Paul was in when he wrote those words. You’ll get a better understanding about the kinds of things he may be able to do in this situation. You won’t take it as an absolute promise about any endeavor you can envision, like winning a football game. So read bigger passages. I’m a big fan of reading entire books of the Bible.

We have a diminished view of Scripture in another way, especially in the West. We see the story as this individualistic, go-to-heaven-when-I-die story instead of a restorative story about the renewal of all creation and my place within that larger narrative. That’s the bigger, glorious vision that the Scriptures give us.

Going to church for the word read and preached is a two-fer — worship your maker and hear his word.

Rah Rah T(eam) G(ospel) C(oalition)

Justin Taylor recommends Richard Lovelace’s pro-revival book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, and shows the telltale faults of the gospel allies. Taylor praises a book that is more theology than history as a work of church history, and he reproduces endorsements from TGC heavyweights about how important Lovelace’s book was for their ministry and careers:

There is not another book quite like Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979).

It was published before Tim Keller and John Piper had written any popular books.

It was written back when Jonathan Edwards was hardly anybody’s homeboy.

It was written by an author who is a bit eccentric, but whose every page—agree or disagree—is worth wrestling with and pondering.

Tim Keller says that if you read this book, you’ll say that you now know where he got all his material. He still thinks we can’t do without this book.

David Powlison says he read the book multiple times in the 1980s.

Ray Ortlund has said that this book is rarely far from his thoughts.

So we have the problem of the veneer of uncontested scholarship followed by the problem of group think. Does anyone challenge Lovelace on historical or theological grounds? Or is Lovelace wonderful all the time because he means so much to TGC celebrities? (I suppose Justin has to adjudicate such questions sometimes as an editor at Crossway books but among TGC eminences such critical perspectives rarely arise.)

I ran a search of Lovelace’s book and discovered that it received no reviews in the standard historical journals (religious or secular). But at Reformed Journal, Mark Noll, then a relatively obscure young scholar, raised precisely the sort of concerns that should have dawned on Taylor, Tim Keller, Ray Ortlund, and David Powlison before praising the book in such glowing ways. Noll’s concerns are also those that confessional Protestants bring to the book:

The more diffuse second half of the book proposes programs for personal and parish renewal, while warning against emotional, spiritual, and theological errors which lead revivals astray. It contends for a faith that neglects neither personal spirituality nor doctrinal orthodoxy nor structural reform. It concludes with a potpourri of concerns pointing out the value to renewed Christians of remaining in their denominations, offering a blueprint for artistic revival among evangelicals, and stressing the need for a socially active faith.

The book attempts so much that it is bound to leave each reader unsatisfied at some points. To quibble, I found it strange that Lovelace would exalt Jonathan Edwards as a flawless model for ongoing spiritual renewal. However influential Edwards’ Narrative of Surprising Conversions was for the Great Awakening of the 1730’s and 1740’s, the message of renewal evidently did not permeate even Edwards’ own Northampton congregation, which dismissed him less than a decade after the flowering of the revival. Also, Lovelace’s repeated contrast between the spiritual vitality of today’s young people and the enculturated sterility of the older generation is naive.

More seriously, Lovelace exhibits a strange lack of concern for “steady state” Christianity. He focuses so intently upon the manifestations of spiritual renewal in local churches, denominations, and society as a whole—his enthusiasm is so great for the rare moments of dramatic spiritual quickening in Christian history—that he neglects what have been the day-in, day-out realities for most Christians in most eras of the church’s history. Work and family life, for instance, receive little attention here Yet if spiritual renewal is to be a sustaining presence in the church at large, it must certainly go beyond what theologians, preachers, denominational officials, and other professional Christian workers do for a living It must even go beyond what lay people do in devotion, worship, witness, and Christian social involvement. One group of Lovelace’s heroes, the Puritans, recognized the need for Christian renewal to remake relationships in the home and workplace. Yet, except for a few brief comments concerning “theological integration,” Lovelace seems content to leave untouched that artificial division between spiritual and secular worlds which has so bedeviled the church. (“Breadth and Longevity,” Nov. 1980)

Is Noll being unnice to suggest that Lovelace promises more than he delivers? Or that steady state Christianity (what some might call confessional Protestantism) is superior to the emotionally laden and earnest evangelicalism that Edwards promoted and for which the gospel allies are nostalgic? Are the gospel allies guilty of the same flaws as Lovelace? Who will compel them to see their weaknesses if critics don’t do it? If they refuse to listen to meanies like Old Life, how about Mark Noll?

Fewer high fives, more sobriety.

Mencken Day 2016

After a visit to Charm City for Mencken festivities, the man remains the king of charm and truth (general revelation sense). What follows is from his coverage of the 1928 presidential election which witnessed the first Roman Catholic run for the White House on a major party ticket (that would be Al Smith):

I daresay the extent of the bigotry prevailing in America, as it has been revealed by the campaign, has astounded a great many Americans, and perhaps even made them doubt the testimony of their own eyes and ears. This surprise is not in itself surprising, for Americans of one class seldom know anything about Americans of other classes. What the average native yokel believes about the average city man is probably nine-tenths untrue, and what the average city man believes about the average yokel is almost as inaccurate.

A good part of this ignorance is probably due to the powerful effect of shibboleths. Every American is taught in school that all Americans are free, and so he goes on believing it his whole life — overlooking the plain fact that no Negro is really free in the South, and no miner in Pennsylvania, and no radical in any of the dozen great States. He hears of equality before the law, and he accepts it as a reality, though it exists nowhere, and there are Federal laws which formally repudiate it. In the same way he is taught that religious toleration prevails among us, and uncritically swallows the lie. No such thing really exists. No such thing has ever existed.

This campaign has amply demonstrated the fact. It has brought bigotry out into the open, and revealed its true proportions. It has shown that millions of Americans, far from being free and tolerant men, are the slaves of an ignorant, impudent and unconscionable clergy. It has dredged up theological ideas so preposterous that they would make an intelligent Zulu laugh, and has brought the proof that they are cherished by nearly half the whole population, and by at least four-fifths outside the cities. It has made it plain that this theology is not merely a harmless aberration of the misinformed, like spiritualism, chiropractic of Christian Science, but the foundation of a peculiar way of life, bellicose, domineering, brutal and malignant — in brief, the complete antithesis of any recognizable form of Christianity. And it has shown, finally, that this compound of superstition and hatred has enough steam behind it to make one of the candidates for the Presidency knuckle to it and turn it upon his opponent — basely to be sure, but probably wisely. (“The Eve of Armageddon,” Nov. 5, 1928)

I wonder if neo- and New Calvinists with all that w-w and earnestness and hope for a Christian society would have voted for the Democrat and Roman Catholic Smith. J. Gresham Machen, a life-long Democrat, did. Part of the reason was 2k.