And You Wonder Why Reform Doesn’t Happen

The Vatican has a long tradition of bishops covering for bishops:

Francis was compelled to remove Tebartz-van-Elst in October 2013 due to public backlash against his spending an estimated $42 million on remodeling his diocesan center and residence, including $1.1 million for garden landscaping and even $22,000 for a bathtub.

Originally, the Vatican said the Bling Bishop was being granted a temporary sabbatical outside the diocese. That “temporary” measure became permanent in March 2014, at a time when the Vatican was trying to negotiate an agreement under which Tebartz-van Elst would not be sued by the Limburg diocese in an effort to recoup its losses over the construction projects.

The question then became what to do with him since Tebartz-van-Elst was only 54 at the time of his exile, a full two decades short of the usual retirement age for Catholic bishops of 75.

In the end, Tebartz-van-Elst was brought to Rome and given a new gig as a “delegate for catechesis” in the Council for New Evangelization. Although his appointment is a matter of public record – it’s even on his Wikipedia page – the Vatican understandably made no effort to broadcast it, leaving even seasoned clergy a bit surprised to see him today taking charge of Roman meetings.

Given that the main complaint against Tebartz-van-Elst in Limburg was that his regal spending habits were “unevangelical,” at odds with the witness of Jesus in the Gospels (not to mention Francis in the papacy) and thereby driving people away from the faith, many observers would likely find his present assignment as a top Vatican official for evangelization not just a little bit jarring.

In reality, however, no one probably should be surprised. There’s a long tradition of clerics in disgrace in their homelands ending up in Rome, but in the Francis era they sometimes wind up in jobs that almost seem a private papal satire.

Most famously, there’s the case of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta of Argentina, who resigned his post heading the Diocese of Oran in August 2017 amid accusations of abuse of power and “strange behavior” (charges of sexual abuse of adult seminarians came later). The rap sheet against Zanchetta also features charges of financial misconduct, including selling a building belonging to the diocese for $800,000 without going through the proper channels and leaving the transaction off the diocesan books.

Despite that, Francis in 2017 not only brought Zanchetta to Rome but named him Assessor to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), the Vatican’s financial powerhouse which oversees both the Holy See’s investment portfolio and its real estate holdings in Italy and around the world.

Once again, it’s hard to imagine a Vatican gig (other, perhaps, than with the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors) that would seem more ironic given the baggage Zanchetta carried.

Another fitting for-instance is Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, who was forced to resign as the Vatican’s communications czar in March 2018 after attempting to pass off a doctored letter by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI as the real thing and getting caught. For presiding over such a PR fiasco, Francis moved Viganò to a different post – not as prefect of the Dicastery for Communications but its “assessor,” meaning to this day he’s still in a position to shape the communications operation.

Further back in time, there’s Monsignor Mario Salvatore Battista Ricca, who was confirmed by Francis as prelate of the Vatican Bank in 2013 despite revelations in the Italian media that during his previous service as a papal diplomat in Uruguay, he’d been involved in a couple of scandalous situations involving homosexual activity – one in which Battista Ricca was apparently beaten up after leaving a gay bar, and another in which he was trapped in an elevator at the papal embassy in Montevideo with a young man and had to be rescued by the fire department.

Despite that, Francis confirmed Battista Ricca in a sensitive post at an institution which, at the time, was also trying to shake off a well-earned reputation for scandal.

Of course, Francis presumably knows more about these situations than any of the rest of us, and he may well have perfectly valid reasons for appointing or confirming such officials to the posts they currently hold.

However, it’s hard not to wish there was a “Simpsons” for the Vatican – because, let’s face it, the Bling Bishop in charge of evangelization probably would be the basis for one hell of a Halloween episode.

Some aspects of church life don’t change. They develop. (Not even mainline Protestants have this kind of chutzpah.)

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When to Feel Empathy

The Gospel Coalition continues in the mold of George H. W. Bush by trying to find a kinder, gentler, evangelicalism. This time it is remembering the anxiety of women with unwanted pregnancies:

Women facing an unplanned pregnancy often have very reasonable, here-and-now fears. They may fear the loss of financial stability—or the loss of the ability to ever reach it. They may fear the loss of an already teetering status quo in which every available ounce of food is already consumed at home—perhaps by other children they’re already parenting. Pregnant women may lose a job, or they may not get the job they were hoping for. They may fear a violent boyfriend or father.

They may even fear pregnancy itself, which is often full of terrifying sickness, physical pain, loss of emotional control, and embarrassing bodily problems. All of these fears are real and oft-cited at crisis-pregnancy centers the country over. A common theme weaves through most of them: the fear of other people.

Evil often begets more evil. While many who support so-called abortion rights believe they’re serving needy women, they’re overlooking one critical reality: Women are often brought—reluctantly—to the abortion doctor. These women are compelled toward abortion not by their own empowering, my-body-is-my-own sense of autonomy, but by another person seeking control. Angry boyfriends, angry husbands, angry mothers, angry employers—these are so often the wind at the back of an abortion-minded woman.

Women may fear something else, too: adoption. Though morally clear, the thought is often experientially vague: It seems, or feels, much less repugnant to have a hidden medical procedure in the first weeks of pregnancy than to consciously hand over a smiling, babbling baby to a woman whose body never knew him or her. It’s cognitive dissonance, sure, but it’s a real—and understandable—fear.

This logic is not wrong. But it is peculiar the way that progressive evangelicals decide on which issues to project toughness, and on which ones to strike the pose of nice.

Imagine if John Fea had written this way about the fears of evangelicals who voted for Trump.

Imagine if Jemar Tisby had written this way about the OPC shooter in Poway.

And imagine if Joe Carter had written this way about kinism.

Lots of talk in the last five years about confirmation bias. I don’t think we have had enough of a conversation about reading between the lines and noticing agendas.

Border Patrol with Big Green Letters

Joe Carter wants us to be cautious about attributing “cultural Marxism” to AN NEE BODEE!!

Over the past decade online culture and political tribalism have combined to bring ideas once relegated to the margins into the mainstream. We can add the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.

A prime example is the term “cultural Marxism,” which is included in Earnest’s grievances for which “every Jew is responsible.” … When those on the political right make claims about the people at the Frankfurt School conspired to bring down Western culture or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether they recognize it or not—using the redefined and racialized meaning given by Lind.*** Of course most Christians who uses terms like cultural Marxism are not kinist. Many of them are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin. Yet it’s disconcerting when conservative Christians use language that originated from a racist worldview perpetuated by anti-Semites.****

. . .Because the term CM has become tainted its continued use by Christians undermines our ability to warn about the dangers of concepts like Critical Theory. We should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing. Doing so will help us to be better communicate what intend in a loving manner.

At Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zubatov is not so sure:

A short tour through some notable landmarks should suffice to show how 19th-century Marxism evolved into 20th-century “cultural Marxism” and the culture war of our present day: . . .

It is a short step from Gramsci’s “hegemony” to the now-ubiquitous toxic memes of “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “white fragility” and “whiteness.” It is a short step from his and Marcuse’s reconceptualization of the role of radical intellectuals to our sensationalized and politicized media outlets playing the part of a self-styled progressive vanguard riling up the allegedly oppressed and turning their incoherent rage loose on the rest of us. …It is a short step from the Marxist and cultural Marxist premise that ideas are, at their core, expressions of power to rampant, divisive identity politics and the routine judging of people and their cultural contributions based on their race, gender, sexuality and religion — precisely the kinds of judgments that the high ideals of liberal universalism and the foremost thinkers of the Civil Rights Era thought to be foul plays in the game. And it is a short step from this collection of reductive and simplistic conceptions of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” to public shaming, forced resignations and all manner of institutional and corporate policy dictated by enraged Twitter mobs, the sexual McCarthyism of #MeToo’s excesses, and the incessant, resounding, comically misdirected and increasingly hollow cries of “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe” and more that have yet to be invented to demonize all those with whom the brittle hordes partaking in such calumnies happen to disagree.

Whatever the merits of phrases like cultural Marxism, I do find it peculiar that Joe Carter has not objected to pet categories by the Gospel Allies’ most celebrated members.

For instance, is Christian hedonism a very good way to describe sanctification?

What about Gospel Ecosystem? Why wouldn’t something like — well — church or communion work? And what’s up with using organic metaphors for urban locales? (Wendell would not approve.)

Can we produce a gospel city movement? No. A movement is the result of two sets of factors. Take for example, a garden. A garden flourishes because of the skill and diligence of the gardener and the condition of the soil and the weather. The first set of factors—-gardening—-is the way we humanly contribute to the movement. This encompasses a self-sustaining, naturally growing set of ministries and networks, which we will look at in more detail below.

If we “should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing,” why are some celebrity pastors immune?

Is Americanism a Superstition?

Why are some Roman Catholics so willing to look at the United States as the basement of human flourishing but then turn a blind eye to the variety of cults that surround local saints and their relics? A couple years ago, a battle was raging between two saints — St. Muerte vs. St. Jude Thaddeus — that had broad support among the people (think populism):

The Vatican takes a far less rosy view of the cult, which it sees as a deeply threatening presence in the country with the world’s second-largest Catholic population. In 2013, a senior church official said worshiping Santa Muerte was a “degeneration of religion.” Three Catholic bishops in the United States also denounced the folk saint in February.

Yet despite the church’s stance, Santa Muerte is currently the fastest-growing new religious movement in the Americas, according to Andrew Chesnut, chair in Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint.

“The fact that Santa Muerte is the nonjudgmental folk saint who accepts everybody regardless of their station in life, regardless of their social class and regardless of their skin color is really appealing in a country like Mexico, where the gaps between rich and poor are some of the greatest in the world,” he said.

According to Chesnut, Mexico City’s St. Hippolytus Church responded to the explosive growth of the monthly Santa Muerte rosary service in the capital by organizing a special Mass in honor of St. Jude Thaddeus on the 28th of each month. These monthly celebrations drew impressive crowds and quickly expanded to other parts of the country.

“St. Jude Thaddeus is the only Catholic saint in the world who now basically has a monthly feast day,” Chesnut said.

Typically depicted in a green cloak with a flame above his head and a wooden club in his hand, St. Jude Thaddeus was one of Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles.

Much like Santa Muerte, the canonized saint’s popularity is tied to his reputation as a powerful miracle worker. For centuries, believers were wary of invoking him because of the similarity between his name and that of Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer. Yet according to tradition, the forgotten saint became a powerful intermediary, eager to assist those in need.

“Word has spread that St. Jude can help you with your most pressing problems,” said Guadalajara-based priest Fr. Juan Carlos López. “Because of that, the devotion has grown.”

Yet some church officials have expressed concern about the saint’s popularity with criminals.

“There is a dark, negative side to all of this,” said Fr. José de Jesus Aguilar, director of the radio and television service for the Mexico City Archdiocese. “St. Jude Thaddeus has also become the patron of thieves, drug traffickers and those who are doing evil. This is a contradiction. Saints cannot support those who are doing wrong.”

Obviously, a Protestant isn’t going to help Romans sort this out — way above my pay grade, though I could advise that simply going with the sainthood of all believers would cut down on the hierarchy of Christians (not populist). Also, eliminating the cult of saints rids the church of that difficult decision of distinguishing — get this — good saints from bad ones.

What is curious, though, is how church officials and Roman Catholic intellectuals have no trouble seeing the wickedness of Lockean liberalism, free market capitalism, global warming, and nationalism (in almost all forms). Even more startling is how some of these same people are willing to condemn or question the bona fides of Roman Catholics who defend the benefits of modern political and economic arrangements.

Leo Ribuffo said it best way back in 2004:

In the 19th century James Cardinal Gibbons tried to comfort Protestant America with the notion that the doctrine of papal infallibility was no more mysterious than the Supreme Court serving as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Perhaps so, but the Catholic Supreme Court, so to speak, resides in Rome rather than Washington and thus is less responsive to American opinions. Probably papal misunderstanding of the United States has been no worse than that of most European heads of government. This is not a very high standard, however. On the contrary, the papacy has often seemed to reflect European clichés about American hyperpower, mindless materialism, and a confusion of freedom with license. Certainly the Vatican seems more likely to censure a characteristic American religious syncretism—of Catholicism and democracy—than Third World religious adaptations in which Catholicism merges with voodoo or animism.

A Troubling Perspective on The Gospel Coalition (but what a lot of people have been saying)

Dane Ortland is very positive on the recent Gospel Coalition conference, especially his dad:

Really appreciated Matt Boswell’s leadership of the singing. That was one of my favorite things about the event. Don Carson on John 11 was rich indeed. Tim Keller on the new birth: typically insightful. Paul Tripp on suffering: deep wisdom. The best thing I heard all week was my dad’s talk ‘Pastor, Your Church Can Become Healthy Again.’ I wish everyone at the conference could have heard it. Searching, deepening, eye-opening, emboldening.

Scorecard results:

Carson – rich
Keller – typical
Tripp – deep
Ortland – bold

Then this:

I wonder what all of us who support TGC can do to consciously work against this great enterprise being quietly taken down by the flesh. Human nature being what it is, it seems to me virtually inevitable that an event such as this, with well-known speakers, and a big crowd, and a green room, and preachers quickly and quietly escorted around, provides a unique venue for venting the flesh, for schmoozing, for preening and parading–unless we deliberately fight against it. Left in neutral, we will slide toward worldliness; church history, the Bible, and honest self-knowledge all confirm this, unpleasant as the thought is.

Green room for celebrity preachers? Not standing in line with the hordes for donuts? Preening and parading? Sounds like the slide is already happening.

Hint: it has a lot to do with celebrity.

Whatever Happened to Mortal Sin?

Austen Ivereigh is another of those papal interpreters who explain to the rest of the world what the bishops and pope really mean. His advance copy for the upcoming synod of bishops on sexual abuse is the sort of piece Harry Emerson Fosdick could have composed:

The church’s task is not to lament and condemn, but rather to discern and reform.

We’re so used to hearing that Francis is “behind the curve” on the abuse issue. In truth, he is well ahead of it. While most Catholics, not least bishops and religious orders, remain fixated on cleaning up the institution, demonstrating that it is now transparent and accountable and regulated by new measures, the pope has grasped that keeping the focus on the institution in this way is precisely the problem. This is apparent in the texts he addressed to the Chilean bishops and the people of God last year, which in turn draw on his meditations on institutional desolation as a Jesuit back in the 1980s. Both those texts of three decades ago and last year’s letters have been collected and commented on by his Jesuit collaborators in Rome, Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Fr. Diego Fares, in a new book published in Italian and Spanish, Las Cartas de la Tribulación (“The Tribulation Letters”). If the book had come out later, it would doubtless have included Francis’s letter to the U.S. bishops at the start of their retreat at Mundelein seminary.

The heart of the pope’s message is a pithy little sentence that occurs back in his 1980s writings and again in his letters to the bishops of Chile and the United States: “Ideas you discuss, but situations have to be discerned.” Whenever the church faces a time of tribulation, there are various temptations it can succumb to: to recoil into itself, to put up defenses, to blame others, and essentially to argue—with others, and within itself. The church is prone to “ruminating” on its own desolation, lamenting and blaming, and at its worst falls into “victimism,” which, says Francis in his preface to the book, “conceals in its breast the resort to vengeance, which only feeds the evil it pretends to eliminate.”

All these are means of evading the real task, which is to seek the grace that is always on offer in desolation and tribulation: the grace of conversion. By accusing ourselves, not others—in humility, repentance, and self-correction—we open ourselves to that grace. We change. We are converted. We see where we went wrong. And with that new sight comes the chance to change course. The church’s task is not to lament and condemn, but rather to discern and reform.

What is so hard to discern about the sin of sex outside of marriage? Or how tough is it for bishops to tell the truth and be responsible with those under their oversight? It may require a little extra discernment to ponder the sort of sin that proceeds from victims for resenting their abusers or the bishops who covered up the tawdry activity. But do you really need to look to systems and cultures to figure out sinfulness or that the wages of sin is death?

It is breathtaking to see how much Rome has changed since Benedict XVI and John Paul II. It is even more staggering to see people like Ivereigh whitewash popes and bishops’ actions and responsibilities in the current climate. It makes you think the gates of hades are winning.

Mainline Protestantism’s Elder Brother

Boniface takes the temperature of Roman Catholicism in the light of Governor Cuomo and Archbishop Dolan:

the purpose of excommunication is not merely for the good of the sinner’s soul; it is also for the edification and protection of the community. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.” St. Paul teaches that excommunication helps purge the body of “leaven”, and that without this purging such leaven will cause a rot throughout the body. When the offender is singled out and has judgment pronounced upon him, the faithful at least see that such behavior is proscripted. St. Paul is not only worried about the sinner, but about the boasting of the congregation, that is, their attitude about the sinner. By excommunicating him, St. Paul judges not only the sinner, but the broader attitude that allows sin to flourish unchecked.

To bring this back to Governor Cuomo: from the biblical perspective, whether Cuomo will repent or not, whether he respects the authority of the Church or not, whether the Church can claim any socio-political leverage in these matters, is not ultimately the main concern. The fact is, the good of the Catholic Church in America demands that this man be thrown out. At least make an attempt to purify the lump of its leaven. If we don’t, we are celebrating with the old leaven. It’s about the integrity of the community as much as it is about the sinner.

* * * * * *

There have often been times in Church history where discipline has been lost or seriously eroded. We can think of various monastic reforms throughout the centuries. Or the era of the Counter Reform and the Council of Trent when the Church had to fight an uphill battle to transform the episcopacy from a class of political courtiers into something more in line with what Christ intended. Countless regional synods from the first millennium and the era of the barbarian invasions attest to the Church’s commitment to maintaining or restoring discipline in an age of chaos when order seemed to be falling apart everywhere.

…And that’s the sad truth here. Cardinal Tobin, Dolan and the like don’t care what the optics are here. They don’t care whether the House of the Lord is an eye sore, an abomination to the people. “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24); but they don’t care. If discipline has been lost, then the common sense approach is to restore it. You restore it by making examples of people and actually asserting your will to enforce discipline. If you can’t do that or refuse to, it simply means you don’t even want discipline restored. You’re happy with the status quo. This is the inescapable conclusion: Cuomo will not face excommunication because the princes of the Church are content with the current situation.

So why convert? Protestants are supposed to think this is the church founded no matter how much it resembles mainline Protestantism? When the successors to the apostles are so far from following the apostles, we’re supposed to see nothing and come back to mother church?

Social Justice circa 2009

If you read some people, you might get the impression that the gospel and social justice are synonymous. But words change meanings, even if some people have trouble understanding that a reference to “race” in the 1930s is not the same as one in the 1880s or the 1980s.

Consider how only a decade ago, the Gospel Allies were talking about social justice in ways that no one could use after Michael Brown, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter. For instance, Kevin DeYoung wrote a series on social justice in Scripture that found almost no reference to race. Here is how he summarized it last year (even!):

Several years ago, I worked my way through the major justice passages in the Bible: Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4. My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice. On the one hand, there is a lot in the Bible about God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. There are also plenty of warnings against treating the helpless with cruelty and disrespect. On the other hand, justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. Doing justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing, not swindling, not taking bribes, and not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you.

So for simplicity sake, let’s take biblical “social justice” to mean something like “treating people equitably, working for systems and structures that are fair, and looking out for the weak and the vulnerable.” If that’s what we mean, is social justice a gospel issue?

Even Thabiti Anyabwile seemed to be persuaded:

We seem to put social justice at odds with gospel proclamation. Many today don’t think these can easily coexist. They think that to fight for justice as the Christian church inevitably means the abandonment of the gospel. They may be correct. For since the Civil Rights Movement, the gospel has been thoroughly confused by too many in the African American church with liberation and justice itself.

To be sure, Anyabwile went on to question those who make too strong a contrast between the gospel and social justice:

to preach the gospel and have no concern and take no action in the cause of justice is as much an abandonment of the gospel as mistaken the gospel. How can a faithful gospel preacher preach the gospel before slaves and never wince at the gross barbarity of that peculiar institution? How can a man claim to live the gospel with fellow brothers in Christ and yet uphold laws that disenfranchise, marginalize, and oppress those same brothers?

Well, what exactly counts as taking action? Is it tweeting? Writing a post for a parachurch website? Calling a legislature? Standing outside an office with a placard?

What also is “upholding” laws that disenfranchise? If someone says nothing are they guilty of upholding existing laws? Or is it a case of speaking out or “taking action” against some laws but not others?

Abandonment of the gospel is a tad strong for a condition — “taking no action” — that is so arbitrary and inexact.

At the same time, once upon a time Anyabwile fully endorsed DeYoung’s point that Christians should stop using the phrase social justice:

Stop Using the Term “Social Justice”!

Not even John MacArthur and fellow signers went that far.

Something changed between 2009 and 2019. It could be that history clarified all the ambiguity (even if it did not change what the Bible — a fixed set of texts — says. Or it could be people have changed their minds. If Ferguson is the turning point, it sure would help to hear some reflection on ways in which a country that has persistently practiced racism only in 2014 became so egregious that now some people had to build up word counts and twitter followers.

What Would it Take for a Minster to Go to Jail?

These days the short answer has something to do with children (or not reporting someone who had something to do with children). But for high minded ministers, what about the ministering word and sacrament could get you locked up?

Doug Wilson’s recent encounter with FBI agents got me thinking:

A few weeks ago, I got a call from an FBI agent (apparently on the road) to see if I would be in my office later that afternoon. I acknowledged that I would be, and we arranged a time. At that arranged time, two field agents showed up, very personable, professional and polite. As far as I knew, it could be anything from running a security check on someone who had me down as a reference to hauling me off for thought crimes against our Brand New Republic.

I asked them if I should have a colleague sit in, and they said that would not be necessary. So then, we sat down, and though I may not have looked like I was all agog, I was all agog on the inside. Imagine my delight when it turned out that our topic was “No Quarter November,” specifically the first post in that series, and more specifically than that, the first paragraph in that post. As you may recall, the title of that post was “Burn All the Schools.” And here is the offending paragraph.

H.L. Mencken once suggested a shrewd educational reform that has somehow not caught on. He said that there was nothing wrong with our current education establishment that could not be fixed by burning all the schools, and hanging all the teachers. Now some might want to dismiss this as an extreme measure, but visionaries are often dismissed in their own day. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one . . .”

From this Wilson deduce that:

There are two kinds of Christian leaders in the world, dividing them broadly into two camps. Mention that someone has gotten a visit from the FBI on the basis of something he said in a sermon, on a podcast, on his blog, or in the church newsletter, and Christian leaders will sort themselves out accordingly. One group shakes the head disapprovingly, worried about the testimony, and what does this do to the good reputation among outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7)? The second kind of Christian leader hears of something like this, and his heart sinks. “Why can’t something like that ever happen to me?” And his wife says, “Honey, don’t . . .”

One kind of Christian leader thinks that it is an honor to be honored. The other believes that it is an honor to be dishonored, a grace to be disgraced. There is obviously more to it, but that basic division explains a lot of other things too.

Now someone might be ready with a quick comeback. “Yeah, Wilson, but you didn’t get visited by the FBI because of Jesus. You got visited because you quoted that old reprobate Mencken.”

To which I reply that perhaps a lot more pastors ought to be quoting Mencken.

That’s a strange admission that preaching Christ and him crucified will not land you in jail. It may in China. It may in Eritrea. But in the United States it won’t. Even the little old ornery OPC, for all of its warts and few crackpots, is able to minister scripture as a confessional Presbyterian communion without fear of police raids or federal penalties. Is the United States great, or what?

And yet, to maintain the narrative that the United States (and liberalism) is the second coming of the fall, and to prove their bona fides as “real” male ministers, some pastors get Chris Matthews tingle up the leg at the thought of going to jail.

Now, I like Mencken as much as the next white male Protestant, but I have never advocated preaching him. Yet, while Wilson entertains preaching Baltimore’s bad boy, Tim Bayly reached for Herman Melville:

In my first message at the conference, I quoted Melville’s maxim, “the pulpit leads the world.” During the Q&A afterward, a pastor ministering in a hipster neighborhood of an eastern seaboard city was quite exercised over the statement, calling out “what’s your authority for saying ‘the pulpit leads the world’?”

I answered that I hadn’t cited it, but my source was Melville’s Moby Dick, leading him to interrupt saying he didn’t care where the quote came from, following with “where does it say that in the Bible?”

To which I responded that the entire Bible says it, from the prophets through the book of Acts where we read of the preaching of the Gospel turning the ancient Roman Empire on its head and getting the Jewish leaders to gnash their teeth.

He continued adamant in his denial, at which point I probed whether he was an R2K acolyte of men like Darryl Hart and David VanDrunen?

Bingo. And later in the conference, this pastor interrupted my message on the sin of effeminacy, saying I should stick to preaching the simple Gospel. He was quite adamant about it and I had to ask him if he’d please let me finish and we could talk afterward?

This is the preaching of Reformed pulpits in our nation today, and it leads me on this morning following our midterm elections to make the obvious point that everything going on in these United States right now, from our White House to our Congress and Supreme Court down to our state capitals and governors’ mansions down to our mayors and school district superintendents, even to the words squawking in our police cars and the smiles and frowns of our crossing guards, is the product of our pulpits.

Notice the concession to the spirituality of the church (and its foundation in the sufficiency of Scripture). If you want to preach about politics, you need to look beyond the Bible to American authors. Mencken and Melville are preferable to Charles Dickens and Flannery O’Connor, though Christians reading non-Christian fiction is generally a good thing. But not in the pulpit, not even The Wire.

How To Avoid Christological Heresy this Christmas

It has become a cliche to regard the incarnation as providing an upgrade for humanity and even all of creation. Consider this from Michael Sean Winters:

We Catholics believe that human nature is changed and uplifted precisely because our God chose to don it. Human nature, you might say, was the first “gay apparel” of Yuletide. If the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord relativizes our humanity to his divinity, Christmas celebrates the relativization of his divinity to our humanity. It is because of this twin relativization that Jesus was able to overturn manmade precepts with such determination, to cut away the cultural encrustations and get to the kernel within, to proclaim a new day of favor

Truth be told, divinity does not merge with humanity, not even in Jesus himself. Remember what the bishops affirmed at Chalcedon:

begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved

The hypostatic union does not blur or merge or combine Christ’s human and divine natures. The Westminster Divines were also explicit about keeping the human and divine distinct even though in one person:

The only mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father, in the fullness of time became man, and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, forever. (WLC 36)

In which case, if the incarnation did not divinize Christ’s human nature, then how could it Christ’s birth and life conceivably sacralize the rest of humanity and human civilization?

Be careful out there.