Looking More and More Like Paul Wrote Romans around 1971 (A.D.)

On the way to church yesterday, I was listening to the latest episode of Mars Hill Audio and I swear I heard Ken Myers complain that modern thinkers do not consider human nature in the light of the incarnation and the resurrection. That would imply an understanding of human nature without sin since Jesus lived a perfect life and since believers who go to heaven will live lives in which it is impossible to sin. If the desire is to call people to live virtuous lives and leave behind the viciousness and debauchery that characterizes modern America, the appeal to something higher is understandable. But it also needs to be plausible. And that means taking sin and unbelief into account when thinking about personal and civic virtue. How much “goodness” is truly possible in a world distorted by sin?

And then at church we read an excerpt from Paul’s epistle to the Romans which made me think he must have been writing at a time when he was observing How (or Why) Liberalism Failed (even though the secular liberals at Columbia University set the date for the epistle around 57 AD):

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:20-32)

Is that a description of Times Square circa 1970 or of Trump’s America? Well, if Columbia University is correct, Paul was actually depicting the society of first-century Mediterranean world. And if Paul was writing about his own time, not the United States with its defective Lockean political theory, then maybe the problems we twenty-first-century Americans face are not the product of bad political theory but of bad people who live at all times.

Notice too, how Paul goes on in that epistle to advise about the remedy for such a sorry state. Is it to have a church that becomes a civilizing force among barbarian tribes? Is it more governmental programs that make two-parent families plausible? Is it reading Aliadair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor on the problems of secular modernity? No. All of these remedies might help to lessen the blows of our fallen estate. But the only solution is — wait for it — justification by faith (chs 4-6) and preachers who will proclaim the good news (ch 10). He doesn’t even invoke the Virgin Mary for help.

But what about politics? Paul even addressed that. Honor the emperor, you know, the one who was not very virtuous and didn’t seem all that interested in rolling back modernity.

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Isn’t This Like a Constitutional Amendment in Favor of Fast Food?

John Fea objects to the American Bible Society’s “Affirmation of Biblical Community” as a break with the institution’s past and an attempt to signal an evangelical brand (yuck):

There is nothing unusual with a religious organization making employees sign a statement of faith or requiring them to practice certain behavior that fits with the teachings of historic Christianity. Christian ministries and colleges, for example, do this as a matter of course.

But the fact that the ABS has decided to adopt such a statement after functioning for 202 years without one does make this development noteworthy. As the author of perhaps the only scholarly history of this storied Christian organization, I can attest that the “Affirmation of Biblical Community” represents a definitive break with the vision of its founders.

It also represents the culmination of a roughly 20-year transformation of the Society from a diverse Christian organization to a ministry with strong ties to American evangelicalism.

Fea is gaining a following, even to the point that Ruth McCambridge calls this a “hi-jacking”:

Here are some of the potentially break-worthy aspects of the Affirmation as reported at Christianity Today:

“I believe the Bible is inspired by God, an open invitation to all people, and, for me, provides authoritative guidance for my faith and conduct.”

“I will seek spiritual maturity through regular Bible engagement…”

“I will seek to refrain from sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant prescribed and exemplified in the Bible.”

If Fea’s point is that ABS never codified its doctrines or morals, he has a technical point. But do technicalities add up to a “break” or “hi-jacking?” Americans love fast-food but don’t have a national affirmation in favor of double-cheeseburgers. If someone in Congress proposed an amendment to affirm McDonalds and Whataburger, would it constitute a break with American norms, or an unusual step in merging the nation’s politics and tastebuds?

Still, the way Fea and others comment on the Affirmation is to suggest the folks at ABS were indifferent to morality and doctrine, or that the Bible Society was never truly in the evangelical camp. I don’t like to do this but I did learn from John Fea that ABS was part of a 19th-century push by evangelical Protestants to form voluntary parachurch agencies and change the world. In his history of ABS, he writes:

At the start of the Civil War, close to half of the population of the United States were evangelical Christians, and most of these evangelicals were sympathetic to the work of benevolent societies. . . . Between 1789 and 1829 the nation’s thirteen largest benevolent socieites — most of them unaffiliated with a specific denomination — spent more than $2.8 million to promote a more Christian and moral nation. . . . Lyman Beecher, perhaps the most vocal champion of a Christian nation and a founder of the ABS, believed that such interdenominational society should supplement the churches as a “sort of disciplined moral militia.” (51-52)

Is it just I or does that sound like Beecher could well affirm the ABS’s recent Affirmation (and might even add a few more items like drinking, smoking, movies, novels, Sabbath desecration)?

Indeed, one of Beecher’s colleagues in founding ABS, Elias Boudinot, was according to Tommie Kidd “the most evangelical founding father” and no slouch in the moralizing business. Here is how Kidd described Boudinot:

Boudinot was a member and president of the Continental Congress, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the director of the U.S. Mint from 1795 to 1805. Boudinot became increasingly alarmed about the rise of Deism and the attacks on traditional Christianity by Thomas Paine and others. He helped found the American Bible Society in 1816, and became the president of the American Society for Evangelizing the Jews in 1820 (John Quincy Adams was a vice president of this organization). Boudinot wrote Christian treatises such as The Age of Revelation and The Second Advent, which used prophecies from the Bible to argue that America risked losing the blessings of God if it continued to pursue faithlessness and worldliness.

Kidd then included an excerpt from Boudinot’s book, The Second Advent:

But has not America greatly departed from her original principles, and left her first love? Has she not also many amongst her chief citizens, of every party, who have forsaken the God of their fathers, and to whom the spirit may justly be supposed to say, “ye hold doctrines which I hate, repent, or else I will come unto you quickly, and will fight against you with the sword of my mouth.”

America has been greatly favoured by God, in all her concerns, both civil and religious, and she has much to hope, and much to fear, according as she shall attentively improve her relative situation among the nations of the earth, for the glory of God, and the protection of his people—She has been raised up in the course of divine Providence, at a very important crisis, and for no very inconsiderable purposes. She stands on a pinnacle—She cannot act a trifling or undecided part—She must determine whom she will serve, God or mammon—She stands by faith, and has great reason to take heed lest she should fall, from a vain confidence in her own internal strength, forgetting “the rock from whence she has been hewed, and the hole of the pit, from whence she has been digged.” …

Hearken then, ye who are happily delivered from many of the evils and temptations to which the European nations are exposed. Your fathers fled from persecution: a glorious country was opened to them by the liberal hand of a kind Providence;—a land, literally, flowing with milk and honey;—they were miraculously delivered from the savages of the desert;—they were fed and nourished in a way they scarcely knew how. Alas! what have been the returns, their descendants, of late years, have made for the exuberant goodness of God to them? The eastern states, however greatly fallen from their former Christian professions, were settled by a people really fearing God. “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent,” that is, will deprive thee of those Gospel privileges with which thou hast been so greatly favoured.

Again, Boudinot sounds like the sort of fellow who would likely add to ABS’ recent enumeration of biblical convictions. Kidd adds, “Whatever you might think of Christians today who say we need to bring America ‘back to God,’ it is a concern that evangelicals like Boudinot were expressing from the beginning of the nation.”

So just how much is Affirmation of Biblical Community a “definitive break” with the founders of ABS? Fea could well be right that compared to later developments in the Society’s history, when it became more mainline and even “liberal” Protestant, the current statement is a “hi-jacking.” But not with ABS founders who may not have supported Donald Trump but would be as obnoxious now about marriage, sex, family life, and public morality as they were then.

If Gospel Coalitions Can’t Unite, What about Social Gospels?

Paul Carter is worried about factionalism dividing the unity of young Calvinists (largely identified with the Gospel Coalition). He’s also worried that the young Calvinists are in over the heads on politics:

The YRR movement has been fueled by some very admirable concerns: the desire to trust in Scripture, the desire to worship God as he is and not as culture dictates, the desire to reach the nations with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ – these are noble and appropriate motivations. But mixed in with these there were no doubt some motivations of lesser quality.

There was a desire, for example, to be different than the generation that went before.

The Baby Boomers were indifferent to doctrine – by and large – and in bed with the Republican Party – metaphorically speaking. The YRR crowd wanted to make it clear that they were different. For the first 10 years or so of the movement this meant largely avoiding the political implications of the Gospel.

At T4G 18 that all began to change.

Politics was back on the table.

To a certain extent this was inevitable – the Gospel has social and political consequences. But the YRR movement does not appear prepared to facilitate that conversation. The movement appears poised to fracture under the pressure posed by long neglected issues and implications.

If Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, what need has a Christian to own a handgun?

If the Gospel has broken down the wall of hostility and made of us one new people – then why are we still talking about black and white?

If the mission of the church is to take the Gospel to the nations, then why are so many Christians opposed to immigration?

I’m not telling you what the answers are I’m just telling you what the questions are. Questions are being asked that for over a decade were not being asked and the weight of those questions threatens to derail the movement.

Here’s why the young Calvinists can’t avoid talking about race, immigration, and guns. Not only does The Gospel Coalition feed a steady diet of gospelly reflections about the latest headlines at Fox or MSNBC, but these people actually believe that the Bible speaks to government policies on race, immigration, and guns. They have a comprehensive w-w that requires the Bible to speak – period – totally – period – to all of life – period (thanks Aaron Sorkin). The spirituality of the church is not an option.

As much as critics might want to accuse defenders of the spirituality of the church of racism, they should actually consider that a reduced scope for Scripture and the church is much like classical liberalism. Government is supposed to be limited in its operations; in the case of the United States the Constitution was supposed to inform that limitation. But for Fascists, Communists, and some aspects of Progressivism, a limited government won’t get done all you want government to do. Plus, a government that provides mere basic services won’t generate the aspirations that people need to make a nation great or exceptional.

The same goes for the transformationalizationalists. A reduced footprint for Christianity is not good enough. The church needs to do more than proclaim the gospel, conduct faithful worship, provide discipline, and care for widows and orphans (with 1 Tim. 5 scrutiny). How could Christianity ever make people go “wow” if the church restricted what it did to word, sacrament, and discipline (and let all the other agencies of a civil society pitch in on the aspirational stuff)?

In the heart of most people beats the pulse of a Yankee fan, which helps to explain Kuyperianism, Youthful Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism. Comprehensivalists all.

Obviously, Tim Has Not Read Meredith

Tim Challies posted a brief for medical missions that could help anyone understand why a health gospel is not far removed from a wealth version:

2. You are able to proclaim the gospel at a time in life when your listeners are keenly aware that there are serious problems they cannot remedy in their own strength, and there are worrisome risks they must accept. They know they need God’s help, and they want it. . . .

4. Medical evangelism affords the opportunity to tell people about Christ in the context of helping them with no expectation of personal gain. It confirms that their well-being is your motivation in telling them the gospel.

5. Medical work gives credibility to the evangelist. It shows that he not only wants to help his listeners, but that he can help them. If the physical problem can be remedied, then what the physician has to say about the spiritual problem should be worth listening to as well.

On the flip side, someone might be prone to exhibit faith in order to win the attention of the physician. And sometimes missionaries may want to be thought of as compassionate or humanitarian. Whatever happened to mixed motives?

1. Patients strive diligently to come to you. You do not have to go to them, apologizing for invading their privacy or encroaching on their time.

3. You can evangelize a large geographical area–while traveling only a few miles from home. At Marrere, people came from all over the province and from an additional four states as well. Those five provinces represented half the nation.

Congregations and church buildings accomplish the same purpose, even if indigenous peoples who come to church may be interested in gaining the attention of the Western Christians and the benefits that follow.

6. Mission hospitals provide conspicuous testimonies before entire communities of the transforming work Christ accomplishes in Christians. In primitive cultures, the kind of medical care Christians provide stands in marked contrast to the carelessness and lack of compassion that often characterizes other care-givers.

Or, medical missions show the advances that come from studying bodies as natural phenomena. You don’t need a witch doctor to get well. You don’t need a Christian physician either. What you need is a good medical practitioner.

Why spiritualize medicine? And why, in the process, make the means of grace, word and sacrament, common or even inferior?

Meredith Kline’s logic in his minority report is still worth pondering for the ecclesiology on which it is based. Here is an excerpt:

It is now further to be observed that ithe church finds itself in conflict with the most important principles of biblical ecclesiology as soon as it adopts the traditional approach to medical missions, the approach recommended in the committee’s report. It would seem evident that a physician commissioned by the church to devote his full time to performing in the name of the church what is alleged to be an ecclesiastical function is thereby appointed as some sort of officer of the church. Which office he is supposed to occupy is somewhat obscure-the convenient title of “missionary” is bestowed on him and that covers a multitude of problems. Yet, his work does not coincide with that of any of the church officers as described in’the standards of government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The committee’s report presents his ministry as one of mercy and presumably then he would be, in terms of the committee’s position, a specialized variety of deacon. . . . However, since there is no biblical evidence of deacons or any others practicing ordinaay medicine as an official ecclesiastical function, what the modern church has actually done is to invent the new office of the ecclesiastical medic.

But leaving aside the question of the medical missionary’s official status, there remains the fact that the function of medicine is, according to the committee’s insistence, a properly ecclesiastical function. Therein the committee would find the justification for its policy of medical missions. But if, operating on such assumptions, the church proceeds to commission physicians to practice medicine as an ecclesiastical function, the question at once arises: By what standards is this work to be performed and governed? The church may not abandon responsibility for the nature of the performance of any ecclesiastical function carried out in the church’s name. . . .

Unless, then, the church has lost the third mark of a true churdh and is prepared to disclaim responsibility for exercising disciplinary supervision over its medical work, it will be obliged to adopt a set of standards by which to judge of the medical qualifications of those whom it would appoint and by which afterwards to govern their labors. Such a code of medical practice is, however, not provided in the Word of God.

Presumably, the church will desire to practice medicine according to the present state of the art (that, indeed, becomes the fourth mark of the true church). It will then probably be the latest medical journals that are elevated to the position of standards of the church alongside the Bible. In any case, the Scriptures will no longer be the sole authority and rule in the government of the church. And, of course, there are not available to the church from any source standards of absolute authority and validity for the practice of medicine like the divine norms available to the church in the canon of Scripture for regulating the functions that are indispensably the church’s proper ministry. Thus, when the church usurps to itself from the sphere of human culture the function of medicine, it involves itself in the relativism, the uncertainties, and the fallacies of expert human opinion and repudiates the character of absolute divine authority that is the glory of its true ministry.

Nor is that the end of the dilemma for the church entangled in the medical profession. Such a church must also be ready to submit to the interference of the state in its own proper ecclesiastical functioning in a way clearly prejudicial to the prerogatives of Christ as Head of the church. For the missionary doctor has no license to operate in independence of the civil regulations governing the practice of medicine nor does he have diplomatic immunity from the sanctions of the civil court by which those regulations are enforced. Consequently, the church that commissions him must acknowledge the right of the state to interfere in its government and ministry so far as to determine who is and who, is not qualified to be appointed by the church to one of its own offices or ministries; to establish the particular procedures that the medical appointee must follow in fulfillment of his ecclesiastical ministry; and, in case of malpractice, to inflict temporal penalties on him for his official ecclesiastical shortcomings and virtually to compel his suspension or deposition.

Surely the church that submits to such state interference has thereby removed itself from under the exclusive lordship of Christ as King (in a special sense) of the church. And the church that insists that the practice of medicine is one of its proper divinely assigned functions has no choice but to submit to that kind of state control and in so doing to become guilty of giving unto Caesar that which belongs unto God. (Minutes of the OPC’s Thirty-First General Assembly, 54-55)

Another reason New Calvinists need a doctrine of the church (but won’t find one at The Gospel Coalition).

Shouldn’t Calvinists (even new ones) Understand Clay Feet?

Even if Russell Moore received several tweeted thumbs up for his address at the Gospel Coalition conference on Martin Luther King, Jr., others are raising questions about ERLC head’s commentary on race relations.

For starters, Lorine Spratt, executive assistant to the Pastor of First Baptist Church Bossier City, LA, thinks Moore’s finger on the pulse of Southern Baptist life is numb:

I am a born-again Christian, Conservative, Black attender of a White, Southern Baptist, Evangelical Church in Louisiana. In fact, I not only attend, I also work there and I am very concerned about the narrative that I’m hearing from our ERLC leadership. I am absolutely appalled by the comments made by Dr. Russell Moore concerning racism within the White Evangelical churches.

I, and many other Black congregants, attend a predominately White, Southern Baptist Evangelical Church. We attend there because we are free to do so, we’ve been welcomed, and we’re seen and treated as brothers and sisters in Christ. I truly believe that I could attend any White Evangelical church and be welcomed. However, there are born again Black believers who choose to attend Black evangelical churches and worship within their culture and they are free to do so. We are exercising our freedom to choose. We are not commodities to be bargained with or exploited or used to promote an agenda or boost quotas.

White churches are not advocating racism but Dr. Moore is. He is fueling racial tensions. I view his comments as divisive and antagonistic. His words do not promote unity!

Please, let it be known that Dr. Moore does not speak for me or other Black Christians who believe that great strides and fearless efforts have been made by many throughout the years to abolish racism such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham and many others.

The letter above originally appeared here and the anti-Calvinists in the SBC, truth be told, may relish a chance to catch the New Calvinist, Moore, mangling relations among black and white Southern Baptists.

Then there is the arresting perspective of Bob Gagnon who couldn’t help but notice the way that critics of Trump’s moral failings were noticeably silent about King’s own behavior (in ways that may actually resemble how the “court evangelicals” have overlooked Trump’s character):

Gagnon, a conservative biblical scholar recognized as the foremost traditionalist interpreter on the topic of the Bible and homosexuality, said Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and lead organizer of the gathering, failed to address documented evidence that King lived a sexually immoral personal life.

Gagnon called Moore “the same guy, mind you, who has had no trouble accusing the vast majority of his brethren who voted for Trump in order to avoid Clinton (or who supported Roy Moore in order to avoid Doug Jones) of falling prey to ‘moral relativism’ and ‘consequentialism,’ of being an embarrassment to the gospel because they are not standing up for their own Bible values around sexual fidelity in marriage.”

“He said not a word about MLK’s sexual immorality that was arguably the equal of Trump’s,” the scholar said.

Gagnon said speakers at the “MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop” confab also tried to explain away “the fact that by any reasonable standard of what counts for essential Christian faith, King was what evangelicals then and today would view as a heretical Christian.”

“He denied Christ’s incarnation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and second coming; in short, a full sweeping denial of orthodox Christian faith,” Gagnon said in an earlier post. “For King, Christ was an excellent moral teacher and human exemplar of trust in God. No more, no less.”

Gagnon said King’s sexual immorality was arguably worse than Trump’s, not only because he was a minister of the gospel but also because he “was willing to risk the fate of the entire civil rights struggle in order to continue his sexually immoral conduct, week after week, right up to what would be his final night on earth.”

Of course, the way out of these dilemmas is to rely not on heroes or celebrities but on Scripture for moral standards. From Thomas Jefferson to Charlie Rose, exemplary humans are fallen and their lives don’t prove one side or the other in any debate. But if you want to signal that you are on the right side of the cultural divide, lining up behind a social or political icon works as long as you forget that you are living in the #metoo era.

What If I Want Jordan Peterson instead of Wendell Berry?

The Gospel Allies are always peppering readers with guidance on contemporary culture without ever acknowledging that many Christians would be better served by reading secular publications (like The New Yorker, The American Conservative, Times Literary Supplement).

As the allies make their way through the haze of relevance, some may wonder what their criteria for evaluating writers, ideas, and cultural expressions are.

Take for instance Joe Carter’s estimate of Jordan Peterson (wherein comes a heavy dose of anti-thetical analysis thanks to a quote from Joel McDurmon):

For all of his toppling of great idols of humanism in our day, Dr. Peterson’s thought, from their presuppositions right through many of his conclusions, is as thoroughly humanist, autonomous, and thus ultimately dangerous, as anything any leftist every said. Christians need to be aware of the depths of this problem in Peterson’s thought, and the implications it has for their discernment of his teachings.

But when it comes to Wendell Berry, a writer much admired here but no font of Christian orthodoxy, the Allies print a positive estimate of the farmer-poet:

Reading Wendell Berry reminds us that one result of rooting ourselves in God’s Word should be that we root ourselves in our neighborhoods. These places are likely to be dark and polluted, but in belonging here while stretching toward the light of God’s love, we bear witness to John’s proclamation: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Berry’s fictional characters help us imagine what it might look like to be members of God’s household who live with faith, hope, and love—and so bless their neighbors.

Dare I observe that if TGC had given an assignment to a Van Tillian to write about Berry, the article would not be so charitable.

And then to round out the confusion comes a piece that recommends the film of P. T. Anderson (including one — don’t tell John Piper — that has nudity):

Phantom Thread feels like an especially instructive model of a film that I fully expect will be talked about and enjoyed by future generations, long after most 2017 films are forgotten. Director Paul Thomas Anderson is known for making movies (e.g., Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) that aren’t particularly “relevant” but are inarguably good. He is a master of the cinematic form, an auteur who has true, loving interest in the characters and settings he depicts, beyond their utilitarian value as fodder for the zeitgeist. Like Terrence Malick, Anderson makes the films he wants to make, pointing the camera on the things he finds beautiful and interesting, paying little heed to headlines or formulas or convention. Ironically this is often the formula for lasting influence. It certainly has been for Malick and Anderson.

At some point, don’t you wonder that the editors at TGC have less a coherent w-w than they do a desire to pose as up-to-date? And oh, by the way, what does any of this have to do with the gospel?

Presbyterianism In Secret or in Private?

1“Beware of practicing your righteousness Presbyterianism before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

2“Thus, when you give to the needy commission deaconesses, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So what does it mean when a pastor is Presbyterian in name but known nationally and interdenominationally by his own evangelical brand? You could say, he is practicing his Presbyterianism in secret and God, who sees in secret, will reward such Protestantism. He keeps his Presbyterianism to himself. Likewise, it could be that the critics of parachurch evangelicalism on Presbyterian grounds are the hypocrites who practice their Presbyterianism in public by identifying with a particular denomination or communion and letting that shape their reputation. This is a form of practicing Presbyterianism for others to see.

But what if practicing Presbyterianism in secret also cuts you off from practicing evangelicalism in public? Isn’t the point of the Sermon on the Mount partly to avoid hypocrisy? In which case, ministering in a Presbyterian church is inconsistent with ministering in an interdenominational setting. And avoiding an evangelical ministry because of Presbyterian convictions is a version of practicing Presbyterianism in secret since the confessional Presbyterian’s absence from the Gospel-Industrial-Complex conference is invisible — no one knows the Presbyterian isn’t there or why he or she is not.

So isn’t an application of Christ’s warnings about practicing piety in public that you better mean what you believe (and oh, by the way, vow)? And if you mean what you confess as a Presbyterian, why and how can you minister with non-Presbyterians?

At Least It’s Not a Conference about Lent

Redeemer Big Apple is sponsoring a conference during this Lenten reason not about repentance and abstinence but about work:

When we see that work is created to glorify God, our work doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it does become more meaningful. The pain in our work is faced with greater honesty, where the brokenness can finally be named and seen. The unseen potential of our work is faced with greater imagination, where an innovative spirit can unleash what yearns to be resurrected. In short, when we discover that we’re formed to work for God’s glory, we find that our small tasks aren’t so small, and our big tasks are in better hands. Work becomes desirable. Rest becomes possible. Faith becomes essential.

Join us for a two-day experience where we’ll investigate how we are formed to work for the glory of God. Artists and educators, designers and technicians, homemakers, engineers, managers, entrepreneurs, doctors, and everyone in between are welcome.

Plumbers? Janitors? Bakers? The only non-professionals included in that list are homemakers.

But the oddest part of the conference is its “Glimpses,” or “exciting opportunities throughout the city to participate in diverse experiences centered around work, culture and sabbath.” These include:

GREAT GOTHAM CHALLENGE

In this thrilling urban scavenger hunt, you’ll experience New York City as you never have before. Within teams, you’ll work through city-centric challenges and puzzles and learn new things about the Big Apple along the way.

COMEDY SHOW

Join us for a stand-up comedy performance followed by an in-depth look into how the gospel intersects with the entertainment sector.

ALPHABET SCOOP

Have some ice cream and see this newly opened and highly lauded East Village shop that blends a great product with a powerful mission.

TOWN REAL ESTATE WORKSITE VISIT

Come visit one of the largest real estate firms in New York City, where we’ll see how urban homes are found and made, and hear from a broker about the inner workings of the vast and complex NYC market.

FLOWER ARRANGING

Learn a simple and practical method for bringing God’s beauty into your personal space. Together we’ll learn a new restful hobby and the spiritual importance of fostering beauty in your daily life.

RUNNING TOUR OF CENTRAL PARK

How can running be a form of practicing rest? Come find out and run through a guided path with a group.

GOLDMAN SACHS TRADING FLOOR VISIT

Get an inside look at the excitement and energy of a trading floor. We’ll also hear from a panel of finance industry employees to hear about the shifts, values, and complexities of the financial sphere.

TOUR OF LOWER MANHATTAN/REVOLUTIONARY NEW YORK

With more than 400 years of history, come see the Lower Manhattan neighborhood where what once were cow paths and trading posts are now skyscraper lined streets.

MOVING MEDITATION: YOGA SESSION

Knowing His great care for our bodies, how can we invite God into our physical workouts? Through meditation and prayer, we’ll discover how to connect God to breathing and movement in this meditation that will also include an hour long yoga class and journaling.

Aside from blessing Goldman Sachs at a time when I would have thought progressive-leaning, Ta Nehisi Coates-reading evangelicals were woke about neo-liberalism (not to mention the 2008 financial collapse and the federals’ bailout), could this list of consumption, tourism, and entertainment be any more of a cliche? It would be like the OPC selling shirts that can’t be tucked in, pocket protectors, and slide rules at one of its pre-General Assembly conferences?

Or could it be that when you are this cool, you don’t worry about optics?

What Does Matthew McConaughey Know that the Gospel Industrial Complex Does Not?

I am no fan of religious “journalism” that functions as publicity but here I may be guilty of that of which I complain — at least, to paraphrase the Pharisees, I’m no reporter.

All about mmmmeeeeEEEE, but I really like Nick Foles if only because he is so hard to like, not for having rough edges but for his vanilla qualities. He generally answers reporters questions with generic affirmations of hard work, team spirit, and respect for the other team — in a monotone that is singularly dull. He seems to suffer from the professional QB disease of not being fleet of foot. He even gets that deer-in-the-headlights look when on camera. After a scintillating start in his rookie season (under Chip Kelly, mind you), he fell back to the back of the pack.

Oh, by the way, he just won the Super Bowl, went pass-for-pass with the legendary Tom Brady, and also was MVP. Add to those accomplishments Foles’ profession of faith in Jesus Christ and his on-line seminary studies and you might think the journalists at Christianity Today or the “reporters” at Gospel Coalition would be delighted to draft on Foles’ success the way the Co-Allies did with Bubba Watson at the Masters, if only for the sake of winning more people to Christ. But no. Nothing at either website.

Not even the endorsement from Frank Reich, the Eagles’ Offensive Coordinator (and now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts), who was once-upon-a-time the president of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) commanded the gospel industrialists’ attention:

“Nick is the real deal — an authentic Christian who has a contagious love for Christ and for others,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich told The Washington Post in a text message.

Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey took out a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman to congratulate Foles.

The actor’s response likely has nothing to do with the coverage that even the Washington Post gave to the Eagles’ QB:

Foles’s up-and-down career in the NFL, which included him considering retirement, has prepared him to discuss adversity and character building for a Christian audience. In a video on the YouVersion Bible app, he slipped into preacher mode by reading and explaining 2 Corinthians 12:9.

“This verse has brought so much meaning to my heart and in my life,” he says, later adding, “Everyone feels weak at some time in our lives, but we have to realize when we’re going through that, God’s shaping our hearts and allowing us to grow to become who he created us truly to be.”

He said the week of the Super Bowl that he envisions ministering to students because he understands the temptation with social media and the Internet.

“It’s something I want to do,” he said in an AP story. “I can’t play football forever. I’ve been blessed with an amazing platform, and it’s just a door God has opened, but I still have a lot of school left and a long journey.”

Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ injured starting quarterback, posted an Instagram picture with Foles before the game, writing, “God’s writing an unbelievable story and he’s getting all the glory!”

The Liberty connection may be what puts off the evangelicals in the center of evangelicaldom. Liberty University issued a press release that reads a lot like the kind of features reporting in evangelical publications:

Foles has been bold about his faith during his football career, indicating that he would like to be a youth pastor someday. As the Eagles were presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Foles held his infant daughter, Lily, and said, “Being here with my daughter, my wife, my teammmates, my city, we’re very blessed.” At the post-game press conference, he said God gets the glory. “I wouldn’t be out here without God, without Jesus in my life. I can tell you that, first and foremost in my life, I don’t have the strength to come out here and play a game like that. It’s an everyday walk.”

But Liberty’s president did not even spook the Washington Post’s editors who have been known to be a tad tough on Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s favorite POTUS:

Liberty President Jerry Falwell tweeted after the game: “Congratulations to Liberty student @NFoles_9 on an incredible performance tonight and on becoming the first @LibertyU student to quarterback a winning @SuperBowl team! Amazing job by @Eagles! Great game and a real testament to the character and perseverance of the Eagles team!”

So what gives? Even Liberty University English professor, Karen Swallow Prior, isn’t toxic for Christianity Today’s purposes.

My gut tells me Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition still hold a grudge against J. Gresham Machen who started Westminster in Center City Philadelphia. But don’t the editors know that Machen protested the change in Blue Laws that allowed the NFL to play on the Lord’s Day?

What If Redeemer NYC Were Big Enough?

Some big changes at the most influential PCA congregation IN THE WORLD!

Here is the text of yesterday’s announcement:

The Center for Faith & Work (CFW) is pleased to announce the newest phase of its fifteen-year history as its staff joins Redeemer City to City (CTC) and continues to serve the Redeemer churches and New York City, while over time broadening its reach to global cities.

“Redeemer is changing with CFW because Redeemer is now not one church, it’s a family of three churches, which means it’s immediately looking outward to bless the whole city,” says Redeemer’s founding pastor Tim Keller. “Redeemer has become centrifugal; that is, it’s starting to push out to start new churches and help others start new churches. And so Redeemer is actually looking outwards, just like CFW will be looking outward, beyond Redeemer. They’re both making the same change at the same time. If CFW stays locked in Redeemer alone, then I don’t think a lot of its wisdom will be as available to the world. This is why now is the optimal time to do this.”

So apparently, Redeemer NYC is too New York to be of use to the rest of the world, unlike Redeemer CTC which is apparently global in orientation and structure. Do the folks who are New York Presbyterians really mean to imply that understandings of vocation in New York are parochial and cannot work in other parts of the world, unless integrated into a global organization? Since Tim Keller recently explained his worries about nationalism, what must he make of metropolitanism, something like the hyping of the Big Apple above the needs and realities of the rest of the world?

As the announcement explains:

Throughout its existence, CFW has encountered New Yorkers of all backgrounds facing a decidedly more global vocational culture. In our quickly changing world, the need for new tools, curriculum, and communities that help Christians wisely and meaningfully bring their faith to bear at work, across all spheres, is paramount.

City to City provides a developed network and infrastructure to strengthen CFW in its three-fold aim of equipping, connecting, and mobilizing Christians around the world in faith and work integration. City to City ensures a centralized effort towards that global expansion, while continuing a close and collaborative relationship with the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches.

So being a Christian banker in Beijing is decidedly different from banking on Wall Street?

Aside from vocation, this announcement raises questions about organizational footprint of Redeemer’s operations and Keller’s alliances. Are we really supposed to believe that Redeemer NYC — whichever congregation — was too inflexible a platform for the Center for Faith & Work? When did ecclesiology or administrative restrictions prevent Redeemer NYC from expanding its reach, or starting new programs? Heck, I suspect the PCA’s Mission to the World could have incorporated the work that the Center does if New York’s administrators had decided to work with PCA missionaries and their offices in different parts of the world? Is the Center’s activity really so special that the PCA’s structures can’t handle it? After all, the reading list available at the Center’s website is very, oh so very neo-Calvinist, with Al Wolter’s Creation Regained occupying the “advanced” understanding of vocation:

Few contemporary books have been cited as often by those who are writing about taking up callings and vocations faithfully. This this serious little book walks us through the key Biblical themes of the goodness of creation, the seriousness of the fall into sin, the decisive redemption gained by Christ, and the implications of working out the promised hope for a creation-wide restoration. With the keen eye of a philosopher and the passion of a Bible scholar, Wolter’s offers one of the definitive, concise books about a Christian worldview. One of the most important books for those of us in CFW and highly recommended to understand a uniquely Christian view of cultural and vocational engagement.

Granted, the neo-Calvinists never took root in NYC after the English displaced the Dutch colonists about two-thirds into the seventeenth century. But what is distinctly global about a set of readings that come largely from Christian Reformed writers living in North America and published Dutch-American editors in Grand Rapids?

And what about The Gospel Coalition? Is it parachurch chopped liver? Don’t the Allies have branches all over the world? If Redeemer can partner with TGC on The New City Catechism (TGC has a link at it’s menu page), why can’t the Center for Faith & Work collaborate with the Coalition in it’s own Faith & Work work?

The word that comes to mind is marvelous. But the marvel experienced here is that anyone in Presbyterian ministry has time for all of these structural niceties even when the bells and whistles of Presbyterian polity don’t seem to be all that important.