Machen Death Day 2023

A little tide me over for post-Christmas blues:

Would our knowledge of our Saviour be essentially complete if the New Testament did not contain the passages which narrate the virgin birth?

That question, we think, should be answered with an emphatic negative; without the story of the virgin birth our knowledge of our Saviour would be impoverished in a very serious way. Exaggerations, indeed, should be avoided at this point. Even without the infancy narratives we should have much upon which to rest our faith. Christ would still be presented in the New Testament as both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever; the significance of His Cross would still stand out in all its glorious clearness; He would still be offered to us in the gospel as our Saviour.

Yet there would be a serious gap in our knowledge of Him, and questions would arise which would be full of menace for the souls of men. How did this eternal Son of God enter into the world? Did the Son of God unite with the man Jesus at the baptism as the Gnostics supposed; was the man Jesus received up gradually into union with the eternal Son? Erroneous answers to such questions would, without the story of the virgin birth, be all too ready to hand. No doubt those erroneous answers would still be capable of refutation to a mind ideally logical and really filled with the convictions which all the Gospels and Epistles would provide. Yet they would be only too natural to the minds of men as they actually are. Without the story of the virgin birth we should be living constantly in a region of surmises like the errors of the heresiarchs in the ancient Church.

Such surmises would deprive us of the full doctrine of the incarnation upon which our souls can rest. To that doctrine it is essential that the Son of God should live a complete human life upon this earth. But the human life would not be complete unless it began in the mother’s womb. At no later time, therefore, should the incarnation be put, but at that moment when the babe was conceived. There, then, should be found the stupendous event when the eternal Son of God assumed our nature, so that from then on He was both God and man. Our knowledge of the virgin birth, therefore, is important because it fixes for us the time of the incarnation. And what comfort that gives to our souls! Marcion, the second-century dualist, was very severe upon those who thought that the Son of God was born as a man; he poured out the vials of his scorn upon those who brought Christ into connection with the birth-pangs and the nine months’ time. But we, unlike Marcion and his modern disciples, glory just in the story of those things. The eternal Son of God, He through whom the universe was made, did not despise the virgin’s womb! What a wonder is there! It is not strange that it has always given offence to the natural man. But in that wonder we find God’s redeeming love, and in that babe who lay in Mary’s womb we find our Saviour who thus became man to die for our sins and bring us into peace with God.

Moreover, the knowledge of the virgin birth is important because of its bearing upon our view of the solidarity of the race in the guilt and power of sin. If we hold a Pelagian view of sin, we shall be little interested in the virgin birth of our Lord; we shall have little difficulty in understanding how a sinless One could be born as other men are horn. But if we believe, as the Bible teaches, that all mankind are under an awful curse, then we shall rejoice in knowing that there entered into the sinful race from the outside One upon whom the curse did not rest save as He bore it for those whom He redeemed by His blood.

How, except by the virgin birth, could our Saviour have lived a complete human life from the mother’s womb, and yet have been from the very beginning no product of what had gone before, but a supernatural Person come into the world from the outside to redeem the sinful race? We may not, indeed, set limits to the power of God; we cannot say what God might or might not have done. Yet we can say at least that no other way can be conceived by us. Deny or give up the story of the virgin birth, and inevitably you are led to evade either the high Biblical doctrine of sin or else the full Biblical presentation of the supernatural Person of our Lord. A noble man in whom the divine life merely pulsated in greater power than in other men would have been born by ordinary generation from a human pair; the eternal Son of God, come by a voluntary act to redeem us from the guilt and power of sin, was conceived in the virgin’s womb by the Holy Ghost. (The Virgin Birth of Christ [1930], 394-395)

Biblicism

(From the current issue of the Nicotine Theological Journal)

Tim Keller is a biblicist (at least more than you think). Carl Trueman is not. Now for an explanation.

. . . Ever since Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self caught a wave among New and Old Calvinists – not to mention the following he has cultivated at First Things as the Presbyterian edition of Christopher Rufo – early returns on the book were striking for not mentioning the author’s insights into Scripture. Trueman did not even go to the w(orld)-(vie)w tool kit of applying the anti-thesis – the chasm between the regenerate and unregenerate – to explain contemporary society’s capitulation to gender fluidity and its related detritus. He was seemingly only loosely on board with Van Tillianism while he taught at Westminster Seminary but the Van Tillians’ praise for his book has been a wonder to behold.

Instead of the Bible or the transcendental method, Trueman relies on the work of Philip Rieff (Jewish-American sociologist), Alasdair McIntyre (Roman Catholic philosopher) and Charles Taylor (Roman Catholic philosopher) to assess the current debates about self-expression. This is actually a virtue of the book at least for those who complain that evangelicals and Reformed are insufficiently conversant with (and seemingly unwilling to use) the knowledge produced by thinkers who do not start from Christian truths or draw insights from Scripture. Trueman unwittingly freed up conservative Protestants to think thoughts after writers who do not start with God or the Bible.

. . . The same cannot be said for Tim Keller, at least when he dissects Critical Race Theory, a buzz word whose excitement seems to have dampened thanks to the price of consumer goods (rising) and bail (falling). The retired Presbyterian pastor, in a two-part series at the online quarterly, “Gospel In Life,” goes right to the heart of the issue when he starts with a contrast between biblical and non-biblical justice. Amid all the debates and contrasting views of justice, Keller argues, the biblical understanding is best even if believers seldom know it or appeal to it.

To set up his exposition of biblical justice, Keller clears the ground in a non-biblicist way – like Trueman – by using Alasdair MacIntyre to show that Enlightenment notions of justice have run out of gas (good for the climate, though). The idea that society could leave religion behind in pursuit of secular justice has proved an intellectual quicksand. For Keller, all notions of moral goodnesss, without a transcendent reference, are merely constructed. This would have been another time when a former Westminster professor might have used Van Til for good effect.

David French Rarely Speaks Truth to Evangelical Power

If you recall the controversy over Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton College, when the professor of political science lost her post for among other things saying that Christians and Muslims worshiped the same God, you may also remember that David French came out in defense of the Wheaton College administration:

Terminating a Christian professor — or any other employee of a Christian institution — for expressing beliefs out of line with the organization’s statement of faith is common and should be uncontroversial. Christian organizations have the same right to define their mission and message as any other expressive organization. Does anyone think it’s unjust that the Sierra Club won’t hire fracking advocates or that LGBT activist organizations aren’t open to Christian conservatives?

Why then would he object to Baptists — BAPTISTS — who put the congregation in congregational polity, taking issue with the pastor of their congregation? Can anyone seriously object to a Baptist organization having the right to run its institutions according to Baptist polity? David French can and the reason may be that he is impressed by evangelical celebrity:

David Platt is a bestselling author, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and the pastor of McLean Bible Church (MBC), a huge and influential church located outside Washington, D.C.

Although he is an attorney who seems to have a certain expertise about constitutional questions, the plight of Baptists not being able to vote in congregational elections is of no interest to French.

Platt is facing a revolt from self-described “conservative” congregants, a revolt that culminated in a lawsuit filed against the church by a group of its own members, demanding that a Virginia state court intervene in the church’s elder selection process to, among other things, preserve their alleged right to vote in those elections and to mandate a secret ballot.

Turning to the civil courts for protection of ecclesiastical rights may be unusual — but wasn’t a famous letter that Thomas Jefferson sent to Baptists who had certain legal questions — but why isn’t French, the attorney, at all interested?

Why too does he not see that using his platform to make one side in a church dispute look bad does not make him look good? What sort of norms and expectations would I upset if, say, during a trial in a presbytery of the OPC, I wrote an article about it for the wider world and took sides? Whatever influence I may have (or not), the seemingly appropriate thing to do is to stand back and let the process play out. Writing about themes or tensions relevant to such a case may be okay. But outsiders opinions in disputes at which they are not present have no stake are not helpful or welcome. They should but out.

At the same time, when you are a national columnist and need a religious subject for your Lord’s Day column, David Platt makes perfect sense.

Follow the Parents

Sometimes I wonder if journalists who cover the virus actually believe the narrative that leads to panic (which means they are as gullible as the fear-driven Trump voters) or are cynically reporting in a way to generate clicks and listens. A few weeks ago, Scott Simon, the master of journalistic empathy, revealed that journalists may actually prefer strong parents to reporters who question authority.

NPR’s Scott Simon talks with Dr. Curtis Chan, Deputy Health Officer for San Mateo County, CA about the county’s decision NOT to issue a stay-at-home order, as neighboring counties have.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Nearly 3,000 Americans are dying each day now from COVID-19. Hospital beds are full. ICU units are overwhelmed. Mayors and governors are saying stay home. Five counties near San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are in shutdown, but not San Mateo County. We’re joined now by Dr. Curtis Chan, who is deputy health officer for San Mateo County. Dr. Chan, thanks so much for being with us.

CURTIS CHAN: Nice to be here.

SIMON: Why has San Mateo decided to do something different?

CHAN: San Mateo County is following the federal guidelines and state guidelines, including the ones that were just released explaining that we should be staying at home once ICU capacity is below 15%. And we intend to follow that. You know, we also looked at our data. And we said, who is not staying home? Who’s causing the most transmissions? And we wanted to have targeted interventions for those people who are not staying at home and those people who are causing transmissions.

SIMON: Well, what does the data show?

CHAN: As for the specific cases going up, what we’ve seen in the last four weeks, it’s primarily amongst young adults between 20 to 30 years old. And those were the rates of highest rise. And we’re already in the very restrictive purple tier in California. And we didn’t think that immediately having health officer orders was going to be the strategy that would change behaviors immediately.

SIMON: Well, why not? I mean, why not issue the order and use that as, if nothing else, dramatic emphasis to make your point?

CHAN: Yeah. I think it’s an approach of harm reduction and thinking about people’s mental state. We’ve seen from the CDC reports that young people are the ones who are experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress and depression. And many of them are accustomed to social gatherings. And they’ve been continuing to social gather despite our health officer orders previously.

SIMON: You know, you’re stating some very good scientific facts, but I still don’t understand what makes you then shy away from some kind of stay-at-home order. I mean, I say this as a father. Help me translate it. It strikes me that in some ways you’re saying, look; if you tell people you must stay at home, this young group, this young demographic we’re trying to reach will do just the opposite.

CHAN: Well, the first thing is that it’s not enforceable. If we could actually enforce this and it was statewide or across the region or the country, I would think it’s a great idea. But I think, you know, it’s going to be counterproductive because it’s going to drive behaviors underground. And we think that there would be resentment that they can’t socially gather, let’s say, outside. But we don’t have the enforcement to prevent people from gathering inside, and there could be, you know, 10 young people or eight young people. So we think it’s a tremendously good idea. And those are our public health recommendations. But we didn’t have that as a legal order that suggests that it’s going to be enforced by law enforcement officials.

The reporter’s tell: “you’re stating some very good scientific facts, but I still don’t understand what makes you then shy away from some kind of stay-at-home order. I mean, I say this as a father.”

The Public Health official’s honesty: “the first thing is that it’s not enforceable. If we could actually enforce this and it was statewide or across the region or the country, I would think it’s a great idea. But I think, you know, it’s going to be counterproductive because it’s going to drive behaviors underground.”

Imagine that. Balancing science, human nature, and possibility.

The Challenge of Being Dick Allen

The Philadelphia Phillies’ slugger’s death yesterday (okay, he also played for the Dodgers, Cardinals, White Sox, and Athletics) brought back a lot of memories from boyhood when Allen was this author’s favorite (and adored) athlete. Bruce Kuklick’s wonderful book on the stadium where Allen started his career, To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976, is particularly useful for putting Allen’s troubled career — not to mention Philadelphia’s racism — in perspective:

In Philadelphia in 1964, fans held a Richie Allen Night at the end of September. The National League later designated him Rookie of the Year. He batted .318 and hit twenty-nine homeruns. Allen drew fans to the stadium. Part of his appeal was his power. Everyone who went to Connie Mack Stadium in the sixties had a story about a shot fired off the right-center field scoreboard or, even better, an Allen home run, “those blasts,” said one fan, “disappearing – still on a rising trajectory – into steaming North Philadelphia summer nights.” one nonfan had been taken to the park once during the sixties and remembered only driving through “rundown slums . . . with worn out people out on their steps trying to beat the August heat” and “a home run by Richie Allen.” A fan who regularly went to opening nights reminisced about “Philadelphians booing Jim Tate [Democratic mayor] when he threw out the first ball, and “rockets by Richie Allen.” On at least three occasions he hit shots over the wall in dead center field, between 410 and 450 feet from home plate. Old-timers remembered that only Jimmie Foxx, a mythic figure by the 1960s, had equally crushed the ball. Allen was, one fan wrote, a “uniquely fearsome” batter. Twenty-five years later, Allen said, people would still recall to him their memories of home runs he hit over the Coke and Cadillac signs on the part’s left-center field roof. The sight of Number 15 digging in at the plate brought a surge of excitement to Philadelphia crowds, who stayed in the park until his last at bat, no matter what the score.

Some writers attributed the Phillies collapse after the 1964 riot [in August] to a dark unease that overtook Allen, the effect on him of the widespread tension and his emerging racial consciousness. A native of a small town that had a tiny black community, he claimed not to have known bigotry until he got into organized baseball. In fact, before Carpenter [Phillies’ owner] brought him up to the Phillies, Allen spent 1963 in the minors in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, where southern whites ridiculed him, he broke the sports color line. The essential thing, Allen said, was that “I came here black . . . [and] militant.” No crisis occurred, however, until the next year, 1965. That July Frank Thomas, an outfielder known as “the Big Donkey” because he said the wrong things to the wrong people, fought with Allen during batting practice. Thomas made racial slurs, Allen swung, and Thomas hit him with a bat. Five hours later the Phillies placed Thomas on waivers and ordered Allen not to discuss the incident, although it crystallized his own anger about his problems as a black baseball star. Many white fans responded negatively to Thomas’s dismissal. More and more of them delighted in jeering Allen. Some of the hostility was explicitly racial: “Nigger! Go back to South Street with the monkeys.” Allen certainly thought that “racial prejudice and segregation” caused his troubles with the patrons.

Yet matters were more complex. Carpenter later adamantly asserted that although Allen as “pro black” he was not “a militant.” And the extensive public record does not show that civil rights, the political protests of the 1960s, or social principle preoccupied Allen. Rather, he bought some racehorses and developed a love for the track, where he sometimes went, in expensive and exaggerated clothing, instead of to his job. By the late 1960s Allen was periodically and predictably late for games. He got into a celebrated barroom fight in 1967. Sometimes he came to the park drunk or did not come at all.

Allen became a star just before the unheroic side of ballplayers became common knowledge. Some of his antics did not differ from the activities of less notorious white players. Still, the need to hide his fears and insecurities drove Allen to destructive excess. I was labeled an outlaw,” he said, “and after a while that’s what I became.” (157, 159-160)

This wrinkle in my youth may be the source of some later irregularities in the pursuit of holiness and being human.

Mencken Day 2020

“Life in the Republic grows increasingly uncomfortable to men of the more urbane and seemly sort, and, despite the great material prosperity of the country, the general stock of happiness probably diminishes steadily. For the thing that makes us enjoy the society of our fellows is not admiration of their inner virtues but delight in their outward manners. It is not enough that they are headed for heaven, and will sit upon the right hand of God through all eternity; it is also necessary that they be polite, generous, and, above all, trustworthy. We must have confidence in them in order to get any pleasure out of associating with them. We must be sure that they will not do unto us as we should refuse, even for cash in hand, to do unto them. It is the tragedy of the Puritan that he can never inspire this confidence in his fellow-men. He is by nature a pedant in ethics, and hence he is by nature a mucker. With the best of intentions he cannot rid himself of the belief that it is his duty to save us from our follies— i. e., from all the non-puritanical acts and whimsies that make life charming. His duty to let us be happy takes second, third or fourth place. A Puritan cannot be tolerant—and with tolerance goes magnanimity.

The late Dr. Woodrow Wilson was a typical Puritan—of the better sort, perhaps, for he at least toyed with the ambition to appear as a gentleman, but nevertheless a true Puritan. Magnanimity was simply beyond him. Confronted, on his death-bed, with the case of poor old [Eugene V.] Debs, all his instincts compelled him to keep Debs in jail. I daresay that, as a purely logical matter, he saw clearly that the old fellow ought to be turned loose; certainly he must have known that Washington would not have hesitated, or Lincoln. But Calvinism triumphed as his intellectual faculties decayed. In the full bloom of health, with a plug hat on his head, he aped the gentry of his wistful adoration very cleverly, but lying in bed, stripped like
Thackeray’s Louis XIV, he reverted to his congenital Puritanism, which is to say, bounderism. (“From the Memoirs of a Subject of the United States,” Prejudices, Sixth Series)

When COVID-19 Is Symptomatic (not symptomic)

What if most people, such as the president of Harvard, get sick and it’s no big deal? Even with autoimmune condition:

Harvard President Larry Bacow announced in an email to the Harvard community on March 24 that he and his wife, Adele Fleet Bacow, had been exposed to the spreading coronavirus. More than a week after they began working from home and limiting their outside contacts, both started experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19. Now recovered, he shared their experience with the Gazette.

Q&A
Larry Bacow
GAZETTE: How are you and Adele feeling?

BACOW: We are feeling much better. We were very fortunate. We never experienced any of the respiratory problems that sent so many people to the hospital. For us, this felt a lot like the flu. Not fun, but certainly not life-threatening, at least in our case.

GAZETTE: What were your symptoms?

BACOW: We both started off with a cough and then that progressed to having a fever and chills. I also had whole-body muscle aches. Everything hurt. I felt like I was 120 years old almost overnight. And then lethargy — just how you feel when you have the flu.

GAZETTE: What was going through your mind when you learned you had both tested positive?

BACOW: Well, we’d been very, very careful, and I was a little bit surprised, in truth, because Adele and I had not seen anyone except each other for close to 10 days before we started experiencing symptoms. We were completely isolated in the house. One reason we had taken such precautions is because I live with an autoimmune condition that makes me very susceptible to any kind of infection. In fact, some people questioned why I actually got tested. It’s because I’m immunosuppressed. So I was at risk. And when we tested positive I thought, “This is going to be interesting.”

I was also worried about being able to discharge my responsibilities. When I was at Tufts, I had gotten quite ill in 2004 when my autoimmune condition was first diagnosed, and I had had to take a month off of work. I realized that I needed to look after my own health. I wasn’t good to anybody if I wasn’t healthy. But beyond that, I realized I also had to give others permission to take the time they needed to recover if they got sick. So when I tested positive, I tried to model the behavior I would hope to see in others by being a good patient and doing what I was supposed to do.

Great Song, But Can you Preach It?

Imagine preaching a prayer.

Sometimes Tim Challies includes prayers from the congregation where he worships (the pattern seems to be using a common text for confession of sin rather than producing a transcript of the pastoral prayer):

Merciful God, we admit we have sinned. We have not nailed it in our spiritual lives. And even if we have not sinned badly, like David, we all stand together in need of Christ — the proof of Your mercy. He is our salvation. Our Rescuer. Our Redeemer. Our only hope to stand before You is to stand in His mercy… secured for us by His cross. So we throw ourselves upon You, God. For you are full of mercy. Amen

Of course, it is much easier to find Christian prayers in the prayer books of liturgical communions. Here is the Prayer of the Church from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod for August 30, 2020:

Knowing the will of God that all would come to the knowledge of Your Son and find salvation in Christ, let us pray on behalf of our parish community and for all people according to their needs.

Brief silence

For our faith and faithfulness, especially for those persecuted for the cause of Christ; and
For our strength in time of trial and for us to persevere in grace in the day of trouble, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For the Church, Jerusalem on high, our mother in Christ until Christ is fully formed in us;
For the pastors who serve us, that they may be faithful stewards of God’s mysteries; and
For those at home and abroad, who bring the message of salvation to those who have not heard, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For Donald, our president; _____________, our governor; and all legislators and civil servants;
For those who must render judgment and impose punishment upon lawbreakers; and
For those who work for peace among the nations, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For favorable weather and for those who tend the soil and harvest its fruits;
For business and industry, service workers and artisans;
For generosity toward those in need; and
For the unemployed and underemployed, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For those married, that they would live in fidelity to their vows and promises;
For parents as they teach their children to know and love the Lord;
For single adults, that they may find fulfillment in their service to others; and
For our lives together showing the love of Christ one to another, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For grace to take up the cross and follow the Lord wherever He leads;
For courage in the face of challenge and adversity; and
For compassion and harmony in our life together, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For holy lives of faith;
For faith to receive the Lord’s gift of His flesh and blood in the Holy Sacrament; and
For this holy assembly, that we may present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

For our remembrance of the saints and grace to follow their example of faith;
For God to grant us a place with them in their fellowship; and
For our eternal life in God’s kingdom without end, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy….

Would you, if you were a pastor, preach either of these prayers? That may seem like a silly question. But if pastors preach from the Psalter, which they do, I’ve seen them, then preaching prayers is fairly routine at least among Reformed Protestants.

Take, for instance, Psalm 5:

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
2 Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch.

4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

9 For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
10 Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.

But just because preaching the Psalms is familiar, the idea of preaching prayers is strange.

That could explain why, aside from how challenging Hebrew poetry can be, sermons on the Psalms can be hard to follow. Or often the three-point sermon treatment of a Psalm can seem artificial. I’m not sure that even H. L. Mencken is any help. He believed the Old Testament contained poetry “so overwhelmingly voluptuous and disarming that no other literature, old or new, can offer a match for it.”

That is high praise, but worship is not a seminar either in aesthetics or poetry.

Transcending Partisan Politics is Sectarian

Evangelical Protestants suffer from a tic. It is an unwillingness to identify with a political party. Evangelical writers about politics can spot the defects of both the left and the right, though they don’t often calculate which side has the most flaws. They act as if Christians really are above politics. When believers follow the Bible, they will not have to settle for either what liberals or conservatives propose.

A couple examples: the first on race.

The danger is that Christians who rightly reject the first (conservative) view as sub-biblical will merely pick up the second (progressive) view uncritically and use the terminology that it provides. But both are secular, reductionistic and simplistic. The Bible’s account of justice includes both individual and systemic dimensions—and more. We are not merely individual and social, but also soul and body. Indeed, the term “world” (kosmos) in the New Testament has not only a material reality (as in God loving the world of human beings, John 3:16), but also a spiritual reality, an inevitable tendency to make counterfeit gods out of good created things (1 John 2:15-16). “Doing justice” on the basis of the biblical view will include extraordinary prayer and evangelism along with everything else. The biblical view of justice gives full weight to both personal responsibility and social structures while based on a rich understanding of human life that goes well beyond the world’s reductionistic alternative views.

The second on communism.

Liberation theology, which puts a Christian face on Marxist social analysis, retains an enormous mystique on the Christian left. This isn’t because left-leaning Christians admire Stalin but because they are profoundly skeptical of the alternative to communism: economic systems built on property and contract rights protected by the rule of law. These systems produce economic growth, but as wealth has grown we’ve also seen a growing worldliness and materialism in our cultures. Christians on the left (most famously Gregory Paul) point to the radical economic community of the church in Acts 2–5 and ask if this doesn’t implicitly delegitimize market systems of price and exchange.

Right-leaning Christians, meanwhile, often seem indistinguishable from secular conservatives. They rail against communism, yet almost none of them seems to have read serious theological analysis of communism—not even from anti-communist Christians like Chambers. In almost every case, their top priority is to protect free markets and economic growth rather than oppose the atheistic inhumanity of the communist worldview. And their zeal to defend free markets often leads them to downplay, or even celebrate, the worldliness and crass materialism that have been associated with economic growth.

Why is the church haunted by communism, even though in Christ crucified we already possess the real answer to the world’s suffering and injustice? Because the church hasn’t put a Christian economic ethic into practice systematically. We need, but don’t know how to develop, an organized and operational Christian economic life.

Actually, the Amish have developed an economic system by some measures. But even their herculean efforts to retain Christian solidarity depends on the “English’s” society of property, currency, a legal system, and the political process that functions in, with, and around economic systems. Talk about systemic.

This does not mean that Christian academics should refrain from connecting dots between revelation (general and special) and politics or economics. What it does mean is that Christians trying to be Christian about everything, including politics and economics, separate themselves from the institutions most responsible for those areas of society. Christian w-w thinking is really a product of a ghetto that is isolated from bodies of learning and institutional structures in which political and economic decisions are made.

It is functionally Amish. Is that where New Calvinists want to be? Sectarians on the margins?

Names Change, Systems Abide

Let the record show, Princeton University, during the last wave of heightened aesthetic consciousness about public art, had a chance, just like Mayor James Kenney in Philadelphia (with the Frank Rizzo statue), to get rid of Woodrow Wilson’s name at its School of Public and International Affairs. The university, with the same president as today, Christopher Eisgruber, decided to keep the Wilson name. Here is part of Princeton’s reasoning:

The challenge presented by Wilson’s legacy is that some of his views and actions clearly contradict the values we hold today about fair treatment for all individuals, and our aspirations for Princeton to be a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming community. On the other hand, many of his views and actions – as faculty member and president of this University, as governor of New Jersey and a two-term President of the United States, and as an international leader whose name and legacy are still revered in many parts of the world – speak directly to our values and aspirations for our school of public and international affairs and for the first of our residential colleges.

… There is considerable consensus that Wilson was a transformative and visionary figure in the area of public and international affairs; that he did press for the kinds of living and learning arrangements that are represented today in Princeton’s residential colleges; and that as a strong proponent of education for use, he believed Princeton should prepare its students for lives in the nation’s service. These were the reasons Wilson’s name was associated with the school, the college, and the award.

The question that immediately comes to mind is how do the people who punted on Wilson in 2016 get to keep their jobs and positions? They looked at the evidence, and even heard from scholars who were decidedly negative in their estimates of Wilson, such as this one from the University of Richmond’s Eric S. Yellin:

Far from being merely ignorant “men of their times,” Wilson and his administration sought to do something new when they delegitimized public objections to segregation by marking any protest as both insubordinate and fallacious. African Americans and some allies never accepted this argument, of course, but the vast majority of white Americans did not question it. In this way, federal discrimination, including administrators’ explanations of it, played its part in the national institutionalization of white supremacy in the United States in the early twentieth century.

Again, for the record, Princeton’s president and board of trustees read these words and decided to keep Wilson’s name. Why don’t they too need to vacate Princeton the way Wilson has? Could you have a better indication of racism according to 2020 standards?

By the way, it was a curious group of advisors to Princeton who commissioned reactions from historians and issued a report that kept Wilson’s name. It had nary an academic on it except for a retired president of Brown University. Otherwise, the ten member committee, chaired by an African-American attorney, Brent L. Henry, consisted of executives, financiers, lawyers, leaders of non-profits, and one writer (five men, five women — cisgender I presume; five whites, five non-white). Anyone of a social justicey inclination might well wonder whether these people too need to be cancelled.

Princeton’s administration did see in 2016 the ripple effects of Wilson’s reputation. In 1948, when the school of government took Wilson’s name, Harold Willis Dodds was president (a Grove City alum). Instead of removing Wilson’s name in 2017, the University decided to move Dodds’ name within the Robertson Hall (the modernist building from 1961 designed by the same architect behind New York City’s World Trade Center. What the University did was to rename Dodds Auditorium in Robertson as the Arthur Lewis Auditorium. Dodds’ name was downsized to Robertson Hall’s Atrium.

Relatives of Dodds were not happy. John A. Dodds, a nephew of the former president, and member of the class of 1952, wrote to the alumni magazine:

it appears to me that my uncle has been inadvertently affected by some of the fallout over Woodrow Wilson 1879. This change was planned to go into effect as of July 1.

Now it appears that Princeton is even more interested in fulfilling its mission of amplifying diversity and political correctness than honoring a man who served longer as president of Princeton University (1933–57) than any other Princeton president in the 19th or 20th century. He brought the University through some difficult times during World War II, and his longevity as president attests to his inherent skills.

What next, a potted plant with his name on it?

These odd details amplify what Ross Douthat wrote about the name change as being more ephemeral than substantive:

the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs wasn’t named for Wilson to honor him for being a segregationist. It was named for him because he helped create precisely the institutions that the school exists to staff — our domestic administrative state and our global foreign policy apparatus — and because he was the presidential progenitor of the idealistic, interventionist worldview that has animated that foreign policy community ever since.

Which means, in turn, that the school will remain his school, whatever name gets slapped upon it, so long as it pursues the projects of enlightened progressive administration and global superpowerdom. Obviously there are people, right and left, who would prefer that one or both of those projects be abandoned. But they aren’t likely to be running the renamed school. Instead, it will continue to be run by 21st-century Wilsonians — who will now act as if their worldview sprang from nowhere, that its progenitor did not exist, effectively repudiating their benefactor while accepting his inheritance.

Like Nike’s turning Colin Kaepernick into an emblem of social justice while also turning a profit, so Princeton maintains its standing among the nation’s elite institutions, in a Vanna White way, by changing a few letters.

That’s systemic.