Jesus Didn’t Turn the Water into Coffee

Martyn Wendell Jones thinks coffee at church a good indication of communion of the saints:

My own church serves coffee and tea in the cafeteria of the high school building we’re renting after the service ends in the auditorium. I look around: everyone is talking, and almost everyone is drinking from paper cups swathed in napkins for insulation. The scene is one part French salon, one part daycare, and one part indoor picnic. At a glance, it is impossible to tell the specific role played by the coffee, although it clearly gives everyone a common reason for entering the room as well as something to do with their hands (a significant task, as any person on a first date will tell you).

“This coffee is amazing,” my wife tells me, and it’s at this moment that I realize I’m not sure I know what good coffee tastes like. I take another sip. It’s kind of sour and acidic.

“Mhmm,” I reply.

I ask my pastor later to expand on the church’s strategy re: coffee. What does it represent to him?

“Coffee is like a comfort blanket that young professionals carry around after the service, and it gives them courage to interact with one another,” Pastor Kyle replies. “For me, hospitality is guided by the principle that we welcome the stranger as we would welcome Christ. For me, coffee is the way I would welcome Christ.”

Jesus would not be disappointed here—at least not if he were a coffee guy.

But what about wine? Particularly, what about the beverage that accompanies true communion?

1. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein he was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in his church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other, as members of his mystical body. . . .

7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses. (Confession of Faith, 29)

How hipster is that? Imagine confessional Protestants outdoing Protestant urbanists. Doesn’t wine beat coffee any day of the week?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Ron Sider Trust Richard Nixon?

Ron Sider comes out for Hillary over Trump and appeals to statesmanship:

Do we evangelical Christians trust Donald Trump to be a wise statesman leading the world to avoid conflict and war? The US president is the leader of the democratic world and the commander of the world’s largest military. A wise, thoughtful president who listens carefully to the best-informed advisers is essential if the United States and China are to avoid catastrophic conflict in the next decade or two.

Trump has absolutely no experience in foreign affairs or global diplomacy. He has repeatedly demonstrated arrogant, impulsive decision making. I can’t trust him to control the nuclear trigger. In August, 50 of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials issued a public letter saying Trump “lacks the character, values, and experience” to be president, and added that Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history” and would “put at risk our country’s national security.”

I don’t understand why Richard Nixon doesn’t haunt anyone who thinks of backing Clinton. It’s not like paranoia and secrecy worked out that well for the Republican president. And now baby boomers have come to terms with Watergate?

Notice these parallels:

Not even Clinton’s harshest critics could claim that Servergate (or Chappaquadata, or whatever it may come to be called) constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor. But it does connote a reflexive wariness about her enemies – a wariness that sometimes seems to border on paranoia – that has long dogged Clinton, and that struck at least a few old Nixon hands as familiar.

“This is like the Nixon tapes, in a sense,” said Ken Khachigian, who was a young speechwriter on Nixon’s White House staff and is now a grizzled veteran of California’s Republican political wars. “Everybody wanted access. We resisted, and then they were eked out in death by a thousand cuts. Finally they were expropriated and now belong to the archives.”

And that doesn’t even capture the hi-jinks that went into Hillary’s recent physical collapse.

Which also is reminiscent of Nixon:

It was 1960, and Nixon was preparing for the nation’s first televised presidential debate. The debate became a case study in political image-making, with Kennedy looking healthy and vital while Nixon was waxen, sweaty and haggard.

“He was sick during the debate,” Scalettar said.

Only the doctor and Nixon’s advisers knew that Nixon was suffering from a serious infection — the result of a knee injury on a campaign trip to Greensboro, N.C. …

Nixon had a staph infection, which brought on septic (poisonous) arthritis. And he refused to take time off from the trail because he had promised to campaign in every state.

Scalettar wrote that the illness, Nixon’s failure to rest and recuperate normally, his loss of time due to illness and his appearance “seriously impaired his effectiveness as a campaigner.”

He’s convinced that Nixon’s medical secret contributed to his narrow loss to Kennedy — by slightly more than 100,000 votes — that November 56 years ago. Coming clean about how sick he was right before that debate may have severely altered the course of American history.

It doesn’t add up to support for Trump. But are Americans ready for another constitutional crisis?

Sovereign Grace Ministries is not Neo-Calvinist

Someone needs to issue a correction:

While sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church made headlines in the early 2000s and were the focus of the critically-acclaimed film Spotlight, Evangelical Protestants have had their own share of child sex abuse allegations. In 2013, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), a network of about 80 evangelical Neo-Calvinist churches headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, faced a an amended class action civil lawsuit filed by 11 plaintiffs alleging church leaders of covering up child sex abuse crimes through the 1980s and 90s, and requesting about $50 million dollars in damages against SGM (a judge dismissed nine of the eleven plaintiffs based on an expired statute of limitations, and the other two on a question of jurisdiction).

New Calvinism is not Neo-Calvinism. It’s easy to tell the difference. New Calvinists don’t use Queen Wilhelmina Mints during the preaching of the word.

Apples and Oranges

Bryan and the Jasons hang another scalp. But notice how anachronistic this conversion narrative is:

In American religion, the Evangelical community and the Presbyterian tradition specifically, there were various things happening that gave me pause to reflect. Several Reformed ministers and theologians I respected were dragged through the mud of the printing press and declared openly to be heretics by self-appointed theological judges. The blogosphere was a landmine of gossip and slander. These accusations brought to the forefront the problem of Biblical interpretation and the sufficiency of Scripture. One man’s heretic was another’s saint. I became angry and worried. The political climate didn’t help my moorings. The nation in general; conservatives and liberals in my own Reformed tradition were at each others’ throats. The Presbyterian world was fracturing into more splits as controversy after controversy began to wreck the Reformed world. Jesus had promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18) and it seemed like He was failing.

To complicate matters further, I learned of Dr. Frank Beckwith’s resignation from the Evangelical Theological Society to return to Rome and the “resignation” of Dr. Bruce Waltke from a prominent Reformed seminary over interpretations of Genesis. Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth (John 16:13), so how did all these splits in the Christian world occur, now numbering well over 20,000 (some estimate over 35,000)? How did I know where the “Church” was to be found? By the time I resigned from my presbytery in 2012, there were 48 splits, each claiming Calvin as their founder. One writer observed 22 different issues that keep Reformed Christians out of each others’ pews. As of this writing, views of theistic evolution, homosexual unions, female deacons, charismatic gifts, exclusive psalmody (in worship), liturgy, music styles, etc., only add to the problems and all using the same Bible.

The Sweater Unravels

I returned to my studies of Church history and started at the beginning: the apostolic fathers and Church fathers – both east and west and the development of the canon of Scripture. I was shocked by the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch; though I had read them 20 years before, I never read them with Reformed glasses. There was nothing in those letters that sounded at all Presbyterian! In AD 95, why was Clement of Rome bypassing the authority of the Apostle John to settle a matter of discipline in the Church at Corinth, claiming the authority of Rome to be that of God? The more I studied the more I felt drawn but kept saying “This can’t be right.” So, I sought the wisdom of friends and mentors alike to help steer me through these troubled waters but on whose authority should I accept their observations or interpretations correct?

In 2010, my daughter and I attended the confirmation of a friend. I remember being impressed with the amount of Scripture heard during the Mass. I had been working on liturgical studies, so I was shocked at how similar the mass was to the Reformed liturgy at my parish.

In the middle of 2011, I read John Henry Newman’s “Development of Doctrine” and G.K. Chesterton’s works on his conversion. They both were Anglican converts to Catholicism and I wanted to know why. In the process, I learned of C.S. Lewis’ devotion to Mary, belief in purgatory and his habit of praying the Rosary, but yet, he never became Catholic.

So this fellow looks at contemporary Protestantism and compares that to the ancient church or to Anglo-Catholics. Where are David L. Schindler, George Weigel, Richard McBrien, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Pope Francis, Joe Biden, John Courtney Murray, William F. Buckley Jr., Brent Bozell, the troubling debates over admitting divorced Roman Catholics to communion?

It’s like saying you still are an evangelical because of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. It’s like being an evangelical with a bishop in Italy.

At the Other End of the Spectrum — Evangelicals and Liberals Cooperative

Tracey McKenzie links to sensible comments from Amy Black about a Christian citizen’s duty in the context of partisan politics:

When we do choose to respond, we can critique issue positions, individual candidates, and even the system itself with a proper sense of humility. When debates are framed in terms of personal gains or losses, we can reorient the discussion toward broader questions of political justice, asking what biblical values are at stake and what paths are most likely to serve the common good.

We can offer a quieter, less emotionally-charged counterpoint, presenting our arguments with respect and care. We can also take time to learn about political controversies before commenting on them, checking details with multiple sources and considering a range of viewpoints. Most importantly, we should commit the election, our political system, and all those participating in it to prayer.

Voter dissatisfaction has been growing for decades, and the underlying problems that have led to such anger will not be easily solved. But we can chart a different path in how we respond, modeling humbler and more informed political communication.

I’m all for learning about matters before commenting. Common good? That’s good too. And prayer is always what Jesus would do.

But I don’t know what the Bible has to do with it. Yes, on some moral matters that government oversees, biblical teaching comes into view. But Scripture never saysthat what the policy should be or what the law should say.

As much as I appreciate Black’s effort to calm Christians down, she still sounds like she thinks Christianity is a norm for public life. And if that is so, how does she avoid going whole hog with Leithart or Schindler?

Rah Rah T(eam) G(ospel) C(oalition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer high fives, more sobriety.