Support for 2K is Growing (and it’s hardly rrrradical)

From the moderate regions of mid-western evangelicalism:

This conflation of the church and the nation characterizes the rest of the book. In defining (and I would say, exaggerating) the cultural influence of evangelist George Whitefield, Metaxas says that Whitefield’s preaching had the effect of turning colonists into Americans. To be an American (not a Christian, but an American), was to accept certain religious truths about one’s status in God’s eyes. As Metaxas concludes in summing up Whitefield’s significance, “the Gospel of Christ . . . created an American people.” Strange, I somehow thought that Jesus promised to build his Church on that foundation, but I guess he meant the United States.

Although Metaxas focuses on the colonial and Revolutionary eras, he does allow Abraham Lincoln to join the conversation as well, and as it turns out, Lincoln agreed John Winthrop that the United States has a “holy calling” to be an example to the world. Minimally encumbered by evidence, Metaxas notes that Lincoln understood that “America had been called by God,” and that “to be chosen by God—as the Jews had been chosen by God, . . . and as the messiah had been chosen by God,” was a “profound and sacred and even terrifying obligation.” I’m not sure which is scarier: the analogy of the United States to Israel—God’s new chosen people—or the analogy of the United States to Christ.

The latter reminds me of a trenchant observation in Hugh Heclo’s fine book Christianity and American Democracy: “If America is the redeemer of nations and time, then America is the Christ of history,” Heclo writes. “This notion may be inadvertent, but it is blasphemy all the same.”

And from the topsy-turvy world of unraveling Europe:

It seems as though many church leaders think that we have the right, the knowledge and the ability to use our position to advance particular political positions, which we equate with the Kingdom of God. This is across the spectrum, from liberal to evangelical, from low church to Catholic – it has been disturbing to see just how many church leaders seem to think that speaking a prophetic word means speaking a political word, even use the same political codes that the secular world use. And even more astonishing is how the Internet makes constitutional, financial and political experts of us all. ‘It’s only advisory’, ‘the Scottish Parliament has the power to block’, ‘£100 billion will be wiped of the markets’, ‘thousands will be killed in Northern Ireland’….and these are some of milder prophecies. I don’t have any problem with church leaders advocating political positions in public as private citizens (I often do it myself), but we have no right to commit our churches to those positions, nor to equate them as being part of the Christian message.

And 2k doesn’t even force you to identify one kingdom with God the Father and the other with God the Son.

Genius!

The Bahnsen Option

Is the visible church part of the temporal order? The spirituality-of-the-church answer would suggest that because the church is inherently a spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends, then it is not part of the authority in charge of temporal affairs.

But if you are John Calvin and are a civil servant by virtue of being one of Geneva’s (company) pastors, your spirituality-of-the-church conviction translates into a spiritual Constantinianism. That is, the church, though spiritual, is part of the established political order.

I guess this is what Jake Meador is trying to identify when he writes:

The reformed believe that God presently rules over a spiritual kingdom through his lordship over the hearts of his people. But there is also a second kingdom, sometimes called a visible kingdom and sometimes a temporal kingdom. To this kingdom belongs the many social institutions that define daily life—family, local economies, government, and, according to Calvin, the visible, institutional church as well. Not only that, the institutional church is not the pure, sectioned-off community only for the true believers. It is a community of wheat and tares, an institution whose chief concern is not with marking out the outer boundaries of the church but with consistently and clearly articulating its center through the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments.

Does this mean, though, that Meador believes (or advocates) an established church? Or is he trying to say that churches are simply part of associational life in civil society — that broad range of institutions that lives and moves and has its being between citizens and government?

If he wants to avoid the Bahnsen Option (read theonomy), he should try to be more precise about institutions — involuntary (federal, state, local), voluntary, educational, economic, familial — and clearer about the differences between Calvin’s Geneva and modern Calvinists’ political liberalism (read separation of church and state). Otherwise, simply waving the wand of the temporal kingdom over such diverse spheres as business, families, churches, and city councils could land you in some sort of theocratic arrangement where the Lordship of Christ implies Christians “running everything.”

I suspect that Meador is only reflecting the imprecision that generally afflicts neo-Calvinists and transformationalists. After all, he insists that to avoid the Benedict Option we need an ecclesiology that produces a rationale for Christians to serve the common good:

A reformed ecclesiology provides a basis for that way of thinking. It helps the individual Christian understand how they are both a child of the church and a member of the broader commonwealth—and that those two things do not exist in competition with one another. Other ecclesiologies, which see the visible church as some sort of special institution existing in some cordoned off reality removed from all other institutions, have a far harder time providing a rationale for that sort of work in the broader commonwealth.

Well, sometimes they are at odds. Ask Jesus or the apostles when faced with either obeying God or (the) man.

What Meador and other expansive Reformed types may want to consider is that a narrow view of the church and its activities is precisely the best rationale for Christians to engage in all walks of life. The spirituality of the church was the Benedict Option before the Benedict Option. If the church’s footprint is big, then the church has to do everything — like the ministry of dog catching and garbage collecting. But if the church’s scope is spiritual — word, sacraments, prayer, discipline — then Christians have six days of the week for all sorts of legitimate work, and lots of freedom to form any number of organizations for pursuing such activity. None of which, by the way, advances the kingdom of grace (WSC 102).

When Easter Wasn’t

Now that Christians are polishing off the chocolate cross remains and stripping lilies arrangements of their liturgical ribbons for weekday household decor, they may want to remember how recent the Protestant observance of Easter is. Eric Leigh Schmidt’s Consumer Rites helps:

Easter, even more than Christmas, remained under a Puritan and evangelical cloud in the antebellum United States. Though various denominations preserved the holiday — most prominently Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Moravians — their celebrations were, until the middle of the century, local, parochial, and disparate. The festival only became a nearly ubiquitous cultural event in the decades after 1860 as low-church Protestant resistance or indifference gave way to approbation and as Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, and new-immigrant observances became ever more prominent. Middle-class Victorians, as fascinated as ever with the romantic recovery of fading holiday traditions and the cultivation of new home-centered festivities, discovered lush possibilities in this spring rite. . . .

In an article on Easter published in 1863, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine suggested the growing embrace of the feast in American culture. “It is one of the obvious marks of our American religion,” the article related, “that we are noticing more habitually and affectionately the ancient days and seasons of the Christian Church.” Easter, following Christmas’s rising popularity, showed “unmistakable signs that it is fast gaining upon the religious affection and public regard of our people.” “We have carefully noted the gradual increase of observance of the day,” the journal continued, “and can remember when it was a somewhat memorable thing for a minister, not Catholic or Episcopal, to preach an Easter sermon.” What the magazine found most revealing of “this new love for Easter,” however, was the increasing use of elaborate floral decorations for the festival. “Easter flowers are making their way into church of all persuasions,” the magazine applauded. “One of our chief Presbyterian churches near by decked its communion-table and pulpit with flowers for the third time this Easter season.” . . .

In lauding Easter flowers, the Harper’s piece was celebrating the expanding art of church decoration. As a liturgical movement, this art bloomed in England and the United States in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. An outgrowth of the ritualist or Catholic turn within Anglican and Episcopalian circles, the new forms of church decoration meshed with the Gothic revival in Victorian church architecture and ornament. (195, 196)

It took another thirty years for candy makers to catch up with the spirit of the times: “In the 1880s and 1890s the material forms of the modern Easter — chocolate rabbits, mass-produced eggs, greeting cards, baskets, toy chicks, and the like — settled snugly into place as fixtures of the holiday” (234)

Why I Love the Modern State

It helps me keep straight the difference between the city of God and the city of man, at a time when so many Christians want Christianity to define “ALL of me.”

Mark Oppenheimer thinks it possible to distinguish Christian as a noun and adjective:

And Jews and Christians alike have internalized these different connotations. Most Jews, if asked about their religion, say not, “I’m a Jew” but the softer, more acceptable, “I’m Jewish.” With Christians, the answer will vary depending on the kind of Christian you’re talking to. Liberal Protestants may say, “I’m Christian,” using the adjective, but many evangelicals, born-again Christians, and other passionate believers will say, “I’m a Christian.” It sounds a little jarring to more secular or liberal types, but not in a bad way. It just sounds hard-core, like the person is planting a flag and standing by it.

For Christians, the difference between “Christian” the adjective and “Christian” the noun is one of both degree and kind. We are all described by many adjectives, but we select very few nouns to sum up who we are. The nouns require a bit more commitment. It’s the difference between “I’m liberal” and “I’m a liberal”—the man or woman willing to own the noun is more committed, for sure. The adjective is what you are like; the noun is who you are.

And what about James Bratt’s suggestion that politicized evangelicals should own the moniker, “Christianist“?

Whatever the label, believers have trouble (without the help of modern politics) sorting out their Christian and non-Christian aspects. Just consider the confusion in this response to yesterday’s bombings in Belgium:

I’ll leave it to people who know what they’re talking about to expound further on the radical nature of what Christ is demanding of us when he says this. Suffice it to say for now that it’s clear and direct and we don’t have any choice if we call ourselves Christians: we have to forgive our enemies.

And that includes the terrorists who killed 34 people in Brussels on Tuesday. We have to forgive them.

BUT…But…but it is also written, “thou shalt not kill.” And that means that we need to kill all the other terrorists who are still out there.

Why? Because justice and reason and the teaching of the Church. The Fifth Commandment (don’t kill) imparts on Christians a duty to protect and defend innocent human life. Sooooo…it is morally just to use lethal force to prevent the killing of innocent people. Self-defense, just war, etc. etc. etc.

So kill ISIS.

First, I thought God through the ministry of the church forgives sins. It’s not up to me to forgive people who have not wronged me. Do I even have authority as an elder to forgive sins that are crimes against humanity? The Book of Church Order doesn’t say so.

Second, I don’t have the power to kill anyone legally unless I become part of the executive branch of our constitutional order. As a policeman, executioner, or soldier I could legitimately kill someone. As a policeman, executioner, or soldier I am also carrying out orders of someone else. As a Christian policeman, executioner, or solder I am carrying out the duties of my vocation. But I am not acting “merely” as a Christian since non-Christian police and soldiers carry out similar orders.

So as a 2k Christian I don’t have to forgive or kill. I defer to those with higher pay grades, which includes — piety alert! — praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

He’s Only a Priest and Only Gives Homilies (now)

But Bill Smith still raises good questions for any pastor, priest, bishop, or pope who pretends to think his spiritual jurisdiction gives him credibility in the civil realm. His questions also apply to those w-w advocates who think that Christ’s lordship justifies Christian rule (of course, in a benign way these days unlike those old heretic executing ones) over all things:

a) What would Jesus preach about Black lives matter?

b) What would Jesus preach about the economic system in the United States?

c) What would Jesus preach about Wall Street?

d) What would Jesus preach about healthcare? Would he want to repeal, maintain, or expand the ACA?

e) What would Jesus preach about the upcoming national election? Would he preach that one party serves the interests of righteousness and justice better than the other?

f) What would Jesus preach about Islamist terrorists? the godly U.S. response?

e) What would Jesus preach about voter registration, voter ID, etc.?

g) What would Jesus preach about military readiness, the military budget, and the use of military power?

h) What would Jesus preach about foreign aid?

i) What programs to aid the poor would Jesus endorse in his preaching?

j) What would Jesus preach about immigration? Would he preach in support of a wall? of barring Muslim refugees? Would he preach in favor of deporting, granting citizenship, or granting permanent residence to illegal immigrants?

k) What would Jesus preach about gun control?

l) What would Jesus preach about the vacancy on the Supreme Court?

Our favorite priest puts these questions to Thabiti Anyabwile who said “I don’t think [politics] can be avoided if you’re committed to expositional preaching of the sort that makes contact with contemporary life.”

But isn’t it the case that if you want to connect with contemporary life, you really connect and talk about specifics? Or is the point of bring politics into the pulpit a way for the pastor to seem like he’s not operating in an ivory tower or removed from real life? (At least when Pope Francis comments on contemporary life he doesn’t go to Scripture but to — ahem — the authoritative magisterium of social teaching.)

But what happened to Paul’s preaching which distinguished between contemporary and ephemeral things and those truths and realities that endure?

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:11-16 ESV)

The priest’s lesson, then, is that pastor’s need to be wary about appealing to the itching ears of the natural man that still lurks within.

Without Sabbath Observance We Could Not Identify Christians

How do you spot a Christian? That may be easy compared to defining religion. Damon Linker had a go at religion recently:

Religion is any set of norms, practices, and beliefs that establishes a comprehensive way of life that is held out as the right or best way of life for those who adhere to it.

Noah Millman agreed but wanted to amend the definition:

. . . religion is a comprehensive set of normative practices that reflect or imply a set of beliefs about the nature of life and the right way to live it. Those beliefs may or may not be conscious, and may or may not be articulated and taught, in the way that the practices are.

I wonder why both Linker and Millman are so hung up on comprehensive. They don’t seem to understand a two-kingdom (read Augustinian) presentation of Christianity, one that recognizes some aspects of a believers life are religious, some are common or creational. It’s the hyphenation thing. But it’s especially a worry about “all of me” or comprehensive accounts of Christianity when in fact the Bible or bishops haven’t weighed in on everything and Christians have some liberty to figure it out themselves (rue the uncertainty).

In which case, the recent story about the decline of Sabbath observance may be a better indication of how to define religion and spot Christianity, as in Christians are people who take worship seriously and set aside a day for it. But that is changing in the South:

Signs are beginning to emerge suggesting that role of religion in the Bible Belt may be declining, at least to some degree.

The shift is increasingly apparent in local cafes and restaurants in towns across the South, particularly on Sundays. The sale of alcohol on Sundays has long been prohibited in many traditionally religious conservative communities. But recently, more and more of those communities are repealing so-called Blue Laws.

In Sylacauga, Alabama, a small town of just 12,700 people that hosts 78 churches, after-church lunch-goers are now bumping into craft beer drinking sports fans at local restaurants, following a September vote to do away with the Sunday exclusion. Similar initiatives are also underway in parts of Georgia and Mississippi.

A Pew Research Center survey showed 19 percent of Southerners do not identify with any organized religion, a 6 percent rise since 2007 and a number that more closely matches that of the rest of the country.

In another Pew study, 35 percent of Millennials surveyed self-identified as atheist or agnostic. The tendencies appear to be consistent across races.

“We’ve seen this sort of broader shift throughout the country as a whole with fewer people identifying as being part of the religious base,” Jessica Martinez, a senior researcher in religion and public life at Pew told the Associated Press. “In the South you see a pattern very similar to what we are seeing in other regions.”

Maybe sanctification of the Lord’s Day is something that “obedience boys” and Old Lifers could both get behind.

Could Christ Have Preached Christ and Him Crucified?

Rick Phillips introduces a tension — though that was not his intention — between Jesus’ preaching and Paul’s. We have the old was-Paul-the-second-founder-of-Christianity problem.

Here‘s is what Christ preached according to Phillips:

I noted 4 main types of ministry emphases highlighted by Jesus in Mark:

1. Jesus declaring his deity as Messiah, together with his teaching about God and salvation (i.e. theology and redemptive history).

2. Jesus preaching the gospel: pointing out his hearers’ need to be forgiven and God’s wonderful remedy through his saving work. Included here would be calls to prospective disciples to believe and follow Jesus.

3. Jesus training and reproving his disciples, including ethical and spiritual instruction and his call to evangelistic labor.

4. Jesus exposing false teachers and religious opposition. This includes the confronting and correcting of false doctrine.

And here is how Paul described his preaching:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)

Again, I don’t think Phillips is trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul, but the way he frames the question does lead in that direction — one that contrasts the way Jesus preached with the way his disciples did (think of Peter in Acts 2). Why isn’t it the case that Jesus is NOT a model for post-ascension preaching — nor is John the Baptist. Until the main event of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the preaching of biblical prophets is going to be types and shadows. Think Geerhardus Vos.

And also think Marilyn Robinson. This is what can happen if you use Jesus as your model for preaching and leave out Paul:

Since these folk claim to be defenders of embattled Christianity (under siege by liberalism, as they would have it), they might be struck by the passage in Matthew 25 in which Jesus says, identifying himself with the poorest, “I was hungry, and ye fed me not.” This is the parable in hallowed be your name which Jesus portrays himself as eschatological judge and in which he separates “the nations.” It should surely be noted that he does not apply any standard of creed – of purity or of orthodoxy – in deciding whom to save and whom to damn. This seems to me a valuable insight into what Jesus himself might consider fundamental. To those who have not recognized him in the hungry and the naked, he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.” Neofundamentalists seem to crave this sort of language – more than they might if they were to consider its context here. It is the teaching of the Bible passim that God has confided us very largely to one another’s care, but that in doing so he has in no degree detached himself from us. Indeed, in this parable Jesus would seem to push beyond the image of God as final judge to describe an immanence of God in humankind that makes judgment present and continuous, and that in effect makes our victim our judge. Neither here nor anywhere else in the Bible is there the slightest suggestion that our judge/victim would find a plea of economic rationalism extenuating. This supposed new Awakening is to the first two Awakenings, and this neofundamentalism is to the first fundamentalism, as the New Right is to the New Deal, or as matter is to antimatter’.