Re-THINK!

Here‘s how comprehensive Christianity breeds Manichaeism (and paranoia) to boot:

In the meantime, we live in the midst of a cosmic struggle. As C. S. Lewis once said:

There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.

Thus every act of obedience—including political obedience—is a part of Christian mission, a bold declaration that we support God’s claim to the throne. And because the assault on that throne comes from every nook and cranny of creation, we must aim our redirective efforts at every nook and cranny as well.

Does Bruce Ashford really mean to implicate cats?

But consider where this notion that the assault on Christ’s reign comes from everywhere. Christians in the United States live with non-Christians. So how do comprehensive Christians live with Jews, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and Muslims? And wouldn’t such either-or language signal some kind of aggression to those who don’t trust Christ? In other words, doesn’t this use of the antithesis turn non-Christians into people “of Satan”? If Aryan science is bad, why not Christian culture?

That’s why those inspired by Abraham Kuyper need to take a page from Augustine:

This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced. Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven…

Why the Adjective “Christian” before Intellectual Might be Offputting

Michael Lind notices how odd intellectuals are and includes this observation:

The mere phrases “Aryan science” and “Jewish science” or “socialist scholarship” and “bourgeois scholarship” should send chills down the spine. Furthermore, many successful academics study, teach, and live in different countries in the course of their careers.

So why are Christians tone deaf to the consequences of modifying academic life with the adjective “Christian”? If Jewish science doesn’t make sense, will “Christian intellectual” make the medicine go down?

Alan Jacobs will not relent:

The notion that the intellectual resources of Christianity might be useful in reflecting on politics — or technology, or the arts, or engineering, or war, or climate change — and useful not only to Christians but to everyone — that’s a long-lost notion indeed. We generally assume that on any given issue of social import there might be a socialist take, or a feminist take, or a take rooted in the experience of a particular ethnic identity, that we’d benefit from hearing; but a Christian take? Not typically one of the options. There are no prominent Christian intellectuals addressing whatever happens to concern the body politic in a distinctively Christian way and for a general audience.

Jacobs assumes (along with comprensivalists like neo-Calvinists and anti-modern Roman Catholics) that Christianity has something distinct to say about modern society. The Bible is a pretty important piece of Christian reflection and its teachings about modern society seem to be minor. Jacobs also forgets that modernity is in part a reaction against Christians having too much to say for too long about politics, the arts, and war. All of a sudden moderns are supposed to forget 1100 years of western history?

The idea that Christians need to find a new way to find a seat at liberalism’s table is also anachronistic:

So it seems to me that Christians can either look for ways to get back to that table or accept their exile from it and make the best of the possibilities that exile affords. (Learning to be dissidents rather than intellectuals.) But the claim that Christians really are comfortably seated at liberalism’s table seems to be an unsustainable one.

The way to the table is the one that Jacobs and other academics have chosen — graduate school, advanced research, a Ph.D., and a teaching post. All along the way believing scholars need to negotiate the claims of science/academics and personal faith/divine revelation. To make it through to the Ph.D., land a job, and publish books with academic presses is to be prepared to sit at liberalism’s table. Gaining a seat requires a notable contribution.

I don’t think Jacobs means this, but he seems to imply that Christianity and intellectual life are so at odds that Christians really should not go to graduate school (which is why I have always thought that neo-Calvinism is theonomy lite). But the way to expertise, which is what generally counts for being an intellectual, is not through Christianity. The West tried that an moved on.

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.

Roman Catholic 2k

David Schindler and Peter Leithart would likely disapprove:

If a Catholic makes a speech or writes an article attacking the principles and the methods of say, the Lutherans, that act would not necessarily stir up religious strife dangerous to the public peace. But if a Catholic seeks to penalize a Lutheran because of his Lutheranism through political or legal discriminations; still more, if he seeks the support of others in an organized manner to accomplish those ends, then he is attacking religious liberty in the social, or political sphere, which is the common meeting place of all Americans as citizens. . . .

I know that the dictionary definitions of bigotry are to the general effect that it is “an obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed.” But unless obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed becomes active opposition to some other cause or creed it is non-existent so far as the general peace of society is concerned. I may be obstinate and intolerant in my private and personal attachment to the Catholic Church (of which I am a member), yet if I invariably treat with my agnostic, and Protestant, and Jewish, and atheist neighbors, in all that concerns our common relations in society — in business, politic, and all cooperative matters — without reference or relation to their beliefs or behavior in religious matters, while I may be potentially a bigot, certainly I do not, so to speak, commit bigotry. If all of us so behave, there can be no bigotry in action. But notoriously, all of us do not so behave, although such behavior is the practical ideal of the nation of the United States of America. (Michael Williams, The Shadow of the Pope, 1932)

So when Roman Catholics or Neo-Calvinists call for “all of me” comprehensive Christianity, do they destroy any possibility of a common realm shared by all sorts of believers and non-believers? And do these “all of me” Christians believe that if I am getting along with people who do have the same “all” in “all of their identity” I am guilty of bad faith?

High Octane CCT (Calvinists and Catholics Together)

Peter Leithart has discovered David L. Schindler and it makes sense since both men don’t like liberal modernity and do like comprehensive explanations of all things. One could call that integralism (or w-wism). It is the meeting of every square inch Calvinism with papal claims to universality. All audacity all the time.

The object of CCT’s scorn is any claim of neutrality:

The liberal state claims to be a referee, but has to decide the limits of the playing field, and in practice has to determine what does and doesn’t count as an acceptable religious contribution to the public realm.

As a result, the liberal state institutionalizes and establishes its own theology. Even the decision to remain publicly neutral about an issue like transubstantiation reflects theological opinion, the theological (or anti-theological) opinion that the real presence is irrelevant to public life. Many Christians would beg to differ.

As is the case with many comprehensivalists, the rhetorical engine always runs in overdrive. Hundreds of court cases show that “liberal” courts that have no metaphysical grounding, from the Massachusetts Supreme Court that ruled against the merger of Andover Seminary and Harvard Divinity School on the grounds that one was Trinitarian and the other Unitarian, to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hosanna-Tabor in favor of an LCMS school’s definition of a minister, the “neutral” state can sometimes make rulings based on the writings of churches. To act like state officials are stupid because they try to be umpires to contested religious claims is not fair or accurate.

And to allege that the real presence of Christ is relevant to public life because — wink, wink — some beg to differ is to avoid a chance for instruction in comprehensive metaphysics. For shame.

That doesn’t stop Leithart:

The liberal state tilts the playing field in favor of certain kinds of churches; “sacramental” churches have to betray themselves when they enter the public arena and act as if they are no more than voluntary societies. Self-denial is the ticket price for playing on the field of public opinion.

This might seem like sour grapes: The ref is biased against us, and he should be biased in our favor. It might even be taken as good news to voluntarist churches, who might conclude, The ref is on our side. As has become evident in recent years, though, orthodox believers of all sorts are being and will continue to be pressured to conform to the dictates of liberal order. All churches, not only the sacramental ones, are being squeezed into shape. That is not an aberration. Liberalism has a totalizing impulse that erodes religious liberty.

The easiest way to demonstrate that point is this: By definition, liberal order cannot be accountable to any metaphysical or theological framework beyond itself. To do so, it would cease to be a liberal state. That means that the liberal order itself is the all-embracing framework for political and social life. All other conceptions of common good, all other metaphysical or theological positions, are “private,” and only liberalism is allowed to function as public theology. All other metaphysical or theological opinions will be judged by whether or not they conform to and promote, or inhibit, the aims of liberal order. Churches that adjust to the public theology of liberalism are tolerable. Churches that do not are penalized in various ways.

So if liberalism is totalizing, won’t Christianity be as well? Where will Mormons, Jews, and unbelievers go? And will Calvinists and Roman Catholics rule together? Or will they have to carve up North America the way Germany and Japan did in The Man in the High Castle? One of the troubles that comprehensivalists have is explaining details.

Another defender of Schindler says that we will have our cake (liberal arrangements) and eat it too (metaphysical foundation):

The American Jesuit John Courtney Murray famously argued that this arrangement constitutes America’s signal contribution to the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, in offering not “articles of faith” but rather “articles of peace,” secured religious freedom for Christians (and for others) while also respecting the rightful integrity of the secular. The American liberal order of limited government and the separation of church and state provides neutral public space while also providing freedom in the form of basic rights that provide “immunity from coercion.” Christianity and liberalism, in this narrative, are not only compatible but utterly harmonious.

Now, the first thing to note is that Schindler believes that limited government, the separation of church and state, human rights, and religious freedom are legitimate achievements that ought to be preserved. But he simply does not believe (1) that liberalism, or any other conception of order, can successfully prescind from metaphysics (he quotes philosopher Etienne Gilson: “metaphysics always buries its undertakers”), or (2) that these achievements can be preserved if they are grounded in the unwitting metaphysics of liberalism rather than in the metaphysics of love. …

The question therefore becomes which truth best secures the ends of civil society, including the noble achievements that have been realized (at least in certain senses) in liberal modernity—religious freedom, human rights, separation of church and state, and so on. Based on his metaphysics of love, Schindler suggests that the first truth that government ought to appropriate is “the truth of freedom as an essential inner feature of love.”

Maybe.

But what metaphysical construction did Paul need to say this?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

I get it. Paul appealed to God (not to the inner dynamics of the Trinity, though). But his application applies as much to liberal states like the U.S.A. as it does to Nero’s Rome.

Engaged or Cohabiting

Thanks to Dustin who challenges the Old Life (okay mmmmeeeEEEE) manner of responding to The Gospel Coalition (aka Gospel Industrial Complex and related outlets) I have the opportunity to clarify this old Calvinist’s attitude to the Calvinist wannabes.

The problem with TGC is that is neither fish nor foul. It tries to do the gospel but it also adds a lot of clutter. So if I wanted to read a theological journal, TGC isn’t the place to go because it doesn’t go deep or academic (though it tries to strike a scholarly tone). And if I want to read about culture — TGC has channels from “Current Events” to “Arts and Culture” — why would I read their take before what I normally read — New Republic, New Yorker, American Conservative, and a host of blogs.

So the issue is that TGC doesn’t really investigate the nooks and crannies of theology and worship. How can it when it is a coalition of people in different communions? TGC accentuates the positive. In my mind that is overwhelmingly dull. TGC feels more like an organization interested in boundary maintenance and creating a feeling of belonging than in thinking challenging thoughts. The inspirational bits, whether from earnest piety or the fame of celebrity pastors, don’t overcome the predictability.

When it comes to arts, culture, current events, TGC seems to want to be neo-Calvinist but the New Calvinists haven’t done the intellectual heavy lifting that neo-Calvinist clearly have. As much as I take issue with the integralist aspirations of neo-Calvinists, they are smart, they know the importance of academic rigro rigor and are generally (in their intellectual demeanor) not interested in inspiring. They are especially proficient in philosophy. I don’t happen to believe that philosophy is the area of study to supply the foundation that gives coherence to all human activity — I don’t think such coherence is possible (hide human flourishing under a bushel? Yes!). But I give the neo-Calvinists credit for doing the hard intellectual labor.

I don’t see that kind of intellectual output — no offense — at TGC. Not to mention that I’m not sure what current events or the arts or food shopping on Sundays has to do with the gospel.

So TGC fails on two counts: they dabble at paleo-Calvinism; and they dabble at neo-Calvinism. If the allies want simply to be evangelical, fine. That is actually what they are — a repristination of the New Evangelicalism of Fuller, Christianity Today, and the National Association of Evangelicals minus the Wesleyans and Pentecostals. I’ve seen this stuff before. Not much to see and certainly nothing to take seriously.

In other words, I don’t engage TGC. I live in a world where TGC also lives. In some sense, we live together. But we don’t relate and we certainly don’t commune (or roll on Shomer Shabbos).

The Limits of W-w

Like I say, transformationalism is good on inspiration but not so good on transformation. Jim Bratt gave a peak behind the curtain of neo-Calvinist culture in the U.S. in his last post before heading to China on a Fulbright (happy trails, Jim):

Boy, do we need that now. I’m thinking of the death this past week of Tim LaHaye. The span of tomfoolery he pumped out in the name of Christianity has created lasting disrepute for the faith. The creation “science.” The “end-times” irresponsibility, compounded of self-pity, blaming others, and a certain cultural idolatry. All of it redolent of the John Birch Society swamp from which he first slithered. Still, it’s the sort of religious fantasy you can expect to hit the American best-seller list. The death that really strikes home for me is the moral nadir of Mr. Family Values, “Dr.” James Dobson. His endorsement of Donald Trump puts paid to any pretense that the ethics and politics he pushed, lo, these many years have come to anything but authoritarian nationalism with a particular macho strut. For that is Trump. Dobson’s worse for covering it with smarmy God-talk.

I say this hits home for me because back when I was on a denominational committee studying the future of the CRC’s magazine, The Banner, we were given some research stats of readership habits and opinion. James Dobson turned out to be the CRC’s #1 rated authority on current events. Charles Colson was its #1 theologian. The Fraud and the Felon atop the Calvinist hit parade. Two minor sins in that revelation somehow stuck out for me. Dobson, a member of the Church of the Nazarene. Read rank Armininian. Colson, invoking the name of Kuyper as he bullied along.

All this, I mused, was the price of that “Americanization” to which the CRC, as an immigrant church, had been long pushed to accede. Well, nationalist mush compounded by militancy turns out to be the bitter fruit of that process. And so it is today.

I don’t pretend that Kuyper ever represented more than a small fraction of Dutch people claiming a Reformed commitment. Ditto, in Dutch-American Reformed circles, for The Forum, The Journal, or Perspectives. But these magazines have fought hard and punched way above their weight because of that magic formula that Kuyper caught, and taught. And it’s worth carrying on their mission, worth trying to maintain cultural, political, and theological integrity above the open sewer into which white-American Christianism has descended.

I bring this up not to delight in the sufferings of neo-Calvinists, nor to take a shot at Jim on his way out of the blogosphere. Bratt, it must be said, is honest about the state of neo-Calvinism and properly annoyed at its abuses.

I do refer to this to remind those would-be Kuyperians that the neo-Calvinist project is a lot harder than it sounds. Take every thought captive. Christ is Lord of every square inch. Television (and plumbing) redeemed. Integration of faith and learning. New York City as a tipping point for global revival. Bratt’s own account of the CRC is a ready warning that even with all the infrastructure of neo-Calvinist culture — church, school, catechesis, denominational magazine, world-and-life bleep, you are a poor match for mass culture in a liberal capitalist democracy.

Take every though captive? More like, kid yourself that you are large and in charge.

I truly admire the grit and determination of Dutch-American Calvinists. They are one of the true success stories of transplanting a distinct form of Old World Calvinism to the New World. They were BenOp Calvinists before the Benedict Option became hip.

But as all immigrant groups know, leaving the ghetto for the suburbs is part of the American dream. So for w-w to happen you may need to hunker down in the ghetto (or if Amish on the farm or if Benedictine in the monastery). But if you are going to live and move and have your being as a citizen of a modern nation state, chances are many of your square inches will be taken captive.

And if you want a theological rationale or explanation for that, for being part of the mainstream society but not, learn, live, and love 2k. The water’s warm.