Ecclesiastical Networkionalism

If you think about Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians as the church equivalent of PanAm Airlines and Sears & Robuck, you may have a point. Denominations have been in decline numerically for some time just like the blue chip businesses of the 1950s. Some of that is a function of the mainline’s problem with message — are they a church, an NGO, or a wing of the Democratic Party? Some of it is a function of conservatives perhaps being too zealous about what makes their denomination distinct — the OPC is the denomination Jesus founded!! But much of it comes from not understanding the point of being connected to other congregations and using those ties to organize larger ministry endeavors (e.g., evangelism, missions, education, ecumenism). A pastor in a small town may find that the congregation in which he ministers is sufficient to carry out its work, and that denominational expectations and funding is a restriction.

At the same time, the work of independent congregations has to be difficult. Where do you find trained pastors if yours retires? What about pension funds for pastors? What about supporting foreign missionaries? If someone proposes a joint-worship service among local churches, how does an independent church decide whether to participate? Denominational committees help with a lot of the activity that goes beyond a congregation. In other words, a local congregation has trouble functioning as its own denomination. This is especially true when it comes to planting churches. From where do you acquire the funds to support a like-minded ministry until it is self-sustaining?

Networks appear to be the current remedy. These are the new sources of venture capital (apparently) for church start ups. It seems to be a case of financing the church the way entrepreneurs find patrons for businesses in Silicon Valley.

Apostles Church (three separate congregations) in New York City seems to be an example of the new world of ecclesiastical entrepreneurship. One of its pastors, John Starke, used to write for The Gospel Coalition, and since these churches are in New York City, Ground Zero of urban ministry for urban ministries, you might think Apostles might be a partner with both the Gospel Coalition and Redeemer City-to-City. As it turns out two of the three Apostles’ congregations do show up as partners. But not with Apostles Downtown. That raises a question of how much the three Apostles congregations are in full partnership with each other. But since they are urban and in NYC, it seems odd that Redeemer is not a partner.

Instead, the churches have ties to these networks:

Send North America: Our strategy is simple and straightforward. We believe that the Church is God’s plan—you are God’s plan—to reach North America and the nations with the hope of the gospel.

As a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board is here to help local churches send the hope of the gospel across North America in two primary ways: compassion ministry and church planting.

Hope For New York: Our vision is a New York City in which all people experience spiritual, social, and economic flourishing through the demonstration of Christ’s love.

Our mission is to mobilize volunteer and financial resources to support non-profit organizations serving the poor and marginalized in New York City.

Sojourn Network: …by offering the pastors in our network a strong vision of planting, growing, and multiplying healthy churches and by providing them with thorough leadership assessment, funding for new churches and staff, coaching, training, renewal, and resources, we can best steward their gifts for the benefit and renewal of their local congregations.

Since 2011, our aim at Sojourn Network has been to provide the care and support necessary for our pastors to lead their churches with strength and joy – and to finish ministry well.

Of course, other networks have been around for a while. Willow Creek is now long in the tooth and struggles, I imagine, after revelations about its founder, Bill Hybels and guru, Gilbert Bilzikian. Acts 29 is also about as old as Redeemer NYC and its founder, Mark Driscoll, has had Trumpian moments.

But if someone wanted to plant a church, the prospects never appear to have been better. Lots of energy, money, and people are starting churches and finding funding outside the denominations, whether small or large. But what gives these networks an identity? Can you substitute Sojourn for Methodist, Acts 29 for Episcopalian, Redeemer City-to-City for Presbyterian? As tired or as broad as the older denominational names have become, they have direct reference to a specific historical moment and a distinct set of ideas and practices. What is a network other than a mechanism for funding churches and consoling psychologically damaged church planters?

Tim Keller once said of churches that:

promote cooperation between individuals and the kind of associational life that is necessary for human happiness and social success. Without informal shared trust, things are more litigious and combative. Life is much better when neighbors pull for each other, help each other, collaborate together. But this kind of “social capital” is very difficult to generate through public policy. Governments cannot duplicate the effect of religion as a source of shared values.

Well, don’t denominations create associations where networks create websites and podcasts? So why start a network when you are in a denomination? And why start a church planting network when you are in a denomination that has an agency devoted to church planting — called, Home Missions?

Yuval Levin recently wrote about the decline in institutional life in the United States. Some of this owes to businesses or political parties or churches where executives or officers abuse power and betray trust. But Levin adds a wrinkle. It is those people who use institutions to advance their para-institutional endeavors:

What stands out about our era in particular is a distinct kind of institutional dereliction — a failure even to attempt to form trustworthy people, and a tendency to think of institutions not as molds of character and behavior but as platforms for performance and prominence.

In one arena after another, we find people who should be insiders formed by institutions acting like outsiders performing on institutions. Many members of Congress now use their positions not to advance legislation but to express and act out the frustrations of their core constituencies. Rather than work through the institution, they use it as a stage to elevate themselves, raise their profiles and perform for the cameras in the reality show of our unceasing culture war.

President Trump clearly does the same thing. Rather than embodying the presidency and acting from within it, he sees it as the latest, highest stage for his lifelong one-man show. And he frequently uses it as he used some of the stages he commanded before he was elected: to complain about the government, as if he were not its chief executive.

The pattern is rampant in the professional world. Check in on Twitter right now, and you’ll find countless journalists, for instance, leveraging the hard-earned reputations of the institutions they work for to build their personal brands outside of those institutions’ structures of editing and verification — leaving the public unsure of just why professional reporters should be trusted. The same too often happens in the sciences, in law and in other professions meant to offer expertise.

Or consider the academy, which is valued for its emphasis on the pursuit of truth through learning and teaching but which now too often serves as a stage for political morality plays enacted precisely by abjuring both. Look at many prominent establishments of American religion and you’ll find institutions intended to change hearts and save souls frequently used instead as yet more stages for livid political theater — not so much forming those within as giving them an outlet.

Artists and athletes often behave this way too, using reputations earned within institutional frameworks as platforms for building a profile outside them. When he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg implored fellow players to remember “that learning how to bunt and hit-and-run and turning two is more important than knowing where to find the little red light on the dugout camera.” When vital institutions across American life fail to produce people who remember that, they become much harder to trust.

I cannot prove it but I have a pretty good sense that this is what is happening with networks in relation to denominations. We see pastors and denominational leaders working outside denominational structures in networks. They use their denominational standing to generate interest in an activity and alliance outside the denomination. This is not simply a function of the parachurch sort of replicating what the church does in forms of preaching- and teaching-like activities. This is supplying funding for congregational startups that could very well be part of a denomination’s church-planting effort.

Denominations are by no means above criticism. But how do you start a network even while you belong to a denomination? If the federal government had any regulatory power over religion, this would be high on the list of investigations.

Putting the Nationalism in Denominationalism

Colin Hansen makes an arresting admission in his piece about having grown up a Methodist and how he left the communion:

As a former United Methodist, I thank God for these friends and co-laborers in the gospel, even if I no longer share all their theological views. I recognize my spiritual debt. They were my family. They are my family.

I’m in no position to advise these people called Methodists. I forfeited that right when I left. And no one is asking for my advice, anyway. But I want my United Methodist friends to know something important. I did not leave because of your views on sexuality. By the time I left in the early 2000s I didn’t even realize you had been debating sexuality for decades. I left to find the theology of George Whitefield and Howell Harris that converted the Welsh, including my Daniel kin. I left to learn the spiritual disciplines that sustained the Wesleys amid their conflicts with established church leaders and quests to reform British society. I left to find the spiritual zeal that made my grandfather belt out the Methodist hymnal by heart as cancer ravaged his body.

I left the United Methodist Church to find Methodism.

Imagine if New Calvinists and Gospel Allies followed the same logic. “We do not belong to the PCA or the OPC or the URC, so we have no reason to offer you advice or criticism. By virtue of our not being members in your communion, we are in no place to tell you about Reformed Protestantism.”

Imagine too if those who associate or form alliances with New Calvinism — ahem — also followed what is implicit in Hansen’s understanding of membership. Imagine if a Presbyterian ally of the gospel said, “well, because I am a member of the PCA, even ordained in it, my first duties (PCA First) are to the denomination where I serve. That means, I might have to cut down on participating with non-Presbyterians. I might even reconsider my relationship to non-Presbyterians because we are merely allies, not fellow members of the same body.”

But I also noticed what Hansen did with Methodism. He did with it what he did with Calvinism. “I left the United Methodist Church to find Methodism.” The same goes for Gospel Allies. The identify less with Calvinist communions to find Calvinism.

And so, the problem of belonging to the church, the ministry of the church, ordination, and membership rears its head again. To parachurch or to church?

But Hansen did seem to acknowledge that not being a member of an institution means he loses standing for being heard by members of a denomination. That point also suggests that someone who is more involved in parachurch endeavors while belonging to a body of Christians also loses some of his or her standing for dialogue and instruction. As if.

After all, if borders between countries matter, if governments of nations matter, why shouldn’t the borders and polities of Christian communions also matter?

Moderate Presbyterians, Irish or American

Seeing the looks on Ben Preston and Craig Lynn’s faces last week while recording a session on J. Gresham Machen, I worried not only that American indelicacy had run up against Irish sensitivities, but also that the Orthodox Presbyterian habit of being opinionated had offended the moderate sense of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland ministers.

As it happens, while waiting for a meeting with staff at Union College (Ireland’s equivalent of Princeton Theological Seminary), I found a copy of the Presbyterian Herald, the Irish equivalent of New Horizons. I read an article about church attendance that I am not sure could have been published in the OPC’s magazine. The author wrote this:

Christian ought to be encouraging of and encouraged by para-church organisations which seek to spread the gospel. Being committed to such enterprises, however, before the local church is idolatry, for God will not share the glory of his church with another (Isaiah 42:8).

Shazam!

Membership of and support for para-church organisations, whether mission agencies, evangelicist bands or cultural/religious institutions must all come after commitment to the local church and never before.

Imagine what American Protestantism would look like if The Gospel Coalition adopted that set of priorities.

Did Meredith Kline Believe in Paedo-Communion?

Steven Wedgeworth characterizes the first period of Federal Vision’s development this way:

The first stage worth discussing actually goes back to Westminster Theological Seminary in the 1970s. While the seminary had been founded as something of a continuing “old school” Presbyterian institution, the influence of Cornelius Van Til took it in a unique direction. John Murray and Meredith Kline also made interesting but often idiosyncratic theological contributions, and by the 1960s, Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, Jay Adams, and John Frame added their own distinctives to the mix. The 1970s were a time of considerable controversy for WTS, mostly due to the Norman Shepherd controversy, but there was also a desire on the part of some of the leadership to make WTS more open to a broader and more evangelical landscape. This caused its own, rather different controversy, and certain critics claimed that the school’s legacy had been “sold out.”

Reading the literature coming out of WTS during the 1970s and 1980s, there arises the impression that various subgroups within the WTS were, at least unofficially, competing for the identity and vision of the school. Biblical Theology was certainly the dominant interest, but even here, there were opposing emphases. One writer has summarized the most prominent division between a “union with Christ” emphasis and a “Law and Gospel” emphasis.

It was during this time that many of the older FV thinkers attended seminary. Some attended WTS and were directly shaped by this era. Others attended elsewhere but paid attention to the controversies and read the literature. Most conservative Presbyterian and Reformed thinkers had looked to WTS as a guide during this time in the 20th century.

Another significant theological issue that came from this same background was the Christian Reconstruction movement, especially the Tyler branch. Christian Reconstructionism (very similar to “Theonomy”) refers to the idea that Christians ought to implement the Old Testament Scriptures and the Mosaic law code today, as much as possible. This movement began with the work of R J Rushdoony in 1960s, but the Tyler branch of Reconstructionism came to prominence in the early 1980s. They made key modifications to this project and put a new emphasis on ecclesiology, including the sacraments and the liturgy. The Tyler branch also broadened its vision from merely the Westminster Seminary legacy to include a certain sort of Continental Calvinism (pulling from the 16th cent. contributions of Martin Bucer, the 19th cent. German American Mercersburg Theology, and 20th cent. Dutch theologians like Klaas Schilder) and a contemporary liturgical renewal project inspired by Dom Gregory Dix and Alexander Schmemann (Mercersburg would also apply here). The most significant FV personality associated with Tyler Reconstruction stage is James B. Jordan, but Peter Leithart also shared some of this history. A few other names appear in this stage of the FV conversation but not in later ones, notably Peter Lillback and George Grant.

It is interesting to point out that Douglas Wilson did not share this same heritage. While he was certainly aware of these men and their writings, his own history comes from a broader Evangelical world. In fact, Douglas Wilson did not consider himself to be theologically Reformed until the late 1980s. He once wrote a booklet critique of the Tyler Branch of Christian Reconstructionism.

This pre-FV period history did not emphasize justification issues (other than in summaries of the older Shepherd controversy), nor did it argue that covenant theology needed to be significantly modified or reinterpreted. Instead, the men of this period claimed that their covenant theology was that of the Calvinistic or Reformed tradition, and they opposed it to the Baptistic or Evangelical theology of 20th cent. North America. The chief interests at this time were seeing families as covenantal units, showing the significance of paedobaptism for covenant theology and ecclesiology, and asserting an aggressive Christian social and political presence. Peadocommunion was already present among some of these men, though it was seen as a point of intramural disagreement. They also did reserve the right to part ways with the Reformation tradition, but this was always framed as a matter of incidental disagreement within their larger commitment to that legacy. James Jordan was also beginning to articulate his particular typological hermeneutics, a continuation and advancement of the redemptive-historical biblical theology taught by WTS. This period of FV development can be understood as starting during the late 1970s, and it reaches a definite transition point around 1990, when the Tyler church joined the Reformed Episcopal Church, James Jordan moved from Tyler, TX to Niceville, FL, and the Reconstruction movement began to fade in prominence.

This is the way I’ve seen other Federal Visionists or former Federal Visionists do historical theology. Because a diversity of voices were in the debates about the Westminster Confession of Faith, so today we should expect to see the same kind of breadth of views about different doctrines. In the same way, Federal Vision sprang from a diversity of voices at Westminster Seminary.

It raises a few questions. Is this why Federal Vision advocates were never very impressed with Machen? Wedgeworth’s history suggests that Federal Vision came from new directions at Westminster that took the school away from Machen’s vision.

Second, why did more people who aligned with Federal Vision go to Covenant or RTS Jackson than Westminster?

Third, does Meredith Kline belong to this history since the biggest critics of Federal Vision owed a great debt to Kline’s understanding of the Old Testament, covenant theology, and the relationship of cult to culture?

You Don’t Have to Untuck Your Shirt (partially) to Follow the OPC

First, it was Christianity Today taking a page from the spirituality of the church.

Second, it was the PCA opening the way to be Presbyterian and not evangelical by leaving the National Association of Evangelicals.

Now comes a review of Jake Meador’s new book which seems to stress aspects of Reformed piety that have long been hallmarks of Orthodox Presbyterian expectations. Meador’s case is for ordinary piety (with no reference to shirt-tails apparently):

Meador argues for a Christian culture in which the faithful desire “a simple life of work and prayer in a particular place among a beloved people” (22). They delight in the created gifts of God and the ordinary means of grace in the church, the preached Word of God, and the blessed sacrament. For readers familiar with the arguments for good work, community, and the practice of Sabbath, Meador adds to the conversation a rich archive of Reformed theology, in particular excerpts from John Calvin’s Bible commentaries. According to philosopher Charles Taylor, one of the themes that arose during the Reformation was “the affirmation of ordinary life.” Meador draws from this theme to make his case for ordinary piety.

He even promotes observing the Lord’s Day:

Meador is interested in the teachings and practices that help us journey toward the Eternal City. For example, he suggests we practice Sabbath: on Sunday we can rest from exploitive economies we don’t admire but in which we are inevitably complicit. Preparing for the week ahead, we seek to return to the rhythms of a world sustained by divine love rather than human effort. For Meador, Sabbath also means attending public worship and perhaps going back to the two-service model in which the evening service would function as a time for theological rigor and catechesis. Churches tend to use the morning sermon to invigorate rather than instruct in the faith. The evening service could help Christians recover traditions of theology that would give them the confidence to understand and practice their religion in the world. In this and other instances, Meador strikes a balance between countercultural practices and recovering the traditional patterns of church life.

Holy moly.

The worry from here is an apparently ecumenical approach which could well turn into eclectic piety:

Even among Anabaptists who argue for a strong separation from the state, there is an emphasis on a life shared in common that runs “with the grain of the universe,” the phrase Hauerwas draws from Yoder for the title of his published Gifford lectures. Meador believes that these Protestant sources, coupled with the social ethics of the Catholic church, can help American evangelicals reorient the church: rather than just being an institution for individual fulfillment, the church ought to act as Christ’s body and minister to the wounds in American society at large, including those inflicted by economic inequality and racial injustice.

From my perspective, evangelicals have for so long lacked any rigor or discipline (which usually comes with confessions, church polity, and liturgy) that recommending other sources will only contribute to the phenomenon of boutique congregationalism. Some will be Hybelsian, others Hauerwasian, and still other’s sacramentalian.

Maybe lacking awareness of one’s shirt-tails has its advantages.

Good to Know Reformed Protestantism is not Tribal

A couple more reflections on the Poway shooting put into perspective the kind of ties that people have to Protestants with Reformed convictions. If you were completely on the outside of Reformed and Presbyterian circles, if you were an evangelical who was leaving born-again Protestantism for something progressive, you might imagine writing what Christian Stroop did for Playboy:

The pattern of evangelical homeschoolers committing racially motivated, violent crimes raises questions about how homeschooling and white evangelical subculture may be contributing factors in the radicalization of young people. Earnest’s branch of the Reformed tradition, as religious studies professor Julie Ingersoll described in detail for Religion News Service, has its origins in the defense of slavery and still valorizes overtly white supremacist theologians such as R.L. Dabney.

Some Orthodox Presbyterians are adherents of Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme right-wing version of Calvinist ideology that, as described by legislative policy analyst with the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, Kathryn Brightbill, “teaches that God’s plan for civil society is to implement Old Testament political law, including the stoning parts.” If we are determined to find solutions to America’s epidemic of gun violence and hate crimes, we must put aside taboos around criticizing Christians and take these considerations seriously. Brightbill is one of two experts on U.S. homeschooling, both of whom were homeschooled in evangelical subculture and who are now a part of the increasingly visible “ex-vangelical” movement, that I asked to weigh in on the issue.

Never mind that Stroop is against heteronormativity even while writing for a publication that put hetero into heteronormativity:

[Exvangelicals] are former insiders who testify to what they see as the traumatizing effects of living under evangelicalism’s patriarchal, heteronormative, and racist norms. As Stroop wrote for Playboy last June: “When Christian nationalists are in power and perpetrating horrors, we should oppose their dominionism not with a different reading of the Bible, but with a robust defense of pluralism and secularism.”

In contrast, if you were in a denomination that has fraternal relations with the communion in which the shooter is a member, you could imagine writing what Kevin DeYoung did:

All of us in the Reformed world were shocked and saddened to learn that the alleged Ponway Synagogue shooter was “one of us,” a theologically minded young man who belonged to an OPC congregation. Without a doubt, this is an occasion to reflect on whether any of us have been soft on anti-Semitic hatred or if any of our churches are breeding grounds for murderous angst.

And yet, by all accounts, the parents and the pastor have said the right things and seem to be the sort of people that manifestly did not create a killer. If there is any causal link it is with the radicalization that happens in apocalyptic communities on message board sites like 8chan. Just because the shooter may have stolen evangelical language or Reformed theology to make his point does not mean the Christian faith is to blame any more than Jesus was to be blamed when his disciples wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans in order to defend his honor (Luke 8:51-55). The key is that Jesus rebuked them, and so must we when we see people under our care twist our teachings or when we witness their zeal turning to violence.

In our age of political polarization, we often hear accusations—on both sides—that Tragedy A was the result of a “culture of hate” or that Horrible Atrocity B was the product of “good people saying nothing.” I suppose those arguments can be true, but as a rule they are almost always so nebulous as to be unprovable and so universal as to be non-falsifiable. If millions of people in the same “culture” never act out in violent ways and a very, very, very small number do, how effective is the culture anyway?

Again, I’m not suggesting that families or religious communities or broader societal factors never play a role—and sometimes it can be shown that they play a significant role—but as a stand-alone argument, we should shy away from “the culture” as a causal explanation for much of anything. It’s unfortunate that some of the same academics who look for finely tuned, always qualified nuances in making arguments about the past are quick to make sweeping causal claims when it comes to analyzing the present.

DeYoung failed to add the unfortunate side to ministers and church members from Reformed backgrounds who also make sweeping causal claims. On the upside, that may mean that Reformed Protestantism has less binding power than political conviction or racial/ethnic identity. That could be a reason for thanks.

You’ve Heard it Said that Calvinists are Mean

But I say to you, #woke Calvinists are meaner.

Here’s what one wrote recently:

Recent books such as Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” highlight that there is incontrovertible proof that theologically conservative Christians historically created, protected and benefited from racially unjust practices and ideologies. Research has shown how the Reformed tradition in the United States has a dark history of defending slaveholding and advocating for segregation in our churches and Christian schools.

Princeton Theological Seminary, once the flagship institution of the Reformed tradition in the United States, has a well-documented history of employing faculty members who ardently defended slaveholding in their teaching and ministry and took significant donations from slave-related enterprises.

One of these faculty members, J. Gresham Machen, who went on to found the OPC and Westminster Theological Seminary, brought complaints to his fellow faculty members when a black student was assigned to live in seminary dormitories with white students.

Other writers, such as Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, in “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, show how racism and white supremacy are a present reality in the church. The experience of many people of color in Reformed churches can further attest that our churches are no exception.

Within our churches, there is a general pushback against charging Christians with dismantling racism. The fear of white supremacy is considered to be overblown, and talking about racism is equated with progressive theology outside of the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. We’ve failed to combat white supremacy with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.

Not only has the assertion that President Trump is a racist become an axiom of American math, but now we also know with apodictic certainty that white Presbyterian denominations are also.

Here’s another:

But the OPC is handicapped in its effort to combat white nationalism by the application of the very theology it promotes.

Too often Christian individuals and institutions act as if general statements condemning bigotry and saccharine assertions of racial and ethnic equality are sufficient to combat white nationalism. . . .

If denominations like the OPC wish to make their churches inhospitable to people who harbor white nationalist views — or to confront the sins of racism and white nationalism in hopes that church members will repent of them — then they’re going to have to offer unequivocal and direct teaching refuting the ideology.

White denominations, especially in the theologically Reformed branch of the church, should hold specific workshops, classes and special events explaining white nationalist beliefs and tactics so their members can guard against subversion.

White churches and leaders must bring members who express white nationalist views or sympathies under church discipline, with the ultimate goal of discipleship and restoration. But, if necessary, suspension from the Lord’s Supper and excommunication should be an option.

In addition, white churches in Reformed traditions must probe exactly why people who hold white nationalist and other racist beliefs may find a comfortable home in their fellowships.

Perhaps it’s because pro-slavery theologians such as R.L. Dabney are still cited as positive examples of godly men.

Maybe it’s because black liberation theologians such as James Cone are demonized and if they are read at all, it is merely to discount their viewpoints.

Perhaps it’s because of the almost unshakable loyalty of many white evangelicals to Republican officials who express racist ideas.

Maybe white racists and nationalists can sit comfortably in the pews of certain churches because whenever calls for social justice arise their leaders say that such issues are a “distraction” from the gospel.

I absolutely do not believe that pastors in the OPC or any similar denomination are regularly spewing anti-Semitism and racism from the pulpit or on any other occasion.

But the rigid exclusion of discussions of racial injustice from the regular preaching and teaching in these churches means that white nationalists are seldom challenged in their beliefs.

Notice that “spewing” racism or anti-Semitism is not a regular part of preaching in Presbyterian pulpits. It only happens occasionally. Thanks for that qualification.

At the same time, if pastors do not speak out against these hatreds and prejudices they are guilty of racism and anti-Semitism.

By that standard, some of the #woke Calvinists favor waterboarding, carbon emissions, the Patriot Act, William Barr’s letter, and Senator Ben Sasse. Why? Because #woke Christians haven’t said anything about these subjects.

And yet, the niceCalvinists” say nothing when #woke Calvinists turn mean.

No Comment Is an Option

Among several public remarks that pastors made to the press last week after the tragedy in Poway, PCA pastor, Duke Kwon’s to the Washington Post stand out for a failure of imagination. Here are some of the quotations:

In the manifesto, “you actually hear a frighteningly clear articulation of Christian theology in certain sentences and paragraphs. He has, in some ways, been well taught in the church,” said the Rev. Duke Kwon, a Washington pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, another evangelical denomination which shares many of its beliefs with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Kwon said he does not think most people should read the manifesto, which calls for its readers to also go out and attack Jews and tries to convince them they can do so without getting caught. But he found the letter darkly instructive for pastors. He tweeted snippets of it, and before Twitter removed those tweets, they prompted intense debate among evangelicals. Some castigated Kwon for casting blame on the church in any way. Some argued Earnest must be mentally ill; many sought to make clear that anti-Semitism is incompatible with biblical belief.

Kwon disagreed. He pointed to the evidence that the writer shares the Reformed theology of evangelical Presbyterians: that only God can offer salvation to those he preselects. “Obviously something went wrong. I think it’s important for Christians, both those in the pews as well as those in the pulpit, to take a moment for some self-reflection and to ask hard questions,” Kwon said.

Kwon said he already exercises caution when he gets to some of the very same verses of the New Testament that are quoted, verses that have long been popular among anti-Semites because they seem to cast blame on the Jewish people for the death of Jesus.

“For any of us who are preaching who are aware of the history of how these passages have been misused . . . there’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” Kwon said. He said the shooting should lead other pastors to greater awareness that they need to explain to their congregations what the Bible means when it says Jews killed Jesus. To Kwon, it means some specific Jews alive 2,000 years ago were involved, alongside Roman officials, in Jesus’ death — not that Jewish people today bear any guilt for the crucifixion.

But that nuance often gets lost, Kwon said. “There’s a deep and ugly history of anti-Semitism that’s crept into the Christian church, that needs to be continuously addressed, condemned and corrected,” he said.

Imagine if you were the pastor under whose ministry the shooter sat. How would you read those quotes?

The gunman “shares Reformed theology.”

“Obviously something went wrong.”

Pastors need to “take a moment for self-reflection and to ask hard questions.”

“There’s a learned sensitivity that you apply to the way you teach these passages,” which apparent the shooter’s pastor did not seem to have had.

Anti-Semitism in the church needs to “continuously addressed, condemned and corrected.”

The penultimate paragraph in the story belonged to Kwon:

“It’s possible to teach people in the church about personal individual salvation in Jesus Christ and still fail to instruct them regarding the ethical implications of that faith,” he said. Going forward, Kwon called for “a vision of the gospel that includes implications for the love of neighbor and those that are different from ourselves, to teach it as an essential feature of the gospel of grace and not just an add-on or an appendage to more important matters.”

Imagine this: thinking you understand and present the gospel in ways that show how Christians should love neighbors who are different and not considering that you yourself may have church members who are capable of sin and don’t apply your teaching to all aspects of their lives. An event like this may not be the time to instruct conservative Presbyterians about the social implications of the gospel or to promote your own theology.

You may have a point and you may want to instruct the rest of the church and America about a fuller explanation of the gospel. But why not let the dust settle, the tears dry, even the courts work? Why use this moment to display your own sensitivity to the gospel’s breadth? Why not imagine what it must be like for pastors and sessions (not to mention parents and Sunday school teachers) to see one of their own go so wildly astray?

Does not a better understanding of the gospel go with a wider moral imagination? What is so hard about “there go I but for the grace of God”?

More Orthodox Presbyterians in the News

Sometimes, people who grew up in the church make news in a variety of ways.

Here is a story about a woman who is the daughter of an executive in OPC foreign missions:

Chrissy Clawson, 35, a manager at Baker Street Bread Co., 8009 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, is on a mission to raise $50,000 by June 8 in memory of her sister, Dr. Kathleen “Katie” Clawson, who passed away from Hodgkins Lymphoma on March 2, 2019.

And thanks to businesses and shoppers who have contributed to the upcoming Chestnut Hill Gives Back on May 1, Clawson is a step closer to meeting her goal. Eighteen local businesses donated a portion of their proceeds or made a donation to support her campaign for the 2019 Leukemia Lymphoma Society Man and Woman of the Year.

“MWOY is a fundraising competition in the United States to raise funds for LLS, the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers,” Clawson said. “LLS’s goal is to cure Leukemia, Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and Myeloma, as well as improve the quality of life for patients and their families.

“Since my sister’s diagnosis in late 2016 and up until she passed away, Katie and I co-captained the LLS Speedy Turtles, a group of volunteers who have raised nearly $17,000 for LLS. As one of Katie’s caregivers who was by her side through more than 60 treatments of chemo, radiation, immunotherapy and clinical trials, I know the benefit of research. Although the thought of raising $50,000 by June 8 is quite intimidating, Katie nominated me for Woman of the Year before she passed away because she understood the necessity of cancer research.”

Then comes word that the school Cornelius Van Til played a significant role in founding invited Anthony Bradley to speak at its 75th anniversary festivities:

Philadelphia Montgomery Christian Academy (Phil- Mont) in Erdenheim will welcome alumni, families, staff and friends to the school campus for a 75th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, April 27. The celebration will honor the school’s history of serving and nurturing Christian families since 1943.

Phil-Mont has a rich history of college-preparatory education in an environment with students from diverse backgrounds, an emphasis on Christian worldview, and opportunities for excellence in sports, drama and the fine arts.

The gala serves as a fundraiser for many of the school’s core priorities and has been lovingly shepherded by Will Liegel, secondary English teacher, head of the drama department and director of advancement.

“This event is about celebrating all that God has done here for over seven decades. We are planning an exciting evening of food, music, testimony and, yes, even fundraising,” he said.

The evening will include a silent auction with an array of offerings ranging from kayaking and sailing trips, to services like estate planning and vocal lessons, to theatre tickets and ethnic cuisine prepared in the comfort of your own home.

“The hope is to encourage, excite and explain our plans for the years ahead,” Liegel said.

Dr. Anthony B. Bradley will serve as the keynote speaker for the celebration, which will also feature perspectives from current and former students, parents and staff, and performances by the school’s award-winning high school jazz band. Bradley served as Dean of Students at Phil-Mont from 2001 to 2002, and is an internationally known author and speaker on a wide variety of topics related to African Americans and American Christianity, including discussions on theology and legal issues.

If you are in the business of connecting dots, please have longer hours.

Can Your Two Kingdom Theology Do This?

Remember when anti-2kers put the “R” before 2k to assert that two-kingdom theology is radical? A recent Twitter thread keeps that complaint alive:

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The odd thing is the way critics will leap to connect dots between ideas and events (like the shooting in Poway that involved an OPC church member) and never read the sources closest to the congregation and its pastor. Here is a paragraph from the book on covenant theology that the pastor of that OPC congregation wrote:

The doctrine of the new covenant guards us against triumphalism. The new covenant shows us that the kingdom of God is no longer identified with any geopolitical nation on earth. This is particularly critical to grasp in American culture, where there is a tendency to confuse the kingdom of God with the United States. Americas, however, is not in covenant with God as a nation. It had no representative on Mount Sinai. The only nation in covenant with God is God’s new global nation, that is, his new covenant church. “But you are a chosen race,” says the apostle Peter, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). In the new covenant, the church is no longer limited to the physical descendants of Abraham but is made up of all the nations of the earth, people of every race, color, and language. While the old covenant was an era of driving the nations out of God’s holy land, the new covenant is an era of believers living side by side with unbelievers in patience and love. Today is the day of salvation, not judgment. God’s judgment is delayed until his return. (148)

That is not radical. It is moderate in the sense that it compels Christians to recognize that they live this side of glory in societies with non-Christians. It also reduces expectations for the Christian or moral capacities of a nation and its government. It is precisely an understanding of covenant theology and the gospel that contra Jemar Tisby and Timothy Cho is fundamentally at odds with white nationalism. There is nothing nationalist about it.

But the critics who for years have wailed and nashed teeth over 2k’s capitulation to secular society and “neutral” government are precisely those who wanted a nation with a Christian identity. Even those people who protest the United States’ long history of racism, want the nation to become Christian in the way it oversees and regulates race relations. Believe it or not, that understanding of church and state does not make a lot of room for non-Christians.

But 2k is radical. I get it.