Neo-Calvinists Made This Possible

How to be a Calvinist without subscribing the Three Forms of Unity (especially the Canons of Dort), Trevin Wax uses the same logic that allowed USA Presbyterians to be Presbyterian without subscribing the Confession of Faith:

I do wonder how David defines the contours of the Reformed heritage. At times, I get the impression that he is speaking of the Reformed tradition in its distinctively Calvinistic soteriological position. Certainly, one can speak of the “Reformed” in this way, but I suppose I come at this definition by considering the broader framework of the Reformation tradition.

For example, I don’t think of Os Guinness or Charles Colson as “Calvinists,” but as thinkers who have adopted and adapted the Kuyperian worldview and its distinctive approach to creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Perhaps my concern with proper definition says more about my own placement in this tradition, as one who doesn’t line up exactly with Calvinist soteriology and yet appreciates the worldview emphasis one finds within this tradition. I would include John Wesley under the Reformed moniker, even though he was an Arminian with his own Wesleyan twist on the doctrines of salvation.

Interestingly, when David lifts up contemporary treatments of the atonement from N. T. Wright and Fleming Rutledge as preferable to the classical Reformed tradition, he is lifting up heirs to that broader tradition. That’s not to say there aren’t differences between Wright, Rutledge, and the classically Reformed. Still, these writers operate within the basic Reformed worldview and outlook. So, when David differentiates his perspective from the “Reformed,” he does so by appealing to one wing of the Reformed tradition over against another.

Wax never knew Machen:

Even if all this were true, even if a creedal Church were an undesirable thing, it would still remain true that as a matter of fact many (indeed in spirit really all) evangelical churches are creedal churches, and that if a man does not accept their creed he has no right to a place in their teaching ministry. The creedal character of the churches is differently expressed in the different evangelical bodies, but the example of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America may perhaps serve to illustrate what is meant.

It is required of all officers in the Presbyterian Church, including the ministers, that at their ordination they make answer “plainly” to a series of questions which begins with the two following: “Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?” “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”

If these “constitutional questions” do not fix clearly the creedal basis of the Presbyterian Church, it is difficult to see how any human language could possibly do so. Yet immediately after making such a solemn declaration, immediately after declaring that the Westminster Confession contains the system of doctrine taught in infallible Scriptures, many ministers of the Presbyterian Church will proceed to decry that same Confession and that doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture to which they have just solemnly subscribed! (Christianity and Liberalism)

Neo-Calvinism created this when it stressed culture over salvation, transformationalism over doctrine. Now we have cultural Calvinists, like cultural Jews and cultural Roman Catholics.

Thank YOU!

Another Golden Oldie

Thanks to Zrim, I remembered another internet intervention about 2k. This one was at Greenbaggins at the instigation of Reed DePace. It was a threepart series but here reproduced in one post.

Theological Affirmations

1) Affirmation: Jesus is Lord

Denial: Jesus is not Lord over everyone in the same way; he rules the covenant community differently than those outside the covenant.

2) Affirmation: the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ

Denial: Outside the visible church is not part of the redemptive rule of Christ (even though Christ is still sovereign).

3) Affirmation: the Bible is the only rule for the visible church (in matters of conscience).

Denial: Scripture does not reveal everything but only that which is necessary for salvation.

4) Affirmation: Christ alone is lord of conscience

Denial: Christians have liberty where Scripture is silent.
Denial: the pious advice and opinions of Christians are not binding.

5) Affirmation: the visible church has real power (spiritual and moral, ministerial and declarative, the keys of the kingdom) in ministering the word of God.

Denial: the church may not bind consciences apart from Scripture.
Denial: the church may not bind consciences on the basis of one minister’s or believer’s interpretation but must do so corporately through the deliberations of sessions, presbyteries, and assemblies.

6) Affirmation: Christ’s righteousness alone satisfies God’s holy demands for righteousness, and believers receive this righteousness through faith alone (i.e., justification).

Denial: believer’s good works, much less unbelievers’ external obedience to the law, do not satisfy God’s holiness but are filthy rags.

Affirmations about Vocation

1) Affirmation: the church is called to gather and perfect saints through word, sacrament and discipline.

Denial: the church is not called to meddle in civil affairs.

2) Affirmation: the Christian family is called to nurture and oversee children in both religious and secular matters.

Denial: Christian families will not all look the same but have liberty to rear children according to Scripture and the light of nature.
Denial: non-Christian families do not rear children in godliness or holiness but still have legitimate responsibility for rearing their children.

3) Affirmation: the state is called to punish wickedness, reward goodness, and promote peace and order.

Denial: the state does not hold the keys of the kingdom.

4) Affirmation: A Christian is called to use his talents and gifts to serve God and assist his neighbor.

Denial: some Christians are not called to engage in civil affairs.
Denial: the responsibilities attending one Christian’s vocation may not be the standard for other Christians.

Affirmations on Ethics

1) Affirmation: Christians have an obligation to submit to God’s laws as they are found in general and special revelation.

Denial: persons cannot obey God’s law truly apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Denial: non-Christians may not please God in their external observance of God’s law.
Denial: even if non-Christians may not please God, their civic virtue is crucial to a peaceful and orderly society.

2) Affirmation: Christians please God in their good works thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Denial: the good works of Christians are not free from pollution (i.e. they are filthy rags).

3) Affirmation: the state and families have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

Denial: the church does not have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

4) Affirmation: church members have a duty to obey the laws of civil magistrates.

Denial: church members may not rebel against or disobey the magistrate.
Denial: church members must not obey the magistrate rather than God.

5) Affirmation: God has established a pluriformity of institutions (e.g. civil society) for the sake of social order.

Denial: the church has no calling to establish social order but will have an indirect influence on peace and order by encouraging godliness in her members.

Catechesis or Seminary?

Imagine if this woman had simply relied on the means of covenant nurture to acquire a better understanding of God and salvation:

Is seminary absolutely necessary to get that foundation (or any of the other things I’ve mentioned)? No, not necessarily. Could a person learn all I learned without a seminary education? Probably. But it’s harder to do it on your own. There’s something to be said about surrounding yourself with trustworthy, godly professors who will guide you to a deeper faith in God and knowledge of his Word.

Well, there it is. That’s what I’d tell a friend if they asked whether I’m glad I went to seminary. I’d refill her coffee, double check the time to ensure we weren’t late for preschool pickup or whatever errands we were supposed to be doing, and if we still had an extra minute we’d discuss the ways seminary might be possible for her if she were interested.

No matter where God leads me from here, I’ll never regret the time I spent in seminary.

Makes me wonder if I would have had to go to seminary if my church had offered the kind of instruction that I was seeking. Did I really need Greek and Hebrew to understand what the Confession of Faith lays out so well?

See Tim Give Away the Covenant

If you are in the business of baptizing children, catechizing those same kids, encouraging parents to nurture their children, and if on top of all that you believe that God uses families (at least in a significant way) to build his church, I’m not sure how you can write this:

In China, Africa, and many other places in the world, Christianity is growing rapidly as those societies are modernizing. Then, as people come to Europe and the United States from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, they plant new churches or strengthen other ones that are growing and reaching those cities. Why? Because, while religion that’s inherited will decline in the modern age, religion that’s chosen will not. The growing Christian churches are evangelical and Pentecostal, and they emphasize the biblical call to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15) and the biblical teaching that we stand or fall on our own faith, not the choices of our family or community (Ezek. 18). These churches teach that vicarious, formal religion isn’t enough; there must be a radical, inward conversion (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 9:25; Rom. 2:29). Christianity that foregrounds these important biblical concepts and lifts up heart-changing personal faith can reach many contemporary people—and it can reach cities.

Why would a Presbyterian minister write this since he has subscribed teachings like these?

2. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness. (Confession of Faith, 24)

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (Confession of Faith, 25)

Just because you believe that infant baptism, catechesis, and covenant nurture is the way God ordained to advance the kingdom of grace does not mean you don’t evangelize or do missions. But don’t you at least have to tip the cap to the tradition in which you minister? Aren’t you as a Presbyterian supposed to believe in covenant children who, like Isaac, grew up never having known a day that you did not trust Jesus?

But if you read Richard Lovelace more than John Williamson Nevin — who is a lot hipper and accessible to urbanists than Hodge or Warfield — I guess you forget what happens to covenant children who try to convert:

I had come to college, a boy of strongly pious dispositions and exemplary religious habits, never doubting but that I was in some way a Christian, though it had not come with me yet (unfortunately) to what is called a public profession of religion. But now one of the first lessons inculcated on me indirectly by this unchurchly system, was that all this must pass for nothing, and that I must learn to look upon myself as an outcast from the family and kingdom of God, before I could come to be in either in the right way. Such, especially, was the instruction I came under, when a ‘revival of religion,’ as it was called, made its appearance among us, and brought all to a practical point. . . .

It was based throughout on the principle, that regeneration and conversion lay outside of the Church, had nothing to do with baptism and Christian education, required rather a looking away from all this as more a bar than a help to the process, and were to be sought only in the way of magical illapse or stroke from the Spirit of God;. . . An intense subjectivity, in one word — which is something always impotent and poor — took the place of a proper contemplation of the grand and glorious objectivities of the Christian life, in which all the true power of the Gospel at last lies. My own ‘experience’ in this way, at the time here under consideration, was not wholesome, but very morbid rather and weak.

Alas, where was mother, the Church, at the very time I most needed her fostering arms? Where was she, I mean, with her true sacramental sympathy and care? How much better it had been for me, if I had only been properly drawn forth from myself by some right soul-communication with the mysteries of the old Christian Creed. (My Own Life, 1870)

Why Neo-Calvinists Are Like Feminists

Damon Linker comments on the folly of ideological purity in a democracy:

In a democracy, successful political movements go broad. They are ecumenical, seeking to bring as many people as possible into an inclusive coalition, because that’s how elections are won and mandates are forged, and because they understand that politics involves compromise and building bridges of partial agreement and commonality with those who disagree on some important issues but not on others. (Pro-life feminists tell Green that they’ve been inspired to attend the march by “cultural misogyny, the state of education and health care, and a desire for their own daughters to be able to lead.”)

Sects (whether political or religious) have different priorities — like upholding ideological purity, enforcing conformity to official doctrine, policing the boundaries of acceptable opinion, and excommunicating those who fail to toe the party line. They prefer losing to compromising their principles.

So why do neo-Calvinist treat 2kers like they are not Reformed? Remember Lutheran?

And since when is neo-Calvinism the way to approach society and politics? If you think you have the “real” w-w, the one that is True Truth, the one that is orthodoxy in the church, how exactly does that build a political consensus? At least Abraham Kuyper didn’t approach church life or politics that way.

Constructing Neo-Calvinism

How do you go from the Puritans who had laws on the books for the execution of disobedient and recalcitrant male adolescents and who refused to let Presbyterians set up shop in Massachusetts, to Calvinism as the glue that makes Americans think the U.S.A. is exceptional?

Damon Linker explained way back on the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birthday:

Early in the eighteenth century, the vision of America as a new Israel specially chosen by God to perform a divine mission was primarily limited to the Puritan and post-Puritan elite of New England. But by the middle of the century, the more modest views of providence that until that time had dominated throughout the mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies had been supplanted by the stringent Calvinism of Massachusetts and Connecticut. America was New Englandized. According to historian John F. Berens, the motor behind this extraordinary transformation was the Great Awakening of the 1740s, which helped to spread theological concepts throughout the colonies. In the electrifying sermons of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, and many other preachers, colonists from New York to South Carolina encountered for the first time the potent providential ideas that had previously transfixed the minds of the Puritan settlers of New England.

Not that these ideas were identical to the ones that originally inspired John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, and other seventeenth-century writers. On the contrary, American providential thinking evolved dramatically as it circulated throughout the colonies. As Berens notes, the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which followed immediately on the heels of the Great Awakening, contributed decisively to the transformation. For the first time, Americans began to define themselves in contrast to a vision of tyranny — namely, the (political and religious) absolutism of Catholic France. Unlike France, they concluded, the American colonies were a bastion of political and religious freedom. This freedom had been won, moreover, with the help of God’s providence, which would continue to protect the colonies in times of danger, provided the colonists proved themselves worthy of it by maintaining their divinely favored civil and religious institutions. In Berens’s words, by 1763 — a full thirteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of war with Great Britain over the supposedly tyrannical usurpations of King George III — the “ever-increasing intercolonial conviction that America was the New Israel” had come to mean that the colonies “had been assigned a providential mission somehow connected to the advancement of civil and religious freedom.”

Through the Revolutionary War, the years surrounding the ratification of the federal Constitution, and the early national period, pastors and presidents repeatedly praised the “great design of providence” that had led to the creation of a country dedicated to protecting and preserving political and religious liberty. Call it the consolidation of America’s Calvinist consensus. What were once the rather extreme theological convictions dominating a handful of rustic outposts on the edge of a wholly undeveloped continent were now the unifying and motivating ideology of a rapidly expanding and industrializing nation. Whatever difficulties the new nation faced — from the traumas of the War of 1812 to the gradual escalation of regional hostilities that ultimately issued in the Civil War — Americans remained remarkably confident that God was committed to the survival and success of its experiment in free government and would continue to intervene providentially in its affairs to ensure that outcome.

Lo and behold, Americans were on the ground floor of turning Calvin into a political theologian of national greatness, but the French also beat the Dutch to the punch, as Bruce Gordon explains in his biography of Calvin’s Institutes. Emile Doumergue’s biography first published in 1899 included this:

Far from being a man who seeks retirement or turns from the world and from the present life, the Calvinist is one who takes possession of the world; who more than any other, dominates the world; who makes use of it for all his needs; he is the man of commerce, of industry, of all inventions and all progress, even material.

(Did someone say, “stay thirsty, my friend”?)