Endorsement Overkill

Rans

(Y)“During my college years the chapters reprinted in this volume along with other non–academic writings of Machen were a significant influence in my life, and I have returned to them from time to time, always with great profit. Written for his own day, they have lost none of their relevance and will continue to serve the cause of the gospel and the church’s wellbeing not only today but for generations to come.”
— Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Emeritus Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary

(Y)“In J. Gresham Machen, God gave the church an inimitable champion of biblical orthodoxy and gospel clarity. This book will show you why Machen is one of American evangelicalism’s most important 20th–century thinkers. More to the point, this book will ground you firmly in what it means to see in the face of Jesus Christ the grace and truth and glory of God.”
— Russell D. Moore, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

(Y)“In these seven brief lectures, Machen follows the main spine of Christian truth….The Person of Jesus is Machen’s reminder to the church of who we are–a reminder we needed then, and that we need still. In these lectures, the mists of mysticism melt away, and the simple, elegant, profound truths of the Bible appear.”
— Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C.

(Y)“J. Gresham Machen was a man of his times, enmeshed in protracted and penetrating conflict over the triumphant liberalism of his day. He was also a man who transcended his times, because he undertook, with rare learning and clear–sighted understanding, the defense of the faith ‘once for all entrusted to God’s holy people’ (Jude 3). His Christianity and Liberalism, for instance, written almost a century ago, still sounds amazingly prophetic. This present short volume brings together six of Machen’s radio talks of 1935, preserving Machen’s voice and emphases in an idiom that is more popular than his large books, but no less important. Machen is always worth reading.”
— D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

(Y)“J. Gresham Machen was one of the best thinkers and writers among Reformed theologians before his untimely death on New Year’s Day of 1937….Machen’s writing is always crisp and clear, without any compromise of cogent argument….When Machen finishes dealing with an unbelieving argument, I always feel that there is nothing more to be said on the unbelieving side.Even though this work is over eighty years old now, I would not hesitate to give it to someone who had doubts as to the deity of Christ, his miracles, and his resurrection.”
— John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

(Y)“Dr. Machen’s radio addresses on Christ, uttered over eighty years ago, are astonishingly contemporary when read today….To get maximum benefit from this book, read one address per day praying your way through it for worldwide reformation and revival today.”
— Joel R. Beeke, President and Professor of Systematic Theology and Homiletic, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; Pastor, Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids, MI

(Y)“The life and teaching of J. Gresham Machen are rightly revered by contemporary Christians who prize Reformed orthodoxy. Dr. Machen’s compelling voice lives again in the pages of this short book of radio talks on the divine Son of God. As a theologian for ordinary Christians, his clear and concise communication of biblical truth will draw new readers into a deeper and more personal knowledge of the risen Christ.”
— Philip Graham Ryken, President, Wheaton College

(Y)“These pages constitute treasure that has been hidden far too long–J. Gresham Machen bringing his incisive scholarly mind to bear on the big issues surrounding the person of Christ. As well as clearly expounding Jesus’s identity, these pages excel in dismantling false assumptions, muddle–headed and illogical reasoning, and subtle mishandlings of the Scriptures. The Person of Jesus is simultaneously a superb primer on the teaching of the Gospels and a powerful illustration of how to ‘destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Cor 10:5).”
— Sinclair B. Ferguson, Professor of Systematic Theology, Redeemer Seminary

(Y)“J. Gresham Machen was one of the most prescient and courageous Christian theologians of the early 20th century. During his life, Machen was a clear and consistent voice for Christian orthodoxy and evangelical truth in the face of liberalism. This collection of lectures is a valuable addition to the Machen library. These lectures reflect the heart of Machen’s ministry and provide yet another compelling presentation of Apostolic Christianity. Machen’s works are as relevant now as they were when they were first written. These lectures are no exception.”
— R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

(Y)“When I was in seminary I discovered these radio addresses by J. Gresham Machen in which he offered a highly accessible and popular presentation of Christian doctrine, and Reformed doctrine at that. I was fascinated by the media savvy of Machen. These lucid radio talks preceded C. S. Lewis’s famous broadcasts by several years. I have read and profited from them for decades. Their arguments and illustrations have strongly influenced my preaching. I can’t recommend them enough.”
— Timothy J. Keller, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, NY

Also Rans

“I first encountered J. Gresham Machen’s work as an undergraduate student grappling with modern challenges to the Christian faith. I found in him a mind passionate for the truth and a heart aflame with the gospel. Both of these traits shine through in these radio talks from the 1930s. We still need to hear what he had to say.”
— Timothy George, Dean, Beeson Divinity School; Executive Editor, Christianity Today

“Someone said recently that we need ‘a new Machen’ to speak insightfully to present–day theological confusions. That would be great. But, thank the Lord, the old Machen does continue to teach us. These wonderful addresses speak powerfully–and with refreshing clarity–to all of us today about the living Christ.”
— Richard J. Mouw, President Emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary

“This is a superb volume: clear, lucid, precise, and easy to follow. In each chapter, one must not miss that Machen clearly makes his case for the historical factuality of Christ’s identity on the basis of the authority of Scripture. Machen brought the listener–and now the reader–into the serious antithesis between the biblical teaching about Christ and modernism’s teaching about Christ.His sharp, contrasting arguments will always be relevant in the life of the church. Hence, it would be well for Christ’s body not to marginalize Machen as a nostalgic symbol. His battle for Christian truth uncovers the folly of those growing increasingly flexible toward broadening the doors of biblical orthodoxy.”
— William D. Dennison, Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Covenant College

“While these addresses, delivered by J. Gresham Machen in 1935, were important in their own time, they are perhaps even more urgent and necessary today. What more important topic is there than the person and work of Christ? Machen, a first–rate scholar, knew how to take the case to the people–and here he does exactly that.”
— Stephen J. Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College; Chief Academic Officer, Ligonier Ministries

“This is vintage Machen. He is lucid, logical, and unrelenting in defending what Scripture claims regarding God and the deity of Christ versus modern critics who would explain away or diminish those claims.”
— George M. Marsden, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

“These popular addresses show the heart of J. Gresham Machen: brilliant, clear, persuasive, calling everyone to faith and life in Jesus. They will bless and encourage all who read them.”
— W. Robert Godfrey, President, Westminster Seminary California

“Tight in argument yet pastoral in exhortation! What a treat! The revival of the uniqueness of Christ is to rediscover the gospel for today. The publication of Dr. Machen’s The Person of Jesus is an excellent contribution by Westminster Seminary Press, considering that the theological climate in Asia, let alone the whole world, is rapidly growing weak in its grips of who Jesus really is.”
— Kevin Woongsan Kang, Professor of Systematic Theology, Chongshin University and Theological Seminary

“Dr. J. Gresham Machen was one of the lions of reformed evangelical thought in the twentieth century. His clarity of thought and courage borne of a deep conviction and a personal walk with the God about whom he spoke and wrote suffuses every one of these fine radio addresses….With disarming simplicity they present the most important truths in the world and challenge us all to take them seriously. We need more of such clarity and directness today.”
— Mark D. Thompson, Principal, Moore Theological College

“All of the qualities that enabled J. Gresham Machen to make such an important contribution to English–speaking Protestantism–theological tenacity, clarity of mind, readability, and courageous conviction–are easy to see in this instructive and edifying collection of radio addresses on the person of Christ. These talks show once again that doctrine has consequences, with Machen as a superbly gifted guide to the significance of what the church confesses about Christ.”
— D. G. Hart, Author of Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America

“Almost eighty years after his death, J. Gresham Machen’s voice still speaks with clarity and timeliness concerning the person of Christ. In our time, when people question whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Dr. Machen’s cogent exposition of Scripture in these radio addresses from 1935 provides needed clarity concerning the triune God and the deity of Christ.”
— William S. Barker, Emeritus Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary

“J. G. Machen was the towering intellectual defender of historic Christianity during one of the most turbulent periods in American church history….These talks on the person of Jesus, delivered in the heat of the battle, are not merely an important theological voice from the past; they will encourage your faith today.”
— Frank A. James, President, Biblical Theological Seminary

“These gems by J. Gresham Machen are essential reading now for thoughtful Christians. Historians of conservative Protestantism will also greatly benefit from these addresses….In these talks, Machen distills the core doctrines about the person and work of Christ that he fought so hard to defend against the acids of modernity. Listen for Machen’s voice as you read these transcriptions. Lend your ear to this man whose apologetic labors hastened his tragic, early death.”
— Douglas A. Sweeney, Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“Sanity regained in a world gone mad. J. Gresham Machen flows with a heart of love for the Lord Jesus. Cool, clear, and fresh as a mountain stream, he bubbles with living water. Doctrinal indifference, a big issue in his day, is the black plague of ours. The antidote to truth decay is his clarity about who Jesus was, what he said and did, and, above all, how he lives and reigns today.”
— Paul Wells, Emeritus Professor, Faculté Jean Calvin

“Many know of Machen’s scholarly achievement and powerful support for historic Christianity over modern substitutes. Less well–known is his ability to convey what is lofty and profound in the simplest of terms. This little book restates the Bible’s depiction of God the Son in language easy to grasp….Machen’s remarks are as timely now as when first uttered. This is a superb survey of New Testament Christology and a powerful invitation to (re)discover the true Jesus, still Lord despite generations of naysayers and the complacency of his church.”
— Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

“Throughout his life, J. Gresham Machen wrestled with questions over the relationship between history and faith, between Jesus and Paul. Here in these radio addresses, we have his warm and winsome answers to those questions….It is a great gift to the church that these radio addresses are now being published; take up and read–be refreshed and strengthened in our common faith.”
— Sean Michael Lucas, Professor of Church History, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson

“These addresses on the person of Christ were forged long ago in the furnace of debate. They are, however, as fresh today, and as compelling, as they were when they were first delivered. Machen speaks with clarity, conviction, a matchless command of the subject, and with the wind of historic Christianity behind him.”
— David F. Wells, Distinguished Senior Research Professor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

“Dr. Machen’s talks are timeless, though set in the swirling currents of his day, because the Christ he described, the Christ revealed in the Scriptures by the Spirit, rises above time. His learned rhetoric, his passionate defense of Christian orthodoxy, his love of the Savior and his church make what you will find in these pages a delight to read, a source of spiritual strengthening, and a bulwark against the destructive effects of a contemporary scholarship that continues to denigrate the Creator, Redeemer, and only Judge of mankind.”
— John D. Hannah, Distinguished Professor of Historical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary

“This powerful little book on the deity of Christ fully displays what made Machen great. We see his relentless logic in the clarity of his thinking and the lucidity of his prose. The Gospels leave us no doubt that Jesus Christ is fully God, and Machen demonstrates that any other interpretation falls to the ground.”
— Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“This work certainly is a classic jewel. A ‘classic’ because, even though it dates back to 1935, this book is still fresh and relevant. A ‘jewel’ because it presents the person and work of Jesus Christ so clearly, convincingly, and appealingly to the reader. Dr. Machen’s voice can be heard again and we do well to listen to it.”
— Herman J. Selderhuis

“J. Gresham Machen is one of a select band of Christian writers of whom it can truly be said that ‘he being dead, yet speaketh.’ This reprint of some of his most important talks will be widely welcomed by those who appreciate his strong and learned defense of orthodoxy, and it will make his thought more accessible to a younger generation.”
— Gerald L. Bray, Research Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School

“With disarming brevity, Machen bracingly pleads with his reader for true belief in the true King of heaven and earth. I understand why even his theological sparring partner, Pearl Buck, respected her orthodox opponent so profoundly. Machen is clearly a spiritual gentleman, a worthy scholar, and a tender shepherd….Machen may well have no peer when it comes to clear, direct, and stirring expositional and applicational writing. Reader, prepare your mind and heart for a bracing read.”
— Joseph V. Novenson, Pastor, Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

“Here is theology that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. In these addresses Machen defends a high and biblical view of Christ with punch and quite stunning verve. Fresh, enlightening, and logically compelling, this is not only good theology but a model of good apologetics.”
— Michael Reeves, Director of Union and Senior Lecturer, Wales Evangelical School of Theology

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Four

Here’s the last intallment. You can read the others here, here, and here.

1. People often struggle with the entire 2K vs. Kuyperian/transformational debate because they are both advocated in rather abstract ways. It can sound like privileged white dudes reading Chesterton and finding holy ways to thumb their noses at the poor (2Kers) or balding men with ponytails growing soul patches and blogging in Starbucks about how ‘incarnational’ they are being (Kuyperians). Neither caricature really addresses the real world challenges of living out our faith corporately and individually amidst the challenges of, let’s say, rural poverty, or urban degradation. How would you suggest 2K thinking should play out so as to avoid sounding like we are advocating a laissez faire attitude to real social ills?

First, I’d reassert that rural poverty and urban degradation are not as important as man’s guilt before God and the eternal punishment that awaits all men. I don’t want to sound fundy or pietistic, but I really think this point needs to be stressed. We may fix family farms and we may turn Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell (two great characters from the HBO series, The Wire) into productive citizens. But family farmers and reformed drug dealers still await a judgment day. In that case, if the church lets the problems of this world cloud the reality and urgency of its preaching the gospel of forgiveness of sin and eternal life, then we are in a boatload of trouble.

Second, I do not see why J. Gresham Machen is not a good example of how individual believers can be involved in politics or society while still affirming the spirituality of the church and the enormity of the church’s burden to preach the good news. Machen was active in Democratic politics, wrote lots of letters to editors, joined political organizations, testified before Congress to oppose the Federal Department of Education. He was an active citizen, even while saying the church should not be engaged in politics. Here the distinction between the church’s calling as a corporate body versus the calling of individual Christians was key.

Now, of course, lots of contemporary transformationalists will not like Machen’s politics any more than they will like his ecclesiology. And that is a really interesting point here as well because if transformationalists (or any Christian) is going to advocate a certain policy or endeavor as being Christian, they are also making claims about what other Christians should do. And yet, if they do not have a biblical warrant for what they are claiming, if they are simply baptizing their own ideals about the good society with the sanctified motivation of Christianity, then they are actually violating Christian liberty by implicitly bind the consciences of Christians who do not share their view of the good society. In other words, it would be wrong to say God is a Democrat. And it would be wrong to say God is a Republican. He’s a divine right monarchist who transcends policy and legislation.

2. Can you ground 2K in scripture for us? Is this the teaching of the Bible?

If it doesn’t sound too defensive, I’d start by saying that a 1 kingdom view has not been shown to be the teaching of Scripture. It is curious to me that lots of people who object to 2 kingdom views go ahead and live with a two-kingdom reality. They are not insisting that the church rule over all things, or that Christians must be elected to public office, or that every cultural expression must come from a regenerate artist. Critics of 2 kingdom theology like to protest against it, but it hardly ever involves a one-kingdom argument instead. This may simply be an inconsistency. I think it also an acknowledgement of the limits of church power, and the reality of living in societies where believers and non-believers cohabit and must get along in some fashion.

The specific passages I go to for support for a two-kingdom view are obvious ones like Christ’s instruction, “Render unto Caesar. . .” along with his rebuke to Peter for using the sword against the ruling authorities. In fact, the gospels are replete with a recognition – it seems to me, of Christ submitting to earthly authorities, whether Jewish or Roman, all the while establishing his own kingdom. My own pastor has been preaching through Luke and it sounds like the distinction between what’s going on in the civil and national realm and what’s being inaugurated by Christ’s work and ministry is a theme from which one cannot escape in Luke, and that to try to turn Christ’s ministry into a program of social justice or political engagement really misses the point and grander significance of what he came to do. I believe the gospels show that Christ’s kingdom was spiritual and many Israelites could not fathom that because they were looking for a one-kingdom world where religion and the state would be fused

And then there are passages like Romans 13 where Paul tells Christians to submit to the magistrate – a heretical and persecuting magistrate at that. It certainly suggests that Paul was not thinking the rule of the state was on redemptive grounds. And when he says that the task of the magistrate is to punish evil, he is clarifying a function that is very different from the church’s which is to forgive sin.

I’d also point to the Great Commission as supporting a two-kingdom view. They way that the church disciplines the nations is not through political rule but through word (teach) and sacrament (baptize).

Some people object to the two-kingdom view for its dualism. I find it hard to read 1 Cor. And Paul’s distinctions between temporal and eternal things and not see that some kind of dualism is entirely fitting with biblical teaching

My pastor is also preaching in the evenings through Ecclesiastes. He is by no means a committed two-kingdom guy. He is simply trying to be a faithful minister and preach the text. And throughout this book – all is vanity – I keep wondering if the transformationalists have ever read Ecclesiastes, if it is for them what James was for Luther, an “epistle” (wrong genre) of straw

Last, I have in A Secular Faith used the example of Daniel to suggest how pilgrims and exiles negotiate the two powers. Daniel submitted to Chaldean rule and even excelled in their culture. But he drew the line at worship. His case suggests that Christians can engage with non-Christians in a host of common endeavors and that worship clarifies where such cooperation must cease.

3. Coming from Scottish Presbyterianism I have been accustomed to strong statements about the spirituality of the church. The language of 2 Kingdoms has a long and noble pedigree in Scotland (witness Andrew Melville plucking the sleeve of James the VI, calling him ‘God’s sillie vassal’ and reminding him that there are ‘two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland. There is Christ Jesus the King and Head and His Kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member.”)

The Covenanters saw themselves as defending ‘the crowns rights of the Redeemer’ against the impositions of the State. The Free Church at the Disruption of 1843 likewise stood on the spirituality of the church over against Erastian claims by the British government. Yet in all of those versions of 2 Kingdom thinking a strong linkage between Church and state was advocated. The Westminster Standards likewise advocated a strong Church-State connection, especially on the role of the civil magistrate (so strong that the Scots demurred saying it referred only to “kirks not settled” and the American church re-wrote that entire section of the Confession). Nevertheless the claim is often made that contemporary 2K thinking is the more historically reformed and Confessional position. How would you defend that statement in the light of older 2K ideas that favored religious establishments?

I never pretend to tell the British how to run their affairs – that’s the point of American independence. So I will rely on an Irish Covenanter to answer this question. In his contribution to a festschrift for the American Covenanter theologian, Wayne Spear, David McKay wrote that the RPCI’s testimony of 1990 was at odds with Samuel Rutherford’s understanding of Christ’s kingship. The RPCI affirmed that nations are “required to acknowledge and serve [Christ] in all their ways, and submit to His mediatorial authority as it has been revealed to them.”

But Rutherford, while committed to the Covenanter doctrine of Christ’s kingship over the nations, taught that “the Magistrate as a Magistrate is not the Deputie of Jesus Christ as Mediator.” In fact, Rutherford described what would become the modern Covenanter view of Christ’s kingship (as a mediatorial expression) as “the heart and soule of Popery.” [From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Chirst,” in The Faith Once Delivered (P&R Publishing), p. 136]

The point is that one could affirm Christ’s kingship over the magistrate but regard it as part of his rule as creator rather than mediator, thus preserving the uniqueness of the visible church as the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2).

4. It is often pointed out by transformationalists that the spirituality of the church was a distinctive of the Old School Southern Presbyterian Church, and that this doctrine was used to justify the church’s advocacy of the status quo with regards to slavery. While the abuse of a doctrine is not in and of itself proof that the doctrine is in error, do you think this sorry episode nevertheless exposes a danger for 2K thinkers?

It may pose a danger, but so might abortion, or prohibition. The point of the spiritual doctrine of the 19th century was that the church could not speak where Scripture was silent. It may look convenient for slave holders to say that the Bible is silent on slavery. But even northerners like Charles Hodge believes that slavery was not a sin. The link between slavery and spirituality of the church is overdone and can also be used against the transformationalists – the Social Gospel abandoned the gospel and was part of a transformational agenda.

So if we avoid the genetic fallacy and try to figure out what is at stake, it seems to me the question is whether we can be content with what the church is called to do. If we think that various social ills are of momentous concern and that the church needs to be enlisted for the cause, I think the question is still whether there is a biblical warrant for the church joining the cause. The other aspect here is whether the social cause of such great significance is of the same significance as the eternal verities of whether men and women know Jesus Christ as their savior. Such men and women may be poor or rich, may be free or suffer under tyranny, but ultimately those earthly conditions will not be as important as their relationship to Christ. This is not an excuse for the church to be silent or to harbor sin where Scripture is clear. Nor is it a case proves all suffering is evil and must be eliminated. (I sometimes wonder if transformatoinalists have considered that God actually uses suffering and are willing to accept it. Dick Gaffin has a great piece on this point, making it against theonomists, in the Westminster Seminary response to theonomy – it is that suffering may be that to which the church is called, and so eliminating suffering may not be the proper goal of the church.)

5. If we wanted to investigate further this idea of the 2Kingdoms can you suggest any books to read?

There are various entry points into this literature, none of them directly being classified as “two-kingdom” literature.

First are books on Natural Law which suggest that the Reformed tradition has always used creational norms, as opposed to biblical commands, for politics.

Stephen Grabil, Recovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans)

David VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Acton Institute)

I should mention that VanDrunen has a very big and good book coming out with Eerdmans next year on natural law and two-kingdom theology.

Second, are books on the differences between the covenant of grace and the covenant of works that have a bearing on the relationship between Christ and Culture.

Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue (Two-Age Press??)

Michael Horton, God of Promise (Baker)

Third are the works of Reformed theologians from the past who articulate the 2k perspective in ways that contemporary Reformed Protestants often overlook.

Calvin’s Institutes should be consulted, especially where he discusses the kingly office of Christ, and book IV, chapt. 20 where he lays out the differences between Christ’s spiritual kingdom and the kingdoms of this world.

J. Gresham Machen’s essays on the church and society in Selected Shorter Writings (P&R Publishing)

Fourth are works on the doctrine of the church.

The Book of Church Order of the OPC, for instance, is very clear in chapter three about the spiritual nature of the church’s authority.

Stuart Robinson, The Church of God, An Essential Element of the Gospel (OPC, Christian Education). Robinson was a nineteenth-century Presbyterian whose book is arguably the best on the spirituality of the church from a redemptive-historical perspective, and a great biblical theological case for divine right Presbyterianism.

Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church (Eerdmans). Vos only goes wobbly (read, neo-Calvinist) on a couple of pages. Otherwise, it’s a great expression of the spirituality of the church.

Fifth, the spirituality of the church also shows up when the church is doing its own reflection on the work to which it is called. The OPC’s Study Committee Reports are one example of this.

OPC Minority Report on Medical Missions (by Meredith Kline), General Assembly (1964) pp. 51-55.

OPC Report II on Women in the Military: http://www.opc.org/GA/WomenInMilitary.html#ReportII

Sixth are books from a Reformed outlook on religion and politics explicitly):

Darryl Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee)

Seventh, the spirituality of the church is part of an understanding of Reformed piety that stresses the Christian life as pilgrimage rather than one as crusader.

R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (P&R Publishing)

D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (Rowman & Littlefield)

Finally, not to be missed are works by other Christians and Protestants.

Augustine’s City of God is a classic statement on the double nature of Christian life in this world lived in tension between the desire of the nations and the work of the church.

Lutherans have also much to teach Reformed Christians about the two kingdoms:

Render Unto Caesar and Unto God . . . A Lutheran View of Church and State (LCMS Report from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations)

The Anonymous God: The Church Confronts Civil Religion and American Society (Concordia Publishing)

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Three

This is the third in the four-part interview David Strain did with mmmmmeeeeeEEEEE. We finally get to 2k:

1. Would you briefly state the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (2K) for us?

I should have a handier definition than I do. I guess I would describe it this way.The church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2) outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Communicant and non-communicant church members are part of that kingdom, the kingdom of grace (which is different from the kingdom of Satan and which is playing a part in hastening the kingdom of glory – the Shorter Catechism speaks of these three kingdoms, Satan’s, grace, and glory in explaining the second petition of the Lord’s prayer.

The kingdom of the civil realm has its own rules and sovereignty, and has criteria for membership that vary in places and across time.

The kingdom of grace operates according to the doctrine of forgiveness. The church is to minister the message of forgiveness of sins that comes through trusting in Christ and repentance from sin. The state operates according to standards of justice and is supposed, no matter how imperfectly, to punish wrongdoing.

Confusing forgiveness and justice is a huge example of category confusion. Granted, the forgiveness the church administers is premised on the justice that Christ underwent in suffering for the penalty of sin. And granted the magistrate’s ideals of justice are a type of the eschatological justice that will be administered on the Last Day.

In other words, you can’t understand the church or the state apart from God’s righteous standards, that is, his law.

But the church is involved in the work of reconciling God and man through Christ. The state has no direct role in that project of reconciliation. It may create and sustain an environment in which the church can minister. But the aim of the state is fundamentally different from that of the church. I recommend J. Gresham Machen’s essay, “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” as a brilliant elaboration of this argument. It can be found either in his Selected Shorter Writings or as the appendix of Hart and Muether, Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the OPC.

2. If you were to summarize the central points of debate between Kuyperians and Two Kingdoms advocates what would you say were the major areas of contention?

One major source if misunderstanding is the Lordship of Christ. 2k people want to distinguish Christ’s redemptive kingship (the church) from his creational and providential lordship (the state and the family). Kuyperians often hear 2kers as denying Christ’s lordship over “every square inch.” We don’t deny this at all. Christ is lord over all things. But we do distinguish, as Calvin and Ursinus do, for instance, between different aspects of Christ’s lordship. Confessing Christ as savior and lord (which happens in the church) is a different proposition from submitting to Christ’s rule through the work of magistrates and parents. You don’t need to confess Christ to submit to your dad. You should submit to a parent whether you are a Christian or not. And non-Christians do submit no matter how imperfectly. Plus, it’s not as if Christians are better submitters to parents and the state than non-Christians are.

A second point of tension concerns the creation mandate. Most Kuyperians appeal to Gen. 1 and argue that it is still in effect and guides the cultural endeavors of believers. 2kers tend to look at the creation mandate through the lens of the fall, and see that mandate as now being seriously altered because of sin. This means that cult (faith) and culture (secular endeavors) are now in a paradoxical relationship. In other words, you cannot chart the coming of Christ’s kingdom by looking for “progress” in cultural life. (Actually, Christians will likely disagree on what counts as progress. Does is mean a Republican in the White House, does it mean universal health care, does it mean literacy, does it mean lots of family farms and healthy local economies?) Connecting the effects of “good” culture to signs of the kingdom is a sure recipe, from a 2k perspective, for a social gospel and liberal Christianity. Kuyperians seem to be a lot less worried about this recipe because they are less willing to admit a paradoxical relationship between cult and culture.<

3. In 2K thought, Christians are citizens of both kingdoms simultaneously, right? We belong to both the kingdom of creation and the kingdom of redemption. What are the duties incumbent upon Christian citizens of the Kingdom of creation?

It depends. The early church did not have citizenship in the earthly kingdom. Paul was unusual in this regard. Christians in the United States, for instance, are members of both kingdoms. As citizens in the republic, Christians have various obligations and responsibilities, many of which will depend on their vocations. Some may actually run for and hold public office. Others might believe the state is so corrupt or has erred so far from its founding principles that they will have less to do with politics and legislation. I think one of the important contributions of the 2k perspective is to recognize Christian liberty in the realm of politics. This is a particularly attractive position at a time when the Religious Right has implied a one-size-fits-all approach to national politics, as if there is one Christian position on a host of public policy, economic, and cultural programs.

4. Whenever I’ve spoken about the Two Kingdoms I have generally been met with concern that I am advocating passivity among Christians when it comes to their involvement in civic society, or that I think the church should withdraw into some kind of religious ghetto and let the world rot. How would you respond?

First, I think it is important to acknowledge that the world is rotting and that various efforts to help humans flourish will not prevail over the rotting effects of sin. I mean, even Lazarus died after Christ raised him from the dead. I do wonder if the transformers actually see that eliminating poverty, hunger and war will not conquer the legacy of sin and its consequences which will be apparent to all people at the Last Day.

Second, human flourishing is a good thing. It is better to have lower crime rates than not. Christians working for lower crime rates is a good thing, and it depends on their vocation whether they will be actively engaged in crime prevention. After all, not everyone is called to be a cop, a district attorney, a judge, or a warden.

But the church as church, as the institution responsible for administering forgiveness through word and sacrament, is not called to reduce crime. The church actually has a much more important work to do, which is to worry about the criminals who will be facing the ultimate judge on the Judgment Day.

Inability to see the difference between eternal and temporal crimes is another case of missing what is important to the gospel and the church. If people want to the church to be engaged in civil society, I wonder if they have overestimated the importance of earthly affairs. I cannot understand how the work of the church needs to be made “relevant” by engaging in works of cultural renewal or crime prevention. If the church is ministering word and sacrament, she is doing the most important work one can imagine. If she doesn’t do it, who will? (Again, the Machen essay mentioned above is hugely effective in making this case.

5. I’ve never met a theonomist who was not also a postmillenialist (though such may exist out there someplace). Postmillenialism seems to be the only consistent eschatology for someone with a ‘transformationalist’ vision of the church’s mission. Would you say there was a similar connection between eschatology and 2K thinking? Is amillenialism a necessary implicate of 2K ideas?

Amillennialism is an acquired taste, though a form of it has been present in the church since Augustine’s arguments about the differences between the city of God and the city of man. But to recognize that God’s kingdom advances even when affairs in this world are going to hell in a handbasket (such as the fall of the Roman Empire) is crucial to understanding the work of the church and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Postscript (as of January 26, 2017): I have renounced the phrase “human flourishing.” What was I thinking?

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)

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Two

This is part two of the interview David Strain conducted with mmmmeeeeeEEEEE:

Here’s the second installment. There’s more to come. Enjoy…..

1. Is there a connection between 19th century revival/revivalism and the kind of socio-political agendas often advocated by both the Christian Right and Left today?

Definitely. Many evangelicals and Reformed do not understand that the kind of evangelical activism they now promote or perform was first part of the Second Great Awakening – the bad one. Not only was Finney interested in converting people, but he also wanted a righteous and just society. Evangelicals responded by forming a ton of voluntary societies that did in many respects transform American society (if you were not a member of the Whig or Republican parties, you may not have appreciated all of these reforms.)

So the Second no-so-great Awakening drove a wedge between Protestants, those with a high view of the church (Episcopalians, Lutherans, and some Old School Presbyterians) and those with a low view of the church and a high view of America. The ethno-cultural school of political historians has produced a body of literature on these ecclesial differences, and this work has actually informed my own writing on confessional Protestantism. The term “confessional” itself comes from political history and it stands for high church Protestants who are less concerned about social and political matters compared to the eternal realities of the gospel.

One other historical reference worthy of comment here is that the Second not-so-great Awakening was really the soil from which the Social Gospel sprung. I sometimes wonder why today’s “conservative” evangelicals are so willing to repeat the efforts and arguments that “liberal” Protestants were making a hundred years ago. Also, if you look at the books written by leaders of the religious right, people like Falwell and Ralph Reed, you see the Second not-so-great Awakening cited as a model or inspiration for contemporary political activism.

As the kids used to say, “What’s up with that?”

2. Should the church tell people how to vote for specific candidates, based on issues like abortion or gay marriage?

Definitely not. The church may and should speak to all the laws of the Decalogue, including the sixth and the seventh. Why the first four don’t receive more attention is anyone’s guess – could it be that social activism makes matters like worship and the Sabbath less important? But beyond explaining what God’s word requires, the church needs to let members apply them in their lives according to the callings and consciences. I mean, would anyone want the church to tell members never to eat meat offered to idols? It looks to me that if Christian liberty applies to the affects of idolatry, it also applies to electoral politics and the legislators voted into office.

3. Does the church have a prophetic voice, challenging sin wherever it finds it, even in politics and culture?

It depends what you mean. Expounding and teaching God’s word does involve challenging sin, obviously. But what people often mean is they want the church to apply the truths of the word to specific circumstances. I actually think this stems from a desire for the church to be relevant, to be doing something important. If the church is the place where the kingdom of grace is advancing, I don’t see why cleaning up pockets of cultural crime in the United States is more relevant than that. So people need to see how amazing the work of the church is, and how trivial, ephemeral, and fading the affairs of politics and culture are in comparison. But even so, the church has a prophetic voice simply by proclaiming the whole counsel of God. I wonder if people who say the church needs to be a prophetic voice actually appreciate that a minister standing in the pulpit each Sunday is representing the prophetic office of Christ.

4. Is there a place for para-church agencies and what are the boundaries of legitimate para-church work?

There has to be a place for the parachurch because the church can’t run everything. So everything that is not the church is parachurch.

The real question is parachurch agencies that engage in religious work. I don’t think a hard rule exists here except in those areas of evangelism and missions, work that the church is to oversee directly. But when it comes to educational endeavors, publishing, flexibility is in order

5. How do you respond to those who believe that the work of the church is to ‘transform society’ or to ‘bring in the Kingdom’?

First, I say that the coming of the kingdom is not evident in transforming society. As I’ve said, the church through word, sacrament, and discipline, is advancing the kingdom of grace, which is hastening the kingdom of glory (I’m using the language of the Shorter Catechism here). And because the church is not called to transform society – she already has enough on her plate – then she is not called to transform society. Individual Christians in their vocations are called to a host of tasks that do, I guess, contribute to social transformation. (I don’t like that language because it has a progressive political valence that I oppose for political and cultural reasons – both libertarian and localist and at times agrarian.) But the church doesn’t transform society nor should she as an institution (in distinction from her members’ callings).

This doesn’t mean that some of the aspects of social transformation, such as government, policy, and legislation are unimportant or “worldly.” They are worldly but in the good sense of the created order and the way that God superintends this world. Society is a good thing and Christians as citizens or in other capacities should be dutiful in their obligations to neighbors and magistrates. But social transformation is not where the kingdom of Christ happens.

6. If cultural transformation isn’t the church’s work, what is?

The work of the church is word, sacrament, prayer, discipline, catechesis, diaconal care and fellowship. It is not sexy and it does not generally attract headlines. But these are God’s ordained means for building his kingdom.

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part One

In 2009, David Strain, then a PCA pastor in Columbus, Mississippi, did a four-part interview with me about 2k and the spirituality of the church. These links are dead but they do prove that I’m not making this up. And through the wonders of the interweb, you can retrieve old web pages (and you wonder what the NSA can do).

Here is the first of the interviews. Pastor Strain tries to situate 2k in the vicissitudes of Presbyterianism in the U.S.

2 Kingdoms ideas and the complex of doctrinal issues that accompany them have been creating a bit of a stir of late. Among those with whom I am in contact much of the debate is generated by misunderstanding. So what else is new, I hear you cry.

Well, to help us (or help me at least) work through some of the areas of potential misunderstanding Dr. Darryl Hart has graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

Just to ease us in, today we begin with a few general comments on common features of the contemporary evangelical landscape….

1. Darryl, would you comment on the distinction that is often made in conservative reformed circles between revival and revivalism? Is it a helpful distinction?

I am inclined to think it is a distinction without a difference. It has been a way to try to distinguish the good First (Really) Great Awakening from the Second (bad) Great Awakening. I will take Edwards over Finney any day. So the theology of the First GA may have been better. But typically the assessment of Edwards and Whitefield does not go a lot farther than the 5 points of Calvinism. But what about preaching the “terrors of the law” to apparent believers? What kind of theology leads to that? And what about the frankly bizarre conversion experiences of even Presbyterian revivalists like the Tennents? And what about Whitefield’s pulpit antics (well documented in Stout’s biography)? When you look more closely at the First GA you are getting a lot more than that for which you bargained. And then there is the problem of conversion and the way that a dramatic experience became the norm for detecting regeneration and effectual calling. So in the end, I’m not inclined to think revivalism was all that hot.

2. What is an Old Side Presbyterian, and do you qualify?

An Old Side Presbyterian was a guy who opposed revivalism because revivalists were not as concerned about subscription as Old Siders were, and was opposed to the way that some New Siders completely disregarded church polity and the authority of synod and presbyteries. So if to be an Old Sider is to favor subscription to the Standards, believe in the real authority of the church, and to be suspicious of subjective religious experience, I am one.

3. Do Old Siders believe in evangelism?

Old Siders do believe in evangelism. They believe that preaching is an ordinance that convicts and converts sinners. Old Siders believe in preaching. This isn’t quite a syllogism, but you get the point. Now, because of the influence of revivalism – just as conversion has taken on a different meaning from the Reformation, so has evangelism. For many revival-friendly Protestants, evangelism is what every Christian does. My “witnessing” is apparently no different or worse than God’s appointed means (let’s not forget Romans 10) for drawing his people to himself. But if there is still room in the universe for churchly evangelism, then I believe in evangelism.

4. Do individual believers have a responsibility to engage in evangelism?

Not to be coy, but some do and some don’t. All believers should be able to give a defense of their faith, but I do not assume that this is the same as witnessing or giving one’s testimony. Having had to go door-to-door as a kid for evangelistic purposes I may be overreacting. But I also think that the way that evangelism is often advocated leads to Christians who are constantly on the make, looking for a way to close the deal. In other words, they don’t seem to take other people as people; non-believers are persons to be converted and then the evangelist moves on to the next non-Christian.

You see this very well illustrated in the movie, The Big Kahuna (which has lots of bad language so believers whose consciences cannot bear such words should beware). It is an amazingly sympathetic view of a born-again Christian who feels compelled to witness on the job. Not only does the movie show that sometimes this approach makes Christians look like one-dimensional people, but it also says important things about vocation. If we serve God in our work, then we don’t need to make it really religious by using it to evangelize.

So some people may be called to evangelize, others are not (some do not even have the gifts for personal evangelism). The guys who are definitely called to evangelize are preachers.

All About M(mmm)e(eeeeEEEEE)ncken

My editor made me do this.

Tonight I’ll be delivering a book talk on Damning Words: The Life and Religious Times of H. L. Mencken. The event starts at 7:30 and takes place in the Dow Center at Hillsdale College. Hillsdale County has an airport. If you plan to fly in for the event, call (517) 797-4833.

Here is how the book begins:

H. L. Mencken remains a man who needs no introduction to any American familiar with literary and social criticism during the first half of the twentieth century. A reporter for the Baltimore Sun, who covered most of the national political conventions for four decades, along with the Scopes Trial, and prize boxing matches to boot, Mencken became a literary critic for The Smart Set, eventually took over that magazine, and then went on to found another literary publication, The American Mercury. As editor, Mencken published the early work of Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Eugene O’Neill, and Ezra Pound. Many of those same authors revered Mencken. Even Ernest Hemingway, a novelist for whom Mencken had little regard, paid deference to The American Mercury’s editor in The Sun Also Rises. To explain Robert Cohn’s inability to enjoy Hemingway blamed Mencken, who “hates Paris, I believe. So many young men get their likes and dislikes from Mencken.”

The author of more than fifty books – the first to write in English on George Bernard Shaw and on Friedrich Nietzsche – his topics ranged as wide as women and European night life. Mencken was also an amateur philologist whose American Language cataloged sometimes brilliantly the differences between British and American English. That overview hardly does justice to Mencken’s output and influence. According to the literary critic, Alfred Kazin, “If Mencken had never lived, it would have taken a whole army of assorted philosophers, monologists, editors, and patrons of the new writing to make up for him.” According to Edmund Wilson, long-time critic for The New Yorker and the New Republic, Mencken was “without question, since Poe, our greatest practicing literary journalist.” According to Terry Teachout, another critic and one of Mencken’s biographers, Wilson’s acknowledgment was “[i]f anything an understatement.”

Aside from the sheer volume of his writing, Mencken was remarkable for a prose style rarely executed before or since. In a review of one of his books, Walter Lippmann acknowledged that Mencken’s reputation for calling average people “cockroaches and lice” lapsed into “unjust tirades.” Even so, Mencken had attracted a large readership because “this Holy Terror from Baltimore is splendidly and exultantly and contagiously alive. He calls you a swine, and an imbecile, and he increases your will to live.” Joseph Wood Krutch, a writer for The Nation, wrote soon after Mencken’s death that the Baltimorean was the best prose writer in twentieth-century America, a man whose gift “was inimitable” and who used “as a genuine instrument of expression a vocabulary and a rhythm which in other hands stubbornly refused to yield anything but vulgarity.” More recently, Joseph Epstein wrote that much of Mencken’s appeal owed to his comedy and uplift. “Some writers . . . do lift one out of the gloom, and away from the valley of small and large woes,” Epstein explained. Mencken was one of them and one of the ways he did that, Epstein added, was by having “an appreciation for the reality of things.” “His animus against the [idealists] of the world is that, with their concepts and notions, they flattened out reality – and, in the act of doing so, not only got things wrong but made them less interesting than they are.” The collision of Mencken’s candor and Americans’ idealism was always riveting. To capture some of that amusement this book violates rules against learned in graduate school. This book includes many block quotations, the crutch of the young historian. The hope is that readers unfamiliar with Mencken will appreciate the appeal of his prose. Another reason for violating historical protocol is to stave off the boredom that afflicts authors when reading and proofing manuscripts. At least Mencken will keep this reader awake.

Selah.