Do Southern Baptists Need a Pope of Public Policy?

What could possibly go wrong? A communion appoints an officer to represent members’ views within the corridors of the most powerful nation on God’s glowing earth. And all the members — who are Protestants, mind you and not used to submitting to church hierarchy — are going to agree with all that the officer says or the agency he leads? Heck, even in the little old OPC where the stakes are considerably lower than the Southern Baptist Convention, you cannot get church members to agree with the editor of New Horizons magazine.

So why are so many people concerned and surprised that Southern Baptists are challenging Russell Moore at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission? Funny the way president-elect Trump winds people up.

I (all about me) have nothing against what Dr. Moore seems to be doing. I do suspect sometimes that he’s trying to soften the edge of the religious right in a way that Tim Keller tries to make Christianity less objectionable. Maybe Aaron Sorkin and David Simon have poisoned me to suspect that public statements always come through spinners and handlers who are looking at polls and access to power or gatekeepers. But some of Dr. Moore’s recent statements do seem to have more the fingerprints of building coalitions than those of “thus, saith the Lord” or even, “this is what Southern Baptists believe, gosh darn it.”

Here’s the problem. Moore heads an agency whose mission more Kuyperian than Williamsian (think Roger Williams):

The ERLC exists to articulate every priority and every agenda item in terms of where it fits in seeking the kingdom of God in this era, in order to equip churches to stand before the watching world with the sort of quiet confidence that characterized Jesus.

The kingdom is an “already” present reality (within the life of the church) but also a “not yet” future hope (as we await the coming of Jesus). This kingdom come includes not just worship, but righteousness (ethics), freedom (religious liberty), communion (society), authority (politics), and “the glory and honor of the nations” (culture). Seeking first the kingdom of God should not dampen our concern for ethics but should instead heighten it. After all, the priorities of the King must become the priorities of his kingdom colony, the church. Therefore, the kingdom of God sets both the content of our concern and the tone with which we speak.

That’s pretty broad. Southern Baptists might want to take note that Kuyperians and 2kers disagree about the nature of the kingdom (or kingdoms), so Christ as king is hardly a consensus building affirmation. Worse, hardly clear is the understanding that such a view of God’s kingdom emerges organically from Baptist theology and experience. As dissenters for a long time in England and low on the list of Anglo-American Protestants, some might be surprised to see Southern Baptists doing their impersonation of Puritans or their descendants, the United Church of Christ. Once up a time, Southern Baptists (I’ve heard) saved string so they could send foreign missionaries to India.

So this presence in the capitol of the world’s most powerful nation seems out of character for those little old Southern Baptists.

But if you are going to enter that environment as an ambassador of the Southern Baptist Convention, please don’t tell us you are doing so in a non-partisan way:

There is no more effective evangelical leader than Moore. Under his leadership the ERLC has grown in reach and influence, hosting numerous seminars on a variety of issues with policy-making attendees from both sides of the aisle. Additionally, the ERLC plays a vital role in a number of conservative coalitions. I have witnessed House and Senate leadership offices ask for Moore to personally participate in various events to lend legitimacy and gravitas.

Too often evangelical leaders get pigeonholed into partisan identities. This is not the case with Moore. Both parties see him as a leader transcending partisan divide and stereotypes. This is because Moore and his team balance speaking truth to power while achieving real policy victories.

Being Southern Baptist is non-partisan? This is the affliction that haunts American Protestantism. We somewhere along the line — think the Second Glorious Awakening (if the Brits can have a Glorious Revolution . . . ) — believed that Protestantism is a public faith. It is the religion of the United States. That didn’t work out real well for Roman Catholics or Jews or Mormons. But it had its moments and gave the United States a measure of national identity and spiritual overtones to reasons for fighting tyranny and authoritarianism. That conviction also hollowed out the gospel from the mainline churches. Access to power became something to protect lest the offense of the gospel and calls to repentance offend. The irony is that this mainline Protestant agenda for a Christian nation left the mainline churches without a voice once they questioned America for being too white, male, anti-Communist, Christian, and hetero. The mainline lost both the nation (it was never Christian but sexist and racist) and their place at the table (do mainline pastors even have access to the boards of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton?).

The solution to Dr. Moore’s woes is to close down ERLC and let the Southern Baptist Convention be a church that is fully Baptist (whether particular or general). We have public policy agencies for matters like religious liberty, marriage, civil society, and human dignity. Sometimes even the Democrats and Republicans consider those matters. Not to mention that the Roman Catholic Church has a far greater reach than Southern Baptists.

Let the church not be non-partisan, earnest, well-meaning, tolerant, or humanitarian. Let Southern Baptists be Southern and Baptist. (Or be really Kuyperian and form an Anti-Secularist Political Party.)

On 2K, Lutheran 2K, Anabaptists, Theonomy, and Germany

Proto-Protestant supplies perspective.

First, Anabaptists are out:

Westminster West’s Two Kingdom theology breaks at points with the Lutheran variety and is certainly somewhat hostile to Theonomy and yet its retention of Kuyperian Dominionism places it much closer to the Lutheran and Theonomist understandings of the Kingdom than it does to the Anabaptist. Westminster’s version of Two Kingdoms is still very much pro-culture formation and while not Transformationalist in a de jure sense, from the standpoint of ‘radical’ Two Kingdom theology it represents a de facto rejection of Two Kingdoms.

The Anabaptist position if we are to accept that unfortunate label would identify both the Lutheran and Westminster West (or Escondido) positions as being One Kingdom with different nuances and not genuine expressions of Biblical Two Kingdom theology. From my standpoint it’s just a diluted (and thus somewhat improved) One Kingdom or Sacralist understanding of the Kingdom.

Second, Lutherans are as 1k as Kuyperians and theonomists:

Cooper is to be commended in some aspects of his presentation and argument. He does a great job demonstrating the actual Sacralist (One Kingdom) nature of Lutheran so-called Two Kingdom theology, a point I’ve been trying to make for many years. He intimately weds it to the Magisterial Reformation. His proper explanation of Lutheran Two Kingdom theology demonstrates that the charges made by Theonomists regarding its equivalence with the Anabaptist version are completely false.

For example whenever the Theonomists wish to attack what they call Radical Two Kingdom theology they will pin the indifference and acquiescence of the German population in the 1930s on their embrace of Lutheran Two Kingdom theology. Two Kingdom theology led to separatism (it is argued) and passivity. And thus the German Church and people let the Nazis come to power.

And then when Westminster Two Kingdom advocates point to Lutheranism as an example of a Two Kingdom Reformation heritage, and that their view is not guilty of novelty, the Theonomists will suddenly argue that Lutheran Two Kingdoms is more akin to their own Sacralist and Established Church position. They will then argue the Escondido variety is actually a version of Radical Two Kingdom theology.

In other words, the fundamental difference between magisterial and Anabaptist Protestants is that the former do not reject the state or the sword as legitimate spheres for Christians. (Not to mention that magisterial Protestants don’t question Christendom until 1789.)

Third, theonomists lie:

As usual the Theonomists have little interest in the truth of the matter and wish instead to destroy their intra-denominational opponents. Their historical theology is politicised and that’s something that always needs to be recognised when dealing with the Christian Right.

The politicisation of theology can be frustrating but Cooper makes it exceedingly clear. The Lutheran view has a very positive attitude to the state and in reality its model can be described as One Kingdom in two spheres… very much like the Kuyperian model embraced by Westminster West.

Finally, what went wrong in Germany (it wasn’t 2k):

This further demonstrates a point I have often made that it was the Sacral Theology of German Lutheranism that taught moral complacency, compliance and social conformity. They lost their sense of antithesis and equated German Kultur with Christianity. Hitler’s nationalism and anti-communism were sentiments they readily identified with. The German Church didn’t embrace Nazism due to passivity. Rather they (speaking in general terms) actively embraced it, viewing nationalism and political anti-communism (not to mention anti-Semitism) as expressions of piety and Christian culture.

True advocates of Two Kingdom theology are governed by antithesis and would never be taken in by or support such agendas. This is not to blame or slander Lutherans for what happened under the Third Reich but it helps to understand why an ostensibly ‘Christian’ nation would embrace a figure like Hitler and the agenda of his regime.

What American Jews Might Learn from J. Gresham Machen

Thanks to another of our southern correspondents, we see how even narrowly Protestant concerns may have wider application:

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in recent years debating who’s a Jew, but we’ve neglected to ask the thornier question: namely, what is Judaism? It’s a question that belongs with theologians, a scholastic class that, in our tradition, is sadly more likely to focus on offering a close reading of some sacred scrap of text than on addressing the fundamental relations between the tenets of faith and the earthly soil in which they’re rooted. It’s a shame—we need this sort of inquiry more than ever now that every social-justice warrior fashions our creed into a banner under which to march into battle.

For inspiration, then, we ought to look to our Christian brothers. In 1923, American Christendom received a master class in doctrinal clarity when a perfervid Presbyterian named John Gresham Machen wrote a short book titled Christianity and Liberalism. Too many of his contemporary faithful, he argued, have come to look at their religion as a blank screen on which to project the values of progressive liberalism. They’ve come to see Christ as a metaphor, not a deity, a gentle reminder to always be good and kind because kindness and goodness were just, you know, right. They read the Bible for affirmation, not for instruction, and they were always ready to ignore its teachings if those clashed, however mildly, with modernity’s latest edicts. Liberals who could not abide by Christianity’s essential truths, Machen argued, were many wonderful things, but they were not Christians. And everyone, the fiery theologian concluded, would be better for it if they stopped pretending that their values corresponded in any but a tangential way with those of the core Christian faith.

You can imagine how well Machen and his ideas were received. Rejected and dejected, Machen quit his perch at Princeton and was soon thereafter altogether defrocked of the ministry for his refusal to compromise his beliefs. He traveled extensively to minister to the few who still supported him, and died on one of those journeys, on New Year’s Day of 1937, in Bismarck, North Dakota. He was 55. On his grave was inscribed, in Greek, the motto that captured him best: “Faithful Unto Death.” In a warm obituary several weeks later, H.L. Mencken advised his readers that the deceased “fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works.”

What fun Machen would have had, then, had he stuck around long enough to witness Judaism today and see it turned, by and large, into just such an enfeebled club. Had he walked into our shuls or read our publications, he would’ve despaired to hear so many of us speak reverentially of Tikkun Olam, the commandment to repair the world, as if it alone stood at the core of our ancient faith, or as if world-repairing, stripped of its specific theological underpinnings, were anything more than the vague sort of general goodwill professed not only by Jews but also by Hindus, Zoroastrians, members of the Kiwanis Club, and practically every other sentient being who ever gazed upon God’s creation and had the fleeting feeling that it ought to be just a touch more perfect. Saying you crave social justice doesn’t make you any more Jewish than saying you crave pizza makes you Italian; it’s a mood, not a belief system, and that so many of us are so frequently unable to tell the difference is dispiriting.

Problem is, Machen wouldn’t have fun with the social justice transformers and postmillennial urbanists that seem to have become the mainstream in the PCA. Would a little Jewish love get him a hearing from the warriors and urbanophiles?

With Friends Like These

Matt Tuininga qualifies and then insinuates:

we cannot simply take Calvin’s thought and apply it to our own time without substantial reflection. Calvin assumed the existence of Christendom. We inhabit a pluralistic society increasingly devoted to secular liberalism. There are self-proclaimed two kingdoms advocates today who would claim the two kingdoms distinction calls us to keep religion and politics entirely separate, as if they are hermetically sealed realms that have nothing to do with each other. Yet such is clearly a distortion of Calvin’s thought, which is decisively rooted in the New Testament’s rich distinction between the present age and the age to come.

Does he have Machen in mind?

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

To advance the conversation, why not comment on whether the deaconate should do medicine as Calvin recommended:

The fourth order of ecclesiastical government, namely, the deacons

There have always been two kinds of these in the early Church. One has to receive, distribute and care for the goods of the poor (i.e. daily alms as well as possessions, rents and pensions); the other has to tend and look after the sick and administer the allowances to the poor as is customary. [In order to avoid confusion], since we have officials and hospital staff, [one of the four officials of the said hospital should be responsible for the whole of its property and revenues and he should have an adequate salary in order to do his work properly.]

Concerning the hospital

Care should be taken to see that the general hospital is properly maintained. This applies to the sick, to old people no longer able to work, to widows, orphans, children and other poor people. These are to be kept apart and separate from others and to form their own community.

Care for the poor who are scattered throughout the city shall be the responsibility of the officials. In addition to the hospital for those visiting the city, which is to be kept up, separate arrangements are to be made for those who need special treatment. To this end a room must be set apart to act as a reception room for those that are sent there by the officials..

Further, both for the poor people in the hospital and for those in the city who have no means, there must be a good physician and surgeon provided at the city’s expense…

As for the plague hospital, it must be kept entirely separate.

Instead of looking at the theory (theology), why not look at the circumstances and sciences that have differentiated a host of life’s affairs so that the church and religion is one among many spheres of life? But Lordship of Christ folks think, like Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy, that the direct pipeline of Christianity to God trumps most spheres so that Christians have authority in medicine, biology, history, and dog-catching by virtue of — what? — faith.

2kers want answers. Simply repeating inspiring calls to engage the world doesn’t give them.

PCA Trumped

Or, how politics matters more than communion:

But a few predicted that this election could permanently damage attempts to create unity among evangelicals. “I spend most of my time in ministry talking and teaching about racial reconciliation,” said Jemar Tisby, the president of the Reformed African American Network, a “theologically traditional” coalition of black Christians and churches, as he described it. “The vast majority of white evangelicals with whom I interact are on board and want to see a more racially diversified and unified church. However, when that same constituency overwhelmingly supports Donald Trump, I feel like they haven’t understood any of my concerns as a racial minority and an African American.”

All the racial reconciliation that last year’s General Assembly allegedly accomplished was thin compared to a PCA minister or member’s status in the world of evangelicalism. Does the PCA now need to repent for its members who voted for Trump? Or can its pastors, theologians, and elders help members understand that belonging to the visible church — the kingdom of Jesus Christ, mind you — is so much more significant than what federal politicians do (or votes for them)?

Now more than ever, the PCA needs a healthy dose of the spirituality of the church. It needs to understand that the politics of this world are trifling compared to the realities of the world to come, and that the freedom a Christian enjoys in Christ has nothing to do with politics (just ask the peasants who used Luther’s gospel to advocate an egalitarian social order). But that doctrine is now in the rear view mirror.

It’s Only Politics

Matt Tuininga echoes the idea that politics is evidence of sanctification (integration of faith and life and all of that):

Will Republican evangelicals who see their sisters and brothers – their political opponents – wounded and beaten on the other side of the road and cross over to take up their need as their own, in the spirit of the good Samaritan? Will they stand with them in solidarity, pleading their cause as if it were their own? Will Democratic evangelicals who feel beaten and betrayed accept such an effort at reconciliation and love in a spirit of gospel hope? Will they stand in solidarity with their evangelical opponents, pleading their cause as if it were their own? Do we have the humility to recognize that our own political judgments might not reflect the whole picture, that they might even be wrong?

Bill Smith in his curmudeonly way says, no thanks:

Blacks and other minorities have experienced abuse. Blacks in particular can identify with Israel, an enslaved and abused minority in Egypt. Unfortunately white evangelical Christians have themselves been the abusers of African Americans or failed to speak up against their abuse. White evangelicals have aligned themselves with the Republican Party which has not been sympathetic with the concerns of minorities but rather has become a home of racists and nationalists. Lately, however, there has been progress as black and white Christians have worked toward racial reconciliation. But this election has exposed the reality that white evangelicals have not come so far as black evangelicals hoped. The black minority feel they have been betrayed by white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

. . . The perspective of these brothers is the same as that of Falwell, Kennedy, Criswell, and the Moral Majority. They were on God’s side, and God was on their side. Their champion was Ronald Reagan. The election of Reagan moved forward the cause of Christ and his kingdom.

These brothers believe that God is on their side and they on God’s. Their cause(s) is the cause of the kingdom of God. To them Trump was not just someone they disagreed with but the enemy of the kingdom of God. The 80% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump voted against the interests of the kingdom of God, betrayed their black brothers and sisters (who ask, “How could you?”), and proved themselves unreliable allies in the righteous causes highest on the list of black priorities.

All this was hogwash in the days of Falwell, and it’s all hogwash today. This is not about Christian theology or practice. It’s politics. That’s all it is. Just politics. The joy that the Moral Majority felt when Reagan triumphed was not righteous joy but political joy. The grief felt by these black brothers is not righteous grief but political grief. The reason most white evangelicals voted for Trump is that most white evangelicals are conservatives and Republicans. The reason these black evangelical brothers feel betrayed is because they are liberals and Democrats.

If only we could treat politics like plumbing. But no. Politics has to be a high and holy calling. What we are seeing is the result of all that every-square inch argument. And it’s not helpful for the nation or — get this — for the church. But it does allow evangelical academics to feel pious.

The 2K Temptation

Ed Stetzer seems unable to resist:

Evangelical is not a synonym for Republican.

It’s a definition of people who believe in values like the cross, the gospel, and sharing that news (euangelion) with others. That’s often described by the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which includes biblicism, crucicentrism (focused on the cross), conversionism (the people need to be born again), and activism (works that flow from new life).

I get the temptation to want to narrow what the term means because we feel little connection with others who also use it. But facts are our friends, and labels mean something specific, even if the parameters are broad. We can hold Evangelical beliefs and see some things—like politics—in different ways.

Yes, the vast majority of White Evangelicals decided that Donald Trump was a better choice. Evangelicals of color mostly made a different choice. There are complex reasons for each. It does not help to dismiss them, and I won’t.

But I will remind everyone that being an Evangelical is about the gospel, not about a lever in a voting booth.

But if evangelicals contented themselves with the gospel (as if that’s so hard except for the obedience boy lurking inside all of us), that would mean saying no to the cultural transformation (read Christian nationalism) temptation. Because evangelicals (and most Western Christians for that matter) have refused to give in to 2K, they (along with Ed Stetzer) need to confront their American selves:

The influence of political tactics is not confined to campaign dynamics. It affects how we are formed as people. Instead of our values influencing our politics, our political circumstances are shaping our values. As partisan citizens, we explain away the flaws of the candidate we support, and buy nearly any outlandish theory about the candidate we oppose. We even change what we believe to fit the moment.

C. S. Lewis understood the temptation to seek personal meaning in politics. His essay “Membership” is most instructive in this regard. “A sick society,” Lewis writes, “must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion.” However, “if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”

Our culture, and many people in our churches, are sick with that new and deadly disease. Politics is causing great spiritual harm in Americans lives, and a big reason for that is Americans are going to politics to have their spiritual needs met. This is the meaning of rising polarization and the cause of our zero-sum mentality. Politics does a poor job of meeting spiritual needs. But if it will get your vote, politicians will attempt to fill the spiritual void nonetheless.

When you grow up in the greatest nation on God’s green earth, believe with President Obama that you are on the right side of history, and have the rest of the world looking to your government (either to help or leave), it is hard to turn away from the power that Paul said Jews sought and be content with the cross.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-29 ESV)