Who’s Afraid of Orthodox Presbyterians?

I may have asked this before, but do Hasidic Jews or Amish engage in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that afflicts white Protestants in America? Where are the Hasidic Jews coming out in support of Trump because we need a president to appoint the right Supreme Court justices? And Amish on Twitter? Oxymoron doesn’t cover it. But the Amish do have a record of carving out their own existence in the United States without any ambition to take over “English” society.

Samual Goldman’s review of Mary Eberstadt’s new book, It’s Dangerous to Believe, prompts a repeat of the question: do Jews and Amish engage in the same sort of outrage about America’s decadence as Christians (and relatedly, why don’t Christians, if they really are strangers and aliens, act more like Hasidic Jews and Amish?)? Here’s one part of Goldman’s review:

Why do Jews escape the opprobrium to which traditionalist Catholics or Baptists are subjected? Partly because they have never been more than a tiny minority, but also because they make few claims on political and cultural authority. Apart from a few neighborhoods in and around New York City, no one fears that religious Jews will attempt to dictate how they live their own lives. As a result, they are able to avoid most forms of interference with their communities.

There is a lesson here for the Christian traditionalists for whom Eberstadt speaks. They are more likely to win space to live according to their
consciences to the extent that they are able to convince a majority that includes more liberal Christians and non-Christian believers, as well as
outright secularists, that they are not simply biding their time until they are able to storm the public square. In addition, they will have to develop institutions of community life that are relatively low-visibility and that can survive without many forms of official support. The price of inclusion in an increasingly pluralistic society may be some degree of voluntary exclusion from the dominant culture.

Keep that in mind when thinking about Camden Bucey’s post about the differences between the OPC and PCA. Two quotations stand out in that piece. The first goes to the transformationalism to which the PCA aspired from the get-go well before the elixir of TKNY. According to Sean Lucas:

The PCA has sought to be evangelical Presbyterians and Presbyterian evangelicals, which has given the church a voice to the broader culture. Holding the church together has not been easy. For some, frustrations have arisen from the church’s tendency to opt for an identity that is more comprehensive than pure. Others are disappointed that the church often spends a great deal of time on relatively fine points of Reformed doctrine instead of focusing on mission, cultural engagement, or evangelism.

But the OPC has functioned on the margins of American society and whether intentionally or not, its lack of size and financial resources has nurtured a communion with the outlook of a pilgrim people. According to Charlie Dennison:

While everyone in the OPC understands our opposition to liberalism, some have had trouble understanding the aversion that others have to evangelicalism. They have been unable to accept the conclusion of Cornelius Van Til and others that evangelicalism, as a system, is Arminian. They have been unable to accept the criticism that modern evangelicalism’s view of regeneration is subjective, incapable of rising above a personal experience of sin and grace to the level of the covenant and the federal headship of Adam and Christ. Further, they have been unable to accept the growing historical and social evidence that contemporary evangelicalism is worldly, individualistic, and adolescent, craving acceptance and desperately wanting to make an impact.

I (mmmmeeeEEEE) discussed these differences with CW and Wresby at Presbycast this week (feel the love).

What I have trouble grasping is the appeal of transformationalism and changing the culture. On the one hand, that is so Moral Majoritarian. Haven’t we seen the colossal failure of such efforts, not to mention how self-defeating they are if you want a hip, urban profile in the cultural mainstream? On the other hand, if you want to pass on the faith, which is lower-case-t transformationalism, do you really think you can do it in the public square? Didn’t Mary lose her son in the marketplace?

As Goldman writes, it won’t be easy giving up on Francis Schaeffer’s Christian nationalism. But at some point you need to adjust to the hand you’ve been dealt:

There is no doubt that this will be a hard bargain for adherents of traditions that enjoyed such immense authority until recently. As Eberstadt points out, however, it will also be difficult for progressives who resemble Falwell in their moral majoritarianism. The basis for coexistence must be a shared understanding that the Christian America for which some long and that others fear isn’t coming back—not only because it was Christian but also because it involved a level of consensus that is no longer available to us. There are opportunities for believers and nonbelievers alike in this absence.

If transformationalists finally recognize that Schaeffer and TKNY are in the same Christian nationalist orbit as Falwell, will they finally say “ewww”?

UPDATE

Postscript: In other words, you don’t pray in the public square (even if it’s in the hallowed city):

Mainline Presbyterians and later, evangelicals, may once have been the Republican party at prayer. There may once have been an easy alliance, an assumption of shared religious values between those entities but Ms Dhillon’s prayer last night illustrates how that alliance is coming to an end. This is not a lament. The alliance should never have been. Christians as individuals and private societies (groups) may affiliate as they will but Christians as a group and certainly the visible, institutional church should never become utterly identified with any political party. If evangelicals and other Protestants (e.g., confessionalists) were uneasy with Ms Dhillon’s prayer, I can easily imagine how awkward it must have been for Ms Dhillon to witness the closing prayer and imprecation. Watching it on YouTube last night made me uncomfortable and he professes to be a minister of (some version) of the faith I confess.

Both the opening and closing of last night’s events are a good argument for doing away with public, shared prayers in such, common, secular events. It’s not that delegates to political conventions should not pray. They should. It’s not that candidates should not pray. They should. It’s not that voters should not pray. They should. The question is not whether but when? It is dubious whether it is appropriate to open a common, secular, assembly with prayer. To whom are we praying? In whose name? What are we praying? As a Christian minister of the United Reformed Churches in North America I am not free to offer prayers to God that he has not authorized. I am not free to pray to any other deity than the Triune God of Scripture, to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not authorized to approach God in any other name than the name of Jesus. It is not a matter of bigotry. It is a matter of truth, eternal life, and salvation. Jesus was raised from the dead. He is the truth (John 14:6). There are not multiple ways to God. Religion is not multifaceted expression of a common religious experience. It is revealed by God to us.

When Calvinists Impersonate Muslims

Why does this description of Islam sound familiar?

So I think ISIS is a wakeup call for all Muslims, especially Islamists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia? You want Islam to “conquer” and “dominate”? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam,” you easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam” that the other guys believe in.

Look at how this works for 2k and neo-Calvinism:

So I think ISIS theonomy is a wakeup call for all Muslims Calvinists, especially Islamists transformationalists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia the Bible? You want Islam Christ to “conquer” and “dominate” every square inch? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam Calvinism,” you 2 kingdoms easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam Calvinism” that the other guys believe in.

Another Problem with W-w

At a time when Europeans and their former colonial outposts are reflecting on the nation state, political union, and the shelf-life of post-World War II peace-keeping institutions, the celebration of U.S. independence was another chance to ponder the merits of political autonomy and state sovereignty. But notice the way that some Christians decided to frame the matter:

Those of us who identify as Christians should never fear admitting the truth, even when it means letting go of the myth of a “Christian America.” And those of us who identify as both Christian and social conservative should not fear that admitting this particular truth means abandoning what we believe the “We hold these truths” line to mean. Unlike with the Constitution, the “original intent” of the authors shouldn’t necessarily be our guide. If it really is a truth—and a “self-evident” one—it is only because it was revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

In an age when even many Christians are hostile to religiously informed public philosophy, it’s understandable that social conservatives would turn to the past for examples and look to the founding documents for affirmation. But such an effort is likely to be as unproductive as it is unpersuasive.

If Christians wish to build a polis informed by Christian convictions, if we want the truths we hold to be seen once again as “literally true,” we must look to the future, thick with possibility, rather than to the thin material left over from the religious sentiments of our Founding Fathers.

Really? The best Christians can do is ask once again what kind of believers the founders were or whether the Declaration’s self-evident truths are compatible with special revelation?

Compare this to Noah Millman’s thought experiment. Imagine if the Declaration left out self-evident truths:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . . .

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Which leads Millman to make this point:

One people is oppressed by another, suffering a long chain of abuses. Eventually, the abuses can no longer be tolerated. They constitute a tyranny, and they oblige the oppressed people to throw off the tyrant’s yoke.

That’s not a new story – nor is it a story that requires a new political theory to justify rebellion. The Dutch Revolt required no such theory. Neither did Tyrone’s Rebellion. Why, then, did America’s founders find it necessary to introduce such a theory into the document justifying our own rebellion against the crown?

It’s hard to believe that this philosophical language was introduced to win the support of the France’s absolute monarchy. The philosophes might have applauded, but Louis XVI would surely have preferred to back a rebellion that cast no particular doubt on the legitimacy of hereditary monarchy to one that did. It is even harder to believe that the language was intended to justify a revolution in the domestic arrangements of the colonies. The Declaration was a document intended to be something that the colonies – from slaveholding South Carolina to loyally-inclined Pennsylvania – could assent to unanimously. An alarmingly revolutionary doctrine would surely be the last thing the Congress would have wished to include.

Was it revolutionary, though, to American ears? Quite likely not. In fact, the most stirring portion of the Declaration, the words that have had profound implications for American and world history, may have been so much boilerplate. Americans from Virginia to Vermont, with long experience with self-government, casually assumed Lockean premises about where government legitimately derived and what was its legitimate purpose. Including these words in the document justifying American independence may not have established an American creed so much as they reiterated the largely unexamined premises that many Americans already assumed.

Whether you agree with Millman or not (and the whole piece is a plausible case for American exceptionalism), you have to admit that his take is much more interesting than Joe Carter’s. The latter feels compelled to squeeze a political statement into a theological mold. Millman simply imagines the political stakes. No religious references. And in so doing, the Declaration takes on even more significance than when Christians try to find America’s eternal meaning (or not).

If U.S. Christians thought about politics politically rather than religiously, they might not look so odd to their neighbors.

Support for 2K is Growing (and it’s hardly rrrradical)

From the moderate regions of mid-western evangelicalism:

This conflation of the church and the nation characterizes the rest of the book. In defining (and I would say, exaggerating) the cultural influence of evangelist George Whitefield, Metaxas says that Whitefield’s preaching had the effect of turning colonists into Americans. To be an American (not a Christian, but an American), was to accept certain religious truths about one’s status in God’s eyes. As Metaxas concludes in summing up Whitefield’s significance, “the Gospel of Christ . . . created an American people.” Strange, I somehow thought that Jesus promised to build his Church on that foundation, but I guess he meant the United States.

Although Metaxas focuses on the colonial and Revolutionary eras, he does allow Abraham Lincoln to join the conversation as well, and as it turns out, Lincoln agreed John Winthrop that the United States has a “holy calling” to be an example to the world. Minimally encumbered by evidence, Metaxas notes that Lincoln understood that “America had been called by God,” and that “to be chosen by God—as the Jews had been chosen by God, . . . and as the messiah had been chosen by God,” was a “profound and sacred and even terrifying obligation.” I’m not sure which is scarier: the analogy of the United States to Israel—God’s new chosen people—or the analogy of the United States to Christ.

The latter reminds me of a trenchant observation in Hugh Heclo’s fine book Christianity and American Democracy: “If America is the redeemer of nations and time, then America is the Christ of history,” Heclo writes. “This notion may be inadvertent, but it is blasphemy all the same.”

And from the topsy-turvy world of unraveling Europe:

It seems as though many church leaders think that we have the right, the knowledge and the ability to use our position to advance particular political positions, which we equate with the Kingdom of God. This is across the spectrum, from liberal to evangelical, from low church to Catholic – it has been disturbing to see just how many church leaders seem to think that speaking a prophetic word means speaking a political word, even use the same political codes that the secular world use. And even more astonishing is how the Internet makes constitutional, financial and political experts of us all. ‘It’s only advisory’, ‘the Scottish Parliament has the power to block’, ‘£100 billion will be wiped of the markets’, ‘thousands will be killed in Northern Ireland’….and these are some of milder prophecies. I don’t have any problem with church leaders advocating political positions in public as private citizens (I often do it myself), but we have no right to commit our churches to those positions, nor to equate them as being part of the Christian message.

And 2k doesn’t even force you to identify one kingdom with God the Father and the other with God the Son.

Genius!

Every Square Inch of MmmmeeeeEEEEEEE

The politics of identity continue to haunt. Are you gay? Straight? Muslim? Man? Man trapped in a female body? Evangelical? Reformed Protestant? How’s a nation supposed to handle so many personal identities yearning to breathe free?

Ra’fat Aldajani offers this advice for Muslims:

The first objective is embracing being American. Too often we confuse being American with an erosion or rejection of our native culture and mores. It is quite the contrary. America is the land of immigrants, a melting pot of many diverse cultures and peoples, all contributing to what makes this country unique and strong.

Assimilation means developing a hybrid of what is good from our mother countries (family values, importance of education, respect for elders) and our adopted home (democracy, justice, rule of law) and engaging in every aspect of American life as Muslim Americans, rather than retreating defensively into our own culturally fenced-off communities.

Of course, the problem with assimilation is that it leads to liberal Protestantism where the nation’s social crises matter more than biblical teaching (also think PCA). If the nation tips toward equal rights for women, who are we mainline Presbyterians to deny the office of elder to women?

So the question for reconciling personal and national identity is where you put the qualifier.

If you are an American Christian, then national identity trumps religious loyalty.

If you are a Christian American, then your religious identity trumps patriotism.

And if you are simply present as Christian (or LBGT), and leave out any reference to the government whose laws you follow at least when you check out at the grocery store or drive a car, then you are a different order of person.

The difficulty we now face is that personal identity absorbs nationality. The nation must be or reflect my identity — it must be Christian, gay, or black. What we need in the era of transgenderism is to recognize that we (citizens of the U.S.) are all personal identities trapped in an American body.

Autonomy and Theonomy Again

If you don’t grant autonomy from religious authority to the political realm (including to political actors to behave in ways different from religious duties), do you wind up with Omar Mateen? Adam Garfinkle thinks so:

… defined properly, there just isn’t very much Islamist ideology. As that term is commonly used in the West, at a minimum an ideology needs to specify: some ideal political economy; some ideal relationship between society, state, and authority; and some ideal relationship between a given society and the world outside it. There is nothing special in these regards about current Islamist thinking. There are a few innovations of note that distinguish it from traditional Islam—the very strict segregation of the sexes in public spaces; the insistence that non-Muslims cannot hold public office; the re-merging of religious and temporal authority in the caliphate—but there are too few and too marginal to create much of a difference from the standard traditional Muslim understanding of the relationship of religion and politics. Hence, for example, the supremacist assumptions of Islamism are also characteristic of mainstream traditional Sunni Islam, making it impossible for us to “message” against it without alienating Sunnis who are not our enemies and who are critical extent and potential allies.

This reflects the key fact that there is nothing specifically ideological—again as we understand the term—about Islamic attitudes about the intersection of religion and politics. Neither Islamist nor Islamic “ideology” is commensurate with any system of Western political ideas. Liberalism as the epitome of the Western way of thinking about politics is based on deeper philosophical currents, but it is not a mere lesser-included case. It has its own weight, its autonomy, its own discourse. The political world is a lesser-included case within Islamist (and Islamic) thinking. It is not autonomous but derivative. It does not have its own credentialed authorities and discourse, only the authorities and discourse of the clergy whose concerns far transcend politics.

Islam, in other words, has little capacity to develop the spirituality of the mosque. Christians who oppose the spirituality of the church should be very careful.

When Did Christianity Become Imperial?

Pierre Manent begs more than he explains:

What to do about our diminished collective capacity is the great political question of Europe. Whether in relation to European unification or to Islam, it is clear that we have nothing pertinent to say if we refrain from making claims about European identity. One way to outline essential characteristics of European political and spiritual life is to contrast them with certain fundamental features of Muslim life.

Running the risk of a somewhat rough stylization, we might say something like the following: Islam throughout its history has largely preserved the form, the impulse, and the consciousness of empire (traits that are found with renewed vigor today), while Western Christianity, though born in an imperial form, and very much subject to great missionary and conquering movements, found its relative stability in a very different arrangement. Islam was never able to abandon the imperial form that ­Christianity could never assume in a lasting way. Christianity instead found its form in the nation, or in the plurality of nations once called “Christendom,” then “Europe.”

Anyone who reads the first pope Peter, finds little sense of Christian empire:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:9-11 ESV)

The early church thought of itself more in exile than as part of the establishment. Then came Constantine. Then came empire. Then came establishment. Only with the novos ordo seclorum did Europeans begin to question the fit between Christianity and empire.