Where Did He Learn that Evangelicalism Is the Same as Presbyterianism?

When I read Pete Enns on evangelicalism, I sense that he thinks of it as if it were the PCA (or the OPC), that these are really “evangelical” denominations. That is, he sees in evangelicalism a narrowness and uniformity that would make sense if, as Roger Olson sees the world, Reformed Protestants really did dominate evangelical institutions or as if Edwards and Whitefield were still the dominant flavor and Finney, New School Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists, dispensationalists, charismatics, and even Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers never happened. Enns also seems to think that evangelicalism actually has mechanisms admission and discipline (though he’s not in favor of the latter) that denominations have. He reflects an attitude that was dominant at Westminster Seminary in the 1980s and 1990s when administrators and faculty were in active pursuit of an evangelical niche in the seminary market. (How exactly Westminster, the seminary that Machen the separatist founded, was going to compete either with Gordon-Conwell or Fuller was a mystery.) That attitude took a significant turn during the Enns controversy. But Enns himself does not seem to have abandoned it. He recently wrote:

A common characteristic of Evangelical ecclesiology is the view, either explicit or implicit, that Evangelicalism is in some meaningful sense the clearest and most faithful expression of the Christian faith—which implies it is the version God most approves of. Other traditions are often looked down upon as either compromising “the clear teaching of Scripture” or lacking in some other crucial way.

The challenge to maintain some sort of Evangelical identity amid ecumenical discussions is a real one, but not necessarily impossible to pull off. How that might work itself out is not for me to say, but, in our ever-shrinking world, Evangelicalism cannot afford to be seen as anything other than in serious dialogue with other Christians communions. The global Christian faith must work toward a deep unity in basics amid diversity of various local and ecclesiastical traditions.

Evangelicalism is not a church and has no ecclesiology. Hello. And that is both its genius and its curse. It can keep an institution like Wheaton College going even while its boundaries ever shift to incorporate those who have Jesus in their hearts. It’s experience, not Scripture; it’s experience period. What’s the church?

This means that evangelicalism is precisely the ecumenical conversation for which Enns longs. He has found his home. The dialogue and openness are happening all around him. And yet, he keeps thinking that evangelicals are out to get him in the same way that conservative Presbyterians took issue with his views on Scripture.

His desire for “Openness to Different Ecclesiastical Traditions” should include a willingness on his part to let Presbyterian Church Americans or Orthodox Presbyterians to be exactly what they are — communions of Reformed Protestants. If he’d regard evangelicalism as loose and conservative Presbyterians as narrow, he could revel in the melting pot that evangelicalism is. And if he did that, he might understand that the OPC and the PCA are not really evangelical (since they cannot incorporate evangelicalism’s girth). And that might also allow Enns to recognize that he was always an evangelical who was not a good fit at an institution founded (even if confused about) to be Reformed.

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If They're So Smart . . .

couldn’t evangelical academics have found jobs elsewhere?

Pete Enns is almost as worried about the plight facing evangelical biblical scholars as Congress is about Obamacare:

Folks, we have a real problem on our hands, and everyone has to bear some responsibility. Here’s the familiar scenario. The “best and brightest” students in Evangelical seminaries work hard and are encouraged and aided by their professors to pursue doctoral work. Many wind up going to some of the best research universities in the world.

This is a feather in everyone’s cap, and often they are hired back by their Evangelical school or elsewhere in the Evangelical system.

Sooner or later, these professors find out that their degree may be valued but their education is not.

During graduate school they begin to see issues from a different perspective–after all, this is what an education does. An education does not confirm what we already know, but exposes us to new things in order to broaden our horizons.

Once they start teaching, they bring with them the excitement of learning new things, some synthesis of old and new for their students, because they feel such conversations are necessary for intellectual and spiritual health.

Someone listening to this complaint from outside the Reformed and evangelical worlds might actually wonder why the graduate students who become so well educated couldn’t figure out that what they are learning is not what they had formerly understood at their Protestant institution. Or why could they not, owing to their brilliance, find a job at an institution that values learning as they now understand it, say at a secular research university or even a mainline Protsestant institution? And again, if these folks are so smart, why can’t they anticipate the difficulty that may await them if they do take a job at their Protestant alma mater?

Maybe it’s just (all about) I, but one indication of brightness in my experience is learning what is permissible to say and teach in certain contexts. Another sign of smartness is understanding that everyone does not think the way you do and doesn’t even want to.

Escondido Magic

For all with blogs to read, a wonderful time of unanimity among neo-Cals, 2kers, theonomists, experimental Calvinists, and neo-Turretinis has prevailed. In the presence of a common foe — infallible popes, antiquity without apostles or prophets, and overdetermined historical narratives — Reformed partisans are breaking bread on various blogs, all singing in one Protestant voice.

For such a time as this, readers of Old Life, both friendly and hostile, may be inclined to give ear to an interview that Scott Clark did with the authors of the new history of Westminster Seminary California — W. Robert Godfrey and yours truly (all about me). The book is entitled A New Old School and if readers follow the links I am fairly confident they will find their way to a page where a purchase would be in order.

Let lions lie down with lambs.

Psychological Disorder or Simply Bad Manners?

Here is a plea to Kevin C. Rhoades, bishop of the Roman Catholic parish of Ft. Wayne/South Bend: call off Christian Smith! Please!!

Apparently, Smith is so caught up in his conversion to Rome that he has failed to join his fellow communicants in their Fortnight for Freedom. As many may know, Smith has not only joined the Roman Catholic Church, but the distinguished sociologist of American religion has also written two books that justify his move. One takes on the problems of sola scriptura, the other explains how evangelicals can become Roman Catholic. Why those books were not enough is a mystery. But here we are, smack dab in the Freedom Fortnight, and Smith has posted through Pete Enns a piece about the narcissism of conservative Presbyterians:

But for present purposes, what the narcissism of small differences very powerfully explains, I think, is the prevailing tendency among conservative Reformed and Presbyterian Christians in the U.S. to spend so much time, energy, and attention arguing over and policing and prosecuting what in reality are relatively minor—sometimes absolutely obscure—matters of doctrine.

It is not just that they were traumatized by losing Princeton to the liberals and so always feel on edge. Those who sustain the entertainments of doctrinal and biblical legalisms are also in fact so darn similar to each other, and that theological and organizational proximity makes what are often really only very small differences seem life shaking.

If you look at the fine print of this piece you will find no examples of such mountain-out-of-mole-hill making. (But even uninformed readers might connect the dots to Enns, Westminster, and the controversy over inerrancy a few years ago.)

I do not doubt that conservative Presbyterians do this, though whether we need to invoke Freud is another matter. As John Muether pointed out in a comment to Smith’s post:

This is what Neuhaus called the law of theological propinquity — one reserves most strident criticism for those closest, in part as an effort at boundary maintenance. It seems to apply to sociological theory as much as reformed doctrine.

I suspect that even in Roman Catholic circles, if Smith looked hard enough, he might find such forms of boundary maintenance, like those distinguishing Opus Dei from Call to Action. In fact, the United States is thriving on differences that might look to Turks or Japanese like small differences. Do Republicans and Democrats really differ on the economy and national defense? Do Irish-Americans really look at the world differently from Swedish-Americans?

So why would Smith go out of his way to reduce the convictions of his former friends, communicants, and family members to psychological malfunctioning? One explanation might be narcissism itself. Smith is so caught up with his own pilgrimage that he needs to justify it. As his own definition of narcissism attests:

It is narcissistic because it is driven by a quest, very real even if unacknowledged, to feed the importance of one’s own identity even at the expense of others and the church.

This is not meant to be merely an echo response. Smith’s books deserve more comment than this post, and his arguments will receive scrutiny in the forthcoming book that Muether and I are writing. What is meant here is that a smart guy like Smith should have enough intelligence to consider his own posture in these debates, not to mention the manners of an assured convert who doesn’t need to wear his faith on his sleeve and make others feel uncomfortable. Could it be that Smith is still suffering from the evangelical piety he used to defend?

The Eric Liddell (as opposed to Tim Tebow) Way of Preparing for the Lord's Day

While Tim is watching game films and his carbohydrate intake in preparation for his showdown with Tom Brady, Old Lifers may want a better way to spend their weekend (which does not include Sunday). The Westminster Seminary California annual conference begins this evening. This year’s theme is “The Unfolding Mystery: Reading and Applying the Bible.” Those who cannot attend — and this includes residents of Southern California because seats are sold out — may watch and listen through the wonders of technology. WSC’s live stream begins tonight at 7:10 p.m. PST. It resumes tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. PST. Streamers should go here at the scheduled times.

I am assuming that presentations will give reasons why Exodus 20:8-11 is just as relevant for Christians today as John 3:16, even if the OT citation is harder to fit on an eye black sticker.

It's All About Bob

Godfrey that is. But actually, it’s also about Aimee and Updike. It in this case is Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey, the festschrift to honor Westminster California’s lovely and talented president (just released and available at the WSC bookstore). As readers may wonder after perusing the table of contents, when was the last time that a festschrift included chapters not only on Aimee Semple McPherson and pneumatology, but also on Reformed dogmatics and the Lord’s Supper? This is a book sure to appeal to Wesleyans and Reformed.

See what’s inside:

Preface: Our Man Godfrey—R. Scott Clark

I. Historical

1. Christology and Pneumatology: John Calvin, the Theologian of the Holy Spirit—Sinclair B. Ferguson

2. Make War No More? The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of J. Gresham Machen’s Warrior Children—D. G. Hart

3. God as Absolute and Relative, Necessary, Free, and Contingent: the d Intra-Ad Extra Movement of Seventeenth-Century Reformed Language About God—Richard A. Muller

4. “Magic and Noise:” Reformed Christianity in Sister’s America—R. Scott Clark

5. Karl Barth and Modern Protestantism: The Radical Impulse—Ryan Glomsrud

II. Theological

6. Reformed and Always Reforming—Michael S. Horton

7. Calvin, Kuyper, and “Christian Culture”—David VanDrunen

8. History and Exegesis: The Interpretation of Romans 7:14–25 from Erasmus to Arminius—Joel E. Kim

9. John Updike’s Christian America—John R. Muether

III. Ecclesiastical

10. The Reformation, Luther, and the Modern Struggle for the Gospel—R. C. Sproul

11. The Reformation of the Supper—Kim Riddlebarger

12. Preaching the Doctrine of Regeneration in a Christian Congregation— Hywel R. Jones

13. Integration, Disintegration, and Reintegration: A Preliminary History of the United Reformed Churches in North America—Cornelis P. Venema

14. Epilogue: The Whole Counsel of God: Courageous Calvinism for a New Century—W. Robert Godfrey

Machen Day 2010

But biblical theology is not all the theology that will be taught at Westminster Seminary, for systematic theology will be at the very center of the seminary’s course. At this point an error should be avoided: it must not be thought that systematic theology is one whit less biblical than biblical theology is. But it differs from biblical theology in that, standing on the foundation or biblical theology, it seeks to set forth, no longer in the order of the time when it was revealed, but in the order of logical relationships, the grand sum of what God has told us in his Word. There are those who think that systematic theology on the basis of the Bible is impossible; there are those who think that the Bible contains a mere record of human seeking after God and that its teachings are a mass of contradiction which can never be resolved. But to the number of those persons we do not belong. We believe for our part that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that he has given us not merely theology, but a system of theology, a great logically consistent body of truth.

That system of theology, that body of truth, which we find in the Bible is the Reformed faith, the faith commonly called Calvinistic, which is set forth so gloriously in the Confession and catechisms of the Presbyterian church. It is sometimes referred to as a “man-made creed.” but we do not regard it as such. We regard it, in accordance with our ordination pledge as ministers in the Presbyterian church, as the creed which God has taught us in his Word. If it is contrary to the Bible, it is false. But we hold that it is not contrary to the Bible, but in accordance with the Bible, and true. We rejoice in the approximations to that body of truth which other systems of theology contain; we rejoice in our Christian fellowship with other evangelical churches; we hope that members of other churches, despite our Calvinism, may be willing to enter into Westminster Seminary as students and to listen to what we may have to say. But we cannot consent to impoverish our message by setting forth less than what we find the Scripture to contain; and we believe that we shall best serve our fellow Christians, from whatever church they may come, if we set forth not some vague greatest common measure among various creeds, but that great historic faith that has come through Augustine and Calvin to our own Presbyterian church. (“Westminster Theological Seminary,” 1929)

Westminster Seminaries’ PR Problem (and Covenant Seminary’s Teflon)

Now that Glenn Beck seems to have moved on from the faith of the founders to the faith behind the Pledge of Allegiance, taking stock of the minor celebrity of a Westminster Seminary president courtesy of the talk-show enfomationist is possible. What stands out is how little controversy Peter Lillback’s ideas about the faith of George Washington or the Christian origins of the United States created.

One looks in vain through Google’s various search oppositions for a blogger or writer who questions Lillback’s interpretation. Sure, some have emerged. The folks over at American Creation have given serious attention to Lillback’s claims on behalf of Washington. Also, another student of the founding history professor, Brad Hart (no known relation) subjects Lillback’s Washington to the kind of inspection you’d expect from an Orthodox Presbyterian. But aside from the efforts of your humble oldlife servants, the conservative Reformed world seems to be willing to give Lillback a pass. (By the way, of some interest in this regard is the absence of news about Lillback’s appearance on the Beck show at the WTS website. When one of your faculty or administrators appears on a nationally televised broadcast – or even in the pages of the London Times – your institutional public relations engines generally rev, not to mention when one of your faculty member’s books ascends to number one at Amazon.)

Meanwhile, the folks at Westminster California can’t get off their beach blanket to enjoy the surf without the anti-2k bullies kicking sand, talking trash, and heaping scorn. (Many of these kerfuffles have received comment at oldlife. Curious readers should take advantage of the search capacity and look for “Westminster.”) Whether it is Machen’s Warrior Children, two-kingdom theology, the framework hypothesis, the republication doctrine, or natural law, the faculty at WSC have the reputation of being viral among many people (or is it a vocal minority?) who lead and flock to conservative Reformed and Presbyterian communions in the United States.

One can plausibly conclude that Lillback’s ideas are much more acceptable than those, for instance, of Meredith Kline, the apparent font of WSC’s worst features. For those who are genuinely concerned about the insights of biblical theology – and Kline was certainly in the tradition – this is a depressing even if unsurprising conclusion. Change happens slowly and convincing American Protestants, with habits of considering the United States as the New Israel, that their nation is not the site of God’s redemptive plan but that his work of salvation takes place in the church, an institution that transcends races, nations, and languages, is a hard sell. Even so, it is surprising that more people who have a background with WTS, another institution where biblical theology runs deep if not in the same direction as Kline, would not be more vocal in raising questions about Lillback’s understanding of the United States’ religious meaning and its first president’s faith.

What makes this lack of interest in Lillback’s understanding of Christian America all the more remarkable is that it goes beyond how to read George Washington to how to interpret the Bible. Lillback’s non-profit organization dedicated to faith and freedom in America, the Providence Forum, has published a Faith and Freedom Guide to Philadelphia in which the city’s top fifty historic sites are paired with biblical texts that illustrate the religious significance of the history made in the United States’ first capital. For instance, the nation’s first Supreme Court building comes with these remarks: “The Bible’s teaching on the importance of the judges maintaining justice is declared in Deuteronomy 25:1, ‘When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.’” This may seem harmless enough but it is likely not the best way to divide rightly the word of truth.

When the guide comes to the Masonic Cathedral, across the street from City Hall, the brochure goes off the rails:

The Masonic Order is an international, secret fraternity that played a significant role among the officers of the American revolution. The most famous member of the Masonic Order was George Washington. While their history is debated, the tradition argues that Masonry can be traced to Hiram, who helped build the temple of Solomon that is recorded in 1 Kings 6-7. Their classic symbol is a builder’s square with a compass and the letter G. This symbol is called “GAOTU,” which is an acrostic for “Great Architect Of The Universe” suggesting the geometric orderliness of the universe that argues for a creator and designer of all things. Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (KJV).

Not only is an effort to find a biblical origin for Free Masonry highly dubious on historical and theological grounds, but the guide seems to have little awareness that Reformed and Presbyterian churches in Europe and the United States have staunchly opposed to membership in Masonic Lodges as activity worthy of discipline. The only explanation for this intellectual construction of Masonry would appear to be George Washington’s membership. So instead of using Masonry against Washington as something that would raise questions about his orthodoxy, his identity as a Mason becomes a reason to delve into the Free Masons’ biblical origins. This raises an important question for WTS and her alumni – if it is wrong to read the Old Testament through the lens of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, is it any better to read it through the squint of contemporary America’s culture wars?

And through it all, Covenant Seminary goes on its merry way with a president who has shepherded through the PCA’s Strategic Plan and takes a very different estimate of the United States founding from Lillback. The lack of response to Bryan Chapell’s video about America’s Christian identity, combined with his slugging percentage in PCA politics, suggests there is hope for WSC faculty who would like to enjoy the waves.

Where’s Waldo Wednesday: Has WTS Been Liberated from Its Westminster Captivity?


This post from a professor at Regent University’s School of Divinity deserves more interaction for what it says about evangelicalism. But for now the following excerpt is worth pondering for ongoing considerations about union with Christ. What is particularly noteworthy, from this oldlifer’s perspective, is how much WTS during the era of union hegemony, has actually embraced many of the qualities to which this charismatic blogger calls evangelicals more generally:

So, if the “New Calvinism” becomes a way of recovering the Reformed emphasis on conversion as an experientially-driven encounter and this, in turn, allows for the on-going role of the charismatic, then I am all for it. Such emphases will allow for greater continuity between Reformed and Wesleyan branches of the evangelical movement rather than continually reviving the antagonism of Old Princeton/Westminster. It is time that evangelicalism, and particularly its Reformed wing, freed itself from its Westminster captivity and begin to recover the notion that the gospel is the wonder-working power of God to alter the interior landscape of the heart, to heal diseases, to liberate from all forms of sin, and to usher in the gifts of the kingdom. When juridical models dominate, their emphasis on legal exchanges occurring in a heavenly court obscures the living reality that regeneration, sanctification, and the charismatic life are. Let the renewal begin.

Biblical counseling at WTS has the concern for the “interior landscape of the heart” covered, the word and deed model of ministry promoted by Tim Keller suggests ways in which Presbyterians pursue the wonder-working power of God in liberating people “from all forms of sin,” and the elevation of union in WTS soteriology has put regeneration and sanctification on a par with the forensic element in salvation. In fact, the emphasis on union, with its concomitant stress on the resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit in the renovation of the human heart, should warm the spirit-filled soul of this Regent professor. Still, I wonder if he needs to replace his Rolodex on neo-evangelicalism with the Blackberry on contemporary Presbyterianism.

The Spirit of Machen Lives at Westminster California

witherspoon bldgTo honor and mark the thirtieth anniversary of the seminary where police do enforce jaywalking laws, to offer some encouragement to the faculty and staff who labor and the students who study there, and to remind readers about the point of Westminster Seminary come the following paragraphs from the institution’s first convocation. Of course, J. Gresham Machen was the author and speaker, the date was September 25, 1929, and the place was downtown Philadelphia (woot!). The ceremonies took place at the Witherspoon Building on Walnut Street, which was the home of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work (one of downtown Philadelphia’s more ornate facades). The school itself was located at 1528 Pine Street.

Westminster Theological Seminary, which opens its doors today, will hardly be attended by those who seek the plaudits of the world or the plaudits of a worldly church. It can offer for the present no magnificent buildings, no long-established standing in the ecclesiastical or academic world. Why, then, does it open its doors; why does it appeal to the support of Christian men?

The answer is plain. Our new institution is devoted to an unpopular cause; it is devoted to the service of one who is despised and rejected by the world and increasingly belittled by the visible church, the majestic Lord and Savior who is presented to us in the Word of God. From him men are turning away one by one. His sayings are too hard, his deeds of power too strange, his atoning death too great an offense to human pride. But to him, despite all, we hold. No Christ of our own imaginings can ever take his place for us, no mystic Christ whom we seek merely in the hidden depths of our own souls. From all such we turn away ever anew to the blessed written Word and say to the Christ there set forth, the Christ with whom then we have living communion: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life”. . . .

[The] pathway of sacrifice is the pathway which students and supporters of Westminster Seminary are called upon to tread. For that we can thank God. Because of the sacrifices involved, no doubt many have been deterred from coming to us; they have feared the opposition of the machinery of the church; some of them may have feared, perhaps, to bear fully the reproach of Christ. We do not judge them. But whatever may be said about the students who have come to us, one thing can certainly be said about those who have come – they are real men.

No, my friends, though Princeton Seminary is dead, the noble tradition of Princeton Seminary is alive. Westminster Seminary will endeavor by God’s grace to continue that tradition unimpaired; it will endeavor, not on a foundation of equivocation and compromise, but on an honest foundation of devotion to God’s Word, to maintain the same principles that the old Princeton maintained. We believe, first, that the Christian religion, as it is set forth in the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian church, is true; we believe, second, that the Christian religion welcomes and is capable of scholarly defense; and we believe, third, that the Christian religion should be proclaimed without fear or favor, and in clear opposition to whatever opposes it, whether within or without the church, as the only way of salvation for lost mankind. On that platform, brethren, we stand. Pray that we may be enabled by God’s Spirit to stand firm. Pray that the students who go forth from Westminster Seminary may know Christ as their own Savior and may proclaim to others the gospel of his love.