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.

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)