Keller and Princeton – Another Perspective

Protoprotestant is a fellow who — I think — once commented here and had some brush with the NAPARC world. He blogs at The Pilgrim Underground and The Pilgrim Path/Proto-Protestantism. I’m not sure I can locate his outlook, but he is usually worth reading. Certainly not predictable.

Recently he commented on the dance performance at Redeemer NYC in ways agreeable to many confessional Presbyterians. But before going there, ProtoProtestant’s memories of and reflections on Princeton Seminary are useful for situating his Presbyterian convictions. After a recent visit to Princeton he reflected on his own spiritual pilgrimage over a twenty-year period after his first visit to the seminary town:

Standing in front of Charles Hodge’s house I couldn’t help but think of his approach to Systematic Theology and his struggles to combat Darwinism. While the latter was indeed admirable and right, his unwitting embrace of Enlightenment categories had all but fettered his own hands. I see him as a tragic figure, trying to hold something together and yet incapable, not even fully understanding what is happening.

When I think of his son AA Hodge I cannot help but recall the rationalist nature of his theology and the great lack of wisdom and insight with regard to society and Christianity. An advocate of what I would identify as imperialist missionary work and the kind of Sacralist doctrine at odds with the New Testament, AA Hodge is a breath of fresh air to Dominionists and the Theonomists who still haunt the halls of American Presbyterianism. At one time his name was hallowed to me. Today, even though a volume or two of his writings remain on my shelf, he is not one that I would esteem.

Of course BB Warfield was the ‘Lion of Princeton’, the great defender of Calvinistic Orthodoxy in the late 19th and early 20th century. An author of many fine works Warfield was nevertheless inept when it came to defending Scripture in the face of Modernism. This statement will astonish many for they view him as ‘the great defender’ of Scripture in the face of Modernism. But they say this failing to understand his capitulation and compromise. Unwittingly, Warfield laid the groundwork for today’s Evangelical laxity with regard to Scripture and the collapse of Biblical authority.

. . . Princeton, so hampered by faulty philosophically dependent Evidentialist Apologetics proved weak and began to collapse in the face of Higher Criticism and the Scientific Revolution. Warfield was himself weak on the question of evolution.

Though not buried there I could not help but think of J Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Seminary and the figure most associated with the genesis of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). I was once a member of that denomination and would certainly never have anything to do with it again. That said, I cannot but to a certain extent admire Machen and (to a degree) those that went with him. His work on Christianity and Liberalism still holds a place of honour on the shelf. Though authored almost a century ago, the fundamental issues have not changed in the least. It is still a relevant and worthwhile book.

Some merit here, but clearly not an Old Life perspective.

So consider how Tim Keller looks to Protestants like this fellow:

So much for the Regulative Principle….so much for the Sufficiency of Scripture…. these doctrines aren’t even on the horizon for most ‘Reformed’ people anymore. They pay lip service to them but in actuality reject them. Keller, the PCA’s celebrity pastor has led the charge. A Dominionist cut from modern cloth, he’s a man very much at home with the world. When you believe that heaven will look something like Manhattan (investment bankers and all)… then the filth of Broadway, the Theatre District and Lincoln Centre will also be part of it.

In fact Keller’s Church, ‘Redeemer’ PCA is apropos. He believes that all of culture can be redeemed. To put it differently, all of culture can be sanctified and made holy. You must understand this if you wish to grasp why men in tights are dancing around during a worship service. Ballet is being made holy… this is (to Keller) a foretaste of heaven.

Of course this is in addition to the jazz or reggae services they host. It’s a big package. In reality it’s the same worldly gospel of the Prosperity folks but less tacky. It’s for the refined and sophisticated people of the Upper West Side.

Keller is a big deal in Reformed circles and he’s done rather well for himself. I abandoned the Reformed label years ago but even then I realised, if Keller, Piper, Mohler et al. are the Reformed ‘stalwarts’ of the 21st century then the 20th century Calvinist revival will be short lived indeed.

Old Lifers and Old School Presbyterians are not the only ones who see.

The optics!

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Where's Waldo Wednesday: What's At Stake?

The recent show at Reformed Forum on union with Christ has generated a lively exchange (some of which spilled over to Old Life). As he did at Old Life, David has produced a number of quotations from Reformed theologians on the ordo salutis that suggest the unionists have their work cut out for them if they are going to claim that John Murray or Dick Gaffin hung the union moon. For instance (thanks to David):

Berkhof wrote:

The sinner receives the initial grace of regeneration on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the merits of Christ must have been imputed to him before his regeneration. But while this consideration leads to the conclusion that justification logically precedes regeneration, it does not prove the priority of justification in a temporal sense.

A. A. Hodge wrote:

The second characteristic mark of Protestant soteriology is the principle that the change of relation to the law signalized by the term justification, involving remission of penalty and restoration to favor, necessarily precedes and renders possible the real moral change of character signalized by the terms regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation excludes the exercise of grace in the heart. Remission of punishment must be preceded by remission of guilt, and must itself precede the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Hence it must be entirely unconditioned upon any legal standing, or moral or gracious condition of the subject. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned. We are freely made co-heirs with Christ in order that we may become willing co-workers with him, but we are never made co-workers in order that we may become co-heirs.

These principles are of the very essence of Protestant soteriology. To modify, and much more, of course, to ignore or to deny them, destroys absolutely the thing known as Protestantism, and ought to incur the forfeiture of all recognized right to wear the name.

And James Buchanan wrote:

It has sometimes been asked—Whether Regeneration or Justification has the precedency in the order of nature? This is a question of some speculative interest, but of little practical importance. It relates to the order of our conceptions, not to the order of time; for it is admitted on all hands that the two blessings are bestowed simultaneously. The difficulties which have suggested it are such as these,—How God can be supposed, on the one hand, to bestow the gift of His Spirit on any one who is still in a state of wrath and condemnation,—and how He can be supposed, on the other hand, to justify any sinner while he is not united to Christ by that living faith which is implanted only by the Spirit of God? But such difficulties will be found to resolve themselves into a more general and profound question; and can only be effectually removed, by falling back on God’s eternal purpose of mercy towards sinners, which included equally their redemption by Christ, and their regeneration by His Spirit. The grand mystery is how God, who hates sin, could ever love any class of sinners,—and so love them, as to give His own Son to die for them, and His Holy Spirit to dwell in them. The relation which subsists, in respect of order, between Regeneration and Justification, is sufficiently determined, for all practical purposes, if neither is held to be prior or posterior to the other, in point of time,—and if it is clearly understood that they are simultaneous gifts of the same free grace; for then it follows,— that no unrenewed sinner is justified,—and that every believer, as soon as he believes, is pardoned and accepted of God.

All of which leads to the point that the Reformed tradition has not been uniform on the ordo salutis. How could it be since the ordo is one of the great mysteries of the faith — the Spirit of God working invisibly in the hidden corners of the human soul?

If the Reformed tradition has witnessed (and by implication tolerated) a variety of views on the ordo salutis, what is so crucial to the unionist position? One answer might be historical. Today’s church has neglected a doctrine that has been central to the Reformed tradition. But is union solely the possession of Reformed Protestantism? Last I checked, Luther believed in and taught union with Christ. And so have various Reformed theologians who then proceeded to situate union in relation to the application of redemption in a variety of ways.

Another answer is that the gospel is at stake in the doctrine of union. I sometimes believe that unionists sound as if getting union right is on the order of fidelity to the gospel.

Or it could simply be a matter of doctrinal fine tuning. If we spend a little more time on union then other matters of the faith become clearer or pastorally beneficial.

But given the decibel level of unionists’ arguments (not to mention the length of their interviews), I am not sure that historical accuracy or a doctrinal tune-up is an adequate explanation. That would leave the gospel as the matter at stake in debates over union.

If anyone can help me understand the union ruckus, I’d be grateful.