(From the current issue of the Nicotine Theological Journal)

Tim Keller is a biblicist (at least more than you think). Carl Trueman is not. Now for an explanation.

. . . Ever since Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self caught a wave among New and Old Calvinists – not to mention the following he has cultivated at First Things as the Presbyterian edition of Christopher Rufo – early returns on the book were striking for not mentioning the author’s insights into Scripture. Trueman did not even go to the w(orld)-(vie)w tool kit of applying the anti-thesis – the chasm between the regenerate and unregenerate – to explain contemporary society’s capitulation to gender fluidity and its related detritus. He was seemingly only loosely on board with Van Tillianism while he taught at Westminster Seminary but the Van Tillians’ praise for his book has been a wonder to behold.

Instead of the Bible or the transcendental method, Trueman relies on the work of Philip Rieff (Jewish-American sociologist), Alasdair McIntyre (Roman Catholic philosopher) and Charles Taylor (Roman Catholic philosopher) to assess the current debates about self-expression. This is actually a virtue of the book at least for those who complain that evangelicals and Reformed are insufficiently conversant with (and seemingly unwilling to use) the knowledge produced by thinkers who do not start from Christian truths or draw insights from Scripture. Trueman unwittingly freed up conservative Protestants to think thoughts after writers who do not start with God or the Bible.

. . . The same cannot be said for Tim Keller, at least when he dissects Critical Race Theory, a buzz word whose excitement seems to have dampened thanks to the price of consumer goods (rising) and bail (falling). The retired Presbyterian pastor, in a two-part series at the online quarterly, “Gospel In Life,” goes right to the heart of the issue when he starts with a contrast between biblical and non-biblical justice. Amid all the debates and contrasting views of justice, Keller argues, the biblical understanding is best even if believers seldom know it or appeal to it.

To set up his exposition of biblical justice, Keller clears the ground in a non-biblicist way – like Trueman – by using Alasdair MacIntyre to show that Enlightenment notions of justice have run out of gas (good for the climate, though). The idea that society could leave religion behind in pursuit of secular justice has proved an intellectual quicksand. For Keller, all notions of moral goodnesss, without a transcendent reference, are merely constructed. This would have been another time when a former Westminster professor might have used Van Til for good effect.

Does Great Commission Publications Need More Books about Sex?

Christianity Today carries a story that Life Way Christian Bookstores (a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention) is not carrying Rachel Held Evans new book (who is she anyway and does she read Tim Keller?) A Year of Biblical Womanhood (biblicism alert). Evans contends that the reason is her use of the word “vagina.” The report goes on to list books that Life Way does sell and how many times these authors use the v-word:

A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Douglas E. Rosenau
86 (plus images)
The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment by Clifford & Joyce Penner
73 (plus images)
The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love by Tim and Beverley LaHaye
How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex by Lenore Buth
The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (And You Thought Bad Girls Have All the Fun) by Sheila Wray Gregoire
The Body Book by Nancy Rue
6 (at least in the 2000 edition; LifeWay’s is the 2012 edition and was not available for review)
Straight Talk with Your Kids About Sex by Josh and Dottie McDowell
Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll
Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World by Shannon Ethridge and Stephen Arterburn
Crazy Good Sex: Putting to Bed the Myths Men Have about Sex by Les Parrott
The Language of Sex: Experiencing the Beauty of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage by Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham
Sex Begins in the Kitchen: Creating Intimacy to Make Your Marriage Sizzle by Kevin Leman
Nobody Told Me: What You Need to Know about the Physical and Emotional Consequences of Sex Outside of Marriage by Pam Stenzel and Melissa Nesdahl
The Healthy Marriage Handbook by Louise Ferrebee
Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships by Harry Schaumburg
The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women by Gary and Barbara Rosberg
And the Bride Wore White by Danna Gresh
Reclaiming Intimacy: Overcoming the Consequences of Premarital Relationships by Heather Jamison
Capture His Heart: Becoming the Godly Wife Your Husband Desires by Lysa TerKerust
The Bare Facts: 39 Answers to Questions Your Parents Hope You Never Ask about Sex by Josh McDowell with Erin Davis
God on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas about Love, Intimacy, and MarriagebyDaniel Akin

The notable aspect of this story is not so much Christians talking publicly about a word used to describe female genitalia as it is the volume of books that Christians write about intercourse. This is all the more glaring since Life Way states describes its first “core value” as:

1. The Bible
We believe the Bible is the eternal, infallible, inerrant Word of God and is the plumb line for everything we say and do.

So while it is controversial in the Convention to use the c-word (Calvinism), female private parts are relatively common depending on who is discussing them.

The Bible is Not Off Limits But Only Settles So Much

Two of Old Life’s regular voices, Zrim and Jed, are having an interesting discussion — in response to a post questioning the political machinations of the hallowed Bonhoffer — about whether 2kers may legitimately appeal to the Bible in their civic duties. Zrim argues that the Bible forbids civil disobedience while Jed questions whether a 2ker may employ the Bible in this way.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Bret responds to me that his case for Ron Paul and paleo-conservatism come directly from biblical teaching on the fifth and eighth commandments.

Several points of clarification seem to be in order. First, 2kers do appeal to the Bible. They do so in their personal lives all the time. They even appeal to the Bible — you know, “my kingdom is not of this world,” does not come from Aristotle — to argue for legitimacy of 2k. Two-kingdom theology is thoroughly biblical (or at least tries to be) and its advocates don’t let differences between the kingdoms prevent them from seeing that — to borrow a line from the old E. F. Hutton commercials — when the Bible speaks, believers listen. As I have repeatedly insisted in different forums, the eighth commandment compels me to question whether I should shop at Walmart or at Gelzer’s Hardware. After Sam Walton is not my neighbor, the one whose welfare I am supposed to seek. But Mr. Gelzer is. The Bible gives some instruction about economics. I should try to apply to my life. I don’t see how that is inconsistent with 2k because it is not.

Second, this appeal to the Bible does not mean that I may require Rabbi Bret to shop locally or Jed to drink only the beers made by San Marcos breweries. Individual believers need to respect the consciences and interpretations of other believers. Some may eat meat offered to idols, and others won’t. Both will appeal to the Bible. But appealing to the Bible doesn’t settle whether believers will act in the same way about a host of matters.

Third, the critics of 2k — aside from uncharitably disregarding 2kers’ appeal to Scripture — can’t seem to fathom the difference between the claims made by individuals about biblical teaching and those of church officers and assemblies. For instance, because the Baylys’ believe the Bible compels them to protest at abortion clinics, they believe that church assemblies must call all believers to similar forms of protest. They even go a step farther and think that anyone who dissents from their application of Scripture disobeys the Bible. (Wow!) Meanwhile, folks like Rabbi Bret don’t seem to understand that his appeal to the fifth and eighth commandments for paleoconservatism leaves little room in the church for other perspectives, such as the Covenanters, libertarians, Democrats, or monarchists. Yet, the Reformed creeds insist that church assemblies should address only matters that are spiritual and ecclesiastical. In other words, when the church speaks as institutional church, she must have a biblical warrant. And that explains why the creeds don’t address education, math, or economics. The Bible doesn’t require God’s people to have a uniform method of delivering education, a base-ten system of math, or a commitment to free markets.

The bottom line is that the Bible does not solve the problems that critics of 2k think it does. If you believe in Christian liberty, which is premised upon the idea that Christians have liberty in matters where Scripture is silent — from whether or not to meet for worship at 11:00 on Sundays to whether or not to drive an SUV — then appealing to the Bible will not yield the unity or uniformity in politics or culture that Bible thumpers tout.

Where's Waldo Wednesday: No Cherry Picking (or Flipping)

Now that I’ve finished all six seasons of the “Larry Sanders Show,” which still comes highly recommended as arguably the funniest and most poignant treatments of celebrity in Hollywood, I am free to flip channels. (Those who haven’t seen the show need to understand that after his monologue, before going to commercial, Larry would say “no flipping.)

But we still need someone like Larry to tell us Reformed debaters to stop cherry picking. In basketball, a cherry picker is someone who lingers at one of the court — the offensive one (not in the sense of being objectionable for UK readers) — and never goes to the other end to play defense.

A similar tendency exists in debates over union. Lots of pro-unionists cite Calvin on union. They hang out at the end of the court where Book III begins. Not so many of these cherry pickers lurk at that end where Calvin talks about the sacramental significance of union. But as for doing the hard work of looking beyond Calvin to other theologians who were Reformed churchmen, some would rather not do the laborious work of running from one end of the court to the other.

Calvin’s support in turn becomes a warrant for declaring that other people who claim to be Reformed are not — hence assertions about Lutheranism, semi-Pelagianism, and the like. Not only has the argument cherry picked from Calvin, but also from the history of Reformed Protestantism. For the claim that someone is Reformed, Lutheran, Arminian, Baptist is not a biblical assertion but a historical judgment. The Bible may reveal what it means to be Reformed. But Reformed Protestantism emerged and developed not by finding a creed, polity, and liturgy written down in Scripture but by Reformed officers trying to figure out what the Bible teaches and applying that teaching in a host of circumstances from 1522 to the present.

All of this is to say that the way forward in the debates about union — a question that emerged at the end of Mike Horton’s interview at Reformed Forum — is to let the historians decide. Of course, this sounds self-serving (which it isn’t because I am not a historical theologian). It is actually a realistic assessment of the most contested claims made by all parties in the discussions of union. Everyone wants to be biblical and execute the best exegesis. But interpreting the Bible is not the way you understand or define Christian past. To know the Reformed tradition, you need to study the past. That way you can see which theologians held what views, which churches professed what creeds, which synods or assemblies excluded what teachings as erroneous.

Historical investigation will never satisfy the bibilicist (just ask John Frame). But it will teach everyone to be more careful about the use of words like Reformed.

The alternative is to abandon words like Reformed, Lutheran, Pelagian, and Baptist altogether. “Hmmmmmmm, no denominations.” Imagine a world separate communions. I think John Lennon (and Frame) would go for that.

Rhetorically Different, Functionally Similar

After yet another round of snark-prone discussion of 2k at Green Baggins (I don’t think we’ll reach the record of 800-plus comments that we did in the fall of 2008), I have come to understand better the attacks upon 2k.

By holding to the position that the Bible speaks to all of life, folks like Dr. Kloosterman and the Baylys believe they have a platform by which to upbraid President Obama for his various failings to enforce biblical morality. It is also a firm foundation upon which to insist upon public morality without having to countenance relativism.

When 2k proponents then say this is an improper use of Scripture or a legal conundrum for Americans bound by a Constitution that avoids religious tests, anti-2kers respond with the charge of antinomianism and unbelief. For without the Bible in hand, Christians have no basis upon which to tell President Obama or the rest of U.S. citizens, with love of course, what to do.

No, no, no 2kers reply. We can tell President Obama what to do by appealing to the light of nature and to the laws of the republic. The Bible doesn’t have to speak to all of life for us to speak to all of life because God gave all of life and created life has an inherent order.

But because anti-2kers don’t really believe in the light of nature’s reliability, they are left with the Bible as the only source of ethics or law.

Another difference between the two sides is the use to which each side puts Calvin and the magisterial Reformation. For anti-2kers, the arrangements between church and state from 1522 to 1776 are just fine (even though the state basically ruined the Reformed churches from 1600 on), and 2kers betray the Reformed tradition for criticizing those same ecclesiastical establishments.

Not so fine, however, is the older legal provisions for blasphemy and idolatry and witchcraft. When pressed to defend the practice of executing heretics or blasphemers, anti-2kers try to change the subject and say that 2k is the issue on trial, not the anti-2k position. But so far, no 2k critic has actually defended the execution of Servetus or Massachusetts laws calling for the execution of adulterers. Not even Doug Wilson can seem to stomach the execution of heretics.

One last important difference is that anti-2kers are censorious about their differences with 2kers – calling 2k outside the Reformed tradition and worse. Meanwhile, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, they are shocked, just shocked, to find that Roman Catholics and Mormons are practicing idolatry freely in the greatest nation on God’s green earth.

What Biblicists Miss about the Bible

(or why we need creeds)

W. G. T. Shedd stood courageously by Benjamin Warfield’s side in opposing revisions to the Westminster Standards. Shedd explains below why appealing to the Bible or to being biblical is unpersuasive. It also suggests that the individual with his Bible does not have the status (i.e. power) of God’s ordinance (WCF 31.2) that the assemblies and synods that produce creeds do. As good Presbyterians, we should always recognize that creedal formation takes place by committee. The same goes for revision.

Of course Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. But this particular way of appealing to Scripture is specious and fallacious. In the first place, it assumes that Calvinism is not Scriptural, an assumption which the Presbyterian Church has never granted. . . . Secondly, this kind of appeal to Scripture is only an appeal to Scripture as the reviser understands it. Scripture properly means the interpretation of Scripture; that is, the contents of Scripture as reached by human investigation and exegesis. Creeds, like commentaries, are Scripture studied and explained, and not the mere abstract and unexplained book as it lies on the counter of the Bible House. The infallible Word of God is expounded by the fallible mind of man, and hence the variety of expositions embodied in the denominational creeds. But every interpreter claims to have understood the Scriptures correctly, and, consequently, claims that his creed is Scriptural, and if so, that it is the infallible truth of God. The Arminian appeals to the Articles of Wesley as the rule of faith, because he believes them to be the true explanation of the inspired Bible. . . .

The Calvinist appeals to the creeds of Heidelberg, Dort, and Westminster as the rule of faith, because he regards them as the accurate exegesis of the revealed Word of God. By the Bible these parties, as well as all others who appeal to the Bible, mean their understanding of the Bible. There is no such thing as that abstract Scripture to which the revisionist of whom we are speaking appeals; that is, Scripture apart from any and all interpretation of it. When, therefore, the advocate of revision demands that the Westminster Confession be conformed to Scripture , he means conformation to Scripture as he and those like him read and explain it. It is impossible to make abstract Scripture the rule of faith for either an individual or a denomination. No Christian body has ever subscribed to the Bible merely as a printed book. A person who should write his name on the blank leaf of the Bible and say that his doctrinal belief was between the covers, would convey no definite information as to his creed. (Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, pp. 145-46)