Imagine if the PCA were Big Enough

Then you wouldn’t need the Gospel Coalition.

So why don’t the leaders of neo-neo-evangelicalism acknowledge that a parachurch organization with a public profile generated largely by the world-wide interweb used by celebrity pastors who sometimes go to conferences and meet with ordinary neo-neo-evangelicals is a capitulation to contemporary culture? Where is all the discernment that comes from reading sociology, history, and cultural and art criticism?

What if limiting your ministry to the confines of a communion is counter-cultural? Is being counter-cultural simply a pose or does it also require subtraction — rejecting (at least some aspects of) culture?

Then, these reflections might lose some of their pietistic earnestness (sorry for the redundancy):

“If they are not controlled by Scripture and confessionalism, then of course [evangelicals] are going to fit into the grid of the broader and more secular culture,” Carson said. “By and large, these cultural evangelicals work out their cultural bondage in more conservative ways than their agnostic counterparts, but it is difficult to believe that racism is less evil than sexual promiscuity.”

Exactly. And if pastors let confessions and church polity control their ministry, they might put their own communion, the one in which they vowed to minister God’s word and the holy sacraments, ahead of all other extra-denominational activities. In other words, can you really act like you are being counter cultural when the rest of the culture is turning from denominational Christianity to none (denominational) Christianity?

“I see TGC as occupying the same space that evangelicalism’s founding fathers—like Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Billy Graham—occupied,” Keller said. They wanted to be evangelicals, not fundamentalists; to engage with non believers and with society, and not just to withdraw, Keller said.

“We don’t want to be pietists, but we don’t want to be captive to the spirit of the age either,” Keller said. “But that is actually a hard place to be. It’s a lot easier to retreat to your fortress or to just go along with the crowd. But TGC, from the very beginning, wanted to avoid going in either direction. We wanted to be prophetic from the center, as Don [Carson] says.”

What would really be counter-cultural would be commitment to word-and-sacrament ministry when the spirit of the age, thanks to Henry, Ockenga et al, is to overlook considerations like baptism, the Lord’s supper, ordination, and the sufficiency of Scripture (which would limit pastors from dabbling in sociology and cultural criticism).

In point of fact, creating a brand though social media, the way the gospel allies do, is about as beholden to the zeitgeist as someone could imagine. When I think of being counter-cultural, I don’t think of the Gospel Coalition. I think of the Amish.

Post-script: notice that evangelicalism didn’t start with Luther, the Puritans, Edwards, or Finney. It began in the 1940s. What I’m saying.

Advertisements

Why Never Trumpers Need the Falwells

Because they are both fundamentalists of the double-separatist variety.

Here’s something for John Fea to consider (as he passes on advice to the new White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders):

There is a moral argument, I suppose, for men and women who chose to go into this administration to serve in Cabinet-level or sub-Cabinet positions out of a sense of obligation to the country. (The better argument is that working in this administration inevitably leads to enabling wrongdoing and horrible policy decisions, but I understand the rationale of those who disagree with me.) However, there is no moral argument for going directly into the president’s senior/political staff, which in this administration means defending indefensible conduct, denying reality and encouraging others to lie in defense of the administration. You cannot serve in a dishonorable White House honorably.

Now substitute mainline Protestant churches (read modernist) for Cabinet and president in that quotation and you have the same argument that prompted Bob Jones to reject Billy Graham’s — get this — crusades when in 1957 the revivalist started cooperating with mainline churches. It was the same rationale that led the OPC to reject the leadership of the National Association of Evangelicals for including in its membership ministers, laity, and congregations that belonged to the mainline churches. That was double-separatism then, and historians like John Fea who know a thing or two about fundamentalism have argued that such institutional purity lacked Christian charity and was even ornery.

But if applied to the secular realm, such double-separatism makes perfect sense.

Pardon me for thinking evangelical historians are not up to their A-game with Trump. Is it because they’ve gone soft on Russia?

When You Think Billy Graham You don’t Think Lent

But such are the fortunes of evangelicalism that the people running the magazine that Billy Graham (trans-denominational) helped to found with Carl Henry (Baptist), and J. Howard Pew (anti-Communist Presbyterian) are fully comfortable with Anglicanism, and so have posted another article recommending Lent. In this case, telling points mount to show how poorly Lent fits with Christian piety:

heightened devotion is fruitful for a season, but cannot be sustained indefinitely. The Christian calendar offers a sustainable rhythm of which Lent is a part, and the fasting of Lent gives way to the feasting of Easter. Fasting and feasting are interconnected disciplines that teach us to love the King and his coming kingdom. In Lent, we learn to confess our sins, practice self-denial, and take on the humility of Christ. In Easter, we learn to rejoice, exult, and feast in Christ’s victory. As historian William Harmless explains, “In these two liturgical seasons Christians drank in, by turns, the ‘not yet’ and ‘already’ of New Testament eschatology.”

Repentance is fruitful for only part of the year? Moderation is something to observe but only for a time? Imagine if American Christians were moderate and humble the entire year. They wouldn’t binge or purge on American greatness or heinousness depending on which of their favorite presidential candidates was in the White House. Indeed, encouraging the idea that restraint and repentance are only for a while and not for all of life nurtures antinomianism: “I wouldn’t do this during Lent, but the other 325 days I will.”

If Lent is not supposed to lead to those thoughts (which I assume it’s not), then why not make Lenten practices year round? Because repentance and moderation can’t be “sustained indefinitely”? So people practicing Lent are Snowflake Christians? They don’t have the stomach for life-long dying to sin and living to Christ?

Aaron Damiani concedes that “Many Christians choose to keep or modify their Lenten disciplines for the rest of the year, as they have established helpful routines.” So now you have churches divided between full-time Lenten Christians, and ones who only observe Lent in late Winter and early Spring? Christians who truly sanctified and some who aren’t? Not only does this allow a culture of spiritual superiority to gain traction, but it also violates the rules of the liturgical calendar. Who sings Lenten hymns during Advent (oh, the hay that evangelicals make of tradition)?

Then there is the argument that Lent and the church calendar evoke the Jewish liturgical calendar (have you heard that Jesus fulfilled all of the law?):

It’s important to remember that the Christian liturgical calendar developed in part out of the rhythms of Jewish practice. The Old Testament indicates seasons of both heightened devotion and celebration, including Levitically led “sabbaths, new moons, and feast days” (1 Chron. 23:31) and “seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts” (Zech. 8:19). Fasting and feasting were part of the “architecture of time,” in which Jesus participated as an observant Jew.

So what does Father Damiani do with Apostle Paul:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Col 2:16-17)

Here‘s what Calvin did:

The reason why he frees Christians from the observance of them is, that they were shadows at a time when Christ was still, in a manner, absent. For he contrasts shadows with revelation, and absence with manifestation. Those, therefore, who still adhere to those shadows, act like one who should judge of a man’s appearance from his shadow, while in the mean time he had himself personally before his eyes. For Christ is now manifested to us, and hence we enjoy him as being present. The body, says he, is of Christ, that is, IN Christ. For the substance of those things which the ceremonies anciently prefigured is now presented before our eyes in Christ, inasmuch as he contains in himself everything that they marked out as future. Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of his excellence, and makes him in a manner void.

In other words, Lenten Christians are still holding on to a piety that clings to outward and physical attributes of unseen realities (heard of faith vs. sight?). They are incomplete Christians. They demand outward expressions of spiritual realities. They forget that Paul also wrote:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

Oh by the way, Paul’s contrast between the visible and invisible, between the external and internal, is why the Confession of faith contrasts Old Testament and New Testament worship this way:

Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (7.6)

The comparison of Lent to the Old Testament is epic fail.

But remember what Calvin went on to say about Colossians 2. The rejection of the church calendar and other external ways of commemorating salvation doesn’t mean that Protestants throw out the sacraments:

Should any one ask, “What view, then, is to be taken of our sacraments? Do they not also represent Christ to us as absent?” I answer, that they differ widely from the ancient ceremonies. For as painters do not in the first draught bring out a likeness in vivid colors, and (eikonikos) expressively, but in the first instance draw rude and obscure lines with charcoal, so the representation of Christ under the law was unpolished, and was, as it were, a first sketch, but in our sacraments it is seen drawn out to the life. Paul, however, had something farther in view, for he contrasts the bare aspect of the shadow with the solidity of the body, and admonishes them, that it is the part of a madman to take hold of empty shadows, when it is in his power to handle the solid substance. Farther, while our sacraments represent Christ as absent as to view and distance of place, it is in such a manner as to testify that he has been once manifested, and they now also present him to us to be enjoyed. They are not, therefore, bare shadows, but on the contrary symbols of Christ’s presence, for they contain that Yea and Amen of all the promises of God, (2 Corinthians 1:20,) which has been once manifested to us in Christ.

I understand the appeal of Lent over the Anxious Bench. The followers of Billy Graham needed to graduate to something more meaningful, something more historical. How about the Reformation? How about the Bible? It replaces the altar call with the Lord’s Supper and gives us fifty-two Easters a year, fifty-two feast days with six days every week to prepare.

Even More on Christian Intellectuals

John Schmalzbauer made some arresting observations about the demise of Books & Culture (that add to Alan Jacobs’ own wondering out loud about Christian intellectuals):

From the Dial and the Partisan Review to Commentary and Dissent (dubbed Dysentery in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall), small-circulation periodicals have played a key role in many intellectual movements. The same goes for religious intellectual life, where journals like Commonweal and Christianity and Crisis have cultivated both theological literacy and civic engagement.

Inspired by dreams of a better world, little magazines originate in a frustration with the way things are. While Commonweal offered a Catholic alternative to the New Republic and the Nation, Christianity and Crisis began as a response to the rise of European fascism. According to Dissent founder Irving Howe, “When intellectuals can do nothing else they start a magazine.”

Like many little magazines, Books & Culture was a response to a problem. As Wilson remarked in a recent podcast, “It was not accidental that The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind came out in ’94 and the first issue of B&C in ’95.” Lamenting the persistence of anti-intellectualism within American evangelicalism, Scandal was an “epistle from a wounded lover,” articulating Mark Noll’s “hope that we American evangelicals might yet worship God with our minds.”

In so many ways, Books & Culture was the concrete expression of this ideal. Printed on tabloid-sized paper and illustrated with literary caricatures, it was modeled on the New York Review of Books. Overseen by Wilson and Noll, the magazine soon won the respect of readers from outside the evangelical subculture, including Peter Steinfels of the New York Times. In an Atlantic cover story on the “opening of the evangelical mind,” sociologist Alan Wolfe praised Books & Culture for nurturing a “humanistic tradition of writing about poetry and fiction for the informed lay reader.” Joining Commonweal and First Things on the website of Arts & Letters Daily, it is the only evangelical publication listed on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s virtual roster of magazines and book reviews.

Schmalzbauer adds that finances were a big part of B&C’s problems:

Three years ago, Books & Culture survived a near-death experience by raising over $250,000 in pledges. As in the past, much of this support came from evangelical colleges and universities. Despite this reprieve, the magazine was never able to break even, requiring a hefty annual subsidy from its parent company, Christianity Today.

Such financial problems are not unique to evangelical periodicals. Over its long history, Commonweal has weathered several difficult episodes. Today its board includes a director with McKinsey & Company and a former partner with the white shoe firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore. Out of an annual budget of $1.7 million, the magazine raises about $400,000 from Commonweal Associates. In a similar way, the Christian Century has relied on advertising revenue and private donations, establishing the Martin E. Marty Legacy Circle in 2013.

What Schmalzbauer fails to factor into his analysis is that for all of B&C’s intellectual orientation, its parent company was one where the likes of non-intellectual evangelicals flourished (from Ann Voskamp to Billy Graham). Other small intellectual magazines did not have that burden. Commentary magazine did not have to worry about offending populist Jews. Partisan Review did not have to play footsie with leftists who read Marxist self-help bestsellers. That means that the gate keeping role that high brow magazines need to perform was always a bit of a liability for Books & Culture. The magazine wanted to call evangelicals to the life of the mind, to repent of the scandal, even as the parent company, Christianity Today Inc., needed to refrain from offending the scandal ridden evangelicals.

Another reason why the magazine/journal frustrated mmmmeeeeEEEE.

When Fundamentalists Do It, It’s not Sexy

It in this case is separatism. Back in grad school days the historiographical truism about evangelical Protestantism was that they were not separatists. Fundamentalists were. And so, evangelicals were good (broad minded) and fundamentalists were bad (intolerant). The dividing line was particularly the question of whether conservative Protestants could cooperate with the mainline (read liberal) Protestant denominations. When Billy Graham did reach out to mainline Protestants during his 1957 New York City Crusade (hee hee), fundamentalists like Bob Jones (harumph) broke with Graham’s evangelism. Thus you have separatism and the difference between an evangelical and a fundamentalist. The latter is an evangelical who is angry. Or, an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham (thank you George Marsden).

You wouldn’t know it, but separatism is rearing its poorly groomed head again and its not fundamentalists’ fault. Consider the following forms of separatism. First, the Benedict Option (as stated by Ken Myers):

The recovery of the culture of the people of God will make us look profoundly different from our neighbors. In a post-Christian society, all faithful people begin to look a little Amish. But we must remember that we are always against the world for the world.

Bob Jones didn’t withdrawal either. He didn’t even look Amish.

Then consider the academy’s moralism in the case of Yale professor, Thomas Pogge, allegedly guilty of sexually harassing female students:

To some students, responding means boycotting Pogge’s classes. A closed Facebook group called Students Against Pogge asks supporters to stand in solidarity with Lopez Aguilar “and the other foreign women of color targeted by [Pogge] by, at a minimum, not taking any of his classes in the fall.” The page notes that it’s also “a place to brainstorm other means of pressuring the university into making student voices heard and removing Pogge from the classroom,” according to the popular philosophy blog Daily Nous.

Other academics have said they won’t participate in conferences where Pogge is present. Most controversially, some professors have said that responding means eliminating Pogge from their syllabi.

James Sterba, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, for example, told The Huffington Post that he’s no longer including Pogge’s work in exams for graduate students. “You don’t need him,” Sterba said. “He carries too much baggage — he doesn’t have to be cited anymore. … He’s a negative image and we don’t need that. Maybe if he was Einstein we’d have to cite him, but he’s not.”

That sounds like shunning.

But fundamentalists still bear the burden of separatism:

Thus, by the mid to late 1950s, the heirs of anti-modernist “second phase” fundamentalism were divided. An organization such as the American Council of Churches and separatists such as Rice and Jones Sr. and Jr. understood themselves as continuing in the historic line of militant, anti-modernist fundamentalism with a new emphasis on ecclesiastical separation. On the other hand, more open-minded heirs of second-phase fundamentalists, who would lead the neo-evangelical surge, sought to return to the era associated with the nineteenth-century evangelical scholarship of The Fundamentals.

On the verge of the tumultuous sixties, the fundamentalist movement had become deeply divided. Those who affiliated with the positive agenda of the non-separatist faction took the name neo-evangelical (eventually simply evangelical) and the separatists militantly clung to the label fundamentalist. Neo-evangelicals often repudiated the term fundamentalist, and fundamentalists did the same with the neo-evangelical moniker.

What if separatism is basic to what all humans do? We identify with some things and reject others. None of us are tolerant all the way down. We are all fundamentalists.

The Original Evangelicals aren’t Evangelical?!?

Just noticed this in John Fea’s odds making for the evangelical vote this November:

Some evangelicals continue to oppose Trump and have not made it clear what they will do in November. I am thinking here of Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse (if you can call a Missouri-Synod Lutheran an “evangelical”) and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. Perhaps some of these folks are praying that something might happen in Cleveland next week that leads the GOP to pick another candidate. Others might be praying that an independent candidate will arise at this late date. These are long shots, but let’s remember that evangelicals believe in miracles.

Now, regulars at Old Life know that Ben Sasse, despite having grown up in the Missouri Synod, is actually a Reformed Protestant — even an elder in the United Reformed Churches I believe. That may be too much insider 2k baseball for John Fea. But there it is.

The main point pertains to John’s parenthetical remark about whether we can call Lutherans “evangelical.” For starters, the original Protestants, the followers of Martin Luther, were and still are known as evangelical. So don’t Lutherans have the copyright on being evangelical?

A related concern is if a good historian has enough sense to wonder about classifying a Lutheran as evangelical, why are the same historians so ready to put put Presbyterians in the same round hole as Pentecostals and Wesleyans? I mean, if you have the slightest hesitation about Lutherans, shouldn’t you also wonder about Protestants who didn’t like Billy Graham (for his pro-choice theology)?

It's Not A Reason to Re-Think Islam but to Wonder about Graham

John Schmalzbauer has an intriguing point about the kerfuffle at Wheaton over Christians and Muslims worshiping the same God. Previous administrators (before Phil Ryken) had signed a statement affirming solidarity between Christians and Muslims:

In November 2007 Wheaton’s president, provost, and chaplain signed a major statement on Christian-Muslim understanding that appeared in The New York Times. Calling for peace between the two religions, the document affirmed “our common love for God and for one another.” The 300 signatories included megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw, and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. In January 2008, the statement drew strong rebukes from Minnesota Pastor John Piper and Southern Baptist educator Albert Mohler. Though Wheaton’s leaders later retracted their signatures, they continued to embrace the goal of peacemaking.

Schmalzbauer also adds details to Dr. Larcyia Hawkins’ decision to wear a hijab during Advent. A visit to a local Islamic center greased the skids:

On December 10 a group of faculty visited the Islamic Center of Wheaton. As they noted in a handwritten card: “We were inspired by another to also bring these flowers as a sign of our love and friendship. Our Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus show us that everyone is a brother and sister created in the image of God. We are glad you are part of the community.” That evening Larycia Hawkins announced her decision to wear a hijab on Facebook.

But rather than using this precedent to advise Dr. Hawkins to follow suit and retract her statement, Schmalzbauer hopes that Wheaton will follow one of its most famous alumni and board members, Billy Graham, who wrote:

He’s calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they’re going to be with us in heaven.

As has been the case with many who side with Hawkins, Schmalzbauer thinks that theological rejections of Islam as false or of Muslims as non-Christian (well, duh) are akin to nativism and anti-Semitism:

Reverberating through history, these questions are at the heart of a recent dustup at my alma mater, Wheaton College. Swirling around the school’s relationship with American Muslims, they summon the ghosts of evangelicalism’s past, including some of my own. Known as the Harvard of the evangelicals, Wheaton College has often struggled with the problem of who is in and who is out. From the pugnaciousness of the World Christian Fundamentals Association (the source of Wheaton’s 1926 statement of faith) to the irenic spirit of Billy Graham (an anthropology major from the class of 1943), the college has shaped the boundaries of modern evangelicalism. Far from static, these lines have shifted over the course of the past century. So has the relationship between evangelicalism and other religious traditions. Once plagued by nativism and anti-Semitism (still a problem in some quarters), evangelicals have reached out to Catholics and Jews. Now some are befriending their Muslim neighbors, leading others to reassert the boundary between Christianity and Islam.

With a name like Schmalzbauer and with a chair in Protestant studies, you might think author had come across two-kingdom theology somewhere along the line. If he had, Schmalzbauer should know that keeping Muslims (or Jews or Roman Catholics) from membership in a Protestant congregation is not the same thing as restricting their movements either as immigrants or citizens. Which is more important is another matter. But without 2k, as we so often see, Christians both on the left and the right tend to collapse theology and political theory such that Christianity becomes a function of how you conceive of the United States.

Hawkins and Schmalzbauer are right to empathize with Muslims legally in the United States and to stand against expressions of Islamophobia. John Fea thinks it’s the best piece yet written about Wheaton, Hawkins, and Islam. I wonder: why do you need to be a Christian to stand up for the civil rights of Muslims? More pointedly, what happens if a devout Muslim thinks your solidarity is condescending (think men saying women are just as good as men)?

Postscript: it looks like not even the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would endorse Schmalzbauer’s quotation from Billy Graham. Even before Charlie Hebdo, southern California, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., BGEA tapped Al Mohler to respond to Dr. Hawkins:

Does God care what we call Him? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same god? These are questions many Christians are asking these days, and for good reason.

For some time now, feminist theologians and a host of others have suggested that Christians should adopt new names for God. One denomination went so far as to affirm names like “Giver, Gift and Giving” in place of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to be used in worship. Feminist theologians have demanded that masculine pronouns and names for God be replaced with female or gender-neutral terms. But to change the name of God is to redefine the God we reference. Changing the name of God is no small matter.

As a matter of fact, God takes His name very seriously, and the Ten Commandments include the command that we must not take the name of the Lord in vain. We are to use the names God has given for Himself, and we are to recognize that God takes His name seriously because He desires to be rightly known by His human creatures. We cannot truly know Him if we do not even know His name.

Moses understood this. When he encountered the call of God that came from the burning bush, Moses asked God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). God answered Moses, “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). God told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15).

As these verses make clear, we are not to tamper with God’s name. We are to use the names whereby God has named Himself, and we are to recognize that any confusion about the name of God will lead to confusion about the nature of God, if not to idolatry.

Christians must keep this central principle from the Bible constantly in mind as we consider some of the most urgent questions we face in the world today. We must certainly have this principle in mind when we think about Islam.

Several years ago, a bishop in the Netherlands attracted controversy when he argued that Christians should call God “Allah” in order to lower theological tensions. He also argued that calling God “Allah” would be commonplace in Christian churches within a century and that this would lead to a synthesis of Islam and Christianity.

More recently, an Islamic court in Malaysia ruled that only Muslims can use the name “Allah” in print publications. “The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community,” the chief judge ruled. Oddly enough, Christians may well agree with this Islamic judge. To call God “Allah” is to invite confusion.

In the Bible, God reveals Himself to us in many names. These names are His personal property. We did not invent these names for God. To the contrary, God revealed these names as His own.

We have no right to modify or to revise these names—much less to reject them. Jesus Christ made this abundantly clear. In the simplest way imaginable, Jesus teaches us to know God as Father, and to use this name in prayer. The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father, who is in heaven.” By the grace that God has shown us in Christ, we can truly know Him as Father.

How Times Have Changed

As Robbie George explains it, from one THE-ROCK star:

I grew up in West Virginia as a Catholic in a Protestant culture, the kind we would today describe as evangelical. We Catholics had the pope — but he was a distant and, to be blunt, foreign figure. Our Protestant neighbors had Billy Graham, the friend of presidents, business magnates and celebrities, who through the magic of television was a frequent, familiar guest in the homes of ordinary people; and he was as American as apple pie.

We didn’t admit it in those days, but we Appalachian Catholics — like, I suspect, many of our coreligionists throughout the land — envied those Protestants. We figured that Billy Graham made being a Protestant in America something like what it was to be a Catholic in Italy. And while we weren’t quite sure it wasn’t a little bit disloyal to watch, listen to and even like and admire a Protestant preacher, watch and listen many of us did — sometimes against the warnings of our parish priests or the nuns who taught us in parochial schools.

It was hard not to watch and listen to Graham. He was mesmerizing: movie star looks; a strong, compelling voice; a charmingly soft Southern accent; stage presence. His message was as simple as it was powerful: Our lives on earth are short. Soon enough each of us will die. Do you want to go to heaven? Then you must give your life to Christ. You must accept him as your Lord and Savior and enter into a personal relationship with him. He is even now lovingly extending his hand to you. Will you not take it? Quoting Scripture, he would say, “ ‘Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.’ This is the hour of decision.”

Then would come the altar call: As Graham’s superb musical team played and sang the moving old hymn “Just as I Am,” the acclaimed evangelist would invite — encourage — those attending his “crusades,” or listening to his “Hour of Decision” program, first on radio, then television, to stand up and give their lives to Christ. Watching from home, even we Catholics felt the impulse to get out of our seats, though we believed that we already belonged to Christ sacramentally, through baptism.

To another:

I suspect that Graham’s only real competitor for the title of most influential Christian evangelist of the 20th century is Pope John Paul II. And the comparison is apt. A John Paul II event, whether in Paris, New York, Los Angeles or Manila, resembled nothing so much as one of Graham’s crusades — a vast crowd in an allegedly postreligious age, and often in an allegedly post-Christian city, drawn to a larger-than-life figure preaching a demanding message of repentance and reform, but doing it with the accent on God’s mercy and the liberating joy of the Christian life.

Wacker reports that Graham and John Paul II met three times, and that Graham’s admiration for John Paul was “manifest.” Did the pope reciprocate that admiration? At one of their meetings, he grasped the Protestant preacher by the thumb — yes, the thumb — and said, “We are brothers.” John Paul II was not a glad-hander or a flatterer. He didn’t say what he didn’t mean. In Graham he clearly saw a fellow Christian, a fellow evangelist and, no doubt, a fellow pioneer in the effort to heal the divisions that had fractured Christianity. Graham, who earlier in his life had been suspicious of Catholics, took great satisfaction in the pope’s regard for him.

All of which confirms my hunch: without a celebrity pope, Roman Catholicism would not have picked up the Protestant following that it has. The irony of course is that after Vatican 2 Protestants didn’t need to convert. Even the pope recognized Protestants as saved.

What Must I Do to be Left Behind from Evangelicalism?

I have long complained that evangelicalism is one of those associations from which it is impossible to extricate yourself. Ron Wells, one of the editors of The Reformed Journal, used to joke that he would be glad to return his evangelical membership card but didn’t know where to send it. The bigger joke may have been the idea that evangelicals actually issued membership cards. It’s one thing to be on a mailing list. It’s another to belong to a duly constituted body.

John Fea proposes thirteen questions for determining whether you are an evangelical. I paste them below and offer my own answers:

1. Do you attend a church of over 2000 people? I suppose this refers to a congregation, in which case I say no. But I do go to a church — the OPC — that is small but not that small. The lesson may be that evangelicalism has a bias against connectionalism (read presbyterian polity).

2. Have you studied at, or do you work at, a college that identified itself as a “Christian college?” Yes, but only for a year. What happens if I transferred to a secular university? Does evangelicalism still claim me?

3. Have you seen the rapture movie A Thief in the Night? (I could have probably asked if they read the Left Behind series of novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye). I have seen the movie. It was part of the cinematic fare of my home congregation’s youth group. But what if I now vote strongly against any proposal before session that calls for our OPC congregation to show the movie?

4. Have you been to any of the following Christian Bible conferences: Word of Life, Camp of the Woods, Harvey Cedars, America’s Keswick, Sandy Cove, or Rumney Bible Conference? (Remember, this is an east coast group) Not only have I been there, but for two summers I worked in the kitchen at Sandy Cove and sang tenor (one summer) and bass (another) with the Sandy Cove Choralaires (we even performed the Ralph Carmichael Christian teen folk musical, “Tell it Like it Is” at the affiliated youth camp, Hilltop Ranch. (I’m still in recovery.)

5. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000 or 2004? Yes, but I still don’t sense corporate guilt.

6. Have you been on a short-term mission trip? Does doing something Christian outside the United States count? How about teaching at a seminary in Brazil?

7. Have you attended a Billy Graham or other evangelistic crusade? Yes and yes. I am pretty sure my parents took me to the 1962 Philadelphia Crusade. And in 2002 we went to the San Diego Crusade under the false pretense that this would be the evangelist’s last. I still worry that I am on some terrorist organization’s list for having attended a Crusade (and for having rooted for the Wheaton College Crusaders before they became the Wheaton College Thunder.)

8. Have you read Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict? Hallelujah! No.

9. Have you read something by C.S. Lewis? Darn! Yes.

10. Do you listen to Christian radio? Yes. But let me explain. I generally have on the radio as background noise. For most of the week it is Sports Talk Radio (from Philadelphia). This drives the missus batty and keeps me near the dog house. In the car I listen to NPR. On Sundays I stream Family Radio in the background. It is all about nostalgia. My parents had on Family Radio during the whole week. It is one way I remember my parents and treat the Lord’s Day as a day set apart. You get occasionally a good hymn.

11. Do you have a Thomas Kinkade painting in your house? Hades, no.

12. Have you read Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life? Yes, but it was for a review in Modern Reformation (when it had an edge).

13. Do you read or subscribe to Christianity Today? Yes, but not for edification and I place my hands over my eyes.

Fea speculates:

I then told them that if they answered yes to more than half of these questions there is a good chance that they might be an evangelical.

It looks to me like I have at least 8 yes answers. That makes me an evangelical. It also tightens my jaws.

I wonder if John should change his questions to something like, “do you still do or recommend X, Y, or Z”? I wonder too if I’ll ever be delivered from being an evangelical? You write three books critical of born-again Protestantism and you find you’re still part of the tribe. Is this how Garry Wills feels about Roman Catholicism?

Celebrity Fades

Thanks to one of our Iowa correspondents for bringing to our attention Ross Douthat’s column yesterday on Pope Francis. Douthat believes that the pope is trying to find a middle route between the mainstream culture and the church:

You can hew to a traditional faith in late modernity, it has seemed, only to the extent that you separate yourself from the American and Western mainstream. There is no middle ground, no center that holds for long, and the attempt to find one quickly leads to accommodation, drift and dissolution.

And this is where Pope Francis comes in, because so much of the excitement around his pontificate is a response to his obvious desire to reject these alternatives — self-segregation or surrender — in favor of an almost-frantic engagement with the lapsed-Catholic, post-Catholic and non-Catholic world.

The idea of such engagement — of a “new evangelization,” a “new springtime” for Christianity — is hardly a novel one for the Vatican. But Francis’s style and substance are pitched much more aggressively to a world that often tuned out his predecessors. His deliberate demystification of the papacy, his digressive interviews with outlets secular and religious, his calls for experimentation within the church and his softer tone on the issues — abortion, gay marriage — where traditional religion and the culture are in sharpest conflict: these are not doctrinal changes, but they are clear strategic shifts.

John Allen Jr., one of the keenest observers of the Vatican, has called Francis a “pope for the Catholic middle,” positioned somewhere between the church’s rigorists and the progressives who pine to Episcopalianize the faith.

But the significance of this positioning goes beyond Catholicism. In words and gestures, Francis seems to be determined to recreate, or regain, the kind of center that has failed to hold in every major Western faith.

So far, he has at least gained the world’s attention. The question is whether that attention will translate into real interest in the pope’s underlying religious message or whether the culture will simply claim him for its own — finally, a pope who doesn’t harsh our buzz! — without being inspired to actually consider Christianity anew.

I wonder if Pope Francis suffers from a version of Roman Catholic exceptionalism since mainline Protestants tried this about a century ago and their communions have not recovered (despite the efforts of David Hollinger to improve our understanding of the liberal Protestantism’s consequences).

But I also wonder why Douthat doesn’t think that John Paul already accomplished what Francis may be attempting. After all, John Paul II was at the center of resistance to Communism and right there with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher inside the ranks of world changers. Today’s mainstream media may not find such a group of “conservatives” very appealing, but is hard to think of a pope more mainstream in world developments than John Paul II, a man who took a very different posture regarding drift within the church from Francis.

Could it be that Douthat’s column is an indication that John Paul II’s shelf life has expired? If so it would be ironic that just at the moment when he is about to be canonized, John Paul II no longer functions as the model for a successful papacy.

But we residents of planet earth are a forgetful lot. Billy Graham has also faded from memory at the very moment when historians are assessing his legacy. Ken Garfield wondered how many young people, “younger than 60” are listening to the historians:

As Duke Divinity School’s Grant Wacker told the Wheaton College gathering dominated by graying heads, during a recent lecture at Trinity College just one student knew the name Billy Graham. And that student thought Billy Graham was a professional wrestler.

“His story,” Wacker said, speaking of modern Christendom’s most famous figure, “is rapidly receding into the mists of history.”