How Small Are Your Ten Commandments?

Jake Meador addresses the question of whether to support impeachment of President Trump on the basis of the Decalogue (as the Christianity Today editorial did implicitly). After all, if you argue that Trump lied and broke the 9th commandment, what about other presidents who were not exactly truthful about intelligence and wars?

He goes on to say that the Ten Commandments are the basis of Protestant political reflection:

First, the Ten Commandments are central to traditional Protestant political theology. Indeed, the Reformed political theorist Johannes Althusius says that you destroy all possibility of symbiotic human community if you remove the Ten Commandments from public life. (In as much as many of our arguments about symbiotic communal life today depend on structuring our economy in such ways that human selfishness is ingeniously twisted to promote mutual material prosperity, I think Althusius is almost certainly correct.)

Likewise, many early Protestants, Melanchthon included, would argue that the Ten Commandments are simply a distillation of the Natural Law and so to remove the Ten Commandments from all consideration in public life is to render public life lawless; it is to make the norms of public life equivalent to the wishes of the powerful, who have the ability to wield the power of government to their own ends and who, apart from the law, have no mechanism to limit their power. This, of course, is an echo of Augustine’s much-cited line when he says that kingdoms without justice are but little robberies. Given the state of our republic, I, once again, find this line of thought highly persuasive. Therefore, any attempts to push the Ten Commandments to the center of Protestant political thought is quite welcome, for it is an attempt to return Protestantism to its historical roots.

… The magistrate’s responsibility is to preserve the peace of society through protecting the good and punishing the bad. So while I might sin in my inner life through impure thoughts, coveting, or some other vice, these things are not crimes, properly speaking, because they are strictly internal; if these thoughts are externalized in my conduct then they could become subject to civil law.

But what about the sins of the First Table that, as Protestant political theology teaches, magistrates are supposed to enforce? Don’t people remember the original Westminster Confession?

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he has power to call synods, to be present at them and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (23.3)

That might be a good idea — having the magistrate (as long as it’s not Donald Trump or Anthony Weiner) evaluate worship — if the church is struggling with veneration for POTUS:

For Rose Ann Farrell, 74, from Florida, the claim rang true. “I really believe he was sent to us,” she said. “From one to ten, he’s a ten. He lives in a Christian world and we needed a strong Christian, somebody who is not afraid. He speaks for us, has the guts and courage to speak what we want to say. His actions, his intentions, are Christian.”

But is it such a good idea to enforce the First Table of the law on Muslims and Mormons?

Plus, why do Protestants concerned about public life so often reduce the Decalogue to the Second Table? That was not the way old Protestant political theology had it. Not only did the First Table restrict religious expression and worship, but the magistrate — maybe someone like Barack Obama — was supposed to enforce worship and morality. It doesn’t get much older for Protestant political theory than Calvin:

no man has discoursed of the duty of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the common weal, without beginning with religion and divine worship. Thus all have confessed that no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care, and that those laws are absurd which disregard the rights of God, and consult only for men. Seeing then that among philosophers religion holds the first place, and that the same thing has always been observed with the universal consent of nations, Christian princes and magistrates may be ashamed of their heartlessness if they make it not their care. We have already shown that this office is specially assigned them by God, and indeed it is right that they exert themselves in asserting and defending the honour of him whose vicegerents they are, and by whose favour they rule. Hence in Scripture holy kings are especially praised for restoring the worship of God when corrupted or overthrown, or for taking care that religion flourished under them in purity and safety. (Institutes, IV, 20. 9)

I understand Meador wants to promote the common good and to do so as a self-conscious Protestant. I don’t understand, though, in a nation that prizes freedom — even religious freedom — how that common good is going to come from the Decalogue if the whole of it is in view.

Humbly Separate Church and State In the Name of Christ (of course)

Since I don’t listen to State of the Republic Union speeches, I’m not about to spend much time on what presidents say at National Prayer Breakfasts. (Why can’t it be National Word Breakfast? Why is it a monologue of Americans speaking to God and not the other way around?) But given the attention that President Obama’s remarks have received, I figured I’d try to discern what all the fuss is about. (More to come on the current efforts to rehabilitate the Crusades as a defensive war.)

The president thinks we have three ways to keep religion from being used as a “weapon” — humility, the separation of church and state, and the Golden Rule. It sounds nice in a “have a nice day” sort of way but it also sounds like what I’d expect to hear at a forum ready made for civil religion. Here’s the thing. If you want the separation of church and state, why have a National Prayer Breakfast? But someone like my mother might ask — what harm can a little prayer do? Has anyone heard of blasphemy? Might it be a tad blasphemous to invoke a generic god for all believers in the land? Would the first Christians have participated in such syncretism? So why do today’s “conservative” Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) so easily fall for this stuff? Maybe for the same reason that they let Jesus’ words, turned into John Winthrop’s — city on a hill — describe not their congregation or communion but their nation. I will give Michael Sean Winters credit on this one. He is disturbed by the mixing of religion and politics (even to the point of questioning whether Pope Francis should speak to Congress):

I confess I am very wary of the Pope’s addressing Congress: The optics seems all wrong, such a specifically political setting, and a powerful one too. Note to papal visit planners: The White House, the Capitol, the UN, even in its way the National Shrine, none of these really represent the peripheries where Pope Francis is most comfortable and where he has repeatedly said he wants the Church to be. I get creeped out when, at the Red Mass, they play the national anthem after the processional hymn but before the Mass begins in earnest. Of course, no politician would have the courage to simply refuse to go to the prayer breakfast. It would take a preacher-turned-politician, like Mike Huckabee, to pull that off, as it took a Nixon to go to China. I think we can all agree that a Huckabee presidency would be too high a price to pay for the breakfast to end. So, it will continue and presidents will continue to speak about things they should not speak about and say things about religion that are deeply cynical. There are worse things that happen in the world.

Aside from that last sentence, I think Winters is right. The worst thing in the world is to reverse the order of the Great (not pretty good) commandment and the Second that is like it. Upsetting your neighbor is one thing. But upsetting God?

For that reason, as much as I appreciate Matt Tuininga’s return to blogging (but why close comments?) and his push back against the conservative pundits who went batty over the president’s speech, I am not sure why Matt would be so positive about the “overall tone of the speech.” Matt included this excerpt as representative of that tone:

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number….

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose. We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will. And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

Au contraire. If our job is to be true to God, how do we do that while tolerating those who aren’t true to God? How could we ever be true to God in a way that suggests we don’t know what being true to God looks like? How can we say we don’t know God’s purpose when he has revealed it in his word, and how can we say that we don’t see his grace when he has revealed himself in his son, the word incarnate? And who exactly is this “we” when we have a separation of church and state and freedom of conscience that includes in this “we” Americans who do not believe in God (or who believe in the wrong god)?

What the president said reminds me yet again of the casuistry that Ishmael in Moby Dick used to rationalize blasphemy and idolatry:

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth – pagans and all included – can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? – to do the will of God – that is worship. And what is the will of God? – to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world.

The challenge, then, is not to hold to Christianity, Judaism, or Islam in a way that recognizes a common religious enterprise that unites us all. It is to find a form of diligent and serious Christianity (and more) that engages believers in a common civil enterprise with other believers and unbelievers. That is what two-kingdom theology and the spirituality of the church try to do. As valuable as that remedy may be, I for one don’t want to see the president talk about it at a National Prayer Breakfast. That would do to 2k what Constantine did to Christianity.

If We Can Yawn about Blasphemous Cartoons . . .

what about public schools?

Paris has some Kuyperians thinking:

The tradition in which I am currently immersed–the Kuyperian tradition–tends to use the term secular like a curse word. The argument usually begins and ends by showing that there is no such thing – there is no neutrality or objectivity. Everything has a direction, a telos, and some form of religious grounding. It might be the worship of the true God, or it might be the worship of some idol–the point is every part of creation is caught up in a religious direction or grounding. I get it. This, however, is much more an argument against “secularism” and not secularity. Secularity, I believe, is the freeing of the world to be the world. That trees in fact are just as mysterious being trees as they are being the conduit of spirits or even God’s grace to us. Maybe God is happy letting trees be trees? In fact, as Charles Taylor argues in his work The Secular Age, secularity of this type can be traced back to the reform movement of the 16th century. That’s us… those who stand in the line of Luther and Calvin.

So what does this have to do with what happened in France? Maybe reclaiming a healthy sense of secularity can be a tiny step toward preventing people from killing others over cartoons that, to be honest, are disgusting and offensive. (A colleague showed me a cartoon of the Trinity drawn by Charlie Hebdow… yikes!) But what if we all–Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc–recognized that these cartoons have no power, they do not strike at the heart of what we believe, and they are not all that funny. What if we learned to respond to issues like this with a collective “yawn” because the only power these images have is the power we give them? Yes we need to be politically and culturally engaged, Christians should be part of the debate about important issues. But at the end of the day, Charlie Hebdow, Obamacare, or the Green Bay Packers, should not be a reason to hate our brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

And yet, if everything comes down to antithesis, then isn’t enmity everywhere?

The Problem and the Solution

That would be liberalism in relation to the demands of radical Islam. According to Robert Reilly, if the contest is really between Islam and secular society, freedom without meaning, Islam will win. So he proposes a return to an overtly religious society:

Islamists are not the problem; we are the problem. Were we still a healthy culture, the challenge of Islam in any of its forms would not be major. We need to recover some sense of ourselves based upon our Judeo-Christian faith; and it is our faith that ultimately undergirds the integrity of reason. The crisis of self-confidence in the West is due to the disintegration of belief, which leads to lack of will. It is the sacred which gives meaning to our lives. Evacuate the sacred, and you evacuate the meaning. What happens then?

The regnant multiculturalism in Europe makes it impossible for most of the people there to understand this problem. Perhaps the only thing that European multiculturalism can help explain is why, according to research by the Washington Institute, the Islamic State enjoys more support in Europe than it does in the Middle East.

But would a Judeo-Christian society — whatever that is — be any more appealing to Muslims than a secular one? Maybe a Judeo-Christian society would not welcome the mocking in which Charlie Hebdo engaged. But isn’t Reilly remembering that Christendom warred with Islam?

In fact, Peter Leithart reminds us what blasphemy looked like in a Christian society:

Christendom had a consistent view of blasphemy because it confessed that there is only one God. Blasphemy of this one God was blasphemy indeed; insult to others gods was no blasphemy, because other gods are idols. Other gods and their worshipers were considered the blasphemers, because they dishonored God by worshiping what is not God. Insulting the Christian God was a sin; insulting Allah was considered almost an obligation. Many today disagree, vehemently, but it has the virtue of being consistent because it doesn’t dodge the question of truth.

Leithart agrees sort of with Reilly in regarding liberalism as religiously and morally bankrupt, and so unable to sort of Islam or blasphemy:

Secular liberalism aims and claims to be beyond the possibility of blasphemy. Blasphemy can only exist where there is a sacred to violate; we are supposed to be beyond blasphemy because we have given up on the sacred.

But Leithart also knows that liberalism is the best option available:

For all its contradictions, liberalism is definitely preferable to many, if not most, of the alternatives.

That should be a sober assessment for any believer — evangelical, neo-Calvinist, Roman Catholic — who thinks culture only goes better with cult.

Two Cheers (again) for the Enlightenment

While some people are reflecting on which religions execute blasphemers, Protestants may want to be a tad circumspect — Americans as well, for that matter, if they think that John Winthrop made the U.S. a city on a hill.

Here’s one example of an attempt to assess Judaism, Christianity, and Islam on the wickedness of blasphemy:

That Christianity has less of a violence problem is self-evident, but the point is still lost on some people: at The Guardian, Ian Black declared that, in regards to the religion’s resistance to images of the Prophet Muhammad, “Islam is not unique. Judaism forbids the use of ‘graven images’ and Christianity has at times frowned on visual representations of sacred figures, allowing only the cross to be depicted in churches.”

This is a paragraph so shockingly dimwitted in its appraisal of both Christianity and Islam, and the differences between the two, that it is hard to know where to begin. I cannot readily speak for Judaism—the last time I attended a Jewish service was at a buddy’s Bar Mitzvah well over a decade ago—but I can say that Black’s appraisal of Christianity is, quite literally, total nonsense. For starters, Christianity since the sixteenth century has been a fractured religion, particularly on the subject of iconography; it does not really make sense to speak of Christianity “frowning” upon the use of imagery, unless you are willing to clarify just which branch or denomination of Christianity is doing this frowning. Catholicism is well-known for its use of crucifixes, for instance, although you can find them in Lutheran and Anglican churches, along with some other denominations. But you’re not apt to find a corpus amongst Baptists or Presbyterians, and again here Black’s characterization is frankly bizarre: it would be a profound understatement to say that the Southern Baptist Conference, for instance, “frowns” upon the artistic customs generally associated with Catholicism.

But if this piece were written in 1645, it might have a very different feel thanks to Massachusetts Bay’s Capital Laws (1641):

1. (Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20) If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

2. (Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.) If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

3. (Lev. 24. 15,16.) If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

That should put a wrinkle in the Reformation-to-Revolution-to-Toleration narrative and may cause some rethinking of the Puritans’ influence in forming the American nation.

This should not be read as some kind of exercise in moral equivalency that likens Islamic terrorism to Protestant state laws against blasphemy and idolatry. It is only designed as a reminder that Protestants too had to come out of their theocratic slumber by means other than those supplied by the reformers.

Why Is it Godly Patriotism When We Do It, and Jihad When They Do It?

Making the world safe for Julia Ward Howe (thanks to our Iowa correspondent):

Holy war can seem like something that happened long ago or that happens far away — the Crusades of medieval Europe, for example, or jihadists fighting secular forces today. But since their country’s founding, Americans have often thought of their wars as sacred, even when the primary objectives have been political.

This began with the American Revolution. When colonists declared their independence on July 4, 1776, religious conviction inspired them. Because they believed that their cause had divine support, many patriots’ ardor was both political and religious. They saw the conflict as a just, secular war, but they fought it with religious resolve, believing that God endorsed the cause. As Connecticut minister Samuel Sherwood preached in 1776: “God Almighty, with all the powers of heaven, are on our side. Great numbers of angels, no doubt, are encamping round our coast, for our defense and protection.”

Several founding fathers were more theologically liberal than the typical evangelical Protestant of their day. Still, few were anti-religious, and the nation’s architects often stated that religion supported virtue, which was essential to patriotism. “A true patriot must be a religious man,” wrote Abigail Adams, wife of America’s second president.

George Washington believed so strongly in the religious case for patriotism that he demanded chaplains for the Continental Army. He appealed to the Continental Congress for higher pay for chaplains, and when one chaplain impressed the general, Washington went to great lengths to retain him.

That chaplain was Abiel Leonard, of Woodstock, Conn. Washington wrote letters to the governor of Connecticut and to Leonard’s church, hoping they would support the pastor’s extended service in the Army. In his letter to the governor, Washington wrote that Leonard had proved to be “a warm and steady friend to his country and taken great pains to animate the soldiers, and impress them with a knowledge of the important rights we are contending for.”

For Washington, chaplains not only supplied moral guidance but appealed for God’s support in battle, which was vital. He believed that the war’s outcome rested in God’s hands, and he ordered his soldiers to attend “divine service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.”

We cannot fully understand the revolution without recognizing such appeals for God’s favor on the battlefield. Both the founders and ministers understood these ideas because they knew scripture, one of the major sources of American patriotism.

No problem here, though, because it’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood:

Talk of glorious causes has persisted from the revolution through the war on terror. Some Americans think of the United States as “God’s New Israel,” a nation on a divine mission, its wars blessed by God. Sometimes rhetoric makes this view obvious: Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, for example, the White House apologized after President George W. Bush used the word “crusade” to describe the battle against terrorism.

But references to religion can be subtler, or even obligatory, in political speeches. Consider President Obama’s July 4 speech from last year, in which he praised military sacrifices and ended with: “God bless you. God bless your families. And God bless these United States of America.”

We pass over such niceties as commonplace, almost dutiful, in political speech, but they are religious statements. Their roots go back to the revolution, when colonists — from evangelical preachers to founders such as Washington — asked for God’s blessing. Whatever century it is, our leaders often include some suggestion of the same biblical themes that filled revolutionary-era sermons, including sacrifice, courage for the fight and appeals for God’s providential blessings on America. We are, it seems, one nation under God after all.

Perhaps the reason American Christians permit blasphemy in their worship services is that the idolatry of U.S. civil religion has made them immune to it.

No peace, no justice.

How Silly Do Protestants Sound When Pining for Christendom?

The cadences coming out of Moscow, Idaho (we will know that Doug Wilson is the victor when the city changes its name to Constantinople — it is available) invariably carry appreciation for Christendom. Peter Leithart has a biography of Constantine in which he defends a Christian empire and a Eusebian political theology. Doug Wilson himself has a series of posts under the tag Mere Christendom. And recently, Steven Wedgeworth reviewed John Frame’s book on the so-called Escondido Theology by also invoking Christendom.

In my estimation, this makes no sense and is borderline loopy. Christendom, as I understand it, was something that developed in the Middle Ages and is largely the intellectual property of Roman Catholics. You can follow Christopher Dawson on the decline of Christendom to find reasons other than the Reformation for Christendom’s decline. But Protestantism was not a welcome development for Christendom — duh. Here’s the take from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Such speculation is, however, as idle as it is fascinating, instead of the reform, of the renewal of the spiritual life of the Church round the old principles of Christian faith and unity, there came the Reformation, and Christian society was broken up beyond the hope of at least proximate reunion. But it was long before this fact was realized even by the Reformers and indeed it must have been more difficult for a subject of Henry VIII to convince himself that the Latin Church was really being torn asunder than for us to conceive the full meaning and all the consequences of a united Christendom. Much of the weakness of ordinary men in the earlier years of the Reformation, much of their attitude towards the papacy, can be explained by their blindness to what was happening. They thought, no doubt, that all would come right in the end. So dangerous is it, particularly in times of revolution, to trust to anything but principle.

The effect of the Reformation was to separate from the Church all the Scandinavian, most of the Teutonic, and a few of the Latin-speaking populations of Europe but the spirit of division once established worked further mischief, and the antagonism between Lutheran and Calvinist was almost as bitter as that between Catholic and Protestant. At the beginning, however, of the seventeenth century, Christendom was weary of religious war and persecution, and for a moment it almost seemed as if the breach were to be closed. The deaths of Philip II and Elizabeth, the conversion and the tolerant policy of Henry IV of France, the accession of the House of Stuart to the English throne, the pacification between and Spain and the Dutch, all these events pointed to the same direction. A like tendency is apparent in the theological speculation of the time: the learning and judgment of Hooker, the first beginning of the High Church movement, the spread of Arminianism in Holland, these were all signs that in the Protestant Churches, thought, study, and piety had begun to moderate the fires of controversy, while in the monumental works of Francisco Suárez and the other Spanish doctors, the Catholic theology seems to be resuming that stately, comprehensive view of its problems which is so impressive in the great Scholastics. It is not surprising that this moment, when the cause of reconciliation seemed in the ascendant, was marked by a scheme of Christian political union. Much importance was at one time attributed to the grand dessein of Henry IV. Recent historians are inclined to assign most of the design to Henry’s Protestant minister, Sully, the king’s share in the plan was probably but small. A coalition war against Austria was first to secure Europe against the domination of the Hapsburgs but an era of peace was to follow. The different Christian States, whether Catholic or Protestant were to preserve their independence, to practise toleration, to be united in a “Christian Republic” under the presidency of the pope, and to find an outlet for their energies in the recovery of the East. These dreams of Christian reunion soon melted away. Religious divisions were too deep-seated to permit the reconstruction of a Christian polity, and the cure for international ills has been sought in other directions. The international law of the seventeenth century jurists was based upon national law, not upon Christian fellowship, the balance of power of the eighteenth century on the elementary instinct of self-defence, and the nationalism of the nineteenth on racial or linguistic distinctions.

In other words, the genie is out of the bottle and blog posts, magazines, conferences, and colleges won’t put it back together, especially if you (as a Protestant) were one of the ones responsible for upending Christendom. But that won’t stop Wilson who recently showed the folly of his own defense of Christendom. The first came when he defended blasphemy laws:

In Scripture, blasphemy is railing, vituperative, incendiary, and inflammatory language. It it not mild disagreement — even if the disagreement is registered on a very important topic. In my book 5 Cities That Ruled the World, there is a sentence that noted at one point in his career Muhammad was a marauder and a pirate (which he was), and this sentiment was treated in Jakarta as if it were blasphemous, and the book was burned. But according to a biblical definition, it was not blasphemous at all.

Also in Scripture, blasphemy is defined by what is going on — the manner or content of speaking — and not defined by whether or not it is directed against divine things. For example, blasphemy is the word that is used for simple slander against others (Col. 3:8). In addition, it would be possible to blaspheme false gods, which Paul’s pagan friends in Ephesus were glad he had not done (Acts 19:37).

So in my ideal Christian republic, would it be legal for someone to say that he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Of course. Would it be legal for a bunch of rowdies to parade outside a Muslim’s home, taunting him with insulting descriptions of Muhammad? Of course not. The reason is that the civil magistrate is charged with keeping the peace, and such fighting words are inconsistent with that. The gospel overthrew the worship of Diana in Ephesus, and not incendiary taunts. In my ideal Christian republic, slander would be against the law — and it would be against the law even if directed against pagans, heathens, antinomians, or congressmen.

But having said this, it is crucial to note again that the prohibition of fighting words is to be defined by the Bible, and not by the hypers. Christians ought to have complete freedom to hand out Christian literature, even if they live in Dearborn. Cartoonists should have the freedom to draw pictures of Muhammad. Robust debate, satire, give and take, parry and thrust . . . all good.

So what we have is an an Americanized Third Commandment. It is, somehow, an affirmation of God’s law and a celebration of freedom of speech. I don’t know about Wilson’s interpretation of biblical teaching on blasphemy (the Baylys who generally approve of all things Moscow weren’t buying), but I have a pretty good idea that even mild denunciations of Yahweh in Israel could get you executed. So what Wilson does, in order to preserve Christendom, is define blasphemy down, which is similar to what the Protestant mainstream did in the United States in the era of the Social Gospel, namely, whittle Christianity down to morality and abandon doctrine. I am not saying that Wilson is abandoning doctrine (though his teaching on justification could be a lot better). I am saying that Wilson is doing something similar to what mainline Protestants did in order to preserve a Christian culture — make biblical norms fit a social agenda.

The second instance Wilson’s questionable invocation of Christendom came when he responded to Old Life about the comparison of the Religious Right to political Islam. His general point, that Christianity is true and Islam is false, works pretty well, though I’m not sure how the assertion of one’s faith as true over against other citizens who don’t believe your faith gets you a society with lots of protections for free speech and freedom of religion. Wilson seems to believe that Christian intolerance will yield civil liberties (and yet he seems to know where that position led in Europe when states balkanized according to their various Christian confessions and thus made Christendom impossible). And he ups the ante when he gets huffy about secular governments.

I know. Let’s worship the bitch goddess of neutrality. That fixes everything. I think.

Maybe his problem is thinking that we can “fix” anything this side of the new heavens and new earth. Two kingdom doesn’t pretend to solve anything. It does attempt to come to terms with a world where Christians live side by side with non-Christians. Mere Christendom won’t fix anything in this time between the comings of Christ. It either forces the removal of non-Christians (a la Christendom, which wasn’t all that great for Jews and Muslims, in case Doug didn’t notice) or it waters down Christianity for the sake of the political order. Two-kingdom theology differentiates the worlds of the church and politics so that the church can remain faithful and so that the state can provide some order for a people of diverse religions.

It sure seems that Wilson would be better off to own up to the end of Christendom and recalculate his cultural program along the biblical lines of pilgrimage and exile instead of trying to make this world and this age home to the eschaton.

What Would Jesus Bake?

The obvious answer is manna.

But thanks to this piece from our mid-West correspondent, I am less confident of that answer. The Jesus Cookie is either a hoax or a vehicle for evangelism. According to the website:

We are a family owned business, dedicated to furthering the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

It is our mission to bring people to His table, one cookie at a time. It has been our personal experience that people are very receptive to something as innocent as a cookie and a cup of tea as a nice, easy way to enter into dialogue about Jesus Christ.

Our cookie came about to fill a need for a simple and non-threatening way to share Jesus with people who need Him.

One notable problem with the Jesus Cookie, aside from the implicit blasphemy, is the failure of this company to specify the flavor. Is it butter, chocolate chip, oat meal? Wouldn’t that affect the appeal of the gospel?

To answer this question, I went in search of a recipe Jesus cookies and came up with the Easter Story Cookie. It is as follows:

INGREDIENTS
1 c Whole pecans
1 ts Vinegar
3 Egg whites
1 pn Salt
1 c Sugar
Zipper baggie
Wooden spoon
Tape
Bible

PREPARATION
To be made the evening before Easter Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place pecans in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces. Explain that after Jesus was arrested He was beaten by the Roman soldiers. Read John 19:1-3. Let each child smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. vinegar into mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30. Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life. Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read John 10:10-11. Sprinkle a little salt into each childs hand. Let them taste it and brush the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27. So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 1 c. sugar. Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. He wants us to know and belong to Him. Read Ps. 34:8 and John 3:16. Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed. Explain that the color white represents the purity in Gods eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isa.1:18 and John 3:1-3. Fold in broken nuts. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus body was laid. Read Matt. 27:57-60. Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF. Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door. Explain that Jesus tomb was sealed. Read Matt. 27:65-66. GO TO BED! Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20 and 22. On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie. Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow! On the first Easter Jesus followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty. Read Matt. 28:1-9. HE HAS RISEN!

As any mother knows, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And as any Reformed confessionalist knows, the way to turn a Reformed confessionalist’s stomach is to mix religion and baking.

This and That's Big Adventure


For those who may be wondering why N.T. Wright is speaking at the church of one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition – as in justification by faith alone coalition – Justin Taylor may have a clue. Here is a quotation from a piece in Christianity Today from 2008 on Keller and the gospel:

Tim Keller and his Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City fall somewhere between Wright and Dever. Writing for Leadership [JT: , Keller answered this year’s question for the Christian Vision Project, “Is our gospel too small?” (The article is not yet available online.) In so doing he took a stab at defining the gospel. “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from the judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”

It’s the last clause of this sentence that makes the difference. Is God’s plan to renew creation part of the gospel message? If so, is it the center of the gospel or a peripheral component of the Good News? Again, how you answer these questions affects how you will live, and how you will expect fellow church members to act.

“When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out, Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters,” Keller wrote. “Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.”

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Doug Wilson is sounding more and more like Mark Horne.

So, saving faith yields, trembles, and embraces. It yields obedience, it trembles at threats, and it embraces promises. But its principal acts are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification. These are indeed its principal acts, but saving faith does other things. It hunts down the red law passages and yields obedience to them. It comes across passages which threaten divine displeasure, and saving faith trembles at these red law passages also. But what is saving faith doing responding to the law passages at all? Don’t the law passages just beat you up? No — in the broader context they are part of God’s saving intention for us. They are gospel. They are totus lex, part of the covenant of grace.

Then what do you do with Paul’s assertion that “the law is not of faith”? Or what do you do with the Protestant protest against Rome that we are saved not by works but by faith?

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Apparently Craig Higgins, who pastors one of the congregations in the Redeemer New York network of Redeemer-like churches in the New York vicinity, is still a Presbyterian. Will N. T. Wright tempt him to become an English Christian?

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If abortion is an abomination, why isn’t this blasphemy?

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