Will Kevin DeYoung be Reduced to One Cheer?

I cannot give a thumb up the way Scott Clark did to Kevin DeYoung’s post about the spirituality of the church. As Scott implies, DeYoung’s point is useful for showing that the doctrine was part of the Reformed churches’ toolkit well before the sectional crisis in antebellum America. It was not the product of Presbyterians defending slavery. DeYoung is also helpful on showing that the doctrine protects the jurisdiction of the church from that of the magistrate or king.

the magistrate and the minister exercise jurisdiction over different spheres. The magistrate can only deal with external things. That is, he cannot make laws that demand certain affections or compel the conscience to believe certain things. The minister, on the other hand, has the right to judge inner dispositions and outward obedience, though the minister mainly deals with spiritual things (as his sphere) and only “handles external things for conscience cause.”

The problem comes when, and I’m not happy to put it this way, he quotes Charles Hodge:

Hodge strongly disagreed with Thornwell’s contention that since the church was only to preach the gospel that the church had no right to open her lips against the slave trade (p. 289). “Yes,” says Hodge (who was mostly a moderate when it came to slavery itself), “the Bible gives us no rule for deciding the litigated questions about public improvements, a national bank, or a protective tariff or state rights. But it does give us rules pronouncing about slave-laws, the slave-trade, obedience to magistrates, treason, rebellion, and revolution” (pp. 289-90).

This understanding of the spirituality of the church, then, keeps church and state distinct but allows ministers to pontificate when they read the Bible a certain way. Here is where the matter of the sufficiency of Scripture is crucial to the spirituality doctrine. The point of keeping pastors out of politics wasn’t simply to maintain checks and balances or some kind of differentiation of spheres. It was mainly to limit ministers to expounding the word of God. If the Bible speaks to a particular matter, ministers should speak to it. But where the Bible is silent, ministers should also keep quiet.

Okay, then, clever readers may be wondering, doesn’t the Bible speak to slavery? Well, it does but maybe not in the ways that Hodge or DeYoung or Frederick Douglass would find encouraging. Does anyone want to open the Bible to Exodus 21 and instruct southern slave owners about slave policy and tell the abolitionists to back down?

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

Or how about reparations (as Jemar Tisby advocates)? Should 2 Samuel 21 be the church’s standard?

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. 3 And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” 4 The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “What do you say that I shall do for you?” 5 They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, 6 let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” And the king said, “I will give them.”

That sort of puts a point on it.

And how about the John-the-Baptist 30-year diet?

John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

Don’t even start on the John-the-Baptist line of men’s ware for those offended by the Gillette commercial.

So the spirituality of the church is not simply about distinctions between church power (spiritual) and state power (civil). It is also about the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the way of salvation.

Sometimes Scripture does speak to social and political matters. But because the biblical authors were so distant from ours, following their counsel about monarchy or about executing adulterers may not be what God wants his church circa 2020 to do. In other words, the Bible comes packaged in all sorts of historical circumstances that good interpreters generally know how to render so that women who don’t wear hats to church do not have to meet frequently with session or consistory.

If the Bible is a guide to life, then I guess you can consult it for political hot button issues like abolition and reparations. And if humans have no recourse to wisdom about daily living, including social and economic policies, then some Christians may think the Bible is the only source of answers. But if the Bible is an account of how God reconciled sinners to himself and how the church ministers that plan of salvation to God’s people, then Christians need to use the best insights from the unregenerate and the redeemed to achieve a modicum of peace and order this side of glory.

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Keller and Princeton – Another Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The optics!

Almost All Old Princeton All the Time

The new issue of Credo Magazine is out and it is dedicated almost entirely to the bi-centennial of Princeton Theological Seminary. Here’s an excerpt from Christopher Cooper:

While the Princeton theologians did not oppose the possibility of revival and welcomed them on occasion, they believed that it was neither the common, best, nor desirable mode available for the advancement of the Christian religion. Princeton’s Charles Hodge, for instance, pointed out several problems with revival. First, revivals tend to produce pastors and lay people who envision conversion as always sudden and sensible. Such revivalists take it for granted that children grow up unconverted and in need of the drama of a revival experience in order to enter the Christian fold. According to Hodge, such a scheme does not allow for the more regular, scriptural, and desirable method of Christian nurture. Under this system, parents immerse their children in prayers, catechesis, and Christian encouragement, so that they may be quietly, although no less supernaturally, converted without the pomp and circumstance of revival.

Second, Hodge argued that revivals generate an unscriptural form of piety that makes the exercise of strong emotions essential to true religion and worship. Such an opinion produces unstable Christians whose religious stability is gauged by their emotional state. This approach also demeans the ordinary means of grace that are given by God not to foster great emotional highs that are inevitably followed by lows, but to serve as a more constant encouragement to Christian pilgrims.

Hodge pointed out that revivals are, by their very nature, extraordinary occasions and are not meant to be relied upon by pastors and laypersons to whom God has given the task of parental nurture and pastoral ministry. Likewise, pastors today ought not to rely upon revival or the vestiges of revivalism, but would do well to instill within themselves confidence in the ordinary means of pastoral ministry and into their congregants a sense of responsibility for the nurture and edification of their children.

And in case readers are wondering, Old Lifers do make an appearance in this issue.

Charles Hodge's Warning to Celebrity (and Rich) Pastors

I am (all about me) in the home stretch of a paper for the upcoming Bicentennial Conference at Princeton Seminary on the Princeton faculty’s coverage and estimate of the 1843 Disruption in the Church of Scotland. So far, the Princetonians were impressive in their knowledge of Scottish developments and their sympathies for the Free Church leaders. One of the articles upon which I draw was a review by Charles Hodge of Thomas Chalmers’ An Earnest Appeal to the Free Church of Scotland, on the Subject of Economics (1847). In the course of his agreement with Chalmers, Hodge writes the following which is a further wrinkle in the slovenly attire of an ecclesiastical system that rewards fame and entrepreneurialism:

Our present system is unjust, first, to the people. Here are a handful of Christians surrounded by an increasing mass of the ignorant, the erroneous and the wicked. No one will deny that it is of the last importance that the gospel should be regularly administered among them. This is demanded not only for the benefit of those few Christians, but for the instruction and conversion of the surround population. Now is it just, that the burden of supporting the ministry under these circumstances, should be thrown exclusively on that small and feeble company of believers? Are they alone interested in the support and extension of the kingdom of Christ among them and those around them? It is obvious that on all scriptural principle, and all principles of justice this is a burden to be borne by the whole church, by all on whom the duty rests to uphold and propagate the gospel of Christ. Our present system is unjust, in the second place, towards our ministers. It is not just that one man should be supported in affluence, and another equally devoted to the service of the church, left to struggle for the necessaries of life. As before stated we do not contend for anything so chimerical as equal salaries to all ministers. Even if all received from the church as a whole the same sum, the people would claim and exercise the right to give in addition what they pleased to their own pastor. We can no more make salaries equal, than we can make church edifices of the same size and cost. But while this equality is neither desirable nor practicable, it is obviously unjust that the present inordinate inequality should be allowed to continue. (Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, July 1847, 370)

Hodge on Revival

Our friend from Iowa reminds us that Charles Hodge was not a sucker for the experience of Phebe Bartlet.

. . . The men who, either from their character or circumstances, are led to take the most prominent part, during such seasons of excitement, are themselves often carried to extremes, or are so connected with the extravagant, that they are sometimes the last to perceive and the slowest to oppose the evils which so frequently mar the work of God, and burn over the fields which he had just watered with his grace. Opposition to these evils commonly comes from a different quarter; from wise and good men who have been kept out of the focus of the excitement. And it is well that there are such opposers, else the church would soon be over-run with fanaticism.

That the state of religion did rapidly decline after the revival, we have abundant and melancholy evidence. Even as early as [March] 1744, (Jonathan) Edwards says, “the present state of things in New England is, on many accounts, very melancholy. There is a vast alteration within two years.” God, he adds, was provoked at the spiritual pride and self confidence of the people, and withdrew from them, and “the enemy has come in like a flood in various respects, until the deluge has overwhelmed the whole land. There had been from the beginning a great mixture, especially in some places, of false experiences and false religion with true; but from this time the mixture became much greater, and many were led away into sad delusions.”

Makes me wonder what happened to Phebe once she turned 24.

Cherry Picking Alert (and boy are those trunks sappy!)

The Gospel Coalition has launched a year-long series of blog posts about Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that celebrates its bicentennial this year. The first post introduces PTS by likening the institution to the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement.

Controversies swirl around celebrity pastors and their best-selling books. Evangelicals unite across denominational lines to share resources and strategize together for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. New thought emerging from Europe demands a response. Divisions arise between those who emphasize personal piety and others who prioritize the sacraments in the Christian life. Developments in science force Christians to reconsider their understanding of Genesis.

The author, Andy Jones, a PCA pastor in North Carolina, continues:

The seminary originally aimed to produce men of great learning and vital piety. The leaders of Princeton were men who advocated for Calvinism and the Great Awakening. They were Reformed revivalists. In the classroom, they introduced their students to the biblical languages and the Latin edition of Francis Turrentin’s Institutes. Yet they also emphasized the necessity of personal piety. Their goal was to produce ministers who were biblically grounded, theologically enlightened, and spiritually awakened. By establishing a seminary that linked together vigorous learning and piety, the founders hoped that “blessings may flow to millions while we are sleeping in the dust.”

Though governed by Presbyterians, Princeton Seminary welcomed students from diverse backgrounds. It graduated men who became leaders in Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist churches. Among Princeton’s first graduates was Charles Hodge, who would become the seminary’s leading influence in the 19th century. Another early graduate and Hodge’s best friend was John Johns, a leader among Episcopalians and ultimately the president of William and Mary. One of Hodge’s students, James Petigru Boyce, became the founding professor of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In the 19th century, Princeton was a leader among conservative evangelicals in America. It was the “grand central station” for the “young, restless, and Reformed.” Through The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, a prominent voice in 19th-century religious journalism, it apprised Presbyterians of the latest thinking among biblical scholars, engaged in controversies facing the church, and responded to challenges in the surrounding culture.

In other words, PTS was the Gospel Coalition of the nineteenth century — revivalistic, interdenominational, devout, and informed.

This is one way of interpreting PTS but it is highly selective since it leaves out the less reassuring bits about Princeton’s Old School tradition — Hodge’s criticisms of the First Great Awakening, Samuel Miller’s defense of something close to jure divino Presbyterianism, the seminary’s cultivation of polemical theology, its insistence on infant baptism, and its legacy in institutions like Westminster Seminaries and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Old Schoolers like myself have not ignored Princeton’s experimental Calvinistic side and some of us have even explored the tensions between revivalism and confessionalism that the Princetonians may not themselves acknowledged. But at least we have not denied the uncomfortable parts of PTS’ past. I would hope the Gospel Co-Allies would do the same.

Meanwhile, this is the second time in the recent past where GC advocates have appealed to historical precedents for their alliance. One commenter here invoked seventeenth-century British Protestantism and its kaleidoscope of Puritans, Independents, Presbyterians, and Baptists. He left out the Quakers and failed to acknowledge that these groups did not found a parachurch agency but went into separate churches. Now comes an attempt to draw parallels between the GC and PTS. Be careful with those pits.

I do not understand why GC historians don’t liken themselves to the most obvious precedent — the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s. Leading that group was Harold John Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham. They too set up non-denominational institutions to draw in “conservative” Protestants of all stripes. And they also drew inspiration from Princeton Seminary. As George Marsden shows, PTS was very much on the minds of Fuller Seminary’s founders.

The trouble with appeals to Old Princeton like the neo-evangelicals and GC’s is that they ignore the side of the seminary that spooks pietists — the polemics not only against liberals but also against “conservatives.” PTS did welcome students from all churches. But you cannot find a bigger critic of Finney, holiness, Wesleyanism, perfectionism, New School Presbyterianism, Taylorism, biblical criticism, and Darwin. Old Princeton knew how to say “no.” Does the Gospel Coalition?

One way to answer this question without long reflection is to compare Mark Driscoll to Charles Hodge. Puhleeze. If Hodge were living today, he would take Driscoll to the woodshed (that is, unless Driscoll’s powers of clairvoyance alerted him to Hodge’s approach).

Who's Radical Now?

The Brothers Bayly are persistent in besmirching two-kingdom theology and its proponents but their latest swipe is rich indeed. They have reprinted a mysterious piece (impossible to find anywhere else on the Net) about the enormities of the Obama administration. Nathan Ed Schumacher is the author and Tim Bayly’s foreword runs ever charitably as follows:

This piece . . . demonstrates that the silence of Emergent and R2K men in the face of the wickedness and oppression in our public square is of the same fabric. Fear of man is a principle that knows no boundaries.

I keep wondering why fear of God pertaining to the ninth commandment, you know one of those laws that the Baylys would seem to want to prevail in the public square, does not inform the way these fellows write about Christians — not to mention officers — in the church. But I digress.

Schumacher, it seems, had a conversation with a graduate of a seminary on the West Coast – hmmm – about the woes of the nation and why more ministers were not speaking publicly about such matters. Schumacher contended with the seminary graduate that the difficulties facing the United States were not simply political but moral in nature. But the seminarian responded that the church should only speak to spiritual matters. Schumacher responded:

Here we have a spirituality radically disconnected from morality – an ethereal religion not connected to historic Christianity and its application of ethics to the real world. What kind of “spirituality” or theology is this that can disregard morals, ethics, and God’s Law and even silently abide open murder?

So what is Schumacher talking about when it comes to immorality in the United States? It turns out that morality is closely tied to politics.

We live in an astonishing time in America where the President is making open war domestically on the Constitution, and openly making unlawful wars internationally – such wars outlawed by the Constitution and long vested by the Rule of Law as war crimes and open murder – and formally recognized as such by the Nuremberg trials. When a President publicly usurps the Constitution, making an open show of violating its limits on exercising power, whether it be by his making illegal war, giving secret orders, punishing American soldiers for exposing truth, building secret prisons, operating torture chambers, running kidnapping operations (rendition), publicly asserting his right to kill American citizens with no trial or process, openly publicly stealing money via “bailouts”, taxing in violation of the Constitution, openly violating the Bill of Rights, creating illegal Federal agencies and programs, etc., ad nausem, then what does that mean according to the Principles of Law? It means, without question, that he has invoked the Law of Belligerents against the American people by acting as a belligerent upon the American people themselves, because publicly assaulting their Constitution is, in fact, an assault upon them. In other words, the President is openly making war upon the American people by these belligerent actions – actions which are open, public, and undeniable. If you don’t understand this, you are not paying attention. Our Constitution formally defines this as treason.

Schumacher’s solution is for the church to call a synod:

It is long past time for church Officers to convene formal and official church councils and synods all across this land to address the open lawlessness and public sin and crimes of what passes for “our government”- and to address the way forward. Nevertheless, it is probable that they can be expected to refuse to do this – and likely that they will always have a long list of lofty “spiritual reasons” as to why they cannot accept responsibility. But if church Officers, who are the official voices of moral authority, refuse to do this then there is a deafening silence and they cannot expect to be found faithful – and the rest of us will suffer the continuing consequences of their dereliction of duty – praying that God will raise up some “Thomas Beckets” who are jealous for the church, the Law of God, and who will have the courage to say “No” to our present political “king”.

In the comments on this post, the Baylys add a curious wrinkle to the clear overreach (clear according to what follows below). When one commentator brought up the example of the apostle Paul who did not seem to be overly upset by the rule or policies of Caligula, Tim and David ever lovingly responded:

. . . we don’t need to see it happening constantly with the Apostle Paul or John the Baptist or Jesus or Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Machen in order to know that the R2K men are wrong when they oppose the church and her officers standing against theft, oppression, rampant gross immorality, the repudiation of the rule of law, and the massive bloodshed of the slaughter of hundreds of millions of wee ones.

When you find yourself arguing that John the Baptist is no model for pastors today, you should wonder whether, just maybe, your cowardice has gotten the best of your faith.

Two aspects of this response are striking. The first is the Bayly habit of hitting below the belt – that is, questioning masculinity rather than formulating an argument. The second is that the Bible really does not need to be our guide because the existing evils are so enormous. Paul, Jesus, and the rest of the apostles may not have led protests against their societies, but their silence is only an opening for the Baylys’ shouting. Never mind that a cardinal conviction of Reformed Protestantism is that officers in the church, whether individually or collectively, need a biblical warrant for using their authority.

I do wonder why the Baylys do not recognize how partisanly political their moral hectoring looks. It is not as if Obama is the first president to abuse the powers of the Constitution or propose questionable economic policies. Can the Baylys or Schumacher remember the former president’s apparent disregard for the Constitution in the Gulf War, the Medicare bailout, or the Patriot Act? Do they not know that Christians on the Left opposed Bush in terms remarkably similar to the way they castigate Obama, thus making party affiliation more than biblical interpretation the basis for moral posturing?

I also wonder if the Baylys have ever heard of the United States Civil War and the debates that Old School Presbyterians had over support for the federal government. The 1860s was a time of grave national crisis also driven by a hotly disputed moral issue and the Old School General Assembly of 1861 decided to address the matter through the clumsy Spring Resolution. Here we have a church doing exactly that for which Schumacher calls and the Baylys approve — an Assembly addressing a moral and political question. And yet, Charles Hodge, a man who voted for Lincoln, believed secession was treasonous, and that treason was immoral, opposed the church taking a stand on matters that literally broke the United States apart. Hodge wrote:

. . . a man who acts on the theory of secession, may be justly liable to the penalty of the civil law; he may be morally guilty in the sight of God; but he has committed no offense on which the church can take cognizance. We therefore are not inconsistent in asserting, 1. That secession is a ruinous political heresy. 2. That those who act on that doctrine, and throw off allegiance to the Constitution and the Union, are guilty of a great crime; and, 3. That nevertheless they are not amenable in this matter to the church. The question whether they are morally guilty, depends on the question whether their theory of the constitution is right. If they are right, they are heroes; if they are wrong, they are wicked rebels. But whether that theory is right or wrong it is not the province of the church to decide.

The reason why the church cannot decide such political and constitutional matters, even when morality is involved, is that the Bible does not address these topics. Hodge explained:

The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids. A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.

What the Baylys (as well as most critics of the spirituality of the church) miss is the distinction between morality and authority. The Baylys go knock-kneed whenever a 2k person suggests that a moral truth should not necessarily be advocated by the church. The Bayly logic seems to be that if it is right, then all authority must be used to execute the right. But biblical teaching would also prompt questions about who has authority to enforce the good. Just because I believe drivers who pass me on the right are wrong does not mean that I have power to pull those drivers over and lock them up in our basement. The Baylys desire to marshal the church’s power behind their interpretation of the Constitution (and their assessment of the culture wars) comes dangerously close to ecclesiastical vigilantism: the church can and should do whatever is right and not bother with the technicalities such as the confession of faith or Book of Church Order. Ironically, then, in the Baylys’ twisted logic, the very constitution of the church becomes expendable in the defense of the United States Constitution.

A related point that the Baylys miss is how radical their views are compared to the supposed radicality of 2k. Charles Hodge was by no means the most vociferous proponent of the spirituality of the church. But he could see the folly of positions like the Baylys on good 2k grounds. Hodge was not a radical and neither are 2k proponents. In contrast, the Baylys’ disregard for the constitution of their church and the teachings of their confession of faith several steps down the road to anarchy.

And they call 2kers antinomian? Call again.

The Danger of Revivals and of Their Critics

Our favorite PCA blogger has once again kicked up a little e-dust with a review of Kenneth Stewart’s new book, Ten Myths about Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. The review itself is worth reading, as is a subsequent post that explains the author’s perspective (the author being pastor William H. Smith aka The Christian Curmudgeon). But what is particularly striking about the review and its responses (some from Ken Stewart himself) is how sensitive the topic of revivalism is.

Not to make this all about me (about which it generally is), but Stewart even calls my interpretation of revivalism “dangerous.” In fact, one of the underlying factors in Stewart’s purpose and in the book’s reception will be the way Reformed Protestants consider the relationship between being Reformed and being evangelical. Some like Stewart – John Frame may be the most notable exponent of this – tend to view evangelicalism and Reformed Protestantism as co-extensive, with Reformed being in some constructions a subset of evangelicalism. Others like the informal members of the Old Life Theological Society regard this relationship as more troubled than peaceful because of important differences between evangelicals and Reformed Protestants.

One of those differences is revivalism. Stewart believes that Reformed Protestants have generally been supportive of revivals. He even wonders who would not be in favor of unbelievers being converted and believers becoming more devout. Stewart believes that the critics of revivals have been a minority view, and that such folks are – well – dangerous. Is this the evangelical academic version of Gilbert Tennent’s “The Danger of An Unconverted Ministry”?

But the critics of revival, like myself anyway, are not opposed to conversion nor to increased godliness among the saints (why we need to call that revival is another matter). At the same time, critics of revival see that revivals generally undermine those aspects of church life that make Reformed churches Reformed. If you look at the Old Side Presbyterians critique of the supposedly good First Pretty Good Awakening, their concerns about subscription and church polity were not without merit. Similar criticisms informed the Old School Presbyterian critiques of the pro-revival New School Presbyterians. New Side and New School Presbyterians were of course pro-revival and so less attached to Presbyterian convictions and practice that was becoming officers who had taken vows about being Presbyterian. (Do evangelicals have vows?)

Here is how Charles Hodge put the division among colonial Presbyterians during the allegedly Calvinistic revivals of the First Pretty Good Awakening (danger alert!!):

It appears from this history that the great schism was not the result of conflicting views, either as to doctrine or church government. It was the result of alienation of feeling produced by the controversies relating to the revival. In these controversies the New Brunswick brethren were certainly the aggressors. In their unrestrained zeal, they denounced brethren, whose Christian character they had no right to question. They disregarded the usual rules of ministerial intercourse, and avowed the principle that in extraordinary times and circumstances such rules ought to be suspended. Acting upon this principle, they divided the great majority of the congregations within the sphere of their operations, and by appealing to the people, succeeded in overwhelming their brethren with popular obloquy. Excited by a sense of injury, and alarmed by the disorders consequent on these new methods, the opposite party had recourse to violent measures for redress, which removed none of the evils under which they suffered, and involved them in a controversy with a large class of their brethren, with whom they had hitherto acted in concert. These facts our fathers have left on record for the instruction of their children; to teach them that in times of excitement the rules of order, instead of being suspended, are of more importance than ever to the well-being of the church; that no pretence of zeal can authorize the violation of the rules of charity and justice; and on the other hand, that it is better to suffer wrong than to have recourse to illegal methods of redress; that violence is no proper remedy for disorder, and that adherence to the constitution, is not only the most Christian, but also the most effectual means of resistance against the disturbers of the peace and order of the church. (Constitutional History, Part II, pp. 249-50)

So the criticisms of revivalism and evangelicalism more generally is not necessarily the product of idiosyncratic or Dutch Reformed (as Stewart alleges) outlooks. It may simply follow from reading the splits in American Presbyterianism caused by revivals.

But to make sure my own views of revivalism are not obscure, and to let folks see if they are dangerous, I conclude by listing my major objections:

1) Revivalism (and evangelicalism generally) is anti-formal because of an emphasis on the work of the Spirit (especially in conversion but also in preaching). This stress makes presbyters or church members less worried about the wording of creeds or the requirements of polity than they should be. “It’s the Spirit that matters, not whether presbytery follows church order.”

1a) Revivalists (and evangelicals generally), because of their anti-formalism, disregard the importance of the sacraments. Perhaps the greatest example of this is the way that pro-evangelical Reformed folk regard Baptists as Reformed.

2)Revivalism (and evangelicalism generally) cultivates an appetite for the extraordinary in matters of devotion. This leads to a piety that is often discontent with the outward and ordinary means of grace that God has instituted in the church, such as the word preached by ordinary ministers, and the ordinary elements of bread, wine, and water, or even the really dull aspects of session and presbytery meetings.

3) Revivalism (and evangelicalism generally) does not know what to do with children of the covenant except to demand conversion. How you take a child who has grown up participating in family and corporate worship, has tried to lead a pious life, has prayed regularly, and tell him to convert from his wicked ways is beyond me. It is also a recipe for spiritual schizophrenia or a baptized child going to a non-Reformed church as an adult.

These views may be dangerous. But how could anyone who has studied the history of the church look at revivalism or evangelicalism as Christian expressions without problems? Reformed churches, of course, have problems too. But you can’t be Reformed if you think that basic aspects of your creed and ministry are your problems. And that is what evangelicals want from Reformed Protestants – give up those distinct aspects that make you Reformed (in doctrine, worship, and polity) and we’ll give you a seat under the big evangelical umbrella. (I might be tempted if they were serving drinks with umbrellas, but that would be really, really dangerous.)

Oldlife.org 201: Wit and Sarcasm

The first installment in this series about this blog was to clarify what a blog is. One aspect that I did not mention was that the more successful blogs are provocative – that is, they agitate readers and that’s why people come back. The most successful blogger in the world arguably is Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of the New Republic, and his blog is hardly tepid.

This leads to the second point in need of clarification. Oldlife.org is the on-line presence of the Nicotine Theological Journal. Long before provocations started at this blog, the editors and authors of the NTJ were provoking readers and library patrons in hopes of thinking through the implications of Reformed faith and practice today, with a little levity and sarcasm thrown in. The editors’ inspiration was partly Andrew Sullivan whose time at the New Republic made it one of the most thoughtful, rancorous, and witty magazines on politics and culture at the time. But Sullivan was not the only inspiration. Other authors who wrote on serious matters with wit and sarcasm that provided models for the NTJ were Richard John Neuhaus, P. J. O’Rourke, Joseph Epstein, H. L. Mencken, and Calvin Trillin.

None of these sources, readers may object, are Reformed. Which raises the question whether Reformed authors may engage in wit and sarcasm when pursuing their convictions. Well, the answer is yes. If you spend much time in the polemical writings of the Old School and Princeton theologians, you will find a fair amount of wit and sarcasm. Here are a couple examples, the first from Charles Hodge after a seven-round dogma fight with Edwards Amasa Park (named for Jonathan Edwards – ahem) over theological method and the nature of Calvinism:

It is a common remark that a man never writes anything well for which he has “to read up.” Professor Park has evidently labored under this disadvantage. Old-school theology is a new field to him; and though he quotes freely authors of whom we, though natives, never heard, yet he is not at home, and unavoidably falls into the mistakes which foreigners cannot fail to commit in a strange land. He does not understand the language. He find out “five meanings of imputation!” It would be wearisome work to set such a stranger right at every step. We would fain part with our author on good terms. We admire his abilities, and are ready to defer to him in his own department. But when he undertakes to teach Old-school men Old-school theology it is very much like a Frenchman teaching an Englishman how to pronounce English. With the best intentions, the amiable Gaul would be sure to make sad work with the dental aspirations.

The second comes from Benjamin Warfield in one of the last pieces he ever wrote, an article objecting to the latest proposal (1920) to unite the largest Protestant denominations in the United States:

Now it is perfectly obvious that the proposed creed contains nothing which is not believed by evangelicals. and it is equally obvious that it contains nothing which is not believed by Sacerdotalists – by the adherents of the church of Rome for example. And it is equally obvious that it contains nothing which is not believed by Rationalists – by respectable Unitarians. That is as much as to say that the creed on the basis of which we are invited to form a union for evangelizing purposes contains nothing distinctively evangelical at all; nothing at all of that body of saving truth for the possession of which the church of Christ has striven and suffered through two thousand years. It contains only “a few starved and hunger-bitten” dogmas of purely general character – of infinite importance in the context of evangelical truth, but of themselves of no saving sufficiency. So far as the conservation and propagation of evangelical religion is concerned, we might as well for a union on our common acceptance of the law of gravitation and the rule of three.

By the way, these were a couple of quotes readily available from Hodge and Warfield. If you go farther into their works, along with those of Old Schoolers like Dabney and Thornwell you will find many more examples, sometimes of laugh out loud proportions.

One last source of inspiration for Oldlife.org and the NTJ is – duh – J. Gresham Machen. He did not show a lot of wit or sarcasm in his writings. But his polemics were nonetheless blunt, so much so that many who believed charity to be the only Christian virtue considered Machen mean and beyond the pale. But it is precisely Machen’s candor and warrior spirit that is worthy of emulation. The following is from a piece he wrote for an inter-faith gathering on the relations between Christians and Jews:

The fact is that in discussing matters about which there are differences of opinion, it is really more courteous to be frank – more courteous with that deeper courtesy which is based upon the Golden Rule. For my part, I am bound to say that the kind of discussion which is irritating to me is the discussion which begins by begging the question and then pretend to be in the interests of peace. I should be guilty of such a method if I should say to a Roman Catholic, for example, that we can come together with him because forms and ceremonies like the mass and membership in a certain definite organization are, of course, matters of secondary importance – if I should say to him that he can go on being a good Catholic and I can go on being a good Protestant and yet we can unite on common Christian basis. If I should talk in that way, I should show myself guilty of the crassest narrowness of mind, for I should be showing that I had never taken the slightest trouble to understand the Roman Catholic point of view. If I had taken that trouble, I should have come to see plainly that what I should be doing is not to seek common ground between the roman Catholic and myself but simply to ask the Roman Catholic to become a Protestant and give up everything that he holds most dear.

. . . So to my mind the most inauspicious beginning for any discussion is found when the speaker utters the familiar words: “I think, brethren, that we are all agreed about this . . .” – and then proceeds to trample ruthlessly upon the things that are dearest to my heart. Far more kindly is it if the speaker says at the start that he sees a miserable narrow-minded conservative in the audience whose views he intends to ridicule and refute. After such a speaker gets through, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I regard him as just as narrow-minded as he regards me, and then having both spoken our full mind we may part, certain not as brothers (it is ridiculous to degrade that word) but at least as friends.

None of this is to suggest that Oldlife.org pulls off the wit, sarcasm, polemics, or bluntness of the writers who have inspired this endeavor. It is only to point out that the tone and style of Oldlife.org is not over the top.

Introducing the Old School Presbyterians: Stuart Robinson

I’ve been wondering. Do contemporary Reformed Protestants read Old School Presbyterians — at all?

Over at Green Baggins where a fiesty exchange of slings and arrows — count ’em, over 1,300 comments and climbing — over 2k has diverted what could have been a good conversation about the value of polemical theology I posted the following excerpt from Stuart Robinson’s The Church of God An Essential Element of the Gospel. I have wondered for a while whether neo-Calvinists and transformers have actually ever considered what were standard argument and distinctions like the one that Robinson here makes. And if they had read the Old School, would they be flummoxed by today’s 2k arguments? Even more, what level of shock set in for neo-Calvinists and transformers to learn that they have more in common with New School Presbyterians like Charles Finney and Albert Barnes than with Charles Hodge or Samuel Miller. Although my pasting this quote has led the crickets to chirp very loudly, it is one worth highlighting here.

1. In that the civil power derives its authority from God as the Author of nature, whilst the power ecclesiastical comes alone from Jesus as Mediator.

2. In that the rule for the guidance of the civil power in its exercise is the light of nature and reason, the law which the Author of nature reveals through reason to man; but the rule for the guidance of ecclesiastical power in its exercise is that light which, as Prophet of the Church, Jesus Christ has revealed in his word. It is a government under statute laws already enacted by the King.

3. They differ in that the scope and aim of the civil power are limited properly to things seen and temporal; the scope and aim of ecclesiastical power are things unseen and spiritual. Religious is a term not predicable of the acts of the State; political is a term not predicable of the acts of the Church. The things pertaining to the kingdom of Christ are things concerning which Caesar can have rightfully no cognizance, except indirectly and incidentally as these things palpably affect the temporal and civil concerns of men; and even then Csesar cannot be too jealously watched by the Church. The tilings pertaining to the kingdom of Csesar are matters of which the Church of Christ as an organic government can have no cognizance, except incidentally and remotely as affecting the spiritual interests of men; and even then the Church cannot watch herself too jealously.

4. They differ in that the significant symbol of the civil power is the sword; its government is a government of force, a terror to evil-doers; but the significant symbol of Church power is the keys, its government only ministerial, the functions of its officers to open and close and have a care of a house already complete as to its structure externally, and internally organized and provided.

5. They differ in that civil power may be exercised as a several power by one judge, magistrate, or governor; but all ecclesiastical power pertaining to government is a joint power only, and to be exercised by tribunals. The Head of the government has not seen fit to confer spiritual power of jurisdiction in any form upon a single man, nor authorized the exercise of the functions of rule in the spiritual commonwealth as a several power.

6. It is unnecessary to digress here into a discussion of the rationale of these fundamental distinctions. It would not be difficult to show, however, that they are neither accidental nor arbitrary, but spring out of those fundamental truths concerning the nature of the Church itself, and of its relations to the gospel, which have already been pointed out. These distinctions, therefore, are of a nature to forbid all idea of any concurrent jurisdiction, and to render certain the corruption and final apostasy of any part of the Church which shall persist in the attempt to exist as a governmental power concurrent with the State,—it matters not whether as superior, inferior, or equal. They are the two great powers that be, and are ordained of God to serve two distinct ends in the great scheme devised for man as fallen. The one is set up, in the mercy and forbearance of the Author of nature toward the apostate race at large, to hold in check the outworking of that devilish nature consequent upon the apostasy, and to furnish a platform, as it were, on which to carry on another and more amazing scheme of mercy toward a part of mankind. The other is designed to constitute of the families of earth that call upon his name, and into the hearts of which his grace has put enmity toward Satan and his seed, a nation of priests, a peculiar nation, not reckoned among the nations, of whom Jehovah is the God and they are his people. That not only the utter disregard of this distinction in the formal union of the Church and State—either merging the Church in the State or the State in the Church—is ” destructive of the Church, but that, also, any degree of confusion in respect of this distinction is proportionally dangerous and corrupting, the history of the Reformed Churches generally, and in particular of the Church of Scotland, is a most striking illustration. Nay, the entire history of the Church, from its first organization, testifies that his people must render to Csesar the things that are Caesar’s, as distinct from rendering to God the things that are God’s, or the Church suffers. (pp. 86-87)

How radical is this if the OPC has reprinted this book?