American Greatness

Liberalism may be failing, but at least the voluntary character of church life in the United States means that communions here do not need to worry the way those in Scotland do where the establishment principle is still in effect even for those outside the established church. David Robertson highlights the contrasting responses of Presbyterians — Church of Scotland vs. Free Church of Scotland — to the Scottish government’s proposal to allow Scots to self-identify their gender. Spoiler alert: the Free Church dissents, the Church of Scotland goes along.

But the arresting matter here is the degree to which a communion self-identifies with its nation:

Lets talk not about gender identity but the identity of the Church. It seems to be that the Church of Scotland is no longer self-identifying as a biblical, prophetic Christian church. It now self-identifies as the spiritual wing of the progressive state, affirming its every action and endorsing its liberal theology. State churches always run the danger of avoiding the prophetic, because they are tied in with the State, and therefore will find it difficult to tell the State the Word of God. If John the Baptist had been a Church of Scotland minister, he would have affirmed Herod in his sin, told him ‘he didn’t want to judge’ and offered to produce a booklet of stories of adulterers like him! I hope and pray that the faithful ministers who remain in the Kirk will not hand out this propaganda, but will challenge 121 and the bureaucracy that has collaborated in this document. Its time for faithful people to be faithful and to at least be prophets to their own denomination.

What about the Free Church (and other churches). We can moan from the sidelines – refuse to get involved – shout in anger or shrink in despair. Or we can be a biblical Christ loving church which does what we can to welcome and help transpeople who are seeking Christ. They need to know him and be saved from their sin – not their trans. And we must have a prophetic voice into the culture – whether its challenging schools when they seek to indoctrinate our children with Queer theory, or making representations to the Scottish Government. And of course we weep and pray….

God have mercy and save Scotland from itself.

At what point do you see the folly of ecclesiastical establishments? Nothing possibly could go wrong here (ever since Constantine).

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Presbyterians Who Don’t Want to Be

David Robertson gives away his tell when he responds to criticism for dedicating children. He thinks that critics strain at gnats while swallowing camels — the camel being a market model of ministry:

At the risk of overgeneralization it seems to me that there is a Scottish/UK version of Presbyterianism that seeks (but does not often practice) visible church unity and does not accept the ‘market place’ mentality that Paul mentions. On the other hand in the US, the land of 1,000 denominations, there is a much greater market place mentality with the pros (greater initiatives, freedom etc.) and cons (disunity, less church discipline etc.). It seems sad to me that even as the number of Christians in the US declines, the number of Presbyterian denominations will probably increase – all owning allegiance to a Confession of Faith which was set up to prevent that happening!

In England there are hardly any Presbyterians and yet we have at least two denominations committed to the WCF. In Scotland the situation is embarrassingly worse. I feel bad that the Free Church has to exist. Because of the apostasy of the Church of Scotland, I think we do have to, but I would much prefer that we didn’t. At one point I was even part of a delegation from the Free Church that met with the C of S and looked at whether and how we could reunite. But it is even more shameful to me that after a lifetime devoted to evangelism in a declining church in a decaying culture, instead of the churches which adhere to the WCF uniting together we have further divided. In my time in ministry in Scotland we have even seen four new Presbyterian denominations, all adhering to the WCF, come into being. The Associated Presbyterians, the Free Church Continuing, International Presbyterian Church and Covenant Fellowship. We talk about church unity but actions speak louder than words. My hope and prayer is that one day the Free Church will cease to exist (that will certainly come true in heaven!). I would be even more radical than that – I would prefer to work in organizational unity with Baptists and others – not just networking but pooling resources and genuinely being the one Church of Jesus Christ.

Notice that he wishes the Free Church did not exist and that he would prefer to minister with Baptists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Scotland, I suppose, like the United States is a free country (Free Church in a Free Country). But I’m not sure how confessional or Presbyterian that attitude is. It does explain Robertson’s attachment to Tim Keller. It also suggests a certain kind of naivete. Does Robertson really think that TKNY is not part of a market model, or that Keller has not become a brand? Either way, why be a Presbyterian when you could just as easily minister with Baptists?

Robertson may also explain why Keller appeals to pastors in small, out of the way, denominations (perhaps unintentionally):

When evangelicals in the Church of Scotland decided that enough was enough and began to leave – they of course looked for a Confessional Presbyterian Church that was faithful to the Bible. For doctrinal and practical reasons most could not join the Reformed Presbyterians, the APC, the Free Church Continuing or the Free Presbyterians – amongst other reasons they were exclusive psalmody. That basically left the Free Church. Now there may be theological reasons why some ex C of S ministers and congregations could not join the Free Church (e.g. those who had women elders and wanted to retain them), but what of those who subscribe to the WCF, are complementarian and Presbyterian? Many have joined but an equal number haven’t – why? Some of it may be the Free Churches own fault – not being welcoming enough etc., but is that the real or adequate reason?

I think that it is the religious market place that Paul so rightly complains about which kicks in here. The reasons are not doctrinal and theological but social, personal and historical. Some had an aversion to the Free Church because of past experience (love remembers no wrongs?), image or misunderstandings about our positions. I have heard others though express things in terms of what I could only call social and class snobbery. We are perceived as not sophisticated enough, too Highland, too working class. I recall a C of S man having what I can only describe as a ‘coming out’ dinner in his home – where he invited his middle class friends to a dinner at which he introduced myself and a couple of others from the church and then announced he was attending the Free Church. It was as though he had announced he was gay! In fact he probably would have got a more favourable response! That attitude may be extreme but in a more modified form it is still there. Is not wanting to be called ‘Wee Free’ a sufficient reason for setting up yet another denomination?

This part of Robertson’s post was intriguing if only because in the United States, conservatives in the PCA seem to have a similar aversion to the OPC — not sophisticated, too tacky, ugly buildings on the wrong side of the beltway. But instead of identifying with communions of like faith, practice, and awkwardness, Robertson instead regards Keller as the right kind of American Presbyterian.

This may make sense since with all of the writing for newspapers and speaking in public that Robertson does, he may regard himself as a kind of public intellectual after the fashion of Keller. He is certainly akin to Keller in the way in which denominational attachments rest lightly on his ministerial shoulders:

The parish and pastoral approach is one that I prefer. We are not engaging in the religious market place (ironically those who take the purist/polemical approach are much more likely to do that), but we are seeking to reach out to every one in the community where we are based. (I realize of course that most of us would claim that is what we are doing and I should also point out that I think that is what Paul’s church is doing in Ealing – I’m talking about the wider issue here – not having a subtle dig – I don’t do subtle!). This means that our primary identity is not that we are a Free Church, or a Reformed church, or the church with the best preaching in Dundee, or David Robertson’s church or any other claim we might foolishly want to make. We are a church of Jesus Christ.

This is the way of pietists, to claim the high ground and act as if denominational particularities are inconsequential in comparison to vision, mission, or devotion. What happens, though, when Robertson or Keller need to explain why another church, say the Church of Scotland or the PCUSA or the Methodists are not quite up to the status of “the church of Jesus Christ”? At that point, don’t arguments about purity and polemics and doctrine kick in?

And what happens when Robertson or Keller receive funds from Presbyterian sources that were given precisely to uphold Free Church and Reformed convictions? Don’t you have to explain the way you are going to use the funds? You will use them for generic Christian purposes, not for Presbyterian ones only?

That is the sort of equivocation that captured the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. before the Free Church and the PCA formed separate communions. Such a separate status is not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s why we have evangelicals. But evangelicals presenting as Presbyterian? That’s why we have The Gospel Coalition.

David Robertson is What’s the Matter with Tim Keller

Amy Mantravadi wanted to know what’s the matter with Tim Keller around the same time that David Robertson decided to make Keller the test for loyalty to gospel ministry. Amy makes careful evaluations (charitable) of Keller. Robertson sneers at anyone who takes issue with Keller.

And that is the problem. Keller is merely one pastor whose foibles would be unknown to any outside his congregation if he had not allowed himself to be a poster-boy for urban, transformationalist, pastor-to-(some of)-the-intelligentsia ministry.

Lots of pastors in the Reformed world do not follow the rules of polity, liturgy, and confessional austerity. They likely face their own sets of critics whether from within the congregation or at presbytery. But these pastors do not pretend to have written the book for successful ministry or allow fans to crow about their success.

Keller, however, has become a brand and pastors like David Robertson have gladly wrapped themselves in it. In fact, when Keller says something that so patently needs qualification, Robertson is there to dare anyone who would question Keller’s devotion, wisdom, and truth.

Keller is too big to fail and defenders like Robertson made him so.

Here is what Keller said about art:

The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. ‘Imagination communicates,’ as Arthur Danto says, ‘indefinable but inescapable truth.’ Those who read a book or listen to music expose themselves to that inescapable truth. There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can’t believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying. We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.

If you are a minister devoted to the sufficiency of Scripture, maybe you qualify this a little? You put yourself in the situation — wouldn’t all that reading of Charles Taylor help you? — of Christ and the apostles and maybe remember that art did not seem to be high on the apostles agenda.

Instead, Robertson doubles down and does for Keller what so many Roman Catholic apologists do for Pope Francis — spin:

Now there is a narrower sense in which art is used – I guess the sense in which it is studied in art colleges. And if Keller was saying without painting we can’t communicate the Gospel then he would deserve the ridicule that comes his way. But do you think Keller is restricting ‘art’ to the narrower sense of painting only (or perhaps ballet?). Can’t you be a little more charitable and assume that a bible believing teacher such as Keller might actually know something about the bible, church history and evangelism? At least enough to prevent him accusing Paul and Jesus of not knowing how to proclaim the Gospel?

The truth is that Keller and the upcoming downgrade in the PCA is not the problem. He is not a heretic and his views on art are not heretical – they are basic Kuyperian Calvinism. No, it is the ugliness of some who profess the Reformed Faith, those macho keypboard warriors who think that putting the adjective effeminate in front of anything is enough to damn it; seeking their own niche and identity by dissing others who are the real heretics. Why? Because although they profess orthodox faith in Christ – it’s not enough. We must reflect the glory and beauty of Christ. To turn beauty into ashes is anti-Christ and the real heresy.

You mean, all that time in the city has not in the least influenced Keller and how he presents? You mean, Robertson has never studied the history of how Presbyterians are like frogs in the kettle and become used to the cultural temperature around them? You mean, that a minister in the Free Church cannot ever fathom how liberal Presbyterianism happens?

That’s a problem.

Support for 2K is Growing (and it’s hardly rrrradical)

From the moderate regions of mid-western evangelicalism:

This conflation of the church and the nation characterizes the rest of the book. In defining (and I would say, exaggerating) the cultural influence of evangelist George Whitefield, Metaxas says that Whitefield’s preaching had the effect of turning colonists into Americans. To be an American (not a Christian, but an American), was to accept certain religious truths about one’s status in God’s eyes. As Metaxas concludes in summing up Whitefield’s significance, “the Gospel of Christ . . . created an American people.” Strange, I somehow thought that Jesus promised to build his Church on that foundation, but I guess he meant the United States.

Although Metaxas focuses on the colonial and Revolutionary eras, he does allow Abraham Lincoln to join the conversation as well, and as it turns out, Lincoln agreed John Winthrop that the United States has a “holy calling” to be an example to the world. Minimally encumbered by evidence, Metaxas notes that Lincoln understood that “America had been called by God,” and that “to be chosen by God—as the Jews had been chosen by God, . . . and as the messiah had been chosen by God,” was a “profound and sacred and even terrifying obligation.” I’m not sure which is scarier: the analogy of the United States to Israel—God’s new chosen people—or the analogy of the United States to Christ.

The latter reminds me of a trenchant observation in Hugh Heclo’s fine book Christianity and American Democracy: “If America is the redeemer of nations and time, then America is the Christ of history,” Heclo writes. “This notion may be inadvertent, but it is blasphemy all the same.”

And from the topsy-turvy world of unraveling Europe:

It seems as though many church leaders think that we have the right, the knowledge and the ability to use our position to advance particular political positions, which we equate with the Kingdom of God. This is across the spectrum, from liberal to evangelical, from low church to Catholic – it has been disturbing to see just how many church leaders seem to think that speaking a prophetic word means speaking a political word, even use the same political codes that the secular world use. And even more astonishing is how the Internet makes constitutional, financial and political experts of us all. ‘It’s only advisory’, ‘the Scottish Parliament has the power to block’, ‘£100 billion will be wiped of the markets’, ‘thousands will be killed in Northern Ireland’….and these are some of milder prophecies. I don’t have any problem with church leaders advocating political positions in public as private citizens (I often do it myself), but we have no right to commit our churches to those positions, nor to equate them as being part of the Christian message.

And 2k doesn’t even force you to identify one kingdom with God the Father and the other with God the Son.

Genius!

When Pastors Talk about Politics without Righteousness

Sometimes pastors make sense.

This makes me think about the issues that are most important to me. Here is a list that is neither exhaustive nor in any particular order:

1) respect for the Constitution while not treating it as divinely inspired, inerrant, and infallible.
2) appointment of judges who can say with Scalia, “I’m a textualist; I’m an originalist; but I’m not a nut;” judges who will do the “legal” not the “right” thing,
3) repeal and replacement of the ACA but not in a way that says the only way to deal with the distribution of healthcare is to let the market decide who gets what, with the results mitigated only by private charity,
4) reform of immigration in a realistic, rational, and compassionate way that does not attempt the impossible, the deportation of 11 million+ people, but does slow to a trickle the influx of illegals,
5) ending partial birth abortion and reducing all abortions through through persuasion and legislation,
6) reduction of the size and intrusiveness of the federal government, pushing more decisions and control down to the states and individuals,
7) increase of American military strength and flexibility with the ability of the US to project power internationally when necessary.
8) dealing with the deficit and balancing the budget, which will require difficult and painful decisions and actions, in a rational, practical, gradual manner,
9) preservation and reform of Medicare and Social Security by putting them on a sound fiscal footing so that they are viable for the future,
10) reduction of restrictions on individuals and businesses that keep them from thriving, but not on the assumption that free market results are a revelation of the divine will,
11) protection of the freedoms of the churches to preach, teach, and practice Christian truth and morality without review or interference by government, while protecting the rights of all persons to act in accord with their consciences so long as their actions do not actively interfere with the rights of other citizens under the law,
12) assurance of the civil rights of all persons and protection of their freedom to achieve all that they can within the limits of their ability, allowing neither discrimination nor preferential treatment to prevent or guarantee outcomes.

When I look at my list I find it is based on my political philosophy and principles, on prudence and common sense, and on preferences. I do not believe they are derived from the Bible or are an expression of my Christian faith.

Are David Robertson and Rick Phillips paying attention?

Meanwhile Presbyterians Are Separated by More than An Ocean

But they are unified in not practicing the spirituality of the church.

Rick Phillips started the kerfuffle by declaring socialism evil:

So, biblically speaking, why is socialism evil? Let me suggest three reasons:
1. Because socialism is a system based on stealing;
2. Because socialism is an anti-work system; and
3. Because socialism concentrates the power to do evil.

Even without nude scenes, that seemed to be a pretty easy call.

But David Robertson disagrees and — get this — thinks Reformation 21 is too political (has the Moderate of the Free Church missed a chance to weigh in on Scottish politics?). So he tries to correct Phillips and in so doing regards socialism as more loving than capitalism:

Firstly, in the socialist system the idea is meant to be common ownership, not a handful of people controlling or owning it all. (The fact that this does not often happen is a testimony to human sinfulness, not the inherent evil of the system).

Secondly, Capitalism is not primarily about individuals working hard to produce wealth. They work within systems. Sometimes those systems can be corrupt; bribery, greed, exploitation (refusing to pay the workers their due reward cf. James) and corruption are as endemic within the capitalist system, as they are within any socialist system.

Thirdly it is unfettered free market Capitalism, not Socialism, which is concentrating the power to do evil in the hands of a few. It is the big corporations, headed up by a very few wealthy individuals who are pushing the LGBT agenda in the US and elsewhere. It is they who are seeking to negotiate trade agreements that take them out of democratic control and leave them free to regulate their own affairs and control their massive wealth.

But this does not stop Mr Phillips hyperbole. In Socialism everyone is impoverished, everyone is in slavery and a culture of corruption is always produced. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the crass ignorance and grotesque cultural pride on display here. When I first went to the US I couldn’t believe what I saw with my own eyes in some American cities, in the richest country in the world. There was a level of third world poverty and degradation that should have been a shame to any civilised society – but no, some (rich) American evangelicals saw the evils of socialist Sweden, rather than the sick of St Louis.

Robertson even tries to get the upper hand by telling American Presbyterians not to identify so much with the United States:

In this theology, American Capitalism is the essence of America, which is in turn the essence of Christianity. To criticise Capitalism (or at least refusing to agree that Socialism is de facto evil) is apparently unchristian, unbiblical and unconfessional – which is presumably why the Alliance of CONFESSING Evangelicals allowed this post. I don’t confess that socialism is evil, and if the Free Church ever was daft enough to add another chapter to the Westminster Confession stating that it was, I guess I would be out of a job! The equation of the Gospel of Jesus with ANY of the kingdoms of this world has always been a disaster.

Again, this is rich coming from a pastor who regularly comments on Scotland’s political affairs.

Imagine if pastors had to stick to their competency — the word of God. They might recommend authors with a better grasp of politics and economics, people who don’t merely dabble or pontificate.

Do Christians and Their Unbaptized Children Pray to the Same God?

The New Calvinists are apparently worried about teaching unbelievers to pray:

While it is wise to be discerning with our children as they grow up and to not give them a false sense of security if they’re not actually Christians, I don’t know of any place that the Bible warns parents to beware of teaching children to pray too early. Rather, we are told to teach them and this includes not just facts, but also practices. By encouraging our children to pray, we are teaching them the language, the practice, and the importance of prayer.

That could also be a reason for bringing back prayer into public schools.

But John Piper is on the same page with Tim Challies:

Yes. I think we should teach our children to pray as soon as they can say anything. … I can’t discern when a child is being spiritually wrought upon by the Lord. … I can’t tell precisely when his faith becomes his own and authentic, I don’t want to wait too long before I start treating him as a believer. …

Would that also apply to David Bowie when he prayed the Lord’s Prayer?

Tim Challies argues, finally, that the Bible is for children praying:

… the Bible doesn’t warn parents against teaching such things to their children too soon. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testaments, parents (and especially fathers) are told to teach their children to obey the word of God (which includes the practice of prayer). Consider these verses:

“These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)

“Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11)

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

The Bible also tells parents that their children should have the sign of the covenant. Infant baptism would fix this problem in a hurry. As non-communicant Christians, why shouldn’t baptized children learn to pray?

Those Were Also the Days

Is it bad form to compare ISIS to Europe’s religious wars after the Reformation?

This Protestant versus Catholic division – our version of Islam’s Sunni versus Shia – was replicated all over Europe. In Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany, what started as disagreement and protest later morphed into religious persecution and then, often enough, into civil war. Only when these conflicts came to an end in the mid-1600s was this nightmare, which lasted 140 years, brought to a close.

What Syria is going through at this time is no worse than what Germany experienced in the Thirty Years War that ended in 1648. The historian Norman Davies describes the post-war scene thus: “Germany lay desolate. The population had fallen from 21 million to perhaps 13 million. Between a third and half of the people were dead. Whole cities like Magdeburg stood in ruins. Whole districts lay stripped of their inhabitants, their livestock, and their supplies. Trade had virtually ceased.”

Nor is the Syrian calamity any more disastrous than the English Civil War, which petered out in 1651. Read what the Cambridge historian, Robert Tombs, has to say about the conflict: “The Civil War was the most lethal conflict England had suffered since the Conquest. A recent estimate suggests around 86,000 killed in combat, nearly all soldiers; another 129,000, mostly civilians, succumbed to the diseases that accompanied war; and infant mortality reached the highest level ever recorded. These losses, in a population of 4-5 million, are proportionately much higher than those England suffered in the First World War.”

I should add that neither the Thirty Years War nor the English Civil War was caused solely by religious hostility. The former was part of a Continental power struggle, as well as being a contest between Catholics and Protestants. On the latter, Tombs comments that: “Religion was the clearest dividing line, but even that does not explain everything.” But then religion is not the sole generator of Middle East conflict.

Sure, as a committed (or soon to be committed) Protestant, I’d prefer not to be compared to religious terrorists. And when I think about the start of the Civil War I’d like to think (in the neo-conservative part of me) that this was oh so different from the American War for Independence. But can Western Christians really avoid noticing certain parallels between their own past and Islam?

David Robertson, never one to miss a chance to send a missive to a newspaper, thinks we can refuse the analogies by rebranding Presbyterians as — get this — “freedom fighters”:

Rather than Calvinists being the Tartan Taleban, they were the freedom fighters of their day and a key part of the founding of modern Scottish democracy. The National should be celebrating their heritage, not comparing them with the Islamist fascists of ISIS.

How pastor Robertson describes the “freedom fighters” that President George W. Bush sent to Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, a rebellion foreign policy initiative that helped to create ISIS, is a question that may be answered the next time someone in the British newspapers traces the American revolution to Scottish Presbyterianism.

Finally Time to Re-Think Establishment Principle

Barna Report conducted a study of Christianity in Scotland and the results have some discouraged even if not surprised:

31% say Scotland is a Christian nation

52% identify as Christian – although 70% of them don’t believe the basics of Christian doctrine

17% of Scots claim to be born again Christians…1 in every six is a born again Christian- committed to Christ. “The presence of more than 800,000 Scots—17 percent of the population—who report they have confessed Jesus as Saviour and have made a commitment to him that is still important in their life today—even though nearly half of them do not currently attend church”

17% of Scots regard the bible as totally accurate or authoritative.

24% of 18-24 year olds do. 23% of young 18-24s say that faith has changed their lives, as compared with 12% of all adults.

One in 8 Scots attend church once a month – i.e. they are practicing Christians but only half of those say their faith has transformed their lives – which surely indicates that they should be called ‘churchgoers’ rather than Christians. If following Christ doesn’t change your life then what does?!

David Robertson blames the churches of Scotland for this state as much as any other factors:

Something is missing. I am trying to work out what that is, and I am not clear yet…but let me have a go. Strangely enough I think it is because they seem very inward looking and are more about transforming the Church than transforming Scotland. I guess that if the Church is transformed then it will have a transformational effect upon the whole country. But I would love to have added to the nine points education, biblical ecclesiology, prophetic preaching, mercy ministries, creative arts and perhaps above all, repentance.

Scotland is in the state it is in, not because of the ‘world’ or the culture…we are in the state we are in because of the Church. We need to repent of our lukewarmness, unbelief, hypocrisy, lack of zeal and lovelessness. We need to realize that we cannot do or say anything that will fundamentally change the situation. Without the Spirit of Christ we are lost. We can write Ichabod over our nation. But we are promised the Spirit of Christ. There is hope: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

What also may be missing is an attachment by Scottish Presbyterians to the Establishment Principle (see point 10), the idea that the state has a duty to promote the true religion both through churches and schools. As most people who study the evangelization of Europe know, the way to get a people to “convert” was to make the king a Christian. From there the rest follows. Peter Leithart thinks the same dynamic is at work in Africa (he quotes Andrew Walls):

Religion was always in Igboland directed to the acquisition of power; the gods were followed in as far as they provided it. So the combination of military defeat by the British, the desirable goods and capabilities in the power of the whites; and the association of all this with the power of the book now on offer to them declared the inferiority of the traditional religious channels. There was every religious reason to abandon them.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if the world of the voluntary church that we have in the United States will make the rest of the world properly blessed. We have as much superficial Christianity in the United States as other parts of the world have serious resistance to belief.

But if you want to hurt the cause of Christ, it sure seems to me that identifying it with the political establishment is a long term losing proposition. Does anyone in the United States take public education seriously? And these teachers and principles are only subject to local governments. Imagine tying them directly to the feds and see conservatives, libertarians, and Christians flock to the private and home schools.

To Forgive or Not?

Forgiveness is much on my mind today after another day of cross-country travel and listening to NPR’s coverage of the Greek financial crisis. Who could forgive the Greek bank’s debt? Could someone in the international financial sector step up to forgive Greece the way that the families of Dylann Roof’s victims did? Would that kind of granting forgiveness stand up to the scrutiny that the AME church members has?

Someone else who needs forgiveness is Tullian Tchvidjian. I am glad to see that so far the bloggers in Reformed circles have decided to refrain from commenting on his recent admission of marital infidelity. It was an easy target — to see the man whom critics accused of promoting cheap grace and disregarding the law disregard the law. So far, only David Robertson, who must not have had any opinion about Greece, has weighed in:

I had had an interesting exchange with Tullian and his ‘Liberate’ ministry last year. Without really being aware of who he was, I had written a review of his book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. It wasn’t entirely uncritical. Little did I know what it was like to step into the murky world of the American mega-church pastor. The congratulations from those who seemed to want to hang Tullian out to dry were matched only by the cries of those who saw me as some kind of right-wing legalist who had no idea of grace. To be fair, there were many who did not fit into either category but who were glad to get an outsider’s perspective. Sadly, the popularity of that article only served to indicate the truth of the truism that the best way to draw a crowd is to start a fight.

So you might expect a degree of schadenfreude from me. In that case you will be disappointed. I feel gutted and saddened at the whole situation. My critique of the book is not proved true by Tullian’s fall, any more than it would have been proven false by his continued ministry. Surely sorrow, discouragement and prayer can be the only appropriate responses for the Tchividjian family?

To his credit, Robbo refuses to score points except to take on the megachurch (which really should score points against the Wilt Chamberlain of Presbyterian megachurches — Redeemer TKNY):

The trouble with the corporate model of church is that it leaves the CEOs (otherwise known as ‘senior pastors’) as a combination of business manager, advertising guru and celebrity personality. And that is a very lonely and isolating position. Maybe a return to a more biblical pattern of church, with elders and preachers as ‘under shepherds’ and answerable to the wider church, rather than the stakeholders (shareholders?) of the local corporate church entity, might provide a better context for accountable ministry.

And why doesn’t that apply to TKNY?

But back to Tullian. What if someone like me decided publicly to forgive Tullian? Would that make sense? Mark Jones makes me think it might:

We are all aware, I trust, that all sins are committed against God. Therefore, no one can forgive sins in the way that God can. He has a peculiar authority that we do not have. All sins, whether mediately or immediately, are committed against God. Sometimes the neighbour is the medium, but the sin is still against God. Why is this important? Because if we forgive our neighbour, this does not relate to the guilt of his sin, but rather to the harm that has been done to us.

So when the family members of the killed “forgave” Dylan Roof, we are not forced to have to look at their forgiveness and then argue that they have no right to do so because there is no repentance from Mr. Roof. Rather, we are to understand their offering of forgiveness based on the harm that has been done to them because of the loss they have experienced.

In effect, they are not telling Mr. Roof that he is now justified before God. They are saying, you have harmed us and hurt us; and we forgive you for this harm.

Tullian has harmed the name of Christ and was a minister in a sister denomination. For that reason, I can conclude that he harmed fellow officers in NAPARC denominations. And by Jones’ logic, I can forgive Tullian.

So we have three cases of forgiveness: financial, legal, and ecclesiastical. Which ones are legitimate? Which ones deserve scrutiny?