I Didn’t Think Kevin Spacey was an Orthodox Presbyterian

Despite what we now know about the actor, I remain a big fan of The Big Kahuna, a movie I even recommended as one of Hollywood’s better renderings of evangelicalism. (Trigger warning: language is vulgar in places.) Spacey starred in and produced the movie. Am I in danger of my publisher removing all copies of That Old-Time Religion in Modern America because of the way the book opens?

The Big Kahuna may not have been a box office hit, but the 1999 movie starring Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito offered a surprisingly candid glimpse of the way many Americans have come to regard the subject of this book, twentieth-century evangelicalism in the United States. The film features three men who work for a firm that produces industrial lubricants and are assigned to host a cocktail party at a hotel in Wichita, Kansas, during a convention for industry-related vendors and producers. Two of the characters are from the sales division, experienced salesmen for whom the task of pitching the company’s product has nurtured a degree of cynicism and weariness. The third is a young, bright and somewhat naive evangelical Protestant who works in the research division. Their chief task on this particular evening is to make contact with the owner of Indiana’s largest manufacturing company, the “big Kahuna,” whose contract could salvage the salesmen’s declining careers.

Of course, Kevin Spacey is not the only one vulnerable. But we have no better sign of how Harry Emerson Fosdick lost and fundamentalists won than the way that mainstream institutions are employing standards that would have made my fundamentalist Baptist congregation think they were living in a Christian nation. Back then, as I have remarked before, I was under the impression that anyone I should esteem as a hero should also be a Christian. And with that logic, I turned my favorite athlete, Richie Allen, 3rd-baseman for the Phillies (and rookie of the year in 1964), into a born-again Christian, only to be crushed when a television camera showed him smoking a cigarette during a game.

Has our culture really come to that, the moral calculus of an eight-year-old dispsenationalist Baptist?

Of course, Peter Leithart tries to put a better spin on it:

But is private morality so easily distinguished from public ethics? Can we trust someone who lies, bullies, and manipulates to cover up the embarrassment of private sin? Doesn’t such a person prove himself a liar? Hasn’t he proven that he lacks the basic public virtue of justice?

Leithart is writing with politicians in mind, but the same point applies to artistic expressions? Should I sit with an author, director, or musician for anywhere between 30 minutes and two weeks who may be performing acts in private that would prove distasteful in public?

But here’s the other side that few of the new morality police seem to consider: why are good works whether performed in private or public any sort of guarantee of admirable character? If good works are filthy rags, if people do good works for noble and ignoble reasons, and if someone is unregenerate, how trustworthy are they (especially by our current Wesleyan standards)? According to the Confession of Faith:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God. (16.7)

I get it that sexual abuse is bad. But let’s not fool ourselves about any actor or politician. The doctrine of total depravity teaches that behind that image of virtue and decency lurks a heart that is desperately wicked. Who can know it? Agents, spouses, interns, anyone who sees the public figure off camera.

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That Was the Day

I think I listened to this game on a transistor (not transformationalist) radio:

After Bunning set the Giants down 1-2-3 in the seventh, Philadelphia took the lead in the eighth on an unearned run. Gonzalez led off with a single. Richie Allen walked with one out. Marichal induced a ground ball from Johnny Callison that might have ended the inning. However, reserve infielder Bob Schroder failed to handle it, and a run scored.

Bunning failed to hold the lead in the bottom of eighth. He retired Alou to begin the inning, but Haller homered for the second time to tie the game.

With the two Willies, Mays and McCovey, up next, a modern manager would likely have pulled Bunning. The Phillies had a strong bullpen, anchored by the two Dicks, Hall and Farrell. But manager Gene Mauch stayed with his ace.

Bunning got Mays on a pop-up, walked McCovey (pitching very carefully, I assume), and then retired Jim Davenport.

Marichal had allowed four runs, eight hits, and two walks through eight innings. Giants manager Herman Franks had good relievers available — Ron Herbal, Bill Henry, and Frank Linzy (ERA 0.60). Yet, like Mauch, Franks stayed with his ace.

Marichal retired Tony Taylor, who led off the inning. Bunning was the next scheduled batter. Surely, Mauch would send up a pinch hitter to bat for his tiring pitcher.

But Bunning stayed in. He wasn’t a bad hitting pitcher. Early in his career, he was a .200 hitter. But by 1967, he had fallen off at the plate. Coming into this game, he was batting .125.

Bunning did have one home run, though. It came at the expense of Atlanta’s Ken Johnson, and was the fifth of his long career.

On this day, he hit his sixth. How embarrassed must the prideful Marichal must have been!

Bunning had given the Phils a 5-4 lead. Now he had to be his own closer.

No problem. In the bottom of the ninth, he set down the Giants in order — Brown on a fly ball, Schroder on a ground ball, and pinch hitter Norm Siebern, an old American League adversary, on another grounder.

Hey Pastor Fosdick, The Fundamentalists Did Win

First it was smoking. I grew up in a fundamentalist home where smoking was off limits. I have also related the story of how devastated I was when I first saw Richie (later Dick) Allen smoking in the Phillies’ dugout. But now the world has turned into the Hart home (of my parents). Thankfully, the missus tolerates an occasional cigar indoors. But everywhere else in “the worldly world,” I can’t smoke (at least indoors). Not even women, who have absolute sovereignty over their bodies in the pro-choice world, may light up indoors. When will that barrier to human freedom topple?

Now it is language. The worldly worldlings are as worried about speech and its power to hurt as my fundamentalist fellow believers were about four-letter words and references to sex or body parts. The desire to make the world a tolerant and liberated place has now extended to Princeton University where students are objecting both to associations between the institution and its former president, Woodrow Wilson, but also to the word — wait for it — “master.” (Will Princeton stop granting “Masters” degrees?)

The group Black Justice League occupied the office of President Christopher L. Eisgruber at Princeton and offered a series of demands: that the university “acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and how he impacted campus policy and culture,” and that all buildings and programs named for Wilson have their names changed. The students also demanded that a portrait of Wilson come down from a dining hall. Other demands include having “classes on the history of marginalized peoples” be added to distribution requirements, and that a “cultural space on campus” be “dedicated specifically to black students.”

Also on Wednesday, the masters of Princeton’s residential colleges decided to stop calling themselves masters and instead to use the term “head of the college.”

At protests at Yale University, minority students have said that the word “master” is associated with slavery in ways that make it an inappropriate title for a college official.

Princeton’s announcement of the change noted that the use of “master” in the sense of an academic leader predates American slavery and has nothing to do with it.

“Though we are aware that the term ‘master’ has a long history of use in universities (indeed since medieval times), it seems to me by now to be anachronistic and unfortunate for the positions we hold,” said a statement from Sandra Bermann, head of Whitman College, Cotsen Professor of the Humanities and professor of comparative literature. “We are glad to take on the designation as ‘head of the college’ that describes our role more aptly.”

My forebears would have put “head” in Margaret Gray’s “filth file” because of its phalic associations. But everyone knows that contemporary fundamentalists give a pass to sex.

Perhaps the oddest part of this story was the following comment:

“We owe nothing to people who are deeply flawed,” the essay says. “There is an impulsive reaction to want to ignore uncomfortable or questionable legacies. However, what does it say about our society if we continue to glorify legacies without acknowledging — and at the very least caring about — the continuous promotion of unrectified inequalities and injustices? … By not recognizing the importance of this discourse, the university is telling its marginalized community and the outside world that it values its bleached-clean version of history over the prolonged discomfort and alienation of students of color. This erasure is especially dangerous in the present context of state-sanctioned violence against black people that prolongs this genocide.”

Actually, everyone owes a debt to our deeply flawed first parents, which is what we call original sin. But today’s self-righteous never recognize their own flaws or the possibility that they may have them.

And forget about all that outrage over Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo for its iconoclastic and blasphemous covers. The self-righteous, whether believers or tolerantists, cannot abide sin in this world.

Wait, maybe Fosdick won after all.

Epistemological Self-Consciousness, Intellectual Theonomy

What kind of a worldview does a wren exhibit when it sees the neighbor’s cat crouching in preparation to pounce and flies to the nearest telephone line? Is the bird’s knowledge of the feline species somehow diminished because he can’t theorize about his knowledge of cats and their objects of backyard prey?

What about a baseball player who can spot the difference between a curve and a four-seam fastball, all within a nanosecond, and swing his bat while uncoiling his body to launch the baseball into the right field stands? If the batter can’t explain his theory of hitting, if the Phillies won’t hire him when he retires to be a hitting coach, does that make his knowledge of crushing mistake pitches illegitimate? Does every batter have to be a Ted Williams for his hits to be certain and his runs-batted-in certified? Did Richie Allen not win the American League MVP for 1972 because he could not theorize about what he did in the batter’s box?

I have contemplated these two sets of questions recently while continuing my reflections on neo-Calvinism, worldview thinking, and a certain sector of the Reformed world’s infatuation with philosophy. Countless times I have encountered the argument that someone’s knowledge is not really knowledge because they have no epistemological foundation for it. The public high school teacher may be able to teach algebra but because she doesn’t know where the truths of math come from, she doesn’t really understand math. Or the elected official may understand that human life should be protected and vote for harsher penalties for manslaughter but unless he understands that human beings are created in the image of God, his vote is inauthentic.

Perhaps the best bumper sticker expression of this outlook comes from the Greg Bahnsen quotation that adorns Rabbi Bret’s blog:

In various forms, the fundamental argument advanced by the Christian apologist is that the Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. When the perspective of God’s revelation is rejected, then the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the preconditions of knowledge and meaningful experience. To put it another way: the proof that Christianity is true is that if it were not, we would not be able to prove anything.

But as the two examples above indicate, creatures have knowledge and understanding of the created order all the time without being able to give a theoretical account of such ideas or activities. Why isn’t knowledge of math and batting the human equivalent of the instincts and cunning that birds show when fleeing cats? Granted, human beings are more than natural; we have souls, minds, language capacities. But even these higher ranges of human existence are part and parcel of the way human beings operate on planet earth. Those higher ranges are natural to human beings. I see no compelling reason why we need to spiritualize of philosophize human activities that are simply analogous to what other creatures do.

Some neo-Calvinists and theonomists will object that such an understanding of human activity denies God and the relationship that all people have with him by virtue of creation. In other words, human beings should do everything that they do to the glory of God. To fail to connect the dots between algebra and doxology is to operate in a world of autonomy from God.

One possible response is to say that God may be as delighted by the batter’s ability to hit the ball as he is by the wren’s capacity to elude the cat. Which is to say that human beings in their creatureliness, in the games they play, the poems they memorize, the bridges they build, and the voyages they take, delight God because he created human beings precisely with the capacity to do these things. And if all of creation can praise to God, from the movement of the stars to the way cats clean themselves, then why can’t human life in its naturalness also give God glory as creator whether or not a human being is engaging in eating or playing or learning self-consciously to the glory of God. Why can’t it be the case that even despite the sinful natures that afflict all people, their existence and range of activities as created beings delight God simply as the fulfillment of his creation and providence in the same way that creatures without souls also give glory to God in accomplishing the ends for which they were created?

Of course, the paleo-Calvinist answers to these questions seem plausible to this paleo-Calvinist, but I would also venture an example from the spiritual world that could throw a wrench into the seemingly perpetual philosophical motion machine of neo-Calvinists. Aside from the batter or the wren, what about the regenerate believer who can’t tell the difference between Plato and Kant? What about the Christian who is not given to self-consciousness? Is his plumbing any less valuable or virtuous because he can’t conceive of a philosophically coherent system that will explain how his knowledge of the leak and his experience with fixing such leaks depends upon the ontological Trinity? If he simply begins his day asking for God’s blessing, thanks God for strength and sustenance, goes about his job, provides for his family, and leads family worship – that is, if he simply goes about his routine and seeks to honor his maker, but cannot fathom the theories that would turn his activities into the self-actualized doings of an epistemologically self-conscious believer, does that make his knowledge of plumbing, his love of family, and his enjoyment of pizza invalid?

I hope not.