The Real 1619 Project

Imagine understanding United States history with this view of human nature front and center (from the Synod of Dort which concluded — go figure — in 1619):

Human beings were originally created in the image of God and were furnished in mind with a true and sound knowledge of the Creator and things spiritual, in will and heart with righteousness, and in all emotions with purity; indeed, the whole human being was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by their own free will, they deprived themselves of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place they brought upon themselves blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in their minds; perversity, defiance, and hardness in their hearts and wills; and finally impurity in all their ­emotions. (III/IV.1)

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Quote of the Day (too long to tweet)

This came in the further discussion between PCA and URC ministers about a footnote in the revised Belgic 36 (June 17, 11:50pm):

But in the end, I agree with all “sides” (I hate to use that term regarding brothers who agree on far, far more than they disagree) that this particular issue will not solve the Two Kingdoms-Neo Calvinist discussion one way or another. I found what Herman Kuiper said in his minority report to the CRC Synod in 1946 very helpful on this issue: “it must be said that there is no communisitic [one agreed upon] opinion in Reformed circles as to what the precise duty of the State with reference to the first table of the law may be, nor as to what the reciprocal obligations of Church and State are, and that is reason enough why it is unwise at this time to try to incorporate any deliverance touching these matters in our confession which should be the expression of our common faith.”

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Can Biblical Theologians Do Historical Theology?

In my ongoing search for historical evidence to prove that union with Christ is crucial to Reformed Protestantism and distinguishes the Reformed tradition from Lutheranism, I did a word search in the Canons of Dort. Lo and behold, I discovered that the patriarchs of the Dutch Reformed tradition (from whence Gerheerdus Vos cometh) did not use the word “union” once (or at least their translators found no reason to use the term).

This is fairly remarkable since the Third and Fourth headings in Dort address specifically the nature of conversion, regeneration, and the role of faith. If union were going to be an important piece of Reformed orthodoxy in understanding the ordo salutis, Dort would be the place to find it since the Synod took place at a time when Reformed scholastics were beginning to engage in high level polemics. And yet, we can’t find Waldo in Dort.

Here’s an excerpt:

Article 10: Conversion as the Work of God

The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.

Article 11: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Conversion

Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work

And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man’s power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

Article 13: The Incomprehensible Way of Regeneration

In this life believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile, they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they do believe with the heart and love their Savior.

Article 14: The Way God Gives Faith

In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent–the act of believing–from man’s choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that he who works both willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself.

Does this mean that union with Christ is wrong or that those who argue for its importance are wrongheaded? Of course, not. History doesn’t work that way. But claims about union have escalated to levels that rely on historical judgments. It is not simply a question of what the Bible says. Unionists are making assertions that affect the way we read the history of the Reformation (how did the Reformers read Paul and did they get it right?) and the history of Reformed Protestantism (what was basic to the way that Reformed pastors and theologians explained the Reformed faith?).

So far, the unionists appear to be overreaching. I understand the appeal of finding your cherished doctrine safe near the core of Reformed Protestantism (hence the appeal to Calvin). But sometimes your belief in the truth means you need to say that the tradition has been wrong and that your insights are right. Maybe if we could clarify the history of Reformed thought, the debates over union could be more fruitful than they are now when exegetes are making historical claims they appear to be unable to support.

Why Do Reformed Think They Are Evangelical?

If Reformed Protestantism is basically evangelical then how do you account for the major divisions that have occurred among American Presbyterians? The fundamentalist controversy apparently has nothing at stake for the Reformed/evangelical consensus since Machen and other conservative Presbyterians were fighting liberalism and EVERYONE knows that liberalism is bad. (Of course, the problem here is that Machen’s evangelical colleagues at Princeton were some of his biggest opponents – the revival friendly Charles Eerdman and Robert Speer.)

According to this consensus the Presbyterian opposition to revivalism during the Second Pretty Good Awakening is also easy to explain. Charles Finney and company were delinquent on theology and possibly practice (revivalism and new measures instead of just plain revival). So the Second Pretty Good Awakening proves nothing.

Then there is the First Pretty Good Awakening where Calvinists promoted revivals. This is the golden-age for the Reformed/Evangelical consensus. But what about the Old Side critics? Well, as I learned at Westminster and from Leonard Trinterud, the Old Side were proto-liberals, propounding a rationalistic theology with Enlightenment echoes, and they were drunks, falling off their horses on the way home from presbytery thanks to a heavy elbow.

In the recent exchange with Ken Stewart over at the Christian Curmudgeon I came across another explanation for the apparent tension between Reformed Protestants and evangelicals – which is, blame the Dutch. In response to differences of interpretation about revivalism, Stewart wrote to the Curmudgeon:

I think we disagree is in our estimation of the danger posed by Hart and his school of writers. Westminster Escondido, in a strange continuity with Calvin Seminary Grand Rapids (these schools are usually at loggerheads) are centers from which revival is disparaged. So important a church historian as George Marsden (raised in the OPC) termed Darryl Hart’s book on American presbyterianism “anti-evangelical” because of its steady misrepresentation of the Great Awakening. So, while from your vantage point, you are aware of Hart, from mine – I think he and his allies represent a danger so great that it needs to be countered.

When pushed on the fact that George Marsden, who studied with Cornelius Van Til, who was very critical of evangelicalism, Stewart responded:

I don’t dispute CVT’s anti-evangelical posture; in fact I would suggest that the influx of CRC faculty into WTS in the 1930’s fundamentally shifted the young WTS away from its Princeton heritage, which had been decidedly the other way. When one stands back from this, it makes us realize that the whole conservative Reformed tradition in this country has been influenced far more by Grand Rapids theology than is generally acknowledged. I am not demonizing the CRC in this particular respect; I am simply highlighting the fact that throughout the 20th century, there have been rival versions of the Reformed faith jockeying with one another for dominance.

What is fairly amusing about this reply is that the Dutch-Americans at Calvin Seminary were responsible for printing a review that Stewart wrote of Recovering Mother Kirk, which was hardly flattering of the book’s author or his interpretation of the Reformed tradition. If the Dutch-American Reformed mafia wanted to enlarge their control of the interpretation of American Protestantism, they fell asleep when reading Stewart’s submission.

Stewart and others who reject the argument that Reformed and evangelical are at odds gain a lot of traction by suggesting that Reformed critics of evangelicalism construe Reformed and evangelical Protestantism as fundamentally at odds or separate entities. The proponents of an evangelical-friendly Reformed faith also like to point out that Reformed churches have made lots of room for evangelicalism and even revivalism. So both conceptually and historically, supposedly, the Reformed critics of evangelicalism are flawed.

But for this critic, it is obvious that evangelicals and Reformed are both Protestant and so overlap at certain points, both religiously and historically. Experimental Calvinism arose in the context of Reformed churches (especially when the prospects for reforming the national churches were looking bleak) and Reformed and Presbyterians churches have been friendly to evangelicalism (though I wish they were not).

What the proponents of the consensus are incapable of doing is accounting for the splits that have occurred within Reformed churches over evangelicalism (even without the presence of Dutch Reformed). The Old Side and the Old School split from their Presbyterian peers because the pro-revivalists believed subscription and polity were secondary to conversion and holy living. And so it has always been with evangelicalism. It is inherently anti-formal in the sense that forms to not matter compared to the experience of new birth or ecstatic worship. Evangelicals are also inherently inconsistent about this because since we exist as human beings in forms (i.e., bodies that are either male or female), we cannot escape formalism of some kind. Either way, on the matter of forms – creeds, worship, and polity – those who promote revivals or consider themselves evangelical are indifferent. The Spirit unites, not the forms. The same goes for different shades of evangelicalism: for the Gospel Coalition it is the gospel not the forms that unite; and for the Baylys and other “do this and live” types, it is the law not the forms that unites. Sticklers for the regulative principle, the system of doctrine, or presbyterian procedure are simply ornery obstacles to uniting Protestants on what is truly important.

What should not be missed either is that when Presbyterian particularists insist that forms matter, that the word reveals forms, and that the word and the Spirit work in conjunction, the response is invariably that the particularlists are mean and lack the fruit of the Spirit. Why? Because they do not recognize the presence of the Spirit.

And so to bring a little more light on the matter from one of those nefarious Dutch-Reformed types (though he is actually German), here is a useful reflection from Richard Muller on the impulses within evangelicalism that lead away from the insights of the Reformation(if only he had been editing the Calvin Theological Journal when Stewart reviewed Recovering Mother Kirk):

Even more than this, however, use of the language of personal relationship with Jesus often indicates a qualitative loss of the traditional Reformation language of being justified by grace alone through faith in Christ and being, therefore, adopted as children of God in and through our graciously given union with Christ. Personal relationships come about through mutual interaction and thrive because of common interests. They are never or virtually never grounded on a forensic act such as that indicated in the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works – in fact personal relationships rest on a reciprocity of works or acts. The problem here is not the language itself: The problem is the way in which it can lead those who emphasize it to ignore the Reformation insight into the nature of justification and the character of believer’s relationship with God in Christ.

Such language of personal relationship all too easily lends itself to an Arminian view of salvation as something accomplished largely by the believer in cooperation with God. A personal relationship is, of its very nature, a mutual relation, dependent on the activity – the works – of both parties. In addition, the use of this Arminian, affective language tends to obscure the fact that the Reformed tradition has its own indigenous relational and affective language and piety; a language and piety, moreover, that are bound closely to the Reformation principle of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. The Heidelberg Catechism provides us with a language of our “only comfort in life and in death” – that “I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ” (q. 1). “Belonging to Christ,” a phrase filled with piety and affect, retains the confession of grace alone through faith alone, particularly when its larger context in the other language of the catechism is taken to heart. We also have access to a rich theological and liturgical language of covenant to express with both clarity and warmth our relationship to God in Christ.

Even so, the Reformed teaching concerning the identity of the church assumes a divine rather than a human foundation and assumes that the divine work of establishing the community of belief is a work that includes the basis of the ongoing life of the church as a community, which is to say, includes the extension of the promise to children of believers. The conversion experience associated with adult baptism and with the identification of the church as a voluntary association assumes that children are, with a few discrete qualifications, pagan-and it refuses to understand the corporate dimension of divine grace working effectively (irresistibly!) in the perseverance of the covenanting community. It is a contradictory teaching indeed that argues irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints and then assumes both the necessity of a particular phenomenology of adult conversion and “decision.” (“How Many Points?” Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 425-33 posted at Riddelblog)

Two-Kingdom Tuesday: A 2K Pietist (and Dutch to boot!)

Wilhelmus a Brakel was a seventeenth-century Dutch Reformed pastor, and a leader in the so-called Second Reformation of the Dutch churches. At one blog dedicated to Brakel this development in Dutch Protestantism receives the following description:

By this term, Nadere Reformatie, we mean a movement in the 17th century which was a reaction against dead orthodoxy and [the] secularization of Christianity in the Church of the Reformation and which insisted on the practise of faith. This may also be called a special form of Pietism, because the central idea is the “praxis pietatis.” The origin of the pietistic trend lies in England and the father of Puritan Pietism [who] was William Perkins. Via Willem Teellinck and Guilielmus Amesius a direct influence on a kindred movement in Holland ensued. To this movement belong the Teellincks, Voetius, Van Lodenstein, Saldenus, the two Brakels, and especially also Witsius. This movement is not meant as a correction of the Reformation but as the consequence of it. The background of the conspicuous preciseness is the desire to serve God fully according to His will.

In sum, Dutch pietism was an effort fuse the personal piety of experiemental Calvinism with the rigor of the original Reformed movement.

Old Lifers are not known for relishing pietism, as a current discussion points out. And yet, even Dutch Reformed pietists, like Brakel, had enough sense to recognize the insights of post-Constantinian 2 kingdom theology. I hope the Baylys are listening.

The following comes from Brakel’s A Christian’s Reasonable Service, Book 2, chapter 29. (Props go out to our other mid-western correspondent):

Does the civil government have any authority at all with regard to the church? If yes, what does or does this not consist of?

We wish to preface our answer to this question by stating that first, all members of the clergy—ministers, elders, and deacons—are subject to the civil government as individuals , and thus are in one and the same category as other people. I repeat, as individuals. This is not true, however, as far as their ecclesiastical
standing is concerned, for as such, they are subject to consistories, Classes, and Synods, and thus are subject to the only King of the church, Jesus Christ.

Secondly, if members of the clergy conduct themselves contrary to civil laws pertaining to all citizens, they, just as other citizens, may and must be punished according to the magnitude of their crime.

Thirdly, since members of the clergy are not servants of the civil government, but as individuals are in the same category as all other citizens, they have the same right to legal defense. Therefore, in the event of an indictment, legal procedures must be initiated against them the same as against other citizens.

Fourthly, members of the clergy and the entire congregation, each in their own position, are obligated to honor and obey the civil government conscientiously—with heart and in deeds. They are to do so not by way of compulsion, but in an affectionate manner, out of love for God, whose supremacy and majesty are reflected in the office of civil government. No one is released from the duty of rendering honor and obedience simply because he is a member of the clergy or of the church. This is true even if the civil government is either pagan, Islamic, heretical or Christian, good or evil, godly or ungodly, compassionate or severe. It is the duty of elders to stir everyone up to render such honor and obedience. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1)

Two-Kingdom Tuesday: The Hollowness of Article 36

Critics of two-kingdom theology from Dutch backgrounds often cite the Belgic Confession’s teaching on the civil magistrate as grounds for rejection. For those who don’t have a copy of the confession handy, Article 36 reads:

And the government’s task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word.

What said critics fail to mention is that Article 36 has been soundly rejected by the Dutch and the Calvinists among them.

First, the North American descendants of the Dutch Reformed church would revise the article to remove the magistrate’s responsibility for upholding the true religion and destroying all infidelity. The Christian Reformed Church Synod of 1958 called this affirmation of Article 36 “unbiblical” and substituted the following:

They should do it [i.e., remove every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to divine worship] in order that the Word of God may have free course; the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress; and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.

That may give the magistrate more sway over religion than 2k folk would like, but it is far removed from the original language of the Belgic Confession. What is more, the modern Dutch churches regard the standard by which many neo-Calvinists critique 2k as “unbiblical.”

Second, Abraham Kuyper himself, the Calvinist than whom no Calvinist is more neo, rejected Article 36’s assertion of the magistrate’s power to punish infidelity. As pointed out in a previous post, Kuyper wrote specifically and candidly about his disagreement with Article 36. Among the assertions he made were:

We would rather be considered not Reformed and insist that men ought not to kill heretics, than that we are left with the Reformed name as the prize for assisting in the shedding of the blood of heretics.

It is our conviction: 1) that the examples which are found in the Old Testament are of no force for us because the infallible indication of what was or was not heretical which was present at that time is now lacking.

2) That the Lord and the Apostles never called upon the help of the magistrate to kill with the sword the one who deviated from the truth. Even in connection with such horrible heretics as defiled the congregation in Corinth, Paul mentions nothing of this idea. And it cannot be concluded from any particular word in the New Testament, that in the days when particular revelation should cease, that the rooting out of heretics with the sword is the obligation of magistrates.

3) That our fathers have not developed this monstrous proposition out of principle, but have taken it over from Romish practice. . . .

I do wish that Dr. Kloosterman would pay attention to the master of all worldview and world transformation and cease from using an article against 2k that no Dutch Calvinist uses (except himself and his fans).

Finally, the Dutch magistrates themselves rejected Article 36 even in the glory days of the Dutch Reformation. Here is how Philip Benedict concludes his chapter on the Dutch Reformation:

The place of the Reformed church came to assume within the seven United Provinces of the Netherlands was different from that of any other established church in Europe. On the one hand, the Reformed church was the public church. Its ministers were paid from the tithe and the proceeds of seized church property. It provided the chaplains who accompanied the republic’s armies and navies. . .

On the other hand, across the republic as a whole the Reformed enjoyed neither the numerical preponderance nor the degrees of ideological hegemony that Europe’s legally dominant churches normally exercised. For every author who likened the Dutch struggle for independence to the liberation of ancient Israel from the yoke of Egypt, another depicted the long war for independence as a battle to preserve the traditional liberties of the region against tyranny, including ecclesiastical tyranny. . . . The consistories and synods learned before long to moderate the severity of their demands for moral purity, and the measures regulating public morals generally fell far short of the strictness of those promulgated in Zurich, Geneva, and Scotland. Last of all, ecclesiastical discipline was not backed up by civil sanctions as in Geneva and Scotland. The revolutionary reformation of the Low Countries was thus revolutionary for its reconfiguration of the relation between church and state and for the degree of freedom it obtained for inhabitants of this region to live their lives outside the institution and ritual of any organized church, even while it gave birth to a Reformed church that was at once privileged and pure, an established church and a little company of the elect.

Maybe I’m finally understanding the purpose of worldview thinking. It is a way of seeing the entire globe and ignoring reality.