Could This Happen in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod?

Would confessional Lutherans have ever fallen for the Alex Marlarkey story of dying and going to heaven and coming back to life? (Wasn’t the last name a tip-off?) Would confessional Presbyterians be so gullible for that matter?

Here’s one account of what happened:

Tyndale House Publishers has stopped production of the book and DVD of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven after the book’s coauthor and subject, Alex Malarkey, released a statement retracting the book’s contents.

In an open letter, the self-described “boy who did not come back from heaven” wrote:

Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven outside of what is written in the Bible . . . not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,
Alex Malarkey

This isn’t simply a question of good or bad theology, pietist or confessional piety, someone who naively thinks Christians don’t intentionally mislead or someone who has a healthy respect for the ongoing effects of original sin. It is a question of ecclesiology. Belonging to a communion where pastors and others vet who gets admitted to fellowship (the Lord’s Table), where pastors receive scrutiny before being ordained, where church officers monitor what seminaries teach, and where education committees subsidize instructional materials for church members — all of these structures contribute to an identity for church members that prevents individual Christians from being at the mercy of the market and its hucksters (and the editors who enable the hucksters).

Which is to say that not only does evangelicalism lack ecclesiology. In place of the church evangelicalism has the market. The publishers, parachurch agencies, magazine promoters, conference sponsors — these are the structures that “minister” for a price to your average born-again Christian who worships at some independent tabernacle, celebration center, or even a local congregation. And without any shepherds to police the sheep and the wolves, your average Christian has to figure out for himself whether other Christians really do manipulate best-seller lists or turn the NFL into a sacred cow.

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Without 2k, Thomas Sowell becomes an Orthodox Reformed Protestant

Celebrants of America’s Christian founding take note.

Our Protestant Rabbi interlocutor sometime back came to the defense of Bill Evans’ critique of 2k. I understand in part the frustration with 2k for folks like Rabbi Bret because it denies the certainty that supposedly comes with finding the solutions to social woes in Scripture, which in turn gives the Christian pastor leverage in the culture wars over skeptical citizens, policy makers, and Democrats. The problem (as if there is one) is that opponents of 2k never practice what they teach. They can’t. This isn’t a matter of hypocrisy. I’m tempted to wonder if it’s a question of intelligence but that is not a very charitable explanation either. It is a problem of thinking this antithetical w-w all the way through.

Observe the following. Rabbi B (why is B so prominent in the critics of 2k? The BBs William B. Evans) takes issue with (all about) me on the following grounds:

It is R2K that destroys the Gospel. R2K allows an alien theology to shape the zeitgeist so that all our thought categories are conditioned by that alien theology. Then Darryl expects that, despite that alien theology creating a culture hostile to Biblical Christianity, that the Church will remain unaffected by that hostility and false theology so that it can herald a clear Gospel message. Our contemporary setting screams that Darryl is wrong. Church Growth, Emergent, Pentecostal, Arminian, R2K,etc. churches all demonstrate that the zeitgeist pagan theology is shaping our Churches and so our Christianity. Pentecostalism is shaped by animistic theology. Emergent by cultural Marxist theology. And R2K by libertarian / Anabaptist theology. In point of fact the only Christian Churches which are swimming upstream in this miasma of lunacy are those Churches who understand the Biblical Christianity makes truth claims that impact every area of life.

Wow! Destroys the gospel. Pretty strong stuff. Pass the Rabbi some Paxil (which he must take when he goes to meetings of Classis).

But notice how the good Rabbi destroys the very same gospel he professes to defend when he offers a seminary (SEMINARY!) course on economics:

The purpose of this course is to allow Reformed presuppositions and a Reformed Christian Worldview to mold how we think about money and economics. The emphasis will fall on some of the various paradigms that have been offered concerning Economics focusing especially on the Austrian School, the Ropke Third way and the Distributionist schools. Keynesianism will not be considered except to critique it, as Keynesianism is to Economics what Rap is to Music. The Student will be learning the Macro approach to Economics.

Note — This is a course to familiarize the Seminary Student in Basic Economic theory. It is not intended as a Masters level course for one who is receiving their Masters in Economics.

Main Texts

1.) Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy – Thomas Sowell
2.) Economics In One Lesson — Henry Hazlitt

Required Reading

1.) Applied Economics; Thinking Beyond Stage One — Thomas Sowell
2.) The Social Crisis of Our Time — Wlhelm Ropke
3.) The Law — Frederic Bastiat
4.) What Has Government Done to Our Money? — Murray N. Rothbard
5.) Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis — Ludwig Von Mises
6.) Cliches of Socialism — Anonymous
7.) The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve — Em Griffin
8.) Road To Serfdom — F. A. Hayek
9.) Baptized Inflation — Ian Hodge
10.) Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider
David Chilton

11.) Three Works on Distributism — G. K. Chesterton
12.) The Servile State — Hilaire Belloc
13.) A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market — Wilhelm Ropke

In Rabbi B’s manichean world where the kingdom of Satan vies with God’s kingdom, where exactly do the likes of Sowell and Von Mises reside? If they are on the side of truth, they must be in God’s kingdom since the kingdom of Satan only produces falsehood and deceit. But I missed the press release about Sowell and Von Mises joining a NAPARC communion. In fact, both economists proceed in their craft and analysis not by referring to God’s law or divinely revealed truths but by relying on — in the anti-2k w-w — their autonomous reason. Remember, their economics do not proceed from a regenerate heart or from reading Scripture.

Now, a 2ker can account for Rabbi B’s attraction to free market economists by chatting up the common realm and general revelation and the image of God even in fallen creatures. But how can Rabbi B account for the truths that non-believers, people who belong to Satan’s kingdom, see? And how can he conceivably promote instruction in anti-Christian ideas — remember, Sowell and Von Mises for all we know are citizens of Satan’s kingdom — for seminarians? Without some recognition of a common realm somewhere between the City of God and the City of man, he can’t, especially when he construes the kingdoms this way:

First, you have Christ’s Kingdom where all the believers are (Church). Then you have every place else that is “not Christ’s Kingdom” (i.e. — “The World”) However, unlike the Anabaptist paradigm in the “Not Christ’s Kingdom” you have both believers and unbelievers cheek by jowl. Let’s call that the mixed or common Kingdom.

Now, here’s the question? Where is Satan’s Kingdom in this two Kingdom model? Darryl and R2K tell us specifically that the World (presumably planet earth outside the Church) is neither Christ’s Kingdom nor Satan’s Kingdom but a common (neutral?) Kingdom. What we need to ask here then is ‘Where is Satan’s Kingdom?’ You know… the Kingdom of Darkness that Colossians 1 talks about Christians having been translated from? It can’t be the case that when men are translated from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, that they have been translated from the R2K common Kingdom since believers and unbelievers exist together in the common Kingdom.

Rabbi B suffers from invoking the antithesis when he wants to beat up 2k, but then fails to apply it to himself when he reads in economic and political commentators. He should know that 2kers affirm the antithesis and that they also believe this side of the eschaton the antithesis is not a category that believers use meaningfully to make sense of the world except when it comes to church membership. In other words, Christians enjoy fellowship only with Christians within the confines of the visible church. But outside the church, Christians enjoy a host of friendships and relations with non-believers thanks to the life they share outside the Christ’s kingdom. Without that context for understanding of the antithesis, Rabbi B is left with an arbitrary notion of common grace where the insights of unbelievers remarkably coincides with whatever Rabbi B approves. Say hello to the new Protestant pope.

Postscript: Rabbi B also thinks he gets mileage out of 2k’s flawed understanding of the kingdom. He has yet, however, to consider (again, an issue of intelligence?) that God’s kingdom is not the same as Christ’s kingdom. I do not understand what is so hard to understand about the notion that God’s providential rule over all things (even over Saddam Hussein) is different from the rule that Christ extends over his people. Again, if he wants to simplify the kingdoms and extend Christ’s redemptive rule to figures like Saddam Hussein, he has some ‘splainin’ to do with affirmations like the following:

Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel. (Larger Catechism)

If that leads to an expansive view of God’s kingdom outside the church, then I wonder about Rabbi B’s reading comprehension. But extending Christ’s rule as described here to non-believers would make sense of regarding Thomas Sowell as an orthodox Reformed Protestant.

Blame It On the Reformation (Part 5): Channeling Schaeffer

In his chapter on economics and the “goods life,” Brad Gregory has a kvetch-fest about free markets and consumerism (that echoes Francis Schaeffer on Aquinas):

The earlier and more fundamental change was the disembedding of economics from the ethics of late medieval Christianity’s institutionalized worldview, in conjunction with the disruptions of the Reformation era. What needs explanation is how Western European Christians, whose leaders in the Reformation era condemned avarice across confessional lines, themselves created modern capitalism and consumption practices antithetical to biblical teachings even as confessionalization was creating better informed, more self-conscious Reformed Protestants, Lutherans and Catholics. Conflating prosperity with providence and opting for acquisitiveness as the lesser of two evils until greed was rechristened as benign self-interest, modern Christians have in effect been engaged in a centuries-long attempt to prove Jesus wrong. “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Yes we can. Or so most participants in world history’s most insatiably consumerist society, the United States, continue implicitly to claim through their actions, considering the number of self-identified American Christians in the early twenty-first century who seem bent on acquiring ever more and better stuff, including those who espouse the “prosperity Gospel” within American religious hyperpluralism. Tocqueville’s summary description of Americans in the early 1830s has proven a prophetic understatement: “people want to do as well as possible in this world without giving up their chances in the next.” (288)

To his credit, Gregory does not exempt the Roman Catholic Church from the guilt of avarice. He observes that the Renaissance papacy was not too bullish on self-denial.

. . . the popes and cardinals at the papal court, along with wealthy bishops in their respective dioceses — who, already long before the Avignonese popes and their courtiers intensified all these trends in the fourteenth century, so often sought to augment their incomes through simony, pluralism, and a deep participation in the monetized economy through the purchase of luxurious material things and the borrowing of large sums of money. (253)

At the same time, he credits the papacy with an effective rejoinder to modern acquisitiveness, the Church’s social teaching:

They reiterated the claim that the natural world is God’s creation, intended by God for the flourishing of all human beings; repeated that economics and the market are not independent of morality; reasserted that the right to private property is not absolute, but is rather subordinate to the common good; restated that unrestrained acquisitiveness does not serve but rather impedes genuine human flourishing and eternal salvation; confirmed the biblical view that the pursuit of affluence above love for God and service to others is idolatry; argued that minimizing workers’ wages in order to maximize profits is exploitative and immoral; and insisted that the poor and marginalized, as a matter of justice, have a moral claim on the more affluent to share with and care for them. (296)

What is missing from this social teaching and from Gregory’s account is where human beings, who are supposed to be dead in trespasses and sins, are supposed to summon up the reservoirs of virtue to carry out such social teaching. His summary does mention eternal salvation on the plus side and idolatry on the down side, but where is grace and how do fallen people become good apart from the supernatural work of the Spirit? Not even the best of the church’s sacramental system and all of that papal charism could prevent popes from padding their accounts, nor did the theology of the medieval church prevent the hierarchy from raising revenues through the sale of grace — as in indulgences.

If the Reformation contributed to modern acquisitiveness, at least it supplies a good explanation for why people are selfish and want to acquire lots of cheap stuff. It is called depravity. The Reformers also knew that the only genuine remedy and the only way for people to lead a selfless life is through the operation of the Holy Spirit. If we want the redeemed and lost to live virtuously, we need to redefine this notion of human flourishing, call it some kind of moral subsistence, and double-down on efforts to beef up the authorities — parents, teachers, pastors, neighbors — who create expectations that restrain human viciousness.

In the meantime, Gregory’s history needs to avoid the kind of sermonizing that follows from an assumed theology, or he needs to write his own version of How Shall We Then Live?