You Can’t Claim the Reformation and the First Gross (think German) Awakening

While the Gospel Allies put on the mantle of Luther — LUTHER!!! (that antinomian, beer drinking, potty mouth) — they should really be reading Garry Wills on the problem with evangelicalism. As I’ve been trying to say for some time, revivalism is antithetical to reformation. The church (as in reform the church) matters to Luther and Calvin. The parachurch is at the heart of revivals and the Gospel Coalition. To that end, consider the following:

Evangelicalism tends to break out of any single denomination—think of the preachers from various bodies at Cane Ridge. It is fissiparous even in its most favorable environments—think of Methodism branching into the Disciples of Christ, the Holiness Movement, the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Whitefield, it should be remembered, was an ordained Anglican.) Evangelicalism is a style—Mark Noll calls it a “value system.” It can affect even some “high church” bodies or members. There are Pentecostalists among Roman Catholics. (Phyllis Schlafly, it should be remembered, was a Catholic, as Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon are. Bannon showed his allegiance in his 2014 Skype address to the Institute for Human Dignity at the Vatican.)

Given this description of evangelical style, two things should be noticed. America is, or likes to think of itself as, a “do-it-yourself democracy.” Many of the traits I have been listing are ones Americans will fancy themselves as embodying (or wanting to). People who hit the sawdust trail are working a kind of do-it-yourself salvation. The credentialing by the people is what all presidents claim. No wonder Noll thinks of evangelical religion (despite its roots in Wesley’s England) as native to America, as giving America its most recognizable God. Calvin said God “elects” his chosen ones. In America we choose to elect our leaders. The crowd credentials the preacher. Historians rightly observe that our national political conventions have borrowed elements from revivals.

The Allies should be especially mindful, as the crowds gather this week that “crowds credential preachers.”

Trump is What Conservatives Do (or have done since 1950)

Maybe Trump’s 45 minutes of fame (he certainly has more than the rest of us) are coming to an end. But I continue to be surprised by the woe-is-me-conservatism that accompanies his candidacy and appeal (and I am not going to vote for him — there). He is an insurgent, he is a populist, he is undignified, he’s a threat to the GOP establishment.

So was William F. Buckley, Jr. (and he was a traditionalist Roman Catholic).

First Rod Dreher’s hand-wringing:

What Trump has shown, and is showing every day, is how out of touch Conservatism, Inc., is with the people for whom it purports to speak. They haven’t had a chance to vote for someone like him in a long, long time because, as I’ve said, the GOP and Conservatism, Inc., gatekeepers kept them down. The conservative Christians who have gone to Washington and gotten invited to be in the inner Republican power circles? You think those professional Christians really speak for the people back home anymore?

Me, I’m in a weird and extremely unrepresentative place, politically and ideologically. I am mostly a cosmopolitan in my tastes, but I live by choice in deep Red America, and am a traditionalist by conviction. What Sean Trende says about the Republican and conservative elites living inside a cosmopolitan bubble is true — and the people who give money to the GOP and to the think-tank archipelago are Business Conservatives who, as we now know post-Indiana RFRA, regard we traditionalists are the problem.

Second, Michael Brendan Dougherty on the problem with the editors of National Review repudiating Donald Trump:

You could call it a freak out on the right.

National Review, the flagship journal of the conservative movement, published a surprisingly defensive symposium, asserting the continued relevance of conservative ideas against an election-year populist challenger, who promised to fight for American jobs and sovereignty. “The old guard threw everything they had at him, and their diminished power is now exposed,” wrote David Brooks. This crude challenger to the party’s status quo had to be stopped.

That was eight years ago. And it was Mike Huckabee, whose advisor Ed Rollins declared the Reagan coalition dead. The challenge was sufficiently contained, then. But it was the first time that I noticed that the anti-establishment kick reflex that the conservative movement had installed in its Frankenstein-coalition of voters had turned around and began kicking them.

Donald Trump and his coalition of voters kick a lot harder than Mike Huckabee. And so we have another symposium, now exclusively anti-Trump. But this time around, even movement-bred stalwarts are wondering if Ed Rollins had a point. Maybe the coalition is dead.

There’s something faintly comical about everyone in the Republican party shouting, “I’m not the establishment. That guy is.” The conservative movement long ago defeated the East Coast establishment of the party. It was a total rout; the last semi-moderate New England Republicans were defeated a decade ago. And yet, conservatives still insist that they are fighting some powerful establishment within the Republican Party.

The irony is that National Review’s founding editor, Buckley, had a lot to do with defeating the East Coast Establishment GOP. Garry Wills knows the score:

Joe Scarborough, in a recent book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics—and Can Again, claims that moderate conservatism is the real Republican orthodoxy, interrupted at times by “extremists” like Goldwater or the Tea Party.3 He suggests Dwight Eisenhower as the best model for Republicans to imitate. Yet Scarborough is also an admirer of Buckley, and his thesis does not explain—as Dionne’s thesis does—why Buckley despised Eisenhower. Eisenhower, as the first Republican elected president after the New Deal era of Roosevelt and Truman, was obliged in Buckley’s eyes to dismantle the New Deal programs, or at least to begin the dismantling. Buckley resembled the people today who think the first task of a Republican president succeeding Obama will be to repeal or take apart the Affordable Care Act.

Eisenhower, instead, adhered to the “Modern Republicanism” expounded by the law professor Arthur Larson, which accepted the New Deal as a part of American life. Eisenhower said, “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.” It was to oppose that form of Republicanism that Buckley founded National Review in 1955, with a program statement that declared: “Middle-of-the-Road, qua Middle-of-the-Road is politically, intellectually, and morally repugnant.”

Buckley hated Eisenhower’s foreign policy as much as his domestic one. He said, “Eisenhower was above all a man unguided and hence unhampered by principle. Eisenhower undermines the Western resolution to stand up and defend what is ours.” When Russia put down the 1956 uprising in Hungary and Eisenhower did not intervene, National Review called for people to sign the Hungary Pledge—to have no dealings with iron curtain products or exchanges (Buckley’s wife had to give up Russian caviar).

Admittedly, Buckley did not, like Robert Welch (founder of the John Birch Society), think Eisenhower was a secret Communist (as many Republicans now think Obama is a secret Muslim). Buckley thought that Eisenhower had no greater purpose than his own success: “It has been the dominating ambition of Eisenhower’s Modern Republicanism to govern in such a fashion as to more or less please more or less everybody.”

The sense of betrayal by one’s own is a continuing theme in the Republican Party (a Fox News poll in September 2015 found that 62 percent of Republicans feel “betrayed” by their own party’s officeholders). The charges against Eisenhower were repeated against Nixon, who brought Kissingerian “détente” into his dealing with Russia and renewed diplomatic ties to China. On the domestic front, he imposed wage and price controls and sponsored the welfare schemes of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Buckley joined the effort to “primary” Nixon in 1972 by running John Ashbrook against him. Buckley campaigned for Ashbrook in New Hampshire, but he succumbed to pleas from Spiro Agnew (before his disgrace) and Henry Kissinger (a new friend of his) that he endorse Nixon for the general election.

Any American with conservative instincts should in the presence of Donald Trump act like we’ve been here before.

It's Not Exactly Growing the OPC

Jeff Gissing worries about the decline of doctrine and graying of hairs in the PCUSA. He also wonders if the loss of theology is connected to the loss of members:

Theologically, the PC(USA) made the calamitous choice of choosing to abandon consistent doctrinal standards—of even the most elemental type—in favor of an ad hoc, case-by-case approach, in which no belief is out-of-bounds as long as you can get a majority to vote for it. In a denomination that has come to value niceness as the zenith of the Christian virtues, simply appealing to one’s private, subjective interpretations or experience is generally sufficient to pass muster.

The PC(USA) is a denomination full of well-educated people, but at times it evinces a peculiarly petulant stupidity. Take, for example, a recent conversation in which it was claimed that should Presbyterian pastors be required to believe and follow our confession’s he would immediately be fired since he does not observe the Lord’s Day in the fashion envisioned by the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The trouble is, requiring pastors and congregations to adhere to the Westminster Confession, as the OPC does generally, isn’t exactly a “winning” formula as Charlie Sheen used to count victory. The small conservative denomination grows at a very modest rate, maybe 2 percent annually, and hovers just above 30,000 members. Some might say that taking theology too seriously is the problem. If people go to a church where they have to parse the active and passive obedience of Christ, instead of receiving tips on living a well-adjusted, Spirit-filled life, then why bother with all the theology?

The silver lining is that the greatest nation on God’s green earth affords freedoms of association that allow pastors, elders, and church members to commune with a measure of the seriousness of purpose that used to characterize Reformed Protestants. Would it help to have the magistrates requiring Americans to go to our churches? Yes, if you are interested in numbers and statistics and fancy buildings. But no, if you look at the established Protestant church of Europe.

For Roman Catholics who can’t help relishing the divisions and pint-sized denominations that Protestantism yields, please do keep an eye on the ball of “doctrine will never change.” The PCUSA hasn’t changed doctrine. Keeping the Sabbath holy is still on the books. The books require someone to enforce what’s on them. I thought that was what made the hierarchy special. What exactly does it take to disqualify as a Roman Catholic? Garry Wills may still be wondering.

Be Worried, Be (okay) Sort of Worried

Our game-show champion who wears a mullet doesn’t seem to be much concerned about the state of his communion. But others in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome are:

Last Tuesday Paul Baumann posted “An unbroken tradition?”—an analysis of an article by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic. Paul’s post drew almost a hundred comments. Some expressed indignation that anyone claiming intellectual credibility might say anything positive about Mr. Douthat. Others advanced to a lengthy and very substantial discussion of Catholic teaching on marriage. All too belatedly I reintroduced one of the main points of Paul’s original post. By that time, of course, virtually everyone had moved on. Allow me to try again:

Having admitted that Garry Wills is an “outlier” among progressive Catholics, Douthat nonetheless stated that what most progressives share with Wills is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.”

Paul indicated that he shared some of Douthat’s worries “about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA.”

“The problem,” he immediately added, “is determining what is essential and what isn’t.”

Well, maybe other modernists can help, such as those Presbyterians who distinguished between fact and theory to tell what’s essential to Christianity and to vindicate their — get this — orthodoxy.

The General Assembly of 1923 expressed the opinion concerning five doctrinal statements that each one “is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards.” On the constitutional ground which we have before described, we are opposed to any attempt to elevate these five doctrinal statements, or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or for good standing in our church.

Furthermore, this opinion of the General Assembly attempts to commit our church to certain theories concerning the inspiration of the Bible, and the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Continuing Life and Supernatural Power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hold most earnestly to these great facts and doctrines; we all believe from our hearts that the writers of the Bible were inspired of God; that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and through Him we have our redemption; that having died for our sins He rose from the dead and is our everliving Saviour; that in His earthly ministry He wrought many mighty works, and by His vicarious death and unfailing presence He is able to save to the uttermost. Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.

Again, progressives that Protestants are, have already found debates over what’s essential to be quite liberating. Welcome Roman Catholics to the modern world (remember aggiornamento?).

Update: More Reasons to Worry

You thought the Western Schism produce three rival popes, well you haven’t seen what Francis has unleashed: now we have the Pope, the media pontificate, and the curial pontificate:

The media pontificate portends an ongoing revolution: the Church finally strips itself of its structures, goes out to the existential peripheries, enhances the power of national Bishops conferences, puts into effect the Gospel of mercy and gets rid of any idea of condemnation. The media pontificate portrays Pope Francis as a champion of social issues and at a same time as one who is able to approach pragmatically human life issues, such as abortion, which are deemed secondary. Conservatives are scared by the media pontificate. They fear – for example – that the naive approach of Pope Francis will lead to an endorsement of birth control in the upcoming encyclical on ecology, as birth control is sponsored by one of the consultants for the encyclical, the economist Jeffrey Sachs. They also fear that the encyclical may contain a certain opening to sustainable development, in the “new age” sense.

But there is a real pontificate that is never discussed. This real pontificate is well known by the “hidden Vatican,” which – in the face of talk about revolution – has faithfully and silently carried on its work, advancing the Vatican reforms that for some time had already been under way. This real pontificate demonstrates that Pope Francis defends the natural family and attacks gender ideology. The media pontificate broadcasts that Pope Francis has opened up to homosexuals, saying “Who am I to judge?” The real pontificate clarifies that, with this sentence, Pope Francis nailed the coffin shut on the issue: if gays live the life of the Church, he is no one to judge them; if they do not, he is still not going to judge them, but they are outside of the Church. Full stop. Any additional word would be superfluous.

Wouldn’t you think Pope Francis could straighten this out? No one seemed to wonder what his comments on the Armenian Genocide meant.

And if this is not enough to keep you reaching for sleeping pills before going to bed, perhaps the report from the German bishops will send you to Walgreens for Ambien:

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

The statements from the dioceses are unanimous in maintaining that “pre-marital unions” are not only a relevant pastoral reality, but one which is almost universal. Almost all couples who wish to marry in Church have already been living together, frequently for several years (estimates are between 90% and 100%). A recent demoscopic survey has shown that a similarly large proportion of Catholics as in the overall population consider this to be acceptable. Weddings between couples who already have children are becoming increasingly common. Here, cohabitation is regarded less as an “experiment”, and more as a generally-customary preliminary stage to marriage which is entered into intending to cement the relationship by these means and to marry later if the partnership proves to be stable. In view of the ultimate binding nature of marriage, and in an awareness that a failed marriage means a profound life crisis, many in fact consider it irresponsible to marry without living together beforehand.

b) Do unions which are not recognised either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

De facto unions which are not recognised either religiously or civilly are a growing phenomenon. 87% of the heterosexual couples living together in a household in Germany in 2012 (20.693 million) were married (17.993 million) and 13% were non-marital unions (2.693 million). The shift can be made clear by showing another figure: 180,311 children were born to Catholic mothers in Germany in 2012. The mothers of 128,455 of these children were married, but 51,856 were not. This means that 71.8% of all children who were born to Catholic mothers in 2012 were born in wedlock and 28.8% were born to an unmarried mother. This means that, taking society as a whole, the share of children born out of wedlock in the new Federal Länder which make up the former GDR form a definite majority (in 2011: 61.7 % in the new Federal Länder; 29 % in the old Federal Länder). Even the birth of children today is thus no longer an absolute reason to marry. Catholics in Germany accept unmarried couples living together without any major reservations. Only three percent adopt a strictly negative position in this regard.

Is it spiteful to notice what the apologists ignore?

The State of Rome in the U.S.

John Fea thinks this exchange between Stephen Coulbert Colbert and Garry Wills exhibits on Wills’ side a low church evangelical outlook. When I watched it, it sounded more like Luther. When do evangelicals ever invoke Augustine against transubstantiation — “to think we consume and eliminate the body of Christ”? No mention here of a conversion experience or sola Scriptura (though Wills does seem to know the Bible better than Coulbert Colbert who opened a can of worms when invoking Hebrews on Melchizedek).

What is worth noting is that both of these men grew up in the Roman Catholic church, still identify with Rome, and could not be more at odds on the very matters of faith that make Roman Catholicism Roman Catholic.

Update: and here is a Lutheran video, approved, recommended, and circulated by Fr. Z, that supports what the interview with Wills reveals.