What in the World (-w)?

If politicians or voters thought like this, wouldn’t the world be safer for theonomy?

The awareness that God acts in history in ways that we can only know in the context of our culturally determined experience should be central to a Christian understanding of history.

Yet the Christian must not lose sight of the premise that, just as in the Incarnation Christ’s humanity does not compromise his divinity, so the reality of God’s other work in history, going well beyond what we might explain as natural phenomena, is not compromised by the fact that it is culturally defined.

The history of Christianity reveals a perplexing mixture of divine and human factors. As Richard Lovelace has said, this history, when viewed without a proper awareness of the spiritual factors involved, “is as confusing as a football game in which half the players are invisible.”

The present work, an analysis of cultural influences on religious belief, is a study of things visible. As such it must necessarily reflect more than a little sympathy with the modern mode of explanation in terms of natural historical causation.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume that such sympathy is incompatible with, or even antagonistic to, a view of history in which God as revealed in Scripture is the dominant force, and in which other unseen spiritual forces are contending.

I find that a Christian view of history is clarified if one considers reality as more or less like the world portrayed in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.

We live in the midst of contests between great and mysterious spiritual forces, which we understand only imperfectly and whose true dimensions we only occasionally glimpse.

Yet, frail as we are, we do play a role in this history, on the side either of the powers of light or of the powers of darkness.

It is crucially important then, that, by God’s grace, we keep our wits about us and discern the vast difference between the real forces of good and the powers of darkness disguised as angels of light.

If historians can see the forces of darkness and light in the past, imagine the powers of Christian magistrates and voters in recognizing sin and righteousness in society.

The problem is, I don’t think the Neo-Calvinists really want to go there. But they do need to acknowledge how they made the world safe for theonomists.

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Reading about Machen in The Reformed Journal

Reformed Protestants 50 and up may have spent some of their reading hours with The Reformed Journal, a magazine of Dutch-American Calvinist provenance that came into existence as a forum for Christian Reformed Church progressives. I read it from my days as a seminary student until 1990 when it folded. I didn’t always agree with the politics or theology, but it was provocative and thoughtful.

Given the “progressive” character of the magazine, I should not have been surprised that TRJ’s regular contributors were slightly sympathetic but underwhelmed by J. Gresham Machen. That outlook bothered me because the deeper I went into the archives, the more impressed I was by the man who started Westminster Seminary and the OPC (with lots of help from others). In light of yesterday’s post with an excerpt from Machen’s testimony at his trial and with some reflections still fresh from the fall Presbyterian Scholars Conference (where several participants were experiencing the joy of post-PCUSA life but still not on board with Machen’s own version of that experience), I reproduce some high or low lights of TRJ takes on Machen.

First comes Rich Mouw’s argument that Machen’s departure actually hurt the cause of conservatism in the PCUSA (one echoed by George Marsden at the Wheaton conference):

Barbara Wheeler and I have argued much about the issues that threaten to divide us, but we share a strong commitment to continuing the conversation. She regularly makes her case for staying together by appealing to a high ecclesiology. The church, she insists, is not a voluntary arrangement that we can abandon just because we do not happen to like some of the other people in the group. God calls us into the church, and that means that God requires that we hang in there with one another even if that goes against our natural inclinations.

I agree with that formulation. And I sense that many of my fellow evangelicals in the PCUSA would also endorse it. The question that many evangelicals are asking these days, though, is whether God expects us to hang in there at all costs.

One of my reasons for wanting to see us stick together is that a Presbyterian split would be a serious setback for the cause that I care deeply about, namely the cause of Reformed orthodoxy. I spend a lot of time thinking about how people with my kind of theology, have acted in the past, and I am convinced that splits inevitably diminish the influence of the kind of orthodoxy that I cherish — for at least two reasons.

First, the denomination from which the dissidents depart is typically left without strong voices to defend orthodox. This is what happened in the early decades of the 20th century when J. Gresham Machen and his colleagues broke away from the northern Presbyterian church.

I know that this is not a very popular thing to say in this setting, but I happen to be a strong admirer of Machen. I think that he pretty much had things right on questions of biblical authority, the nature of Christ’s atoning work, and other key items on the theological agenda. But I have strong reservations about his ecclesiology and I regret that his views about the unity of the church led him to abandon mainline Presbyterianism. As long as he remained within the northern church, he had a forum for demonstrating to liberals that Calvinist orthodoxy could be articulated with intellectual rigor. When he and his friends departed, this kind of witness departed with them.

The evangelicals who stayed on in the northern church generally did so because they were not as polemical as the Machen group; they were also not nearly as inclined as the Machenites to engage in sustained theological discussion. This meant that the quality of theological argumentation in mainline Presbyterianism suffered for several decades — some would even say up to our present time.

Not to let facts get in the way here, but Mouw would do well to remember that the PCUSA brought Machen to trial and excommunicated him. Yesterday’s post shows that Machen was not eager to flee even if it would have been a lot more pleasant. Whether his actions were legitimate or constitutional is another question. But he asked about the constitutionality of PCUSA actions and that didn’t endear him to the people who stayed. In fact, they tried him for having the temerity to question the soundness of the Board of Foreign Missions — as if that’s never happened — and the administrative fiats that condemned dissent.

I too wonder if Mouw considers that from 1869 until 1920 the PCUSA became infected by the social gospel and Protestant ecumenism. During that very same time Princeton Seminary as the voice of Reformed orthodoxy in the northern church was still dominated by conservatives. What happened during the years when Princeton kept alive the theology that Mouw values? Princeton and it’s orthodoxy became marginal and then a nuisance — hence the reorganization of Princeton Seminary in 1929. The idea that had Machen stayed conservatives would have done better is naive and ignores what actually happened before Machen “left.” Plus, what kind of high ecclesiology settles for articulating “Calvinist orthodoxy with intellectual rigor”?

George Marsden and Mark Noll regularly wrote for TRJ and again the returns on Machen were not always positive. First, Marsden:

Both at the time and since critics of Machen have suggested that there was something peculiar about him. Most often mentioned are that Machen remained a bachelor and his very close relationship to his mother until her death in 1931. Neither of these traits, however, was particularly unusual in the Victorian era, which certainly set many of Machen’s social standards.

More to the point is that he does seem to have had a flaring temper and a propensity to make strong remarks about individuals with whom he disagreed. One striking instance is from 1913 when Machen had an intense two-hour argument with B. B. Warfield over campus policy, after which Machen wrote to his mother that Warfield, whom he normally admired immensely, was “himself, despite some very good qualities, a very heartless, selfish, domineering sort of man.” You can imagine that, if someone says things like this about one’s friends, that it might be easy to make enemies. Machen does not seem to have had a great ability to separate people from issues, and this certainly added to the tensions on the small seminary faculty. Clearly he was someone whom people either loved or hated. His students disciples were charmed by him and always spoke of his warmth and gentlemanliness. His opponents found him impossible, and it is a fair question to ask whether, despite the serious issues, things might have gone differently with a different personality involved.

This observation continues to baffle me, as if people do not distinguish public from private statements. Maybe we are only learning that lesson after Donald Trump, but historians generally know that in the archives you find people saying all sorts of things that they wouldn’t say in public. In private we blow off steam, unless we are all walking John Piper’s and sanctified all the way down. I also don’t understand why Marsden starts his sentence on Machen’s personality with the man’s opponents found him impossible. Hello. The feeling was mutual. But Machen as a sanctified believer was supposed to find his adversaries hedonistically delightful?

And finally, Mark Noll’s estimate on the fiftieth anniversary of Machen’s death:

By reading controversies within Princeton Seminary, Presbyterian missions, and eventually the Presbyterian denomination as battles between two separate religions, “Christianity and Liberalism,” Machen undermined the effectiveness of those Reformed and evangelical individuals who chose to remain at Princeton Seminary, with the Presbyterian mission board, and in the Northern Presbyterian Church. By committing himself so strongly to theological and ecclesiastical combat, Machen left successors who were ill-equipped to deal with the more practical matters of evangelism, social outreach, and devotional nurture. By pursuing the virtues of confessional integrity, he opened the door to sectarian pettiness.

No real sense here that blaming the victim is a potential downside of such an interpretation. The perspective seemed so often in TRJ to be that Machen was a man on a mission and looking for a controversy. The bureaucrats and seminary administrators were innocent. (Yes, the lawyer who defended modernists in the 1920s, John Foster Dulles, became the Secretary of State who crafted the Eisenhower administration’s Cold War policies — the very administration that the founding editors of TRJ questioned.) The Presbyterian hierarchy simply responded — with a hammer, mind you — to Machen’s provocations. That could have been the case but no one argued that. They largely reduced Machen to a cantankerous figure who got what most of us would expect if we rock the boat the way he did.

And now in hindsight I wonder what these same men would think of Abraham Kuyper who was also part of a church that came out of the Netherlands’ state church. Didn’t Kuyper’s GKN (Reformed Churches of the Netherlands) make it a lot harder for conservatives who stayed in the NHK (Dutch Reformed Church)? And didn’t Kuyper’s Free University make life more complicated for orthodox theologians who remained at Leiden or Utrecht? (In other words, why wouldn’t it be possible to imagine Machen akin to Kuyper? Why doesn’t the Kuyper glow trickle down to Machen? Because Kuyper became Prime Minister and Machen merely president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions?)

And what of John Calvin? Was he wrong to leave France? Did he leave Huguenots in the lurch? Was the Roman Catholic Church worse off without Calvin’s ministry and theological reflection? Or does the mind boggle at the questions you need to start asking other historical figures when you become so demanding of a figure of which you disapprove?

Wheaton College: For Christ, His Kingdom, and Islam?

Thanks to John Fea I now know about a graduate of Wheaton College, Aaron Griffith, who thinks that Dr. Larcyia Hawkins is simply doing what the institution’s founder, Charles Blanshard, would do (WWCBD?):

With this history in mind, Hawkins’s activism on behalf of Muslims begins to look a lot less like an aberration and more in keeping with the original vision of the college. The antebellum evangelical tradition Hawkins drew upon was one primarily concerned with upholding human dignity and advocating for those on the margins. Muslims facing discrimination and threats of violence in present-day American life surely fit that description.

In 1842, Jonathan Blanchard preached a sermon on slavery before a church synod in Cincinnati. Over eight pages, he presented forceful arguments against slaveholding Christians, pointing out flaws in their Biblical exegesis and showing how “the property-holding of men is the worst conceivable form, and the last possible degree of oppression.”

During his sermon, Blanchard spent two short paragraphs in the sermon talking about the doctrine of God, where he argued that “Whatever leads men to regard Jehovah as something different from what he is, prevents their acting towards him as they ought.” It was clear from these few lines that Blanchard saw theological precision as an important good.

But Blanchard was not especially worried about muddled theology in and of itself. Instead he argued that slavery corrupted “true religion.” Failure to love one’s neighbor or denounce oppression was the real theological problem.

Hawkins, with her stress on “embodied solidarity” with her Muslim neighbors, would have found herself in good company in 1842. She drew not on liberal theology, secularized notions of human rights or shared American identity, but on a robust evangelical tradition of the biblical call to advocate on behalf of people made in the image of God.

So what happened to Wheaton? According to Griffith who follows John Schmalzbauer, it’s fundamentalism’s fault:

In the early 20th century, dancing, card playing, and theater attendance replaced slavery and mistreatment of Indians as Wheaton’s moral bugaboos. Focus on the fundamentals unfortunately meant that social concerns were often swept aside, and, as religion scholar John Schmalzbauer has shown, fundamentalists tied to Wheaton propounded their own brands of Christian bigotry (in this case anti-Semitism).

Schmalzbauer alleged anti-Semitism was part of Wheaton’s past (even though the dots were pretty disconnected):

In 2010 I returned to campus to deal with some of these ghosts. In a lecture series commemorating Wheaton’s 150th anniversary, I lamented the history of Protestant bigotry in my native Twin Cities, focusing on two fundamentalist firebrands. Together, they led journalist Carey McWilliams to declare Minneapolis the “capital of anti-Semitism in the United States.” Welcoming the paramilitary Silver Shirts to the First Baptist Church (“Why Shiver at the Sight of a Shirt?”), William Bell Riley actively promoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion throughout the Upper Midwest. Preaching a similar message, Luke Rader’s River-Lake Gospel Tabernacle was deemed “the worst place, barring none in the Twin Cities, as far as anti-Semitic vitriol.” Both men had ties to Wheaton College. While Riley preached the funeral sermon for Wheaton’s second President Charles Blanchard, Rader’s brother Paul was a college trustee.

But what do these Wheaton grads think Wheaton was back in the days of Jonathan Blanchard? Lena Dunham’s Oberlin? George Marsden’s reasons for including Wheaton’s founder and founder’s son in his history of — ahem — fundamentalism were sound, even common sensical:

These fights [against Masonry and Roman Catholicism] were simultaneously conservative and radical. Blannchard, who had by now been joined in his campaigns by his son Charles, believed that America was a “Christian nation” and worked for a Christian amendment to the Constitution. Their concepts of Christian ideals, however, showed little regard for prevailing middle-class stands. The 1874 platform of the National Christian Association included recognition of Christianity in the United States Constitution, Sabbath and prohibition laws, outlawing secret lodges, preservation of the “civil equality secured to all American citizens by articles 13th, 14th, and 15th of our amended Constitution,” international arbitration for peace, that “land and other monopolies be discountenance,” “justice to Indians,” abolition of the Electoral Colleges, and election of the President and Vice President by direct vote of the people….

Jonathan Blanchard’s son Charles, thought deeply dedicated to preserving his father’s views, completed Wheaton’s transition into the new evangelical and eventually fundamentalist outlook. The alliance with the Moody forces was clearly the crucial step…. By the end of his career, Charles was a significant figure in the fundamentalist movement. In 1919 he drafted the doctrinal statement of the Word’s Christian Fundamentals Association and in 1926 arch-fundamentalist William Bell Riley delivered the eulogy at his funeral…. Among [Blanchard’s] favorite texts, recalled from his anti-Masonic forays, were “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” and “Come out from among them and be separate. (Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 29, 31)

We don’t need selective history to justify cherry-picked theology.

Yes, it’s a shame if Dr. Hawkins loses her position over her remarks. Yes, it’s tough for administrators to protect faculty privileges while also maintaining institutional identity (not to mention satisfying alumni and donors).

But we don’t need to make up theology or history to justify our own rooting interests. The idea that the Blanchards would have been on the side of Muslims is risible, almost as funny as thinking that anyone would want to justify an institutional policy or personal conviction today by appealing to — wait for it — Jonathan and Charles Blanchard. Those guys would chew any contemporary Protestant up and spit us out. If they’d do that to Protestants dot dot dot

Will the Real Kuyper Stand Up?

From Crawford Gribben’s recent review of George Marsden’s book on 1950s America (and more):

His conclusion draws from the philosophy and political strategies of Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), the renowned theologian, newspaper editor, and founder of the Free University in Amsterdam, who also found time to become the Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1901–05).

Kuyper’s theory of “sphere sovereignty” incorporated central tenets of the Calvinism he had inherited, but radically reconstructed its traditional political obligations. The Reformed tradition within which Kuyper operated had long assumed that the role of government was to uphold the moral claims of Scripture, and to effect a confessional culture in which societal norms paralleled those of believers. Kuyper’s great contribution to the Reformed tradition was to overturn this consensus, sometimes at substantial risk to himself, arguing for a more limited view of the responsibilities of government, and emphasizing that it ought not to intrude into the “spheres” of family, church, and voluntary associations. Kuyper argued that believers and unbelievers were divided by an “antithesis” that was simultaneously spiritual and existential, and so advocated the establishment of denominational schools and universities within which believers of different kinds could be separately educated.

This intrusion of sharp religious distinctions into the public square was balanced by Kuyper’s advocacy of “common grace”—the notion that all of humanity, as God’s image-bearers, were recipients of divine kindness—which permitted the construction of a public culture that could be non-confessional and non-denominational. Believers, in other words, could organize in robustly confessional institutions within a broader political environment that respected religious difference while enshrining the non-confessional principles of “natural law.” Kuyper’s utopia looked a lot like constitutional Americanisms, however far it would be from the sometimes theocratic assumptions of modern evangelicals.

This is a Kuyper behind whom I can line up. Church is a distinct sphere with limited responsibilities. Kuyperians use natural law instead of insisting on revealed truth in public life. Christian truth serves not as a basis for driving out the secularists and leftists but offers a strategy for embracing pluralism.

So why is it that the influence of neo-Calvinism flourished precisely during the most contested battles of the culture wars? One account would have to rely on Francis Schaeffer and his use of w-w to show why Christians could never bend the knee to a neutral public space. Along with that has to go a stress upon the neo-Calvinist notion of antithesis which does a handy job of dividing believers from unbelievers — why it doesn’t divide Calvinists from Arminians, or Protestants from Roman Catholics, or Christians from Jews is another matter.

Golden Oldie (part three)

From Make War No More?: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of J. Gresham Machen’s Warrior Children

J. Gresham Machen may not be the gold standard for twentieth-century Reformed orthodoxy but he does stand out not only in every account of American Presbyterianism but in most accounts of religion in United States as arguably the most important defender of historic Christianity. Some of the reasons are circumstantial. Machen happened to be teaching at a seminary, Princeton, that was firmly linked to the Protestant establishment and that had a long history of educating conservatives in other denominations. This placed Machen at the center of a the fundamentalist controversy when it erupted in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. with support and admiration from non-Presbyterian conservatives. If he had been teaching at Columbia Seminary in South Carolina or at Wheaton College, the reporters who covered the religion beat in America would likely have been less interested than in a Princeton professor. Other reasons for Machen’s reputation stem from those attributes he brought to bear in his circumstances. His writings show remarkable acumen, courage, and even fairness to his opponents. In addition, Machen carried on in his battles with liberalism for the better part of two decades and, not being content with celebrity or individual effort, recognized the importance of establishing institutions to sustain a Reformed witness. As a man of his times and a person who distinguished himself from his contemporaries, Machen was, in the words of the novelist, Pearl Buck, “worth a hundred of his fellows who, as princes of the church, occupy easy places and play their church politics and trim their sails to every win, who in their smug observance of the convention sof life and religion offend all honest and searching spirits.” That is why Buck, whom Machen had opposed, wished that he had lived longer so he could “go on fighting them.”

Yet, for all of Machen’s accomplishments, the verdict on his efforts has been mixed even among conservative Presbyterians and evangelicals. Much of the discomfort with Machen surrounds his flair for controversy. Of course, critics such as Robert Moats Miller, the biographer of Harry Emerson Fosdick, might be expected to focus on the unflattering aspects of Machen’s career. In fact, Machen’s combativeness was so extreme for Miller that he could, without qualification or fear of misinterpretation, in a respectable academic journal refer to Machen as “quite loony.” Ernest R. Sandeen, one of the first American historians to give fundamentalism an even-handed inquiry would not let his impartiality extend to Machen whose belligerency was supposedly characterized by “perverse obstinacy.”

But when scholars with ecclesial ties to Machen demonstrate a similar unease with his combativeness, the problem is particularly grave. On the fiftieth anniversary of Machen’s death, Mark A. Noll, then an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, observed that the cost of Machen’s contentiousness was “large.” He “undermined the effectiveness of those Reformed and evangelical individuals who chose to remain at Princeton Seminary, with the Presbyterian mission board, and in the Northern Presbyterian Church.” Furthermore, according to Noll, Machen “left successors ill-equipped to deal with the more practical matters of evangelism, social outreach, and devotional nurture.” George M. Marsden, in a piece for Princeton Seminary Bulletin expressed similar reservations to Noll’s about Machen’s “cantankerousness.” Even though Marsden was a son of the OPC and his father had been a prominent official in the OPC and at Westminster Seminary, he still could not warm up to Machen’s propensity to fight. Marsden conceded that Machen’s critique of liberalism had merit, but he “had a personality that only his good friends found appealing, and he stood for a narrow Old School confessionalism and exclusivism that many people today find appalling.”

One last example of an Orthodox Presbyterian who could not stomach Machen’s combativeness is John R. Frame, for many years a professor at Westminster (in Philadelphia and at California) and a minister in the OPC. In his book, Evangelical Reunion Frame indicated his discomfort with the militancy that had characterized the OPC since its founding, and more recently in his infamous article, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” he registered a complaint similar to Noll and Marsden: “The Machen movement was born in the controversy over liberal theology.” “I have no doubt that Machen and his colleagues were right to reject this theology and to fight it,” Frame added. “But it is arguable that once the Machenites found themselves in a ‘true Presbyterian church’ they were unable to moderate their martial impulses. Being in a church without liberals to fight, they turned on one another.”

Aside from the merits of these assessments, the verdicts of Noll, Marsden, and Frame all point to a curious phenomenon among those in the second generation of Orthodox Presbyterians – that is, an unwillingness to fight for the Reformed faith combined with a strong dose of theological and ecclesiastical pacifism. None of these scholars thought Machen was wrong to oppose liberalism per se even if each person might assess the strength’s of Machen’s critique differently. But beyond the errors that liberalism posed, like many who were associated with the institutions that Machen founded – the OPC, Westminster Seminary, and the Presbyterian Guardian – these scholars were unprepared to go. Combating liberalism, then, was apparently acceptable because it was obviously wrong. But opposing errors among evangelical or Reformed Christians was apparently unacceptable for many in the second generation. Indeed, the views of Noll, Marsden, and Frame were not unusual among conservative Presbyterians during the 1970s and 1980s. In the OPC particularly, the reasons for contending for the Reformed faith looked increasingly pointless and the church sought ways to escape its rut, first by seeking a merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and then with the Presbyterian Church in America. In less than forty years, the fight had left the OPC and with its departure had come reassessments of Machen, his role in the controversies of the 1920s and 1930s, and even his legacy.

The Limits of Kuyper's Appeal

First, Jim Bratt raises questions about the triumphalism that traffics under the banner of all things Kuyper:

Kuyper himself favored military images. His newspapers were named The Standard and The Herald, and he often used metaphors of combat, titanic struggle, desperate battle. Of course, it was an age of heroic language, the era of muscular Christianity. Lead on Oh King Eternal (1887). Onward Christian Soldiers (1865). Dare to Be a Daniel (1873), which he quoted on the floor of Parliament! Two world wars and the whole bloody twentieth century have taught us to be wary of such language, though we must in fairness remember that Kuyper and his contemporaries lived prior to all that. The man was stunned and deeply shaken—not to mention financially bankrupted—by the outbreak of the first war, now exactly a hundred years ago.

The legacy of separate Christian institutions that grew out of Kuyper’s work in the Netherlands the Dutch labeled “pillarization”—each religio-ideological group inhabiting its own column of consociation, cradle-to-grave. At another place Kuyper imagined Dutch higher education as a collection of ideologically defined universities that were hermetically sealed off from each other, communicating not in person but only via a “post office.” But then again, he pictured the universe of knowledge as a tree, everyone sharing a common trunk and root system, but different schools of thought—including Christian—diverging ever farther apart from each other as branches the greater growth and maturity they attained.

Pillars. Armies. Islands. Branches. Not much hope of colloquy there. Not much of a truly engaged conversation with religio-ideological rivals, an ideal or expectation that we entertain—realistically?—today.

Then, Chris Lehmann questions whether contemporary appeals to Kuyper (like George Marsden’s latest) can withstand the errors of Francis Schaeffer (thanks to our Pennsylvania correspondent):

. . . Marsden doesn’t place Schaeffer at the demoralized rear-guard of a massive breakdown of intellectual discipline on the evangelical right. Indeed, one of Schaeffer’s unacknowledged oversights, Marsden suggests, was that he unwittingly shared in the very Enlightenment tradition that he was attempting to banish to the margins of the American spiritual consensus. “The strictly biblicist heritage fosters a rhetoric that sounds theocratic and culturally imperialist, and in which a Christian consensus would seem to allow little room for secularists or their rights,” Marsden writes. But these same figures remained in thrall to an Enlightenment legacy that privileges “the necessity of protecting freedoms, especially the personal and economic freedoms of the classically liberal tradition.” As a result, Marsden argues, when evangelical thinkers like Schaeffer talk “about returning to a ‘Christian’ America, they may sound as though they would return to the days of the early Puritans; yet, practically speaking, the ideal they are invoking is tempered by the American enlightenment and is reminiscent of the days of the informal Protestant establishment, when Christianity was respected, but most of the culture operated on more secular terms.”

Marsden is persuasive here—until he overreaches. It’s true that in annexing the American founding and most of its skeptical Enlightenment apostles to the broader sweep of a redeemed Christian history, Schaeffer and others like him at least paid lip service to the rationalist ideals of religious toleration—a tradition, moreover, that was deeply imprinted in the history of dissenting Protestant denominations such as Baptism. But there’s little suggestion, in the general brunt of the emerging religious right’s brief against the secular humanist enemy, that the ideals of toleration merit much more than lip service. . . .

The contradictory impulses on display in The Twilight of the American Enlightenment may well help explain why Marsden’s study finally alights on the author’s own plea for a sort of Protestant revival—by suggesting that American thinkers more closely examine, and appropriate to their own ends, the model of plural religious observance advanced by Abraham Kuyper. That’s right: Marsden is proposing that we move beyond the present impasse in the annals of evangelical controversy by returning to the Dutch theologian and statesman who inspired Cornelius Van Til to envision an evangelical order of pure and absolute presuppositionalist certainty.

New Schoolers, Neo-Calvinists, and Fundamentalists

After Darrell Todd Maurina kicked up some dust with his post at the Baylyblog on 2k, he made the following comment:

Men such as Dr. Darryl Hart have accused me in the past of holding the same position as the Bible Presbyterians and Carl McIntyre. That is an important accusation and it needs to be rebutted. If men such as Clark, Horton, Hart, and Van Drunen manage to successfully argue that they are in the heritage of Old School Presbyterianism while their opponents are New Schoolers, great damage will be done to the cause of those who oppose “Two Kingdoms” theology within the conservative Reformed world.

Well, if you look at the historical scholarship, Darrell, it gets even worse than you imagine. Consider first of all one inference that George Marsden drew in his first book, a study of New School Presbyterianism:

The most striking illustration of the similarities between nineteenth-century New Schoolism and twentieth-century fundamentalism is found in the sequel to the Presbyterian division of 1936. The newly formed Presbyterian Church of America itself was divided over a complex set of issues remarkably similar to those of 1837. The majority in the new denomination, led by J. Gresham Machen until his death . . . and then by his immediate associates at Westminster Seminary, took clearly Old School positions on each of the issues. The minority, which withdrew to form the Bible Presbyterian Synod, was led by the militant fundamentalist, Carl McIntire. McIntire, who had envisaged the Presbyterian Church of America as part of a wider “twentieth century Reformation,” soon found that he was not at home in a strict Old School tradition. The specific programs for which he fought were 1) toleration of a doctrine (dispenstational premillennialism) that the majority in the Church considered incompatible with the Westminster Confession of Faith; 2) continuation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, rather than forming an official denominational mission board; and 3) adoption by the General Assembly of a statement that total abstinence from all that may intoxicate is “the only truth principle of temperance – exactly the same statement first adopted by the New School General Assembly of 1840. These programs, together with McIntires’s claim to represent “American Presbyterianism (a former New School phrase), his avid (anti-Communist) patriotism, his zeal for revivalism and legalistic reforms, his emphasis on interdenominational cooperation, and his lack of concern for strict Presbyterian polity – all indicate a continuation of the distinctly New School traditions with the fundamentalist wing of Presbyterianism. . . .

Perhaps the greatest difference between the New School evangelical movement and fundamentalist was that the nineteenth-century movement was largely successful, while the twentieth-century movement was not. The New School was not characterized by an almost total repudiation of the cultural and scientific advances of the age. Rather, it met those challenges without losing its own respectability. The New School thus advanced toward the center of American cultural and religious life, while fundamentalism was forced to retreat to the hinterlands. This, of course, is a crucial difference and makes a characterization of the New School as proto-fundamentalist s misleading as proto-liberal. The New School was in many respects a constructive and progressive religious intellectual movement with marked success in shaping American culture at large. (247, 249)

In case Darrell and other New School-like Protestants get bogged down in McIntire’s peculiarities, the point here is not that Maurina or the Baylys are dispensationalists or tee-totalers. The point is that they put the nation and its politics ahead of their theological and confessional commitments the way New Schoolers did. They want an American Presbyterianism, a faith that shapes America. In contrast, the Old School was willing to consider Reformed Protestantism as something independent or a matter than transcended the nation. The New Schoolers were Americans first and Americans second. Old Schoolers (at least some of them) were Presbyterians first and Americans second. If the United States and Presbyterianism are not the same, the order in which you put “Presbyterian” and “American” matters. (For Presbyterians from Canada or Ireland that makes perfect sense.)

But for those inclined to think that Dutch-American (notice the order) Reformed Protestants escape these parallels and analogies, consider this point that James Bratt made in an article about Kuyper and Machen:

Put in Dutch Calvinist terms: if forced to choose, Machen would let the Christian cultural task give way to the confessional church; Kuyper would force the confessional church to take up the cultural task. Put in American Presbyterian terms, Kuyper had some strong New School traits where Machen had none. To be sure Kuyper’s predestinarianism was at odds with the New Schools Arminian tints and his movement had a low impetus for “soul-saving,” but his organizational zeal was like Lyman Beecher’s in purpose and scale, his educational purposes at the Free University recalled Timothy Dwight’s at Yale, and his invocation of the “city on a hill” to describe the church’s place in a world recalled the charter image of Puritan New England which was ever the New Schools’ aspiration. In fact Kuyper honored New England as the “core of the American nation” and shared its definition of Christian liberty as a communal opportunity to do the right thing. At that Machen would only shudder. He indicted the “angry passions of 1861″ by which New England trampled on southern rights, and defined Christian liberty as the individual’s protection from the wrong thing. When put to the test, Machen endorsed the political model of Thomas Jefferson. At that Kuyper would only shudder back. (“Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, and the Dynamics of Reformed Anti-Modernism,” Journal of Presbyterian History Winter 1997 75.4, 254)

So if folks like Maurina are going to talk about lines of historical continuity in the Reformed world, they may want to get their ducks in a row. And by the likes of these historians who taught/teach at Calvin College, the ties among Lyman Beecher, Abraham Kuyper, Carl McIntire, Francis Schaeffer may be stronger than the anti-2kers imagine.

Jump In, the Post-Evangelical Water is Warm (even if the pond is small)

First I am vinegary, now I’m crabby. This is the latest indignity from Scot McKnight who doesn’t care for my definition of evangelicalism. (Okay, he says I’m “a bit” of a crab. But as with pregnancy, how can you be a little bit of a crab?) My demeanor came up not with my wife but in discussion of McKnight’s post about David Schwartz’s new book on the evangelical left, which McKnight calls the best book he’s read this year.

To get that endorsement, McKnight rejects the older definition of evangelicalism that has haunted Reformed types, such as this common lament among evangelicals who prefer the First to the Second Pretty Good Awakening:

More specifically speaking, [an evangelical is] someone who believes the Gospel is centered on the doctrine of justification by faith and the principles of sola fide (by faith alone) and sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), he added. “The Gospel is a message about redemption, it’s a call to repentance from sin … and a summons to yield to the Lordship of Christ.”

Abuse of the term “evangelical” is not new. Nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon had decried the fact that the modernists of his day wanted to be called evangelicals even though they abandoned all the evangelical principles, according to Johnson. Such a label would give them “instant credibility” and easy access to people who believed the Bible, he said.

McKnight rejects this definition because it “wants evangelicalism to be old-fashioned fundamentalism, the kind that pre-Carl Henry and pre-neo-evangelicalism’s coalition and pre-John Stott” [sic]. For that reason, he prefers a definition like David Bebbington’s four-fold grid: “crucicentrism, biblicism, conversionism, and activism.”

It strikes this crabby Calvinist as odd that a person who identifies himself as an Anabaptist and who has identified with if not being a leader of the emergent church — that would be McKnight — would so readily approve Bebbington and Noll who read evangelicalism much more through the lens of the Puritans and the eighteenth-century awakenings than through Finney and radical reform the way Dayton and McKnight do. Where does crucientism come from after all if not from those hegemonic Calvinists and Puritans who were breathing the fumes of Dort’s Limited Atonement?

But the reason for bringing this up is not to define evangelicalism but to engage McKnight’s query about who gets to define evangelicalism. Apparently, McKnight thinks that he can decide who gets to offer a definition. Those who demur are crabby.

What McKnight misses by dismissing my critique of evangelicalism as stemming from a Reformed bias is that I actually took Don Dayton’s critique of George Marsden to heart. Almost twenty years ago, Dayton made a habit of pointing out how the evangelical historians associated with the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College had misrepresented evangelical history. He was particularly annoyed by George Marsden’s history of Fuller Seminary, which in Dayton’s estimate slighted the Holiness/Wesleyan side of Fuller for the sake of highlighting its Old Princeton/Westminster heritage. I see merit in Dayton’s point, at least regarding evangelicalism as something much bigger and broader (and more abstract and virtually meaningless) than the Puritans-to-Edwards-to-Hodge-to-Machen-to-Ockenga-to-Graham narrative. It is a partial reading of the New Evangelicalism to see it as a reiteration of New School Presbyterianism. It is also partial to see Finney and Wesleyanism all over the Fuller faculty and curriculum. But by acknowledging that everyone can look in the mirror of evangelicalism and see themselves and their predilections in it, in Deconstructing Evangelicalism, I was actually trying to liberate born-again Protestants, like McKnight, Dayton, and McLaren from their Calvinist captivity. You don’t like Reformed hegemony? Fine, you can have evangelicalism. We’ll keep our churches, thank you very much.

This is the thanks we get?

At the same time, I can understand why McKnight wants to hold on to evangelicalism as a movement. Chances are that he and his fellow “evangelical” bloggers would not have outlets at Patheos if each writer had to be identified by the particular communion to which he or she belongs. Would Patheos sponsor an Anabaptist, Wesleyan, or a Swedish-American pietist channel? I doubt it since the number of these “movements” are not as large as the broad and soupy category of evangelical.

So I see McKnight’s reasons for preserving his status in the evangelical movement. But I didn’t think evangelical radicals, emergents, or lefties were that invested in preserving the status quo. Radical reformation indeed (or in word only)!

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)