America’s Elite Class

Daniel Drezner does not wince when talking about elitism in the United States. His inspiration was the David Brooks column on Italian sandwiches, about which Drezner writes:

Brooks argued that “The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.”

I agree with my Post colleague Tim Carman that outside The Anecdote That Shall Not Be Named, the column was “an otherwise temperate take on the restrictions and social codes that keep the middle class in its place.” As a fully paid-up member of this class, there clearly are expected modes of behavior, and not knowing the unspoken rules of the game acts as a barrier to those trying to enter the meritocratic class. It can still be done, but it’s like learning an additional language.

Then Drezner worries that some of the Trump clan may actually stumble their way into the elite class by being able to order the right Italian sandwich meats:

Based on my own conversations, it would seem that most traditional D.C. wonks look at most of the Trump family and see a bunch of wealthy, not-very-bright boors who do déclassé things like eat their steaks well-done and with ketchup. Indeed, there is a whole conservative genre defending the Trumps for some of their gauche tendencies. Most of the Trumps gleefully ignore the cultural codes that Brooks describes, because they are rich enough to not care.

Then we get to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and the narrative switches.

The rest of the Trumps might scream bridge and tunnel, but Jared and Ivanka have undeniably mastered the cultural codes of the educated class. It is hard to read a profile of either of them without words like “polished” or “poised” appearing.

Take the opening sentences to Jill Filipovic’s Politico essay from May: “Ivanka Trump is the poised, polished face of a chaotic White House, a bright young mother who many suspect is a voice of reason and moderation among the Steve Bannon acolytes in the West Wing, whispering socially liberal values in her daddy’s ear.” Look at the Post’s Style Section profile of Ivanka from this month: “Ivanka Trump’s office: clean, white, quiet. A zone of punctual start times and promptly offered water bottles, and a conference table at which she conducts meetings. A short, winding walk away from her father’s Oval Office downstairs.” Or as T.A. Frank noted in Vanity Fair, “let’s agree that one of the finest qualities of Jared Kushner is his tailoring. The fit is so good. Even with bespoke work, that’s hard to achieve.”

Let me posit that in mastering the cultural codes of the educated class, Kushner and Ivanka somehow fooled even veteran D.C. observers into presuming that they might actually be qualified and competent as well. Which all evidence suggests is not true.

Drezner believes that expertise on policy is what qualifies someone to rule in America, not expertise in self-promotion, food, or fashion.

As someone who values education, I am hard pressed to knock learning. But my education also tells me that in the United States, you don’t need to be educated to hold public office. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln did not have college educations. Never mind going to the Kennedy School of Government. By the same token, George W. Bush went to Yale and see what good that did him when it came to America’s educated elite.

And don’t forget about those brain surgeons that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations leaned on to devise a policy for the Vietnam War. Sometimes education doesn’t make you a good administrator — just ask any egg-head professor to chair his or her department. See what snafus ensue.

The reality is that with all of Drezner’s brain power, and it is considerable, he could not be POTUS. Well, he could. But he’d have to run for office and somehow portray himself as an ordinary ‘merican because despite the number of college graduates in this fair republic we don’t very often elect Ph.D.’s as POTUS (this is why Senator Sasse where’s not Harvard but Nebraska swag). Last time we did we had Woodrow Wilson and what did he do — used all of his intellectual fire power to fight a war to make THE WORLD, not just the United States, but THE WORLD, safe for democracy (which by the way means that we fought the war not to have educated elites running things)?

Which leads to the real point of this post: the story that the press and scholars are missing is what a novel state of affairs it is to have a POTUS who has no experience with government. Why no feature stories on what it’s like to have to do so many things that you’ve never done before? Or what is it like to be trailed by Secret Service agents? Or what’s it like to live in the White House? Many Americans could possibly imagine being in Donald Trump’s shoes (though what it’s like to be a billionaire is beyond me). We would not have the first clue about running a government as massive as the federal one. And that could be an exciting set of stories. But what we seem to get is reporting about how Trump is subhuman and stupid. Imagine if Bill Gates were POTUS. Would he be prone to the same mistakes? But he’s not the kind of jerk that Trump is so the press goes Jerry Falwell, Sr.

I still wonder, though, whether any of the people criticizing Trump, even Drezner, claim to know what to do as POTUS? Do the journalists or professors of foreign policy have white papers on Iran and how to deploy the CIA or State Department? (And if education is a pre-requisite for governing in the U.S., what is our foreign policy supposed to be with poorly educated rulers of other countries? Doesn’t this way of thinking involve a kind of hierarchy that is supposed to be antithetical to social justice?)

The reality is that nothing in American government prepares you for what you might face in the White House along the lines of war and diplomacy, not to mention the vast scale of administering the federal agencies. Jim Kenney, the mayor of Philadelphia has a degree from Lasalle University? Does that mean he’s not fit to hold a higher office? The governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, has a degree from Harvard and an MBA from Northeastern. But can he stand on that great hill of U.S. foreign policy?

What I was hoping would happen with the Trump presidency was a chance to see the federal government through the eyes of a real outsider. The Trump administration might be an occasion for a POTUS self-study. What is necessary for the executive branch of the federal government? What is so complicated as to create barriers to other citizens serving in public office short of getting the right set of degrees and making the right connections? But alas all we are getting is how Trump fails to reassure many Americans that Washington is the capital of the greatest nation on God’s green earth (well, at least a few steps up from Russia).

(with all that mind of Christ) Why Don't Christians See This?

Some people think that faith makes people more discerning, more willing to subject contemporary life to a higher norm. A while back, Ross Douthat picked up on this and Rod Dreher extended the conversation in reference to Charles Taylor’s account of secularity. In essence, Douthat was arguing that a secular outlook was more limiting and narrower than faith or religious experiences because it cut off certain perceptions and simply reinforced its own preferences.

That may be, but the question that Douthat and Dreher failed to address is the problem of civil religion. When the Bible tells Christians to put no hope in princes, why have Christians been some of the most gullible in seeing divine significance in political movements, and why have they been willing to overlook huge enormities in specific politicians in order to believe that said rulers are doing the Lord’s work?

Consider these comments by Gary Scott Smith in a review of a book on presidents and religion:

Presidents, like other politicians, use religion to further their own purposes—to gain the approval of various groups, enhance their popularity, win elections, fortify their claim to be virtuous and honest, and increase support for their policies. They employ religious and moral rhetoric to defend their own policies, programs, and actions and to criticize those of their opponents. Religious and moral appeals connect particular policies with transcendent principles, elevating them above mundane, pragmatic concerns and sometimes helping strengthen citizens’ commitment to them.

O’Connell maintains that presidents in earlier periods of American history probably used religious rhetoric more frequently and successfully. And, as noted, he focuses only on presidents’ use of religious and moral language to achieve their policy aims. My research indicates, however, that most post-World War II presidents regularly and effectively employed religious and moral rhetoric to help justify their policies. Examples abound, including Harry Truman’s approach to the Cold War and decision to recognize Israel, Nixon’s campaign to further world peace, Carter’s quest to advance human rights around the globe, Reagan’s endeavors to pass a school prayer amendment, secure tuition tax credits, and oppose communism, George H. W. Bush’s effort to gain support for Operation Desert Storm, Clinton’s promotion of religious liberty and attempt to reform welfare and resolve international conflicts, George W. Bush’s backing for faith-based initiatives and opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and the use of new embryonic stem-cells in research, and Barack Obama’s policies on poverty and homosexual civil rights.

Why don’t Christians find such a utilitarian approach to Christianity objectionable? Why no cries of blasphemy, taking God’s name in vain?

Conversely, why are Christians incapable of thinking about George Washington the way that H.L. Mencken did:

If George Washington were alive today, what a shining mark he would be for the whole camorra of uplifters, forward-lookers and professional patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest man in the United States, a promoter of stock companies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and timber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign entanglements, and denounces their evils in harsh, specific terms. He had a liking for forthright and pugnacious men, and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters and all other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whiskey whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the Republic from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the sorrows of the world, and doubted that such a panacea existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his neighbors.

Why does faith make Christians (some anyway) dumber?

When Did Christian America End?

For some it happened recently. This blogger doesn’t refer to the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but it’s hard not to think he has it in mind:

The 350-year marriage of Protestant Christian theology and American popular culture is over. Christianity, it may be sadly said, is no longer the preeminent social influence in American life. We Christians who dared to presume that America was ever all and only ours are, apart from some God-ordained awakening, unlikely to “get our country back.” We will live and work henceforth, as do most other Christians around the world, amidst a public square hostile to our beliefs.

The odd wrinkle to Christian readings of the American revolution is that the United Kingdom was a Christian nation. Presbyterians were the established church in Scotland. And King George was head of a church that claimed George Washington as a member (and he was an orthodox Christian, you know). Plus, it seems that King George III wasn’t all that bad a king.

What the United States did was to establish itself without a Christian church. Advocates of a Christian America may not like the language of the separation of church and state, but what the United States did in comparison to Europe and 1500 years of history (and even compared to France where Napolean eventually made Roman Catholicism the established church) was to create a nation without a state church (at the national level — hello) and that prohibited religious tests for holding office. That also meant the churches (except for Congregationalists in New England) had to pay as they went on the basis of their own creative schemes for finding parishioners and persuading them to give (till it hurts — I mean, tithe).

So even though American has been secular for a long time — as long as the U.S.A. has existed — the events of two weeks ago seem to be decisive for making Christians of all kinds abandon the United States as a blessed, favored, or welcome place.

No one except for Rusty Reno seems to recall that in 1996, a time when the Internet was just catching on, Christians were also worried about “The End of Democracy”:

The prospect of a purely political decision from the Court led me back to the famous First Things symposium published in November 1996: “The End of Democracy?” The occasion for that symposium was a federal circuit-court decision finding a right (subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court) to doctor-assisted suicide. The reasons given were identical to those used to justify America’s abortion regime. Richard John Neuhaus and the others who participated in the symposium were deeply concerned about the perverse way in which our constitutional system was turning liberty into an enemy of life.

No matter what the higher courts decided, physician-assisted suicide is still on the books in Oregon. And the number of Americans — since we are after the 14th Amendment now citizens not of the states but of the nation — dying with the help of doctors in Oregon is growing — from 16 in 1998 to 105 last year.

So what I wonder is whether Christian America ended in 1998. I also wonder why more Christians have not been outraged by a federal government that allows Oregon to persist in this law. Maybe secession is unconstitutional, but can’t the Union kick states out? And why single out same-sex marriage? Wasn’t Roe v. Wade worse?

Is it simply that the Internet now gives Americans more room to hyperventilate about Outrage Porn?

Does Christianity Unify?

From George Washington to the National Council of Churches (and their evangelical counterpart, the National Association of Evangelicals), white English-speaking Protestants in the U.S. have insisted that religion of the right and moral sort will unify the nation. It doesn’t take very long in chronicling the history of Christianity to understand the difficulties of this pious (and sentimental hope). When our Lord said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), he was not exactly recommending Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce to his disciples. Even if you take those words as hyperbolic, sort of like gouging out eyes and handling snakes, most believers have enough experience of converts to Christianity who lost ties and associations with family members over the faith.

Why then would Peter Leithart continue to laud unity as a mission of the church, even in the face of life in real congregations where church members are hardly unified except on matters like those affirmed by Paul — “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5)? One answer for Leithart’s continuing belief in the unifying mission of the church is his man crush on Constantine and most subsequent Christian emperors. In a series of recent posts, Leithart promotes a church-based social unity.

First, he frets that America is becoming increasingly fragmented and that such disunity owes to the demise of Christian civilization:

America is abandoning the last remnants of our historic Christian foundations. This is most obvious in law, where specifically Christian claims are ruled unConstitutional precisely because they are Christian claims. It’s evident in the universities and among intellectual elites, who cannot make sense of a theological argument that claims to be a public argument. Theology is by definition private opinion, dangerous and tyrannical when it demands public assent.

What replaces our historic Christian consensus is a patchwork of disconnected communities. The thin public “theology” of liberalism doesn’t meet human needs. No one tribe can command universal assent, and so we retreat to our tribal affinities, to our small communities where consensus is still possible. Secularization is in a symbiotic relationship with by postmodern fragmentation.

The problem with this view, at least from a paleo-conservative perspective, is that America has never been more centralized, the national government has never consolidated more of social life and that the laudable small communities and worthwhile regional diversity of the early republic that Barry Shain documented are casualties of national economies and foreign wars.

Back to Leithart — despite the current fragmentation of church and society, we should not be discouraged. Maybe Constantine can happen again:

The Constantinian settlement is gone in much of Europe, waning elsewhere. Many of these disruptions have persisted to the present day, but each new disruption has produced tectonic shifts in the church.

Why would we think, then, that the current topography of Christianity is permanent? We have no reason to assume this. We have every reason to assume the opposite, to expect that sometime, somewhere, God will shake and reconfigure the church yet again.

And if the church recognizes that it has the solution to the woes of contemporary society, perhaps Christendom will yet return if the church recognizes unity as its mission:

There is no traditional religious replacement for the loss of this establishment, and what effectively replaces it is a consensus about the freedom of the individual to do whatever he wants. The normal resources that establish identity – family, work, community – cannot serve that purpose. Divorce rates are high, and families are broken; work is insecure; mobility and double-income households have damaged neighborhoods as sources of community. Se are told to construct our own identity but denied the resources where people have historically discovered their identity.

The church has an enormous challenge and opportunity in this setting. Alienation from God is at the root of these social ills, and the church is the steward of the mysteries of the gospel. But the churches’ proclamation of the gospel is to take not only verbal, but communal, social form as the church. As in the early centuries, the churches can provide communities of intimacy, friendship, and material support for lonely people; churches have the resources to give lost moderns a sense of identity with a community, a tradition; churches can provide support for failing families, and a network of brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers for those who come from broken families.

Aside from the sort of objections that come from Letter-to-Diognetus conceptions of Christianity not as culture but as cult, Leithart misses arguably the greatest weakness of his proposal and it comes from a post that appeared just before this series on church and unity. From his reading of Scott Manetsch’s recent book on the Geneva company of pastors, Leithart observed what happens to the ministry of the church when it becomes part of an effort to unify and regularize society — even a Christendom inspired one:

Confessionalization “modernized churches and transformed the clerical office in a number of important ways. Church life became more carefully regulated, supervised, and documented through the codification of confessions, catechisms, and church ordinances; the establishment of eccclesiastical bureaucracies; and the creation of disciplinary courts. . . . Likewise, the clerical office was increasingly professionalized with the establishment of formal educational requirements and more detailed guidelines for examination and ordination. In this process of modernization . . . clergymen emerged as quasi-agents of the state, serving as a crucial link for communication between political leaders and their subjects; supervising public discipline; and providing administrative resources for the state (such as maintaining baptismal, marriage, and death registers).” In Geneva in particular, “the Small Council’s campaign to gain control over clerical recruitment and election was indicative of a broader strategy to bring the city[s pastors in line with the political objectives of the governing authorities. The ministers were gradually transformed into quasi-agents of the state who were not only paid out of the state coffers but were also hired, supervised, and dismissed with significant involvement of the magistrates” (96).

Why in heaven or within Christendom would Leithart expect the church’s mission of unity to turn out otherwise than either the liberal Protestantism of Europe, the liberal Protestantism of the mainline U.S. denominations, or the social gospel/teaching of Pope Francis and his papal predecessors? Does Leithart really think that when Pastor Smith goes to Washington he won’t be forced by political compromise and the demands of social unity to trim and cut his “thus, sayeth the Lord” to some version of the Great Society?

Update: then there is the view that (culture) war unites more than Christ:

But they’re the old insults. That’s the important thing. They’re getting worn out, frayed around the edges, long in the tooth. They’re losing their power as Evangelicals and Catholics grow in friendship and the world itself pushes them closer together. The two boys yelling at each other are two brothers. At some point, probably when someone else attacks one of them or both of them, they’ll stop yelling and start acting like brothers.

What A Turkey! Part I

The trip started in Istanbul (I write from Izmir fka Smyrna). We saw the spectacular Aya Sophia, the former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. The patron of the current building was Justinian I, the last emperor to speak Latin. Though churches were on the site from the late fourth century, the current Byzantine design was a product of builders’ efforts between 532 and 537.

One feature that stood out in the tour guide’s comments, reinforced by the architecture, was that this was a church for the emperor. He had a grand door to enter the sanctuary and he alone of the laity went into the sacred space. The empress had a view of the proceedings from the balcony. And the rest of the city’s Christians had to stand outside in the narthex.

To a citizen of the United States and a Reformed Protestant to boot, the idea of a facility like this being reserved for the worship needs of one man seems a tad excessive. I understand emperors were big kahunas and needed special care and feeding. But this?

And then I remembered a comparable dome in the United States where the father of a certain country is deified. That got me to thinking that we moderns are not that more skeptical about rank and privilege that the ancients were. And when you remember that Justinian was not depicted as a god the way that George Washington is, you wonder just how much the modern nation-state has abandoned the pieties of ancient kingdoms.

Faith Matters but Not Enough to Follow Jesus

This week’s national holiday allowed the Gospel Coalition to don its patriotic colors and wave the flag of civil piety. A post by Thomas Kidd on the faith of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln took a fairly modest line by arguing that the first and sixteenth presidents were not orthodox Christians or even the best of believers. (This concession touched off a debate among the comments on the merits of Peter Lillback’s book on Washington, which is interesting in its own right.)

I believe that Washington, an Episcopalian, was a serious but moderate Christian, but there are reasons to wonder. Whether from personal scruples concerning his worthiness, or some other concern, he never took communion. And he displayed a remarkable aversion to using the name of Jesus in his voluminous correspondence. As Edward G. Lengel’s delightful Inventing George Washington has shown, 19th-century biographers eagerly recalled shadowy memories of Washington being discovered praying privately, to the extent that you’d think the man did little else besides kneeling in the woods. He almost certainly did pray privately, but as a proper Virginia gentleman, he did not wear his faith on his sleeve.

There are graver doubts about Lincoln’s faith, especially early in his life. He developed a reputation as a skeptic as a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, and Mary Todd Lincoln concluded that he was not a “technical Christian.” He struggled to put his faith in Christ even as the events of later years took the edge off his religious infidelity. Lincoln grew up in a strongly Calvinist Baptist family, and though he did not embrace all his parents’ beliefs, he became ever-more convinced of the Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereign rule over human affairs. Richard Carwardine, one of Lincoln’s finest biographers, says that Lincoln presented “his deterministic faith in a religious language that invoked an all-controlling God.”

But despite the weaknesses and errors in Washington and Lincoln’s devotion, Kidd tells us not to worry (maybe even adding a pinch of “be happy”).

Evangelical history buffs spend a lot of time speculating about the personal faith of great historical figures such as Washington and Lincoln. This is an important topic, but there’s a sense in which, for historical purposes, it doesn’t really matter if these presidents were serious Christians. When you broaden the scope of the question, it is easy to demonstrate that religion was very important to both of them. Both endorsed a public role for religion in America, and Lincoln particularly employed religious rhetoric, and the words of the Bible itself, to the greatest effect of any political leader in American history. For Lincoln and Washington, a secularized public square was inconceivable.

So even if we won’t trust these presidents’ profession of faith, we should trust them on the importance of religion to public life. In fact, Kidd even believes that the presidents’ pro-religious views accounts for their political accomplishments.

So yes, I would love to know exactly what Washington and Lincoln believed personally about Jesus. But there’s no question that, in a public sense, faith mattered to them a great deal, and featured centrally in their concept of a thriving American nation. Their reverence for faith’s vital role in the republic helps account for Washington and Lincoln’s greatness.

This is another case where 2k would allow for sound historical and political judgment without having to contort the gospel in the process. After all, if Lincoln and Washington succeeded simply by being pro-faith, what reason would they have for trusting in Christ truly? Kidd does not consider that these presidents might have been less successful because an explicit embrace of Christianity and establishing policies in accord with such support would have violated the Constitution and alienated some voters (especially Roman Catholics who were not so willing to separate morality from theology). For a coalition dedicated to the gospel, it is an odd admission to suggest at TGC’s website that any religious affirmation less than the gospel will do. Not to mention that the kind of utilitarian and generic faith that Washington and Lincoln promoted makes it harder for the gospel to get a hearing since, again, things go as well with a generic Christian God and his morality as they do with an orthodox Christ and the good works that follow from faith.

At the same time, 2k would allow Kidd and his TGC editors to give as many thumbs as they have up to the first and sixteenth presidents — that is, of course, if you agree with the Federalists and Republicans. Since Washington and Lincoln were officers of the United States, the criteria for evaluating their presidencies should not be religious or quasi-religious but political. 2k allows a Christian to esteem Washington and Lincoln without having to run them through the grid of where they come down on the gospel, the deity of Christ, or how many times they invoke, in Washington’s less than orthodox phrasing, “the benign Parent of the human race.”

That Tears It, I'm Joining the Gospel Coalition

There I may be appreciated finally (since it is all about me, after all).

First it was Bryan Chapell video”>saying something very 2kish about the United States as a Christian nation. His answer was essentially, no. And that answer goes well with the 2k idea that the only Christian nation that ever existed was the state of Israel before the coming of Christ. Since that political order is no longer part of God’s redemptive plan, and since the institution God is now using to establish his kingdom — as in the WCF’s assertion that the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (25.2) — Chapell seems to give 2kers room to maneuver within the Gospel Coalition without fear of being fear mongered.

Now comes an interview with Tim Keller where he encounters “This is Your Life” in a long interview. Part of his reflections on his theological formation includes the influence of Meredith Kline’s covenant theology for a redemptive historical understanding of justification by faith alone. Of course, Keller’s testimony is not solidly 2k since he also affirms Richard Lovelace’s scientific historical explanations of how revivals happen and Jack Miller’s pastoral practices in the New Life Presbyterian movement. But he does not flinch from affirming an Old Testament scholar who will in some conservative Reformed circles merit a thirteen-part series on how some Reformed authors are abandoning the faith once delivered to Kuyper.

So in conservative Reformed circles denying America’s Christian origins and affirming Meredith Kline’s teaching can get you sentenced to neo-Calvinist jail, but over at the Gospel Coalition the allies seem to think such ideas are neat.

Have I found a home, or what?

George Washington: Deistic Christian

Joe Carter at First Things‘ blog has a helpful summary of one historian’s criteria for evaluating the faith of the United State’s founding statesmen. David Holmes is the author of The Faiths of the Founders and he offers four categories for determining whether a politician was a Deist, an orthodox Christian, or something in between. They are:

1. Examine the actions of the founding father in the area of religion (e.g., Did they attend church regularly?).

2. Examine the participation of the founding father in a church’s ordinances or sacraments (e.g., Did they have their children baptized? Did they take Holy Communion?).

3. Comparison of inactivity versus activity in regards to religious involvement.

4. Examine the religious language used by the founding father.

What is particularly attractive about these criteria is that the church functions as an important measure. Taking affirmations of various kinds, or copious amounts of sincerity, though appealing to many evangelicals who have a low estimate of the visible church, will not cut it. Instead Holmes is looking for religious behavior that conforms to the teachings and practices of a Christian communion.

Applying these criteria to George Washington, Holmes finds:

1) Although he was raised in the Anglican Church, Washington was never confirmed.

2) Washington appears to have consistently refused to take Holy Communion, the principle means by which, as Holmes notes, “Anglicans displayed a commitment to Jesus Christ.”

3) Washington was active in the Episcopal Church, serving as both a vestryman and churchwarden. He attended services with some regularity (about once a month). And

4) Washington consistently used Deistic language in reference to God. Although he often used such terms as “the Deity” and “the Supreme Being” in his correspondence he only uses the name Jesus Christ once (in a letter to an Indian tribe)

Holmes also provides a Christian scorecard for the founding generation of American magistrates:

Non-Christian Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen.

Deistic Christians/Unitarians: Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe.

Orthodox Christians: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon.

This may be upsetting to some, but it sure looks like an astute tool of analysis and a sensible interpretation of the Founding Fathers.

Westminster Seminaries’ PR Problem (and Covenant Seminary’s Teflon)

Now that Glenn Beck seems to have moved on from the faith of the founders to the faith behind the Pledge of Allegiance, taking stock of the minor celebrity of a Westminster Seminary president courtesy of the talk-show enfomationist is possible. What stands out is how little controversy Peter Lillback’s ideas about the faith of George Washington or the Christian origins of the United States created.

One looks in vain through Google’s various search oppositions for a blogger or writer who questions Lillback’s interpretation. Sure, some have emerged. The folks over at American Creation have given serious attention to Lillback’s claims on behalf of Washington. Also, another student of the founding history professor, Brad Hart (no known relation) subjects Lillback’s Washington to the kind of inspection you’d expect from an Orthodox Presbyterian. But aside from the efforts of your humble oldlife servants, the conservative Reformed world seems to be willing to give Lillback a pass. (By the way, of some interest in this regard is the absence of news about Lillback’s appearance on the Beck show at the WTS website. When one of your faculty or administrators appears on a nationally televised broadcast – or even in the pages of the London Times – your institutional public relations engines generally rev, not to mention when one of your faculty member’s books ascends to number one at Amazon.)

Meanwhile, the folks at Westminster California can’t get off their beach blanket to enjoy the surf without the anti-2k bullies kicking sand, talking trash, and heaping scorn. (Many of these kerfuffles have received comment at oldlife. Curious readers should take advantage of the search capacity and look for “Westminster.”) Whether it is Machen’s Warrior Children, two-kingdom theology, the framework hypothesis, the republication doctrine, or natural law, the faculty at WSC have the reputation of being viral among many people (or is it a vocal minority?) who lead and flock to conservative Reformed and Presbyterian communions in the United States.

One can plausibly conclude that Lillback’s ideas are much more acceptable than those, for instance, of Meredith Kline, the apparent font of WSC’s worst features. For those who are genuinely concerned about the insights of biblical theology – and Kline was certainly in the tradition – this is a depressing even if unsurprising conclusion. Change happens slowly and convincing American Protestants, with habits of considering the United States as the New Israel, that their nation is not the site of God’s redemptive plan but that his work of salvation takes place in the church, an institution that transcends races, nations, and languages, is a hard sell. Even so, it is surprising that more people who have a background with WTS, another institution where biblical theology runs deep if not in the same direction as Kline, would not be more vocal in raising questions about Lillback’s understanding of the United States’ religious meaning and its first president’s faith.

What makes this lack of interest in Lillback’s understanding of Christian America all the more remarkable is that it goes beyond how to read George Washington to how to interpret the Bible. Lillback’s non-profit organization dedicated to faith and freedom in America, the Providence Forum, has published a Faith and Freedom Guide to Philadelphia in which the city’s top fifty historic sites are paired with biblical texts that illustrate the religious significance of the history made in the United States’ first capital. For instance, the nation’s first Supreme Court building comes with these remarks: “The Bible’s teaching on the importance of the judges maintaining justice is declared in Deuteronomy 25:1, ‘When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty.’” This may seem harmless enough but it is likely not the best way to divide rightly the word of truth.

When the guide comes to the Masonic Cathedral, across the street from City Hall, the brochure goes off the rails:

The Masonic Order is an international, secret fraternity that played a significant role among the officers of the American revolution. The most famous member of the Masonic Order was George Washington. While their history is debated, the tradition argues that Masonry can be traced to Hiram, who helped build the temple of Solomon that is recorded in 1 Kings 6-7. Their classic symbol is a builder’s square with a compass and the letter G. This symbol is called “GAOTU,” which is an acrostic for “Great Architect Of The Universe” suggesting the geometric orderliness of the universe that argues for a creator and designer of all things. Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (KJV).

Not only is an effort to find a biblical origin for Free Masonry highly dubious on historical and theological grounds, but the guide seems to have little awareness that Reformed and Presbyterian churches in Europe and the United States have staunchly opposed to membership in Masonic Lodges as activity worthy of discipline. The only explanation for this intellectual construction of Masonry would appear to be George Washington’s membership. So instead of using Masonry against Washington as something that would raise questions about his orthodoxy, his identity as a Mason becomes a reason to delve into the Free Masons’ biblical origins. This raises an important question for WTS and her alumni – if it is wrong to read the Old Testament through the lens of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, is it any better to read it through the squint of contemporary America’s culture wars?

And through it all, Covenant Seminary goes on its merry way with a president who has shepherded through the PCA’s Strategic Plan and takes a very different estimate of the United States founding from Lillback. The lack of response to Bryan Chapell’s video about America’s Christian identity, combined with his slugging percentage in PCA politics, suggests there is hope for WSC faculty who would like to enjoy the waves.