A Troubling Perspective on The Gospel Coalition (but what a lot of people have been saying)

Dane Ortland is very positive on the recent Gospel Coalition conference, especially his dad:

Really appreciated Matt Boswell’s leadership of the singing. That was one of my favorite things about the event. Don Carson on John 11 was rich indeed. Tim Keller on the new birth: typically insightful. Paul Tripp on suffering: deep wisdom. The best thing I heard all week was my dad’s talk ‘Pastor, Your Church Can Become Healthy Again.’ I wish everyone at the conference could have heard it. Searching, deepening, eye-opening, emboldening.

Scorecard results:

Carson – rich
Keller – typical
Tripp – deep
Ortland – bold

Then this:

I wonder what all of us who support TGC can do to consciously work against this great enterprise being quietly taken down by the flesh. Human nature being what it is, it seems to me virtually inevitable that an event such as this, with well-known speakers, and a big crowd, and a green room, and preachers quickly and quietly escorted around, provides a unique venue for venting the flesh, for schmoozing, for preening and parading–unless we deliberately fight against it. Left in neutral, we will slide toward worldliness; church history, the Bible, and honest self-knowledge all confirm this, unpleasant as the thought is.

Green room for celebrity preachers? Not standing in line with the hordes for donuts? Preening and parading? Sounds like the slide is already happening.

Hint: it has a lot to do with celebrity.

Advertisements

Why Michelle Higgins Appeals to Evangelicals

Samuel James wrote a piece a few weeks back about the overlapping convictions of social justice warriors and evangelicals (of a Reformedish variety). The link is morality:

As a kid growing up in the 1990s, I almost never heard any progressive or non-Christian make a moral case against a film or actor. Critics lauded such movies as American Beauty even as we grumpy fundies were aghast at its deviant themes and explicit sexuality. Fast-forward to 2019: The Me Too movement has chewed up Kevin Spacey, his movie, and his Best Actor Oscar and spit them all out. There’s an air (or pretense?) of spiritual enlightenment in contemporary pop culture. It’s in the sacramental language about inclusivity, in the hounding of sinners and heretics such as Kevin Hart and Henry Cavill, in the somber gender homily of a razor-company commercial.

If 2019 were all you knew of American pop culture, you’d never guess that some of the same institutions now lecturing on the need for more female leadership had financial interests in the porn industry just a few years ago. You’d never guess that “shock comedy” was a hugely lucrative business until very recently, with its bluest punchlines often coming at the expense not of sensitive liberal consciences but of Christians and conservatives. And you’d certainly be surprised to hear the marketing departments that sold their products by associating them with sex now bemoan toxic masculinity.

The idea that we ought to make the culture we consume conform to a moral standard seems a novel one to the social-justice generation. It was a given in my childhood. My fundamentalist upbringing gave me (though of course imperfectly) a grasp of non-neutrality, the inevitable moral character of the things we say, watch, and experience.

The rising generation of students is coming to this same realization but without the help of religion’s spiritual insight. The modern campus culture is a religious culture, but it’s a religion without God, and consequently it is a religion without grace. Many students would probably hear my story about growing up in conservative Evangelicalism and conclude that I have been violently oppressed. What if, though, we have more in common than they think? What if SJWism and religious fundamentalism are both expressions of a dissatisfaction with the decadence of modernity: its mindless consumerism, its divorce of virtue from culture, and its kowtowing to profit and power?

While James is looking at the convergence between secular social justice warriors and #woke evangelicals, he misses something that is much more basic, namely, eschatology. Whether you believe that history has a “right side” or you think that improvement in society has some bearing on the return of Christ, you likely are of the conviction that life here on earth mirrors some form of cosmic justice. And from where I sit, that puts you in the immanentize-the-eschaton school of social reform. How utopians come up with an eschaton to immanentize is a true mystery. But not believing in heaven, hell, judgment day, or God has not prevented many on the left from thinking an end to inequality, suffering, poverty, illness, war is possible — even immanent.

In which case, the fundamental divide in U.S. politics and religion is between the Augustinians (liturgicals) and the millennialists (pietists whether secular or born-again). Robert Swierenga’s description of nineteenth-century “ethnoreligious political behavior” remains astute even for our time:

The liturgical churches (such as Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and various Lutheran synods) were credally based, sacerdotal, hierarchical, nonmillennial, and particularistic. These ecclesiasticals were ever vigilant against state encroachment on their churches, parochial schools, and the moral lives of their members. God’s kingdom was other-worldly, and human programs of conversion or social reform could not usher in the millennium. God would restore this inscrutable, fallen world in His own good time and in His own mighty power.

The pietists (Baptists, Methodists, Disciples, Congregationalists, Quakers) were New Testament-oriented, antiritualist, congregational in governance, active in parachurch organizations, and committed to individual conversion and societal reform in order to usher in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. Pietists did not compartmentalize religion and civil government. Right belief and right behavior were two sides of the same spiritual coin. The liturgical excommunicated heretics, the pietists expelled or shunned sinners. (Religion and American Politics, 151-52)

He left out Presbyterians because they were sort of stuck in the middle, with some Old Schoolers entering the ranks of liturgicals and some siding with the clean-up-America New School.

Since James works for Crossway, I wonder if he should have written more about the links between #woke African-American evangelicals and The Gospel Coalition. And if he had read Swierenga, maybe all the recommendations of Advent and Lent at The Gospel Coalition could turn those evangelicals into liturgicals — those Protestants that compartmentalize faith and politics. If the liturgical calendar would get evangelicals to back away from social reform, then make the church calendar go.

W-w Giveth, W-w Taketh Away, Short Live W-w

Tim Carney’s piece on Trump-voting evangelicals is getting a lot of play and for good reason. He looks at churches outside the urban, suburban bubble, the ones that Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition try to own. And he finds that evangelicalism is not nearly as monolithic as scholars and evangelical leaders have said. He may even give reasons for abandoning evangelicalism altogether.

But Carney also opens a window on those Protestants where neo-Calvinist influence has had the longest shelf-life. In some cases, the results should hearten the redeemers of every square inch:

Trump’s single worst county in all of Iowa—far worse than Polk County (where Des Moines is) or Story County (home to Iowa State), or Johnson County (University of Iowa)—was Sioux County. Trump finished fourth place there, behind Ben Carson. Ted Cruz won every precinct of Sioux County.

Sioux is home to Orange City and Sioux Center, and it is the Dutchest county in America. Dutch ancestry is probably one of the best proxies the Census has for religious attendance.

Jordan Helming, a transplant whom I met at a Jeb Bush rally in Sioux Center, was astounded by the religiosity of the place, including the sheer number of churches. “There are 19 of them in this town—a town of 7,000 has 19 churches.”

Different strains of Reformed Christianity dominate in this overwhelmingly Dutch county, from austere old-world Calvinism (“the frozen chosen” they call themselves) to more evangelical flavors. Attendance (often twice on Sundays) is high, and the churches build strong community bonds.

“You care about your neighbors,” Helming explained, “you care about your environment, but you also take care of it yourself—don’t rely on the government.”

Carney does not mention that these Iowans also selected Steve King to represent them in the House of Representatives.

Reinforcing that uncomfortable detail are Carney’s tabulations of Michigan’s voting habits:

Back in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, analysts saw the GOP electorate in two categories: (a) establishment Republicans or (b) Evangelicals. The Establishment types voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in 2008, and the “evangelical vote” went for Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.

It turns out we were all oversimplifying things. That supposedly “evangelical vote” was a combination of two electorates: (1) the evangelical vote and (2) the rural populist vote. The 2016 primaries illuminated this distinction.

In Michigan, for instance, 2012 saw Romney carry the stretch of the state from Ann Arbor to Detroit, while Santorum won most of the rest of the state. Four years later, it was much more complex: Kasich won Ann Arbor, Trump won Detroit and most of the rural counties, while Cruz dominated in the handful of counties around Holland and Grand Rapids, where the Dutch Reformed church dominates.

Cruz would likely be better than Trump. But why don’t Christian Reformed institutions own up to being oh so Republican? You’d never know from reading the Banner, Reformed Journal, Pro Rege, or In All Things. If the leaders of Evangelicalism, Inc. could be so out of touch with non-urban Protestants, are the professors and pastors in the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America world all that connected?

What the Gospel Co-Allies Could Learn from Non-Christian Movies

Jared Wilson (not at TGC website) makes some good points about the poor quality of Christian movies:

Christian movies are not made by artists but propagandists.

I don’t mean that these projects aren’t carried about by people who know what they’re doing with cameras, lighting, etc. The visual quality of Christian movies has definitely increased over the last decade. The caliber of talent on both sides of the camera has increased, as well. So when I say Christian movies aren’t made by artists, I don’t mean they aren’t made by people who are good at their jobs. What I mean is that they are made by people who don’t really know what the job ought to be.

I tracked this shift most notably in Christian writing (fiction) about 20 years ago. We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

Christian movies are more akin to propaganda than art, because they begin with wanting to communicate some Christian theme — the power of prayer, the power of believing, the power of something — and then the story is crafted around that message. This is true even when the story is something based on a real-life incident. Delving into the depths of human character and motivation is subservient to getting the message across. This is why so much of the dialogue in Christian movies violates the classic writing proverb, “Show, don’t tell.”

Wilson makes several other good points about Christian movies’ lameness.

The thing is, someone could make similar points about the content at TGC, whether current events, movie reviews, or even discussions of Christianity. The problem with the Christian intellectual bright web is that the Christianity or w-w on view is mainly about uplift and rooting for the good guys, that is, the celebrity pastors who sometimes leave their own parachurch platforms to perform occasional services for TGC.

A basic problem is an inability to regard non-Christians as confronting real life situations that believers also face, or portraying Christians as people with similar problems to non-Christians — juggling multiple loyalties, avoiding temptation, maintaining integrity, or even looking up to people without faith for insights into the human condition. Is it possible, for instance, for a Christian to render a non-Christian as a charming, likable, even wise person? I understand the challenges that non-believers have in portraying Christians as anything other than two-dimensional figures. That’s because Christians have such trouble admitting that they are both human and spiritual, justified and unsanctified. But is it so hard to portray human existence apart from Christ as a compelling story from which Christians can learn how to participate in all those parts of experience that are not obviously religious? If it is hard — and it is — it is because the victorious Christian living, teaching, and defending that TGC advocates is one where Christians are sanctified across all parts of ordinary life. Christians do Christian music, holy child-rearing, sanctified plumbing, and spiritual goat breeding. If everything has to have Christian significance, you are going to miss a lot of life.

That is why The Big Kahuna is such a great movie. Of course, we may no longer watch it because it stars Kevin Spacey among others. Plus, it has at least 20 f-bombs. But it also portrays the haplessness of an evangelical engineer who works with worldly salesmen and turns out not to be a reliable colleague because he (Bob, played by Peter Facinelli) is so eager to evangelize on the job. The movie, to its credit, treats this evangelical as a real life human being. When he says that it’s more important to follow Jesus than sell an industrial lubricant (at a business convention), you actually see Bob’s dilemma. It is not a ridiculous riddle. But the evangelical also lacks character, as Danny DeVito’s character points out, because Bob doesn’t see how his desire to serve the Lord has blinded him to poor performance on the job, or a distance from co-workers. Bob sees himself in two dimensions because his piety tells him to view himself that way.

It is a smart movie from which Christians and non-Christians can see the way life doesn’t proceed in straight lines.

If TGC wants Christians to make better movies, they should produce better content.

A Recruit for the Theological Dark Web

I’m not sure Jared Longshore has it right to talk about courageous Calvinism. That sounds a little too much like the cage-phase variety. But his observations about Old Calvinism in contrast with New Calvinism suggests Longshore may want more room to dissent from the niceness that dominates the Gospel Industrial Complex:

A cowardly Calvinist is an illogical thing. I don’t say that it is a thing that does not exist. Sadly, regrettably, shockingly, it does exist. But it shouldn’t. Before we get in too deep, no offense to the courageous non-Calvinist. My point is not to say that those who disagree with God’s sovereign decrees lack courage. Not at all. My point is rather to remedy what is all too common and downright inconsistent: the Calvinistic wimp. He is an enigma.

There may be some explanation for the man. I recall sitting down some years back with a leading Calvinist in the SBC. The spot was Louisville and the ocasion was T4G. I was a student at Southern Seminary quite certain that the third great awakening had struck. As I expressed my amazement over breakfast to this gentleman, amazement that so many young men we’re full of zeal for the glory of the sovereign God, his reply was a bit of a let down. “I’m just not sure how deep this whole thing is,” came the reply.

The words from a man who was a Calvinist when it wasn’t cool. A Calvinist when it wasn’t easy. A Calvinist when you actually had to examine the arguments of the other side and come to a settled and biblical position. So, perhaps the present quivering (and there is present quivering, we’re shaking like a freshly baked flan) is a symptom of the thin theology. If so, then let us go further up and further in.

We must get down deep in our bones that this courage is needed. Courage has always been required for those who would make God’s ways known among men. But there are certain times when that courage is especially necessary. Think Latimer and Ridley.

Why is courage needed today? Because if you open God’s Word and preach it plainly you’re going to be kicking over idols in every direction. You’re going to need courage because there has been a way to massage God’s Word, appealing to the secular mind, but that way seems to be just about all the way shut. You’re going to need courage because the exaltation of man has reached such a pitch, that, if you preach the truth about man’s fallen condition, you’re going to a be an outright bigot. And the colored lights and relevant worship set isn’t going to smooth things over any longer.

Again, I’m not fan of the everything-is-an-idol approach, but Longshore’s outlook is refreshing compared to just about anything about ministry at Gospel Coalition (like this):

Ortlinghaus: I think the primary opportunity is for gospel-centered churches to show that Jesus and his followers are not “haters.” When the national media portray Bible-following Christians as hateful and bigoted, we have an opportunity and mandate to love in the same way we see Jesus loving the woman at the well in the John 4—full of grace and truth. People want to see that our love is genuine (Rom. 12:9).

Buzzard: What God is using here is robustly orthodox, warmly loving Christians who enjoy close relationships with people wrestling through issues of sexuality—boldly, kindly pointing them to the authority of Jesus and his Scriptures over a long period of time.

Don’t accentuate the positive. Be straightforward.

The More Evangelical You Become, The Less Presbyterian

On this morning’s broadcast with Angelo and company, I heard Carson Wentz describe the bond he shares with Nick Foles by virtue of a common faith.
I’m sure many evangelicals were encouraged.

But I could not help but wonder what would happen when Carson learned that his Lutheran church (I’m speculating) would not welcome Nick to preach because the Eagle’s backup QB is evangelical, not Lutheran. What happens when ecclesiastical requirements get in the way of the bond that comes from being born-again? What even happens if being Presbyterian gets in the way of participating in The Gospel Coalition? The Allies claim “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.” How can that be? How can you be evangelical and in the Reformed tradition “deeply”?

This is a fundamental tension between Protestants who trace their roots back to the Reformation (Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran) and those who only go as far as the First Pretty Good Awakening. For confessional Protestants, fellowship has standards. But for evangelicals, the bar is low.

And that is why you need to give up a lot if you are a Presbyterian to become an evangelical. If beliefs and practices about theology, worship, and church government matter to being a Christian, then the Reformation gets in the way of being evangelical. But if being born-again is what matters, then you don’t really need the Reformation.

Machen knew the score on this one (came across this after hearing Angelo and Carson):

One of the very greatest evils of present-day religious life, it seems to me, is the reception into the Church of persons who merely repeat a form of words such as “I accept Christ as my personal Saviour,” without giving the slightest evidence to show that they know what such words mean. As a consequence of this practice, hosts of persons are being received into the Church on the basis, as has been well said, of nothing more than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus, or else on the basis of a vague purpose of engaging in humanitarian work. One such person within the Church does more harm to the cause of Christ, I for my part believe, than ten such persons outside; and the whole practice ought to be radically changed. The truth is that the ecclesiastical currency in our day has been sadly debased; Church membership, as well as Church office, no longer means what it ought to mean. In view of such a situation, we ought, I think, to have reality at least; instead of comforting ourselves with columns of church statistics, we ought to face the facts; we ought to recall this paper currency and get back to a standard of gold.

To that end, it should, I think, be made much harder than it now is to enter the Church: the confession of faith that is required should be a credible confession; and if it becomes evident upon examination that a candidate has no notion of what he is doing, he should be advised to enter upon a course of instruction before he becomes a member of the Church. Such a course of instruction, moreover, should be conducted not by comparatively untrained laymen, but ordinarily by the ministers; the excellent institution of the catechetical class should be generally revived. Those churches, like the Lutheran bodies in America, which have maintained that institution, have profited enormously by its employment; and their example deserves to be generally followed. (What is Faith?, 156-57)

If Gospel Coalitions Can’t Unite, What about Social Gospels?

Paul Carter is worried about factionalism dividing the unity of young Calvinists (largely identified with the Gospel Coalition). He’s also worried that the young Calvinists are in over the heads on politics:

The YRR movement has been fueled by some very admirable concerns: the desire to trust in Scripture, the desire to worship God as he is and not as culture dictates, the desire to reach the nations with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ – these are noble and appropriate motivations. But mixed in with these there were no doubt some motivations of lesser quality.

There was a desire, for example, to be different than the generation that went before.

The Baby Boomers were indifferent to doctrine – by and large – and in bed with the Republican Party – metaphorically speaking. The YRR crowd wanted to make it clear that they were different. For the first 10 years or so of the movement this meant largely avoiding the political implications of the Gospel.

At T4G 18 that all began to change.

Politics was back on the table.

To a certain extent this was inevitable – the Gospel has social and political consequences. But the YRR movement does not appear prepared to facilitate that conversation. The movement appears poised to fracture under the pressure posed by long neglected issues and implications.

If Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, what need has a Christian to own a handgun?

If the Gospel has broken down the wall of hostility and made of us one new people – then why are we still talking about black and white?

If the mission of the church is to take the Gospel to the nations, then why are so many Christians opposed to immigration?

I’m not telling you what the answers are I’m just telling you what the questions are. Questions are being asked that for over a decade were not being asked and the weight of those questions threatens to derail the movement.

Here’s why the young Calvinists can’t avoid talking about race, immigration, and guns. Not only does The Gospel Coalition feed a steady diet of gospelly reflections about the latest headlines at Fox or MSNBC, but these people actually believe that the Bible speaks to government policies on race, immigration, and guns. They have a comprehensive w-w that requires the Bible to speak – period – totally – period – to all of life – period (thanks Aaron Sorkin). The spirituality of the church is not an option.

As much as critics might want to accuse defenders of the spirituality of the church of racism, they should actually consider that a reduced scope for Scripture and the church is much like classical liberalism. Government is supposed to be limited in its operations; in the case of the United States the Constitution was supposed to inform that limitation. But for Fascists, Communists, and some aspects of Progressivism, a limited government won’t get done all you want government to do. Plus, a government that provides mere basic services won’t generate the aspirations that people need to make a nation great or exceptional.

The same goes for the transformationalizationalists. A reduced footprint for Christianity is not good enough. The church needs to do more than proclaim the gospel, conduct faithful worship, provide discipline, and care for widows and orphans (with 1 Tim. 5 scrutiny). How could Christianity ever make people go “wow” if the church restricted what it did to word, sacrament, and discipline (and let all the other agencies of a civil society pitch in on the aspirational stuff)?

In the heart of most people beats the pulse of a Yankee fan, which helps to explain Kuyperianism, Youthful Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism. Comprehensivalists all.

What Does Matthew McConaughey Know that the Gospel Industrial Complex Does Not?

I am no fan of religious “journalism” that functions as publicity but here I may be guilty of that of which I complain — at least, to paraphrase the Pharisees, I’m no reporter.

All about mmmmeeeeEEEE, but I really like Nick Foles if only because he is so hard to like, not for having rough edges but for his vanilla qualities. He generally answers reporters questions with generic affirmations of hard work, team spirit, and respect for the other team — in a monotone that is singularly dull. He seems to suffer from the professional QB disease of not being fleet of foot. He even gets that deer-in-the-headlights look when on camera. After a scintillating start in his rookie season (under Chip Kelly, mind you), he fell back to the back of the pack.

Oh, by the way, he just won the Super Bowl, went pass-for-pass with the legendary Tom Brady, and also was MVP. Add to those accomplishments Foles’ profession of faith in Jesus Christ and his on-line seminary studies and you might think the journalists at Christianity Today or the “reporters” at Gospel Coalition would be delighted to draft on Foles’ success the way the Co-Allies did with Bubba Watson at the Masters, if only for the sake of winning more people to Christ. But no. Nothing at either website.

Not even the endorsement from Frank Reich, the Eagles’ Offensive Coordinator (and now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts), who was once-upon-a-time the president of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) commanded the gospel industrialists’ attention:

“Nick is the real deal — an authentic Christian who has a contagious love for Christ and for others,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich told The Washington Post in a text message.

Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey took out a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman to congratulate Foles.

The actor’s response likely has nothing to do with the coverage that even the Washington Post gave to the Eagles’ QB:

Foles’s up-and-down career in the NFL, which included him considering retirement, has prepared him to discuss adversity and character building for a Christian audience. In a video on the YouVersion Bible app, he slipped into preacher mode by reading and explaining 2 Corinthians 12:9.

“This verse has brought so much meaning to my heart and in my life,” he says, later adding, “Everyone feels weak at some time in our lives, but we have to realize when we’re going through that, God’s shaping our hearts and allowing us to grow to become who he created us truly to be.”

He said the week of the Super Bowl that he envisions ministering to students because he understands the temptation with social media and the Internet.

“It’s something I want to do,” he said in an AP story. “I can’t play football forever. I’ve been blessed with an amazing platform, and it’s just a door God has opened, but I still have a lot of school left and a long journey.”

Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ injured starting quarterback, posted an Instagram picture with Foles before the game, writing, “God’s writing an unbelievable story and he’s getting all the glory!”

The Liberty connection may be what puts off the evangelicals in the center of evangelicaldom. Liberty University issued a press release that reads a lot like the kind of features reporting in evangelical publications:

Foles has been bold about his faith during his football career, indicating that he would like to be a youth pastor someday. As the Eagles were presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Foles held his infant daughter, Lily, and said, “Being here with my daughter, my wife, my teammmates, my city, we’re very blessed.” At the post-game press conference, he said God gets the glory. “I wouldn’t be out here without God, without Jesus in my life. I can tell you that, first and foremost in my life, I don’t have the strength to come out here and play a game like that. It’s an everyday walk.”

But Liberty’s president did not even spook the Washington Post’s editors who have been known to be a tad tough on Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s favorite POTUS:

Liberty President Jerry Falwell tweeted after the game: “Congratulations to Liberty student @NFoles_9 on an incredible performance tonight and on becoming the first @LibertyU student to quarterback a winning @SuperBowl team! Amazing job by @Eagles! Great game and a real testament to the character and perseverance of the Eagles team!”

So what gives? Even Liberty University English professor, Karen Swallow Prior, isn’t toxic for Christianity Today’s purposes.

My gut tells me Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition still hold a grudge against J. Gresham Machen who started Westminster in Center City Philadelphia. But don’t the editors know that Machen protested the change in Blue Laws that allowed the NFL to play on the Lord’s Day?

Imagine if the PCA were Big Enough

Then you wouldn’t need the Gospel Coalition.

So why don’t the leaders of neo-neo-evangelicalism acknowledge that a parachurch organization with a public profile generated largely by the world-wide interweb used by celebrity pastors who sometimes go to conferences and meet with ordinary neo-neo-evangelicals is a capitulation to contemporary culture? Where is all the discernment that comes from reading sociology, history, and cultural and art criticism?

What if limiting your ministry to the confines of a communion is counter-cultural? Is being counter-cultural simply a pose or does it also require subtraction — rejecting (at least some aspects of) culture?

Then, these reflections might lose some of their pietistic earnestness (sorry for the redundancy):

“If they are not controlled by Scripture and confessionalism, then of course [evangelicals] are going to fit into the grid of the broader and more secular culture,” Carson said. “By and large, these cultural evangelicals work out their cultural bondage in more conservative ways than their agnostic counterparts, but it is difficult to believe that racism is less evil than sexual promiscuity.”

Exactly. And if pastors let confessions and church polity control their ministry, they might put their own communion, the one in which they vowed to minister God’s word and the holy sacraments, ahead of all other extra-denominational activities. In other words, can you really act like you are being counter cultural when the rest of the culture is turning from denominational Christianity to none (denominational) Christianity?

“I see TGC as occupying the same space that evangelicalism’s founding fathers—like Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Billy Graham—occupied,” Keller said. They wanted to be evangelicals, not fundamentalists; to engage with non believers and with society, and not just to withdraw, Keller said.

“We don’t want to be pietists, but we don’t want to be captive to the spirit of the age either,” Keller said. “But that is actually a hard place to be. It’s a lot easier to retreat to your fortress or to just go along with the crowd. But TGC, from the very beginning, wanted to avoid going in either direction. We wanted to be prophetic from the center, as Don [Carson] says.”

What would really be counter-cultural would be commitment to word-and-sacrament ministry when the spirit of the age, thanks to Henry, Ockenga et al, is to overlook considerations like baptism, the Lord’s supper, ordination, and the sufficiency of Scripture (which would limit pastors from dabbling in sociology and cultural criticism).

In point of fact, creating a brand though social media, the way the gospel allies do, is about as beholden to the zeitgeist as someone could imagine. When I think of being counter-cultural, I don’t think of the Gospel Coalition. I think of the Amish.

Post-script: notice that evangelicalism didn’t start with Luther, the Puritans, Edwards, or Finney. It began in the 1940s. What I’m saying.

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It

Why does so much confusion surround the so-called Alt-Right while so many people are absolutely certain they oppose it? The Southern Baptist Convention seemed to set the standard for establishing indignant distance from the Alt-Right and its associations with white supremacy. At the same time, pretty much no one knows what the Alt-Right is. If the SBC had thrown Charles Murray, the co-author of The Bell Curve, into its resolution, I doubt anyone would have cared. Who is Charles Murray? Not sure. Must be a white supremacist because those kids at Middlebury College know what’s what.

Here is Joe Carter’s attempt to define the Alt-Right even after the fact of the resolution — reporting catches up to voting:

The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.

The Southern Poverty Law Center gives a somewhat broader definition (that could actually include Joe Carter and me at times):

The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.

At the Alt-Right website, the defining component of the movement seems to be a race-based defense of Western civilization. One question in these race obsessed times — and can anyone remember this goes back to the election of Barack Obama and didn’t just start with the 2016 election? — is if you defend cultural goods of the West like smart phones, rule by law, or tennis are you guilty of the sins of the Alt-Right? Or if you look favorably on the United States, which people of European descent have dominated for good and ill, are you also tainted?

But a bigger question is what a white man is to do. The comments at Joe Carter’s piece suggest that even the fans of John Piper and Tim Keller are not willing to support the SBC’s resolution even while they do not identify with the Alt-Right:

The SBC did us a huge disservice by not defining the Alt Right. The more familiar one becomes with their bigotry, the more disgusting their venom. I think, however, there is a danger in all of this. Since we have left the Alt Right as an ambiguous term, we have set ourselves up for witch hunts. For instance, If I believe in a strong national defense, and in protecting our borders, am I to be branded with this label, and thereby made notorious? If I call myself a “Proud American”, then I am, by definition, a nationalist. Will that term soon become, “white-nationalist” with the passage of time? As the author points out, the “Alt Right” has far more in common with progressivism, than with true conservatism. I would welcome a clarification to the resolution. One which helps us all understand the dangers of this deceptive movement, but which does not leave those Christians who lean left, with the misunderstanding that Conservatives are hateful, or bigoted. That would seem to me to be the exact kind of Xenophobia we just denounced.

One of the reasons for such criticism is that Carter leaves the average white person in a dilemma. One the one hand, identifying as white is a sin:

White supremacy, white nationalism, and white identity are not all the same thing, but they are all equally repugnant….

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

If that is true, that even recognizing myself as white as opposed to Christian is a form of idolatry, what am I supposed to do if I am a Southern Baptist and read calls like this?

White leadership must be vigilant in yielding the floor to black voices, black language, and black tone on this issue in particular, regardless of perceptions or consequences. Right is right and it often takes authentic voices and types of expression to rightly convey it. Jesus said that if you enter a banquet do not seat yourself at the head of the table but at the foot. It is time for white leadership in the SBC to sit at the foot of the table and learn from their African American brothers and sisters how to rightly oppose racial injustice in this country. Including allowing for language and tone that may at times be uncomfortable.

Do I get to ignore this because I say I’m not white but a Christian? Or do I have to look around the room at skin color and come clean that I am white and so need to take a back seat to people of color? At that point, have I not committed the sin of idolatry by identifying as white? Something along the lines of doubly damned comes to mind.

Not to mention that whites and blacks talking about race often ignores Asians and Latinos. Do whites and blacks also sometimes need to sit at the feet of Native Americans or Korean-Americans? At this point, have we really heeded Paul that in Christ there is not Jew nor Greek? Or aren’t we simply a little late to the aggrieved minority party that Democrats have been holding since 1965?

Doesn’t the right side of history have an expiration date?