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.

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Anti-Gun is Pro-Life, Right?

James Mumford thinks so:

To me, the Planned Parenthood scandal seems the ultimate commodification of the body under the conditions of late capitalism.

Moreover, I agree that in the end it comes down to a trade-off between life and freedom. Pro-lifers often sheepishly downplay what their view entails: radical restrictions to a woman’s autonomy, both in having to undergo pregnancy—a burden I will never experience—and then either embarking on the project of a lifetime in raising a child she didn’t choose or, if she opts for adoption, knowing her child is walking around in the world without her.

So it struck me as all the more strange that, in complete contrast to the abortion debate, when it comes to guns American conservatives reverse their priorities. They rank freedom over life. “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Dr. Ben Carson’s response to the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon befuddled me.

Presumably, those who own guns for self-defense wouldn’t accept the claim that they rank freedom over life. They would say the freedom to own guns is precisely a freedom to defend life, their own and other people’s. Yet are more lives saved than lost by people having such easy access to lethal weapons? . . .

no possible reading of the Second Amendment can possibly excuse the fundamental hypocrisy here. Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Conservatives like me who care deeply about family values typically forego their freedom to sleep around.

Plus, a right is never absolute anyway. In 2008 Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion in Heller, recognized that even the individual rights reading allows for a raft of gun-control measures—prohibitions on carrying weapons in public, extension of background checks, etc., etc. So there’s a lot for consistent pro-lifers to be campaigning for with as much vigor as they’re trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Mumford is British. So is it a form of American exceptionalism to make round the square of defending guns and opposing abortion?

Cherry Picking Amendments

I am no fan of the National Rifle Association. Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I have no first hand knowledge with weapons — either for self-defense or sport. My own politics tell me that if I am going to support the Second Amendment (and my right to bear arms), I should also be opposed to standing militias. Which I am. Hey now. The way I read the politics of England and British America is that the right to bear arms was part of a citizens militia where ordinary people would fight the battles of the nation — and so they needed guns. If I’m going to fight as an ordinary citizen today, I need either a rocket launcher or a drone. Conceal and carry that.

But I am intrigued by John Piper’s remarks about Jerry Falwell’s remarks on Christians carrying guns and how Piper is being picked up by some evangelical academics. This was a line that caught my attention since it has the ring of 2k to it:

the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3)…. exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.

I agree.

But then I had to wonder about some of Piper’s recent reflections about race in the United States and all the attention that he received for descrying the real bigotry that exists in this society. Did Piper adopt a spirituality of the church mindset then? Did he call for Christians to act like strangers and aliens or did he aid and abet progressive policy reforms that would make the United States a safer and more equitable place? Here is something the Minneapolis pastor wrote a year ago:

Jesus said that anger is motivationally equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21–22). But he did not say the outcomes are equivalent. After murder somebody is dead, but not necessarily after anger. According to Romans 13:1–7, God put government in place not to remove the anger, but to keep it from becoming murder. He put the gospel of Christ in place to transform anger into love. This double divine work of government and gospel is also true in regard to lust leading to rape, greed leading to stealing, fear leading to perjury, intrigue leading to treason, and racial prejudice leading to racial injustice.

Laws don’t save souls. But they do save lives and livelihoods. And that matters for those of us who want to reach people with the heart-transforming gospel. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that is pretty important, also.”

I wouldn’t but I could well imagine someone making the same point about citizen Christians owning and carrying guns. “Guns don’t save souls. But they do save lives and livelihoods.”

So I am once again left wondering about the selective appropriation of both the spirituality of the church and our nation’s Bill of Rights. Why single out gun owners but not also call American Christians to put no trust in Fourteenth Amendment (which is backed up by officials — some of them Christians — with guns)? Here are a few other places where Piper’s embrace of civil rights and repudiation of gun rights seems off:

Few messages are more needed among American Christians today than 1 Peter 4:12: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Fiery trials are not strange. And the trials in view are hostilities from unbelievers, as the next verse shows: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” These trials are normal. That may not be American experience, but it is biblical truth.

Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.

For Piper that’s a reason for Christians not to have guns, but would he have said that to African-Americans — “you need to suffer more” — who sought and seek equality under the law?

Or let me ask, would Piper say the same as this about civil rights legislation?

I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.

I don’t think Piper actually puts his hope in the nation’s laws. But has he warned his fans and appropriators about the proximate or relative good of improved race relations in the United States compared to the real hope that animates believers?

And if Piper would not even call the police for the defense of his family from an assailant, why would Piper support laws to protect African-Americans from oppressors?

There is, as I have tried to show, a pervasive thrust in the New Testament pushing us toward blessing and doing good to those who hate, curse, and abuse us (Luke 6:27–28). And there is no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military. This is remarkable when you think about it, since I cannot help but think this precise situation presented itself, since we read that Saul drug men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2).

2) Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this threat to my wife or daughter or friend, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.

Maybe the problem is that of being the holy pontiff of Minneapolis. Sometimes pastors think they need to comment on everything. Often, even those with a curia behind them, can’t keep up with everything they say. If only every pastor and theologian had a Denzinger.

Kingdom (and weapon) Confusion

A fairly common observation (and sometime criticism) is that two-kingdom teaching is simply a reiteration of Anabaptist notions about the separation of church and state. Because 2k is ambivalent if not in denial about the kingdom work supplied by the magistrate, the modern version of two-kingdom theology supposedly stands closer to sixteenth-century Anabaptists (who rejected ecclesiastical establishments) than to the magisterial reformers (who looked to the state to uphold the true religion).

Here is one reason why 2k is not Anabaptist, and it comes from the unlikely source of Alan Jacobs’ Christmas-day reflection on gun control:

I’m a Christian, and as such I am enjoined to pray and hope for the coming reign of the Prince of Peace. Christians might disagree about how and when that Kingdom is going to come about, but we must pray for it and seek it without all our hearts. We should look forward always to the the reign of shalom, as laid out in Isaiah 65. It is not, then, intrinsically desirable that we should be armed; it is, rather, intrinsically desirable that we should all live in the Kingdom of God where no weapons are needed because we live in mutual love and have our needs provided by the Lord.

Maybe that doesn’t even need to be said; maybe nobody really thinks an armed society is ipso facto a better society, even though some folks can sound that way at times. If so, then please just take this post as a reminder that if it is, or becomes, necessary for Americans to be regularly and publicly armed, that’s a sign of the tragic brokenness of a world populated by fallen people.

Aside from the fairly obvious point that Jacobs is blurring lines between society and God’s people with his invocation of “we” in connection with the kingdom of God, he fails to recognize that the peaceable kingdom for which he longs is evident every Lord’s Day when believers gather at the Lord’s Table and only need the spiritual discipline of fencing the table — not guns — for communion. Also troubling is the implicit logic that fewer guns in society is an indication of the arrival of God’s kingdom. (Readers may want to keep in mind that some neo-Calvinists invoke shalom the way Jacobs does as an indication of the arrival of God’s kingdom.) That kind of logic is what leads the hip urbano-Calvinists to regard more artists and chefs and fewer police and soldiers as evidence of the coming kingdom. In fact, the signs of Christ’s kingdom are more ministers, more church members, more congregations (disciplined, of course), and more fruit of the Spirit.

But with careful distinctions between the kingdoms and the sorts of weapons used in each, two-kingdom proponents can see the problems that come with police enforcing the true religion (as Anabaptists did) while rejecting pacifist and non-violent social norms (as the magisterial reformers did). The church doesn’t need guns. It enforces God’s law and proclaims the good news through spiritual means. But until Christ’s return and the ultimate sorting out of the wheat and the tares, society will need guns. Rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word (which is silent about such matters) but the shifting sands of human reflection.