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.

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New Calvinism is Warmed-Over New Evangelicalism with a Hint of Hipster

John Turner’s post about Henrietta Mears reminded me of a thought I have had for some time — namely, that the New Calvinism and Gospel Coalition are simply trying to do what Carl Henry and Harold John Ockenga were trying to do in the world of Protestantism outside the mainline churches. Mears was arguably the most important force in Sunday school curricula during the post-World War II era. And her outlook and energy prompted Turner to characterize neo-evangelicalism of the Billy Graham era along the following lines:

▪ Biblicism. This may seem obvious, but lost in discussions of the divergence of “new evangelicalism” from old-style fundamentalism is the fact that the new evangelicals remained biblicist to the core. Henrietta Mears revamped Sunday school education at Hollywood Presbyterian because she did not like the existing “grasshopper approach to the Bible. The children were not taught that God had a plan from Genesis to Revelation but were taught only stories. As one of the children said, ‘Sunday school gets dumber and dumber. The same old stories all the time.’” It occurs to me that the story of Jesus welcoming the children over the disciples’ opposition is indeed overused!

▪ Optimism. Certainly American evangelicals were alarmed, even paranoid at times, about various threats to the church and their nation. Communists, union leaders, juvenile delinquents — evangelicals were never at a loss when it came to finding something ominous on the country’s horizon. At the same time, they had tremendous faith that God would perform miraculous works through their ministries. It is no accident that Henrietta Mears helped mold Bill Bright, the Campus Crusade for Christ founder with a vision to “change the world.” Mears dreamed big. Evangelicals today are more chastened. We read about declining evangelical clout and the growing number of religious “nones.” Evangelical celebrities come to town for a night or two, not for six- or eight-week crusades like Billy Graham’s. A more realistic, even chastened approach is probably wise, but we could sometimes use a dose of Henrietta Mears-style dogged optimism.

▪ Bridge-building. Perhaps Henrietta Mears has given me a somewhat overly irenic sense of mid-century evangelicalism, but she seemed to get along with nearly everyone who even approached the nebulous borders of the evangelical world. In terms of theology, I understand Mears as rather close to a Keswick-style approach to surrender, holiness, and empowerment for service. In her ministry, however, she cooperated with mainstream-to-liberal Presbyterians, Keswick-oriented speakers, and dispensationalists. She would not invite Pentecostals to Forest Home, but she did invite Oral Roberts’s family to her own home and befriended the Oklahoma evangelist. As a “Bapterian,” she did not worry overly much about an individual’s precise place in the patchwork world of evangelicalism. Like Billy Graham, she could work with anyone dedicated to bringing young people in particular into a deep, abiding relationship in Jesus Christ.

That also seems to apply to the New Calvinism — not wanting to be too bound by theological systems, optimistic about all works of God (especially the New Calvinism), and willing to cross sacramental (think baptism) and spiritual-gift (think tongues) lines.

The only aspect of New Calvinism that is different is the attempt at urban hipness that sometimes surfaces among its proponents (think Greg Thornbury and image of TKNY). Henry and Ockenga had their urban moments, whether Los Angeles (okay, Pasadena), Boston, or Washington DC. But they were more earnest about the truth than being relevant. But with the success of TKNY has come the notion for some of the New Calvinists that you can be Edwards in Manhattan. For some reason, the New Calvinists don’t remember that Edwards’ earnestness landed him on the Massachusetts’ frontier trying to evangelize the Native Americans. In other words, earnestness and hipness don’t mix (which may explain John Piper’s remarkable indifference to Christian urbanism).