Hyphenated, Not Integrated

Peter Meilaender enhances the Lutheran reputation for thinking clearly about two kingdoms. In this particular case, Meilaender connects the dots between two kingdoms and vocation. But first, he has to clear the deck of modernity-phobia:

In a pre- or early modern world, most people still lived in stable communities that structured their lives, providing shared norms and a sense of place in an intelligible world. Their local communities, their work, their families and kinship networks, and their religious practices all overlapped and fit neatly inside one another, creating reinforcing structures of meaning. But the accelerating processes of modernity, especially over the last three centuries, gradually broke apart this coherent world. Political authority and structures of governance grew larger, more powerful, and more centralized; the decisions shaping people’s lives came to be made far away, by unknown strangers, even as their consequences reached deeper into one’s life. Workers became more mobile, and work moved out of the home, losing its connection to family structure and the rhythms of daily life. Employers, like states, became large, faceless powers, and urbanization took more and more men and women off the land and away from their traditional customs into massive, strange, and anonymous cities. Religion became an increasingly private affair, and in a mobile and diverse world, neighbors could no longer assume a set of shared norms. People were left alienated, powerless, and lost, their lives fragmented among different spheres of family, leisure, work, faith, and citizenship (or subjecthood) that they no longer knew how to integrate. Over time these processes have accelerated and have become even more acute in the post-Cold War world, with its intense globalization and rapid technological change.

You could add Patrick Deneen to this list. This understanding of modernity also increasingly informs Ken Myers’ interviews at Mars Hill Audio.

Then Meilaender uses Michael Walzer to show that modernity is more bark than bite:

Walzer briefly sketches several more such separations or differentiations. The “separation of civil society and political community creates the sphere of economic competition and free enterprise, the market in commodities, labor, and capital” (Walzer 1984, 316). It is true, of course, that “market freedom entails certain risks for consumers,” but, as Walzer points out, “so does religious freedom” (Walzer 1984, 316). Similarly, the “abolition of dynastic government separates family and state” and in this way creates the possibility for people to pursue careers according to their talents, opening up the “sphere of office and then the freedom to compete for bureaucratic and professional place, to lay claim to a vocation, apply for an appointment, develop a specialty, and so on” (Walzer 1984, 316-17). Finally, Walzer writes, the same process, by separating “public and private life” (Walzer 1984, 317), enables new forms of domestic intimacy that are profoundly important to most of us. In the privacy of our homes we become free to pursue “a very wide range of interests and activities…: reading books, talking politics, keeping a journal, teaching what we know to our children, cultivating (or, for that matter, neglecting) our gardens” (Walzer 1984, 317). Raising our own chickens, we might add, or not raising them! “Our homes are our castles, and there we are free from official surveillance” (Walzer 1984, 317).

The virtue of Walzer’s analysis is to correct the one-sided portrayal of modernity as a story of decay, fragmentation, and alienation, the loss of a pre-modern, pre-liberal Eden. The story of modernity is also one of increasing richness and diversity, of freedom and pluralism, of a world in which, to borrow a line from C. S. Lewis, “Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time” (Lewis 2003, 281).

The loss of integration is not bad but actually good (and of course, something that even the complainers take for granted, from indoor plumbing to civil rights).

Lutherans, according to Meilander, understand this differentiation better than most, thanks at least to Luther’s own recognition of the paradox that goes to the heart of Christian experience this side of glory (before real integration happens). He quotes Luther:

Two propositions are brought into harmony with one another: at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly. You suffer evil and injustice, and yet at the same time you punish evil and injustice; you do not resist evil, and yet at the same time, you do resist it. In the one case, you consider yourself and what is yours; in the other, you consider your neighbor and what is his. In what concerns you and yours, you govern yourself by the gospel and suffer injustice toward yourself as a true Christian; in what concerns the person or property of others, you govern yourself according to love and tolerate no injustice toward your neighbor.

This understanding of Christian identity, as one caught between (at least) two realities, is the basis for the doctrine of vocation and juggling all of the duties that a modern person has:

As a husband and father, I have obligations to love, cherish, and be faithful to my wife and children, to maintain, together with my wife, the good order and discipline of the household, and to provide for the religious education of my children. In the same fashion, I also fill other offices with their own corresponding duties. As a citizen, I must support the governing authorities, uphold the rule of law, and assist my fellow citizens in need. As a professor, I must help my students learn, expose them to important works and thinkers in my discipline, and help them develop their intellects. As a member of my parish, I have duties to support it financially and in other ways according to my talents—perhaps by caring for the church grounds or teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir. “There is no getting around it,” says Luther, “a Christian has to be a secular person of some sort….[For] now we are talking about a Christian-in-relation: not about his being a Christian, but about this life and his obligation in it to some other person, like a lord or a lady, a wife or children or neighbors, whom he is obliged, if possible, to defend, guard, and protect” (Luther 1956, 109).

An upside that Meilaender does not mention is that hyphenation would spare us the social justice warriors whose desire to immanentize the eschaton is the most obvious recent example of seeking integration.

Without Sabbath Observance We Could Not Identify Christians

How do you spot a Christian? That may be easy compared to defining religion. Damon Linker had a go at religion recently:

Religion is any set of norms, practices, and beliefs that establishes a comprehensive way of life that is held out as the right or best way of life for those who adhere to it.

Noah Millman agreed but wanted to amend the definition:

. . . religion is a comprehensive set of normative practices that reflect or imply a set of beliefs about the nature of life and the right way to live it. Those beliefs may or may not be conscious, and may or may not be articulated and taught, in the way that the practices are.

I wonder why both Linker and Millman are so hung up on comprehensive. They don’t seem to understand a two-kingdom (read Augustinian) presentation of Christianity, one that recognizes some aspects of a believers life are religious, some are common or creational. It’s the hyphenation thing. But it’s especially a worry about “all of me” or comprehensive accounts of Christianity when in fact the Bible or bishops haven’t weighed in on everything and Christians have some liberty to figure it out themselves (rue the uncertainty).

In which case, the recent story about the decline of Sabbath observance may be a better indication of how to define religion and spot Christianity, as in Christians are people who take worship seriously and set aside a day for it. But that is changing in the South:

Signs are beginning to emerge suggesting that role of religion in the Bible Belt may be declining, at least to some degree.

The shift is increasingly apparent in local cafes and restaurants in towns across the South, particularly on Sundays. The sale of alcohol on Sundays has long been prohibited in many traditionally religious conservative communities. But recently, more and more of those communities are repealing so-called Blue Laws.

In Sylacauga, Alabama, a small town of just 12,700 people that hosts 78 churches, after-church lunch-goers are now bumping into craft beer drinking sports fans at local restaurants, following a September vote to do away with the Sunday exclusion. Similar initiatives are also underway in parts of Georgia and Mississippi.

A Pew Research Center survey showed 19 percent of Southerners do not identify with any organized religion, a 6 percent rise since 2007 and a number that more closely matches that of the rest of the country.

In another Pew study, 35 percent of Millennials surveyed self-identified as atheist or agnostic. The tendencies appear to be consistent across races.

“We’ve seen this sort of broader shift throughout the country as a whole with fewer people identifying as being part of the religious base,” Jessica Martinez, a senior researcher in religion and public life at Pew told the Associated Press. “In the South you see a pattern very similar to what we are seeing in other regions.”

Maybe sanctification of the Lord’s Day is something that “obedience boys” and Old Lifers could both get behind.

2K: Giving Life to Christian Intellectuals

Over at U.S. Intellectual History Blog, Tim Lacy reflects on recently deceased Theodore Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame. Lacy considers Hesburgh to be an example of a Roman Catholic intellectual, and here’s why:

I define a religious intellectual as a self-identified religious person who displays the ability and willingness to bracket ideas, topics, theories, etc. It is a character trait that arises and is triangulated, or is confirmed historically, over time. To call it a character trait means that it repeats consistently such that it can be identified with one’s personality. Its habitual. The accent is on one’s identity as an intellectual.

But what does it mean to ‘bracket things’? I take this to be one’s ability to hold up a problem or issue and examine it from many different sides—including, especially, from sides that seem outside of one’s identity. The intellectual ability to bracket should display, I think, an element of surprise. There is something slightly Dionysian about that person’s thinking. That trait underscores the danger of the intellectual as a type. They might say, and then even do, something you hadn’t predicted. They can be enigmatic.

Even so, the religious intellectual will always, in the end, bring religion back into the conversation. She or he will judge and evaluate the results of their thinking against religious creeds, theologies, and tenets. At this point the religious intellectual may then close out a theory or conclusion if it strays into heresy or sin. But closure occurs after the consideration. The hallmark of the beginning of her or his inquiry is openness.

An ‘intellectually religious’ person—an intellectual Muslim, Protestant, or Catholic, for instance—is a self-identified religious person who starts with religious tenets, issues, or problems and then builds a thought structure, or structures, from that point. These structures can become quite elaborate and intricate. They might display a person’s intellectual prowess and the complexity of a religious issue. Those structures may even occasionally surprise people both inside and outside the thinker’s faith. But the person of faith who explores who reads the thinker’s writings and analyzes her or his actions know that they are on safe ground. Why? Because that intellectual actor starts with the cult’s premises and assumptions.

All about me, but I like this way of explaining the work of a Christian intellectual because it resonates with the idea of the Christian believer as hyphenated, that is, a self tossed to and fro by any number of responsibilities and claims on his loyalty and affection. When I work as elder I bracket certain convictions that I take into the classroom as history professor or — ahem — into the bedroom as husband. Such bracketing is obviously important to 2k since a 2ker looks at political life as having a different set of standards than those that apply to the church. But the Christian life is driven by hyphenation.

What is also important to see is that according to Lacy’s distinction, neo-Calvinism is good at producing intellectually religious people — thinkers who construct systems of thought, often times quite rigorous, but in pursuit of advancing the claims of faith. 2k in contrast produces religious intellectuals who differentiate areas of study without letting faith determine everything. 2k Protestants do this if only because they believe the Bible doesn’t speak fully or adequately to all areas of study — like English literature, microbiology, political theory — in ways that intellectuals demand.

So once again, in a mild March Madness upset, 2k beats neo-Calvinism.

All about (Me) Another Blog

I am starting to post over at Patheos (around 2 times a week) and have written my first entry. It was inspired in part by Tim Challies confusing (but pious) post about Canada’s prime minister:

On February 6, 2006, Stephen Harper stood before the Governor General of Canada and recited the oath of office: “I, Stephen Harper, do solemnly and sincerely promise and swear that I will truly and faithfully, and to the best of my skill and knowledge, execute the powers and trust reposed in me as Prime Minister, so help me God.”

In the very moment when he recited that oath, he received a new identity: Prime Minister of Canada. That identity includes what the oath calls powers and trust: he received authority to represent Canada, power to make decisions, and responsibility to lead the nation in ways that are best for all Canadians. As a citizen of Canada, I want my Prime Minister to know who he has become, to know what he is responsible for, to know what authority is his. I want him to take on the full identity of Prime Minister and to behave accordingly; if he will not take on that identity, he cannot do his job effectively.

I have never met the Prime Minister and have never been able to ask him, but it is my guess that taking on that new identity is difficult. Though he became Prime Minister in the moment he recited the oath, it must have taken him some time to begin confidently behaving like a Prime Minister. There must have been a period of adjustment where he reconciled himself to all of these new realities—his new abilities, his new title, and his new leadership responsibilities. It must have been strange at first to hear people call him “Mr. Prime Minister,” and to always look to him for direction.

As a Christian, you, too, have received a new identity. Just like Stephen Harper was immediately given a new identity when he recited his oath of office, you were given a new identity in the very moment when you put your faith in Christ Jesus and were justified by him. And just like the Prime Minister, it takes time and knowledge for you to grow into that new identity. All through the Christian life, you will be growing and straining to understand it in better and deeper ways, and to live as if it is true.

This strikes me as a seriously flawed understanding of human identity and its Christian aspects. What happens to Harper as a Christian? Does he give up his identity as prime minister? As chief pol in Canada does he lose his in-Christ status?

Hyphenation may be the solution.

Debtors to Ireland

It was a soft landing mainly coming back from Dublin over the weekend. Encountering a Buffalo Wild Wings store — how could you possibly call that a restaurant — was certainly a reminder of how bizarre American culture must look even to other Westerners. Comparing a BWW to O’Neill’s pub in Dublin may not be fair. But I am not sure why one room needs what seemed like 67 television screens. Back in Dublin, not even all the screens were on even if a soccer match was available. And some patrons came to the pub to talk about the choral concert they had heard at the University, others were playing a friendly game of cards, and young men predictably were picking up girls (while also unexpectedly explaining Ireland’s strict divorce laws). Having the Fighting Irish on against U.S.C. did not make up for the difference.

The Mrs. and I spent the night in Illinois (having flown to and from O’Hare) and so worshiped yesterday at an area Orthodox Presbyterian congregation before driving back to Hillsdale. We were greeted by the invocation of a minister whose roots, according to accent, were in Scotland. I know that Ireland and Scotland represent distinct forms of resisting England, with Northern Ireland throwing an odd wrench into such patterns of resistance. But the Scottish accent was a pleasant echo of our previous Sunday’s worship in Belfast among the Evangelical Presbyterians. Helping the transition was singing the eighth-century Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Since only two days before we had seen a round tower at Glendalough, the site of remains from a seventh-century monastery founded by St. Kevin, the line, “Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower,” took on added significance.

One of the arresting aspects of Orthodox Presbyterian life is that we are ethnically a denomination of mongrels. Of course, the dominant ethnicity in the OPC is the one that comes to most immigrants after they have lived in the U.S. for generations. At the same time, since hyphenated Americans like John Murray and Cornelius Van Til were so crucial to the first thirty years of the OPC’s history, the denomination has always made room for European expressions of Reformed Protestantism in ways unusual among other American Presbyterian communions. This was particularly true of the OPC congregation where we worshiped yesterday. In addition to having a minister of recent Scottish origin, the session was composed of men all with Dutch names. Rare would be the mingling of Scottish or Scotch-Irish and Dutch Reformed constituencies in Ireland and Scotland. In the United States, it is at least possible if not common. Not to be missed is what the tensions among the various Reformed groups look like in North America. My sense is that the Dutch compete for dominance in ways unimaginable to the Scots and Ulster Presbyterians. Is that a function of ethnicity? Or is it the result of an intellectual tick in Kuyperianism compared to a tiredness among proponents of covenanting or the establishment principle?

The presence of pastors in American Presbyterian circles from Scotland and Northern Ireland does raise an important question about the United States’ relative hegemony in world affairs, not just politically but also ecclesiastically. Because this nation is one of the most powerful and wealthiest in the world, its congregations, even in sideline denominations like the OPC, can afford to pay pastors more than congregations can in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Carl Trueman sometime ago discussed the significance of a British invasion among Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the U.S. What I worry about is the brain drain from other parts of the world. Of course, American communions should not refuse to call men from other nations — that would be remarkably provincial and prevent Christians in the United States from benefiting from insights from other groups of believers. At the same time, American openness to internationals can be naive to the toll that the transfer of gifted pastors from other nations has on the exporting churches. Americans may benefit from gifted Brits, but what benefit to the British churches receive from losing their leading pastors?

For that reason, I propose that every time a congregation in the United States calls a pastor from another country, that congregation (and possibly presbytery or classis) also send back some form of subsidy to the communion that lost its minister to the United States. Monetary assistance would be one form that this subsidy could take. If denominations in the United States were willing to assist foreign denominations financially, perhaps some gifted ministers would remain in their native lands. But U.S. Reformed and Presbyterians might also consider sending to other Reformed communions (and picking up the tab) young ministers who for a short tenure of two or three years would help to plant other congregations or assist busy ministers in established works.

These are a couple of thoughts off the top of a jet-lagged head that may need more clarity. Whatever these ideas’ merits, Christians in the United States should consider the balance of trade within international Calvinism as much as they worry about their nation’s trade deficit.

On the Road to Duality

This is not the right path. But to introduce the concept to 24/7 Christians it may be a place to begin.

The new book is called Christian -Atheist, by some megachurch pastor somewhere. The email from Christianity Today plugging the book asked, “Are you living a dual existence?” My answer, “why, yes I am.” In fact, hyphenation is exactly what the life of exile requires – we live here but this is not our home. The advertisement adds, “If you profess a belief in God, but live as though He doesn’t exist, you may be more divided than you think. Read The Christian Atheist and join author Craig Groeschel as he looks to resolve a conflict that affects the lives of countless Christians.”

I do think I’ll pass.

But it is an interesting thought experiment whether the way I ride the subway, cross the street, teach at a secular university, root for the Phillies, or read John Updike differs from non-Christians performing those same tasks in any sort of visible way. At least, it does differ on the common days of the week since my Christian self avoids teaching, rooting, and reading Updike on the Lord’s Day. Crossing the street and riding the subway may actually be works of necessity to participate in worship.

So even if the dichotomy is wrongheaded – Christian-Atheist – the idea of hyphenation is one that needs to be cultivated, as in Christian-Americans, Christian-Phillies fans, and Christian-historians. We have a lot of divided loyalties out there 24/6, and negotiating them is the task of that wonderful Protestant doctrine of vocation.

(By the way, why doesn’t the Christian side of this guy shave?)

Bracketology

During a recent trip to Wheaton College for a conference on evangelicals and the early church I talked to several faculty about president-elect, Phil Ryken. Everyone was favorably unanimous about his initial remarks to the faculty regarding his plans for leading the institution. Some still wondered, though, whether Ryken will escalate the Reformed influences at the school. For Wesleyans, that would not be a welcome development. Who knows where the Episcopalians at Wheaton are on Wesleyan-Reformed spectrum (they have enough trouble walking the tight-rope of via media as it is)?

I responded to many on the basis of what I have observed about Ryken. He will likely distinguish his own Reformed convictions from the centrist-evangelical identity of Wheaton. After all, he grew up in that environment, has studied Protestantism enough to recognize differences between the seventeenth century and today, and is capable of working along side Protestants from a different theological tradition (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, for example). In other words, Ryken will bracket his Reformed convictions (whether on soteriology, ecclesiology, or worship) and work within the boundaries established by Wheaton’s statement of faith and other normative guidelines.

While this seems like a reasonable way to proceed – not to expect Wheaton to be the PCA – I wonder if the critics of two-kingdom thought would see such a distinction between the kingdom of Wheaton and the kingdom of a Presbyterian communion as either possible or laudable. After all, isn’t this bracketing of one’s ecclesial identity precisely what two-kingdom proponents advocate for the public square? We don’t expect public life to be the Orthodox Presbyterian Church but bracket the church’s norms when engaging social and political matters.

The point is that the sort of bracketing I imagine Phil Ryken will do at Wheaton is no different from the distinguishing of kingdoms performed by two-kingdom believers.

A couple of side issues do arise with this analogy. One complication is that Reformed believers who do work in environments like Wheaton’s may come to think that the interdenominational fellowship Christians enjoy at the college should really be the case in the church as well. In which case, the sort of boundaries the church draws to keep out non-Reformed teaching and practice will over time become an incumbrance or embarrassment for a Reformed Protestant. This is what happened to the New School Presbyterians.

Another complication is that critics of 2k will be tempted to think nothing wrong with the two-kingdom position imagined here. These critics might think that if only the United States were as religiously and morally plural as Wheaton College – meaning, only inhabited by evangelical Protestants – then two-kingdom theology would be acceptable. But if that’s the case, then why are two-kingdom critics willing to tolerate so much unbelief, idolatry, and immorality? Why don’t they all move to DuPage County where Republicans outnumber Democrats roughly 5.5 to 4.5?

Whatever one makes of these complicating considerations, the point stands: the sort of distinction between churchly and political identities involved in two-kingdom theology is already the experience of millions of Protestants in their vocational responsibilities here in the greatest nation on God’s green earth. It’s not radical. It is ordinary.