Paul Helm Shows 2k Isn’t Hard to Understand or Affirm

Dr. Helm is on a roll. First he defends 2k from charges of quietism and includes this poignant remark:

Those who advocate a Christian view of this or that fail to recognize the seriousness of what they are proposing. To have a Christian view of X is to be committed to proclaiming it as the word of God which Christians have an obligation to uphold and propagate.

In other words, redeeming culture or doing things Christianly may inspire, but the claims bite off more than the claimants can chew — namely, invoking Christianity brings norms that believers seldom apply to the variety of callings in which they find themselves.

Then, Dr. Helm observes how John Owen could have used a dose of 2k for the brief time he believed that England was the greatest nation on God’s green earth:

What happened to Owen’s theology can be explained in two phases. In the first phase his understanding of the accepted Reformed understanding of the secret will and revealed will distinction changed shape during the Commons sermons. As we saw earlier the distinction, as Owen understood this, is between what God decrees, reserved to himself, and what he requires, his revelation. Owen extended the revealed will, the promises, from ‘generals’ to include the particular contemporary and future events in the British Isles about which he preached to the House of Commons, going beyond what he had said were secrets to include the unfolding events of the Civil war and their significance, and in particular to the military operations in Ireland. He daringly attributed to what he said of these the character of God’s revealed purposes, long prophesied, in turn giving rise to Christian precepts.

It is likely that his relative youth, sudden promotion to Cromwell’s side, and the way of thinking exhibited in his sermons, had turned his mind. He believed he was in the cockpit of the unfolding of God’s plan for England, foretold by the prophets, and that he was their mouthpiece. The outcome was assured.

If it can happen to the orthodox Puritan, Owen, perhaps we can give Ted Cruz a pass.

The State of the Nation

Another round of travel allowed for more sustained sampling of the news and those matters that afflict our great pretty good land. A few random thoughts:

Can Bill Cosby ever receive the forgiveness that Dylann Roof has found (at least from the AME church members in Charleston — the government of the United States is a whole lot more demanding)? And why is Cosby’s sexual dalliance and proclivity so despicable when the nation is celebrating a kind of sex that the same nation used to regard as deviant? At least if you want an illustration of God’s righteous standard, just look at the way the United States condemns/ed Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

Rachel Dolezal proves that transracial is illegitimate but Caitlyn Jenner proves that transgender is fine. But what about transnational? What if I am a Irish person trapped in an American body? Can I change my nationality? If I can’t, then don’t we have another barrier to be toppled? Or is it that the nation-state is almighty while race and gender are ephemeral?

The Nation’s Greatest Threats
I used to think that a hate crime raised the stakes of criminal activity, though I would have assumed that killing another person was hateful. After all, our Lord said that if you hate another man, you are guilty of murder. But after coverage of the the shootings in Chattanooga, I learned that terrorism is even worse than a hate crime. But the reports were not clear on the order of threats and the Department of Homeland Security has yet to rank them. Here’s an initial stab:
1. Terrorism
2. Islamism
3. The Confederate Flag
4. Hate Crimes

Blame the Victim
I’m with President Obama in trying to overturn many of the pernicious penalties associated with the War on Drugs (see, it wasn’t on the list of the nation’s greatest threats). Pardoning those sent to prison on old drug laws makes sense. But if these convicts are victims of bad legislation, is Greece also a victim of overly strict banking rules? Yet, I heard some commentators explain that Greece is truly responsible for their actions and needs to face the consequences of a bad economy and poor government. So if you can say that about a nation, why not about persons? Or might Greece plead insanity? But that didn’t work for James Holmes, who was found guilty for twelve counts of murder during his shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater.

I can only conclude that Americans are conflicted about blaming people for crimes or misdeeds, except when it comes to Bill Cosby and Joe Paterno.

Reading the Results

Rod Dreher has a Roman Catholic friend who says, “There is nothing more depressing than people who say ‘things are great, couldn’t be better,’ when it’s so obvious that the opposite is true.” In that spirit and for the edification of non-Protestant Western Christians who hang around Old Life, I run down some of the pertinent reflections on Ireland’s approval of same-sex marriage.

Tim Stanley thinks (thanks to our southern correspondent) the church needs to reform herself — especially Irish Roman Catholicism — before tackling the world (maybe even the world’s climate):

And yet there certainly is confusion and muddle – and that’s the second, perhaps bigger thing that Catholics ought to worry about. The mission of Catholicism itself is obviously in need of renewal. Otherwise the Church wouldn’t have lost that referendum.

When I wrote that Ireland had rejected Catholicism, I got a lot of angry replies. Half said, “Good!” (which proved my point). The other half said, “But I’m Catholic and I voted for gay marriage.” This poses an interesting question. Is someone who calls themselves a Catholic yet who publicly rejects Catholic teaching still a Catholic? It’s not just lay Irish who were doing this but priests, too. And across the Western world there are clerics who are actively working to shift Church teaching in a new direction. One liberal Catholic wrote a strong rebuff of my piece for Time Magazine from which I infer the view that Catholicism is something more than just its doctrines – that 4 + 4 can equal 5 under certain special circumstances. What are the roots of this contrarian religious stance?

Ireland offers an interesting answer. There are two stories of the Irish Church. One is the powerful institution that became unhealthily entwined with the state – a state dominated by a single party that used populism, nationalism and corruption to stay in power. It was a Catholic consensus that was conservative in the worst sense: authoritarian, entrenched, out of touch with the real needs. Covering up paedophile abuse was the sickest manifestation of its fascism.

But the other story of the Church in Ireland is of an institution that disregarded a great deal of its teachings and majesty to lurch towards progressivism. A man raised in the Irish Church explained to me that congregants had been told since birth that Catholicism is all about equality, socialism, community, inclusiveness, family. Its liturgical style is represented in exaggerated form by the famous singing priest who broke with the formal Mass to give his rendition of a Leonard Cohen song at a wedding. This is the Church of motherhood: the Church that gives and gives and gives without asking anything of its congregants. It doesn’t really treat them as mature souls who can be spoken to honestly about the facts. It is a faith almost stripped of the less cosy aspects of its teachings.

Michael Sean Winters follows Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s line about the referendum functioning as a reality check and describes what that check should involve:

What does a reality check look like? The first thing the hierarchy – in Ireland and in the United States – should do is have some long listening sessions with young people. Ask them why they support same sex marriage. They are not trying to destroy Western civilization. Most of them are not gay or lesbian themselves. To them, society must be first and foremost about mutual respect and religion should learn to be more tolerant. They are not wrong to think that. It is good Catholic theology. Bishops and pastors and lay leaders should ask them how they seek to follow the Lord Jesus in their romantic and sexual lives. Do they keep religion and sex separate? Do they think God has something to say about the subject? Before preaching to the next generation of Catholics, Church leaders are well advised to listen to them first, and not just to the choir a la Mrs. Clinton, but a real listening session with people who are not hand-picked for their docility.

The second thing the leaders of the Church must do is stop using phrases like “intrinsically disordered” which have been a disaster pastorally and misunderstood theologically. They should have the courage to admit in public what many will admit in private, that the Church’s theology on homosexuality is woefully inadequate. They must stop acting as if knowing this one discrete fact about a person, the fact that he or she is gay, is enough to form a judgment about the whole person. We don’t think our society is justified in sentencing Dzohkar Tsarnaev to death on account of his one, truly terrible act; We should not justify societal exclusion based on one characteristic. The Church at Her best never ceases proclaiming the integrity and dignity of the human person, the whole human person, no matter their choices and their preferences, still less something over which they have no choice whatsoever.

Frank Bruni at the New York Times connects the dots between Ireland and the rest of the Roman Catholic West:

Take a look at this list of countries: Belgium, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, France, Uruguay, Luxembourg and Ireland. Name two things that they have in common.

They don’t share a continent, obviously. Or a language.

But in all of them, the Roman Catholic Church has more adherents, at least nominally, than any other religious denomination does.

And all of them belong to the vanguard of 20 nations that have decided to make same-sex marriage legal.

In fact, countries with a Catholic majority or plurality make up half of those where two men or two women can now wed or will soon be able to.

Ireland, obviously, is the freshest addition to the list. It’s also, in some ways, the most remarkable one. It’s the first country to approve same-sex marriage by a popular referendum. The margin wasn’t even close. About 62 percent of voters embraced marriage equality.

And they did so despite a past of great fealty to the Catholic Church’s official teachings on, for example, contraception, which was outlawed in Ireland until 1980, and abortion, which remains illegal in most circumstances.

Irish voters nonetheless rejected the church’s formal opposition to same-sex marriage. This act of defiance was described, accurately, as an illustration of church leaders’ loosening grip on the country.

Finally, the folks at Commonweal explain gay-friendly Roman Catholicism in the wake of Ireland’s referendum and the recent Pew report:

So what other answers might there be to the question of why American Catholics are so supportive? I have three suggestions and I hope that readers will add more. First, perhaps the fact that Catholics have a celibate clergy that includes a large number of gay men means that the fear bred from ignorance is less likely to be operative than in other traditions. Second, could it be that a natural law approach to ethical questions, that is, that reason should guide our thinking and our conclusions, is bred into the Catholic bone? Third, might Catholics be so imbued with the sacramental principle that they recognize any expression of genuine love to be evidence of God’s presence in the world, and hence to be cherished rather than condemned? In Ireland or here or elsewhere, the actual principal difference between leaders and people, on same-sex issues or birth control or religious freedom or perhaps many other issues, is that the leadership thinks deductively while the rank and file think inductively. Experience trumps ideology, which—strangely enough—is Pope Francis’s consistent message!

Meanwhile, the one with the power to interpret has not spoken, as Stanley notes, “Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address.” Bryan and the Jasons are in good company. Perhaps Pope Francis’ silence owes to his residence in Vatican City which is encircled by Italy:

Many people were taken aback this week when Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, called Ireland’s referendum to allow gay marriage “not only a defeat for Christian principles, but also somewhat a defeat for humanity.”­ The reason for the surprise is because the 60-year-old cardinal has been portrayed as being more open-minded than the stereotypical Vatican bureaucrat or the average Church conservative.

“I was deeply saddened by the result,” Cardinal Parolin told the press. “Certainly, as the Archbishop of Dublin said, the Church needs to do a reality check, but in my opinion it must do so in the sense that it has to actually strengthen its entire commitment (to marriage) and also make an effort to evangelize our culture,” he said.

The cardinal’s comments turned the heads of those that believed (perhaps a bit too naively) that Pope Francis had led the Church to adopt a more conciliatory tone in dealing with the so-called culture wars. But it is precisely culture—and Italian culture in particular—that is the key to understanding Cardinal Parolin’s strong reaction.

Italy has remained the most conservative country in all of Europe when it comes to social conventions and customs. At least up to now. It does not allow stem-cell research and has some of the most restrictive legislation concerning other bioethical issues. It does not even recognize so-called “living wills” that allow individuals to refuse life support in cases when they are left comatose.

How Deep Down Does Religion Go?

Word has it that the polls on Scottish independence are narrowing, with the yes vote gaining momentum. Sorting out all the angles of relations among the Brits and Irish can get really complicated, especially if we remember what Fintan O’Toole reminded us a few decades ago:

In ethnic terms, Ireland is far less complex than many European societies, and infinitely less so than the United States. The biggest inward migration in the last five hundred years came from Scotland in the eighteenth century, and its descendants still form the largest single minority group. But Scotland itself had been settled by the Irish many centuries before. The very name Scotland means “land of the Irish,” “Scotus” being the Latin for an Irishman. The west of Scotland even today is called Argyll, from Ar-Gael, the eastern Irish. In the long view, the Scottish influx in the seventeenth century to the northern Irish province of Ulster is part of a pattern of back-and-forth migration between two places that are, after all, separated at their nearest point by less than forty miles of water.

O’Toole used that feature of Irish and Scottish history to make a two-kingdom point about “the troubles,” namely, that they had far less to do with Protestant-Roman Catholic conflicts than meets the eye:

Only a fool would deny that the Troubles in Northern Ireland or the sporadic episodes of rebellion and repression in the previous five centuries can be understood without taking account of the division between Catholics and Protestants. What can be denied, I think, is that religion itself has ever been the primary source of those conflicts. In Tanner’s eyes, religion is the wound that has caused Irish people to bleed over the centuries. It makes more sense, however, to think of religion as the weapon that has been used to cause the wound. Religion, like its secular counterpart history, has been wielded at different times and in different ways in the pursuit of economic and political advantage.; “Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and national divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.”

The broad shape of modern Irish history certainly forces the issue of religion to the forefront. From the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, the Irish ruling class was Protestant and imperial, deriving its power from its origins in the slow conquest of the island by England. Those over whom it ruled were for the most part Catholics. Indeed, Ireland stands out as one of the few European countries in which the religion of the masses was not simply determined by the choice of their masters. The Catholic population stubbornly resisted the Protestant Reformation. The state church, the Episcopalian Church of Ireland, treated the Gaelic-speaking masses as a subject people rather than a flock to be protected and served. As a consequence, Catholicism became by and large the faith of those whose politics could, after the French Revolution, be called nationalist; and Protestantism was the religion of those who were loyal to Britain.

This is what happened; and give or take some important nuances, it is not in dispute. Still, an interesting set of questions can be promoted by a little counterfactual speculation. What if Henry VIII had remained happy with Catherine of Aragon and true to his papal title of Defender of the Faith? What if the English Reformation had failed, or had been reversed by the Stuart dynasty? With England and Ireland still loyal to the pope, would there have been no oppression and resistance, no haughty land-owning aristocracy and resentful dirt-poor peasantry, no eventual nationalist revolution? The answer to those questions, surely, is no. Take away the religious factor and you still have enough economic, political, and national divisions to fuel a great deal of nastiness and a few wars.

O’Toole could well have used the factual of England’s relationship to Scotland in the seventeenth century to make his point. Even though both kingdoms were Protestant, that “common” faith hardly provided a smooth ride to the Union of 1707. Charles I’s head is proof.

Protestants and Assimilation, Republican Style

One more thought about republican forms of government and what they require of believers who would be citizens. Analogies between twentieth-century France and the nineteenth-century United States suggest that Americans demanded conformity from “outsiders” in ways comparable to the French more recently. The great complaint about Roman Catholic Irish and German immigrants was that their submissiveness to the papacy (as if), a foreign prince, would make them unworthy and unreliable republican citizens. The United States made similar demands on Mormons who had their own civil authority in the office of the apostle, who at least in the days of Brigham Young was also the governor of the Utah territory. For Utah to gain admission as a state, Mormons needed to abandon polygamy. Republicanism makes its demands.

Conversely, have Protestants had little trouble acquiescing to the republic’s norms? One thinks of the Huguenots, for instance, who assimilated pretty much wherever they went without the slightest whiff of the dissent that characterized their days of resistance in the Old World.

And then one thinks about the tradition of covenanting in Scotland and Ireland, a variety of Reformed Protestantism that earned the reputation for submitting to no one except king Jesus. A. T. Q. Stewart observed in 1977 that the Presbyterian “is happiest when he is being a radical.” He went on:

The austere doctrines of Calvinism, the simplicity of his worship, the democratic government of his Church, the memory of the martyred Covenanters, and the Scottish unwillingness to yield or to dissemble — all these incline him to that difficult and cantankerous disposition which is character of a certain kind of political radicalism.

Of course, the United States did not demand Covenanters to conform to republican norms to be assimilated. Instead, the Covenanters until around 1980 self-selected and opted out of the republic’s political life — no voting, no vows, no running for office, and no service in the military, a form of Reformed Protestant Anabaptism.

But with the exception of the ideals of sixteenth-century Scotland, Protestants came to terms fairly easily with republican government. The reason stems largely from their not having a state or monarch who was their ruler and the chief executive of their faith.

The lesson: most Reformed Protestants are 2K and they don’t even know it.

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.

Speaking Truth to Fame

Carl Trueman has some provocative thoughts on the difference between American and British evangelicalism and the conferences that sustain them. He was speaking at an event in Wales:

First, the conference was built around content not speakers. In fact, I was almost refused entry to my own final seminar because I could not find my armband. I was unrecognized by the steward even after speaking three times. Fantastic. In the UK, people come to hear what is said; they do not particularly care for who is saying it. This is subtly evident in the way events are marketed in the two countries. It also points to a major cultural difference. In the US in general, there is great suspicion of institutions yet huge and often naïve confidence placed in individuals. This is part of what makes celebrity culture so important, from politics to the church. In the UK, there is an often naïve trust in institutions but far more suspicion of individuals. I make this point as an observation; but also to flag the fact that US culture lends itself more readily to the problems Paul highlights in 1 Corinthians.

That would seem like a point that folks at the Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, RCA Annual Integrity Leadership Conference organizers, and even the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals might want to consider.

And it may point to another difference between American and British evangelicals: born-again Americans are suckers for an English accent, even if it expresses thoughts disagreeable.