All Down Hill After John Witherspoon?

Anthony Bradley wonders (again) what has happened to Presbyterians and why they lost their momentum. First it was as popular voices among evangelicals, now it’s as dispensers of wisdom about the world:

I am wondering, then, for those who are raising their children in the Presbyterian tradition what resources exists for forming Presbyterian identity in terms of an understanding marriage & family (i.e., the relationship between covenant marriage & covenant baptism in America’s marriage debate), issues related to social & political power & federal political theory (which is derivative of federal theology), divorce and remarriage, war and social conflict, apologetics, and so on? How does a covenantal world-and-life view, and Presbyterian understandings of power structures, unlock the implications for a theology of work & economics when applied to international third world development, and so on?

By extension, I am also wondering what happened to Presbyterians as known and normative leaders of culturally leveraged institutions in American society and culture? Mark Twain and William Faulkner were Presbyterian. More Vice-Presidents of the United States have been Presbyterian more than any other denomination (Presbyterians rank 2nd for the US Presidency). Presbyterians rank 2nd in terms of placement on the Supreme Court in US History. I could go on. . . .

An initial thought is to wonder why Presbyterians need to go to another Presbyterian for instruction on the federal government. Isn’t reading the Federalists and Anti-Federalists (Presbyterian or not?) good enough?

Another wonder is whether Presbyterians have ever been all that influential as Bradley’s post assumes. To meet his criteria — “what Presbyterians are speaking to these issues or leading institutions that are (like think tanks or colleges and universities” — at least three sets of circumstances need to be in play. First, a person needs to be Presbyterian (what kind — Old Side, New Life, Neo-Calvinist — is another question)? Second, such a person needs to be writing on a vast number of public policy type subjects. So far Tim and David Bayly suffice. But then, third, and this is the kicker, the person needs to be sufficiently well known for folks in the pew to consult him or her (sorry, Tim and David). As it stands, lots of Presbyterians have lots of thoughts on all sorts of subjects and publish them (on the interweb). But no one of them stands out with Francis Schaeffer notoriety.

The problem, then, may have less to do with Presbyterian decline than with the diversification of communication technology and the formation of diverse pockets of affinity.

At the same time, Presbyterians need not feel so bad, at least if misery loves company. Bradley’s question applies just as much to Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and — boy does it ever — to Congregationalists (nee Puritans). Among Western Christians, Rome stands out as distinctly different in this regard since Roman Catholics have an endless supply of public intellectuals who are doing their best imitations of popes, who speak constantly to a host of issues below their pay grade. This may explain much of Rome’s contemporary appeal to converts. If you want a church with all the answers to life’s pressing questions — don’t go to Guy Noir but to the Vatican. But if you believe in the spirituality of the church and the sufficiency of Scripture, you don’t need a Presbyterian pontiff to tell you how to live. You go to church, say your prayers, work dutifully at your callings, and take your lumps.

One last thought about Anthony’s question comes from a period I know relatively well. During the first half of the twentieth century we did have Presbyterians who spoke on any number of issues, were well known and so had pretty large followings. These were William Jennings Bryan, Billy Sunday, J. Gresham Machen, and Carl McIntire. Maybe 1 in 4 isn’t bad. But if that’s going to be the percentage of Presbyterians we should heed when they start to pontificate about all of life, I’ll take my chances with guys who write for American Conservative.


New Schoolers, Neo-Calvinists, and Fundamentalists

After Darrell Todd Maurina kicked up some dust with his post at the Baylyblog on 2k, he made the following comment:

Men such as Dr. Darryl Hart have accused me in the past of holding the same position as the Bible Presbyterians and Carl McIntyre. That is an important accusation and it needs to be rebutted. If men such as Clark, Horton, Hart, and Van Drunen manage to successfully argue that they are in the heritage of Old School Presbyterianism while their opponents are New Schoolers, great damage will be done to the cause of those who oppose “Two Kingdoms” theology within the conservative Reformed world.

Well, if you look at the historical scholarship, Darrell, it gets even worse than you imagine. Consider first of all one inference that George Marsden drew in his first book, a study of New School Presbyterianism:

The most striking illustration of the similarities between nineteenth-century New Schoolism and twentieth-century fundamentalism is found in the sequel to the Presbyterian division of 1936. The newly formed Presbyterian Church of America itself was divided over a complex set of issues remarkably similar to those of 1837. The majority in the new denomination, led by J. Gresham Machen until his death . . . and then by his immediate associates at Westminster Seminary, took clearly Old School positions on each of the issues. The minority, which withdrew to form the Bible Presbyterian Synod, was led by the militant fundamentalist, Carl McIntire. McIntire, who had envisaged the Presbyterian Church of America as part of a wider “twentieth century Reformation,” soon found that he was not at home in a strict Old School tradition. The specific programs for which he fought were 1) toleration of a doctrine (dispenstational premillennialism) that the majority in the Church considered incompatible with the Westminster Confession of Faith; 2) continuation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, rather than forming an official denominational mission board; and 3) adoption by the General Assembly of a statement that total abstinence from all that may intoxicate is “the only truth principle of temperance – exactly the same statement first adopted by the New School General Assembly of 1840. These programs, together with McIntires’s claim to represent “American Presbyterianism (a former New School phrase), his avid (anti-Communist) patriotism, his zeal for revivalism and legalistic reforms, his emphasis on interdenominational cooperation, and his lack of concern for strict Presbyterian polity – all indicate a continuation of the distinctly New School traditions with the fundamentalist wing of Presbyterianism. . . .

Perhaps the greatest difference between the New School evangelical movement and fundamentalist was that the nineteenth-century movement was largely successful, while the twentieth-century movement was not. The New School was not characterized by an almost total repudiation of the cultural and scientific advances of the age. Rather, it met those challenges without losing its own respectability. The New School thus advanced toward the center of American cultural and religious life, while fundamentalism was forced to retreat to the hinterlands. This, of course, is a crucial difference and makes a characterization of the New School as proto-fundamentalist s misleading as proto-liberal. The New School was in many respects a constructive and progressive religious intellectual movement with marked success in shaping American culture at large. (247, 249)

In case Darrell and other New School-like Protestants get bogged down in McIntire’s peculiarities, the point here is not that Maurina or the Baylys are dispensationalists or tee-totalers. The point is that they put the nation and its politics ahead of their theological and confessional commitments the way New Schoolers did. They want an American Presbyterianism, a faith that shapes America. In contrast, the Old School was willing to consider Reformed Protestantism as something independent or a matter than transcended the nation. The New Schoolers were Americans first and Americans second. Old Schoolers (at least some of them) were Presbyterians first and Americans second. If the United States and Presbyterianism are not the same, the order in which you put “Presbyterian” and “American” matters. (For Presbyterians from Canada or Ireland that makes perfect sense.)

But for those inclined to think that Dutch-American (notice the order) Reformed Protestants escape these parallels and analogies, consider this point that James Bratt made in an article about Kuyper and Machen:

Put in Dutch Calvinist terms: if forced to choose, Machen would let the Christian cultural task give way to the confessional church; Kuyper would force the confessional church to take up the cultural task. Put in American Presbyterian terms, Kuyper had some strong New School traits where Machen had none. To be sure Kuyper’s predestinarianism was at odds with the New Schools Arminian tints and his movement had a low impetus for “soul-saving,” but his organizational zeal was like Lyman Beecher’s in purpose and scale, his educational purposes at the Free University recalled Timothy Dwight’s at Yale, and his invocation of the “city on a hill” to describe the church’s place in a world recalled the charter image of Puritan New England which was ever the New Schools’ aspiration. In fact Kuyper honored New England as the “core of the American nation” and shared its definition of Christian liberty as a communal opportunity to do the right thing. At that Machen would only shudder. He indicted the “angry passions of 1861″ by which New England trampled on southern rights, and defined Christian liberty as the individual’s protection from the wrong thing. When put to the test, Machen endorsed the political model of Thomas Jefferson. At that Kuyper would only shudder back. (“Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, and the Dynamics of Reformed Anti-Modernism,” Journal of Presbyterian History Winter 1997 75.4, 254)

So if folks like Maurina are going to talk about lines of historical continuity in the Reformed world, they may want to get their ducks in a row. And by the likes of these historians who taught/teach at Calvin College, the ties among Lyman Beecher, Abraham Kuyper, Carl McIntire, Francis Schaeffer may be stronger than the anti-2kers imagine.

If Theonomy, Then No Machen (or United States)

The folks who lament the decadence of the contemporary West most (who also happen to be some of the biggest whiners about 2k) seem to think that a return to God’s law in the United States would fix our social and political woes. Aside from the problem of finding unregenerate citizens who will follow God’s law, these law lovers do not grasp a fundamental point of U.S. legal and political life (and this may explain why the so-called Religious Right is so easily ridiculed).

For Americans, as well as the Brits before them, law is not simply the embodiment of God’s moral standards. Laws against stealing and perjury do, of course, reflect God’s righteousness. But legal documents like the venerated Constitution are not primarily about morality. They are primarily procedural. Such laws place limits on government. The Constitution, for instance, prescribes and limits the powers of each branch of the federal government. Such restraints are at the heart of the Anglo-American notion of liberty, namely, the idea that people need to be protected from arbitrary and despotic power. To enjoy a life free from a potentially coercive government, we as a people drew up a body of laws that were designed not to constrain the actions of individuals but to prescribe the power of the magistrate. Placing limits on the government for the sake of civil and religious liberties is at the heart of libertarianism and is a major theme in J. Gresham Machen’s thought and political activities. (Whether or not he was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, he was sympathetic to the ACLU, a sympathy that would drive the likes of Doug Wilson and Greg Bahnsen batty).

Those who want more of God’s law in public life do not appear to understand this basic aspect of civil society in the U.S. They seem to think that if God’s moral standards are on their side, they have the power, duty, and right to make sure that the rest of Americans know that they are deserving God’s wrath. They also apparently believe they have responsibility to condemn the state if it fails to enforce God’s law, hence the double-down point about the magistrate’s duty to require observance of both tables of the law.

That argument about both tables of the law is almost entirely at odds with the American notion that law restrains government from exercising power unspecified in the Constitution. It also runs up against the legal tradition of assuming an accused citizen’s innocence until proven guilty. Just because we “know” someone broke the law doesn’t mean that district attorneys and police are free from following the laws that keep us from being a police state. In fact, the appeal to God’s law by some culture warriors has the flavor of vigilantism, that is, taking the law into their own hands. The problem for theonomists and other moral breast beaters is not simply that they don’t have power to execute God’s law. They also don’t seem to understand that the “rule of law” as we understand it in the United States actually prevents government from enforcing a whole host of laws, including God’s.

Even Presbyterian books of discipline reflect this other rule of law — not the embodiment of God’s morality but the protection from arbitrary power. The OPC’s book ensures that those accused will receive a hearing and not be found guilty of violating God’s law simply on the basis of an individual’s complaint:

3. Every charge of an offense must: (a) be in written form, (b) set forth the alleged offense, (c) set forth only one alleged offense, (d) set forth references to applicable portions of the Word of God, (e) set forth, where pertinent, references to applicable portions of the confessional standards, (f) set forth the serious character of the offense which would demonstrate the warrant for a trial.

Each specification of the facts relied upon to sustain the charge must: (a) be in written form, (b) declare as far as possible, the time, place, and circumstances of the alleged offense, (c) be accompanied with the names of any witnesses and the titles of documents, records, and recordings to be produced.

4. Offenses are either public or private. Public offenses are those which are commonly known. Private offenses are those which are known to an individual only, or, at most, to a very few individuals. Private offenses may or may not be personal, a personal private offense being one which involves injury to the person bringing the charge.

5. No charge of a personal private offense shall be admitted unless the judicatory has assured itself that the person bringing the charge has faithfully followed the course set forth in Matthew 18:15-17; nor shall a charge of a private offense which is not personal be admitted unless it appears that the plaintiff has first done his utmost privately to restore the alleged offender. However, even in the case of public offenses, it is not wrong to seek reconciliation in terms of Matthew 18:15-17 or Matthew 5:21-26 or Galatians 6:1. (chapter 3)

Maybe the Anglo-American tradition of law and constitutional liberties is wrong (though it finds expression in Presbyterian government). Maybe the West if fundamentally flawed and should follow political patterns and traditions established by the Persians and Turks. Or maybe theonoomy and the original Reformed confessions’ teachings about the magistrate lost when the Reformed and Presbyterian churches embraced the politics associated with a certain eighteenth-century republic founded in North America.

Old Life New Year Revelries

Celebrating New Year’s Day is always mixed with sobriety (talk about paradoxes) thanks to January 1 being the anniversary of J. Gresham Machen’s death (1937). He died of pneumonia at 7:30 Central Standard Time in a Roman Catholic hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota.

To honor the man, here is an excerpt from his defense of his vote against a motion before the Presbytery of New Brunswick to support Prohibition (which by the way bears on this matter of the Bible speaking to all of life and the flip side of Christian liberty):

In the first place, no one has a greater horror of the evils of drunkenness than I or a greater detestation of any corrupt traffic which has sought to make profit out of this terrible sin. It is clearly the duty of the church to combat this evil.

With regard to the exact form, however, in which the poser of civil government is to be used in this battle, there may be difference of opinion. Zeal for temperance, for example, would hardly justify an order that all drunkards should be summarily butchered. The end in that case would not justify the means. Some men hold that the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act are not a wise method of dealing with the problem of intemperance, and that indeed those measures, in the effort to commplish moral good, are really causing moral harm. I am not expressing any opinion on this question now, and did not do so by my vote in the Presbytery of New Brunswick. But I do maintain that those who hold the view that I have just mentioned have a perfect right to their opinion, so far as the law of our church is concerned, and should not be coerced in any way by ecclesiastical authority. The church as a right to exercise discipline where authority for condemnation of an act can be found in Scripture, but it has no such right in other cases. And certainly Scripture authority cannot be found in the particular matter of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act . . .

In making of itself, moreover, in so many instances primarily an agency of law enforcement, and thus engaging in the duties of the police, the church, I am constrained to think, is in danger of losing sight of its proper function, which is that of bringing to bear upon human souls the sweet and gracious influences of the gospel. Important indeed are the functions of the police, and members of the church, in their capacity as citizens, should aid by every proper means within their power in securing the discharge of those functions. But the duty of the church in its corporate capacity is of quite a different nature. (“Statement on the Eighteenth Amendment,” J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings, 394-95).

Comparing J. Gresham Machen and Mustafa Kemal

I did in fact compare Machen’s effort to purge Christian political activism from American Protestantism to Ataturk’s secularization of Islam in last night’s lecture. Here is an excerpt, well before the comparison:

The intervening history of Enlightenment and secularization is what makes the Religious Right and political Islam stand out. Both groups in different ways oppose secularization. Both also do so by appealing to the sacred texts of their faith. These similarities are what invite comparisons of activist evangelicals and political Muslims, no matter how unflattering or inflammatory. In fact, although born-again Protestants have not blown-up any buildings – wrong headed associations with the Christian militia and Timothy McVeigh notwithstanding – evangelicals’ continued reliance on older religious foundations for civil authority may look odder than political Islam considering that American Christians have so much more experience with alternatives to confessional states (or theocracy) than Muslims do. The United States, a secular nation hallowed by evangelicals, has almost 250 years under its belt and it stands as one of the chief alternatives to Christendom’s political theology. In contrast, the break up of the Ottoman Empire is still less than a century old and places like the Republic of Turkey are still trying to figure out the nature of secular democracy in a Muslim society. Evangelicals’ experience with secular politics may explain their reluctance to use violence. But it makes all the more unusual born-again Protestants’ appeal to the Bible as the norm for politics and social order. To unpack this anomaly a brief comparison of Christian and Muslim understandings of secularity may be useful.

As Bernard Lewis, among many others, has written, secularity in its modern sense – “the idea that religion and political authority, church and state are different, and can or should be separated – is, in a profound sense, Christian.” The locus classicus of this idea is Christ’s own instruction, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” [Matt. 22:21]. This was directly the opposite of Roman and Jewish conceptions where either Caesar was God or God was the monarch. For Muslims, God was the supreme authority with the caliph as his vice-regent. What makes the contrast with Islam all the more poignant is that Christianity stood between Judaism and Islam chronologically such that Muslims could well have appropriated Christian notions of secularity. As it happened, Islam followed theocratic models of the ancient near east. Christianity, of course, made social order a lot more complicated as later disputes between popes and emperors demonstrated. Indeed, discomfort with secularity often arises from a legitimate desire for greater moral and political coherence. But for whatever reason, Christ himself apparently favored a social arrangement that differentiated spiritual matters from temporal ones.

No tomatoes thrown, but the ones served during a pleasant meal with UTC faculty were appetizing.

Almost All Old Princeton All the Time

The new issue of Credo Magazine is out and it is dedicated almost entirely to the bi-centennial of Princeton Theological Seminary. Here’s an excerpt from Christopher Cooper:

While the Princeton theologians did not oppose the possibility of revival and welcomed them on occasion, they believed that it was neither the common, best, nor desirable mode available for the advancement of the Christian religion. Princeton’s Charles Hodge, for instance, pointed out several problems with revival. First, revivals tend to produce pastors and lay people who envision conversion as always sudden and sensible. Such revivalists take it for granted that children grow up unconverted and in need of the drama of a revival experience in order to enter the Christian fold. According to Hodge, such a scheme does not allow for the more regular, scriptural, and desirable method of Christian nurture. Under this system, parents immerse their children in prayers, catechesis, and Christian encouragement, so that they may be quietly, although no less supernaturally, converted without the pomp and circumstance of revival.

Second, Hodge argued that revivals generate an unscriptural form of piety that makes the exercise of strong emotions essential to true religion and worship. Such an opinion produces unstable Christians whose religious stability is gauged by their emotional state. This approach also demeans the ordinary means of grace that are given by God not to foster great emotional highs that are inevitably followed by lows, but to serve as a more constant encouragement to Christian pilgrims.

Hodge pointed out that revivals are, by their very nature, extraordinary occasions and are not meant to be relied upon by pastors and laypersons to whom God has given the task of parental nurture and pastoral ministry. Likewise, pastors today ought not to rely upon revival or the vestiges of revivalism, but would do well to instill within themselves confidence in the ordinary means of pastoral ministry and into their congregants a sense of responsibility for the nurture and edification of their children.

And in case readers are wondering, Old Lifers do make an appearance in this issue.

Machen Day 2012

Social conditions in the apostolic age were exceedingly bad. There were favoured classes, living in vicious luxury, and great hordes of the poor and the down-trodden. There was especially the great institution of slavery, impairing the dignity of free labour, permeating all nations and all peoples, and producing a thousand miseries. Under such conditions the Church might have been expected to come forward with a social programme. Certainly there were great evils to be righted; many institutions of the ancient world were out of accord with fundamental principles of the gospel. As a matter of fact, however, Christianity seemed to exhibit a remarkable patience in its attitude toward the evil institutions of the time. It made no loud demands for social equality; it indulged in no denunciations of slavery; it apparently assumed the continuance of the distinction between rich and poor.

The explanation is to be found partly, no doubt, in the circumstances of the early Christians. “Not many wise after the flesh, not many might, not many noble” were called. Those humble men and women were excused from instituting an social revolution simply because they did not have the power. The acquiescence by the apostolic Church, therefore, in certain imperfect social institutions does not necessarily excuse similar acquiescence today. The Church has now, in the providence of God, become rich and powerful; and with additional power comes additional responsibility.

There is, however, a far deeper reason for the moderate attitude which the apostolic Church assumed toward existing institutions. The fundamental fact is that the Church refrained from a definite programme of social reform simply because she had something far better; she postponed the improvement of earthly conditions in order to offer eternal life. The improvement of conditions upon this earth is in the providence of God a long and painful process; while it was proceeding souls would have been lost; the first duty of the Church was obviously to offer to everyone, man or woman, rich or poor, bond or free, the inestimable gift of salvation. If a man has communion with the living God, all else can wait.

Accordingly, the apostolic Church promised men not silver and gold, the improvement of earthly conditions, but an abundant entrance into heaven. It is this spiritual and heavenly character of Christianity which makes the Christian offer universal. A gospel which promises merely an improvement of the world is dependent upon worldly conditions. If Christianity is merely a happy and successful life in this world, then a man may be deprived of it by disease, or ill fortune, or unjust suspicion, or death. As a matter of fact, Christianity is a life in communion with God, and that can be maintained in poverty and in plenty, in slavery and in freedom, in life and in death. The Christina offer is extended to everyone, and every earthly condition, no matter how degrading or how painful, can be used in the service of God. (The New Testament: An Introduction to Its Literature and History, 368-69)

How 2K Might Have Helped Stellman

I hope Jason Stellman does not consider this piling on. He is a friend and I mean to be respectful of his decision even if I lament his loss of Protestant convictions. At the same time, since some have invoked the two-kingdoms theology as a plausible factor in Stellman’s resignation, a response is in order. And Jason’s reasons for leaving the PCA provide yet another occasion to clarify the 2k position with which he once identified.

First, on the matter of sola scriptura, 2k theology does not pit ecclesiology against the word of God but in fact limits the ministry of the church precisely to what Scripture teaches. At the risk of beating a dead Machen, the hero of conservative Presbyterians put the matter this way in his defense of his refusal to comply with the PCUSA’s Mandate of 1934 (which deemed illegal the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions):

The Bible forbids a man to substitute any human authority for the Word of God. . . . In demanding that I shall shift my message to suit the shifting votes of an Assembly that is elected anew every year, the General Assembly is attacking Christian liberty; but what should never be forgotten is that to attack Christian liberty is to attack the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

I desire to say very plainly to the Presbytery of New Brunswick that as a minister I have placed myself under the orders of Jesus Christ as his will is made known to me through the Scriptures. That is at the heart and core of Protestantism. It is also at the heart and core of the teaching of the Word of God. It cannot give it up.

If I read the Bible aright, a man who obtains his message from the pronouncements of presbyteries or General Assemblies instead of from the Bible is not truly a minister of Jesus Christ. He may wear the garb of a minister, but he is not a minister in the sight of God.

By the issuance of this command, the General Assembly has attacked the authority of the Bible in very much the same way in which it is attacked by the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic church does not deny the authority of the Bible. Indeed, it defends the truth of the Bible, and noble service is being rendered in that defense, in our times, by Roman Catholic scholars. But we are opposed to the Roman Catholic position for one great central reason – because it holds that there is a living human authority that has a right to give an authoritative interpretation of the Bible. We are opposed to it because it holds that the seat of authority in religion is not just the Bible but the Bible interpreted authoritatively by the church. That, we hold, is a deadly error indeed: it puts fallible men in a place of authority that belongs only to the Word of God.

The point here is not to claim that Machen settles the dilemmas with which Stellman wrestled or that Machen’s clear assertion of biblical authority addresses adequately the squishiness of interpreting and applying an infallible word from God. Instead Machen shows that the spirituality of the church (a variety of 2K), affirmed sola scriptura, Christian liberty, and the Lordship of Christ as part and parcel of Presbyterianism. To the extent the church has authority, Christ delegates it and limits ecclesiastical authority to the Word of God. As practically every Reformed church affirms:

All church power is only ministerial and declarative, for the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may presume to bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of its own authority; all its decisions should be founded upon the Word of God. “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship” (Confession of Faith, Chapter XX, Section 2). (OPC, BCO, III.3)

In other words, 2K’s understanding of church authority is bound up with and limited by sola scriptura. 2K is not the window through which to fly to Rome.

Stellman’s second reason for leaving the PCA concerns his change of mind on sola fide. He no longer believes that justification by faith alone and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is basic to New Testament teaching. Instead he believes that the Bible teaches that justification comes through faith working by love. (This is, by the way, a Protestant form of argument – what the Bible teaches as opposed to what tradition or the church instructs.) I myself disagree with Jason’s reading of the New Testament, not to mention that experientially I have no hope apart from Christ’s righteousness, (though purgatory may provide a way out of this problem). As Bill Smith said:

It seems that Mr. Stellman’s evolving view is that our acceptance with God depends not on an imputed righteousness alone but on an imparted, transformational righteousness. I can only say I hope he is wrong, because there is no way I am going to heaven if my going depends on anything at all other than the righteousness of Christ.

But the point here is not with justification per se but its relationship to 2K. Again, the two-kingdom theology is bound up with the material principle of the Reformation. In his inaugural lecture, David VanDrunen argued for the priority of justification to sanctification in the application of redemption and drew implications for 2K:

The civil kingdom is a realm in which judgment is always future, in which strict justice is administered based upon the talionic principle. The spiritual kingdom, on the other hand, is a realm in which judgment is passed/past, in which the talionic principle of strict, retaliatory justice is foresworn for the peaceful practice of turning the other cheek. The non-Christian moral life is characterized by the specter of judgment-to-come, by the obligation to obey so that, somehow, acceptance before God might be earned. The Christian moral life, on the other hand, is characterized by the profound, radical, and decisive act of justification already accomplished, such that one lives no longer in order to sustain the judgment but in response to that blessed judgment already rendered.

. . . these considerations have far-reaching implications for the church’s position in relation to the world, and to the state in particular. To put it simply, the church finds the state’s business foreign. As an institution that forsakes the lex talionis and refuses to take up the sword in judgment or even self-defense, it can have in some sense no cognizance at all of what the sword-bearing state does. The church acknowledges the state’s existence, thanks God for its work, and blesses her saints as they submit to its authority and join in its work, but how can the church itself dare to participate in or contribute to the state’s work? What a strange thing for an institution defined by its peacefulness and mercy to tell the state how to do its work of coercion. What a bizarre scenario when the office-bearers of the church, chosen and ordained in recognition of their knowledge and practice of the things that are above, make declamations on public policy as if they were experts on things that are here below. And certainly similar things could be said about the church’s forays into economic development and whatever other cultural work might promote an agenda of social transformation. How wise were our Reformed forebears who spoke of the spirituality of the church and the solely ministerial character of ecclesiastical authority. The church is the community of the justified; may her shepherds feed the sheep with the bread of heaven and leave uninfringed their liberty in regard to the affairs of earth.

Again, VanDrunen’s comments are not meant to end all debates. Some will undoubtedly take issue with both his views on union with Christ and on church and state. Still, the idea that 2K is some boutique doctrine that its advocates trot out to provoke, create a following, or use as a hobby horse is wrong. For most of the 2k advocates I know, the doctrine is bound up with teachings that are crucial to the Reformation and at the heart of Reformed Protestantism. Those who oppose 2k are not necessarily outside the Reformed camp. But if they affirm the material and formal principles of the Reformation, they are on the road to two-kingdom theology. If they deny 2k, they ride on a rocky road.

Three Strikes and You're Out

The piece by David Noe on Christian education (or the lack of it) has attracted a number of heated responses and none of them give much confidence that the proponents of Christian education are going to do something that is distinctly Reformed or decidedly educational. But these responses show the real weaknesses of w-w thinking and why their days are numbered unless they come up with more compelling answers and arguments.

Strike One: Noe’s piece has received much more indignation (Kuyper is turning in his grave) than it has reasoned response. Does this mean that Christian education is not interested in hard questions, only in passing on received ideas that can never be questioned lest we upset the dead? If so, I’m not sure these people are doing something that is genuinely educational, especially when it comes to teaching subjects like Shakespeare and chemistry on which Christians might have different ideas and about which Scripture is silent.

Strike Two: advocates of Christian education do not seem to notice that their practice is only generically Christian and not distinctly Reformed. (When they appeal to Augustine and Aquinas is Van Til turning in his grave?) They like to quote Cornelius Van Til who argued for an education based on a Reformed outlook. But what college or Christian day school has insisted on teaching Reformed theology, even to the Baptists and Evangelical Free Church students who enroll? Why is it that the more tenaciously an educational institution holds to the distinctness of Christian schools, the less Reformed they become? (Does question this make Dr. K.’s brain turn?)

Strike Three: advocates of Christian education invariably quote the likes of Van Til and Machen on the import of Christian schools. But the formal principle of the Reformation — sola scriptura — teaches that we are to base our faith and piety not on the doctrines and commandments of men but on the word of God. In which case, what kind of response is it to point out that Noe may disagree with Machen or Van Til? Machen was not the pope, not even the apostle Paul. He could have been wrong. Dr. Noe could be wrong. So if the advocates of Christian education want to be Christian and even Protestant, why not make a concerted exegetical case for Christian schools and colleges from the Bible, not from dead Reformed luminaries? (By the way, a wave of the hand to Deuteronomy 6 is insufficient.)

One aspect of this controversy that has yet to receive the attention it should is the difference between Dutch Calvinism and American Presbyterianism. Dutch Reformed Protestants, from the Afscheding to Dr. K., have insisted on Christian education and this reflects at least a European perspective on schooling that is foreign to the United States where public schools were always generally acceptable among American Presbyterians. Only for a brief period in the mid-19th century did Presbyterians entertain the idea of Christian schools. But the thought quickly passed and Presbyterians went back to the public schools where a generic Protestantism (via Bible reading and prayer) prevailed. Only after the Civil Rights legislation did American Presbyterians, primarily in the South, turn to private Christian schools, at least in part to avoid desegregation of public education.

The historical experiences of American Presbyterians and Dutch Calvinists rarely comes up in these discussions because Kuyperians have dominated conservative Reformed Protestantism in the United States, as if Dutch norms are the patterns for Yankees, Rebels, Farmers, and Miners. This is, as I’ve written before, one of the important features of David VanDrunen’s big book on two-kingdom theology — to show how Dutch Calvinism has dominated discussions of natural law and two kingdoms. Sometimes we need to pinch ourselves to remember that Reformed and Presbyterian churches existed before Abraham Kuyper and that they did not always do what he did. For conservative Calvinists who think Kuyper was merely following Bucer, A Lasco, and Ursinus, the idea that differences exist between the Dutch polymath and his Reformed forebears is alarming (and the source of most opposition to a certain seminary on the West Coast). But it is true. Kuyper was not the reincarnation of Calvin or Knox. That’s why they call it neo-Calvinism.

More Machen, Less Mencken

Our Philadelphia correspondent alerted me to an arresting invocation of J. Gresham Machen and H. L. Mencken — Baltimore’s two bad boys (one on religious, the other on cultural grounds) — at the G-rated Gospel Coalition of all places. The post surprised me not for the appeal of Machen to those who channel Edwards via Piper. After all, the Minneapolis pastor has written quite positively about Machen. The reference to Mencken especially caught my eye. Lest Old Lifers think that the Co-Allies have all of a sudden acquired an edge, not to worry. Turns out that Machen and Mencken are, along with Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, not the best models for Christians who would be bloggers. According to John Starke:

Of course, the best of Christian public intellectuals carried this same shrewd sarcasm. C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are excellent examples, and we often follow in their lead, showing others just how exasperating their logic can be. That’s been our self-appointed task, too, ever since we registered for [insert name here]

The problem is that we tend not to follow Lewis and Chesterton all the way. In other words, we adopt their sarcasm and wit but not the spirituality of their aims. They guided readers toward the place where wisdom could be found, introducing them to a kingdom that stands on firmer ground. We thrive on exposing the fool. We hold the doctrine of J. Gresham Machen but carry the tone of H. L. Mencken.

The better way is to do what Jesus would do and blog Christly:

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that our opponents don’t see us in the same light as Lewis and Chesterton, or associate us with Jesus for that matter. If we aim to follow Christ, as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2, then we must imitate not only his wit and wisdom before opponents but also his silence before enemies and mockers at the cross.

I actually think the jury is out on what tone Jesus might adopt when blogging. He did not suffer Pharisees or disciples lightly. I even once suggested to friends that Jesus loved people but he didn’t particularly like them. It all depends on how we define like, I guess. Even so, the greatest indications of warmth from Jesus, beyond his overall humiliation — from birth to descent into hell, is when he weeps over Lazarus and when John reports on his friendship with his Lord. For my part, Jesus doesn’t need to be warm and fuzzy. His accomplished redemption is sufficient.

Be that as it may, with Jesus as a debatable standard, I’ll appeal to Machen and suggest that the Gospel Coalition would be a lot more interesting and useful if it and its members could actually mix a little condemnation along with all of their back-patting. I get it, they stand for the Gospel. Who in the Christian world does not? But what about the infidelities in their midst? What happens with a James McDonald or a Mark Driscoll? Does anyone suggest their teachings and associations are wrong? Or do the Co-Allies adopt the playbook of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. when they regretfully accepted the resignation of Pearl S. Buck? Or what about the disagreements among the Co-Allies Council over what the Bible teaches? Why do their bloggers give the impression that everyone is on the same page and that rocking the boat is impious?

So to help the Co-Allies find their inner Gilbert Tennent, little sampling of no-nonsense, with a pinch of sarcasm from Machen, who wrote the following before the meeting of the General Assembly that would uphold his deposition from the ministry:

The whole program of the General Assembly is carefully planned in such a way as to conceal the real issues and give a false impression of faithfulness to the Word of God. I do not mean that the deceit is necessarily intentional. The men conducting the ecclesiastical machine are no doubt in many instances living in a region of thought and feeling so utterly remote from the great verities of the Christian Faith that they have no notion how completely they are diverting attention from those verities in their conduct of the Assembly. But the fact remains that the whole program, from whatever motives, is so constructed as to conceal the real condition of the Church.

1. Conference on Evangelism
One instrument of concealment is the program of the pre-Assembly Conference on Evangelism. That program is carefully planned. Its very name suggests to unwary persons that the Church is perfectly orthodox. “Evangelism” certainly has a reassuring sound. The contents of the program also often provides sops for the evangelical minority in the Church. There is nothing that Modernist ecclesiastics love quite so much as evangelical sermons that serve as the prelude to anti-evangelical action. They are such effective instruments in lulling Christian people to sleep. . . .

7. False Use of Sentiment
A seventh instrument of concealment is the false use of perfectly worthy sentiment for partisan ends. In 1933, there was a contest regarding the Board of Foreign Missions. The Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Missions brought in a majority report favoring the policy of the Board and a minority report opposing that policy. Now every year it is the custom to read the names of the missionaries who have died during the year. The Assembly rises in respect to the honored dead, and is led in prayer. It is a solemn moment.

Where do you suppose that solemn service was put in? Well, it was tagged on to the majority report from the Committee! Then, after the solemn hush of that scene, the minority report was heard! Could anything have been more utterly unfair? The impression was inevitably made that the minority report was in some sort hostile to that honoring of the pious dead. The sacred memory of those missionaries was used to “put across” a highly partisan report whitewashing a Modernist program which some of them might have thoroughly condemned. Unfortunately they were not there to defend themselves against that outrageous misuse of their names. There is urgent need of a reform of the Assembly’s program at that point. The honor paid to departed missionaries should be completely divorced from the report of the Assembly’s committee on the Boards.

That is only one instance of the way in which at the Assembly legitimate sympathy is used to accomplish partisan ends. Very cruel and heartless measures are sometimes pushed through under cover of sympathetic tears.