An End Run

Imagine you are a Reformedish Protestant around the time of George W. Bush’s election. You have entered the world of Reformed Protestantism by way of the biblical theology (which leaned Federal) of Peter Leithart and James Jordan, you agree with a number of Doug Wilson’s critiques of modern America, and you became acquainted with the West and the Great Books again through Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Say you want a Reformed or Presbyterian church with a narrative that inspires, that connects with the sort of intellectual creativity that Leithart displays, that shows little of the wear and tear that afflicts most denominations in the United States whether sideline or mainline, and that connects with the larger history of the West, from Plato to Erasmus.

Where do you turn?

The OPC is too small and too theologically sectarian. The PCA suffers from similar problems among the TRs (Truly Reformed) and is blithely naive about modernity and urbanity on its progressive side. The ARP and the CRC are too ethnic and suffer from a measure of parochialism within their Scottish and Dutch traditions respectively. The same goes for the RPCNA which is even smaller than the OPC. The CREC might work but in 2000 that communion is only two years old, not the strongest case for a church with roots.

To your credit, you were enough of a Protestant not to find Roman Catholicism as a viable alternative.

What then? Why not turn to Elizabethan Anglicanism, like this?

The early English church, despite all the misconstruals of it by Anglo-Catholics, was Protestant and Reformed. The history of the 19th Anglo-Catholic attempt to deny this is a painful one for those who prize integrity of inquiry. The work of Peter Nockles and the more recent, and excellent, work of Jean-Louis Quantin, have shown how wrongheaded that 19th century orgy of wishful thinking really was. But this was proved back in the 19th c itself by Nathaniel Dimock, regarding sacramental theology, and regarding ecclesiology, by the American Bishop Charles McIlwaine, in his Roman, Oxford, and Anglican Divinity Compared.

The English Church of Elizabeth, James, and Charles is, in some ways, a model of importance for own time. Reformed churches, their common mind constricted by familiarity only with Scots and English Presbyterianism, miss the riches of Reformed thought available in Richard Hooker, or Richard Field, or Lancelot Andrewes (just as they miss the riches available in the thought of German and French Reformed). Anglo-Catholic attempts to prove that the established church was somehow not really Protestant are attempts to deprive modern Protestants of useful heritage.

What is important to notice about this way of being Reformed is that it allowed you to occupy the catholic and moderate middle while also regarding the regulative principle as too Puritan and biblicist (and sectarian) and two-kingdom theology as a betrayal of the godly monarch (which allegedly made the English church tick until those rowdy Presbyterians and Puritans conspired to take down Charles I).

What is also striking about this line of argument about the American church scene at the beginning of the 21st century was that it was precisely the way priests and bishops who were part of the Anglican establishment saw Christianity in England:

The great innovation of Elizabeth’s reign was what we might term the internalization of anti-sectarian rhetoric, as anti-puritanism. In Edward’s reign that language had been used to associate the English church with the foreign reformed churches in the common defence of an emergent reformed orthodoxy. Now it was introjected, to precisely opposite effect, into the conduct of intra-Protestant debates between defenders of the ecclesiastical status quo and proponents of various styles and modes of further reformation. The central figure here was John Whitgift who, in an extended exchange with the leading presbyterian ideologue of the day, Thomas Cartwright, deployed the Edwardian version of the two extremes used to define the via media of the English church, popery and Anabaptism, to exclude, as he hoped, the likes of Cartwright and his ilk, from the charmed circle of English Protestant respectability. True to the spirit of his Edwardian forebears, Whitgift sought to assimilate Cartwright and his associates both to popery and to Anabaptism, using what he took to be their ultra-scripturalism and populism to associate them with the latter and what he took to be their clericalist opposition to the Royal Supremacy to associate them with the former.

Ostensibly a form of religious polemic, Whitgift’s anti-puritanism was also inherently political. It dealt with issues of governance and jurisdiction and stressed heavily the extent of direct royal authority over ecclesiastical affairs. In so doing it encoded within itself a set of (intensely monarchical) political values, defined against what he took to be the ‘popularity’ inscribed within presbyterian theory and puritan political practice. By popularity Whitgift mean a commitment to theories of government in which the role of the people was expanded. But he also used the term to refer to the political methods used by the supporters of the discipline to put their case to a variety of more or less popular publics through the pulpit and the press, and through the the circulation of manuscripts and of rumours and a variety of petitioning campaigns, some of them aimed at the parliament rather than at the prince. (Peter Lake, “Post-Reformation Politics, or On Not Looking for the Long-Term Causes of the English Civil War,” 28)

When Machen, Witherspoon, and Knox won’t do, turn to Whitgift and Hooker? In the United States, a country that made its name by rejecting Royal Supremacy?

It is an intellectually energetic way to find an alternative to American politics and the Reformed and Presbyterian churches that have persisted in the United States. But it is as arbitrary as thinking that the debates surrounding foreign missions and church government of Machen’s time are the terms by which Presbyterians in Australia ought to operate.

Say Hello to Nelson Kloosterman, James Jordan, Tim Keller, and David Bayly

Theonomy and R. J. Rushdoony have never been so popular. Ever since Ryan Lizza’s piece on Michele Bachman in the New Yorker appeared, bloggers and columnists had been taking shots at the journalist for allegedly writing a hit piece on the congresswoman from Minnesota. The latest to weigh in is Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s speech writer, and a columnist for the Washington Post. According to Gerson:

The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of sharia law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any New Yorker subscriber. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.

So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn’t attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is “common in Reconstructionist circles.”

The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.

Since theonomists recently dismissed me and other 2kers as infidels for not supporting the death penalty for adultery, Gerson’s words have a certain poignancy. As I argued at Front Porch Republic, the word Dominionism is proving to be a real distraction from a much bigger issue for Protestants who may not be as obscure as the Dominionists (wherever they are — do they have a website, journal, or institution?). Theonomy or Reconstruction may be acquired tastes among Reformed Protestants who hold neo-Calvinism dear, but a wide swath of conservative Calvinists — some whom Gerson knows — defend the Kuyperian view of the antithesis in ways that make the world safe for Michele Bachmann and many evangelicals who also see the social world in black and white categories. The reason for this convergence owes to a rejection of appeals to the light of nature in favor of special revelation and regenerate interpretations of the Bible alone (to be interpreted by regenerate people, mind you) for arriving at Total Truth. Such conservative Protestants may not follow theonomists in supporting the death penalty for disobedient adult covenant children, but they do believe the Bible should be the basis both for the public square and arguments about how the best way to run the public square.

As I pointed out in one comment at Greenbaggins:

. . . there are at least three different critiques of 2k but those critiques are also at odds:

1) the 16th century view of the magistrate and his duties to promote the true religion is one critique. (But this critique is marginal to contemporary Reformed communions because all the Presbyterian and Reformed churches of which most of us here are members have repudiated those views and revised our confessions).

2) the generally Kuyperian view that Christ is Lord of all things which reads the relationship between general and revelation in a particular way against 2k. (This is generally Kuyperian because this view is only implicit in Kuyper who also rejected the 16th century view of the magistrate and who also held up the ancient philosophers as models of political philosophy despite their lacking special revelation.) If someone could actually explain the Kuyperian view it would be very helpful and I have ask Mark many times for it and he keeps avoiding an answer.

3) there is the theonomist critique which is a reading of the law of recent vintage (though it may pull from earlier Reformed thinkers) and which has no standing in any of the Reformed churches represented here (as in people asking for the magistrate to execute adulterers).

These three critiques are not in agreement and the third would actually have to take as much issue with the first two as with 2k because those other positions don’t follow the law any more than 2k does (as theonomists understand the law).

So with all of this hostility, it would be useful for the critic to identify himself and what the model or standard is for which he stands. The first two critiques hold up part of a historical example and use that against 2k to show that 2k has departed from a certain standard. But the entire Reformed world has moved from those earlier expressions. So the first two critiques need to explain what the new model is now that Reformed churches have moved on.

Theonomists don’t really need to identify themselves. I generally get their objection. I just don’t see why theonomy is as much a problem for Calvin as it is for Kuyper.

In other words, the one position available to conservative Protestants for demonstrating that they do not hold a view of biblical law comparable to sharia — the 2k theology and its use of the order of creation and the moral sense that all people have — is anathema or nonsensical to many who call themselves neo-Calvinists, evangelicals, and theonomists. As I (the one in all about me) have also argued, at least the theonomists are consistent. But what folks like Gerson seem to be in denial about is the working assumption that prevents most evangelicals folks from embracing 2k — that God’s truth only comes from the Bible and the regenerate who alone have the capacity, through the lens of Scripture, to understand the created order aright.

This doesn’t make Bachmann or Keller, or Kloosterman, or the Baylys dominionists — the Federal Visionaries are another matter. But they are all using the same play book — an understanding of worldview that relies on the basic distinction between the redeemed and the lost. For that reason, outsiders like Lizza and others outside the Christian camp, may have trouble knowing when a Christian entering the public square is going to follow Scripture or not. I am still waiting to hear the argument that says we will follow biblical teaching for civil laws on marriage, sex, and murder but not on idolatry, blasphemy, or the Sabbath. Until the critics of 2k start to criticize each other — sort of the way that conservatives were wondering when feminists would turn on Bill Clinton for his dalliance with Monica — knowing how to distinguish Dominionists from the rest of the Bible-onlyists will require a special playbook.

Why Should Episcopalians Have All the Good Chants?

What I am about to write will put me in awkward company since both James Jordan, the godfather of visions federal and David Koyzis, one of many keepers of the Kuyperian flame, have also advocated chanting psalms. But I am not afraid of the genetic fallacy that attributes guilt by association. I have very little sympathy for Jordan’s musings or for Koyzis’ opposition to dualism. But I do agree with them that chanting psalms is a better way to sing them than any available to the modern church.

But I don’t need to go Federal Visionist or neo-Calvinist to find support for chanting. The good and reliable singers of psalms, the Reformed Presbyterians, also include a page in their Book of Psalms for Singing on how to chant. Their reasons for chanting are as straightforward as their tips for singing are helpful. What is more, Reformed Presbyterian arguments don’t dabble in the exotic, trendy, or liturgical. For them, the point is to sing psalms as given in Scripture.

Chanting has several advantages over metrical Psalmody, stemming from the fact that in chanting, the music completely serves the text. The music is not difficult or interesting in itself, but has character and meaning only in conjunction with the words. The meaning of the text is thus more immediate, and the parallel structure of the Hebrew poetry is more apparent. The difficulties of translating ancient non-metrical poems into sensible English rhyme are rendered unnecessary. Chanting encourages the use of entire Psalms rather than selections.

The one advantage that I’d call attention to is that chanting frees modern congregations from having to sing songs that rhyme. My own tastes in poetry are pedestrian, and I like poems that rhyme. I am particularly attached to the limerick and sometimes write them. My main challenge is finding words that rhyme. (Heck, I have enough trouble finding the right word when it doesn’t have to rhyme.) But I see no reason why the songs we sing in worship need to rhyme. And I sometimes see the toll that rhyme schemes take upon the constructions (or their translations) of poets for whom rhyming was unknown.

Adding to the burden of metrical psalms is the tune. Each song has a certain number of beats per line, which means that each turn has a specific meter. Modern hymnals devote one of their many indexes to meters, such as, so that you may find all tunes with that meter and sing texts with the same meter to any of the listed tunes.

This means that psalm translators for metrical purposes not only have to find words at the end of lines that rhyme, but must also use translations that have the right number of syllables per line. Which means that a metrical psalm is several steps removed from the genuine article.

Now, of course, the genuine article would be to chant the psalms in Hebrew, but that would prevent worship in a known tongue to anyone in the United States other than obsessive seminary students.

So why not remove the entire rigamarole of awkward translations fitted for conventions of modern poetry and find a good English rendition of the psalms to chant? The music of chants are flexible and, contrary to the RPCNA’s advice, are often beautiful. Four-part chants are down right stunning. And chants aren’t that hard. The conservative Presbyterians with whom I commune sing well any number of complicated tunes. If Episcopalians, a group hardly known for vigorous congregational singing, can chant, why can’t Presbyterians?

Two-Kingdom Tuesday: James Jordan for President (of the U.S.A.)

A constant them in objections to two-kingdom teaching is that it fails to follow the Reformers even while claiming their imprimatur. As the Rabbi Brets, the Baylys, and the Wilsonians like to remind us, the magisterial reformation was just that – a reformation conducted by magistrates, some of whom were the ministers who were themselves agents of the state. The city council of Geneva called John Calvin to be pastor. So, two-kingdom theology must be wrong because it would have never put Calvin in Geneva.

Seldom conceded in this argument is that 2k critics are also a long way from the Reformers. To be consistent with the joys of a magisterial reformation, the critics should be calling for President Obama and Governor Rendell, among others, to reform the churches, call the right ministers, approve the proper liturgies, establish the right forms of church government. Well, the problem here is that Obama might appoint Jeremiah Wright to be his Archbishop Laud. Doh (I)!

That possibility should be a reminder that state-run churches have never preserved Reformed Protestantism (or any religion, for that matter). Even when the covenants with the king were long and exacting, the magistrates only made life more difficult for the good guys in the church and regularly backed the bad guys. This is why the good guys in church history, from Calvin, to the Contra-Remonstrants, to the Covenanters, to the PCUSA, to the Free Church of Scotland, wanted autonomy of the church from state-control in order to govern the church properly (and they argued, biblically).

So if anti-2kers want to be as consistent in their doing as they think they are in their saying, they need to persuade James Jordan, the Godfather of things Federal Vision, to run for the presidency. I assume he will need to run on a political platform very much contrary to the policies and laws that guided Geneva’s magistrates in their oversight of a reformed church. Small government, reduced taxes, vouchers for religious schools, maybe even reduction of the U.S.’s superpower footprint could Jordan’s candidacy off the runway. And then once in office, Jordan can implement the suppression of heresy, the closing of synagogues, mosques, and cathedrals, and the prohibition of usury. Politicians lie through their teeth all the time on the campaign trail. What would be the problem with one more? Wait a minute. Jordan believes in the law. Doh (II)!