When to Feel Empathy

The Gospel Coalition continues in the mold of George H. W. Bush by trying to find a kinder, gentler, evangelicalism. This time it is remembering the anxiety of women with unwanted pregnancies:

Women facing an unplanned pregnancy often have very reasonable, here-and-now fears. They may fear the loss of financial stability—or the loss of the ability to ever reach it. They may fear the loss of an already teetering status quo in which every available ounce of food is already consumed at home—perhaps by other children they’re already parenting. Pregnant women may lose a job, or they may not get the job they were hoping for. They may fear a violent boyfriend or father.

They may even fear pregnancy itself, which is often full of terrifying sickness, physical pain, loss of emotional control, and embarrassing bodily problems. All of these fears are real and oft-cited at crisis-pregnancy centers the country over. A common theme weaves through most of them: the fear of other people.

Evil often begets more evil. While many who support so-called abortion rights believe they’re serving needy women, they’re overlooking one critical reality: Women are often brought—reluctantly—to the abortion doctor. These women are compelled toward abortion not by their own empowering, my-body-is-my-own sense of autonomy, but by another person seeking control. Angry boyfriends, angry husbands, angry mothers, angry employers—these are so often the wind at the back of an abortion-minded woman.

Women may fear something else, too: adoption. Though morally clear, the thought is often experientially vague: It seems, or feels, much less repugnant to have a hidden medical procedure in the first weeks of pregnancy than to consciously hand over a smiling, babbling baby to a woman whose body never knew him or her. It’s cognitive dissonance, sure, but it’s a real—and understandable—fear.

This logic is not wrong. But it is peculiar the way that progressive evangelicals decide on which issues to project toughness, and on which ones to strike the pose of nice.

Imagine if John Fea had written this way about the fears of evangelicals who voted for Trump.

Imagine if Jemar Tisby had written this way about the OPC shooter in Poway.

And imagine if Joe Carter had written this way about kinism.

Lots of talk in the last five years about confirmation bias. I don’t think we have had enough of a conversation about reading between the lines and noticing agendas.

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Border Patrol with Big Green Letters

Joe Carter wants us to be cautious about attributing “cultural Marxism” to AN NEE BODEE!!

Over the past decade online culture and political tribalism have combined to bring ideas once relegated to the margins into the mainstream. We can add the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.

A prime example is the term “cultural Marxism,” which is included in Earnest’s grievances for which “every Jew is responsible.” … When those on the political right make claims about the people at the Frankfurt School conspired to bring down Western culture or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether they recognize it or not—using the redefined and racialized meaning given by Lind.*** Of course most Christians who uses terms like cultural Marxism are not kinist. Many of them are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin. Yet it’s disconcerting when conservative Christians use language that originated from a racist worldview perpetuated by anti-Semites.****

. . .Because the term CM has become tainted its continued use by Christians undermines our ability to warn about the dangers of concepts like Critical Theory. We should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing. Doing so will help us to be better communicate what intend in a loving manner.

At Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zubatov is not so sure:

A short tour through some notable landmarks should suffice to show how 19th-century Marxism evolved into 20th-century “cultural Marxism” and the culture war of our present day: . . .

It is a short step from Gramsci’s “hegemony” to the now-ubiquitous toxic memes of “patriarchy,” “heteronormativity,” “white supremacy,” “white privilege,” “white fragility” and “whiteness.” It is a short step from his and Marcuse’s reconceptualization of the role of radical intellectuals to our sensationalized and politicized media outlets playing the part of a self-styled progressive vanguard riling up the allegedly oppressed and turning their incoherent rage loose on the rest of us. …It is a short step from the Marxist and cultural Marxist premise that ideas are, at their core, expressions of power to rampant, divisive identity politics and the routine judging of people and their cultural contributions based on their race, gender, sexuality and religion — precisely the kinds of judgments that the high ideals of liberal universalism and the foremost thinkers of the Civil Rights Era thought to be foul plays in the game. And it is a short step from this collection of reductive and simplistic conceptions of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed” to public shaming, forced resignations and all manner of institutional and corporate policy dictated by enraged Twitter mobs, the sexual McCarthyism of #MeToo’s excesses, and the incessant, resounding, comically misdirected and increasingly hollow cries of “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe” and more that have yet to be invented to demonize all those with whom the brittle hordes partaking in such calumnies happen to disagree.

Whatever the merits of phrases like cultural Marxism, I do find it peculiar that Joe Carter has not objected to pet categories by the Gospel Allies’ most celebrated members.

For instance, is Christian hedonism a very good way to describe sanctification?

What about Gospel Ecosystem? Why wouldn’t something like — well — church or communion work? And what’s up with using organic metaphors for urban locales? (Wendell would not approve.)

Can we produce a gospel city movement? No. A movement is the result of two sets of factors. Take for example, a garden. A garden flourishes because of the skill and diligence of the gardener and the condition of the soil and the weather. The first set of factors—-gardening—-is the way we humanly contribute to the movement. This encompasses a self-sustaining, naturally growing set of ministries and networks, which we will look at in more detail below.

If we “should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing,” why are some celebrity pastors immune?

What If I Want Jordan Peterson instead of Wendell Berry?

The Gospel Allies are always peppering readers with guidance on contemporary culture without ever acknowledging that many Christians would be better served by reading secular publications (like The New Yorker, The American Conservative, Times Literary Supplement).

As the allies make their way through the haze of relevance, some may wonder what their criteria for evaluating writers, ideas, and cultural expressions are.

Take for instance Joe Carter’s estimate of Jordan Peterson (wherein comes a heavy dose of anti-thetical analysis thanks to a quote from Joel McDurmon):

For all of his toppling of great idols of humanism in our day, Dr. Peterson’s thought, from their presuppositions right through many of his conclusions, is as thoroughly humanist, autonomous, and thus ultimately dangerous, as anything any leftist every said. Christians need to be aware of the depths of this problem in Peterson’s thought, and the implications it has for their discernment of his teachings.

But when it comes to Wendell Berry, a writer much admired here but no font of Christian orthodoxy, the Allies print a positive estimate of the farmer-poet:

Reading Wendell Berry reminds us that one result of rooting ourselves in God’s Word should be that we root ourselves in our neighborhoods. These places are likely to be dark and polluted, but in belonging here while stretching toward the light of God’s love, we bear witness to John’s proclamation: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Berry’s fictional characters help us imagine what it might look like to be members of God’s household who live with faith, hope, and love—and so bless their neighbors.

Dare I observe that if TGC had given an assignment to a Van Tillian to write about Berry, the article would not be so charitable.

And then to round out the confusion comes a piece that recommends the film of P. T. Anderson (including one — don’t tell John Piper — that has nudity):

Phantom Thread feels like an especially instructive model of a film that I fully expect will be talked about and enjoyed by future generations, long after most 2017 films are forgotten. Director Paul Thomas Anderson is known for making movies (e.g., Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) that aren’t particularly “relevant” but are inarguably good. He is a master of the cinematic form, an auteur who has true, loving interest in the characters and settings he depicts, beyond their utilitarian value as fodder for the zeitgeist. Like Terrence Malick, Anderson makes the films he wants to make, pointing the camera on the things he finds beautiful and interesting, paying little heed to headlines or formulas or convention. Ironically this is often the formula for lasting influence. It certainly has been for Malick and Anderson.

At some point, don’t you wonder that the editors at TGC have less a coherent w-w than they do a desire to pose as up-to-date? And oh, by the way, what does any of this have to do with the gospel?

Theology of Glory

Lutherans can read the times through the lens of the theology of the cross:

But it’s an entirely different question whether churches should be participating in state-run programs like that one — when they consider their own self-interest.

Secularists worry that when federal or state money goes to churches, to support either charities or efforts like the one at stake in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, the state is in effect promoting religion. But there’s growing evidence that the influence goes the other way: State support causes churches to become more secular, and generally to weaken.

In short, believers should be wary of the freedom the Court has just affirmed.

Evangelicals don’t:

In their decision on the Trinity Lutheran case the Court answered these questions, ruling that the government can’t discriminate against religious organizations and exclude them from receiving a generally available public benefit simply because they are religious.

“The Court’s decision is good for kids and good for religious liberty,” says Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket Law, a non-profit religious liberty law firm that filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the school’s behalf. “Trinity Lutheran was simply asking that the government play fair, treat churches equally, and help the preschool make its playground safer for children. Today’s decision does just that.”

Neither do Roman Catholics:

Most court watchers expected the Court (with Gorsuch now on the bench) to side with the religious school on a narrow 5-4 ruling. But, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran!

Experts agree the decision could pave the way for upholding the constitutionality of other state programs (like school vouchers) where religious groups provide a service for the public benefit.

Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority stated: “The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution.”

NOTEWORTHY: Justice Neil Gorsuch actually wrote his own opinion in the case (joined by Justice Thomas). And the newest Justice noted that the First Amendment “guarantees the free exercise of religion, not just the right to inward belief (or status)” (emphasis his).

We at CatholicVote have been making precisely this point for years. Religious exercise isn’t just about privately holding a religious belief or attending religious services. You may recall President Obama tried to quarantine our constitutional rights by defining this broad freedom as merely the “right to worship”.

Haven’t these people heard that appearances are deceptive, that praying in public, fasting, or giving alms may not be all they seem to be.

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It

Why does so much confusion surround the so-called Alt-Right while so many people are absolutely certain they oppose it? The Southern Baptist Convention seemed to set the standard for establishing indignant distance from the Alt-Right and its associations with white supremacy. At the same time, pretty much no one knows what the Alt-Right is. If the SBC had thrown Charles Murray, the co-author of The Bell Curve, into its resolution, I doubt anyone would have cared. Who is Charles Murray? Not sure. Must be a white supremacist because those kids at Middlebury College know what’s what.

Here is Joe Carter’s attempt to define the Alt-Right even after the fact of the resolution — reporting catches up to voting:

The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism.

The Southern Poverty Law Center gives a somewhat broader definition (that could actually include Joe Carter and me at times):

The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.

At the Alt-Right website, the defining component of the movement seems to be a race-based defense of Western civilization. One question in these race obsessed times — and can anyone remember this goes back to the election of Barack Obama and didn’t just start with the 2016 election? — is if you defend cultural goods of the West like smart phones, rule by law, or tennis are you guilty of the sins of the Alt-Right? Or if you look favorably on the United States, which people of European descent have dominated for good and ill, are you also tainted?

But a bigger question is what a white man is to do. The comments at Joe Carter’s piece suggest that even the fans of John Piper and Tim Keller are not willing to support the SBC’s resolution even while they do not identify with the Alt-Right:

The SBC did us a huge disservice by not defining the Alt Right. The more familiar one becomes with their bigotry, the more disgusting their venom. I think, however, there is a danger in all of this. Since we have left the Alt Right as an ambiguous term, we have set ourselves up for witch hunts. For instance, If I believe in a strong national defense, and in protecting our borders, am I to be branded with this label, and thereby made notorious? If I call myself a “Proud American”, then I am, by definition, a nationalist. Will that term soon become, “white-nationalist” with the passage of time? As the author points out, the “Alt Right” has far more in common with progressivism, than with true conservatism. I would welcome a clarification to the resolution. One which helps us all understand the dangers of this deceptive movement, but which does not leave those Christians who lean left, with the misunderstanding that Conservatives are hateful, or bigoted. That would seem to me to be the exact kind of Xenophobia we just denounced.

One of the reasons for such criticism is that Carter leaves the average white person in a dilemma. One the one hand, identifying as white is a sin:

White supremacy, white nationalism, and white identity are not all the same thing, but they are all equally repugnant….

At the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ.

If that is true, that even recognizing myself as white as opposed to Christian is a form of idolatry, what am I supposed to do if I am a Southern Baptist and read calls like this?

White leadership must be vigilant in yielding the floor to black voices, black language, and black tone on this issue in particular, regardless of perceptions or consequences. Right is right and it often takes authentic voices and types of expression to rightly convey it. Jesus said that if you enter a banquet do not seat yourself at the head of the table but at the foot. It is time for white leadership in the SBC to sit at the foot of the table and learn from their African American brothers and sisters how to rightly oppose racial injustice in this country. Including allowing for language and tone that may at times be uncomfortable.

Do I get to ignore this because I say I’m not white but a Christian? Or do I have to look around the room at skin color and come clean that I am white and so need to take a back seat to people of color? At that point, have I not committed the sin of idolatry by identifying as white? Something along the lines of doubly damned comes to mind.

Not to mention that whites and blacks talking about race often ignores Asians and Latinos. Do whites and blacks also sometimes need to sit at the feet of Native Americans or Korean-Americans? At this point, have we really heeded Paul that in Christ there is not Jew nor Greek? Or aren’t we simply a little late to the aggrieved minority party that Democrats have been holding since 1965?

Doesn’t the right side of history have an expiration date?

Tim Keller Plants, New York City Gives the Growth

In the ballpark of always affirming, always sunny religious journalism comes Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s puff piece on Tim Keller’s retirement at Redeemer NYC. I am not sure that this is the kind of analysis of context that Joe Carter had in mind for the Gospel Coalition’s journalistic forays:

The three main forms of journalism we use at TGC (opinion and advocacy journalism; reporting and narrative journalism; explanatory journalism) are all used to help the church think more clearly about the gospel and how it leads us to interact with the world.

Although, since Carter thinks journalism at TGC should promote revivals, Zylstra’s piece certainly does that. Her account shows, whether she intended or not, how much Keller’s position in New York City made him stand out in ways that no one else among the Allies could. If you do a word count on Zylstra’s story, she mentions the PCA twice, Presbyterian six times, and New York 37 times. As for the work of the Holy Spirit — nada.

If religious journalism at TGC is supposed to promote revivals, that would place Zylstra’s rendering of Keller more on the Finney than the Whitefield side of pretty good awakenings since Finney wasn’t big on the Holy Spirit either.

What I don’t understand is why Mark Dever doesn’t get more attention in the TGC world. There he is ministering in the nation’s capitol, the center of American power, the place from which the United States leads the free world. And yet, to get traction as an urban church planter you need the mojo of the nation’s biggest city, the place that nurtured and shaped Donald J. Trump.

What’s up with that?

This IS White Normativity

Maybe not, but who can imagine that regeneration washes away the perspective that comes with being a white man? Joe Carter, for instance, wrote a series on Christian journalism for the gospel allies that contains this nugget:

Almost all news stories we encounter are devoid of context. They assume we understand the broader background and that we have followed the details from previous iterations of the story. But most of us tend to “catch up” on a news item only when we have to, when we realize that a particular current event item is not going away that we should probably develop a basic awareness and understanding of why it’s important.

My role as an explanatory journalist is to “make complicated things clear, quickly” by reinserting some of the missing context. Again, this doesn’t take any unique skill. I’m able to do this not because of my own specialized knowledge but merely because I have the time, willingness, and patience to dig through a backlog of material to put together a few key details that might be useful to a casual consumer of news.

What does race do to Carter’s perspective? If, as Thabiti Anyabwile and other African-American pastors tell us, that white Americans can never escape the blinkers that filter their perceptions of the news of a black young man shot by police, how are the non-white readers of Carter going to trust the context he supplies? Won’t his perspective reflect white-middle-class America with a helping of Christianity on the side?

Or maybe regeneration is supposed to supply a better perspective. But since Carter and Anyabwile are both regenerate, then why do they see some news matters differently? So much for Christian w-w. More like ethnic/racial-Christian w-w.

When Carter further explains the work of the Christian journalist, he summons help from Tim Keller:

“When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out,” Keller says, “Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters. Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.”

This eschatological element motivates and frames the calling of the gospel-oriented journalist. The Christian journalist must constantly ask how, in the light of the gospel, we are to do God’s work of enlightening our neighbors with truth. Sometimes this means the work will have a definite and obvious gospel outcome (i.e., the article is explicitly biblical in the “Christian” genre). Other times it may mean that while the final product is indistinguishable from “secular” work (in the “common grace” sense), the journalistic process (the choosing of sources, the purpose for the writing, and so on) was guided by a commitment to the gospel.

This is where neo-Calvinist-like endeavors to claim every square inch break down. Journalism is properly a matter of providence, not redemption. Secular journalists, thanks to their creaturely capacities, have the ability to see and understand the real world in ways that escape Christians. Some of it may be IQ. Some of it may be more experience as a journalist and being skeptical about the claims that humans make. Regeneration doesn’t make someone a better journalist. One’s location in the created order — family, schooling, native ability, personal instincts — makes someone a better journalist.

Just the same, if Carter and Keller want to claim that the gospel makes Christians more interested in peace and justice in the world, they need to use that argument the next time that an African-American pastor or activist claims that white Christians “don’t get it.” If getting the gospel is what really matters for seeing things whole, Joe Carter is just as good a source on race relations at Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Localism is Great (beats pretty good) as Long as Charles Taylor is Your Neighbor

Joshua Rothman has a thoughtful piece on Charles Taylor and ends on a surprisingly hopeful note considering the recent election and how fly-over country voted:

[Taylor] is in favor of localism and “subsidiarity”—the principle, cited by Alexis de Tocqueville and originating in Catholicism, that problems should be solved by people who are nearby. Perhaps, instead of questing for political meaning on Facebook and YouTube, we could begin finding it in projects located near to us. By that means, we could get a grip on our political selves, and be less inclined toward nihilism on the national scale. (It would help if there were less gerrymandering and money in politics, too.)

One imagines what this sort of rooted, meaningful democracy might look like. A political life centered on local schools, town governments, voluntary associations, and churches; a house in the woods with the television turned off. Inside, family members aren’t glued to their phones. They talk, over dinner, about politics, history, and faith, about national movements and local ones; they feel, all the time, that they’re doing something. It’s a pastoral vision, miles away from the media-driven election we’ve just concluded. But it’s not a fantasy.

But what about Phil Robertson’s community? Not even the Gospel Allies are willing to countenance those parts of America:

That “cultural curtain” prevents Robertson from seeing the reality of the Jim Crow era, allowing him to look back in wistful fondness. Yet I think there is also a personal element that keeps the former “white trash” farmhand from seeing the segregation of his youth as it truly was.

Robertson makes it clear that he didn’t come to Christ until the late 1970s. During the 1960s he was abusing drugs and alcohol, cheating on his wife, and hiding out in the woods to prevent being arrested by the authorities. His former fellow farmworkers might look on the 1960s as an era when African Americans were gaining access to long-overdue civil rights. But for Robertson, that decade was a time of self-destruction and familial strife. Since then Robertson has turned his life over to God and become, to use his catchphrase, “Happy, happy, happy.” In his mind, godliness is equated with happiness.

That is why I believe that when Robertson looks back on his youth, what he sees is not African Americans suffering under the evil of segregation, but men and women who were godly, and thus obviously had what he has now: a happiness that transcends mortal woes. He seems to think that because they were godly, the exterior signs of happiness (singing, smiling, etc.) can be construed as a sign of their having inner peace, if not peace with the world. It’s a noble, if naïve, idealization of his neighbors.

Does that noble intent excuse his insensitive remarks about the segregated South? Not at all. Robertson is a public figure and when he gives interviews in the media, he must take responsibility for how his words are perceived. While I believe he was attempting to pay tribute to the African-American Christians who preceded him in the faith, he has inadvertently offended many of his African American brothers and sisters.

And so it looks like the Gospel Industrial Complex is a much on the side of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s one-world order as they are part of an organizational enterprise that disdains denominational attachments (is Tim Keller Presbyterian?). Can anyone imagine an evangelical academic or preaching/teaching celebrity writing what Damon Linker did about universalistic cosmopolitanism and humanitarian liberalism?

any outlook that resists or rejects humanitarianism is an atavistic throwback to less morally pristine times, with the present always superior to the past and the imagined even-more-purely humanitarian future always better still.

Concerned about immigrants disregarding the nation’s borders, defying its laws, and changing its ethnic and linguistic character? Racist!

Worried that the historically Christian and (more recently) secular character of European civilization will be altered for the worse, not to mention that its citizens will be forced to endure increasing numbers of theologically motivated acts of terrorism, if millions of refugees from Muslim regions of the world are permitted to settle in the European Union? Islamophobe!

Fed up with the way EU bureaucracies disregard and override British sovereignty on a range of issues, including migration within the Eurozone? Xenophobe!

As far as humanitarian liberals are concerned, all immigrants should be welcomed (and perhaps given access to government benefits), whether or not they entered the country illegally, no matter what language they speak or ethnicity they belong to, and without regard for their religious or political commitments. All that matters — or should matter — is that they are human. To raise any other consideration is pure bigotry and simply unacceptable.

Earlier forms of liberalism were politically wiser than this — though the wisdom came less from a clearly delineated argument than from observation of human behavior and reading of human history. “Love of one’s own” had been recognized as a potent and permanent motive force in politics all the way back to the beginning of Western civilization, when Homer and Sophocles depicted it and Plato analyzed it. It simply never occurred to liberals prior to the mid-20th century that human beings might one day overcome particularistic forms of solidarity and attachment. They took it entirely for granted that individual rights and civic duties needed to be instantiated in particulars — by this people, in this place, with this distinctive history and these specific norms, habits, and traditions.

But now liberals have undergone a complete reversal, treating something once considered a given as something that must be extricated root and branch.

If people gave up their particular attachments easily, conceding their moral illegitimacy, that might be a sign that the humanitarian ideal is justified — that human history is indeed oriented toward a universalistic goal beyond nations and other forms of local solidarity. But experience tells us something else entirely. The more that forms of political, moral, economic, and legal universalism spread around the globe, the more they inspire a reaction in the name of the opposite ideals. The Western world is living through just such a reaction right now.

That means, of course, that Phil Robertson’s family, neighborhood, and church might harbor expressions that other people find objectionable. But since when did we think that people will always be easy to like and say things that make us feel happy? I guess the answer is — as long as we have been rearing children who go to college and expect to find nothing more challenging to their well being than cookies and milk (aside from the frat parties). Still, I wonder if those kids were accepted at every elite university to which they applied. If they received a rejection letter, did they burn the U.S. flag?

Not Winning

Even if evangelicals think they are:

Since the 1995-96 academic school year, Princeton Theological Seminary has seen 30 percent fewer full-time enrolled students. Reformed Theological Seminary saw a 33 percent decrease to 547 full-time students while Candler School of Theology experienced a 39 percent drop to 414 full-time students.

Joe Carter spins this as victory for the Gospel Allies:

Kenneth Kantzer, the late academic dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, once said that in 1890 all of the Protestant theological seminaries in the United States—with the notable exception of Harvard—were evangelical. Forty years later, though, almost all of them had become liberal (i.e., denied basic tenets of orthodoxy). By the 1950s, only four of the top ten largest seminaries were sponsored by evangelical denominations. Of those four, three were part of the SBC, which was struggling at the time to take back control of its schools from liberal professors.

By the 1990s, the trend had shifted once again back toward conservative evangelicalism. After the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC, all six of the denomination’s seminaries were solidly orthodox. And by 1995, only two liberal-leaning seminaries remained on the list of top ten schools by enrollment (Princeton at #9 and Candler School of Theology at #10).

Doesn’t he know that for some Southern Baptists, evangelical is a “Yankee” word.

And what does he not understand about Kenneth Kantzer’s reasons for leaving Fuller Seminary?

Roman Catholic apologetics are catchy.

Another Problem with W-w

At a time when Europeans and their former colonial outposts are reflecting on the nation state, political union, and the shelf-life of post-World War II peace-keeping institutions, the celebration of U.S. independence was another chance to ponder the merits of political autonomy and state sovereignty. But notice the way that some Christians decided to frame the matter:

Those of us who identify as Christians should never fear admitting the truth, even when it means letting go of the myth of a “Christian America.” And those of us who identify as both Christian and social conservative should not fear that admitting this particular truth means abandoning what we believe the “We hold these truths” line to mean. Unlike with the Constitution, the “original intent” of the authors shouldn’t necessarily be our guide. If it really is a truth—and a “self-evident” one—it is only because it was revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

In an age when even many Christians are hostile to religiously informed public philosophy, it’s understandable that social conservatives would turn to the past for examples and look to the founding documents for affirmation. But such an effort is likely to be as unproductive as it is unpersuasive.

If Christians wish to build a polis informed by Christian convictions, if we want the truths we hold to be seen once again as “literally true,” we must look to the future, thick with possibility, rather than to the thin material left over from the religious sentiments of our Founding Fathers.

Really? The best Christians can do is ask once again what kind of believers the founders were or whether the Declaration’s self-evident truths are compatible with special revelation?

Compare this to Noah Millman’s thought experiment. Imagine if the Declaration left out self-evident truths:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . . .

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Which leads Millman to make this point:

One people is oppressed by another, suffering a long chain of abuses. Eventually, the abuses can no longer be tolerated. They constitute a tyranny, and they oblige the oppressed people to throw off the tyrant’s yoke.

That’s not a new story – nor is it a story that requires a new political theory to justify rebellion. The Dutch Revolt required no such theory. Neither did Tyrone’s Rebellion. Why, then, did America’s founders find it necessary to introduce such a theory into the document justifying our own rebellion against the crown?

It’s hard to believe that this philosophical language was introduced to win the support of the France’s absolute monarchy. The philosophes might have applauded, but Louis XVI would surely have preferred to back a rebellion that cast no particular doubt on the legitimacy of hereditary monarchy to one that did. It is even harder to believe that the language was intended to justify a revolution in the domestic arrangements of the colonies. The Declaration was a document intended to be something that the colonies – from slaveholding South Carolina to loyally-inclined Pennsylvania – could assent to unanimously. An alarmingly revolutionary doctrine would surely be the last thing the Congress would have wished to include.

Was it revolutionary, though, to American ears? Quite likely not. In fact, the most stirring portion of the Declaration, the words that have had profound implications for American and world history, may have been so much boilerplate. Americans from Virginia to Vermont, with long experience with self-government, casually assumed Lockean premises about where government legitimately derived and what was its legitimate purpose. Including these words in the document justifying American independence may not have established an American creed so much as they reiterated the largely unexamined premises that many Americans already assumed.

Whether you agree with Millman or not (and the whole piece is a plausible case for American exceptionalism), you have to admit that his take is much more interesting than Joe Carter’s. The latter feels compelled to squeeze a political statement into a theological mold. Millman simply imagines the political stakes. No religious references. And in so doing, the Declaration takes on even more significance than when Christians try to find America’s eternal meaning (or not).

If U.S. Christians thought about politics politically rather than religiously, they might not look so odd to their neighbors.