Machen, Golden State, and Social Justice

What binds these three items together? Warrior, as in Machen’s Warrior Children, Golden State Warriors, and Social Justice Warriors.

The average American (unless you are LeBron James) thinks positively of the NBA franchise. If that American is under 30, she likely adds Social Justice to Golden State since both are very popular.

Your average Presbyterian in one of the NAPARC communions, you might think, would add Machen happily to the Golden State Warriors since J. Gresham Machen was arguably the greatest defender of historic Presbyterianism during the twentieth century. And if you are a conservative Presbyterian under 30 you might also want to add Social Justice to Machen and the Golden State team because Social Justice and Golden State are very popular.

But what does the PCA do? It embraces Social Justice and disdains Machen — Golden State is probably agreeable.

Consider that two of the more prominent figures in the PCA during the last twenty years are John Frame, who coined the phrase, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” and Tim Keller. Almost everyone knows Frame’s opposition to Machen’s spiritual offspring. Keller less so. Here is part of his take on twentieth-century conservative Presbyterianism:

A more normal result of church splits is the pruning off of branches in a way that both wounds and yet, ironically, does not last. Something of this pattern, I think, can be seen in the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Early in its history, after the death of J. Gresham Machen, the OPC went through a split in which its New Side/New School branch left, led by J.Oliver Buswell of Wheaton College and Carl T. McIntire. But, no surprise, by the 1970s the OPC had grown a new ‘pietist/revivalist’ wing under the influence of Jack Miller. The New Life Churches and their Sonship course was classic revivalism, and it did not fit well with the more doctrinalist cast of the OPC. While not a formal split, like that of 1937, the New Life churches were made to feel unwelcome and nearly all left in the early 90s to swell the pietist ranks of the PCA.

Whenever a Reformed church purifies itself by purging itself of one of its impulses, it finds that within a generation or two, its younger leaders are starting to at look in a friendly way toward the lost parts.

With that kind of suspicion about Machen’s Warriors, the liturgy at the PCA’s General Assembly this week was notable:

Notice that last line, the contrast between social justice warriors and servants of the gospel.  The idea that social justice is an extension of critical race theory was one that the curmudgeon, Bill Smith, proposed. Curiously enough, Sean Lucas accused Bill Smith of the genetic fallacy.

And that raises a question of whether Pastor Lucas himself has committed the liturgical fallacy. Does simply praying that Social Justice Warriors need to be celebrated as “servants of the gospel” measure up to the rigors of logic? Simply praying it doesn’t make it so.

But it does seem safe to say that Bill Smith is in Sean Lucas’ head.

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How Orthodox Presbyterians became PCA

Another way to supplement Chris Gordon’s post about the demise of confessionalism in the CRC and lessons for the PCA is to consider what happened to the OPC after the failure of union between the CRC and the OPC.

The merger that the OPC and CRC contemplated between 1956 and 1972 never took place but at roughly the same time that those negotiations died, the PCA was born and for the next twenty years became the chief player in ecclesiastical mergers-and-acquisitions. First the PCA acquired in 1982 the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (an earlier merger of revival-friendly Covenanters and dissident – read agreeable – Bible Presbyterians of the McIntire variety) and then the PCA almost in 1986 absorbed the OPC (a majority of Orthodox Presbyterians voted in favor but not by the two-thirds majority required for sending the plan to presbyteries for ratification). In the aftermath of that failed plan for Joining & Receiving, congregations in the OPC and PCA had the liberty to re-align if they chose. This was opening for a number of New Life churches (among them the Glenside congregation where Tim Keller learned the ways of New Life Presbyterianism) to join the PCA during the late 1980s.

Again, a piece of OPC history (self-promotion alert) that fills out Gordon’s observations:

In 1988 the effects of the OPC’s change of direction were still visible but not altogether clear. Again the church experienced a growth numerically, rising to 19,422 members but it also lost two more congregations to the PCA, one (New Life) in Philadelphia and one in Southern California. Only in 1989 did the OPC’s statistician start to notice these numerical changes as part of a “step backward.” That year was the peak of membership and congregational loss. The church’s total membership decreased by 3.5 percent to 18,689. [ed. no snickering] Meanwhile, five congregations transferred to the PCA, among them New Life in Escondido, California. This was the same year that the Assembly’s decisions about Bethel church took their toll. A majority of the Wheaton congregation (162 out of 301) left the OPC to form an independent congregation, which eventually affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In 1990 the “step backward” statistically lengthened. The OPC lost another 546 members and three congregations; among them New Life, Glenside, joined the PCA. Only by 1991 did the hemorrhaging stop and membership begin to rise again. In 1992 the OPC added 525 members and total membership increased to 18,767.

The movement of OPC congregations into the PCA was the occasion for a exchange between John M. Frame and Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. in New Horizons on realignment at the same time that statistics were revealing the consequences of congregational transfers. It was a telling exchange because it revealed an important aspect of Orthodox Presbyterianism that after the semi-centennial was beginning to reassert itself within the life of the communion and causing sufficient discomfort for others to look for another denominational home. That characteristic of Orthodox Presbyterianism was the Reformed doctrine of the church in which membership in particular communion was not a supplement to Christian identity but its embodiment. As Gaffin explained in this exchange, the OPC was not merely a denomination; “it is a church, a church that exists by divine warrant.” As such, he added, “Biblical presbyterianism has no place for loyalties torn between the denomination and the local congregation, or for greater loyalty to either one.” In contrast, Frame, who was then an associate pastor of the New Life congregation in Escondido that had realigned with the PCA, explained that the reason for transferring was to partner more effectively with other church planting efforts in southern California. Denominational affiliations for him were at best accidental, at worst sinful. Either way, he hoped that denominational “barriers” would become less important and that Orthodox Presbyterians would understand that transferring to the PCA was not a sign of disloyalty or contempt. The move was simply practical.

Clearly, Frame did not see the switch to the PCA as the serious risk that Gaffin said it was. Gaffin believed such transfers were dangerous because they nurtured a mind set that increased divisions in the church, not along lines of biblical witness, but according to personal preferences or styles of ministry. As such, Gaffin was expressing a doctrine of the church that had deep roots in American Presbyterianism reaching back to Old School Presbyterianism and even to the Old Side Presbyterians of the colonial era. Frame, in contrast, was more typical of a view of the church characteristic of New School and New Side Presbyterians, where the formal work of ministry was supplemental to the religious endeavors of all believers. In other words, whether Frame or Gaffin acknowledged the history of American Presbyterianism in their reflections, they spoke volumes about Orthodox Presbyterianism and how it emerged and developed in relation to its Presbyterian past. Among the many convictions for which the OPC had stood historically, the doctrine of the church as part of biblical teaching and necessary for faithful witness was one of the hallmarks of Orthodox Presbyterianism. During the 1970s and 1980s that ecclesial conviction had begun to wane if only because it was not producing the size and influence that some Orthodox Presbyterians desired. But as the OPC began to take stock of its past, it also recovered one of its most noticeable features. Furthermore, just as that commitment to biblical Presbyterianism had been a source of frustration to Bible Presbyterians in the 1930s, neo-evangelicals in the 1940s, and more generally to Orthodox Presbyterians like Edwin H. Rian who had hoped the OPC would turn out to be a conservative version of culturally established and respectable Presbyterianism, so in the late 1980s as the OPC recovered its doctrine of the church some felt compelled to look for better, friendlier, or less restrictive expressions of American Presbyterianism than the OPC. (Between the Times, 316-18)

In other words, the consequences of Reformed ecumenism from the 1970s and 1980s were having consequences for all of the players — the CRC, OPC, and PCA. Where Presbyterians went, their forms of association, and their understand of the church were factors in the witness they embraced.

Eating at Home

I’ve long thought and contended that Peter Leithart is clever. I also think he is too clever for his own good. Rather than identifying with a particular strand of Christianity (like the PCA, the RPCNA, New Light Calvinism, or even Moscowite-Baptist-Presbyterian hybrid) and trying to strengthen it, Leithart indicates that most expressions of Protestantism do not measure up. He recognizes some good in them, but not enough to come to their defense. He seems to want a new kind of Protestantism, but one that is very much in his own conception.

I thought this repeatedly while reading his series on paedocommunion. In his first post he utters a classic Leithartianism:

The question is not what the Reformed tradition has taught on this issue; I concede that very few Reformed theologians have advocated paedocommunion. Nor is the question about Jewish custom, which opponents of paedocommunion often cite. (Why should Christians care what the Talmud says?) The issue is what Scripture teaches, and if we find that our tradition is out of accord with Scripture, then we must simply obey God rather than men, even if they are our honored fathers in the faith.

The problem is, what Scripture teaches is different from a form of argument (inspired by John Frame) that because A is like B and B is like C and C is like D, A is the equivalent of D. In the case of paedocommunion, much of Leithart’s argument rests on Passover:

Though children’s inclusion at Passover is never as explicitly stated, there is a compelling—I would say, conclusive—case for paedo-Passover. Exodus 12:3–4 specifies the size of the lamb needed for the meal: “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, “On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of souls; according to each man’s eating, you are to compute for the lamb.”

This regulation makes it clear that the Passover lamb had to be at least big enough to feed a household, but what is a “household”? Throughout the Pentateuch, “house” includes children and servants. Noah’s “house” obviously included his sons and daughters-in-law (Genesis 7:1), and Abram circumcised his servants as males in his “house” (Gen. 17:23, 27). The very first verse of Exodus tells us that Jacob’s sons came to Egypt, each with his “house” (1:1). Nowhere in the Bible does a “household” exclude children. If the lamb was to be large enough for a household, it was to be large enough to give the children of the house a portion. If younger members of the household were not going to eat, why was the size of the lamb large enough to feed them? To taunt them? . . .

Israelite children shared in every meal in which their parents participated. Because the church is the new Israel, the entry requirements to the church’s Passover are the same as they were for Israel. Discontinuity with regard to admission to the table, like discontinuity between the subjects of circumcision and baptism, undermines the identification of the church and Israel. What are we saying about the church when we exclude children from the table? We are saying that we are not Israel.

Leithart fails to notice a major form discontinuity between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper. The former happened at home. The latter is part of worship on the Lord’s Day. In fact, both circumcision and the Passover (as I understand) were not observed in the Temple or later the synagogue. They happened at home within the family. In contrast, baptism and the Lord’s Supper happen at church (unless you dunk and don’t have a baptistery).

So the real continuity would be to observe the Lord’s Supper at home. Odd isn’t it how Paul contrasts the Lord’s Supper with dining at home?

What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Cor 11:22)

Clever is like convincing except that it isn’t convincing.

Don’t We Pay Pastors to Answer These Questions?

Joseph Franks lists questions that have hounded him throughout eighteen years of ministry:

Does God care about theater seats, stackable chairs, or pews?

What is God’s preference in regards to instrumentation? Are the the organ or piano more excellent and preferable than the guitar and drum?

What about the songs people sing? Are uninspired older songs that we call hymns more holy than uninspired new songs that someday might be called hymns? Some would have us only sing psalms.

Are women and men who sing from the choir loft more preferable to God than men and women who sing from the stage? In God’s eyes, is a choir more sacred than a praise team?

What sort of bowing, kneeling, hand-raising, clapping, and bouncing is allowable in the presence of God? Exactly when does responding with tears or dance become too emotional?

How ought water be applied to worshiping folk? This is an especially problematic question when sprinkling, pouring, and dunking can be found throughout the pages of sacred scripture.

Should believers be concerned over the amount of fermentation found in the fruit of the vine or leaven found in the bread?
Where would one go in Scripture to find the discussion of how the communion elements must be properly covered?

Are all good sermons delivered in the same manner? Does God prefer robed men, suited men, or less formal men? Does God love the wooden pulpit? Does plexiglass really prove the compromising minister? Should the faithful church disapprove of the man delivering his sermon from a seated position?

What would we say to Jesus who often sat while those who listened stood?

Why can some appreciate air-conditioning technology, lighting technology, audio technology, but then look at visual technology as a step down the slippery slope of sin?

Before the worship of God, ought men and women come together in quiet, meditative, somber silence, or should the worship service of God be preceded by festive communion between worshiping friends?

Ought generous New-Covenant worshipers to make a big deal of the percentage and the plate in financial giving?

Who was it in the Presbyterian tradition that declared a young man could be licensed to preach, deliver his sermon, but then not be able to declare the benediction from Jesus to those who just received his message?

Must the pulpit be centrally located in order for the Word of God to be rightly honored?

Such a list might imply that those who ask such questions are trivializing worship. But Franks insists that’s not his purpose:

I am not saying that anything goes; my Bible is full of stories of good-hearted individuals who are judged or disciplined due to their failure to take God’s commands seriously. I would just merely ask them to not confuse the “Traditions of Man” with the “Doctrines of God.” I am not even asking them to let go of their traditions. Some love the worship style passed down from Jerusalem, to Rome, to Geneva, to Scotland, to Westminster Abby, and to our Scots-Irish fathers in the South. But again, allow them to prefer and pass along their traditions without pretending they come from the sacred text.

The missing category here it seems is wisdom. Lots of the answers to these questions are “it depends.” If you are a church plant meeting in a theater, deciding whether to use theater seats is a no-brainer. And if you are an established congregation with a pulpit centered at the front, why would you even countenance a church renovation that moved the pulpit to the side?

After eighteen years, doesn’t a pastor have answers to these questions? Even more pressing, after eighteen years haven’t you had a chance to instruct church members so they can see the difference between the elements, circumstances, and forms of worship? Or is it wise to pile up questions without answers so that believers think most aspects of worship are mere preferences. Franks writes,

Let us not throw away our ancient roots, but at the same time, let us not be bound by the extra-biblical regulations of our fathers that some well-intentioned friends present as the “Doctrine of God.”

Does that apply to heating, plumbing, and speaking in known tongues? Or might some of the aspects of church life that modern people living in the West take for granted be valuable even if not holy? I mean, Franks asks questions the way that John Frame used to about worship. That’s ironic because that defense of contemporary worship included the notion that all of life is worship (which is not from from all of life is sacred) and so the regulative principle should apply to all of life. If that’s the case, then each of the questions Franks asks have holiness and eternity written over every square inch of them. And since he is a minister of God’s word and the Bible speaks to all of life, he’s got the answers.

Making Special Ordinary

If the Corinthian Christians got in trouble for turning the Lord’s Supper into a feast, what happens when you turn the sacrament into a cultural mandate? Peter Leithart may be working too hard to justify transformationalism:

Not only on the Lord’s day, but every day: We offer our works to God in worship, specifically with an act of thanksgiving. When we bring bread and wine – and, by implication, everything we make and do – before the Lord, we do it with thanksgiving. This is remarkable: After all, we made the bread and wine. And yet we thank God for them. We thank Him for the products of our hands, because even the things we make – even our works – are His gifts to us. Paul says that thanksgiving is an act of consecration: Every created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. When we give thanks for what we have made, we are consecrating the works of our hands to God. And having given thanks at the table, we are trained to live lives of continuous Eucharist, continual thanksgiving, giving thanks, as Paul says, for all things at all times.

A lesson learned from John Frame: everyday is holy. All activities are worship.

We bring what we have made to God. But He doesn’t take it from us. We bring what we have to God, and He shares it with us. And so the things we make become means of communion with God.

Isn’t this a recipe for idolatry? Math, auto repair, fishing are “means of communion”? So we don’t have to gather with the saints on the Lord’s Day for worship?

The Eucharist is the way the world ought to be: Raw creation cultivated to grain and grapes. Cultivated creation brought to its fulfillment by cooking. Cooked creation enjoyed in the presence of God. Cooked created enjoyed together, by a community of worshipers. Cooked creation given in praise and received with thanksgiving. The final end of all things is the marriage supper of the lamb, and in the Lord’s Supper we anticipate that final feast, the feast that is the culmination of all creation. History is heading toward a wedding and eternal wedding reception, and our lives are to be spent readying the world for the wedding feast, a wedding feast that we are already enjoying now.

Wouldn’t it be better to say the wedding supper of the lamb is the culmination of redemption? After all, not everyone invited to the wedding accepts. All creatures won’t be at the wedding reception.

In the Eucharist, we bring creation to its fulfillment. We transform the creation into things useful and enjoyable for us, and we give thanks.

And so the Supper Supper reveals us to ourselves. This is what we are created to do: To be priests and kings, ruling the earth, transforming it from glory to glory, and joining it all in one great Eucharistic banquet.

At the Lord’s Supper, where we remember Christ’s death for our sins, we are impressed by how powerful and creative we are?

Yikes.

Dr. Leithart has his problems, but in this case he needs Christian editors who can tell the difference between cult and culture.

Will We Have Bibles in Heaven?

Another version of the 1k critique of 2k, this time a review of a book about John Frame’s theology:

Frame implicitly rejects a separation of the world into sacred and secular realms. If theology is the application of Scripture by persons to every area of life, then it follows that no area of life is exempt from Scripture’s authoritative claims. In other words, nothing is “secular.” Barber ties this to Frame’s non-traditional understanding of RPW, which rests on the distinction between the elements of worship (those things explicitly commanded in Scripture, such as prayers and sacraments) and the circumstances of worship (those things left up to personal discretion, such as the time of the worship service; cf. WCF 1.6). Although many Reformed traditionalists have understood this distinction as justification for a division between sacred and secular realms of life, Frame argues that even the circumstances of worship are holy and spiritual (143). This has a twofold effect in Frame’s theology: it allows for greater Christian freedom inside the church, and it gives greater voice to Scripture outside the church. For the Christian, all of life is sacred, and thus all of life is to be guided by the light of Scripture, but not regulated beyond what Scripture itself requires. Or as Frame states, “The regulative principle for worship is no different from the regulative principle for the rest of life” (144).

I sure wish the critics of 2k would for once do justice to the word, “secular.” It does not mean profane or the denial of God or unbelief or something apart from God. It means temporal, of an age, a period of time. That is, in the West “secular” is impossible to understand apart from Christian eschatology and a distinction between what is eternal and abiding and what is temporary and impermanent. And with that sort of distinction in mind, we can say that the Bible itself is secular. In the new heavens and new earth, the permanent time to come as opposed to the period (saeculum) between Christ’s advents or between the fall and consummation, believers will not need prophets, apostles or sacred books because they will be in the presence of Christ. The need for the Bible is a provisional arrangement. I guess that even means the church is secular.

To say that all of life is sacred sounds uplifting. But to think that my book, A Secular Faith, is sacred is not only ironic but also wrongheaded. Some things will indeed pass away, as Paul wrote:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)

In other words, the things that are secular are transient. Those include our bodies, marriages, vocations, magistrates, favorite composer. To sacralize these things is to immanentize the eschaton, like identifying Jerusalem, Rome, Amsterdam or Wittenberg with the heavenly Jerusalem.

Which is why I would have expected more Vossians to be 2k.

An Evangelical Warrior Child

Here is what may be the turning point in John Frame’s development:

PEF (Princeton Evangelical Fellowship) was dispensational in its viewpoint, as Barnhouse was, but Gerstner thought dispensationalism was an awful heresy. I never accepted the dispensational system, but neither could I accept Gerstner’s harshly negative verdict about it. My friends at PEF were godly people who loved Jesus and the Word. We prayed together every day and visited dorm rooms to bring the gospel to fellow students. Princeton was a spiritual battleground, and the PEF folks were my fellow soldiers. Struggling together for Jesus against opposition tends to magnify the unity of believers and to decrease the importance of disagreement. Surely Jesus intended for his people to wage this battle together, not separated into different denominations and theological factions. My experience with PEF (and earlier with Graham) prevented me from ever being anti-evangelical, as are many of my Reformed friends. At Princeton, I became an ecumenist.

I majored in philosophy and also took courses in religion, literature, and history. The religion courses, together with the denominational campus ministries, gave me my first introduction to theological liberalism. Although I had toyed with similar ideas during my high school years, I sharply rebelled against liberalism in college. Princeton liberalism was casual religion: no authoritative Bible, no passion for souls, no desire for holiness, no vitality. Indeed, the Christ of Scripture simply wasn’t there. Later, I read J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, which argued that liberalism was an entirely different religion from Christianity, and I found it entirely persuasive. Although liberalism has changed its face in the years since, I still see it as the opposite of the biblical gospel.

The problem for Frame and others in the conservative Presbyterian world that Machen hatched was that some, like Frame, stopped reading Machen after 1923. Between then and the founding of the OPC in 1936, Machen’s opposition to liberalism also included battles with evangelicals who tolerated liberalism and a recognition of the need for church discipline with Presbyterianism being the best (and most biblical means) for maintaining and regulating the gospel ministry. Whether he got those tussles right is one thing. But somehow thinking that Presbyterian controversy was merely about liberalism is to do history without being licensed to do historical science.

What John Frame might have understood had he kept reading Machen is that — to take liberties with Bob Dylan — you’re gonna fight somebody. He’s battled with Machen’s Warrior Children who in turn have battle with Frame’s Evangelical Warrior Children and both of those groups have sometimes contended with Liberalism’s Warrior Children.

So many fronts, so little ammunition.

The Evangelical Presbyterian W-w

Okay, remember this is a blog and most of the posts here are merely thinking out loud. And if all of us revealed all of our thoughts, we would likely surprise — even shock — many of those who know us.

So here is today’s conundrum: why is it that John Frame is almost as popular as Tim Keller? I say almost because TKNY obviously rocks. Yes, I concede a degree of envy. Any human, aside from Bryan Cross, would. Keller may not have the looks and charisma of a Billy Graham (neither does Frame nor — all about me — do I), but from his perch in NYC, the cosmopolitan capital of the world (for New Yorkers anyway, I’m not sure that Londoners or Romans or Istanbulus agree), and with his steady stream of books on the front shelves of national book chains and his easy access to religion journalists who don’t want to travel to Wheaton or Waco to report on evangelicalism, Keller is remarkably useful.

But what about John Frame? He has not (nor have I) been on any of the major conference circuits (Ligonier, T4G, TGC, ACE), he is not (nor am I) an exceptionally riveting speaker, and he has not (nor have I) broken through to the secular trade book market. Plus, for the last 30 years or so, he has labored in remarkably out of the way places (so have I) — the d’oh!s of Escondido and Oviedo. And yet, he continues to be the leading systematic theologian among evangelical Presbyterians. World magazine’s recent recognition of Frame’s Systematic Theology offers support for this conclusion.

Could it be that Frame’s appeal stems from his biblical literalism and devotional pietism? According to Paul Helm, these are the chief attributes of Frame’s body of work:

What motivates Frame’s theological work? I’d say, besides what has already been mentioned, a hermeneutic. The Bible, particularly the Bible’s language about God, is to be interpreted literally wherever possible. The genre of literal description is to prevail unless there s a very strong reason to disallow it. As Kevin Vanhoozer might say, the spirit of Carl Henry lives in KJV’s old teacher, John Frame. So wherever possible what God is said to be in Scripture, God literally is.

This hermeneutic is in evidence in Frame’s attitude to change in God, and to his various perspectives in time and in space, as we saw in our earlier piece on Frame’s outlook. ‘When he is present in our world of time, he looks at his creation from within and shares the perspectives of his creatures’. (570 ) ‘God engages in a conversation with man, as an actor in history. The author of history has written himself into the play as the lead character, and he interacts with other characters, doing what they do.’ (571) It would not be surprising if Frame has imbibed some of the modern outlook of the Christian religion as consisting in personal interaction between God and his creatures, despite holding that if one rejects libertarianism then the strongest argument for God being in time vanishes.

As already noted, another strong theme in Frame’s systematic theology is his concern that theology should be readily applied in the life of the believer. This is understood as having an everyday relationship with God as he interacts with his people. Such an interactive God must change, he thinks. It is important for obvious reasons that theology should be user-friendly, though it should not be forgotten that, say, Stephen Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God contains numerous ‘applications’ in the Puritan style. Charnock’s theology is by no means purely cerebral. And – while we are on the topic – the nature of the worship of God will clearly be affected by the worshippers understanding of God. Worshipping a God who is at our shoulder is likely to be different from worshipping one who is simply ‘Our Father in heaven’. But that’s another topic.

As insightful as the post is, I do disagree with Helm’s opening that Frame “generally does not present his views polemically.” That may be true for his systematic theology, but once a warrior child it’s hard to avoid the combat.

Golden Oldie (part three)

From Make War No More?: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of J. Gresham Machen’s Warrior Children

J. Gresham Machen may not be the gold standard for twentieth-century Reformed orthodoxy but he does stand out not only in every account of American Presbyterianism but in most accounts of religion in United States as arguably the most important defender of historic Christianity. Some of the reasons are circumstantial. Machen happened to be teaching at a seminary, Princeton, that was firmly linked to the Protestant establishment and that had a long history of educating conservatives in other denominations. This placed Machen at the center of a the fundamentalist controversy when it erupted in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. with support and admiration from non-Presbyterian conservatives. If he had been teaching at Columbia Seminary in South Carolina or at Wheaton College, the reporters who covered the religion beat in America would likely have been less interested than in a Princeton professor. Other reasons for Machen’s reputation stem from those attributes he brought to bear in his circumstances. His writings show remarkable acumen, courage, and even fairness to his opponents. In addition, Machen carried on in his battles with liberalism for the better part of two decades and, not being content with celebrity or individual effort, recognized the importance of establishing institutions to sustain a Reformed witness. As a man of his times and a person who distinguished himself from his contemporaries, Machen was, in the words of the novelist, Pearl Buck, “worth a hundred of his fellows who, as princes of the church, occupy easy places and play their church politics and trim their sails to every win, who in their smug observance of the convention sof life and religion offend all honest and searching spirits.” That is why Buck, whom Machen had opposed, wished that he had lived longer so he could “go on fighting them.”

Yet, for all of Machen’s accomplishments, the verdict on his efforts has been mixed even among conservative Presbyterians and evangelicals. Much of the discomfort with Machen surrounds his flair for controversy. Of course, critics such as Robert Moats Miller, the biographer of Harry Emerson Fosdick, might be expected to focus on the unflattering aspects of Machen’s career. In fact, Machen’s combativeness was so extreme for Miller that he could, without qualification or fear of misinterpretation, in a respectable academic journal refer to Machen as “quite loony.” Ernest R. Sandeen, one of the first American historians to give fundamentalism an even-handed inquiry would not let his impartiality extend to Machen whose belligerency was supposedly characterized by “perverse obstinacy.”

But when scholars with ecclesial ties to Machen demonstrate a similar unease with his combativeness, the problem is particularly grave. On the fiftieth anniversary of Machen’s death, Mark A. Noll, then an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, observed that the cost of Machen’s contentiousness was “large.” He “undermined the effectiveness of those Reformed and evangelical individuals who chose to remain at Princeton Seminary, with the Presbyterian mission board, and in the Northern Presbyterian Church.” Furthermore, according to Noll, Machen “left successors ill-equipped to deal with the more practical matters of evangelism, social outreach, and devotional nurture.” George M. Marsden, in a piece for Princeton Seminary Bulletin expressed similar reservations to Noll’s about Machen’s “cantankerousness.” Even though Marsden was a son of the OPC and his father had been a prominent official in the OPC and at Westminster Seminary, he still could not warm up to Machen’s propensity to fight. Marsden conceded that Machen’s critique of liberalism had merit, but he “had a personality that only his good friends found appealing, and he stood for a narrow Old School confessionalism and exclusivism that many people today find appalling.”

One last example of an Orthodox Presbyterian who could not stomach Machen’s combativeness is John R. Frame, for many years a professor at Westminster (in Philadelphia and at California) and a minister in the OPC. In his book, Evangelical Reunion Frame indicated his discomfort with the militancy that had characterized the OPC since its founding, and more recently in his infamous article, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” he registered a complaint similar to Noll and Marsden: “The Machen movement was born in the controversy over liberal theology.” “I have no doubt that Machen and his colleagues were right to reject this theology and to fight it,” Frame added. “But it is arguable that once the Machenites found themselves in a ‘true Presbyterian church’ they were unable to moderate their martial impulses. Being in a church without liberals to fight, they turned on one another.”

Aside from the merits of these assessments, the verdicts of Noll, Marsden, and Frame all point to a curious phenomenon among those in the second generation of Orthodox Presbyterians – that is, an unwillingness to fight for the Reformed faith combined with a strong dose of theological and ecclesiastical pacifism. None of these scholars thought Machen was wrong to oppose liberalism per se even if each person might assess the strength’s of Machen’s critique differently. But beyond the errors that liberalism posed, like many who were associated with the institutions that Machen founded – the OPC, Westminster Seminary, and the Presbyterian Guardian – these scholars were unprepared to go. Combating liberalism, then, was apparently acceptable because it was obviously wrong. But opposing errors among evangelical or Reformed Christians was apparently unacceptable for many in the second generation. Indeed, the views of Noll, Marsden, and Frame were not unusual among conservative Presbyterians during the 1970s and 1980s. In the OPC particularly, the reasons for contending for the Reformed faith looked increasingly pointless and the church sought ways to escape its rut, first by seeking a merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and then with the Presbyterian Church in America. In less than forty years, the fight had left the OPC and with its departure had come reassessments of Machen, his role in the controversies of the 1920s and 1930s, and even his legacy.

Who Will Review in that Great Day?

Our Virtuous Commonwealth of Pennsylvania correspondent sends us news of a book, From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, on limited definite atonement. It features chapters by:

Raymond A. Blacketer, Henri A. G. Blocher, Amar Djaballah, Sinclair Ferguson, Lee Gatiss, David Gibson, Jonathan Gibson, Matthew S. Harmon, Michael A. G. Haykin, Paul Helm, David S. Hogg, Robert Letham, Donald Macleod, J. Alec Motyer, cJohn Piper, Thomas R. Schreiner, Daniel Strange, Carl R. Trueman, Stephen J. Wellum, Garry J. Williams, and Paul R. Williamson.

It comes with endorsements from:

J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, Michael Horton, David Wells, John Frame, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Ligon Duncan, and Kelly M. Kapic.

So who is left who teaches theology or historical theology to review this book? And will those people feel all that kindly to a book whose editors overlooked them?

Sometimes publishers go overboard with endorsements and take out of circulation people who should be reviewing the book. Of course, endorsements may sell more books than reviews. But I doubt it.