Why Reformed Protestantism is Safe

You have ways to avoid the excesses of Jonanthan Edwards (which you never learn about from the New Calvinists), John Wesley, and Jim and Tammy Bakker:

From Edwards and Wesley, we receive a fixation on the will, a desire to create enclaves of piety, and a belief in the possibility of the individual’s direct experience of God. In the work of their successors, such as Charles Grandison Finney, we find latent belief in the sinlessness of the true self and an approach to revival characterized by the appearance of improvisation and spontaneity. These preachers cultivated the spirits of the multitude through results-focused experimentalism in the context of camp meetings around the country, sowing in the American character the seeds of enthusiasm that would yield strange harvests in every decade thereafter. The later 19th century saw the development of quasi- and post-Christian reform movements, fads, and pop-philosophies that would call individuals to embrace their higher selves—such as “New Thought,” which centered the will in a larger project of spiritual self-advancement through the unleashing of “the creative power of constructive thinking.”

The 20th century inherited from these enthusiastic forebears an epochal optimism. Even in times of anxiety and despair, there is a hopefulness in the American self, and this hopefulness is built upon that self’s utter reality in a world of mere appearances; though circumstances change, the self remains a firm foundation. The literary critic Harold Bloom captured something of the strangeness of this in his provocative and infuriating book The American Religion. “The soul stands apart,” he writes, “and something deeper than the soul, the Real Me or self or spark, thus is made free to be utterly alone with a God who is also quite separate and solitary, that is, a free God or God of freedom.” In essence, Bloom describes a post-Protestant Gnostic cult of the self: “The American finds God in herself or himself, but only after finding the freedom to know God by experiencing a total inward solitude.”

Bloom’s analysis hinges on a metaphysical intuition: that the self is uncreated, and it knows, rather than believes in, its own innocence and divinity. “Awareness, centered on the self, is faith for the American religion,” Bloom wrote, and this religion of the self “consistently leads to a denial of communal concern.” Christ is internalized to a point of blurred identity with the “real me.” Such are the fruits of what Bloom calls the “doctrine of experience”—an outgrowth from the taproot of religious enthusiasm. Christianity, Bloom suggests, was too cramped for the young, unbounded nation. Abandoning doctrinal encumbrances such as belief in original sin (or sometimes, belief in sin at all), an intuitive and endlessly innovative spirituality grew to meet this need.

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Wild spirits prepared the way for the coming of the Bakkers. Distinct from mainline, fundamentalist, and evangelical varieties of Protestantism—but eventually influential in all three—Pentecostalism grew out of late-19th-century Methodist holiness movements, dramatically emerging through a revival in Los Angeles that began in 1906 and lasted for a decade. With a mandate to seek out the signs and wonders attributed to Christ’s apostles in the book of Acts, Pentecostals trembled, shouted, spoke in tongues, and did much else to startle and shock the sensibilities of average Americans. Promises of dramatic spiritual and physical healing found great purchase among those in poverty, and the new enthusiasm became disreputable both for its excesses and its hard-up—and racially diverse—demographics.

If Tim Keller wants to join that company of enthusiasts, have at it.

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A Saturday Morning Joke

Why is Redeemer PCA, NYC, not in the Gospel Coalition’s Church Directory?

Because TKNY is a brand and the Coalition is only an outlet.

Not sure that is as funny as “how many Teamsters does it take to change a light bulb? Ten, you got a problem with that?” But it was a curious discovery today when in response to a friend’s email about churches in NYC for a relative living there, I looked at the OPC’s church directory (none in Manhattan) and then went kicking and screaming to the Coalition’s website to look at the Church Directory. I assumed Keller’s congregation would be there but that I might find other evangelical congregations downtown. I was surprised to see that Redeemer was not there.

Maybe the directory is not up to date. Of course, the Coalition is comprised of individuals whose congregations need not be part of the allies. But a search at Redeemer’s website for TGC shows only one hit. So it looks like my conclusion is sound, even if the joke is not.

This points to another curious feature of Tim Keller’s status in the Presbyterian and evangelical worlds. Part of the point I tried to make in Engaging with Keller was that he does not fit in with the rules or expectations of his Presbyterian communion. It appears the same is true of the Gospel Coalition. That would seem to put Keller in John Wesley territory where the world is his parish.