Old Lifey

In my (all about mmmmmeeeeEEE) estimation, the Coen brothers worst movies were Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers. I have seen each only once and the thought of re-viewing does not generate the pheromones that their other movies do. (Recently watched Hail, Caesar! and experienced much mirth.) I am not sure what happened on these movies, but I’ve always felt Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers were the kind of productions the Hollywood system would yield if trying to be Coenesque. It’s like Hollywood trying to give that Coen Brothers’ feel (and remember what Hollywood did when it tried to bring to the screen that Barton Fink feeling.)

All of which is to say that when Justin Taylor praises cynicism (granted in the voice of Carl Trueman), you begin to wonder if The Gospel Coalition is trying to produce something not quite so pietistic.

Here’s Trueman:

And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon. Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before. Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.

Here’s Taylor:

Of course, cynicism is not the only thing a historian offers to the church, and cynicism by itself can be a vice and not a virtue. Neverthless, Trueman is right. We should listen to those who have a built-in skepticism about the latest hype because they know enough to have a proper perspective.

Seriously? Has anyone at TGC listened to any of the skepticism about the hype of celebrity pastors and the alliances they form?

It’s not history that teaches you to take the Allies of the gospel with a grain of salt, it’s doctrine of the church. Don’t do ministry without one.

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Remember When Being Nice Would Win the Day?

How a little reminder of 1929 clears the cobwebs.

Once upon a time, the Gospel Allies scored points against Reformed confessionalists by claiming the high ground of nice. Remember when Jared Wilson wrote this?

Cold-hearted rigidity is not limited to those of the Reformed persuasion, of course. You can find it in Christian churches and traditions and cultures of all kinds. In fact, to be fair, I have found that those most enthralled with the idea of gospel-wakefulness, those who seem most prone to champion the centrality of the gospel for life and ministry, happen to be of the Reformed persuasion. So there’s that. But gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism.

Or how about when Justin Taylor chimed in?

Angry Calvinists are not like unicorns, dreamed up in some fantasy. They really do exist. And the stereotype exists for a reason. I remember (with shame) answering a question during college from a girl who was crying about the doctrine of election and what it might mean for a relative and my response was to ask everyone in the room turn to Romans 9. Right text, but it was the wrong time.

This raises an important qualifier. The “angry” adjective might apply to some folks, but it can also obscure the problem. In the example above, I wasn’t angry with that girl. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. But I failed to recognize what is “fitting” or necessary (cf. Eph. 4:29) in the moment. This is the sort of thing that tends to be “caught” rather than “taught” and can be difficult to explain. But there’s a way to be uncompromising with truth and to be winsome, humble, meek, wise, sensitive, gracious. There’s a way of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) such that our doctrines are “adorned” (Titus 2:10) and our words are “seasoned” with salt and grace (Col. 4:6). To repeat, the category of “anger” is often too broad and can miss the mark. As Kevin DeYoung pointed out to me, “Some Calvinists are angry, proud, belligerent people who find Calvinism to be a very good way to be angry, proud, and belligerent. Other Calvinists are immature—they don’t understand other people’s struggles, they haven’t been mellowed by life in a good way, they can only see arguments and not people. The two groups can be the same, but not always.”

So when Tim Keller advocated women’s subordination, he did so in precisely the categories that elicit New Calvinist religious affections (thanks to our southern correspondent):

We feel that there is a deep inconsistency in the phrase “evangelical feminism”. The feminists who are consistent recognize the Bible as a sexist book throughout. They reject it. The feminists who try to hold to complete Biblical authority have, really, an impossible balancing act to conduct. . . .

We know from experience that our position on women-in-ministry dissatisfies many people. Many friends from the traditional evangelical church find it far too “liberal” and “permissive”, while many other friends on the other side still feel it is oppressive. Our position is not totally unique. See J. Hurley’s book, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective or Susan Foh’s book, Women and the Word of God. They come close to where we are.

The fact remains that nearly everyone we meet is more “conservative” or else more “liberal” than we are. Thus we appeal to our friends to work with us on this. We do not to make this issue a cause of division, as we said above. We see no reason why friends with the same view of the Bible cannot work together, all the while influencing each other and refining one another’s viewpoint in order to become truly Biblical. Please be partners with us.

Balance, moderation, partnership — these were the calling cards of the New Calvinists. And for them, it was the Old Schoolers and Truly Reformed who were poorly positioned to represent Calvinism to the contemporary urban and global world. Some of us tried to explain that disagreement was not anger, and that standing in a specific tradition might cut down on “partnership.” We even thought that the medium of the World Wide Interweb thrived better on provocation than moderation. But for almost fifteen years the New Calvinists thought they had squared the circle, and Keller was proof positive at ground zero of global urban life in the United States.

What went wrong? One problem may have been living in a Gospel Coalition bubble and not engaging the concerns of “angry Calvinists.” But even more harmful was forgetting the antithesis and misreading the culture. Keller’s “success” in New York suggested (and sometimes actually asserted) that a new day had dawned for conservative evangelicalism. Modern Americans were truly willing to hear a kinder, gentler Protestantism. How could you deny that if the most secular and most urban place in the United States had received Keller the way New York City did? You certainly had to think that modern America was much more hospitable to faith if Keller was a best-selling author and the darling of religion journalists? Keller himself told lots of Presbyterians how the direction of the modern world was heading in a faith-friendly direction. I still remember the Power Point presentations I witnessed while on the faculty at WTS about the church in the city’s future.

What if while considering those trends predicted by economists and futurologists, New Calvinists had pondered the Bible more?

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3)

That may tilt more Rod Dreher than Jamie Smith. But if you’re going to minister the word and teach in a seminary, doesn’t the apostle Peter count more than Peter Drucker?

Perspective on Tim’s Toxic Teaching

W-w will not help you sort this out. Carol Howard Merritt cannot tell the difference between Tim Keller and Tim Bayly:

I know that people are angry that Tim Keller doesn’t believe in women in the pastorate. But, my friends, this goes much, much deeper than women not being able to be ordained as Pastors, Elders, and Deacons. Complementarianism means married women have no choice over their lives at all.

So as Princeton Theological Seminary celebrates Tim Keller’s theology, I will be mourning. As he presents his lecture and receives his $10,000 award, I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that women’s genetalia is up for grabs by any man with power and influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear. Instead we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.

God, help us.

Meanwhile, Justin Taylor can’t tell the difference between Old Life and Carol Howard Merritt.

What help would confessional Presbyterianism give? It could provide a standard for teaching that cuts through male headship, or women’s liberation, or macho heterosexuality as the bright lines of Christian identity.

And notice this. Tim Keller was riding the wave of progressivism that swept through America post-Bush II. The world was getting better, conversations about race were ongoing, the economy was sluggish but improving, tolerance was increasing, cities were becoming more the sites of church life, and Christian apologists were gaining a hearing in the outlets of the mainstream media. Christians really could make a difference. A moderate, New School Presbyterianism with ties to Baptistic Calvinists could recover the cooperative endeavors that fueled Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, and Billy Graham. These sensible and extremes-avoiding Protestants could fill the vacuum created by the mainline.

Except that mainstream world, as Merritt indicates, has its own orthodoxy. You can be sensible, moderate, hip — heck, you can even like The Wire and channel Machen — and not measure up.

Maybe it turns out that Keller reached more Christians to think that the skeptics were really friendly rather than reaching the skeptics. Maybe it turns out that New School Presbyterians have more in common with Old School Presbyterians. What if they acted like it?

Rah Rah T(eam) G(ospel) C(oalition)

Justin Taylor recommends Richard Lovelace’s pro-revival book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, and shows the telltale faults of the gospel allies. Taylor praises a book that is more theology than history as a work of church history, and he reproduces endorsements from TGC heavyweights about how important Lovelace’s book was for their ministry and careers:

There is not another book quite like Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979).

It was published before Tim Keller and John Piper had written any popular books.

It was written back when Jonathan Edwards was hardly anybody’s homeboy.

It was written by an author who is a bit eccentric, but whose every page—agree or disagree—is worth wrestling with and pondering.

Tim Keller says that if you read this book, you’ll say that you now know where he got all his material. He still thinks we can’t do without this book.

David Powlison says he read the book multiple times in the 1980s.

Ray Ortlund has said that this book is rarely far from his thoughts.

So we have the problem of the veneer of uncontested scholarship followed by the problem of group think. Does anyone challenge Lovelace on historical or theological grounds? Or is Lovelace wonderful all the time because he means so much to TGC celebrities? (I suppose Justin has to adjudicate such questions sometimes as an editor at Crossway books but among TGC eminences such critical perspectives rarely arise.)

I ran a search of Lovelace’s book and discovered that it received no reviews in the standard historical journals (religious or secular). But at Reformed Journal, Mark Noll, then a relatively obscure young scholar, raised precisely the sort of concerns that should have dawned on Taylor, Tim Keller, Ray Ortlund, and David Powlison before praising the book in such glowing ways. Noll’s concerns are also those that confessional Protestants bring to the book:

The more diffuse second half of the book proposes programs for personal and parish renewal, while warning against emotional, spiritual, and theological errors which lead revivals astray. It contends for a faith that neglects neither personal spirituality nor doctrinal orthodoxy nor structural reform. It concludes with a potpourri of concerns pointing out the value to renewed Christians of remaining in their denominations, offering a blueprint for artistic revival among evangelicals, and stressing the need for a socially active faith.

The book attempts so much that it is bound to leave each reader unsatisfied at some points. To quibble, I found it strange that Lovelace would exalt Jonathan Edwards as a flawless model for ongoing spiritual renewal. However influential Edwards’ Narrative of Surprising Conversions was for the Great Awakening of the 1730’s and 1740’s, the message of renewal evidently did not permeate even Edwards’ own Northampton congregation, which dismissed him less than a decade after the flowering of the revival. Also, Lovelace’s repeated contrast between the spiritual vitality of today’s young people and the enculturated sterility of the older generation is naive.

More seriously, Lovelace exhibits a strange lack of concern for “steady state” Christianity. He focuses so intently upon the manifestations of spiritual renewal in local churches, denominations, and society as a whole—his enthusiasm is so great for the rare moments of dramatic spiritual quickening in Christian history—that he neglects what have been the day-in, day-out realities for most Christians in most eras of the church’s history. Work and family life, for instance, receive little attention here Yet if spiritual renewal is to be a sustaining presence in the church at large, it must certainly go beyond what theologians, preachers, denominational officials, and other professional Christian workers do for a living It must even go beyond what lay people do in devotion, worship, witness, and Christian social involvement. One group of Lovelace’s heroes, the Puritans, recognized the need for Christian renewal to remake relationships in the home and workplace. Yet, except for a few brief comments concerning “theological integration,” Lovelace seems content to leave untouched that artificial division between spiritual and secular worlds which has so bedeviled the church. (“Breadth and Longevity,” Nov. 1980)

Is Noll being unnice to suggest that Lovelace promises more than he delivers? Or that steady state Christianity (what some might call confessional Protestantism) is superior to the emotionally laden and earnest evangelicalism that Edwards promoted and for which the gospel allies are nostalgic? Are the gospel allies guilty of the same flaws as Lovelace? Who will compel them to see their weaknesses if critics don’t do it? If they refuse to listen to meanies like Old Life, how about Mark Noll?

Fewer high fives, more sobriety.

For Those Without Ears to Hear

Justin Taylor revives Billy Sunday’s career by collecting comments on what the evangelist sounded like and even a few clips of the preacher himself. Taylor leaves out arguably the most insightful observer of Sunday, H. L. Mencken, whose critique extends as much to evangelicalism as to the baseball-player-turned-evangelist himself:

As for his extraordinary success in drawing crowds and in performing the hollow magic commonly called conversion, it should be easily explicable to anyone who has seen him in action. His impressiveness, to the vegetal mind, lies in two things, the first being the sheer clatter and ferocity of his style and the second being his utter lack of those transparent pretensions to intellectual superiority and other worldliness which mark the average evangelical divine. In other words, he does not preach down at his flock from the heights of an assumed moral superiority — i.e. inexperience of the common sorrows and temptations of the world — but discharges his message as man to man, reaching easily for buttonholes, jogging in the ribs, slapping on the back. The difference here noted is abysmal. Whatever the average man’s respect for the cloth, he cannot rid himself of the feeling that the holy man in the pulpit is, in many important respects, a man unlike himself . . . .; his aura is a sort of psychic monastery; his advice is not that of a practical man, with the scars of combat on him, but that of a dreamer wrapped in aseptic cotton.

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb and his indulgence in obviously unclerical gyration on his sacred stump, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important. . . . It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and (to the ingenuous) self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

If Edwards Didn't Do It, Why Would a New Calvinist?

Justin Taylor lists errors to avoid in a Christmas sermon:

Don’t say Jesus died when he was 33 years old.
Don’t explain the apparent absence of a lamb at the Last Supper by only saying Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb.
Don’t say the same crowds worshiped Jesus on Palm Sunday and then cried out for his crucifixion on Good Friday.
Don’t bypass the role of the women as witnesses of the resurrected Christ.
Don’t focus on the suffering of Jesus to the extent that you neglect the glory of the Cross in and through the Resurrection.

Wouldn’t it be better not to preach a Christmas sermon altogether? After all, Edwards didn’t preach Christmas sermons. And I thought he broke the mold.

What's Missing?

The visible church, preaching, worship, and the Lord’s Day, for starters. These are what are missing from a summary of “Reformed-Evangelical” spirituality from Peter Adam (lots of redemptive historical heft there) via Justin Taylor:

Christ is the mediator of the revelation of God, so this spirituality is Christ-centred, responding with faith in Jesus Christ, and especially to his saving death and resurrection.

Christ has revealed the Father, so this spirituality is that of trust in God our Father, his love and kindness in Christ, and his sovereign and providential rule over everything.

Christ has sent the Spirit, so believers are sealed or anointed with the Spirit, the Spirit witnesses within them that they are the children of God, and they use the gifts of God in the service of God.

The response of trusting Christ and obeying him, of loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength is common to all believers, so spirituality is not just an option for the advanced but is required of all the saints. It is a spirituality common to all the people of God. It is a spirituality of normal humanity, of daily life and duties, or work and play, of family and society.

God’s grace and acceptance of us in Christ means that we do not have to search for God, find him, ascend to him or journey towards him. God has come to us in his Son Jesus, spoken to us in the gospel, and welcomed us into his presence through Christ our High Priest. We stand now in God’s grace, we are now at peace with God, we can now have assurance of final salvation, through trust in his promises.

The great barrier to true spirituality is not the lack of technique in spiritual aptitude, but sin. Sin is the state of humanity in every aspect of life and personality, and the wages of sin is death. But God has dealt with our sin by the sacrifice of Christ, and has accepted us as his children. His holiness and righteousness are demonstrated in the death of Christ, our sin is atoned for and we are forgiven. We stand in his grace, and he works in us by the death and resurrection of Christ and by his Spirit, to change us into the likeness of Christ. God gives us faith and obedience, God trans- forms us, and God does his good works through us.

God has provided ‘means’ by which he works in us for his glory. We must make good use of the means provided by God, and not replace or supplement them with means that we devise. The means provided by God are explained in the Bible, namely the Bible itself, the fellowship of the people of God, prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and a right use of the creation. We should not neglect these means, nor use other means, such as statues, pictures, icons, silence or impressions of God’s will. We should not over-value the sacraments, those visible words of God. While we will hear echoes of the Bible in our inner selves, the God-given and certain place to hear God speaking is in the Bible.

The great means is the Bible, in which we find Christ clothed in all his promises. To love God is to love his words, and to be alert to the Spirit is to receive the words of the Spirit in the Bible. In the Bible we find God’s self-revelation, God’s character, God’s will and God’s plan. In the Bible God’s mystery, Christ, is now revealed. A corporate and personal spirituality of the Word is at the heart of biblical faith and life. We do not know everything about God and his plan, but what we do know is found in the Bible.

Prayer is an expression of our trust in God, and our dependence on him. It is gospel-shaped: we come to pray to God our Father through the power and goodness of Jesus’ death on the cross. This is the means of our access to God. We pray in response to God’s words in the Bible, so that we know the God to whom we pray, and what he has promised. As we read his Spirit-inspired words, the Spirit also works within us, prompting us to know that God is our Father, and that we may approach him with boldness because of Christ’s death for us on the cross. We pray to God alone, and not to saints, because we pray as instructed by God in the Bible. [bold mine]

Compare to chapter 21 of the Confession of Faith:

2.

Religious worship

is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

3. Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

4. Prayer is to be made for things lawful; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.

5. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

6. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth; as, in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself; so, more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.

7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

Or to chapter 25:

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

4. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

What’s added? The parachurch.

And the “right use of creation.”

Recycling is a means of grace?

And so the similarities between New Calvinism and neo-Calvinism continue, with paleo-Calvinism not an option for the other so-called Calvinists.

Should a Christian Be Worried about Riding a Bus Driven by a Non-Christian?

In roughly two weeks the missus and I will be returning to Turkey with students and faculty from the College. We spend a lot of time on a bus in order to go from Istanbul, down to Ephesus, out to Urfa, and back through the center of the country to Ankara and back to Istanbul — about 3,500 miles in all. I am packing lots of books.

Our driver in all likelihood will not be a Christian since Turkey’s Christian population is miniscule. But if he is the driver we had a year ago, he will be very good. From negotiating millenia old back streets in Istanbul or construction clogged avenues in Izmir, to remaining on the road while winding over and through the cliffs to Antalya or finding rest stops for his periodic smokes, this driver could drive a tour bus through the proverbial eye of a needle.

Justin Taylor’s recent post on Christian bus driving prompted these memories of Turkey. He asks a series of questions that generally adopt a 2k outlook. But Taylor can’t take the plunge and opts to play in the neo-Calvinist/pietist wading pool:

1) Does the Bible teach how to be a bus driver? No

2) Does the Bible teach how to be a Christian bus driver?

Of course. The Bible teaches that as Christians we should function within our God-ordained vocations (i.e., legitimate callings) (1) from biblical foundations, (2) with biblical motives, (3) according to biblical standards, and (4) aiming at biblical goals. These are the necessary and sufficient conditions for Christian virtue.

Faith working through love—before God and for our neighbor—is essential for virtuous action in our various vocations (1 Corinthians 13; Luke 10:27; Gal. 5:6, etc.). All things are to be done for God’s glory in accordance with his revealed will (1 Cor. 10:31). We are to work heartily unto God, not man, knowing that ultimately we are serving Christ before we serve our boss or our customer (Col. 3:23-24). We work in imitation of our creative, working God, and we work from a position of divine acceptance and not for a position of justification before him.

Well, if you rephrase the question, you could leave off “bus driver” and the answer would still apply (or you could insert YOUR VOCATION here). So the answer here is really a non-answer since it has nothing directly or overtly to do with driving a bus.

3) Is being a non-Christian bus driver inherently sinful?

[More pietism]

It depends on what we mean here.

The vocation itself is a legitimate calling, sanctioned by God.

But one’s spiritual condition is not irrelevant in God’s evaluation of the proper way to fulfill a vocation. The Bible teaches that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb. 11:6) and that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23); therefore, any vocational pursuit devoid of genuine Christian faith is ultimately marked by sin and is finally displeasing to God. (The Westminster Confession of Faith 16.7 is helpful on this.) Their work is used by God but not fully pleasing to God.

But God is not a passenger on the bus. I am. And I don’t care for the sake of transportation (as opposed to for the sake of eternity) whether the driver is Christian or Muslim. Is he able to deliver me and the rest of the passengers safely to our destination. Can he do so while conserving fuel (for the sake of the environment)? And can he drive in a way that protects the bus owner’s property (for the sake of the economy)? Can he drive in a way that is free from stress (for the sake of his family)?

4) Can a non-Christian be a good bus driver? Yes, by “common grace” (of course).

5) Is a Christian necessarily a better bus drive than a non-Christian?

No. Christians are justified (uncondemned because of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ) but indwelling, entangling sin still remains. That means that before glorification Christians will never have pure goals, motives, or standards. A non-Christian may achieve a higher degree of competency in his or her vocation than a Christian—though this should not be the case. Sometimes this is a result of the non-Christian’s idolatry (achieving skills and competency at the expense of God and family and friendship and service); at other times a non-Christian will simply have more natural gifting from God for a particular vocation (e.g., a bus driver with better eyesight, superior reflexes, driving skills, experience, etc.)

Again, the skills are different from the piety, so why try to make devotion correspond to ability?

6) Is there a distinctively Christian way to think about the particulars of each vocation?

Yes, I believe that there is. My sense is that the more intellectual and aesthetically oriented the vocation, the more work has already been done on a distinctively Christian approach. This is, in my part, because the contrast will be more wide-ranging and apparent and because the Bible seems to have more to say directly about these areas. I’m thinking, for example, of areas like philosophy, education, and politics. (For some examples, see Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” or the books in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series.) The same would be true for aesthetics, as in music, fine arts, and design. It can be more difficult to see in areas oriented toward manual labor. But there is still much work that can be done in these areas. One of the problems is that intellectuals and philosophers are more inclined to know and study areas they are more interested in, and therefore other vocations become neglected in terms of analysis.

Great, so we need bus drivers to theorize about bus driving and write books, complete with study guides. Wouldn’t it be better to have a country music singer write songs and croon about the challenges of bus driving?

If we simply break this down by three parties — God, the bus driver, and (all about) me, the passenger, we can say that being a Christian bus driver only matters to the driver (ultimately). Bus driving has nothing to do with the driver’s standing before God. God ordains bus driving, and it is part of his providential care for creation to provide good (and sometimes bad) bus drivers. But the eternal status of a saint has nothing to do with whether or not he drives a bus.

I as a passenger, as noted above, don’t care (for the sake of the trip) whether the bus driver is a Christian. And if he is self-consciously so, it could make the journey unnecessarily awkward.

But I can imagine these questions matter to a bus driver who is a Christian. Should he or she (sorry Tim and David) try to honor God and love neighbors through his or her vocation? Sure. But it’s no one else’s business. So why do we need to have everyone else talking about it?

It strikes me that this question is on the order of this: there a way of driving a bus that yields an electoral victory in 2016 for Hilary Clinton? I suppose there may be. But who wonders about such things? Bill?

Political Reflections — Pious or Otherwise

The debate last night has many Americans thinking about politics, not to mention the presidential campaign more generally. What these moments bring out are a host of observations on the nature of politics by believers. Some, like the Alliance Defending Freedom, have declared this coming Lord’s Day to be “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Pastors are supposed to use sermons to evaluate the presidential candidates according to “biblical truths and church doctrine.” Brian Lee, a URC pastor in Washington, D.C., doesn’t think much of this effort:

But most pastors are reluctant to exchange their spiritual freedom from politics to demonstrate their political freedoms for politics. A survey of 1,000 mainline and evangelical protestant pastors released this week suggests that only 1 in 10 believe they should endorse a candidate from the pulpit, despite the fact that almost half plan to personally endorse outside of their church role.

Furthermore, previous studies have shown that this reluctance isn’t based on belief that the government has a say on the content of their speech. Clearly, many pastors are constrained by the sanctity of their office, and in particular, the pulpit. They recognize the very real tradeoff that in our polarized age political speech may offend and drive off many members of the flock they are called to shepherd.

Furthermore, the New Testament offers no encouragement for direct political action. When Jesus was asked a trick question about the propriety of paying taxes — is there any other kind? — he asked whose name was on the coin, and told his followers to “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Later, when on trial for his life, he did not deny his royal authority, but instead claimed “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Then there are those instances where Christians try to strike a balance — avoid extremes at all cost. Justin Taylor offers an example of this:

It is true that “this world is not our home,” but it’s not true that “I’m just passing through” like a leisurely amusement park ride.

We are dual citizens, responsible and active members of both God’s spiritual kingdom and earthly kingdom. And if we seek to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength—and to love our neighbor as ourselves—then we should care to some degree about politics and elections and the role of government in our land. . . .

Some argue that we should be invested in evangelism or preaching or social justice instead of politics. But most of us can care about both. Let me offer two reasons why we, as Bible-believing, gospel-centered evangelicals, should care about politics at varying levels and degrees.

First, we care about politics because we care about God’s glory and God’s good gift. Everything is designed to be from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36)—including our government. Everything we do—from drinking our coffee in the morning to having a sandwich for lunch to voting at the booth to serving as an elected official—is to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). . . .

Second, we care about politics because we care about the good of our neighbors and the good of our country. If you have to choose between evangelism and politics, choose evangelism. Saving an eternal soul is more important than fixing a temporal need. But most of the time, we don’t have to choose.

In point of fact, we do need to choose based on how we reflect on this stuff. If evangelism is more important than transforming the city or electing the right candidate, it will mean that we treat cities and candidates as less important. People who aren’t invested in Major League Baseball don’t care about the playoffs, even if they care in some way about the players who are citizens or their neighbors who are fans. Our powers of assessment affect the time we devote to certain activities. Priorities matter. And that is why some members of the Gospel Coalition are trying to find ways to elevate the importance of the arts, cities, and Christian cultural (and political) engagement. One of the easiest Christian strategies is to follow Abraham Kuyper and call such activity “holy.” Then the temporal and earthly gains the significance of the eternal and the heavenly. I wish the folks at Gospel Coalition would mind the priority of their organization’s name.

This leaves the best reflection of all on politics — the one uncluttered by religious outlook. Here I cut and paste from a post earlier today at Front Porch Republic.

The blogosphere is filled with opinions on last night’s debate between the president and the challenger. The chattering classes has gotten a whole lot larger. Unless you are a historian and follow the posts at the History News Network, you probably didn’t see Leo Ribuffo’s reflections. A good friend who teaches history at George Washington University, is writing a biography of Jimmy Carter, and calls himself a McGovern Democrat, Leo is also wittily acerbic. Here is a good example (the rest is here):

Romney obviously won. The question is why. Quite possibly he won because he was channeling his inner Governor George Romney, a moderate Republican in the context of his era. In other words, having secured the Republican nomination, Mitt looked confident and relaxed because he was no longer confined to saying only things he didn’t believe. Perhaps if Romney is elected this inner George would prompt him to restrain the cultural conservatives and limited government zealots who dominate his party. I wouldn’t bet on it, but who knows? Lack of principle made Richard Nixon a better president for the welfare state than anyone expected.

Perhaps Obama lost the debate because he was having an off night. Or because he was over-confident. Or conversely, sensing the precariousness of his situation given the high level or unemployment, he channeled his inner Tom Dewey and decided to sit on his lead in the polls. Or perhaps, channeling his inner Michael Dukakis, he actually thinks a presidential election is about competence, not ideology. But I would speculate further that Obama had trouble mounting an effective and spirited defense of the welfare state because at heart he is a “new kind of Democrat” skeptical of government programs.

Whatever the reasons, Obama was lousy. Some pundits instantly attributed his abysmal performance to his “professorial” demeanor. This dopey short-hand has now become standard, akin to Jimmy Carter the engineer (wrong) and George W. Bush the “faith-based” president (even more wrong). Let’s abandon this cliché. Actual professors by definition hold jobs, which means that we had at least one successful job interview in which we looked people in the eye, explained our merits, and showed enthusiasm about our past work and future plans. Then, after being hired, we figured out how to adapt our complex and sometimes esoteric ideas to reach the audience at hand. As my old friend Warren Goldstein of the University of Hartford emailed me in mid-debate, “Most of us have to be 10 times better than that to keep 20 year olds awake in class.”

Where's the Boeuf?

Via Justin Taylor comes Mark Dever’s top-ten list on the factors that spawned the New Calvinist phenomenon (given Tim Keller’s precise definitions, I’m loathe to describe the young and restless as a movement). Here’s the list (each one receives a separate post at Dever’s blog):

1. Charles H. Spurgeon
2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
3. The Banner of Truth Trust
4. Evangelism Explosion
5. The inerrancy controversy
6. Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
7. J. I. Packer
8. John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul
9. John Piper
10. The rise of secularism and decline of Christian nominalism

Before offering an OldLife perspective, it is worth noting that Dever buries his lead by ranking John Piper at number nine. My impression, after reading Collin Hansen’s book, is that Piper and Desiring God (DG, you know, not always about me) is largely responsible for turning Millenials into Jonathan-Edwards-is-my-homeboy T-shirt wearing evangelicals. Dever agrees even if number nine doesn’t reflect the agreement:

When all those seminarians and ministers in their 20’s stood up at Together for the Gospel in April of 2006, if I couldn’t give a 10-part answer, but if I had to give a 2-word human explanation for their presence there, I know what two words I would utter: “John Piper.”

What is curious about this list, with all due respect (going Hollywood alert) to my friend, Mark Dever, is how culturally and historically thin it is. Granted, as an OPC elder, I am surprised that the PCA (nos. 4 and 6) gets more credit than my own communion and its influential scholars such as Machen, Van Til, Young, Murray, Stonehouse, Kline, VanDrunen, Fesko, and even — dare we say — Trueman.

But denominational bragging rights aside, the list is decidedly Anglo-centric and recent. Nothing on the list suggests the sixteenth-century origins of Reformed Protestantism in Zurich and Geneva, nor the huge contribution that French-speaking Protestants made in the initial phases of Calvinism (Calvin, after all, was not English). Nor does this list acknowledge the remarkable nature of the Dutch Reformation, both in its hiccups and fits during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in its modern phase guided and inspired by Abraham Kuyper. And not to be discounted is the influence of Scottish Presbyterianism (though Banner of Truth is in Edinburgh) again in the initial phases of reformation, a presence at the Westminster Assembly, and the important struggles of the nineteenth century in which Thomas Chalmers figured so prominently. This does not begin to admit the important influences on American Calvinism by immigrants from these various communions who settled in North America and established denominations and schools to propagate the Reformed faith. Princeton Seminary would surely be high on such a list, as would its step-child, Westminster. So too would be the Dutch-American contribution from western Michigan.

All of this raises a question about how well the New Calvinism represents the Old Calvinism. Does it stand in continuity or is it really new? And if new, how much might it need to learn from the old, especially if wearing the Calvinist badge? If most of your sources of influence and inspiration come from the twentieth century when a theological tradition is four hundred years older, and if it draws largely on the English variety of experimental Calvinism without listening to French, German, Dutch, Scottish, and Swiss voices, you may be guilty of selling a Wendy’s hamburger when you could be serving Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.