House of Cards vs. Game of Thrones

Lots of discussion lately about watching sin in movies and television series.  The reason appears to be the new season of Game of Thrones.  That genre interests me not at all so I haven’t seen any of it, and I’ve only watched one episode of House of Cards (more of the original).  Too many episodes of West Wing and Friday Night Lights still to see. (And now there’s Hinterland.)

After watching last night with colleagues and students in the German literature department Run Lola Run, I started wondering again about viewing sin on the screen.  Kevin DeYoung and Nick Batzig argue for caution when watching movies with nudity and sex.  Even Katelyn Beaty finds her inner Nashville Statement when it comes to watching programs that include rape scenes.

But what about Lola and Manni from Run Lola Run? Here we have a guy entangled with drug dealers (likely) needing to pay them their money after having lost it on a subway.  And we have his girlfriend who robs a bank to help her man.  And we have a viewer (me) rooting them on.  Should I have worried about breaking the ninth commandment?

And is it more heinous to watch a movie that portrays violations of the seventh commandment compared to one that depicts breaking the ninth commandment?

Is the Larger Catechism of any help?

Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Q. 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A. Sins receive their aggravations,
1. From the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings; against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
3. From the nature and quality of the offence: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
4. From circumstances of time, and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.

It looks like what qualifies as more aggravating than something else has a lot to do with the person offended and the time of the offense. Watching a show of a disreputable nature on the Lord’s Day might be worse than seeing it on Wednesday night (as long as your not skipping prayer meeting, of course). And if you watch something the king thinks you shouldn’t see, that carries more weight than — sorry Kevin — your PCA pastor.

But what about point three — the nature of the offense? There it sure looks like stealing from a bank to pay your re-election campaign staff is more heinous than simply stealing from a bank. But maybe I’m wrong. I also see nothing from the catechism to suggest that sexual sins are more heinous than fiscal or false words.

If that’s true, it looks like a lot of people obsess about what is simply looking at entertainment serious art. Whatever might these people make of Michelangelo’s David? A fig leaf, please!!

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How to Love America

Noah Millman proposes this (while meditating on G. K. Chesterton):

People feel an attachment, and a willingness to fight to protect, their homes, and their communities. That can take noble and ignoble forms — sometimes fighting to defend your community means committing injustice (as, for example, if you band together with your neighbors to prevent someone from a disfavored ethnic group from moving to the neighborhood). But the feeling is rooted in a direct experience, not an abstract attachment.

For any political community larger than a city, though, that attachment necessarily becomes abstract. So you need to teach your children why they should care about that larger community, be proud of it, and treat it as constituent of their identity.

Chesterton famously quipped that the sentiment, “my country, right or wrong” is like the sentiment, “my mother, drunk or sober.” But the thing about the latter is that she is your mother whether she’s drunk or sober — it’s just that your obligations change based on her condition. If she’s drunk, you won’t let her drive — instead, you’ll make sure she gets home safely.

The question, then, is how you teach your children to see their country as, in some sense, like a mother when their relationship is necessarily abstract rather than directly felt. A love of country based on the lie that your mother is never drunk will be too brittle to survive any kind of honest encounter with reality. But it seems to me equally problematic to say that you should love your country because it is on-balance a good one. Does anyone say about their mother that they love them because on-balance they are sober?

While Millman stresses the particular (a people, a place, a way of life — think baseball), Kevin DeYoung goes abstract and is thankful for the “idea” of America:

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity–whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them–no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree–by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

Oh, by the way, if all humans have these rights irrespective of government, then how is that the basis for founding a nation? Didn’t this way of thinking lead in France to Napoleon’s wars to teach Europe liberty good and hard?

The thing is, if you stress ideas you wind up with a creedal nation, one that you tend to treat like a church, with people divided into the camps of orthodox and heretics, saints and pagans. Protestants suffer from this affliction and it shows in the recent anti-liberalism of Peter Leithart and Jake Meador.

Leithart took Matt Tuininga to task for turning Calvin into a liberal. Leithart added an objection to liberalism that fits with the nation-as-idea mentality:

Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her or hir own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision of the common good. That’s a deviation from classical and traditional Christian politics (including Calvin’s), which sought to orchestrate common life toward a common end—the cultivation of virtue or the glory of God. In fact—and this is the other side of the critique—liberal societies do have substantive commitments. The liberal state pretends to be a referee, but beneath the striped shirt it wears the jersey of the home team. Under the cover of neutrality, liberal order embodies, encourages, and sometimes enforces an anthropology, ecclesiology, and vision of the good society that is often starkly at odds with Christian faith. Tuininga never confronts that line of analysis.

Since the U.S. is a liberal nation, it’s its liberal order becomes its an orthodoxy. But I thought the liberalism of the founders was not to form a society. They already had one — a people, a place, and a way of life. What they wanted was a liberal government, one that would not take sides in religion and other matters. If the U.S began to replace a liberal government with a liberal society, you could blame the centralizing and bureaucratizing effects of a national government that needed to organize the economy, schools, and industry to fight world wars, even cold ones. It really helps when the churches jump on the bandwagon and tell American officials the government is making the nation great.

Jake Meador thinks that the current spate of intolerance that liberals direct toward Christians is a function of liberalism itself:

If the move that western Christians attempt to make in response to all these challenges is to simply rebuild liberalism, then whatever victories we win will be short term. Liberalism is the soil from which the current regime has grown. It’s emphasis on individual autonomy and self-definition and the illegitimacy of unchosen authorities is precisely how we ended up where we are today.

So, two points: First, trying to Make Liberalism Great Again is probably no more realistic than trying to return America to the 1950s. In both cases, the order in question was the unique product of historical circumstances that our own era does not share. Thus any attempt to recreate said order is doomed to fail. Second, we need better language and concepts to make our case to both those within our church communities and those outside the church. Liberalism is not the way forward. It is the way toward further and deeper darkness. If we start thinking about common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts, then we may be onto something. But all of these things, of course, assume a sort of communitarian sensibility that has always had a hard time reconciling itself to the deeply democratic, egalitarian nature of American Christianity. Therefore, whatever our project ends up being, it figures to be a long-term thing.

Meador should likely include Protestantism as the soil out of which liberal progressivism grew. Protestants were intolerant of Roman Catholics and other outsiders. Remember the threat that parochial schools posed to public ones and the way that American governments insisted no parochial school receive a whiff of public funding (still in the balance in SCOTUS’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision). He has a point about “common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts.” I wish he had included baseball and drip coffee makers. But why these way-of-life matters are at odds with liberalism baffles me.

A truly liberal government, like the one the founders hoped for, was one with a fairly small footprint within the broader American society. Government, in other words, is not society. Communities and people groups have existed within the terms set by the founders for better or worse for the better part of two centuries.

The challenge for the U.S. on this holiday of independence is to figure out how to separate the nation from the government, so that officials do somethings, people and communities do other, and we have a national identity that does not revolve around an idea like liberty and justice for all, and the military campaigns that justify such abstract convictions.

To paraphrase Meador, Americanism or the liberal international order that the U.S. has maintained in its capacity as leader of the free world is not the way forward, at least for building attachments to the nation. We still need less national government, more attachments to people, places, and the ways of life that emerge from them.

2K Makes You (and mmmeeeeEEEE) Virtuous

That’s because two-kingdom theology allows you to distinguish between what is and isn’t explicitly a matter of faith.

For instance, Rod Dreher goes batty over Ben Carson’s remark (in support of Trump) that “Sometimes you put your Christian values on pause to get the work done.”

Unless Rod is thinking about joining the Covenanters, his very citizenship is an instance of putting aside Christian convictions — the Constitution, hello! — in order to accomplish a measure of social order among a people with different religious (and other) convictions. Or is Dreher in favor, as an Orthodox Christian, of some kind of Constantine political order? Then please send back the advance on the book on the Benedict Option since the original Benedict Option arose out of a sense that political establishment compromised genuine faith.

A little 2k could also help Archbishop Chaput who seems to be doing his impersonation of college undergraduates who fear the campus of Princeton University is but little removed from Ferguson, Missouri. The wikileaks of emails with critical remarks about Roman Catholic political maneuvering shows a hyper-sensitivity normally associated with 19-year olds (maybe spoiled ones at that). Chaput quotes approvingly an email from a non-Roman Catholic friend:

I was deeply offended by the [Clinton team] emails, which are some of the worst bigotry by a political machine I have seen. [A] Church has an absolute right to protect itself when under attack as a faith and Church by civil political forces. That certainly applies here . . .

Over the last eight years there has been strong evidence that the current administration, with which these people share values, has been very hostile to religious organizations. Now there is clear proof that this approach is deliberate and will accelerate if these actors have any continuing, let alone louder, say in government.

These bigots are actively strategizing how to shape Catholicism not to be Catholic or consistent with Jesus’s teachings, but to be the “religion” they want. They are, at the very core, trying to turn religion to their secular view of right and wrong consistent with their politics. This is fundamentally why the Founders left England and demanded that government not have any voice in religion. Look where we are now. We have political actors trying to orchestrate a coup to destroy Catholic values, and they even analogize their takeover to a coup in the Middle East, which amplifies their bigotry and hatred of the Church. I had hoped I would never see this day—a day like so many dark days in Eastern Europe that led to the death of my [Protestant minister] great grandfather at the hands of communists who also hated and wanted to destroy religion.

Michael Sean Winters thinks that the charge of anti-Catholic bigotry is overheated and shows the calming effects of 2k:

The supposed “bigotry” towards the Catholic Church exposed in the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, released by Wikileaks last week, is nothing of the sort, despite the best attempts of some to make it so. This whole controversy is simply an effort, a stupid effort, to stop Clinton’s ascent to the White House. I say stupid because crying “wolf” is never a smart political or cultural strategy and, besides, anyone who is genuinely concerned about bigotry could not possibly be supporting Trump. This is about Republican operatives who hold the portfolio for Catholic outreach doing their part to ingratiate themselves with Trump.

Even though Winters is Roman Catholic and writes for the National Catholic Reporter, his additional comments reveal that he understands 2k and is willing to employ it:

First, conservative Catholics have every right to be Republicans, to try and play their faith in ways that correspond to their conscience, to reach conclusions that might differ from that of more liberal Catholics. They sometimes leave aside certain concerns that I think are central to the relevance of our faith at this time in history, but as Halpin said in explaining the context of the email, there are those on the left who do the same. The bastardization came when conservative Catholics claimed theirs was the only acceptable application of faith. Second, by aiding the reduction of faith to morals, these conservative Catholics have unwittingly been agents of the very same secularization they claim to oppose. As soon as our faith is no longer about the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, it has no claims to authority and people will walk away.

The only problem for Winters is that his bishops and pope keep commenting on political matters that invite the laity to bastardize the faith by seeking papal authority to back up — like — their own opinions — man.

Even Kevin DeYoung sheds a little 2k light to the allies who are usually tongue-tied by the transformationalist rhetoric of its NYC celebrity preachers:

This does not mean I think every Christian must come to the same decision in order to be a good Christian. There are simply too many prudential matters in the mix for Christians to be adamant that you absolutely cannot vote for so and so. . . . While our church might discipline a member for holding the positions Clinton holds or for behaving the way Trump has behaved, this does not mean we have biblical grounds for disciplining a church member who, for any number of reasons and calculations, may decide that voting for either candidate (or neither) makes the most sense. And if we wouldn’t discipline someone for a presidential vote, we should stop short of saying such a vote is sinful and shameful.

Now just imagine if Pastor DeYoung’s church or those of his gospel co-allies actually disciplined ministers who supported ministries of different faith and practice. It would be like having the Gospel Coalition show precisely the opposite of what DeYoung recommends for Christians when sorting out politics — firm about theology and ministry, soft about policy. But as we now know, the opposite is usually par for the course — indifferent about denominational distinctness and aggressive about civil affairs.

More 2k, more confessionalism, healthier churches, better citizens. Will that fit on a bumper sticker?

What If Historical Inquiry Isn't Comforting

Kevin DeYoung has a pretty positive spin on John Witherspoon’s commitment to Protestant unity without lapsing into doctrinal indifferentism:

Although he remained staunchly committed to and invested in Presbyterianism his whole life, Witherspoon was not a man of narrow party spirit. In his Treatise on Regeneration (1764), Witherspoon noted, “I am fully convinced, that many of very different parties and denominations are building upon the one ‘foundation laid in Zion’ for a sinner’s hope, and that their distance and alienation from one another in affection, is very much to be regretted.”[9] In his farewell sermon in Paisley, Witherspoon warned against “going too much into controversy” and developing “a litigious and wrangling disposition” that would lead Christians—and here he is quick to add the qualification “I mean real Christians”—into “innumerable little parties and factions.”[10] He longed for the day when the “unhappy divisions” among “protestants in general” would be “abolished” and those truly centered on Christ crucified would “be no longer ranked in parties and marshaled under names” but only strive with each other to see “who shall love our Redeemer most, and who shall serve him with the greatest zeal.”[11]

This ecumenical streak in Witherspoon was not borne out of doctrinal indifferentism. His desire for unity, for example, did not encompass Socinians, Pelagians, Catholics or any other group holding religious views he deemed antithetical to true biblical Christianity.[12] Witherspoon had no patience for the latitudinarian kind of unity he found among his colleagues in the Moderate Party.[13] In conjunction with the publication of his St. Giles’ sermon before the SSPCK (1758), Witherspoon penned a robust defense for pointing out error entitled “An Inquiry into the Scripture Meaning of Charity.”[14] With characteristic verve, Witherspoon attacked the increasingly popular notion among enlightened clergy that “charity was a far more important and valuable bond among Christians than exact agreement on particular points of doctrine.”[15] For Witherspoon, Christian unity was not rooted in downplaying doctrinal distinctives (least of all among those who could not be counted true believers), but in stressing the theological similarities that existed among born again Christians from a variety of denominations. “No man, indeed,” Witherspoon wrote, “deny it to be just, that every one should endeavor to support that plan of the discipline and government of the church of Christ, and even the minutest parts of it, which appear to him to be founded upon the word of God. But still sound doctrine is more to be esteemed than any form.”[16]

This is a plausible reading of some of the material, though Witherspoon remains a mystery to many who have studied him — Mark Noll is still puzzled why Witherspoon threw out Edwards’ idealist philosophy when he started as president of the College of New Jersey. Explaining Witherspoon can be almost as difficult as reading Pope Francis’ tea leaves.

But what Kevin needs to keep in mind is what Witherspoon’s politics and civil religion might have done to facilitate doctrinal indifferentism. In his widely circulated sermon on behalf of independence, the Scotsman said this:

. . . he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country. Do not suppose, my brethren, that I mean to recommend a furious and angry zeal for the circumstantials of religion, or the contentions of one sect with another about their peculiar distinctions. I do not wish you to oppose any body’s religion, but every body’s wickedness. Perhaps there are few surer marks of the reality of religion, than when a man feels himself more joined in spirit to a true holy person of a different denomination, than to an irregular liver of his own. It is therefore your duty in this important and critical season to exert yourselves, every one in his proper sphere, to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence of his name and worship, and obedience to his laws.

One way of reading that is that Witherspoon felt more in common with a Methodist who lived an upright life than a Presbyterian who insisted on perseverance of the saints. The kicker here is that Witherspoon aligns such a pursuit of holiness with the American cause, thereby enlisting a form of moralistic Protestantism on the side of patriotism and nationalism.

Witherspoon is not necessarily to blame for crafting a recipe that liberated a devotion that supported American independence from the “circumstantials” of Presbyterianism. He had help — lots of it. But since we live at a time where unsexy America promotes both Christian morality and American exceptionalism to the detriment of sound moral theology and ecclesiology, I do tend to conclude that in Witherspoon we have the seeds of Protestant liberalism and its Christian Right progeny.

Everywhere you turn in history, you step on Sideshow Bob’s rakes.

Rev. Kev, Bring 'Em Home

Kevin DeYoung, on the threshold of becoming Presbyterian, lists 10 reasons he is thankful for the PCA. The last one goes like this:

10. Opportunity. The PCA is a young denomination. I’ve moved from the oldest Protestant denomination in the country to one of the newest. There are always challenges that come with youth (who am I? what will I be when I grown up? how do I relate to those who have gone before me?). But there are also great opportunities too.

Like pursuing a gospel-driven diversity that listens and learns without patronizing and pigeon-holing.

Like engaging a wayward world with more theology, more conviction, more worship, and more of God.

Like showing the world that real unity can only be found in truth, that the richest doctrine leads to the fullest doxology, that the highest Christology produces the best missiology, and that staunchest Calvinists can be the most loving people you’ve ever met.

So, why doesn’t the Gospel Coalition join the PCA? Why don’t the allies follow Kevin and realign with a Reformed church? I understand that would mean the end of the Gospel Coalition. But if we have churches like the PCA, why do we need the Gospel Coalition

Did We Miss May?

All the talk about religious freedom has turned the calendar ahead to June — the traditional month of weddings. Kevin DeYoung reminds us why marriage ceremonies are so important:

A wedding ceremony, in the Christian tradition, is first of all a worship service. So if the union being celebrated in the service cannot be biblically sanctioned as a an act of worship, we believe the service lends credence to a lie. We cannot come in good conscience and participate in a service of false worship. I understand that sounds not very nice, but the conclusion follows from the premise; namely, that the “marriage” being celebrated is not in fact a marriage and should not be celebrated.

Moreover, there has long been an understanding that those present at a marriage ceremony are not just casual observers, but are witnesses granting their approval and support for the vows that are to be made. That’s why the traditional language speaks of gathering “here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation.”

This is true.

But have Christians truly been relying on such convictions in the way they practice wedding ceremonies? When my brother was married in 1973, the ceremony was simple and the reception even simpler — cake and punch in the church basement. (For all fathers with daughters out there, one phrase — “cake and punch, cake and punch.”) By the time of mine eight years later, we upgraded to upscale finger food, and a trio of string instruments at an offsite location — one that wouldn’t allow champagne or wine (which was just as well because both sets of parents were abstainers). Today, a Christian family can’t hold a wedding and reception for under five figures — or a good down payment on a home, and the list of guests is a sign of which friends and family need to be honored or included.

In other words, Christians have hardly preserved a distinct way of doing marriage but have joined the surrounding culture in turning it into something excessive — sort of the marriage version of the Super Bowl.

So if Kevin wants us to go back to simpler times, fine and good. But let’s not act like Christians have been preserving the sanctity of ceremonies or vows or commitments. And let’s not forget the way gay marriage has spooked us into rethinking marriage. We didn’t object to weddings when our non-Christian neighbors invited us to the local mainline Protestant church for the ceremony and the country club for the reception. But now we do.

Is This What A McDonald's "Chef" Says To Himself?

That’s the analogy that Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly’s brief for the Gospel Coalition brought to mind. They begin by asking:

Should Christians who share many of the most important theological commitments partner across denominational lines for mutual support and collaborative ministry? Are there historical precedents for the kind of gospel networks we see flourishing in evangelicalism today? How do popular extra-ecclesial gospel partnerships work (or not work) in the current U.S. church scene?

They answer (oh the suspense), yes, and more helpings from the Gospel Coalition, please:

We have no desire to spend our days as apologists for man-made ministry acronyms. If every organization in this article disappeared tomorrow, the gospel would keep going out and Christ would keep building his church. The question is not whether any of these partnerships are essential. The question, at least for us, is whether they help to support what is essential. Do they serve the local church? Do they help pastors? Do they defend the truth? Do they preach the gospel? Do they get people into their Bibles? Do they provoke people to pursue holiness? Will someone who gets deeply involved with the conferences, the resources, the websites, the documents, and the teaching of these networks end up more committed to the church, more engaged with Scripture, more sure of what they believe, more precise with doctrine, more equipped for reaching the lost, more passionate about the nations, and more delighted with the glory of God in the face of Christ? If the answer is a yes—or even a qualified yes—then for our part we are eager to see these movements flourish and eager to partner with those similarly concerned for and similarly committed to the same gospel.

The problem here is whether “ministry” can really happen outside the church or the context of a worshiping community that has clear lines of responsibility among members and their officers. In other words, is it not possible for Kelly and DeYoung to see that an outfit like the Gospel Coalition provides a meal — it is real food, yes — but a fast-food version of it. People who eat at McDonald’s are not going to be healthy if that is all they eat. People who only eat at McDonald’s have only a commercial relationship — the sales staff at McDonald’s doesn’t know my name and pays me no visit to find out if I’m eating regularly at home. I could also easily take my fast-food eating elsewhere — say to Burger King (Together for the Gospel) or Wendy’s (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) or In-and-Out-Burger (White Horse Media). But if I dine elsewhere, what does it cost me or McDonald’s except for some kind of numerical or accounting? Plus, does the staff at McDonald’s ever teach me how to cook, what to look for in the food I buy, the value of exercise, or how to set up a kitchen?

No.

But who does? Well, my mother did, which may be why we call the church our mother. Pastors regularly provide a sumptuous feast every Lord’s Day and then come along side to see if I am eating at home. They also provide instruction on how to read the Bible (cook for myself). And best of all, pastors and I have a relationship cemented by vows. Those ties are not always pleasant, sometimes boring, and maybe not thrilling in the Passion Conference sense (which since we are in the ballpark of analogies must be similar to the thrills of X Men though I wouldn’t know never having submitted to the gimmicks of its special effects). But those relationships are substantial and sustaining.

What is troubling then about the folks who cook up gatherings like the Gospel Coalition is that they don’t seem to understand the difference between spiritual fast food and ministerial slow food. And they don’t even seem to sense that the conveniences of fast food may not be healthy for those eaters who already have the rich fare of a local and disciplined congregation. I mean, if Gospel Coalition was providing spiritual fast food for a nation of starved eaters, then maybe their menu is the best they can do. But that isn’t the case. In fact, as Kelly and DeYoung admit, the designers of TGC are already pastors in congregations and denominations where real ministry already happens, where Christians are truly fed and instructed. So why would they purposefully offer an inferior product? Or could it be that they believe their product is superior?

If so, I’d like to know when Tim Keller takes Kathy out for their anniversary if they go to Jack in the Box.

Gratitude As the Basis for Obedience

The title of this post is not meant to echo the Guilt-Grace-Gratitude structure of the Heidelberg Catechism but to indicate that the Obedience Men and Boys should be forever grateful to Tullian Tchividjian for providing a target for those who believe sanctification is besieged in our time. If you look around on the web for information on antinomianism or the sanctification controversy, the only name that keeps surfacing is Pastor T’s, with responses from Kevin DeYoung or the Gospel Reformation Network. Here is one example with a follow-up to a response:

I’ve read with interest debates in the Reformed community on the doctrine of sanctification the last few years. Debates about the motivations and sources of sanctification now are worked through in discussions on Ref21, The Gospel Coalition, and other Reformed web blogs. Tullian Tchividjian has been at the center of these discussions and has received critiques from theologians and pastors such as Rick Phillips, William B. Evans, and Kevin DeYoung.

But if you look at the Gospel Reformation Network’s 5 Questions to church leaders, you have to conclude that a controversy is palpable in Reformed circles over the place of the law and obedience in the Christian life. For instance, to the question, “Is there misunderstanding about Sanctification within the PCA and the broader Reformed community?”:

There is significant misunderstanding among some in the PCA regarding Sanctification. More specifically, there are a number of ministers and congregants who have (wittingly or unwittingly) been deeply influenced by a “Lutheranized” view of Sanctification.

The short answer to this question is yes. With the (proper) Reformed emphasis on grace alone and faith alone, many believers have been delivered from the guilt of performance-driven Christianity. God loves us, and in Christ he freely and fully accepts us. Unfortunately, the liberating message of the gospel has led some within the Reformed community to de-emphasize the responsibility of Spirit-empowered effort to fight against sin and temptation. Like Joseph, we’re to run from temptation (Gen. 39:12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). And, according to Paul, we’re to sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Both require considerable exertion on the part of the believer.

Again, with Pastor T and his blog and videos, how would these people know about what is being preached and taught in PCA, OPC, URC, ARP, or RPCNA congregations?

First, how many Reformed or Presbyterian pastors preach doctrinal or catechetical sermons? If they do, then sanctification may be neglected, say like when the URC pastor when going through Heidelberg neglects Questions 88 to 115. Otherwise, most Reformed pastors are preaching through a book of the Bible where the doctrine of sanctification is not mentioned directly any more than the doctrine of the Trinity. If the Bible had a book dedicated to sanctification that most pastors were avoiding — say, the way they generally avoid Song of Solomon — then the obedience boys and men might have a point. But we don’t have much doctrinal preaching in our circles — as far as I can tell by observing the way OPC pastors operate. Otherwise, obedience and sanctification likely come up in the regular exposition of books of the Bible.

Second, how many of us who write on trends in the churches actually get around to other churches? Most of the people talking or blogging about the sanctification controversy are church officers or pastors whose duties don’t allow them to get out much. Maybe you pick up a vibe here at General Assembly, or sense a trend there when you go to a pastor’s conference. But who of us is to judge what pastors are teaching or preaching on such slight evidence? (For instance, not even Mark Jones’ book on Antinomianism has references to Pastor T or Jack Miller or Sonship in the index.)

By Implication

A couple of posts by the Gospel Allies caught my eye this week. The first, by Trevin Wax, wonders in a John Piper like manner, about the worldliness of watching movies.

I never subscribed to the fundamentalist vision that saw holiness in terms of cultural retreat or worldliness as anything that smacked of cultural engagement. I don’t subscribe to that position today.

But sometimes I wonder if evangelicals have swung the pendulum too far to the other side, to the point where all sorts of entertainment choices are validated in the name of cultural engagement. . . .

So, please don’t hear me advocating for a simplistic denunciation of Hollywood films. I am not. But I am concerned that many evangelicals may be expending more energy in avoiding the appearance of being “holier-than-thou” than we do in avoiding evil itself.

Yes, Paul used a popular poet of his day in order to make a point in his gospel presentation. Cultural engagement is important and necessary. But church history shows us that for every culture-engager there’s also a Gregory of Nyssa type who saw the entertainment mindset as decadent and deserving of judgment.

Is there justification for viewing gratuitous violence or sexual content?

At what point does our cultural engagement become just a sophisticated way of being worldly?

So if Wax is willing to question a believer’s participation in Hollywood’s products, why not by extension wonder about baptizing the modern metropolis as evidence of God’s kingdom coming? After all, Paul says nothing is unclean. And U.S. laws instruct us that Hollywood’s movies are legal. So too is New York City not unclean (nor is it holy like Jerusalem was), and the city is legally part of New York State (though residents in upstate New York bemoan it) and also belongs the United States. If Christians are doing nothing inherently wrong by living, working, or visiting New York City and its attractions, why doesn’t the same apply to Hollywood’s movies? Even better, if God is making himself known through major metropolitan centers like New York City of Sao Paulo, why can’t we in good neo-Calvinist fashion say that God is revealing himself through motion pictures?

The second piece was by Kevin DeYoung on the dangers of antinomianism:

People like John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson were arguing that we should not look for evidences of grace in our lives as confirmation of our election and justification. The antinomian impulse was one which maintained that good works were not necessary for salvation, that God delights in all Christians in the same way, that God does not see sin in the believer, that the moral law is no longer binding for Christians, that law and gospel are diametrically opposed in every way, that to strive after holiness smacks of legalistic effort, that we should not speak of spiritual duties or spiritual progress, that the subject of spiritual activity is not the believer but Christ. Clearly, antinomianism was much more complicated and went much deeper than a simple indifference to sin.

. . . antinomianism is not a phantom, a straw man, or an unheard of error in our day. Throughout history we see that the recovery of grace and the triumph of gospel-centrality are often accompanied by confusion surrounding sanctification and less than careful statements about the nature of obedience, the love of God, and human exertion. We need to know our Bibles better, our history, and our confessions.

By implication, what does this mean for participating in a denomination or a parachurch organization that does not show itself to be disciplined, that is, a church or body that does not follow its confessional standards or even disregards them? Isn’t the lack of discipline that comes with a mainline denomination or with evangelical lowest-common-denominator cooperationism “for the sake of the gospel” a form of institutional antinomianism?

I’d like to see Gospel Allie videos address these topics.

What Does Reformed Modify?

Hint: the body of Christ we call church.

Kevin DeYoung defends a wide berth for Reformed Protestantism and quotes Herman Bavinck for support:

In particular, Bavinck claims, “From the outset Reformed theology in North America displayed a variety of diverse forms.” He then goes on to mention the arrivals of the Episcopal Church (1607), the Dutch Reformed (1609), the Congregationalists (1620), the Quakers (1680), the Baptists (1639), the Methodists (1735 with Wesley and 1738 with Whitefield), and finally the German churches. “Almost all of these churches and currents in these churches,” Bavinck observes, “were of Calvinistic origin. Of all religious movements in America, Calvinism has been the most vigorous. It is not limited to one church or other, but—in a variety of modifications—constitutes the animating element in Congregational, Baptist, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and German Reformed churches, and so forth” (1.201). In other words, not only is Bavinck comfortable using Calvinism has a synonym for Reformed theology (in this instance at least), he also has no problem affirming that Calvinism was not limited to one tradition alone but constituted the “animating element” in a variety of churches. Calvinism, as opposed to Lutheranism, flourished in colonial America as the typical orthodox, Reformational, sola scriptura-sola fide alternative to the various forms of comprised Arminianism and heterodox Socinianism.

The problem with this historically speaking, for starters, is that Lutheranism did precede Calvinism and so you could conceivably attribute all the variety of Calvinism to Lutheranism as the original Protestantism. Granted, the lines of continuity between Reformed Protestantism and the North American colonial churches were stronger than with Lutheranism. But that is much more a function of British Protestantism and what happened to Calvinism (or what didn’t) within the Church of England, the Union of England and Scotland, and the Puritans. British Protestantism turned Calvinism into a proverbial hot house of Calvinisms. This was not the case among the Dutch Calvinists who planted Reformed churches in North America. The colony of New Netherlands actually excluded Quakers and Lutherans, and enjoyed much greater uniformity than the Old World Dutch were capable of enforcing. Remember, the Netherlands, despite Dort, welcomed Descartes, Spinoza, and Anabaptists.

But aside from the history, the question is one of arbitrariness. If John MacArthur can exclude charismatics from being Reformed even though he doesn’t belong to a Reformed church, or if The Gospel Coalition can set up a tent broad enough to include disciplined Southern Baptists and wobbly PCA ministers, Calvinism, like evangelicalism, becomes simply what pleases the excluder/includer. Add to that the reality that conservative Presbyterian and Reformed communions invested great energy and resources to distinguishing themselves from communions, like DeYoung’s, those that are Reformed primarily in name rather than substance, and you begin to see why some Reformed Protestants are eager to give coherence to their wing of Western Christianity. I don’t mean that as a cheap shot. But so far, folks like MacArthur and the Gospel Allies have yet to acknowledge the hard work done by Reformed Christians to defend and maintain the ministry of word and sacrament within disciplined (read Reformed) churches. We had thought the task of reforming the church was arduous and long, but now you hold a conference or set up a blog and — voila — it’s Calvinism.

Dictionaries revise definitions all the time. But users of words and grammarians don’t approve of the revisions. The question comes down to whose pay grade it is to establish Calvinism’s meaning. Celebrity pastors? Parachurch agencies? Or church councils? I’m pretty sure I know how Calvin, Bucer, Knox, and Ursinus would vote. Do they carry as much clout as John Piper? As Bud Dickman is wont to say, “well. . .”