The New Normal

You can make this up:

After the election I thought, black lives won’t matter and people are going to die. But no matter what the outcome of the election had been, black lives still wouldn’t matter and people would still die. I marched in Washington not to protest against the President, but to renew my own commitment to participatory democracy, collective action, and personal responsibility.

Have an extra helping of hysteria.

The question is not, “Who is this President and what will he do,” it is, “With whom and for what will we stand?” The question isn’t, “What will we do about them,” but, “Who will we choose to be now?” The question is not whether or not we are afraid, but whether we will let fear have the last word.

Signal you are good and imply those who disagree aren’t.

I am a white, queer, temporarily able-bodied, cisgender pastor whose Christian tradition is not the only or best way to be religious, but one that equips and empowers me to stand with the most vulnerable among us. I live on land that is not mine on earth that belongs to our children. I marched because, while I drink clean water, people are fighting in it and protecting it at Standing Rock. I marched because, while I am white, my children are black. I marched for living wages and good health care and for my Muslim and trans and undocumented siblings. I marched for education and health and protection of civil and human rights.

But if the question is who we choose to be now, may I choose to be white, middle-class, hetero, Christian?

And people think Donald Trump is bizarre.

Did the Desert Monks Blog?

Pete Enns appeals to mysticism but it sounds like sentimentality and even a tad anti-intellectual:

I have come to believe that the life of Christian faith is not fundamentally “rational,” by which I mean faith in God is necessarily trans-rational (not anti-rational) but not “captureable” by our minds. It’s mysterious. It’s mystical. After all, this is a faith that calls upon its adherents to “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

It proclaims God as the creator of all there is, and the more we learn about that creation, the more we are—or should be—at a loss for words. A universe that is about 14 billion years old and 100 billion light years across, containing billions of galaxies—the closest one to ours is 2.5 million light years away—with each galaxy containing billions of stars—the closest one being 4.2 light years (= about 25 trillion miles) away. At the other end of the spectrum are subatomic particles—the very phrase defies comprehension—and now we hear of string theory and the multiverse (or meta-universe).

If God exists, what can any of us possibly add to the conversation? The God who did this is the one we are aiming to understand. So, “mystery” seems to be an operative category for thinking about theology.

That’s an odd observation for someone who writes as much as Pete does, and for someone whose job is to study a book. It feels like a dodge. But it does confirm the old observation that liberal Protestants were not really rationalists. They were Ph.D.s who wound up appealing to mysticism as their justification.

I wonder how that plays in grad school.

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.

When Is Orthodoxy Dead?

If someone believes in the virgin birth of Christ, what’s the chance she (see what I did there?) will promote same-sex marriage? Or if someone insists on singing psalms only in worship, will he support women’s ordination? Or what if a pastor believes the Bible to be the infallible word of God, do you think he would be inclined to overlook divorce as a disqualification for holding church office?

The reason for asking isn’t to argue that orthodox doctrine produces good morals or holiness. But it is to suggest that certain doctrinal convictions become self-selecting mechanisms for affirming and defending Christian morality. For instance, it would be hard to imagine that as the PCUSA legalized women’s ordination, waffled on adultery among clergy, or ordained homosexual persons, presbyters were also examining ministerial candidates about the virgin birth of Christ, the vicarious atonement, or biblical inerrancy and rejecting candidates who would not affirm those beliefs.

So why is it that some are worried about the next archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels on the following grounds?

Since Belgium gained its independence (1830), the Archbishopric of Mechelen-Brussels has alternated between Francophone and Flemish holders. This has placed the spotlight on Belgium’s four Flemish Ordinaries: Bishops Jozef De Kesel of Brugge / Bruges (68 years old this June), Lucas Van Looy SDB of Ghent (74 years old in September), Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt (63 years old), and the man now said to be the front-runner for the Primatial See of Belgium: Johan Jozef Bonny of Antwerp (60 years old in July). Van Looy is too old, so this narrows down the “choice” to three: De Kesel, Hoogmartens and Bonny. Unfortunately, all three are unambiguously liberal. All three have publicly come out in favor of abolishing mandatory celibacy for priests of the Latin Rite, De Kesel is known to be open to women’s ordination, and Bonny, most infamously, advocates that the Church bless “gay relationships” and “gay couples” among other radical reforms that he would like to see.

Some might claim that all the bishops are orthodox. Nothing changes. The magisterium defends the truth. Everything is still intact. The bishops, accordingly, believe all the doctrines taught by the church. But if they do believe in the bodily assumption of Mary, justification by baptism, the condemnation that attends mortal sin, papal infallibility, or transubstantiation, would these bishops have trouble maintaining church teaching about marriage, homosexuality, and divorce? You would think they would affirm Roman Catholic morality if they also maintained and defended Roman Catholic theology.

So why don’t Roman Catholic conservatives ask questions about the theological views of bishops, or use doctrine to evaluate the health of the church? You would think that Protestants who used to be in doctrinally conservative churches would use theology to urge for the appointment of orthodox Roman Catholic bishops.

Is Warren Cole Smith an Evangelical?

On the one hand, the associate publisher of World Magazine warns about people who call themselves evangelical but aren’t:

3. Not everyone who calls himself an evangelical is an evangelical.

We have an old saying in my part of the South: “Just because my dog sleeps in the garage, that doesn’t make him a pick-up truck.” Just because a blogger calls himself (or herself) an evangelical doesn’t make it so. You don’t have to vote Republican or go to a particular church, but you gotta believe in that stuff in #1 above, or you’re something else. Beware of “progressive evangelicals” who claim to speak for evangelicals but who, upon examination, reject core doctrines that evangelicals find essential.

On the other hand, Mr. Smith looks like a fairly progressive evangelical himself:

2. Jerry Falwell wasn’t the first evangelical.

In fact, when Jerry Falwell started out, he wasn’t an evangelical, but self-consciously fundamentalist — and there was (and is) a difference. Church historian Phil Johnson credits William Tyndale with first using the word “evangelical” in 1531, when Tyndale wrote this: “He exhorteth them to proceed constantly in the evangelical truth.” The great Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More used the phrase a year later to describe Tyndale and other Protestant Reformers. The great missionary movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were evangelical in character — think of the great evangelical statesman William Wilburforce, who fought against the slave trade in Great Britain.

In short, evangelicalism has a long history and is not a recent suburban American phenomenon.

5. Evangelicals are generous.

Virtually every reputable study, from Arthur Brooks’ book Who Really Cares? to the annual Empty Tombs, Inc. survey on church giving to the work of sociologist Bradley Wright, comes to the same conclusion: theologically conservative evangelical Christians give more money to charity than do theologically liberal Christians and non-Christians. And they don’t just give to evangelical Christian organizations. Liberals and non-Christians talk a good game when it comes to income equality or “social justice,” but evangelicals, not Episcopalians, are keeping the food banks of America alive.

6. Evangelicals love LGBTQIA people.

We are not homophobes. We are homophiles. Our churches welcome LGBTQIA people with the same message we present to all others: “Come as you are . . . but leave transformed.”

7. Evangelicals love the arts.

Ok, it’s true: our music mostly sucks. And so do our movies. At least, the music and movies we’ve made for the past 30 or 40 years. But not all of it, and it hasn’t always been so. I’m astonished and inspired when I see Kent Twitchell’s massive murals of Jesus on the public spaces in Los Angeles. Or Makoto Fujimura’s remarkable abstract expressionist paintings in chic Chelsea art galleries. Or hear anything by Bach.

Sure, contemporary evangelical writers, musicians, and artists are producing a lot of kitsch, but so are non-Christians. (You can’t blame the Kardashians and Honey-Boo-Boo on evangelicals.) And I predict that 100 years from now, if the Lord tarries, Christians will be singing Keith Getty’s and Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone” in the same churches that continue to sing Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and perform Handel’s “Messiah” at Christmastime.

8. Evangelicals are pro-science.

I support this assertion by noting that the rise of the scientific method and some of the great technological advancements of Europe correspond with the rise of evangelicalism in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. In our own day, Frances Collins (who leads the National Institutes of Health and led the Human Genome Project) is open about his Christian faith.

Evangelicals have endured the slanderous label of “anti-science” in recent years because of our skepticism about politically correct theories regarding the origins of man and climate change. In these arenas and many more, evangelicals joyfully go where the science takes us. But when ideology hijacks science — that is, when the pursuit of a point of view outruns logic, history, data, and reason — we rightfully object, and so should all who love pure science.

9. Evangelicals value quality education for all.

Because evangelicals operate most of the private schools in the country, and because most of the nation’s two million homeschoolers are evangelical Christians, we are often accused of being anti-public education and of having abandoned the public schools. That is simply not true.

For one thing, I state the obvious: evangelicals whose children do not attend the schools still support them with our tax dollars even though 100 percent of those dollars go to other people’s children. Secondly, most Christian schools I know about are generous with scholarships for those who would not otherwise be able to afford the school.

But the key point is that evangelical commitment to quality education for all means we do not support the government having a monopoly on education. The real threat to quality education for all is the near monopoly of the government-run education system, not the small-but-vibrant private Christian and homeschool sector. Private Christian education and homeschooling are the way up, not the way down.

10. Evangelicals are diverse and tolerant.

Evangelicals have never been, and are certainly not now, old white Americans. By some estimates, China has 30 million evangelical Christians. Some countries in Africa and South America have evangelical majorities. Here in the U.S. you can find millions of Hispanic evangelicals. That diversity is the result of — and has led more deeply into — a culture of tolerance evangelicals don’t get credit for.

No one values the free and honest exchange of ideas more than evangelical Christians. The Bible teaches evangelicals: “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). We take that idea seriously. However, evangelicals believe mere tolerance is a low standard for those called to the much higher standard of love. Tolerance says, “Put up with those different from you.” Love says, “Help them achieve God’s highest and best.” (See #6 above.) Further, evangelicals see nothing tolerant in an ideology that brands any and all dissenting ideas as “hate speech.” Neither do we believe that tolerance demands us to view all ideas, beliefs, or behaviors as equally true and valid. Evangelicals believe some ideas are good and true and some are bad or false. Saying so does not make one a bigot.

So hipster evangelicals are not progressive evangelicals. As if I needed additional reasons for not reading World. Journalism is not cheer leading or re-branding.

Did Evangelical or Liberal Protestants Have a Better Week?

First came the news of Mark Sanford’s victory in South Carolina’s First District to Congress. For anyone who remembers Sanford’s well publicized marital infidelity, it must have struck many observers as strange that evangelical Protestants — I hear South Carolina is thick with them — would return Sanford to public office. But they also had no problem with Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries:

This wasn’t the first time the Republican voters of South Carolina put fidelity to party over fidelity to fidelity. In the 2012 Republican primary, voters were reminded of Newt Gingrich’s admitted adultery and three marriages. His second wife spoke out just days before the vote. Gingrich won by 12.5 percentage points over the morally pure Mitt Romney. He won 45 percent of the evangelical vote, a group that has at times shown more than a passing interest in the morality of public officials. He won 46 percent of those who said that the religious beliefs of a candidate were very or somewhat important.

South Carolina conservatives may still say a candidate’s sins matter, but they aren’t voting that way. In fact, if you weren’t privy to the state’s strong social conservative history, you could almost mistake South Carolinians for city folk—people who vote for experience, policy, and political leanings and show a sophisticate’s relativism toward personal moral failings. These days, South Carolinians seem almost Parisian when they enter the voting booth.

Ross Douthat is having none of Sanford’s theological interpretation of his victory, nor is the columnist optimistic about what this election means for “family values,” once the brand of evangelical Protestant politics:

I’m not particularly surprised by that outcome: Sanford was the G.O.P. candidate in a conservative district, and voting on party rather than character is usually the path of least resistance for partisans on both sides. But the fact that South Carolina Republicans took that path, and made his swift and shameless comeback a success, is still a useful indicator of where the energy is on the right — and it emphatically isn’t with people who see the decline of marriage as a bigger issue for conservatism and America than the precise balance of power in the House of Representatives. Again, the preference among conservatives is obviously for stable marriages and family values and so forth — for the example set by the figures McArdle lists, rather than for Sanford-style shenanigans. But there apparently isn’t enough passion behind that preference at the moment to induce Republican voters to sacrifice even a single House seat on its behalf.

At the same time, this was not a complete win-win for evangelicals since it seems that Sanford himself is an Episcopalian (which suggests that evangelical Protestants are truly ecumenical and likely clueless when they vote according to their w-w, that is, if the lines between evangelicals and mainline Protestants still matter).

And then came yesterday’s news about Martha Mullen, the Virginia Methodist who found a place for Tamerlan Tsarnaev to be buried. When I heard her interview on NPR I could not believe — it moved me to tears (Edwardseans should be happy) — how Christian her motivation (but I’m not an Edwardsean and can’t see her heart) was. Here’s part of the transcript:

CORNISH: Now, you took it upon yourself to find a cemetery that would bury his body, and you don’t have a connection to his family, so why get involved?

MULLEN: Well, I was listening to NPR and I heard the story ongoing that he was unable to be buried and that people are protesting him. And it made me think of Jesus’ words: Love your enemies. I felt that, also, he was being maligned probably because he was Muslim.

And Jesus tells us to – in the parable of the Good Samaritan – to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. That was the biggest motivation, is that, you know, if I’m going to live my faith, then I’m going to do that which is uncomfortable and not necessarily that’s what comfortable. . . .

CORNISH: Martha, you heard about the story because of the protests. And did you have concerns about making this move that you would become the target of protests or people would have a real problem with what you were doing?

MULLEN: Well, I thought about that, but there’s a line in the Scripture that says whether we live or whether we die, we’re the Lord’s. And I feel like – I don’t think anything really horrible is going to happen to me. I think people are probably going to be upset and irritated and disagree with what this interfaith group has decided to go forward with, but I feel like it was the right thing and it’s important to be true to the principle of your faith.

Now words like these may be cheap, and Jesus’ words are certainly not obscure. But that it took a mainline Methodist to undertake what strikes me strikes me as something so obviously right was amazing, especially considering how many Americans (including Protestants of all kinds) were opposed to letting this terrorist be returned to dust. We do not refuse to bury persons our law enforcement system sentences to execution. So why we should try to prevent Tamerlan Tsarnaev from being buried, or even be suspicious of Martha Mullen or the owners of the cemetery that received the body, is dumbfounding. I know I may be naive about Islam thanks to a trip to Turkey, which is hardly the most representative of Muslim societies. But if conservative Presbyterians think that Paul Hill is not representative of strict Reformed Protestantism, is it not possible for Americans to imagine that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is not your average Muslim?

Then again, the United States has a tradition of moralism that insists, one strike and you’re in hell. The Boston bombings were truly heinous. But a civilized (even Christian) society refuses to abandon conventions like burial of dead bodies even for murderers. The lesson of Joe Paterno, who simply did not do enough to turn in a pederast and for that misdeed lost a chance to be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time, is a reminder of that moral standard. Who indeed can stand in that great day?

I Believe the Bible Requires Me to Avoid Movies, and If You Go See a Movie You Don’t Believe the Bible – Huh?

I learned 2k from J. Gresham Machen. If 2k critics were to spend a little time with the chief founder of Westminster Seminary they might be less alarmed. They might also see in the mirror staring back at them the liberal Protestants who tried Machen for breaking his ordination vows.

Here is where 2k critics might see some resemblance between themselves and liberals (you can also throw in fundamentalists for good measure but you need to fight alarm with alarm). In 1926 Machen was up for promotion at Princeton Seminary to become the professor of apologetics and ethics. General Assembly needed to approve this promotion because Princeton was (and still is) an agency of the Assembly. At the gathering of 1926 Machen’s foes reported that he had voted against a motion in his presbytery (New Brunswick – yes, the one established for the Tennents and other “white hot” Presbyterians) that called for the church to support the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act – that is, Prohibition. Mind you, Machen believed drunkenness to be sin and he believed the church had a duty to call people to repent of such sins.

But that wasn’t good enough. Because he did not support the 18th Amendment, his foes believed he was antinomian. And an antinomian should never be allowed to teach ethics, which has historically always been part of the apologetics division at Princeton and Westminster.

So the Assembly denied Machen his promotion.

Critics of 2k do the same when they say:

1) We are antinomian. Actually, we believe in the law, and may actually do a better job upholding the First Table than those 2k critics who don’t have an evening service and use praise songs in their morning assemblies.

2) We favor abortion. Actually, we oppose the shedding of innocent life. But some of us may not feel called to march at abortion clinics or to engage in political discussions from the pulpit. (Some say we don’t oppose it earnestly enough, but those people don’t actually know us to be able to see how earnest we are.)

3) We favor gay marriage. Actually, 2k advocates believe homosexuality is sin and homosexual sex is not the kind of intimacy to be practiced in marriage. But again, following the example of Machen, favoring an amendment to the Constitution is not the same as regarding homosexuality a sin.

4) We don’t believe in Christian education. Actually, we do. But we don’t believe that only one form of delivery (or two) is lawful. We believe that parents should make that call under the oversight of elders who have no jurisdiction to declare that certain kinds of schools are unlawful (because the Bible doesn’t say so). We also have reservations about Christian interpretations of biology, Shakespeare, and U.S. history. Much of the time, these “Christian” interpretations are as far fetched as appeals to Scripture for prohibiting beer.

5) We take Christian liberty too far. Actually, we don’t. As I have indicated, I don’t shop at chain stores partly because of the 8th commandment, which tells me (along with help from Wendell Berry) that the love of neighbor requires me as much as possible to support local businesses owned by my real neighbors, not by distant corporations. Can I require members of the church where I am an elder to follow my practices? After all, I believe Scripture calls me to this form of economic behavior. Isn’t Scripture binding on all Christians? Well, it is, but Scripture also isn’t air tight about the businesses we patronize. I may suggest the value of shopping locally, and how this seems to encourage love of neighbor. But it’s my application of Scripture and my wife’s cross to bear (especially when traveling); it’s not warrant for declaring other Christians who shop at Walmart to be in sin.

6) We deny the Lordship of Christ. Actually, we affirm it and recognize it everywhere, all the time. We so believe in the Lordship of Christ that we think it exists even when bad rulers occupy office, when non-Christian scientists denounce Christianity, or when evangelicals go to see a Woody Allen movie. Who among us could unseat Christ’s sovereign rule?

7) We deny the authority of the Bible. Actually, we don’t. All the 2k advocates I know believe that Scripture is infallible, inerrant, and the only rule for faith and life. What sometimes gives us the creeps is the identification of God’s will with a person’s interpretation of Scripture. History has shown that people make mistakes when interpreting the Bible. 2kers cannot be forced to submit to faulty interpretations of the Bible. After all, 2k appeals to Scripture for its truthfulness and that appeal doesn’t seem to convince the Brothers Bayly or Rabbi Bret’s of the world. According to their logic, they don’t believe the Bible because they disagree with my interpretation of it.

As I say, huh?

Lillback on Machen on Beck

(Or, why isn’t Christianity and Liberalism outselling Sacred Fire at Amazon?)

PCA pastor, Peter Lillback, invoked J. Gresham Machen the other night on the Glenn Beck show to clear up the host’s confusion about social justice and the churches. Beck, of course, thinks “social justice” is code for liberalism, big government, and Obamanian tyranny. But Lillback, who belongs to a communion where social justice in the form of “word and deed” ministry are prevalent, thinks a better, kinder, gentler, orthodoxer version of such justice exists. And on the show he did so by turning to, Machen, the most articulate defender of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church.  Unfriggingbelievable!

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

BECK: OK. I wanted — let’s start at the beginning.

And, Peter, maybe you can help me. Just on — first of all, never happened — this is not in any founding document, social justice or any of that stuff, right?

LILLBACK: The phrase “social justice” cannot be found in Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.

BECK: OK. It also isn’t — it’s not found in the Bible.


Mr. Snerdling, stop the tape. God is not found in the Constitution, nor is Jesus Christ mentioned in George Washington’s deistical piety, but does that prevent folks from attributing Christianity to America’s founding documents and fathers?

BECK: OK. Give me the origins of social justice.

LILLBACK: Well, let’s start in the context of Westminster Seminary. The man who started the school where I’m the president, J. Gresham Machen, wrote a book that revolutionized the 20th century. It was called “Christianity and Liberalism.”

And basically what he said is, is that liberals claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and liberalism are two different religions.

And that is the core of what you deal with now, really, a century after Dr. Machen started Westminster Seminary. The words are Christian, but they have been redefined. . . .

LILLBACK: Well, let’s put it this way: Going back into the late 1800s, there were others that were wrestling with social problems.

BECK: Right.

LILLBACK: And we think of the name Washington Gladden or Walter Rauschenbusch. These were great theologians that were trying to address problems of orphanages and lack of education.

Stop the tape again! Gladden and Rauschenbusch, the leaders and theorists of the Social Gospel were “great” theologians? If so, in what class does that put Warfield and Hodge?

BECK: Right.

LILLBACK: And there have always been social problems that need to be addressed and they were calling the church to do it.

But what had happened is that they begin to lose focus in the truth of the Bible. They stopped believing — as you called it — the individual character of salvation. Instead of one coming to the cross to find Jesus Christ as a crucified, buried and risen savior, the one who saved sinners, they started to turn to society. And they said salvation is when the society feeds you, when it gives you clothes, when it gives a better hospital.

BECK: Right.

LILLBACK: When it keeps your house from burning.

Now, all of those things were good, but that’s not the gospel. Those are implications of the gospel.

And what liberalism did is that it said, we no longer can believe in Jesus as God or Jesus crucified and risen and coming again. We can’t believe that. So, what we’ve done is we kept all the language and we’ve changed its meaning.

And that is social justice thinking: It’s liberalism in the cloak of Christianity. That was Dr. Machen’s fundamental insight.

This is a very confused reading of Machen, Christianity, and liberalism, and we shouldn’t fault the Mormon Beck for not being able to raise the right questions. Lillback seems to be saying that liberals abandoned the notion of salvation in Jesus Christ for a salvation by society (whatever that means – “nation” or “state” or “government” would be more precise since there is no Department of Society Office where I obtain my food stamps). By implication, Lillback also suggests that Machen is in line with his own and the PCA’s (unofficial) understanding of word and deed Christianity. On this view, word (gospel) and deed (social activism or justice) must go together and as long as they do the church is being faithful to its calling. The error is when you abandon the word and only retain the deed.

It should go without saying that bad things always happen when you abandon the word. But Lillback doesn’t seem to consider that word and deed ministry may also be the start of a process of abandoning the word that allows deed ministry to color the reading of the word. This certainly seems to be Machen’s point in articulating and defending the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church, a teaching that reflect’s Calvin’s own view about the spiritual nature of the kingdom of redemption, reaffirmed in chapters 25 and 31 of the Confession of Faith, developed by subsequent theologians and stated succinctly by Machen. When asked to give a talk to the American Academy of Social and Political Scientists in 1933, a time when lots of deeds were needed in the United States, Machen refused to take the social justice bait:

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. (“The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” Selected Shorter Writings, pp. 375-76)

What Lillback needed to educate Beck about was the reality that evangelicals, like Charles Erdman and Robert Speer (who were effectively New School Presbyterians), and who like Lillback regarded humanitarian good deeds as an implication of the gospel, were opposed to Machen and what he was doing at Westminster. One reason is what Machen was telling graduates of Westminster about the source of the only real justice and satisfying righteousness, namely, the kind that comes through the work of Christ and the church’s ministry of reconciling sinners to God, like when in 1931 he told WTS graduates:

Remember this, at least – the things in which the world is now interested are the things that are seen; but the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal. You, as ministers of Christ, are called to deal with the unseen things. You are stewards of the mysteris of God. You alone can lead men, by the proclamation of God’s word, out of the chrash and jazz and noise and rattle and smoke of this weary age into the green pastures and beside the still waters; you alone, as ministers of reconciliation, can give what the world with all its boasting and pride can never give – the infinite sweetness of the communion of the redeemed soul with the living God. (“Consolations in the Midst of Battle,” Selected Shorter Writings, p. 205)

Perhaps Westminster Philadelphia needs a refresher course on its founder? I know. Beck can include Machen in his Founders Friday segments. Watch the sales of Christianity and Liberalism soar.