Have You Considered Working in a Qualification?

I haven’t listened to either Truth’s Table or Pass the Mic for a while because the impression I generally took away when I listened was that I am guilty of something on the border of racism if not the genuine article. I did not see myself in some of the specific complaints about white people or white Christians in the U.S. But then came the invocation of systemic racism that left me wondering (as with climate change and the wealthy 1%) what was I supposed to do. If I didn’t have to work, perform house and yard maintenance, and be a somewhat normal partner in a marriage, perhaps I could devote my time to reducing racism both in aspects of my personal affairs (by implication, I think) and in the wider society. But even if I did that, what possible difference would it make? If Dr. King did all that he did and racism is still as prevalent as it was in the 1960s, I find it hard to fathom that I could possibly make a difference.

Hint for justice warriors: the need to escalate rhetoric is understandable if you want to move people to see the dangers of which you complain; but if you portray the enormity in catastrophic categories, you may leave the awakened feeling powerless in the face of such overwhelming force.

Part of the problem, then, is rhetoric. Here are some recent examples available without having to download an mp3 file:

There are several reasons why white evangelicals are reluctant to denounce racism, but for the sake of brevity, I will name one: power. Racism is ultimately about power. The power to subjugate, influence legislation, oppress, exclude, marginalize, and lord said power over the powerless. White evangelicals are reluctant to denounce racism because of the benefits that accrue to them as a result of said power. The benefits of being at the head of the table, being the standard by which everything and everyone else is measured against, the benefits of having all of the course curriculum center white authors and viewpoints exclusively from elementary school through graduate school including seminary.

Here the assertion involves apparently all white evangelicals. Since I am a Presbyterian, I guess I’m off the hook. But I wonder if the person who said this would apply it to Ligon Duncan?

Here’s another broad claim:

we live in a patriarchal society that benefits men over against women. Nevertheless, men are definitely harmed by cultural expectations of biblical masculinity. It infantilizes men, by painting them as these warriors and outdoorsmen who are hunters who know nothing about domesticity: cooking food, cleaning the house, caring for their children. In this way, the message that is communicated is that a “biblical man doesn’t need to know those things because that’s the woman’s job.” He can’t even be trusted to stay home with the kids while his wife goes away for a weekend. Additionally, men are confined to these rigid categories that revolve around sports and machismo. Toxic masculinity must be dismantled in order to give men the liberty to express themselves in other ways, through the arts, the sciences, literature, and a host of other ways. We are embodied souls; not droids.

Since I do the shopping, cooking, cleaning (bathrooms and kitchen sink), in addition to the manly work of grass cutting, snow shoveling, and wood hauling, I don’t entirely agree about the patriarchal point, though the missus will chalk up my endeavors to wanting to control everything. But again I wonder if this applies to David Platt?

Here’s one more:

The gospel of male dominance, like that of white supremacy, is a poison dispensed through cultural diffusers. Today’s good Christian man is far too charming for misogyny. But since he is often ignorant to the narratives of oppressed people (including those in the Bible), he does not know he’s being discipled into the role of benevolent master. Like most categories of dehumanization, the misogynist interpretation of Scripture which gave us the “biblical manhood and womanhood” movement (correction: issa dead horse debate), places both subhuman and superhuman categories on women and men, and ignores non-binary identity altogether.

Yes, that is straightforward and the female interlocutors may have a point. But this is so fraught with binary categories as to make me suspect that even Brad Mason is guilty of white supremacy. Can that be?

My sense is that the hosts at Truth’s Table (and Pass the Mic) have a lot of allies in the church and secular society. That reality suggests that racism and misogyny are not as pronounced as they allege, especially since their views are readily available in the mainstream press, universities, and Hollywood. Indeed, another reason for giving up downloading and listening was that I hear these arguments in lots of other forums.

They all are, of course, right about misogyny and racism which are forms of hatred that Christians should fight in themselves and discourage in others. But I have a hard time thinking these assertions about the quantity or pervasiveness of such attitudes are correct. I deem the ladies’ and the men’s depictions of the United States and the “white church” rhetorically excessive.

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Can Sexism Be Far Behind?

In the run-up to the PCA’s debates about repenting corporately for racism, I wonder if the opponents of racism have left room for excluding women from church office. Consider the following definition of racism (with assertions of gender hierarchicalism for the r-word):

Racism Excluding women from special office is the denial of the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and its implications to someone of another ethnicity sex. Racism Male-only elders and deacons in the church is a contradiction of the visible unity of all believers in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22, Revelation 5:9, 7:9). Racism inside and outside the church Male privilege inside the church and the family is a contradiction of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31, Luke 10:25-37, esp. 29, 37), and of God’s creation of all people in his image (Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26). So theologically, racism preference for men in church office entails a denial of the biblical doctrines of creation, man, the communion of saints and is disobedience to the moral law. We will not mince words. Racism Male dominance in church office and marriage is not only sin, serious sin, it is heresy.

To be clear, racism is arguably different from excluding women from church office. Furthermore, the consequences of racism have been far more consequential than barring women from special ecclesiastical office (though I know some feminists disagree). But the question is whether the PCA’s condemnation of racism leaves wiggle room for distinguishing racial equality from equality of the sexes. (Have we all forgotten the CRC‘s arguments for ordaining women?)

In fact, the power of egalitarianism is so strong you have to wonder if the PCA will have the wits in a decade to avoid repenting not merely for tolerating financial inequality among its members but even advocating it. After all, once you start down the road of equality, doesn’t history suggest your brake fluid runs dry? Consider the logic of social justice warfare among Roman Catholics:

We have an economy of exclusion, and a polity that refuses to challenge the ideology of the market that has generated the economy of exclusion. We do not start with the most basic human quality, work. We start with an alien and hateful ideology rooted in supposed “economic laws” that are, in fact, human creations, not natural ones, but which are so prevalent, no one dares to question them. This is why, if you go to a conference on Laudato Si’ and they do not speak about both human ecology and multinational corporations, they don’t get it.

Kevin Swanson is not Tim Keller

Some critics of the OPC and 2k wonder why Old Life has been silent about Kevin Swanson, the Generations with Vision Director who pastors and OPC congregation in Elizabeth, CO.

A simple reason is that Pastor Swanson has no following (to my knowledge) in the OPC say the way Lig Duncan, or Harry Reeder, or Tim Keller do in the PCA.

It’s also the case that Swanson almost never refers to the OPC in his self-identifications. At Generations with Vision:

Homeschooled himself in the 1960’s and 70’s, Kevin Swanson and his wife, Brenda, are now homeschooling their five children. Since graduating from his homeschool and then serving as student body president of a large west coast university, he has gone on to other leadership positions in corporate management, church, and other non-profits. Kevin has 43 years of experience in the homeschooling movement and serves as the Director of Generations – a ministry he founded to strengthen homeschool families around the country. As a father who wants to leave a godly heritage for his own five children, Kevin’s passion is to strengthen and encourage the homeschooling movement all over the world, and to cast a vision for generations to come. For the last 10 years Kevin has hosted a daily radio program – Generations Radio – the world’s largest homeschooling and Biblical worldview program that reaches families across the US and in over 100 countries.

Kevin has also served as the Executive Director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado for the last nine years. He has also authored several popular books for homeschoolers, including Freedom, Apostate, Upgrade-10 Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child, the Family Bible Study Guide Series, and others.

Kevin Swanson also serves as a teaching elder at Reformation Church of Elizabeth (reformationchurch.com).

The Speaker Lineup for Freedom 2015 listed Swanson as director of — yet again — Generations with Vision and the author of more than 10 books.

I’ve never talked to an OPC officer who has read a book by Swanson.

At Amazon:

Homeschooled himself in the 1960s and 70s, Kevin Swanson and his wife, Brenda, are now homeschooling their five children. Kevin has 43 years of experience in the homeschooling movement and serves as the director of Generations With Vision—a ministry he founded to strengthen homeschool families. Kevin’s passion is to strengthen and encourage the homeschooling movement all over the world, and to cast a vision for generations to come. For the last 4 years Kevin has hosted a daily radio program, Generations Radio, the world’s largest homeschooling and biblical worldview program that reaches families across the US and in over 100 countries. Kevin has also served as the executive director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado for the last nine years. He has authored several popular books for homeschoolers, including Apostate, Upgrade: 10 Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child, The Second Mayflower, the Family Bible Study Guide Series, and others.

So far Pastor Swanson does not seem eager to put his stamp on the OPC the way TKNY has on the PCA.

So for now, paying attention to Pope Francis seems a little more reasonable than to Pastor Swanson.

Advancing the Conversation?

It was not so long ago, after Michael Brown’s death, that lots of people in Reformed circles were calling for a conversation about race. After almost two years and after listening to some of the chatter, I am not so hopeful. Anyone who wants a version of how that conversation is going among people without faith — in this case a journalist and an Ivy League student newspaper editor — give a listen and embrace the suck.

But in the interest of avoiding a bad ending for the PCA, where the conversation has escalated more than anywhere else in NAPARC circles, I offer the latest musings on blackness from Michael Eric Dyson:

There is the symbolic blackness that the president perfectly embodies. By this I mean the representative sort, in which his blackness is the blackness of the masses; his lean body carries the weight of the race, and the words of James Baldwin meet those of pioneering scholar Anna Julia Cooper: To paraphrase Cooper, when and where a black figure like Obama enters, black folk automatically enter with him, as he bears what Baldwin termed the “burden of representation.” Like other symbolic blacks before him, Obama has no choice in the matter—one fittingly symbolized in nonnegotiable terms of existence that are nearly Cartesian: he is, therefore we are.

There is, too, substitute blackness, in which luminaries like Michelle Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder supply the blackness—the resonant cultural tropes, the signifying gestures, the explicit mention of race in context—that a figure like Obama, bound on all sides by demands and constraints, can barely acknowledge, much less embrace. Historical contingency and political necessity meld to determine Obama’s role, versus that of substitute blacks, when it comes to speaking about race: he can’t, but they can.

Then there is surplus blackness, which is too much blackness for many outside the race, and some inside it. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are some noted examples, figures whose blackness is never in question, even if the use and force of it depends on the situation at hand or the need of the group at the moment. If substitute blackness is a conditional stand-in for blackness, surplus blackness is the display of blackness—in fact, blackness as display. The nearly exclusive imperative of surplus blackness is to stand up for black folk in public, whether after a police killing of an innocent black or a neighbor-to-neighbor murder or a cry for racial justice in the courts. Obama’s symbolic blackness also sometimes takes up the cause of black folk, but more often judges them. When it comes to defending black people: he won’t, but they will.

Finally, there is subversive blackness, glimpsed most recently in the activism of Black Lives Matter, where the meanings of blackness compete and collide, where blackness is at once self-subverting and self-regenerating. Subversive blackness glances sideways at symbolic, substitute and surplus blackness, preferring, instead, to grasp what’s been left out of the official narratives of blackness and to fill in the blanks. It is perhaps summed up in Kanye West’s credo, “Everything I’m not made me everything I am,” which nicely captures the irreverence that Obama spurns but subversive blackness embraces: he isn’t, but they are.

I assume Michelle Higgins wants subversive blackness. But is that what Ligon Duncan, Jemar Tisby, and Sean Lucas were bargaining for?

Can You Confess Sins To Yourself?

Rick Phillips’ post about corporate confession of sins got me thinking about the PCA’s proposed resolution on race and civil rights. That personal resolution from Ligon Duncan and Sean Lucas confesses the church’s complicity with racial injustice.

Phillips attempts to find a biblical procedure for such confession.

But if he were to use the Book of Discipline from his sister communion, the OPC, he’d find judicial processes laid out quite thoroughly.

I imagine the General Assembly of the PCA would come as its own accuser:

When a person comes before a judicatory as his own accuser, the judicatory may proceed to judgment without full process, determining first, what offense, if any has been committed, and, if a serious offense (cf. Chapter III, Section 7.b [6]) has been committed, what censure shall be pronounced. (5.1)

Next comes the the work of the trial judicatory in establishing the seriousness of the sin and determining the level of censure:

In judicial discipline there are five degrees of censure: admonition, rebuke, suspension, deposition, and excommunication. Censures shall be pronounced in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, as an act of the whole church, by the moderator on behalf of the trial judicatory. (6.A.1)

This raises a real problem since everyone in this scenario would be guilty of the sin and so finding someone to serve on the trial judicatory could be difficult if not impossible. Everyone is guilty. Can the sinner determine his own form of censure? Would he not have mixed motives?

And then there is the question of the sin’s seriousness. What kind of censure will the PCA General Assembly apply to itself?

1. Admonition

Admonition consists in tenderly and solemnly confronting the offender with his sin, warning him of his danger, and exhorting him to repentance and to greater fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Rebuke

Rebuke is a form of censure more severe than admonition. It consists in setting forth the serious character of the offense, reproving the offender, and exhorting him to repentance and to more perfect fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Suspension

a. Suspension is a form of censure by which one is deprived of the privileges of membership in the church, of office, or of both. It may be for a definite or an indefinite time. Suspension of an officer from the privileges of membership shall always be accompanied by suspension from office, but the latter does not necessarily involve the former.

b. An officer or other member of the church, while under suspension, shall be the object of deep solicitude and earnest dealing to the end that he may be restored. When the trial judicatory which pronounced the censure is satisfied of the penitence of the offender, or when the time of suspension has expired, the censure shall be removed and the offender shall be restored. This restoration shall be accompanied by a solemn admonition. Restoration to the privileges of membership may take place without restoration to those of office.

c. When a minister has been indefinitely suspended, the judicatory shall immediately notify all the presbyteries of the church.

4. Deposition

a. Deposition is a form of censure more severe than suspension. It consists in a solemn declaration by the trial judicatory that the offender is no longer an officer in the church.

b. When a minister is deposed from his office, the presbytery shall erase his name from the roll of the ministerial members of the presbytery and dismiss him to a particular church or enroll him as a member of the regional church without membership in a particular church.

c. Deposition of a pastor or his suspension for an indefinite time involves the dissolution of the pastoral tie. The sentence of deposition or suspension shall be read before the congregation, and the pulpit shall be declared vacant. In case of suspension for a definite period the presbytery, after giving the session an opportunity to be heard, shall decide whether the pastoral relation shall be dissolved.

d. When a minister has been deposed, the judicatory shall immediately notify all the presbyteries of the church.

5. Excommunication

Excommunication is the most severe form of censure and is resorted to only in cases of offenses aggravated by persistent impenitence. It consists in a solemn declaration by an ecclesiastical judicatory that the offender is no longer considered a member of the body of Christ. (6.B)

Depending on to whom you listen, racism is pretty grievous sin. But if it were sufficiently serious that the PCA General Assembly pronounced a censure of Deposition on itself, the recent graduates of Reformed seminaries might be grateful for the new calls available, but is the Assembly really prepared to wipe out its entire set of elders and deacons? Depose Tim Keller?

But if the Assembly only rebukes itself, would those most offended by racism be satisfied?

I wonder if those who support this corporate confession of sin understand how complicated it might be.

Was Victoria Osteen Channeling Jonathan Edwards?

I was not planning to write about this since discussing the Osteens is like mistaking Bill O’Reilly for Michael Oakeshott. But I am intrigued by the experimental Calvinist response to Pastorette Osteen’s remarks on the importance of experiencing happiness in worship. The issue is conceivably whether we pit God’s glory with our experience in worship. And sure enough, the experimental Calvinists echo Pastorette Osteen. Ligon Duncan reminds us that even the famous first answer of the Shorter Catechism (an experimental Calvinist product) combines God’s glory with our enjoyment:

The Reformed steadfastly affirm that the fundamental purpose of human existence is God’s glory, but we refuse to pit God’s glory and human happiness against one another (as Ms. Osteen, perhaps unwittingly does in her misguided exhortation). The very first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this. “What is man’s chief end?,” it asks. The resounding answer is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, our chief and highest purpose, goal and end in life is God’s glory. That is what we live for. Whereas many of our contemporaries think that God is the chief means to our highest end (happiness), the Reformed do not believe that God is a means to an end, he is The End. He is the reason and aspiration for which we exist. There is no ultimate happiness and satisfaction and fulfillment and joy apart from him.

BUT, the Reformed do not believe that God’s glory and our joy stand in opposition. We do not believe that those two things are in contradiction. Indeed, we believe that they are inseparable. The Reformed believe that it is impossible to pursue God’s glory without our own souls being blessed with everlasting good. We think that our fullest joy cannot be realized or experienced apart from the pursuit of God’s glory.

That is John Piper’s cue:

Christian Hedonism teaches that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be in some measure a pursuit of happiness. And the happiness, which makes up an essential part of all virtue, is the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of the glory of God. Therefore, if we try to deny or mortify or abandon the impulse to pursue this hapiness, we set ourselves against the good of man and the glory of God. Rather we should seek to stir up our desire for this delight until it is white hot and insatiable on the earth.

And then Piper chimes in with Edwards:

Self-love, taken in the most extensive sense, and love to God are not things properly capable of being compared one with another; for they are not opposites or things entirely distinct, but one enters into the nature of the other. . . Self-love is only a capacity of enjoying or taking delight in anything. Now surely ’tis improper to say that our love to God is superior to our general capacity of delighting in anything. (Miscellanies, #530, p.202)

I am not saying that Piper, Duncan, and Edwards are wrong because they echo Pastorette Osteen. But it is striking to see how many people reacted negatively (Christian and not) to Osteen’s video and how experimental Calvinists are less inclined to pounce.

Now in the world of Reformed Protestant objections to Lutheranism, it is also striking to see how the funny Lutheran guy (thanks to our New Jerusalem correspondent) responds to the Osteen comment:

In their sermons and books, both Joel and Victoria Osteen give full-throated endorsement to the prosperity gospel, a theology which states that those enduring hardships, poverty, and sickness have only their lack of faith and confidence to blame for their suffering. There are, of course, some enormous theological problems with this Christianized version of “The Secret,” where you obtain God’s blessings by speaking them into existence. The first is that it has no basis in the Scriptures and conveniently ignores all of the words that Jesus speaks about the question of suffering, the cost of discipleship, and the blessedness of persecution. The second is that it offers nothing but despair to those who are faithfully enduring the crosses Christ has given them to bear. And the third is that such a doctrine simply doesn’t square with the lives of those who were the first to tell us about God’s blessings in Christ (self-promotion alert).

So is it bad for Victoria Osteen to encourage us to think of God as the “Treat Yo Self” Tom Haverford to our name-it-and-claim-it Donna Meagle? Most definitely. But surely it’s a few notches lower on the pole of theological indefensibility than speaking words that, one, say the exact opposite of what the Bible says; two, belittle suffering Christians with the insensitivity a man horking down a hot fudge sundae three inches from the face of a starving child; and, three, imply that St. Peter, St. Paul, and even Jesus Himself must have been really lousy Christians who couldn’t unlock God’s potential blessings.

In other words, the funny Lutheran guy sees here a version of the prosperity gospel. And so my point is whether we should see the prosperity gospel also at work in experimental Calvinism — as in the happier, the more you’re experiencing God’s presence, or the more holy you are, the more pious and spiritually successful you are. And lo and behold, along comes Mark Jones to confirm the point:

I am of the view that powerful preaching, by a minister who labours week-in, week-out, with his flock has a strong correlation to his own godliness. I think Robert Murray M’Cheyne was right to say, “a holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” A man who has been broken – who really does preach with “fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3) – is a man people will listen to week-in, week-out. There’s a reason God “breaks” his servants: he wants them to preach as broken men, not as those who strut around like peacocks. There’s a reason old, seasoned ministers have a massive advantage over young ministers. And it’s a good reason – they speak with a type of wisdom that comes from many years of ministry. Personally, I rarely listen to preachers under the age of 45 – with apologies to my friends who are ministers under 45 (you know who you are).

In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul writes the following to Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

A plain reading of the text leaves us with little doubt that personal holiness and perseverance in holiness are means (along with teaching true doctrine) that God uses in the salvation and sanctification of Christ’s bride. What a thought, for ministers, that watching ourselves and our teaching has eternal consequences for us and our people. That’s why, if you desire to be a minister, you’re either called or mad, though hopefully not both!

And there you have it — making the world safe for celebrity pastors (how else do we explain their success or their joy?).

Multiculturalists All

The people lining up to defend and laud rap and hip-hop, some from the very demographic of middle-aged white men who recently started a kerfuffle by objecting to Reformed rap and hip-hop, is a curious and not entirely encouraging development. I am referring particularly to the efforts by Ligon Duncan (and now Al Mohler) to distance themselves from the panel of family-friendly Calvinistic speakers who were filmed saying what many have taken to be racist, elitist, and culturalist assertions about rap and hip-hop. I am not sure if this is a substitute for the sporty red convertible, or an attempt to show once and for all one’s integrationist bona fides. (The next time Anthony Bradley writes about racism in the white evangelical church, he should remember this incident.) But whatever the incident may say about middle-aged men with ties to a region of the country where race relations have not been good (though the rest of the country was no picnic of integration), it says lots of discouraging things about the health of our culture.

Maybe I am too old to get rap or hip-hop. Frankly, I like melody in a song. Is that Eurocentric or middle-aged? Maybe, but listening to poetry, no matter how good or vicious, with some kind of rhythm or progression of chords, has never struck me as all musically appealing. It strikes me as the “musical” equivalent of The Three Stooges’ comedy. I never was a fan of those three white guys and have never understood their appeal. But I wonder if the panelists who objected to rap would be receiving the same kind of rebukes had they said similar things about The Three Stooges — the culture out of which the humor emerges is questionable, the themes betray vicious parts of human nature, such creative expressions cannot be redeemed. For the record, “disobedient cowards” was not helpful. (Also, does it get me any street cred if I liked but didn’t love 8 Mile?)

Now, if they had said about The Simpsons what they said about rap, should I get on my high horse because I find that cartoon series to be about as accomplished as Rocky and Bullwinkle? I would hope not. Not to go all elitist on anyone, but I am convinced that as good as The Simpsons is, I don’t think it will endure. Sure, it will live on in syndication for as long as its fans have access to cable. But it is not a creative form that will stand the test of time like the one that says a book on Shakespeare has much more of a chance of gaining an acquisition editor’s attention than a book on Ricky Gervais’ original series, The Office. Yes, Shakespeare has the advantage over Gervais of being assigned in all sorts of schools, all over the world. But Shakespeare does speak to a wider and more profound range of themes than The Office, and so can reach audiences that are old and young, Asian and Canadian, boy and woman.

But I am not sure that defenders of Reformed or Christian rappers are capable of seeing the difference between The Three Stooges and Shakespeare when they analyze like this:

Culture is the milieu that emerges when lots of image bearers start playing and working with creation, and in a fallen world, it’s always a mixed bag of glory and tragedy. It’s glorious because humanity is glorious. We are shockingly imaginative, capable of great compassion and generosity. It’s tragic because we’re blind and broken, capable of hatefulness, selfishness, murder and exploitation.

Wisdom recognizes that all cultures are just such a mixed bag. This is just as true of Western European post-reformation culture as it is of medieval culture, contemporary middle Eastern culture, and contemporary Hip Hop Culture. Each has their idols. Each has their glimpses of glory. Each has a way of showing off the beauty of creation. And each one desperately needs the purifying power of the gospel. . . .

Make no mistake about it: this is a gospel issue, plain and simple. I want to say this very carefully. Christian rap is not a gospel issue because Christians need to do it, but because their freedom to do it – their freedom to let the gospel take root in the soil of their culture and bear fruit in their communities, with their voices, sounds, and heart language, is something worth dying for.

It’s a gospel issue because what they demand – abandoning and replacing their culture with something more “appropriate” – is another gospel altogether.

It’s the reason Paul wrote the book of Galatians. It’s the reason he rebuked the Judaisers. To condemn a whole culture, to demand cultural conformity is to add on to the free, culture-renewing grace of Jesus and say, “Jesus plus our cultural norms.”

I don’t know why it would be offensive to put rap and hip-hop in the same ephemeral category of The Three Stooges, The Simpsons, and Ricky Gervais. To do so is just as implicitly elitist and hierarchical as the white-guy panel was. One difference is race. But were these panelists really referring to race or to a sense that some forms of cultural expression are worse than others? Race may have played a part in their comments, though the rush to find the racist code in their language despite their explicit silence is hardly the best evidence of Christian charity. Still, the overwhelming urge to laud and defend rap as just one more valid and good cultural expression is not a good sign. It shows that the so-called conservatives in the culture wars are just as multicultural as the people who continue to promote race, class, and gender as significant categories for understanding culture.

Who Will Review in that Great Day?

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

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

It comes with endorsements from:

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

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

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

Why Does Mahaney Get More Slack Than Nevin?

The answer appears to be that if you I have spoken at conferences with C.J., shared a meal with him after one of those sessions, or sung Sovereign Grace Music songs on stage with him, then it is possible to stand in the gap with C.J. in the current difficulty that SGM is experiencing. But if you have not done any of those relationship-building things with J.W., then it is not possible to give Nevin the benefit of the doubt.

This is another way of saying that personal knowledge and friendship appear to be significant elements in the reactions from famous evangelical Reformed figures to the news about C. J. Mahaney and the difficulties besetting SGM. Al Mohler has issued a statement of full confidence in Mahaney and so Ligon Duncan has recently issued a statement over at Reformation 21 which includes this:

It is clear that far from a scandalous cover up, our brothers at Sovereign Grace are taking these matters with utter seriousness and are endeavoring to walk in Gospel repentance and humility and fidelity. C.J. knows of my complete love and respect for him. And my brethren at Sovereign Grace know of my support and prayers for them. . . . I want to emphasize that we fully respect the process that SGM is taking to review the entire situation and that we have no intention whatsoever of joining in the adjudicating of this case in the realm of the internet – a practice as ugly as it is unbiblical.

Here’s the problem. For schlubs like me, who have had no personal interaction with Mahaney, the only information I have to go on are those formal statements that describe SGM’s work. And when I go to the website of SGM I discover that Sovereign Grace churches are weak on the sacraments, have no presbyterian polity, and also include statements friendly to charismatic views of the Holy Spirit. These official teachings and practices have nothing to do (as far as any of us know) with the current difficulties at SGM. C.J. may be guilty or innocent no matter what SGM teaches and does.

But those formal statements would be enough for me not to have personal knowledge of C.J., at least the kind that comes from parachurch conferences, networks, and alliances. All serious Reformed church members and officers, of course, may and do participate with non-Reformed in a host of voluntary organizations. You cannot exist in civil society and not participate with Baptists, Mormons, or Roman Catholics at the Parent Teachers Association, or at the committee for expanding the local library, or on the Chamber of Commerce. You might even participate with non-Reformed in religious endeavors like a college or a magazine.

But if an association or organization calls itself a ministry, I am not sure how such cooperation can exist. The reason has to do with the word “ministry” itself. It invariably goes with “the word” as in minister the word of God (except for the neo-Calvinist/evangelical clutter of “every member ministry”). And when we talk about ministry in this way, we are in the ballpark of ordination, ecclesiology, sacraments, worship, and doctrine. Ministry as such should be confessional. Cross-confessional ministries undermine confessionalism. (And if an organization has the word “gospel” in its name and does not call itself a ministry then it should cease its activities because ministering the gospel is of the essence of ministry.)

So again, I am in a dilemma regarding the current situation at SGM. I have a knowledge of C.J. that only comes from formal statements that would prevent me from entering into ministry relationships with him. And not having those ministry relationships I have no personal knowledge that he is a worthwhile friend and colleague. At the same time, I have friends and acquaintances who are assuring me that everything is basically okay with C.J. and this advice stems from personal knowledge that is grounded in a cross-confessional ministry. Reassurances about C.J. would not be coming from evangelical Reformed types if those Reformed and Baptist figures were as particular in their understanding of ministry as anyone who takes seriously the visible church should be.

Of course, it is commendable for people to stand by their friends and I commend Duncan and Mohler for not doing the self-righteous thing of throwing Mahaney under the bus simply at the accusation of misconduct. Innocent until proven guilty works in both kingdoms.

But if friendship is really a function of fellowship and such fellowship is misbegotten on confessional grounds, then standing by one’s friend may really be a form of standing by a fellow minister while having no ecclesiastical basis or status for doing so.

So I remain ignorant of C.J.’s personal charms because I remain separate from Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Huh?!?

Over at Ref21, Ligon Duncan supplies a drive-by quote from Herman Bavinck that the Mississippi pastor directs against John Williamson Nevin. Here is the the Bavinck quote:

In a comparatively sound church life, it is possible to assume that as a rule the children of the covenant will be born again in their youth and come to faith and conversion ‘in stages and gracefully.’ But when the world penetrates the church and many people grow up and live for years without showing any fruits worthy of faith and repentance, then the serious-minded feel called to warn against trusting one’s childhood regeneration and one’s historical faith in Christian doctrine and to insist on true conversion of the hearts, and experiential knowledge of the truths of salvation. Against a dead orthodoxy, Pietism and Methodism, with their conventicles and revivals, always have a right to exist. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:583)

Then comes this pithy postscript:

And, yes, I know I’m being provocative with the title. But Nevin is not the answer to what ails us.

The post has no links, and as is Ref21’s wont, no place for comments (no peace, no justice!).

So I wonder what made Duncan think of Nevin in connection with Bavinck. Was the Dutch theologian writing against his American counterpart directly? The quotation doesn’t suggest so. Or did David Strain, from whom Duncan obtained the Bavinck quotation, have a recent reading session with the Mercersburg Theology? (I actually follow David’s blog and have not seen activity there in some time. Of course, the Internet is not the only way for David and Ligon to communicate since they both minister in the PCA in Mississippi.)

But even more mysterious is what Ligon means by Nevin not being the answer. The only folks in conservative Presbyterian circles who advocate Nevin regularly are the Federal Visionaries. I know I myself may be charged with such an accusation, but the record is pretty clear that my prescriptions for our communions run more toward Machen than Nevin (as much as I respect the latter’s critique of revivalism).

Still, the funny thing is that the Federal Visionaries’ efforts to blur the lines between faith and faithfulness are very similar to those of the Methodists and Pietists whom Bavinck commends against a dead orthodoxy. After all, the point of turning faith into faithfulness is to get people to take seriously not just the sacraments but all those endeavors to create Christendom and establish the rule of Christ and God’s law. Federal Vision may be wrong orthodoxy but it is hardly dead. In which case, their recommendation of Nevin is a way to obtain exactly what Bavinck wants — “fruits worthy of faith and repentance,” that is, lots of godliness of a experimental Calvinist kind but rooted in the church (where pastors wear clerical collars of odd pastel hues). Federal Vision is no faith for slouches.

At the same time, Bavinck may want to consider Nevin’s critique of revivalism because sometimes children of the covenant are already showing fruits that don’t measure up to the enthusiasts’ standards or their constant laments about dead orthodoxy. As I read Nevin, the point of Christian devotion is not to stick out like a sore thumb but to wear one’s faith organically, or quietly, peacefully (or in Presbyterian parlance, decently and in order). The reason is that calling attention to one’s devotion can readily destroy devotion with selfishness and pride. Even more pressing for Bavinck and recommenders like Duncan is to consider the oxymoronic assertion that a child of the covenant, not in open rebellion, but attending the means of grace and trying to trust the Lord in family devotions and private prayer, and still submitting to godly parents, needs to convert. Convert from what? Pious ways?

As I say, Huh?!?