Christendom or America

Mark Noll made me aware of Hugh McLeod’s definition of Christendom:

a society where there are close ties between leaders of the church and secular elites

the laws purport to be based on Christian principles

apart from some clearly defined outsider communities, everyone is assumed to be a Christian

Christianity provides a common language, shared alike by the devout and the religiously lukewarm

A 2ker has to wonder where any reader of the New Testament supposes this is the blueprint for society. The Roman Empire was pagan. The apostles knew that and sought to make the gospel known to those whom God foreknew as his people. They also expected seemingly a quick return by their ascended Lord.

If you want that kind of society from the pages of Scripture, you go to the Old Testament. Say hello to theonomy. But Christ and the apostles failed to measure up to Christendom on all these grounds:

They had bad relations with pagan elites. That’s why they were executed — hello.

They had no instruction about laws being based on the gospel (or even “Christian principles”).

Shouldn’t have to be said, but they did not — get this — assume everyone was a Christian. Nero? Hello.

They had a firm sense of the antithesis. The difference between believers and the world pervades the New Testament.

One could reasonably conclude that Christendom is not Christian.

That makes secular America Christian. Christians have bad relations with secular elites. 2kers at least don’t expect laws to be based on Christian principles (whatever that is). No Christian (not sure about some progressive Roman Catholics) assumes every American is Christian (mainline Protestants are equally progressive but they draw the Christian line to keep Trump voters out of the kingdom). And most serious Christians in the United States go through life recognizing a gap between Christian and American cultural norms — shops are open on Sunday.

In other words, 2kers live more in line with the teaching and experience of Christ and the apostles. Christendom-inspired critics of 2k use as their norm Christian developments after Constantine, not those after Christ. Indeed, the novos ordo seclorum of 1789 was a return to the kind of society Christ and the apostles lived and breathed in. They did not know Constantinianism or Christendom which America rejected.

That also means critics of 2k are anti-American. For shame!!!

But there’s hope for Christendom. Even as Norway secularizes it still has a national church:

On Jan. 1, the Scandinavian country cut some ties with its Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Norway, rewording the national constitution to change the denomination from “the state’s public religion” to “Norway’s national church.”

The change means the nation of just over 5 million people – about 82 percent of them Evangelical-Lutherans – will still fund the church but will no longer appoint its clergy, who will still be considered civil servants. . . .

Secularism has been on the rise in Western Europe since the 1960s, with church attendance declining and strict laws on public displays of religion in nations such as France. But the past decade has seen the rise of anti-secular groups and politicians in England, Germany and France.

Meanwhile, some Norwegians feel the divorce is not sharp enough. Kristin Mile, the secretary-general of the Norwegian Humanist Association, told The Local No, an English-language Norwegian news site, that the change only muddies the relationship between church and state.

“As long as the constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church, and that it should be supported by the state, we still have a state church,” she said.

Is that what piners for Christendom want?

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Reading about Machen in The Reformed Journal

Reformed Protestants 50 and up may have spent some of their reading hours with The Reformed Journal, a magazine of Dutch-American Calvinist provenance that came into existence as a forum for Christian Reformed Church progressives. I read it from my days as a seminary student until 1990 when it folded. I didn’t always agree with the politics or theology, but it was provocative and thoughtful.

Given the “progressive” character of the magazine, I should not have been surprised that TRJ’s regular contributors were slightly sympathetic but underwhelmed by J. Gresham Machen. That outlook bothered me because the deeper I went into the archives, the more impressed I was by the man who started Westminster Seminary and the OPC (with lots of help from others). In light of yesterday’s post with an excerpt from Machen’s testimony at his trial and with some reflections still fresh from the fall Presbyterian Scholars Conference (where several participants were experiencing the joy of post-PCUSA life but still not on board with Machen’s own version of that experience), I reproduce some high or low lights of TRJ takes on Machen.

First comes Rich Mouw’s argument that Machen’s departure actually hurt the cause of conservatism in the PCUSA (one echoed by George Marsden at the Wheaton conference):

Barbara Wheeler and I have argued much about the issues that threaten to divide us, but we share a strong commitment to continuing the conversation. She regularly makes her case for staying together by appealing to a high ecclesiology. The church, she insists, is not a voluntary arrangement that we can abandon just because we do not happen to like some of the other people in the group. God calls us into the church, and that means that God requires that we hang in there with one another even if that goes against our natural inclinations.

I agree with that formulation. And I sense that many of my fellow evangelicals in the PCUSA would also endorse it. The question that many evangelicals are asking these days, though, is whether God expects us to hang in there at all costs.

One of my reasons for wanting to see us stick together is that a Presbyterian split would be a serious setback for the cause that I care deeply about, namely the cause of Reformed orthodoxy. I spend a lot of time thinking about how people with my kind of theology, have acted in the past, and I am convinced that splits inevitably diminish the influence of the kind of orthodoxy that I cherish — for at least two reasons.

First, the denomination from which the dissidents depart is typically left without strong voices to defend orthodox. This is what happened in the early decades of the 20th century when J. Gresham Machen and his colleagues broke away from the northern Presbyterian church.

I know that this is not a very popular thing to say in this setting, but I happen to be a strong admirer of Machen. I think that he pretty much had things right on questions of biblical authority, the nature of Christ’s atoning work, and other key items on the theological agenda. But I have strong reservations about his ecclesiology and I regret that his views about the unity of the church led him to abandon mainline Presbyterianism. As long as he remained within the northern church, he had a forum for demonstrating to liberals that Calvinist orthodoxy could be articulated with intellectual rigor. When he and his friends departed, this kind of witness departed with them.

The evangelicals who stayed on in the northern church generally did so because they were not as polemical as the Machen group; they were also not nearly as inclined as the Machenites to engage in sustained theological discussion. This meant that the quality of theological argumentation in mainline Presbyterianism suffered for several decades — some would even say up to our present time.

Not to let facts get in the way here, but Mouw would do well to remember that the PCUSA brought Machen to trial and excommunicated him. Yesterday’s post shows that Machen was not eager to flee even if it would have been a lot more pleasant. Whether his actions were legitimate or constitutional is another question. But he asked about the constitutionality of PCUSA actions and that didn’t endear him to the people who stayed. In fact, they tried him for having the temerity to question the soundness of the Board of Foreign Missions — as if that’s never happened — and the administrative fiats that condemned dissent.

I too wonder if Mouw considers that from 1869 until 1920 the PCUSA became infected by the social gospel and Protestant ecumenism. During that very same time Princeton Seminary as the voice of Reformed orthodoxy in the northern church was still dominated by conservatives. What happened during the years when Princeton kept alive the theology that Mouw values? Princeton and it’s orthodoxy became marginal and then a nuisance — hence the reorganization of Princeton Seminary in 1929. The idea that had Machen stayed conservatives would have done better is naive and ignores what actually happened before Machen “left.” Plus, what kind of high ecclesiology settles for articulating “Calvinist orthodoxy with intellectual rigor”?

George Marsden and Mark Noll regularly wrote for TRJ and again the returns on Machen were not always positive. First, Marsden:

Both at the time and since critics of Machen have suggested that there was something peculiar about him. Most often mentioned are that Machen remained a bachelor and his very close relationship to his mother until her death in 1931. Neither of these traits, however, was particularly unusual in the Victorian era, which certainly set many of Machen’s social standards.

More to the point is that he does seem to have had a flaring temper and a propensity to make strong remarks about individuals with whom he disagreed. One striking instance is from 1913 when Machen had an intense two-hour argument with B. B. Warfield over campus policy, after which Machen wrote to his mother that Warfield, whom he normally admired immensely, was “himself, despite some very good qualities, a very heartless, selfish, domineering sort of man.” You can imagine that, if someone says things like this about one’s friends, that it might be easy to make enemies. Machen does not seem to have had a great ability to separate people from issues, and this certainly added to the tensions on the small seminary faculty. Clearly he was someone whom people either loved or hated. His students disciples were charmed by him and always spoke of his warmth and gentlemanliness. His opponents found him impossible, and it is a fair question to ask whether, despite the serious issues, things might have gone differently with a different personality involved.

This observation continues to baffle me, as if people do not distinguish public from private statements. Maybe we are only learning that lesson after Donald Trump, but historians generally know that in the archives you find people saying all sorts of things that they wouldn’t say in public. In private we blow off steam, unless we are all walking John Piper’s and sanctified all the way down. I also don’t understand why Marsden starts his sentence on Machen’s personality with the man’s opponents found him impossible. Hello. The feeling was mutual. But Machen as a sanctified believer was supposed to find his adversaries hedonistically delightful?

And finally, Mark Noll’s estimate on the fiftieth anniversary of Machen’s death:

By reading controversies within Princeton Seminary, Presbyterian missions, and eventually the Presbyterian denomination as battles between two separate religions, “Christianity and Liberalism,” Machen undermined the effectiveness of those Reformed and evangelical individuals who chose to remain at Princeton Seminary, with the Presbyterian mission board, and in the Northern Presbyterian Church. By committing himself so strongly to theological and ecclesiastical combat, Machen left successors who were ill-equipped to deal with the more practical matters of evangelism, social outreach, and devotional nurture. By pursuing the virtues of confessional integrity, he opened the door to sectarian pettiness.

No real sense here that blaming the victim is a potential downside of such an interpretation. The perspective seemed so often in TRJ to be that Machen was a man on a mission and looking for a controversy. The bureaucrats and seminary administrators were innocent. (Yes, the lawyer who defended modernists in the 1920s, John Foster Dulles, became the Secretary of State who crafted the Eisenhower administration’s Cold War policies — the very administration that the founding editors of TRJ questioned.) The Presbyterian hierarchy simply responded — with a hammer, mind you — to Machen’s provocations. That could have been the case but no one argued that. They largely reduced Machen to a cantankerous figure who got what most of us would expect if we rock the boat the way he did.

And now in hindsight I wonder what these same men would think of Abraham Kuyper who was also part of a church that came out of the Netherlands’ state church. Didn’t Kuyper’s GKN (Reformed Churches of the Netherlands) make it a lot harder for conservatives who stayed in the NHK (Dutch Reformed Church)? And didn’t Kuyper’s Free University make life more complicated for orthodox theologians who remained at Leiden or Utrecht? (In other words, why wouldn’t it be possible to imagine Machen akin to Kuyper? Why doesn’t the Kuyper glow trickle down to Machen? Because Kuyper became Prime Minister and Machen merely president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions?)

And what of John Calvin? Was he wrong to leave France? Did he leave Huguenots in the lurch? Was the Roman Catholic Church worse off without Calvin’s ministry and theological reflection? Or does the mind boggle at the questions you need to start asking other historical figures when you become so demanding of a figure of which you disapprove?

What Am(mmmeeeEEEE) I Missing?

A few more observations about religious journalism after the news that Books & Culture is ending its run next month. A couple of evangelical academics have taken this news about the way that I felt when I heard that Chris Hughes had bought the New Republic and its editorial staff resigned.

According to Alan Jacobs:

For twenty-one years, Books and Culture has been one of the most consistently interesting magazines in the English-speaking world. I have often been surprised at the number and range of people who agree with me about that. Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.

Chris Gehrz seconds Jacobs:

… in any event, it’s certainly a good moment to celebrate what John Wilson has been able to accomplish over twenty years of editing B&C — and how much I appreciate that he has gone out of his way to encourage young authors and scholars. Thanks, John, and all those who have made Books & Culture possible these last twenty-one years.

Both authors mention personal ties to John Wilson and my own relations to the magazine no doubt inform my reaction to the news which is a measure of sadness, especially for people who are losing the jobs. But I can’t say I’ll miss B&C because I haven’t subscribed to it for years.

One reason was precisely those young writers that Gehrz believes John Wilson cultivated. For me that was a fault of John Wilson’s powers as gate keeper for what could have been the jewel in intellectual evangelicalism’s crown. If you want to point to the rich treasures of the evangelical mind, why not turn to its intellectual statesmen and make your publication evangelicalism’s go to place for your movement’s most insightful writers? But evangelicalism suffers from an implicit egalitarianism that elevates the ideas and opinions of the novice and untested to the same worth as the tried and true.

This was exactly what Leon Wieseltier refused to do with the New Republic. In the “back of the book” he turned to some of the academy’s best minds (including Mark Noll) and gave them lots of room to explore a range of ideas that — sorry — B&C never approximated.

Maybe it is apples and oranges, but I doubt Jean Bethke Elshtain could have evaluated Hillary Clinton for John Wilson the way she did for Wieseltier:

I am no a family-above-all person. Some families are rotten and the children in those families should be spirited to safety as quickly as possible. But truly rotten families are, thank God, few and far between. More commonly we have good enough families or almost good enough ones. How high do we place the threshhold in assessing good and bad parenting? Whose business is it anyway? Here Clinton makes one of the more lamentable moves in her book. She is dead-on about the importance of being attuned to the needs of infants, feeding them, cuddling them, holding them, but in a discussion of the fact that there is not “substitute for regular, undivided attention from parents” we learn that the “biggest difference” that emerged from a study she cites and endorses, was “in the sheer amount of talking that occurred” in various households. It is no surprise that Clinton favors the chattering classes, but she proceeds to malign poor and working-class parents because they interact less with their children….

Like Clinton, I recoil when I hear a parent shout at a child. I, too, cringe when a parent is curt, abrupt and dismissive. But I recognize that this is not the same thing as neglect, not the same thing as abuse. Perhaps, as the late Christopher Lasch insisted, the working-class or lower-middle-class style aims to instill in children a tough, early recognition that life is not a bowl of cherries, not a world in which everyone is telling you how great you are; that their lives will be carried out in a world in which they tasks they are suited for, the jobs they do, the lives they live, and even the way they talk (or do not talk) will be scrutinized and found wanting by their “betters.” I know that Clinton would argue, in response, that she means no invidious comparison. But the comparison is there and it is invidious. According to her book, the higher the income and education, the better the parenting, all other things being equal….Don’t get me wrong. As a general rule, children shouldn’t have to…[suffer]. And no group of children should be stuck in such a situation as a permanent condition. But life is hard, and its necessities bear down on people. In the light of such recognitions, it is best at times to restrain ourselves and not rush to intervene and fix everything and tell people struggling against enormous odds that they are doing a crummy job. Sometimes Clinton understands this, sometimes she doesn’t.

Rah Rah T(eam) G(ospel) C(oalition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fewer high fives, more sobriety.

Does Learning from the Academy Include Reading Historians?

Pete Enns yet again thinks in the standard evangelical-vs.-mainline categories when thinking about appropriating biblical scholarship for the church:

Or consider the following: it’s been known within the evangelical community to encourage promising seminary students to pursue doctoral work at major research universities, but for apologetic purposes: infiltrate their ranks, learn their ways, expose their weaknesses. Or, related, they are told to “plunder the Egyptians”—a phrase actually used. To appropriate whatever in critical scholarship can aid the cause and either ignore or fight against the rest.

And so you have three postures by this faith community toward the threat posed by the academic study of the Bible: gatekeeper, spy, or plunderer. What lies beneath these postures is a deep distrust of the academy.

But the academy isn’t just a problem for evangelicals or other conservatives. On the other end of the spectrum we have the mainline church and theological interpretation—which is a movement to recover scripture for the church (the mainline church) in the wake of the historical critical revolution, which has not always been friendly to life and faith.

This is no rejection of the academy, though. What’s done is done. We’ve passed through what Walter Wink calls the “acid bath of criticism,” which has done the necessary job of stripping us of our naïve biblicism. But now, what’s left? What do we do with the Bible? How does it function in the church? What does it say about God? What should we believe? So, whereas evangelicalism distrust the academy, the mainline has felt a bit burned by it.

What if those are not the only options and what if Enns himself studied at a school where biblical scholars thought about matters of faith and criticism differently? What if, in fact, Enns ever broke up the evangelical world into its Wesleyan, Baptist, and confessional Protestant wings? If he did, he might find a guy like Mark Noll — when will biblical scholars learn from the academy (read academic historians) — writing about Westminster’s Ned Stonehouse in these terms:

Stonehouse abandoned the widespread assumption that the evangelists wrote history according to the canons of the modern period. For him exact harmonization became considerably less important than it had been for other evangelicals. Mark, for example, did not set out to write a biography of the modern sort, but rather was proclaiming “the glad tidings of Jesus Christ, and this presupposes something different from the interest which a biographer has in his subject . . . . The gulf that separates Mark’s historical method from the typical modern one is seen most clearly in the almost complete absence of the notion of development.” Luke, for his part, “is least concerned with the chronological and topographical settings of the incidents and teachings which he reports.” . . . In these and other assertions, Stonehouse broke with a long evangelical tradition that had regarded the evangelists’ sayings as simply reports of facts largely unrelated to the author’s theological intentions. Stonehouse’s final purpose in these protoredactional studies was anything but liberal or radical. It was precisely the truth of the message, the reality of the historic Christ, which Stonehouse expected to enhance by noting the literary purposes of the gospel-writers . . . (Between Faith and Criticism, 107-108)

Not only was Stonehouse doing something thoughtful in the world of believing and academic biblical studies, but he also served as a churchman in the OPC on any number of standing committees of the General Assembly.

In other words, when you read Enns you get the impression that the Society of Biblical Literature or the Evangelical Theological Society are the only hermeneutical games in town. If he had only gone to Dallas Theological Seminary and then to Harvard, I might understand that construction of the alternatives. But he went to Westminster where Stonehouse taught and where the faculty studied the Bible differently from either the evangelical or mainline worlds. In fact, he went to seminary with guys who apply academic rigor to the preparation of two sermons a week.

Those are some of the same students who would likely use a careful study of the Bible to warn Enns away from Protestant churches that hand out icons.

Golden Oldie (part three)

From Make War No More?: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of J. Gresham Machen’s Warrior Children

J. Gresham Machen may not be the gold standard for twentieth-century Reformed orthodoxy but he does stand out not only in every account of American Presbyterianism but in most accounts of religion in United States as arguably the most important defender of historic Christianity. Some of the reasons are circumstantial. Machen happened to be teaching at a seminary, Princeton, that was firmly linked to the Protestant establishment and that had a long history of educating conservatives in other denominations. This placed Machen at the center of a the fundamentalist controversy when it erupted in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. with support and admiration from non-Presbyterian conservatives. If he had been teaching at Columbia Seminary in South Carolina or at Wheaton College, the reporters who covered the religion beat in America would likely have been less interested than in a Princeton professor. Other reasons for Machen’s reputation stem from those attributes he brought to bear in his circumstances. His writings show remarkable acumen, courage, and even fairness to his opponents. In addition, Machen carried on in his battles with liberalism for the better part of two decades and, not being content with celebrity or individual effort, recognized the importance of establishing institutions to sustain a Reformed witness. As a man of his times and a person who distinguished himself from his contemporaries, Machen was, in the words of the novelist, Pearl Buck, “worth a hundred of his fellows who, as princes of the church, occupy easy places and play their church politics and trim their sails to every win, who in their smug observance of the convention sof life and religion offend all honest and searching spirits.” That is why Buck, whom Machen had opposed, wished that he had lived longer so he could “go on fighting them.”

Yet, for all of Machen’s accomplishments, the verdict on his efforts has been mixed even among conservative Presbyterians and evangelicals. Much of the discomfort with Machen surrounds his flair for controversy. Of course, critics such as Robert Moats Miller, the biographer of Harry Emerson Fosdick, might be expected to focus on the unflattering aspects of Machen’s career. In fact, Machen’s combativeness was so extreme for Miller that he could, without qualification or fear of misinterpretation, in a respectable academic journal refer to Machen as “quite loony.” Ernest R. Sandeen, one of the first American historians to give fundamentalism an even-handed inquiry would not let his impartiality extend to Machen whose belligerency was supposedly characterized by “perverse obstinacy.”

But when scholars with ecclesial ties to Machen demonstrate a similar unease with his combativeness, the problem is particularly grave. On the fiftieth anniversary of Machen’s death, Mark A. Noll, then an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, observed that the cost of Machen’s contentiousness was “large.” He “undermined the effectiveness of those Reformed and evangelical individuals who chose to remain at Princeton Seminary, with the Presbyterian mission board, and in the Northern Presbyterian Church.” Furthermore, according to Noll, Machen “left successors ill-equipped to deal with the more practical matters of evangelism, social outreach, and devotional nurture.” George M. Marsden, in a piece for Princeton Seminary Bulletin expressed similar reservations to Noll’s about Machen’s “cantankerousness.” Even though Marsden was a son of the OPC and his father had been a prominent official in the OPC and at Westminster Seminary, he still could not warm up to Machen’s propensity to fight. Marsden conceded that Machen’s critique of liberalism had merit, but he “had a personality that only his good friends found appealing, and he stood for a narrow Old School confessionalism and exclusivism that many people today find appalling.”

One last example of an Orthodox Presbyterian who could not stomach Machen’s combativeness is John R. Frame, for many years a professor at Westminster (in Philadelphia and at California) and a minister in the OPC. In his book, Evangelical Reunion Frame indicated his discomfort with the militancy that had characterized the OPC since its founding, and more recently in his infamous article, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” he registered a complaint similar to Noll and Marsden: “The Machen movement was born in the controversy over liberal theology.” “I have no doubt that Machen and his colleagues were right to reject this theology and to fight it,” Frame added. “But it is arguable that once the Machenites found themselves in a ‘true Presbyterian church’ they were unable to moderate their martial impulses. Being in a church without liberals to fight, they turned on one another.”

Aside from the merits of these assessments, the verdicts of Noll, Marsden, and Frame all point to a curious phenomenon among those in the second generation of Orthodox Presbyterians – that is, an unwillingness to fight for the Reformed faith combined with a strong dose of theological and ecclesiastical pacifism. None of these scholars thought Machen was wrong to oppose liberalism per se even if each person might assess the strength’s of Machen’s critique differently. But beyond the errors that liberalism posed, like many who were associated with the institutions that Machen founded – the OPC, Westminster Seminary, and the Presbyterian Guardian – these scholars were unprepared to go. Combating liberalism, then, was apparently acceptable because it was obviously wrong. But opposing errors among evangelical or Reformed Christians was apparently unacceptable for many in the second generation. Indeed, the views of Noll, Marsden, and Frame were not unusual among conservative Presbyterians during the 1970s and 1980s. In the OPC particularly, the reasons for contending for the Reformed faith looked increasingly pointless and the church sought ways to escape its rut, first by seeking a merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, and then with the Presbyterian Church in America. In less than forty years, the fight had left the OPC and with its departure had come reassessments of Machen, his role in the controversies of the 1920s and 1930s, and even his legacy.

Religious Life at Notre Dame

While Jason and the Callers are admiring the early church fathers, here is an observation on their contemporary brothers and sisters from Mark Noll in a review of George Weigel’s, Evangelical Catholicism:

It is mostly inconsequential, but perhaps also of some interest to record how I have read this book against the background of experience at Notre Dame. From that experience I would conclude that there are indeed some Catholics committed to deep church reform who already practice something like Weigel’s evangelical Catholicism. But it also seems obvious that such Catholics make up only one part of a church that in its U.S. expression includes many other Catholics eager to promote their respective visions of reform. This rainbow of reformers includes Garry Wills Catholics, G. K. Chesterton Catholics, Robert Barron Catholics, Joe Biden Catholics, Dorothy Day Catholics, Sandra Schneider Catholics, Opus Dei Catholics, Oscar Romero Catholics, and many more. As someone who has read several works by John Paul II and Benedict XVI with real appreciation, I hope very much that they have set the church on a path that it will follow, but then I wonder why in some conversations at Notre Dame, I as the non-Catholic seem to have the most positive things to say about these two popes.

One of the great privileges of being at Notre Dame has been to witness what can only be called Roman Catholic Christianity at its best, marked by profound understanding of fundamental Trinitarian theology, strong commitment to the Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon, expert deployment of philosophy in service to theology, deep personal piety, and dedicated Christian commitment to a wide range of social reforms. Examples of what to all appearances look like admirable personal religion supported by admirable family, parish, and social religion also abound.

Yet Notre Dame is also a place where a broad array of often incompatible ideals are proposed for Catholic reform, where cafeteria religion seems pervasive for what Catholics choose to do or believe, where students participate in dormitory masses and standard college dissipations with equal fervour, and where no one seems too concerned about vast stretches of nominal Catholic adherence.

Jump In, the Post-Evangelical Water is Warm (even if the pond is small)

First I am vinegary, now I’m crabby. This is the latest indignity from Scot McKnight who doesn’t care for my definition of evangelicalism. (Okay, he says I’m “a bit” of a crab. But as with pregnancy, how can you be a little bit of a crab?) My demeanor came up not with my wife but in discussion of McKnight’s post about David Schwartz’s new book on the evangelical left, which McKnight calls the best book he’s read this year.

To get that endorsement, McKnight rejects the older definition of evangelicalism that has haunted Reformed types, such as this common lament among evangelicals who prefer the First to the Second Pretty Good Awakening:

More specifically speaking, [an evangelical is] someone who believes the Gospel is centered on the doctrine of justification by faith and the principles of sola fide (by faith alone) and sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), he added. “The Gospel is a message about redemption, it’s a call to repentance from sin … and a summons to yield to the Lordship of Christ.”

Abuse of the term “evangelical” is not new. Nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon had decried the fact that the modernists of his day wanted to be called evangelicals even though they abandoned all the evangelical principles, according to Johnson. Such a label would give them “instant credibility” and easy access to people who believed the Bible, he said.

McKnight rejects this definition because it “wants evangelicalism to be old-fashioned fundamentalism, the kind that pre-Carl Henry and pre-neo-evangelicalism’s coalition and pre-John Stott” [sic]. For that reason, he prefers a definition like David Bebbington’s four-fold grid: “crucicentrism, biblicism, conversionism, and activism.”

It strikes this crabby Calvinist as odd that a person who identifies himself as an Anabaptist and who has identified with if not being a leader of the emergent church — that would be McKnight — would so readily approve Bebbington and Noll who read evangelicalism much more through the lens of the Puritans and the eighteenth-century awakenings than through Finney and radical reform the way Dayton and McKnight do. Where does crucientism come from after all if not from those hegemonic Calvinists and Puritans who were breathing the fumes of Dort’s Limited Atonement?

But the reason for bringing this up is not to define evangelicalism but to engage McKnight’s query about who gets to define evangelicalism. Apparently, McKnight thinks that he can decide who gets to offer a definition. Those who demur are crabby.

What McKnight misses by dismissing my critique of evangelicalism as stemming from a Reformed bias is that I actually took Don Dayton’s critique of George Marsden to heart. Almost twenty years ago, Dayton made a habit of pointing out how the evangelical historians associated with the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College had misrepresented evangelical history. He was particularly annoyed by George Marsden’s history of Fuller Seminary, which in Dayton’s estimate slighted the Holiness/Wesleyan side of Fuller for the sake of highlighting its Old Princeton/Westminster heritage. I see merit in Dayton’s point, at least regarding evangelicalism as something much bigger and broader (and more abstract and virtually meaningless) than the Puritans-to-Edwards-to-Hodge-to-Machen-to-Ockenga-to-Graham narrative. It is a partial reading of the New Evangelicalism to see it as a reiteration of New School Presbyterianism. It is also partial to see Finney and Wesleyanism all over the Fuller faculty and curriculum. But by acknowledging that everyone can look in the mirror of evangelicalism and see themselves and their predilections in it, in Deconstructing Evangelicalism, I was actually trying to liberate born-again Protestants, like McKnight, Dayton, and McLaren from their Calvinist captivity. You don’t like Reformed hegemony? Fine, you can have evangelicalism. We’ll keep our churches, thank you very much.

This is the thanks we get?

At the same time, I can understand why McKnight wants to hold on to evangelicalism as a movement. Chances are that he and his fellow “evangelical” bloggers would not have outlets at Patheos if each writer had to be identified by the particular communion to which he or she belongs. Would Patheos sponsor an Anabaptist, Wesleyan, or a Swedish-American pietist channel? I doubt it since the number of these “movements” are not as large as the broad and soupy category of evangelical.

So I see McKnight’s reasons for preserving his status in the evangelical movement. But I didn’t think evangelical radicals, emergents, or lefties were that invested in preserving the status quo. Radical reformation indeed (or in word only)!

Teachers without Principals (not without principles)

On this matter of contrasting Protestant and Roman Catholic paradigms of authority, I like Jeremy Tate’s analogy of a school room. Protestants in class have no teacher, only a book. Wrong, but let’s go with it for now. Roman Catholics have a teacher and a book. Therefore, Rome has a teacher to instruct and determine the right answer.

The problem with the analogy for the folks at Called to Communion is the failure to notice that post-Vatican II Roman Catholics seem to ignore their teacher as much as Protestants behave when no classroom authority is present. Granted, a time existed, and Quebec between 1900 and 1960 is an example of that era, when Roman Catholics did heed with deference the church hierarchy. But just as Quebec secularized in the 1960s to become one of the least observant places in the West, so Roman Catholicism in the West has shown a marked hostility to the teaching authority that CTCers tout. According to Mark Noll in what is one of his best essays:

As a final element in Canada’s recent ecclesiastical history, it is important to highlight the significance of the Second Vatican Council. The role of the Council was obviously important for Canada’s Catholics, but may have been almost as significant for its Protestants. In Quebec, but also for Canadian Catholics in general, the Council was destabilizing because it rapidly altered the liturgy, the language, the music, the tone, the disciplines, and the calendrical observances that for a great part of the faithful had simply constituted the meaning of the faith. In this sense, Canada resembled Western European Catholicism, which was also disconcerted by the Council, rather than Eastern European, African, and Asian Catholicism, which was energized by its work.

The lack of compliance among Roman Catholics is a huge problem for those who celebrate Rome’s superiority as a communion with a teacher who can instill order and discipline in this imaginary classroom. If Rome has it, and I don’t doubt that Rome claims it, why won’t it use that authority to make the students sit down and be quiet? Why won’t it teach those students what they are supposed to learn? Well, one big reason is Vatican II (more on that at another time).

Another reason is that no communion since the late 18th century has the school principal to back up its teachers (Protestants do actually believe they have ministers with authority who exercise the keys of the kingdom). Since the separation of church and state in the West, all of us inside the classroom don’t have the fellow with the big stick at the end of the hall who will spank the bottoms of unruly students. That means that Protestant teachers and Roman Catholic popes are left with the same amount of authority — it’s all spiritual. We can exhort, cajole, excommunicate. But at the end of the day, without the state to back up our rulings, the unrepentant sinner is free to walk down the street and attend another church, and over time join and become a member in good standing.

Even so, I wonder what good the CTCers promotion of infallibility does. It seems, given the state of North American and European Roman Catholicism, the main effect is to remind Protestants what we don’t have. Great. I got it. Rome has authoritative authority. Protestants don’t. That may make Rome more orderly and coherent. But then why does the classroom with a teacher look so much like the classroom without one? It sure seems to me this is a question that the serious minded folks at CTC could ponder.

Which Doesn't Belong and Why?

Warning: really, really shameless self-promotion.

Bernard McGuirk, the executive producer of Imus in the Morning, did (and may still do) a bit in which he played Cardinal Egan and would ridicule Don Imus up one side and down the other in a thick Irish accent. His barbs were far more abusive than anything the host said about the women’s basketball players at Rutgers University.

One part of Cardinal Egan’s shtick was the game, “which doesn’t belong and why.” He would name three people, objects, teams or songs, and then ask Imus to identify the odd one out. Imus was always wrong because Egan had a witty and sometimes degrading reason for which one actually did not belong.

In the spirit of a show I used to listen to before Imus got fired and is no longer syndicated, I post the series of events scheduled at Eerdmans this summer to mark the publisher’s 100th anniversary. I am honored and do not feel worthy of this company, so I have my own answer to the question, “which doesn’t belong and why.” But I invite readers to submit their own answers. The winner (the funniest) will receive a copy of the book.

P.S. Apologies to Nick Wolterstorff for not posting this in time for his lecture last week.