Why I Love the Modern State

It helps me keep straight the difference between the city of God and the city of man, at a time when so many Christians want Christianity to define “ALL of me.”

Mark Oppenheimer thinks it possible to distinguish Christian as a noun and adjective:

And Jews and Christians alike have internalized these different connotations. Most Jews, if asked about their religion, say not, “I’m a Jew” but the softer, more acceptable, “I’m Jewish.” With Christians, the answer will vary depending on the kind of Christian you’re talking to. Liberal Protestants may say, “I’m Christian,” using the adjective, but many evangelicals, born-again Christians, and other passionate believers will say, “I’m a Christian.” It sounds a little jarring to more secular or liberal types, but not in a bad way. It just sounds hard-core, like the person is planting a flag and standing by it.

For Christians, the difference between “Christian” the adjective and “Christian” the noun is one of both degree and kind. We are all described by many adjectives, but we select very few nouns to sum up who we are. The nouns require a bit more commitment. It’s the difference between “I’m liberal” and “I’m a liberal”—the man or woman willing to own the noun is more committed, for sure. The adjective is what you are like; the noun is who you are.

And what about James Bratt’s suggestion that politicized evangelicals should own the moniker, “Christianist“?

Whatever the label, believers have trouble (without the help of modern politics) sorting out their Christian and non-Christian aspects. Just consider the confusion in this response to yesterday’s bombings in Belgium:

I’ll leave it to people who know what they’re talking about to expound further on the radical nature of what Christ is demanding of us when he says this. Suffice it to say for now that it’s clear and direct and we don’t have any choice if we call ourselves Christians: we have to forgive our enemies.

And that includes the terrorists who killed 34 people in Brussels on Tuesday. We have to forgive them.

BUT…But…but it is also written, “thou shalt not kill.” And that means that we need to kill all the other terrorists who are still out there.

Why? Because justice and reason and the teaching of the Church. The Fifth Commandment (don’t kill) imparts on Christians a duty to protect and defend innocent human life. Sooooo…it is morally just to use lethal force to prevent the killing of innocent people. Self-defense, just war, etc. etc. etc.

So kill ISIS.

First, I thought God through the ministry of the church forgives sins. It’s not up to me to forgive people who have not wronged me. Do I even have authority as an elder to forgive sins that are crimes against humanity? The Book of Church Order doesn’t say so.

Second, I don’t have the power to kill anyone legally unless I become part of the executive branch of our constitutional order. As a policeman, executioner, or soldier I could legitimately kill someone. As a policeman, executioner, or soldier I am also carrying out orders of someone else. As a Christian policeman, executioner, or solder I am carrying out the duties of my vocation. But I am not acting “merely” as a Christian since non-Christian police and soldiers carry out similar orders.

So as a 2k Christian I don’t have to forgive or kill. I defer to those with higher pay grades, which includes — piety alert! — praying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

What if Mark Dever were Ted Cruz?

Sure, like Roger Olson, I would have liked to have received better treatment in the recent Times story on the so-called “new” Calvinism. (For the record, Olson was quoted and I was not, but Olson still complains.)

But in addition to observing which figures — Piper, Keller, and Driscoll — are responsible for a phenomenon that is hardly new, also noteworthy is the way the national press covers religion. You either have the religion-is-bigoted meme which haunted Phil Robertson’s employers, or you have the Gee-Golly approach of religion is nice, inspirational, and alive. Why this particularly comes to mind is that the reporter who wrote this story, Mark Oppenheimer, came out with it (not on his own — his editors are also implicated) just after a dustup over one of new Calvinism’s celebrities’ damaging admissions of plagiarism. Granted, Driscoll is not at the center of this story. But Oppenheimer does mention him and chose not to look into the less reputable parts of new Calvinism (which might include the modernist-like agreement among the Gospel Allies not to talk about a central feature of the Great Commission — how to baptize and what it means). Oppenheimer’s piece, in effect, vindicates Carl Trueman’s observation that the Driscoll imbroglio would settle and the gospel business would go back to business as usual.

On the plus side, the story did vindicate those Presbyterians who opposed modernism when it looked for critical comments (again, not from all about me) from Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary:

While many neo-Calvinists shy away from politics, they generally take conservative positions on Scripture and on social issues. Many don’t believe that women should be ministers or elders. But Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, said that Calvin’s influence was not limited to conservatives.

Liberal Christians, including some Congregationalists and liberal Presbyterians, may just take up other aspects of Calvin’s teachings, Dr. Jones said. She mentioned Calvin’s belief that “civic engagement is the main form of obedience to God.” She added that, unlike many of today’s conservatives, “Calvin did not read Scripture literally.” Often Calvin “is misquoting it, and he makes up Scripture passages that don’t exist.”

Calvin makes up Scripture passages? Wow! I thought that was Harry Emerson Fosdick’s job. But it is good to see where liberal Protestants and neo-Calvinists (the real ones) agree — not the making up Scripture bit but the civic engagement is central rendering of Calvinism.