W-w Giveth, W-w Taketh Away, Short Live W-w

Tim Carney’s piece on Trump-voting evangelicals is getting a lot of play and for good reason. He looks at churches outside the urban, suburban bubble, the ones that Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition try to own. And he finds that evangelicalism is not nearly as monolithic as scholars and evangelical leaders have said. He may even give reasons for abandoning evangelicalism altogether.

But Carney also opens a window on those Protestants where neo-Calvinist influence has had the longest shelf-life. In some cases, the results should hearten the redeemers of every square inch:

Trump’s single worst county in all of Iowa—far worse than Polk County (where Des Moines is) or Story County (home to Iowa State), or Johnson County (University of Iowa)—was Sioux County. Trump finished fourth place there, behind Ben Carson. Ted Cruz won every precinct of Sioux County.

Sioux is home to Orange City and Sioux Center, and it is the Dutchest county in America. Dutch ancestry is probably one of the best proxies the Census has for religious attendance.

Jordan Helming, a transplant whom I met at a Jeb Bush rally in Sioux Center, was astounded by the religiosity of the place, including the sheer number of churches. “There are 19 of them in this town—a town of 7,000 has 19 churches.”

Different strains of Reformed Christianity dominate in this overwhelmingly Dutch county, from austere old-world Calvinism (“the frozen chosen” they call themselves) to more evangelical flavors. Attendance (often twice on Sundays) is high, and the churches build strong community bonds.

“You care about your neighbors,” Helming explained, “you care about your environment, but you also take care of it yourself—don’t rely on the government.”

Carney does not mention that these Iowans also selected Steve King to represent them in the House of Representatives.

Reinforcing that uncomfortable detail are Carney’s tabulations of Michigan’s voting habits:

Back in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, analysts saw the GOP electorate in two categories: (a) establishment Republicans or (b) Evangelicals. The Establishment types voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in 2008, and the “evangelical vote” went for Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.

It turns out we were all oversimplifying things. That supposedly “evangelical vote” was a combination of two electorates: (1) the evangelical vote and (2) the rural populist vote. The 2016 primaries illuminated this distinction.

In Michigan, for instance, 2012 saw Romney carry the stretch of the state from Ann Arbor to Detroit, while Santorum won most of the rest of the state. Four years later, it was much more complex: Kasich won Ann Arbor, Trump won Detroit and most of the rural counties, while Cruz dominated in the handful of counties around Holland and Grand Rapids, where the Dutch Reformed church dominates.

Cruz would likely be better than Trump. But why don’t Christian Reformed institutions own up to being oh so Republican? You’d never know from reading the Banner, Reformed Journal, Pro Rege, or In All Things. If the leaders of Evangelicalism, Inc. could be so out of touch with non-urban Protestants, are the professors and pastors in the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America world all that connected?

A Song Unfit for A Time Such as This

“Baby it’s cold outside” is not simply an appropriate description of Michigan right now but also a song that should be abandoned (and some have attributed it to the Christmas season) in these sexually charged times:

I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice

My mother will start to worry – Beautiful, what’s your hurry
My father will be pacing the floor – Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I’d better scurry – Beautiful, please don’t hurry
Well Maybe just a half a drink more – Put some records on while I pour

The neighbors might think – Baby, it’s bad out there
Say, what’s in this drink – No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how – Your eyes are like starlight now
To break this spell – I’ll take your hat, your hair looks swell

I ought to say no, no, no, sir – Mind if I move a little closer
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out
Ahh, but it’s cold outside

Marya Hannum observed two years ago that many had concluded that this was a date-rape song:

It’s that most wonderful time of the year. City storefronts are aglow with snowflakes and fairy lights, stockings have been hung by chimneys with care, and on the Internet debates over the holiday hit, Baby It’s Cold Outside, rage on.

In the past four years, this last seems to have morphed into a holiday tradition in its own right. In true Christmas spirit, The Daily Beast didn’t even wait until Thanksgiving to publish a listicle covering “Everyone’s Favorite Date-Rape Holiday Classic.”

Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary now lists the song under the heading “Christmas Date Rape Song.” Recently, it was given a “feminist makeover” in the clever, if not quite as catchy, YouTube video “Baby, It’s Consent Inside.”

Is all this controversy over a catchy classic really warranted?

Upon first listen, maybe. The tune was penned in the 1940s by Frank Loesser — writer of Guys and Dolls — to be performed as a duet with his wife at Los Angeles parties. Its predatory nature is apparent from the original notes, which label the male’s part as “wolf” and the female’s as “mouse.”

Hannum also explained that some feminists defended the song:

As feminist blog Persephone Magazine noted in 2010, the song’s historical context matters. At the time they were written, an unmarried woman staying the night at her beau’s was cause for scandal. It’s this fear we see reflected in the lyrics, more than any aversion on the part of the woman to staying the night.

She never expresses any personal distaste at the idea,e rather pointing out that her “sister will be suspicious,” her “maiden aunt’s mind is vicious.” Really, then, we are hearing a battle between his entreaties and her reputation.

In this light, the song could be read as an advocacy for women’s sexual liberation rather than a tune about date rape.

How times change.

What Hath W-w Wrought?

One of our southern correspondents sent us this, which must be causing some embarrassment to Grand Rapidian neo-Calvinists:

After graduating from high school in 1975, Betsy [DeVos] enrolled at Calvin College, her mother’s alma mater. Calvin’s mission, as stated in the 1975–1976 course catalog, was “to prepare students to live productive lives of faith to the glory of God in contemporary society—not merely lives that have a place for religion … but lives which in every part, in every manifestation, in their very essence, are Christian.”

Once w-w is out of the bottle, gate keepers can’t control the gate. W-w can go Left or Right. The neo-Calvinist with the most money decides seemingly:

The DeVos family is Dutch, thoroughly so. All four of Richard DeVos’ grandparents emigrated from the Netherlands, and today, the family continues to observe the tenets of the Christian Reformed Church, a Calvinist denomination. Calvinism believes in predestination—that God has decided whether our souls are saved before we are born—and emphasizes an “inner worldly asceticism” in its practitioners. Historically, in avoiding ostentatious displays of wealth, Calvinist Protestants have instead turned their economic gains into savings and investments. One of the bedrock texts of sociology, Max Weber’s 1905 Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is expressly about the links between Calvinism and economic success. (“In the place of the humble sinners to whom Luther promises grace if they trust themselves to God in penitent faith,” Weber wrote, “are bred those self-confident saints whom we can rediscover in the hard Puritan merchants of the heroic age of capitalism.”)

In this, Dick and Betsy DeVos’ familial roots serve as an object example. Dick is the eldest son of Richard DeVos, who co-founded Amway in 1959, and grew it from a meager soap factory into a multinational colossus with $9.5 billion in annual sales, enlisting his children to manage and expand the company. Betsy hails from a dynasty of her own. In 1965, her father, Edgar Prince, founded a small manufacturing company that came to be worth more than $1 billion on the strength of Prince’s automotive innovations, which include the pull-down sun visor with a built-in light-up vanity mirror.

Not to mention, that Christian day schools become a threat to public schools (the CRC beats the RCA):

In the 1960s and ’70s, Ed and Elsa Prince advanced God’s Kingdom from the end of a cul-de-sac just a few miles from Lake Michigan. There, they taught their four children—Elisabeth (Betsy), Eileen, Emilie and Erik—a deeply religious, conservative, free-market view of the world, emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and sending them to private schools that would reinforce the values they celebrated at home, small-government conservatism chief among them. . . .

In 2001, Betsy DeVos spoke at “The Gathering,” an annual meeting of some of America’s wealthiest Christians. There, she told her fellow believers about the animating force behind her education-reform campaigning, referencing the biblical battlefield where the Israelites fought the Philistines: “It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture—to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding-the-Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things—in this case, the system of education in the country.”

Dick DeVos, on stage with his wife, echoed her sentiments with a lament of his own. “The church—which ought to be, in our view, far more central to the life of the community—has been displaced by the public school,” Dick DeVos said. “We just can think of no better way to rebuild our families and our communities than to have that circle of church and school and family much more tightly focused and built on a consistent worldview.”

I understand that Right neo-Calvinists find private schools reassuring, the antithesis and all. But Left neo-Calvinists don’t have the stomach for such partisanship.

Will the real neo-Calvinism stand up? Calvin and the CRC or their daughter, Betsy DeVos? Faced with that choice, the spirituality of the church looks pretty appealing.

Day After Perspective

One of our many southern correspondents sent Kinky Friedman’s remarks about the election. Since the Bible tells us that all is vanity, Friedman is sounding 2k (there’s a syllogism in there somewhere):

Trump is not my hero. I prefer Mr. Anonymous. I like the guy who gives a million bucks to the children’s hospital and doesn’t insist that his name has to be up there. But that’s who Trump is, that’s who he’s been. It should be pointed out that we’re not in a position to know where greatness comes from. Not only did Jesus ride in on a jackass, but Gandhi was a yuppie lawyer living in London, with no interest in helping people.

If you look at the great ones, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, FDR, they were all aristocratic freaks with very little interest in others. They’re very much like Trump. I mean, particularly Churchill. He was a polo player in India and an adult butterfly collector. They liked to hang out at the country club, Rachel. They were very privileged people.

When they got into office, Churchill and FDR, they did something that Obama was never able to do: change. The agent of change, Obama, could not change himself. He remained a fixed point in a changing world. It’s just too bad; it’s who he is. He’s not the smartest guy in the room. He may be the glibbest. He may be the most facile. I believe, if he’s concerned about a legacy, I believe he can pretty well forget that.

All I’m saying is, we don’t know who the hero is until the ship sinks. Or when the plane is crashing. You don’t know who’s going to run back and save somebody, or who’s going to dress up like a woman so he can hide in a lifeboat.

I’m not moving to Canada yet, but if Michigan wants to secede and join the great North Country, I won’t fight.

Random Thoughts

With microaggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces in the news — as if university campuses are right around the corner from the projects in Baltimore’s West Side — I was wondering on our drive over to Chelsea Friday night about the need for greater sensitivity on the roads. Here in this part of Michigan, the major artery is the Old Chicago Road, U.S. Route 12, which runs between Detroit and Chicago. My only encounter with Highway 12 is in its two-lane version, which often means having to drive behind vehicles whose drivers hover around the 55 mph speed limit.

So when the broken lines give faster drivers the green light to pass, how do those being passed feel? As the one doing the passing, I am aware of some of the frustration that builds up while waiting for an opportunity to pass, along with the sort of speculation on a slow driver’s reasons for driving slowly — bad car? Almost home? Lots of time on their hands? Oblivious to other cars on the road? On the other side of the experience, do slow drivers feel embarrassed to be passed? Do they wonder if the faster driver is angry or frustrated? Do they resent being made to look like a slow driver? All these questions make me wonder if roads are safe spaces for Americans’ feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings.

The other passing thought (see what I did there?) comes with the accumulation of years. I recently turned 39 according to a base 17 number system (and expect Jeff Cagle to correct the math) and am aware in ways I have not been until now that the clock is running out and that I am definitely on the back nine of life. So why is it, if I want more time rather than less, that I still want weeks like the last one to hurry up so that I can get to this week — which is Spring Break? Shouldn’t I savor every moment even the ones that are less pleasant or more hectic or more demanding than others? Won’t a time come when I want some of these minutes back?

Instead of being annoyed with a slow driver, should I be thanking him? Will the sufficiency of Scripture or papal authority resolve my dilemma, oh wretched man that I am?

Flag Waving

Not sure which commenter linked to the piece in the Washington Post about why every state flag is wrong. Whoever you are thanks. It’s worth a glance.

Here’s a sample of Alexandra Petri’s wit upon contemplating the Michigan State Flag (I wonder if she’s the granddaughter of Rob and Laura Petri):

“Yes, of course we have people in Michigan,” this flag says. “It’s just full of people. That is why we have a moose and an elk holding up this sign with a picture of what appears to be a jovially waving yeti on it. But everyone else here is people. And we totally know how to spell TUBER.”

No Room In the Inn but How about Your Living Room?

‘Tis the season and that means nativity scenes are now decorating the brown grass that used to be the green placeholder for the gobblins, spider webs, and styrofoam tombstones of Halloween festivities. But looking at one collection of the holy family this morning on a frigid and overcast day made me wonder why Americans who celebrate Christmas and believe in both the baby Jesus and the risen Christ — if they are going to decorate for the holiday and disobey one of Christ’s Ten Commandments — don’t find more comfortable accommodations for Mary, Joseph, and the babe. Why, for those not living in the South or California and who confess Jesus as Lord, subject the family to conditions worse than those of first-century Palestine in whichever season Christ was actually born?

Of course, late fall is not the bleak midwinter, and Bethlehem cannot produce the wintry conditions that Michigan does. In fact, if Jesus had been born in Michigan, the carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter” would actually make sense. Its first stanza is a perfect description of winter weather in the Great Lakes region:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Today Bethlehem’s highs will be in the 60s. Hillsdale’s will be 33 (and that feels generous).

So if Christians want to show that they really care, don’t let Jesus, Mary, and Joseph endure December’s elements. Bring the nativity scene inside near to the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Ho ho ho.

Ministering Moses in the Michigan Mitten

The Christian Reformed Church has had a historic presence in western Michigan. But according to a recent story in Christianity Today, the Grand Rapidians are turning their cosmological gaze eastward toward Detroit.

First, there’s the Detroit Kingdom Enterprise Zone (KEZ), a church planting and community development effort empowered by the CRC and RCA’s Church Multiplication Initiative. Led by pastors Dan Jongsma from Dearborn Christian Fellowship and Jon Beyers from Crosswinds Church in Canton, the KEZ brings together 10 Detroit CRC and RCA congregations to evaluate, empower, equip, and expand ministry partnerships in the city.

Through the KEZ, local leaders are receiving funding and assistance from Grand Rapids as they begin the process of developing collaborative efforts to invest in the city and raise up local leaders to establish new Reformed communities of faith within in the city. The hope is that these church plants—which KEZ leaders hope include a Reformed campus ministry at Wayne State University, a city center church in the style of Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and City Church in San Francisco, a Reformed African American church, and a more contemporary community church—will be able to reach out to Detroit with a new message of hope, redemption, and renewal; a vision that is thoroughly Reformed and thoroughly local.

Part of the theological rationale for this initiative is a commitment to shalom:

Reformed theology also includes the call for Christians to seek shalom. Mark Van Andel, pastor of discipleship at Citadel of Faith, is working with the CRC and RCA leaders to help them understand what it means to work for justice in Detroit. He points out that the comprehensive vision for shalom and commitment to justice, righteousness, reconciliation, and working for the common good that flows out of Reformed theology are key strengths of the KEZ.

Van Andel, whose first job in Detroit was working with Lisa Johanon at Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation, sees all of this as being a major part in how Reformed theology can speak to the Motor City. “Reformed theology belongs in a city like Detroit,” says Van Andel, “precisely because it offers this powerful message of shalom to the poor, destitute, and depressed.”

Somehow the author of this piece missed the work of Rabbi Brett who ministers in a CRC congregation almost halfway between Grand Rapids and Detroit, in the small town of Charlotte. He also actively promotes Old Testament teaching:

Jesus was theonomic. Paul was theonomic. Augustine was theonomic. Centuries later the Magisterial Reformers were theonomic (look at all the quotes on Iron Ink from them on theonomy), the Puritans were theonomic (look at all the quotes on Iron Ink from them on theonomy). Some R2K defenders have pointed out theonomy in the Kuyperian tradition accusing our Kuyperian brethren as being “soft theonomists.” (Oh the horror of it all.) Hence my pedestrian contention that the Reformed faith is indeed theonomic. Now, naturally, different theonomic men interpreting God’s law-word had different wrinkles regarding their theonomy and it is doubtful that the Church will ever be universal in how it understands that God’s law should be applied, but the Church throughout history — and especially the Reformed Church — has always been theonomic, and that is simply because that is what Biblical (i.e. — Reformed) Christianity is.

How the folks in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Charlotte work this out is almost as mysterious as the NCAA Division I’s scholar-athletes.

Santorum, W— V—, and the Michigan Primary

Is it a coincidence that Rick Santorum, the former Senator from the virtuous commonwealth of Pennsylvania, has started to drop “w— v—” into his remarks this past week, a time when Grand Rapidians are deciding for whom to vote among the Republican contestants? First, Santorum questioned Obama’s w— v—. Then he attacked Obama’s plans to increase college enrollments because of the hostile w— v— students receive at college. The timing is striking.

But the appeal to w— v— has its limits and this video suggests what they are. It is of course biased toward Ron Paul and mocks Santorum. But it does remind me of how invoking w— v— often reassures and inspires instead of supplying answers to a society’s difficult questions. The key phrase is, “I like my w— v— a lot. It makes me happy” and can be found around the 3:15 mark in this video.

Hello, Rob Bell

According to one news story I read, Rob Bell’s embrace of God’s love has landed the Grand Rapid’s religious entrepreneur in Desiring God Ministries hell. The ultimate kiss off in the evangelical world is for John Piper to tweet, “Farewell Rob Bell.”

But I am wondering why all the hoopla over Bell. If you do some searches over at the Gospel Coalition blogs, where the exposure of Bell’s errors have been fast and furious, the gospel co-allies didn’t seem to pay much attention to Bell prior to his recent book. I found one review of Bell’s videos, a link from 9-Marks that is now dead. But Bell was a basic no-show prior to March 2011.

The best explanation of why someone might care comes from Kevin DeYoung who has a personal account (and one that appeals to me now that I am a Michigander). He wrote:

This issue is especially pertinent to me because I grew up where Rob Bell lives (Grand Rapids) and live where Rob Bell grew up (Lansing). I know the church he grew up at (it’s a normal evangelical church with some fine people there). And I remember buying baseball cards at the mall where Mars Hill now meets. I have people at my church that used to go to his church, and people from my home church that now go to his. Small world. Over the years, I’ve known many people that have attended Mars Hill at one time or another. Rob Bell’s influence stretches across Michigan. It seems that most people I talk to have some family member or friend or second cousin that’s gone to Mars Hill or loves Rob Bell’s books. Although few, if any, in my congregation would say they are Rob Bell fans, many interact frequently with those who are. Clarity on the important issues he raises (and misunderstands) is absolutely necessary. Especially in the Mitten.

So if you’re from or live in Michigan, concerns about Bell may make sense (though how does anything hip come from Michigan?). But what kind of threat is Bell to the Gospel Coalition or my friends in the Southern Baptist Convention? I mean, American Protestantism does not lack for low hanging fruit in the orchard of bad theology and inappropriate ministry. Just turn on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and go to one of the pastor’s websites if you’re in the mood to expose pernicious teaching.

So again, why all the fuss over Bell? And why especially all the Gospel Coalition resolve to pounce on Bell? I may need to get out more and meet people who read Rob’s books and watch his movies (though I did sit through an uncomfortably fawning interview with Bell at the Calvin College Writer’s conference a few years ago). I understand he is a celebrity. And I understand he is supposed to be cool. But do the believers who go to Gospel Coalition churches really need counsel on the dangers of Rob Bell? If they are reading Piper or Keller or Carson, shouldn’t they be able to spot good theology from bad?

Or could it be the case that we are always hardest on those who are closest to us, such that to show that our position is correct we need to expose the errors of someone close to our position? But is Bell really close to the Gospel Coalition? I wouldn’t have thought so, except that the Gospel Coalition seems to be open to emerging churches (hello, Mark Driscoll). The other exception is that Bell has the kind of religious celebrity that cements the Gospel Coalition’s celebrities. But doesn’t all this exposure increase Bell’s celebrity?

As I say, hello, Rob Bell, I hadn’t thought about you much before the allies said farewell.