Selective 2k

Readers may remember an exchange between John Fea and me about religion and politics from last summer. In the course of that exchange, Fea quoted favorably from President Obama’s welcome to Pope Francis:

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concern. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and as societies, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity – because we are all made in the image of God.

You remind us that “the Lord’s most powerful message” is mercy. That means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart – from the refugee who flees war torn lands, to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life. It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, those who have suffered, and those who seek redemption.

This is a blatant effort to use Christianity for political ends. Because Fea found it agreeable to his own understanding of government, he wrote that if such views made him a Christian nationalist, “then call me a Christian nationalist.”

But when Mike Horton wrote critically about the hobby horse of Fea, the so-called “court evangelicals,” Fea liked the kind of 2k that had originally led me to call him a Christian nationalist. According to Horton:

Liberal and conservative, Catholic and Protestant, have courted political power and happily allowed themselves to be used by it. This always happens when the church confuses the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this present age. Jesus came not to jump-start the theocracy in Israel, much less to be the founding father of any other nation. Even during his ministry, two disciples—James and John—wanted to call down judgment on a village that rejected their message, but “Jesus turned to them and rebuked them” (Luke 9:54–55). He is not a mascot for a voting bloc but the savior of the world. He came to forgive sins and bring everlasting life, to die and rise again so that through faith in him we too can share in his new creation.

Sorry, but President Obama was confusing the kingdom of Christ with the United States when he welcomed the pope. John Fea apparently suffers from the same confusion when approving Obama and then approving Horton.

It’s hard keeping selectivity straight.


Fear’s Double Standard

A prominent theme in John Fea’s book, Believe Me, is that fear drives evangelical politics. The word “white” should go before evangelical because Fea also contrasts white and black evangelicals’ politics. He writes:

Even the most cursory reading of the Old and New Testament reveals that, ultimately, Christians have nothing to fear. Scripture reminds us that we already have a strong protector in times of need. . . . In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father Good pleasure to give you the kingdoms.”

But of course, evangelicals did not believe this when the voted for Donald Trump:

While many of Trump’s evangelical opponents said that they could not tell their children or grandchildren that they voted for such a moral monster, other evangelicals were saying exactly the same thing about voting for Hillary Clinton. On Election Day, long-held fears or threats whose specter had been stoked for decades simply could not be overcome.

Recently, Mike Horton echoed Fea when he wrote under the title, “What Are Evangelicals Afraid of Losing?”:

In a Monday meeting with evangelical leaders at the White House, President Trump reportedly warned of violence against conservative Christians if the GOP loses in November. Evangelicals, he said, were “one election away from losing everything.”

As evangelicals, we would do well to correct the president on this point. If an election can cause us to lose everything, what is it exactly that we have in the first place?

What I don’t understand is why the evangelical voters for Trump, why their fears are a sign of infidelity. We have heard a lot about how evangelicals fear the Trump administration’s immigrant policy, the Southern Baptist Convention’s pastors’ treatment of women and sexual abuse, and the racial bias of police and related shootings.

Someone could argue that these fears about the plight of immigrants, women, and African-Americans are legitimate fears while the socio-economic concerns that motivated evangelicals to vote for Trump were illegitimate.

That may be, but that would also undermine the point that Christians should not be afraid, unless it is that white Christians don’t need to fear but Christian people of color do. Either way, a Christian no matter what his or her race or ethnicity is supposed to trust a sovereign God. If Psalm 23 is true, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” then it is true for all people who trust God.

Piling On

So thanks to Matt Tuininga’s critique of Scott Clark and mmmmmeeeEEEEEE, Stephen Wolfe adds to Clark’s and my misery:

I think that Matthew Tuininga has made a valuable correction to D.G. Hart and R. Scott Clark who seem to find no social value in Christian sanctification. Would not our conformity to the image of the Last Adam have social implications? Of course, it would. The fundamental problem with the Hart-Clark 2k theology is their failure to recognize that the Gospel, which includes sanctification, restores the Adamic dominian. As J Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth have made abundantly clear, “man’s Adamic dominion has been in principle restored in Christ.” This means, so it seems to me, that sanctification includes a conformity to the original Edenic order and a restoration toward the original mandate to bring, through human creativity and work, creation to its potential maturity. This has nothing to do with immanentizing the eschaton, as Eric Voegelin warned against. It means rather that the Gospel empowers Christians to work toward the realization of a mature natural order.

But just when Mike Horton and Dave VanDrunen thought they were on comfortable chairs in the bus terminal (oxymoron alert), a quick google search reveals that they are just as bad — maybe worse:

VanDrunen contends that the cultural mandate was given as a condition through which Adam would inherit eternal life for himself and his offspring. This activity of Adam was temporal, only given by God in preparation for the Sabbath rest in which he would partake through his obedience. He purports that because Christ is the last Adam, such a cultural mandate is no longer a necessity for those who are in Christ. He argues: “To understand our own cultural work as picking up and finishing Adam’s original task is, however unwittingly, to compromise the sufficiency of Christ’s work” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 50). To be clear, VanDrunen emphasizes the importance of the Christian’s vocation in the secular realm, but views it as only temporary, and he disconnects it from the mandate given to Adam.

What VanDrunen fails to recognize is that God created humankind to live within two particular sets of relationships: to God, and to creation. In his approach, for Adam, the cultural mandate has coram deo implications. Adam’s standing before God prior to the fall was not based on grace and faith, but instead upon his obedience in fulfilling the God-given mandate. This is, of course, based upon VanDrunen’s commitment to the Reformed concept of the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden (an idea that I have critiqued here). The problem is that the text of Genesis never makes such a connection. Nowhere in the creation account is Adam told that his standing before God could somehow be merited by obedience to this mandate. Rather, Adam’s creation was an act of grace. His relationship to God was always based on God’s action and his reception. Sure, he could lose his righteous standing before God, but he couldn’t gain it by merit.

The implications of this difference of perspective are important. If Adam’s relationship before God has always been by grace, and man’s relationship to creation has always been determined by the mandate of Genesis 1:28, then the cultural mandate is no longer simply part of the Adamic administration, but is essential to who the human creature is.

So I wonder how widely Matt has read VanDrunen and Horton. The more people under the bus, the more misery.

Hiding Behind Kilts

The release of the new book Merit and Moses, a critique of the republication doctrine (that the Mosaic covenant was “in some sense” a republication typologically of the covenant of works) got me thinking about a certain anomaly in contemporary Reformed circles regarding a certain Mr. Murray (his given name was John and he did not have the extra one of Courtney). The endorsements of this book show an arresting feature of the Westminster Seminary tradition and reception of Geerhardus Vos.

After Vos, his successors broke into two camps, one represented by Murray, the other by Meredith Kline, who took markedly different views of covenant theology. After Murray and Kline, came Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, and Bob Strimple. They pretty much all sided with Murray against Kline on matters of moment. And then came VanDrunen, Horton, and Fesko. They followed Kline and have been taking their lumps ever since.

Generally speaking, the anti-republicationists are anti-Kline and pro-Murray. Here’s a sampling:

For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido. Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline, who taught at Westminster Escondido (WSCal) for more than 20 years. Many of Kline’s colleagues, former students (several now teaching in Escondido) and admirers (Mark Karlberg, T. David Gordon, etc.) have canonized his novel reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant—it is “not of faith”, but of works and meritorious works at that, albeit ‘typological’. What may now be labeled the “Escondido Hermeneutic” or “Kline Works-Merit Paradigm” has succeeded in cornering an increasing share of the Reformed covenant market in spite of its revisionism and heterodoxy. This newfangled paradigm has managed to fly beneath the radar of most Reformed observers, in part because of the aggressively militant demeanor and rhetoric of its advocates and defenders. Especially vitriolic have been attacks by the Kline acolytes upon Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin. . . . (1)

While it is certainly true that Murray clearly and self-consciously broke with the majority of the Reformed tradition on several points of doctrine, his teaching on the nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant was not one of them. In fact, a strong case can be made that his position on the essential nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant represented the mainstream consensus of Reformed theologians. Furthermore, some of Murray’s key exegetical observations (which, incidentally, these authors simply pass over rather than critically engage) lend his thesis strong support. (63)

Now the endorsements for the anti-republicationist book:

“The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
—Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

“I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
—Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

“In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

“This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

Let the reader decide.

But also consider this. Mr. Murray was a strong proponent of exclusive psalmody, arguably the lone holdout of prominence in the OPC. And yet those who follow Murray on covenant theology are willing to argue quite decidedly against singing psalms only or even singing the imprecatory psalms (about which Murray had no qualms). Dick Gaffin recently wrote:

Among my continuing reservations about the Psalter-Hymnal project (March issue), here I’m only able to raise one concern about its commitment to total psalmody. The imprecations in Psalm 137, among others, have in view the Old Testament situation, when God’s covenant people were one nation, a single geopolitical entity (Israel), and their enemies were likewise ethnically and geopolitically defined (Babylon and Edom here). But now, after Christ’s finished work, that spiritual enmity, inseparably national, has ceased. Now the realization of God’s eternal saving purpose, anticipated throughout the Old Testament, is universal. His elect are no longer found only within Israel, but within every nation. Under the new covenant, the church is “in Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) in a way it was not under the old: no longer are Jews in holy hostility towards non-Jews; now, in Christ, they are reconciled to each other (Eph. 2:11–22).

I recognize that the ethnic references like those in Psalm 137 are not only literal but also typological. Akin to the symbolic references to Babylon in Revelation, they point forward to the final destruction of the enemies of God’s people. Still, singing explicitly genocidal curses in public worship, without a whole lot of preparatory explanation (and perhaps even with that), risks leaving the impression that the congregation is calling on God for the large-scale destruction of people with Gentile ethnicity like most of us in the New Testament church. (20-21)

(Could there be some kind of ambivalence at work here with typological readings of the OT?)

So what I am wondering is what would happen to this argument against total psalmody if Orthodoxy Presbyterians knew it departed from Mr. Murray. I mean, if it is fair game to raise concerns about views that do not follow Murray’s reading of creation or the Mosaic covenant, why is that okay when it comes to Murray’s singing of David? Maybe the OPC needs to kick away the crutches, prepare for sacred cows to be wounded, and through delegated assemblies let word and Spirit do their work.

From PCRT to Ligonier to Gospel Coalition

Anthony Bradley’s memories of coming into Reformed Protestant circles during the 1980s has been making the rounds and includes a question about why Baptists dominate contemporary discussions of Calvinism. Back in the day, according to Bradley, James Montgomery Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, and R.C. Sproul dominated discussions of Reformed theology.

They are all Presbyterians. In those days “Calvinism”/”Reformed” and Presbyterian were synonyms. Something happened, however. The Presbyterians lost their voice some would say and I’m not sure how to explain how that happened. Somehow “Reformed” today (2012) is more associated with Baptists (or Baptistic folks) D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll.

As someone who regularly attended the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology at Tenth Presbyterian Church and who benefited from lectures and sermons by Boice, Sproul, John Gerstner, and Roger Nicole, I too have sometimes reflected on the change of ecclesiastical landscape over the last twenty-five years. Back around 1980 Reformed Protestantism in the United States looked to be the most formidable expression of Christianity and was even drawing converts from Rome. In addition to PCRT, the editors of Reformed Journal assembled a remarkable collection of academics and pastors to write thoughtfully about church life, politics, and the arts. Contributors included Rich Mouw, George Marsden, Mark Noll, Nick Wolterstorff, Ronald Wells and others. Not too long into the 1980s, however, Calvinists lost their swagger and mojo, and Roman Catholicism, thanks to the appeal of John Paul II, became the alternative for thoughtful and socially active “conservative” Christians.

Some could explain the change as simply a function of age and even death. Gerstner and Boice are no longer with us, and folks like Sproul are fast approaching retirement. Another factor is that the Reformed consensus of the early 1980s that appeared to be drawing conservative Presbyterians and Reformed Protestants together had fallen apart by 1990. The OPC found a way to avoid J&R with the PCA and in the process recovered something of its older polemical edge. The PCA became a refuge for disaffected Orthodox Presbyterians of a New Life persuasion. The CRC debated and finally gave its blessing to women’s ordination. As the OPC hardened, the PCA softened, and the CRC amended, Reformed Protestantism fractured.

Meanwhile, Ligonier became the national successor to the PCRT’s regional presence. And the process of building a national constituency led to the inclusion of speakers who would not have been considered either Reformed of Calvinistic, such as John Piper and John MacArthur. At the same time, while Ligonier expanded what it meant to be Reformed, the Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals — a body formed by Boice — broke up with Mike Horton’s version of confessionalism going one way and the Alliance’s going another. Neither ACE nor White Horse Media, however, could keep up with local/national ministries of Piper and Desiring God, Driscoll and Acts 29, or Tim Keller and the Redeemer phenomenon. When the Gospel Coalition came together it did on a national scale what Boice had done on a much smaller (and pre-internet) scale with PCRT. What is more, it received buy in from national celebrity academics and pastors in ways that Ligonier could not, dominated as it was by one speaker and author.

The answer to Bradley’s question then seems to be that in order to achieve national prominence, Calvinism needed to go off the Presbyterian and Reformed reservation and include groups that were much bigger and speakers more celebrated than Presbyterians could muster. Recent posts at the Coalition underscore the breadth that contemporary Calvinism represents thanks to the move from local to national settings. According to Collin Hansen, the Young & Restless phenomenon is a “critique movement”:

Calvinism has thrived, then, as a fire engine sounding the alarm and bearing water to put out the flames consuming American evangelicalism. We’re not surprised by the bad numbers. In fact, even inside some of the biggest churches in America, we’ve seen the limits of any strategy that fails to account for our God-given need for transcendence, transformation, and tradition. Numbers are a lagging indicator of unhealth. Even during the megachurch boom of the 1980s and 1990s, all was not well with the evangelical soul.

Some could only wish that the critique extended even to members of the Coalition, that it might fault Driscoll’s new measures (and clairvoyance) or Keller’s failure to be a traditional Presbyterian.

But when the definition of Calvinism includes Wesleyanism, what kind of critique might you expect? John Starke’s recent exchange with Fred Sanders, a Wesleyan who teaches at BIOLA and who quotes Calvin, reinforces the point about the breadth that afflicts the new Calvinism of the non-Reformed variety. Here is Starke’s introduction:

I’ve been reading Fred Sanders’s blog for a long time, and when his book, The Deep Things of God, came out, I was eager to read it. He’s a good writer, he loves and quotes the Puritans, he’s a reasonable thinker, and he knows how to do careful exegesis.

He’s also a Wesleyan.

I don’t mean to declare that so menacingly. But the first time I learned Sanders—associate professor at the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University—was a Wesleyan, I was a bit surprised. It’s not that Wesleyans and Arminians can’t be careful interpreters and reasonable thinkers—I just don’t often resonate with their writings and conclusions quite the way I do with Sanders’.

And so, I had to know: For a guy who loves, quotes, and depends upon Calvin and Calvinists, why isn’t Fred Sanders a Calvinist? We corresponded, and he explained the one thing he wished Calvinists would stop accusing Wesleyans of doing and why Wesleyanism is only the opposite of Calvinism in a very small thought-world.

Will Fred Sanders make an appearance at a Gospel Coalition conference and receive a “Calvinistic” benediction? Odder things have happened in the world of contemporary Calvinism.

The Problem with Gay Marriage

It is not w-w.

Mike Horton tries to make a case that support for gay marriage is a function of w-w:

What this civic debate—like others, such as abortion and end-of-life ethics—reveals is the significance of worldviews. Shaped within particular communities, our worldviews constitute what Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann coined as “plausibility structures.” Some things make sense, and others don’t, because of the tradition that has shaped us. We don’t just have a belief here and a belief there; our convictions are part of a web. Furthermore, many of these beliefs are assumptions that we haven’t tested, in part because we’re not even focally aware that we have them. We use them every day, though, and in spite of some inconsistencies they all hold together pretty firmly—unless a crisis (intellectual, moral, experiential) makes us lose confidence in the whole web.

Every worldview arises from a narrative—a story about who we are, how we got here, the meaning of history and our own lives, expectations for the future. From this narrative arise certain convictions (doctrines and ethical beliefs) that make that story significant for us. No longer merely assenting to external facts, we begin to indwell that story; it becomes ours as we respond to it and then live out its implications.

It seems to me that gay marriage is much more a function of deeply ingrained American instincts than anything Nietzsche or Hegel might cook up. Equality and fairness is one aspect of American confusion over gay marriage. Why can’t everyone have the same access to the benefits of marriage? Another is a post-Civil Rights desire to keep anyone in America from feeling inferior? If gays can’t marry, doesn’t that mean we have a 2-tier social system and isn’t that like Jim Crow? Finally, Americans have learned to sever marriage from reproduction (largely thanks to Protestants). If marriage is more for fulfillment than for procreation, why can’t everyone have access to marriage?

This doesn’t mean Mike’s piece is wrong. But I do wonder whether the invocation of w-w will help with this conflict among Americans. By invoking w-w we conceivably turn this debate into a consequence of the antithesis. And that won’t do because so many non-Kuyperians (i.e. Roman Catholics) oppose gay marriage. And if we look around and see non-Reformed opposition to gay marriage, and still cling to w-w, then don’t we need to say that Roman Catholics have the same w-w as Reformed Protestants? Say hello to the Manhattan Declaration.

Better it seems to (all about) me simply to follow what God’s law requires in our churches and think through what changes in marriage policy mean for our societies. Has it not occurred to any baby boomer, rapidly approaching Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, that we need more babies who will grow up to pay taxes that keep our senior citizens medicated and fed? Has anyone heard of what’s going on Europe? Now is a bad time in the history of the West to make permanent a divide between marriage and child-bearing.

Being Reformed and Avoiding Landmines

I don’t want to discourage the young and restless from growing in their understanding of Reformed Protestantism but sometimes even the best of intentions cannot prevent stepping in it. Over at the allies blog John Starke encourages readers to spend more time with Cornelius Van Til — The Most Important Boring Thinker You Should Read (whose birthday happens to be today tomorrow). Starke goes on to ask three leading apologists to recommend sources for readers who know not presuppositionalism — Mike Horton, Scott Oliphint, and John Frame, in that order.

Is it impolite to notice that hard core Van Tillians would likely take umbrage at this order since I’ve often heard comments that Horton is light in his presuppositional loafers? And what would John Frame think to read that he comes in third behind Horton and Oliphint? Maybe Horton’s recommendation of Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God as “a readable apologetic from Van Til’s perspective” will take some of the sting away. Also, since the critics of 2k often invoke Van Til against the likes of VanDrunen and Horton, and since VanDrunen and Horton appear to have more of a following among the young and restless than the hard core Van Tillians (despite the congenital defect of transformationalism that afflicts the Gospel Coalition), Starke may have unwittingly aggravated those who invoke the antithesis to divide the world between 2k and R2k.

Sometimes you need a score card to keep track of all the players.

Update: and sometimes you need a clue and can’t take TGC’s word on dates. My comrade in arms informs me that Cornelius Van Til’s birthday is tomorrow. That gives me time to stock up.

Old Life in the Imperial Capital

Brian Lee, pastor at Christ Reformed Church (URC) in Washington, D.C., has put together another fall program of lectures and events, this year devoted to the theme of Christianity and Politics. I will be speaking with Michael Gerson, speech writer for George W. Bush, on Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm. Terry Eastland, publisher of the Weekly Standard, will be moderating our discussion of evangelicals and American politics. (Terry’s presence is remarkable given the collapse of his beloved Braves. I don’t point this out to mock or chest thump but to express real empathy; if Terry takes Braves’ losses the way I go blue after a Phillies’ defeat, then his willingness to get out of bed is a tribute to his mental health.)

[Taken from CRC’s press release]
The full schedule follows (speaker bios below):

Sunday, October 9th,11:00 am — Michael Horton, “Evangelism and Social Justice”

Thursday, October 13th, 7:00 pm — Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland, “The Future of Evangelicals in Politics”

Sunday, October 16th, 11:00 am — Brian Lee, “Govern Well, or Be Governed?”

Thursday, October 20th, 7:00 pm — David VanDrunen, “Natural Law and Christian Politics”

Sunday, October 23rd, 11:00 am — David Coffin, “The Spirituality of the Church”

Events will be held at Christ Reformed Church’s new Logan Circle home, historic Grace Reformed Church (the church home of President Theodore Roosevelt), located at 1405 15th Street NW, Washington, DC. Reception to follow. Free parking is available (with validation) at the Colonial Parking Lot at 1616 P Street NW, one block west of the church. Call 202.656.1611 for more information or visit our website at


Dr. Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Host of the White Horse Inn radio program and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He has written The Gospel Commission and Where in the World is the Church, as well as The Christian Faith, a new highly-acclaimed one-volume systematic theology. He is a minister in the United Reformed Church.

Michael Gerson, opinion writer for the Washington Post and former head speech writer and senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush. He is the author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era, and Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail if They Don’t).

Terry Eastland, Publisher of The Weekly Standard and is ordained as an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr. Darryl Hart, visiting professor of History at Hillsdale College in the area of American Religious history and the author of numerous books on Christianity and Politics, including From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism and A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State, and blogs on religion and public life at

Dr. Brian Lee, founding pastor of Christ Reformed Church, Washington, DC, and holds degrees from Stanford University, Westminster Seminary California, and Calvin Theological Seminary. Prior to becoming a pastor Dr. Lee also worked in Washington on Capitol Hill, at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and at the Department of Defense. He studied Dutch Calvinism as a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands in 2001.

Dr. David VanDrunen, Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He has written Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought and Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a Law Degree from Northwestern University School of Law.

Rev. David Coffin, Senior Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

Good and Necessary Consequence?

Mike Horton often laments that the evangelicals who become excited about confessional Protestant theology often do not realize that the new teachings and practices they adopt are at odds with older parts of their born-again devotion and conviction. Mike likens this to a notebook in which the student puts in new pages but neglects to take out the old and erroneous pages. In which case, someone might insert a page for worship that is formal, liturgical, and reverent, and fail to remove the page that says it’s okay to go home after the service and watch professional football.

To Rabbi Bret’s credit, his intellect is keen enough to see the tensions among pages in his notebook. He recently posted his disagreement with J. Gresham Machen on the pastor’s responsibility to master and minister the Word of God. In his convocation address for Westminster Seminary, Machen asserted:

We are living in an age of specialization. There are specialists on eyes and specialists on noses, and throats, and stomachs, and feet, and skin; there are specialists on teeth—one set of specialists on putting teeth in, and another set of specialists on pulling teeth out—there are specialists on Shakespeare and specialists on electric wires; there are specialists on Plato and specialists on pipes. Amid all these specialties, we at Westminster Seminary have a specialty which we think, in comparison with these others, is not so very small. Our specialty is found in the Word of God. Specialists in the Bible—that is what Westminster Seminary will endeavor to produce.

But Bret thinks this is too narrow a reading of Scripture or the work of ministers.

The idea that being alone a specialist on what is in the Bible is enough to successfully minister in our current culture is just not true unless included in that idea of Bible specialty is also the ability to take what’s in the Bible and apply it every area of life.

For example, what’s in the Bible will never tell us about existentialism or post-modernism, or communism but can any minister really be of any value if they have no understanding of how these philosophies are impacting the people he is seeking to minister God’s word from?

If ministers are to specialize what ministers need to specialize in is integration, or inter-disciplinary studies. Is a minister prepared if he specializes on what is in the Bible, while along the way, discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, if the minister doesn’t know what that might begin to look like in family life, the law realm, or the educational realm?

Ministers simply have to understand that Christian theology is the integrating point that gives unity to all the differing specialties. The Bible is that integrating point and because it is that integrating point what the Bible has to say between its covers, covers all areas that aren’t explicitly between its covers. If we do not believe that God’s word is the integrating point that gives unity to diversity then the world we live in will not be a Universe but a Multi-verse where all the particulars (specialties) can find no relation to one another.

So again, to Bret’s credit, he sees that he needs to take the Machen page out of his notebook to accommodate his biblicism and world-view pages. We appreciate the clarity and honesty.

What deserves attention, though, is that the Bible nowhere says that the ministry needs to be the integration point for all specialties. Somehow I missed that in Paul’s instructions to Timothy on ministering the word (2 Tim 3:14-4:4). Paul is fairly clear about ministering the word and the sufficiency of Scripture. The apostle himself knew a thing or two about Greek philosophy but he doesn’t tell Timothy to master Epicureanism or Stoicism – as if your average first-century or twenty-first Christian is trying to implement the ‘ism’s of the mind in his everyday activities; even the mental people – academics or pastors – are never so self-conscious.

Also questionable is Bret’s belief that someone could actual be the master of all specialties in order to integrate them. Given Bret’s own reading of economics, politics, or history, I’d say he might spend a little more time with the experts before thinking that he is the master of all intellectual insights and capable of definitive judgments. Ironically, it seems that Bret follows Machen in thinking he is an expert on the Bible and because the Bible speaks to all of life, the good Rabbi is an expert on all of life. Again I say, huh?

Bret’s comments are another important reason for 2k – which is to reign in excessive interpretations of the religious meanings of culture, not to mention the pride that generally comes with such assessments.

But to Bret’s credit, he does sense that he needs to give up Machen to retain Rushdoony. We continue to be amazed and amused that he keeps the CRC page.

Mike Horton is More Fun Than Mark Dever (though Mark has his moments)

Justin Taylor made me do it.

He linked to Ray Ortlund’s blog from a couple days ago at the Gospel Coalition – calling it a “classic” in which the he warns TR’s (i.e., Truly Reformed) about the danger of falling into the Judaizer trap. Ortlund writes:

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

This is truly an amazing assertion by the Nashville pastor. Even though Reformed folks think they are following Paul in their teaching and ministry (let’s not forget the Jerusalem Council or the pastoral epistles which say something about presbyterian polity), they become Judaizers by following Paul and insisting that the church heed everything Christ commanded – from theology to worship and polity. I feel like I am in a Coen Brothers movie where up is down, white is black, and rodents are felines.

Ortlund’s post is standard fare among evangelicals who look for a lowest-common-denominator approach to Christian unity and so regard sticklers for doctrine and practice – like the Reformed – as sticks in the mud and unloving sectarians to boot. (Ortlund fails to remark that Baptists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans, who insist on the correctness of their distinct teachings and practices, are also would-be Judaizers. Rather than acknowledge that differences exist within the church because different parts of the visible church interpret the Bible differently, Ortlund, like many a pietist before him, disregards actual differences and chalks up resistance to unity as a lack of love – for both Christ and for other Christians. As the Church Lady might say, “isn’t that charitable?”

But the neat trick that Ortlund adds to this standard kvetch about Reformed particularists is a claim about the psychology and sociology of being Reformed. He comments on Gal 4:17 – “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” – in the following paraphrase:

“When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.’”

Ortlund adds, “What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self.”

Isn’t that charitable, indeed.

Is it so hard to imagine that other people with whom we disagree may actually have good reasons for what they hold, and that they may actually be trying to honor, serve, and love the Lord and his church? Apparently, Ortlund would rather speculate on motives and psychology.

Ortlund concludes with this plea to Reformed Protestants:

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart – toward them or away from them? If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one – in Christ alone.

Brother Ray, I have been around the non-Reformed and they are not nearly as much fun as Reformed folks are. As much as I do enjoy Mark Dever’s company (sorry for name-dropping), I refuse to smoke a cigar or drink a Gin & Tonic in his company, not because I find him unworthy of such camaraderie but because I know my smoking or imbibing could get Mark in trouble. Baptists still bulk large in the prohibitionist camp and for that reason the merriment supplied by leisurely conversation over a pipe or a pint (better with both) is off limits to many of the Christian groups that Ortlund wants me to hang out with and have fun.

This may seem like a trivial point but it actually bears much more on the passage to which Ortlund appeals than it might seem at first. Paul’s battle with the Judaizers was over the misapplication of Scripture. In the Judaizers’ hands formerly God-made rules had become man-made norms because the work of Christ introduced freedom from the old covenant norms. In other words, the Judaizers were effectively substituting man-made rules for being Christian than the gospel that Paul was preaching. The Judaizers were denying Christian liberty in the way that contemporary believers do when they conclude that smoking or drinking is sin with (erroneous) appeals to Scripture. Without a proper biblical justification for their prohibitions they wind up enslaving Christians and thus burden the very gospel that Paul was out to protect among the Galatians.

In my own knowledge of church history, it is the Reformed (and other confessional Protestants) who understand much better than the “Jesus only” evangelicals the difference between the word of God and the words of men. And it is this difference that makes Reformed Protestants (with apologies to my friend, Mark Dever) more fun.