An End Run

Imagine you are a Reformedish Protestant around the time of George W. Bush’s election. You have entered the world of Reformed Protestantism by way of the biblical theology (which leaned Federal) of Peter Leithart and James Jordan, you agree with a number of Doug Wilson’s critiques of modern America, and you became acquainted with the West and the Great Books again through Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Say you want a Reformed or Presbyterian church with a narrative that inspires, that connects with the sort of intellectual creativity that Leithart displays, that shows little of the wear and tear that afflicts most denominations in the United States whether sideline or mainline, and that connects with the larger history of the West, from Plato to Erasmus.

Where do you turn?

The OPC is too small and too theologically sectarian. The PCA suffers from similar problems among the TRs (Truly Reformed) and is blithely naive about modernity and urbanity on its progressive side. The ARP and the CRC are too ethnic and suffer from a measure of parochialism within their Scottish and Dutch traditions respectively. The same goes for the RPCNA which is even smaller than the OPC. The CREC might work but in 2000 that communion is only two years old, not the strongest case for a church with roots.

To your credit, you were enough of a Protestant not to find Roman Catholicism as a viable alternative.

What then? Why not turn to Elizabethan Anglicanism, like this?

The early English church, despite all the misconstruals of it by Anglo-Catholics, was Protestant and Reformed. The history of the 19th Anglo-Catholic attempt to deny this is a painful one for those who prize integrity of inquiry. The work of Peter Nockles and the more recent, and excellent, work of Jean-Louis Quantin, have shown how wrongheaded that 19th century orgy of wishful thinking really was. But this was proved back in the 19th c itself by Nathaniel Dimock, regarding sacramental theology, and regarding ecclesiology, by the American Bishop Charles McIlwaine, in his Roman, Oxford, and Anglican Divinity Compared.

The English Church of Elizabeth, James, and Charles is, in some ways, a model of importance for own time. Reformed churches, their common mind constricted by familiarity only with Scots and English Presbyterianism, miss the riches of Reformed thought available in Richard Hooker, or Richard Field, or Lancelot Andrewes (just as they miss the riches available in the thought of German and French Reformed). Anglo-Catholic attempts to prove that the established church was somehow not really Protestant are attempts to deprive modern Protestants of useful heritage.

What is important to notice about this way of being Reformed is that it allowed you to occupy the catholic and moderate middle while also regarding the regulative principle as too Puritan and biblicist (and sectarian) and two-kingdom theology as a betrayal of the godly monarch (which allegedly made the English church tick until those rowdy Presbyterians and Puritans conspired to take down Charles I).

What is also striking about this line of argument about the American church scene at the beginning of the 21st century was that it was precisely the way priests and bishops who were part of the Anglican establishment saw Christianity in England:

The great innovation of Elizabeth’s reign was what we might term the internalization of anti-sectarian rhetoric, as anti-puritanism. In Edward’s reign that language had been used to associate the English church with the foreign reformed churches in the common defence of an emergent reformed orthodoxy. Now it was introjected, to precisely opposite effect, into the conduct of intra-Protestant debates between defenders of the ecclesiastical status quo and proponents of various styles and modes of further reformation. The central figure here was John Whitgift who, in an extended exchange with the leading presbyterian ideologue of the day, Thomas Cartwright, deployed the Edwardian version of the two extremes used to define the via media of the English church, popery and Anabaptism, to exclude, as he hoped, the likes of Cartwright and his ilk, from the charmed circle of English Protestant respectability. True to the spirit of his Edwardian forebears, Whitgift sought to assimilate Cartwright and his associates both to popery and to Anabaptism, using what he took to be their ultra-scripturalism and populism to associate them with the latter and what he took to be their clericalist opposition to the Royal Supremacy to associate them with the former.

Ostensibly a form of religious polemic, Whitgift’s anti-puritanism was also inherently political. It dealt with issues of governance and jurisdiction and stressed heavily the extent of direct royal authority over ecclesiastical affairs. In so doing it encoded within itself a set of (intensely monarchical) political values, defined against what he took to be the ‘popularity’ inscribed within presbyterian theory and puritan political practice. By popularity Whitgift mean a commitment to theories of government in which the role of the people was expanded. But he also used the term to refer to the political methods used by the supporters of the discipline to put their case to a variety of more or less popular publics through the pulpit and the press, and through the the circulation of manuscripts and of rumours and a variety of petitioning campaigns, some of them aimed at the parliament rather than at the prince. (Peter Lake, “Post-Reformation Politics, or On Not Looking for the Long-Term Causes of the English Civil War,” 28)

When Machen, Witherspoon, and Knox won’t do, turn to Whitgift and Hooker? In the United States, a country that made its name by rejecting Royal Supremacy?

It is an intellectually energetic way to find an alternative to American politics and the Reformed and Presbyterian churches that have persisted in the United States. But it is as arbitrary as thinking that the debates surrounding foreign missions and church government of Machen’s time are the terms by which Presbyterians in Australia ought to operate.

End of Democracy


The proposition examined in the following articles is this: The government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed. With respect to the American people, the judiciary has in effect declared that the most important questions about how we ought to order our life together are outside the purview of “things of their knowledge.” Not that judges necessarily claim greater knowledge; they simply claim, and exercise, the power to decide. The citizens of this democratic republic are deemed to lack the competence for self-government. The Supreme Court itself—notably in the Casey decision of 1992-has raised the alarm about the legitimacy of law in the present regime. Its proposed solution is that citizens should defer to the decisions of the Court. Our authors do not consent to that solution. The twelfth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Harlan Fiske Stone (1872-1946), expressed his anxiety: “While unconstitutional exercise of power by the executive or legislative branches of the Government is subject to judicial restraint, the only check upon our own exercise of power is our own sense of restraint.” The courts have not, and perhaps cannot, restrain themselves, and it may be that in the present regime no other effective restraints are available. If so, we are witnessing the end of democracy.

And now:

Trump is a child, the most childish politician I have encountered in my lifetime. The parent in this relationship is the American state itself, which allows the voters to throw a tantrum and join forces with the worst behaved kid in the class, safe in the knowledge that the grown-ups will always be there to pick up the pieces.

This is where the real risks lie. It is not possible to keep behaving like this without damaging the basic machinery of democratic government. It takes an extraordinarily fine-tuned political intelligence to target popular anger at the parts of the state that need reform while leaving intact the parts that make that reform possible. Trump – and indeed Brexit – are not that. They are the bluntest of instruments, indiscriminately shaking the foundations with nothing to offer by way of support. Under these conditions, the likeliest response is for the grown-ups in the room to hunker down, waiting for the storm to pass. While they do, politics atrophies and necessary change is put off by the overriding imperative of avoiding systemic collapse. The understandable desire to keep the tanks off the streets and the cashpoints open gets in the way of tackling the long-term threats we face. Fake disruption followed by institutional paralysis, and all the while the real dangers continue to mount. Ultimately, that is how democracy ends.

Back then it was shocking:

On September 26, after the Senate failed to overturn President Clinton’s veto of a ban on partial-birth abortions, Paul Weyrich, Gary Bauer and other leaders of the religious right assembled in the antechamber of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s office. The rhetoric could not have been more fiery. As Lott looked on approvingly, Watergate felon and evangelist Charles Colson declared, ‘a nation which sanctions infanticide is no better than China, no better than Nazi Germany.’ Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest, went even further. ‘It is not hyperbole to say that we are at a point at which millions of conscientious American citizens are reflecting upon whether this is a legitimate regime,’ Neuhaus said. ‘That is the solemn moment we have reached.’

Despite the apocalyptic tone of what was, after all, an open meeting convened by the most powerful Republican in Congress, the gathering in Lott’s chambers attracted little notice. But this meeting was not an isolated or aberrant event. It was a harbinger of a political development that has now reached fruition: a full-fledged war between two leading groups of conservative intellectuals over the basic question of what constitutes a moral conservatism and a moral society.”

Now, it’s sensible:

A country designed to resist tyranny has now embraced it. A constitution designed to prevent democracy taking over everything has now succumbed to it. A country once defined by self-government has openly, clearly, enthusiastically delivered its fate into the hands of one man to do as he sees fit. After 240 years, an idea that once inspired the world has finally repealed itself. We the people did it.

What’s the big deal? Didn’t the Hebrews and the Greeks teach us that democracy was more problem than solution?

How Scotland May Feel the South's Pain (or not)

Turns out that getting out of a united and centralized nation may have been easier if you fought your way out (or, count the ways I was wrong):

The SNP has no idea what it is doing, or the risks it is running. Worse, nor does it seem to care.

During a debate in the referendum campaign last fall, then-SNP leader Alex Salmond was asked simply what currency an independent Scotland would have. That would be no problem, he said. We would carry on using the pound, together with the rest of the United Kingdom, and we would share control of a central bank. Absolutely not, said his unionist opponent. Every British political party has made it starkly clear that they would never accept such an outcome. By the way, that was last year, when the rest of Britain was feeling much less aggrieved than it is now by the SNP’s general demagoguery and hate campaigns.

So, given that the shared pound is not a starter, asked his critics, what was Salmond’s Plan B? Repeated questioning failed to shift Salmond at this point, demonstrating to all but his most unyielding supporters that there was no Plan B, and that the SNP had never even thought through the currency issue. That might have been the single moment at which the referendum campaign was lost. Salmond resigned as SNP leader after that debacle, but he has been very visible in recent days, repeating the familiar claims and boasts.

Fortunately, Scotland never had to confront the consequences of this insanity, but let us assume that, after the recent elections, they do become independent. What about the currency?

In the referendum debates, Salmond’s next option was a threat, something at which the SNP is expert. If the United Kingdom refused to share the pound, he said, then the new Scotland would refuse to pay its share of the national debt. The problem there is that an independent Scotland would begin its career as a nation in default, unable to raise credit even for its existing commitments, never mind covering the expense of the ever-expanding welfare state promised by Salmond’s party. The likely consequence would be social collapse and mass unemployment. Presumably English and European aid would prevent actual food riots.

Meanwhile, the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland still wants to turn the world upside down:

The Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, wrote a magnificent book about the 17th Century English Civil War, which he entitled The World Turned Upside Down. In it he examined the radical ideas of the English revolutionaries. Those who are familiar with the King James English version of the Bible will know that he lifted the phrase from Acts 17:6. I liked the idea so much that when I first became a theological student and had to travel the country preaching, one of the verses I often preached on was that one. And then I discovered the more modern NIV translation “These men who have caused trouble all over the world, have now come here”. Did I want to be known as a troublemaker? Do we? It seems to me that in modern Scotland those of us who want to hold to the biblical position are in danger of being regarded as, if not enemies of the State, at least troublesome undesirables from a past era. Is it not the default position of much of modern European Christianity, that though we talk about being radical, we prefer comfortable conservatism, the kind that never changes anything?

Except, that is, in the presence of royalty (or its aura):

then came the evening ‘Lord High Commissioners’ reception at Holyrood Palace. From the beginning it was just such a different world. The palace itself is beautiful, the ceremonies quaint and the people ‘different class’….mostly aristocracy and high clergy. There was so much that fascinated and amused me. Walking into one room and seeing the portrait of Charles the First (perhaps I shouldn’t have commented ‘off with his head!”); thinking that black tie meant a black tie – not realising that it meant black dickie bow, tails and more formal dress….so there was I standing in my brown suit (and black funeral tie) whilst the other ‘high heid un’ clerlgy were in dog collars, purple robes and the various regalia. Still at least it made people ask ‘what do you do?”.

Sitting at the massive table in the dining room – with 80 others – was also an experience. The Lady beside me asked ‘what do you think of gay marriage’ as her opening gambit. Then I spoke to the Lady on my right – who was a judge and indeed had judged the FCC v’s Free Church case. She was absolutely wonderful. She is an intelligent, thoughtful and open minded atheist/agnostic. She is my new ‘bestie’! Suffice it to say I had the most stimulating two hour conversation (Annabel was sitting further down the table) on the law, the bible and the gospel. I feel that I now have a calling to ministry amongst the aristocracy!

Although I am a bit of a pleb. I was horrified when we were asked to raise a glass to the Queen, as I had already drunk my wine. And I was even more horrified to discover that my part of the beautiful white linen cloth was the only one stained by gravy. I wasn’t the only pleb there though! Annabel was talking to a woman who said that she helped with the Queens flowers. To which Annabel replied ‘Are you a florist?”! Not sure that Lady X was all that enamoured.

Postscript: if you want to know the biggest difference between Old and New World Presbyterianism, it is this. In Ireland and Scotland moderators of assemblies still report to and hob nob with the monarchy and its minions. In the United States (can’t speak for Canada), you are lucky if the White House chief of staff knows the URL for your communion.

Sense and More Sense

This may explain the appeal of the English, especially when they can see through the bombast of American exceptionalism under the cover of religious zeal:

Much as we all admire the United States and have great affection for many of its citizens, I rather feel your post of July 4th. showed up one of the less attractive traits of Americans which is to assume that what happens in the USA has universal significance for the rest of mankind. You’re not of course alone in this on Ref21 (yes, I’m looking at you, Leon Brown!) but some of us become a touch peeved if you seem to be implying that the outcome of that little contretemps that thankfully subsided in 1783 is somehow to be celebrated by all Presbyterians. (I should point out (if I don’t, they surely will!!) that this also rather excludes Reformed Baptists such as our brother Jeremy Walker, but as he is too busy celebrating the release of the Logos 5 Puritan Felt Hat Platinum Edition, he has little time left to celebrate anything else).

For example, when you say the Declaration of Independence ‘declares the sovereignty of God’ do you mean that Thomas Jefferson and others thought the term ‘Creator’ referred to the God of the Bible? If the main intent was to declare the sovereignty of God, would you not actually just refer to Him as ‘God’? And if this is a clever terminological compromise to accommodate Jefferson, Paine etc. doesn’t that somewhat limit the concept of the sovereignty of God? Meanwhile, poor old George III was part of a coronation ceremony that talked of God explicitly, and culminated in the anointing of the sovereign. This ceremony was used again for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. It is said that her anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury (not very Presbyterian, I grant you, but they still have the 39 Articles!) in Westminster was the most important aspect to her of the whole ceremony, and it could be argued is a symbol that much better demonstrates the sovereignty of God over the civil power than changing God’s name to ‘Creator’ in a document. I need hardly point out that God’s people in the Old Testament also considered it a sufficient assertion of God’s Sovereignty over the monarch.

When you say the declaration and the constitution were drawn up by covenant representatives, I don’t doubt you. However, when you go on to argue that the US system of government is therefore like the Presbyterian form of government I can only agree with you up to a point. You see, in one there is a King of whom the covenant representatives are representatives of, whom He appoints, albeit they are drawn from His people. In the other, there is no King, or perhaps a different King, the People from whom not only are the covenant representatives drawn but whom they also supposed to serve. Noticing the difference, I leave it to others to ponder the potential dangers such an imbalance might lead to but, if you live in the US, I suggest a good place to start might be today’s newspaper.

And while we’re on the subject of covenant representatives (and, for that matter, balance), ‘the need for strong local and state governments, along with strong families and churches, to protect the people for the tyranny of the national executive.’, is all well and good and most necessary. However, as Carl Truman has repeatedly pointed out, the issue of the day is not the ability to restrain the executive but the Supreme Court, which for Christians or anyone else, given the weaknesses of the US Constitution, will prove to be very hard to do.

Finally, speaking as one who counts himself spiritually and temperamentally in the line of the English Puritans, I would not be so quick to glory in Presbyterian rebellion. Just on a point of accuracy, it was Charles I who ‘launched’ the Civil War by raising his standard at Nottingham, not the Puritans in Parliament. (I know, I know they cut of his head in the end, but none of them really wanted to!). But it could be said that both the Covenanters and the Rebels of 1775 (as well as those involved in more recent troubles in Ulster) were far too quick to arms and far too slow to lay them down. This trait, and there is some link to the forms of Christian religion dominant in those countries, was seen again in the US 70 years or so later, still the only country to fight a murderous and divisive Civil War over the issue of the abolition of slavery. So when someone on July 4th. accuses the English of having ‘a particular allergy to a thoroughgoing Reformed Church’ (Sorry to bring up Liam’s post, but the injustice of it still rankles even after 12 months.) the ‘particular allergy’ we actually have is to a heap of corpses, and the bitterness and sectarianism that endures as a result.

In all fairness, the mention of U.S. newspapers’ contents was a cheap shot since the English dailies don’t exactly reveal a well ordered society in the U.K. while they do reveal a number of ladies showing their naughty bits. Still, the call to humility away for chauvinism is well taken (especially when it remains humble).

The Queen's Speech

I have long thought that the monarchy in Europe is largely ornamental. And given the press’ coverage of the papacy, I also wondered if Pope Francis has more authority than, say, Queen Elizabeth. But yesterday, the Queen of England spoke to Parliament and outlined the policies that “her” government was going to pursue in the upcoming months.

The speech to parliament put the economic recovery at its centre, opening with a pledge to continue bringing down the deficit and cutting taxes “to increase people’s financial security”.

With the threat that the Bank of England will increase the base rate before the General Election, there is also a pledge to keep mortgage and interest rates low and to continue to promote the Help to Buy scheme.

David Cameron had suggested he could amend the scheme after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney warned in an interview with Sky News that rising house prices were the biggest threat to economic recovery in the UK.

In an attempt to tackle the housing shortage, the Government announced plans to give developers powers to push through applications without council approval and allowing the Government to sell off unused land for development.

A new garden city will also be built in the Thames estuary at Ebbsfleet in Kent to tackle the housing shortage.

The Prime Minister and his Deputy Nick Clegg claimed the measures laid out in the Queen’s Speech were “unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration”.

Just 11 new bills were introduced by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament, which will bolster Labour’s claims the coalition is now a “zombie government” which has run out of steam. Last year there were 19 new bills.

Mr Cameron hit back at claims there was “not enough” in the speech. He told the House of Commons: “We’re creating new laws on producing shale gas… new laws to help build high speed rail… new laws to reform planning to build more homes… we’re outlawing modern slavery; confiscating assets from criminals; protecting people who volunteer; cutting red tape and curbing the abuse of zero-hour contracts.

“This is a packed programme of a busy and radical government.”

I am not sure about the propriety of describing a monarchical government as radical since the republics of the U.S. and France were supposed to be the ones that broke with Europe’s conservative order. But given the way that life goes on in the UK under a monarch and the way that the U.S. republic has evolved into an empire, I wonder if republicanism is all it’s sometimes cracked up to be. Maybe an independent Scotland will show the way.

What Hath Jerusalem (monarchy) To Do with Athens (democracy)?

Or, what hath Geneva to do with Colorado Springs?

For Whom Would You Vote? (I appreciate the avoidance of the dangling preposition) is a resource provided by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Here is the justification:

As the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals exists to foster a Reformed awakening, we want to offer a free resource to help voters to think biblically about their responsibility. In his helpful booklet, “For Whom Would You Vote?,” Dr. Roy Blackwood argues that the checkered history of both good and bad Jewish kings teaches us to be discerning of the character (the just-ness or “righteousness”) of those who rule over us.

Aside from the anomaly of likening the voting process to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the naivete of thinking we can ever know our federal candidates’ personal qualities through the haze of sloganeering, advertisements, and photo-ops, is this really an instance of Reformed conviction and reflection? Or is it a case of Calvinistic evangelicals doing what evangelicals do, namely, bring God into the ballot box?

Protestants used to be bothered when Roman Catholics did this, and many American Christians don’t care for Muslim-Americans invoking Allah in public life. So what makes this permissible? What makes it Reformed?