Only Professionals Have Licenses to Conduct Historical Science

Michael Haykin seems to deny the doctrine of vocation when he argues that every believer needs to be a good historian:

history is obviously important to God, since it is the realm where God ultimately brings about the salvation of his people by entering into the very fabric of time and taking on our humanity, sin excepted, in the person of Jesus Christ. This divine activity in the realm of history should not be restricted to the Bible. Though it is impossible to trace out his footsteps across the sands of time in detail, it is blasphemous to deny that God is at work. His work may often be hidden, but it is biblical to confess that he is providentially guiding history for the glory of his Name and the good of his people. As such, to quote the seventeenth-century Puritan Richard Baxter, “The writing of Church-history is the duty of all ages, because God’s works are to be known, as well as his Word.” Reading Church history should lead therefore to the praise of God and his adoration.

This is a tad sloppy and betrays that evangelical earnestness so often eager to find in every-square-inch Neo-Calvinism that magic wand to integrate everything. Everyone, thanks to the Holy Spirit, can now see historical significance, perform algebra equations, and tie boating knots. Well, not really. All good believers, even the most gullible, won’t come to my door in hopes of finding a cure for that nagging pain in the sciatica. Maybe to be a good historian it helps to go to graduate school and obtain a license.

But, when Haykin writes this:

Without the past our lives have little or no meaning. When a community forgets its past, it is like a person suffering from dementia: they really cannot function in the world. So we must study history, and as Christians, this means Church history.

He has a point.

Imagine the pain Tim Keller might have avoided if he had known better the struggles between Machen and Old Princeton, between Old School and New School Presbyterians, or between New York and Philadelphia presbyteries. For that matter, why doesn’t the Gospel Industrial Complex have a better memory of Carl Henry, Billy Graham, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Fuller Seminary?

Selective skepticism? Heck, selective memory.

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The World Is Turning Rod and Leaving Tim Behind

The piece on Rod Dreher and the Benedict Option in the New Yorker was remarkable on several levels. It was generally positive, respectful, and long. This was the case despite Dreher’s tendency to sound a tad hysterical about sexual irregularities and deviance. This quote by Andrew Sullivan, a gay man who has gone head to head with Rod over the years, was telling:

Sullivan has a long-standing disagreement with Dreher over same-sex marriage, but he believes that the religiously devout should be permitted their dissent. “There is simply no way for an orthodox Catholic to embrace same-sex marriage,” he said. “The attempt to conflate that with homophobia is a sign of the unthinking nature of some liberal responses to religion. I really don’t think that florists who don’t want to contaminate themselves with a gay wedding should in any way be compelled to do so. I think any gay person that wants them to do that is being an asshole, to be honest—an intolerant asshole. Rod forces you to understand what real pluralism is: actually accepting people with completely different world views than your own.”

In “The Benedict Option,” Dreher writes that “the angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity” is the understandable result of a history of “rejection and hatred by the church.” Orthodox Christians need to acknowledge this history, he continues, and “repent of it.” He has assured his children that, if they are gay, he will still love them; he is almost—but not quite—apologetic about his views, which he presents as a theological obligation. He sees orthodox Christians as powerless against the forces of liquidly modern progressivism; on his blog, he argues that “the question is not really ‘What are you conservative Christians prepared to tolerate?’ but actually ‘What are LGBTs and progressive allies prepared to tolerate?’ ” He wants them to be magnanimous in victory; to refrain from pressing their advantage. Essentially, he says to progressives: You’ve won. You wouldn’t sue Orthodox Jews or observant Muslims. Please don’t sue us, either.

“What I really love about Rod is that, even as he’s insisting upon certain truths, he’s obviously completely conflicted,” Sullivan said. “And he’s a mess! I don’t think he’d disagree with that. But he’s a mess in the best possible way, because he hasn’t anesthetized himself. He’s honest about a lot of the questions that many liberal and conservative Christians aren’t really addressing.”

Notice that Dreher, who is outspokenly anti-gay marriage, did not receive the chorus of criticism that Tim Keller did at Princeton Seminary even from such mainstream organs and figures as the New Yorker and Andrew Sullivan.

To be sure, the PCUSA is not the New Yorker, but at a time when the magazine has identified President Trump and his supporters as an alien force in national life, a fair piece about Dreher is not what readers would have expected.

So why does Dreher receive more acclaim than Keller? The reason could be that the former promotes a thick (as he understands it) Christian identity, complete with communitarian obligations, while Keller stands for a Christianity that is chiefly reasonable and appeals to the mind. In other words, Dreher is appealing to a larger conception of Christianity that encompasses more of one’s identity than intellect while Keller is largely about defending the Apostles’ Creed (as he explained a while back in an interview at First Things) — or a Christian minimum. Rod is maximalist where Tim is a minimalist.

Naomi Schaeffer Riley picked up on this difference when she contrasted Dreher and Keller:

Keller sees an integral part of the church’s mission as being present in the big cities — no matter how culturally degraded they may seem. “Christians ought to be present and engaged everywhere that there are people. But across the world people are flocking to cities at the rate of millions per year.

“Christians don’t all need to live in cities, but they should at least be moving there in the same proportions as the people whom they want to serve.”

His approach may be falling out of favor among some more orthodox believers. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on a small but growing number of Christians who, “feeling besieged by secular society . . . are taking refuge” in small, often isolated communities away from negative cultural influences and surrounded by other believers.

This “Benedict Option” was named in honor of St. Benedict, who fled the moral degradation of Rome. It’s also the title of a new book by Rod Dreher, who, writing in Christianity Today, calls it a “strategic withdrawal” by “serious Christian Conservatives [who] could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America.”

Though Dreher doesn’t say Christians should all flee to isolated enclaves, those are where such withdrawal would be easiest.

Keller believes Christians in New York cannot retreat into homogeneity. They’ll be regularly faced with people who fervently disagree with them. Keller’s church is a multi-ethnic one and even if the believers have a similar religious outlook, they hail from a variety of different backgrounds.

That fear of homogeneity and retreat also explains, by the way, while Keller is somewhat uncomfortable with going all in on Presbyterianism (from his interview at First Things):

I don’t believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who’ll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn’t appeal to them. Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics. I mean, I know that sounds¯I’m not talking about that certain cultures reach certain people. It’s much more complicated than that. Even though there’s something to that. We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others, but I wouldn’t want to reduce it to that at all. I would just say that I only know that God seems to use all these kinds of churches to reach the whole breadth of humanity, and so that’s why we give money to start churches of other denominations, and give free training to it. And we’ve done about a hundred in the New York area, where we’ve helped people. It’s very important to us.

For Keller, apparently, Christianity resists taking overly specific and particular forms (think ecclesiology, liturgy, even creed). His ministry can transcend different cultures and expressions of Christianity. That comes up short against those Christians that Schaeffer identifies as wanting a more than “business-as-usual” faith.

But the Allies at Gospel Coalition back Keller over Dreher when they say they want both a Christianity that is meaty and one that is mainstream:

The Benedict Option is named for Benedict of Nursia, a 4th century monk who launched a monastic movement that preserved Western civilization. Today, writers like Rod Dreher enjoin Christian​s​ to take similar steps to “develop communities based on a shared sense of orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice), for the sake of forming ourselves and the next generation in the Christian faith.”

The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has called Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, where Tim Keller serves as senior pastor, an effective example of the Benedict Option for our twenty-first century, post-Christian context. Like other TGC-inspired communities, Redeemer aims to blend countercultural biblical faithfulness with a Christ-exalting, city-embracing vision.

That dual commitment to faithfulness and cultural affirmation did work for the post-World War II world. It was precisely the vision of the Neo-Evangelicals who formed the National Association of Evangelicals, founded Christianity Today, and cheered and prayed for Billy Graham. It was and is a faith that harmonizes well with a nationalism confident of its role in the world, and generally progressive in its estimate of where history is going or at least who the good guys are in that narrative.

But at a time when that post-war internationalist order is under serious strain (think Brexit, Scottish Independence, Trumpian nationalism), the appeal of a rational, enlightened Christianity may have hit a wall. What Christians seem to understand is that they need a faith little more “deep-down diving and mud upbringing,” that can withstand a social order that is not congenial to their religious convictions. It is a faith that bears more resemblance to the politics of identity than to United Statesist Christianity. This faith does not go along but separates. It makes more claims on adherents than a faith that primarily relies on mental exercises demanded by w-w. It recognizes that the world is more hostile than previous generations supposed and that Christians need to be more intentional about their convictions.

Why someone living in New York City, the place that cultivated the boorish Donald Trump, doesn’t see that cities (from culture to economics) may be a problem for the practice of demanding Christianity is a real mystery.

New Calvinism is Warmed-Over New Evangelicalism with a Hint of Hipster

John Turner’s post about Henrietta Mears reminded me of a thought I have had for some time — namely, that the New Calvinism and Gospel Coalition are simply trying to do what Carl Henry and Harold John Ockenga were trying to do in the world of Protestantism outside the mainline churches. Mears was arguably the most important force in Sunday school curricula during the post-World War II era. And her outlook and energy prompted Turner to characterize neo-evangelicalism of the Billy Graham era along the following lines:

▪ Biblicism. This may seem obvious, but lost in discussions of the divergence of “new evangelicalism” from old-style fundamentalism is the fact that the new evangelicals remained biblicist to the core. Henrietta Mears revamped Sunday school education at Hollywood Presbyterian because she did not like the existing “grasshopper approach to the Bible. The children were not taught that God had a plan from Genesis to Revelation but were taught only stories. As one of the children said, ‘Sunday school gets dumber and dumber. The same old stories all the time.’” It occurs to me that the story of Jesus welcoming the children over the disciples’ opposition is indeed overused!

▪ Optimism. Certainly American evangelicals were alarmed, even paranoid at times, about various threats to the church and their nation. Communists, union leaders, juvenile delinquents — evangelicals were never at a loss when it came to finding something ominous on the country’s horizon. At the same time, they had tremendous faith that God would perform miraculous works through their ministries. It is no accident that Henrietta Mears helped mold Bill Bright, the Campus Crusade for Christ founder with a vision to “change the world.” Mears dreamed big. Evangelicals today are more chastened. We read about declining evangelical clout and the growing number of religious “nones.” Evangelical celebrities come to town for a night or two, not for six- or eight-week crusades like Billy Graham’s. A more realistic, even chastened approach is probably wise, but we could sometimes use a dose of Henrietta Mears-style dogged optimism.

▪ Bridge-building. Perhaps Henrietta Mears has given me a somewhat overly irenic sense of mid-century evangelicalism, but she seemed to get along with nearly everyone who even approached the nebulous borders of the evangelical world. In terms of theology, I understand Mears as rather close to a Keswick-style approach to surrender, holiness, and empowerment for service. In her ministry, however, she cooperated with mainstream-to-liberal Presbyterians, Keswick-oriented speakers, and dispensationalists. She would not invite Pentecostals to Forest Home, but she did invite Oral Roberts’s family to her own home and befriended the Oklahoma evangelist. As a “Bapterian,” she did not worry overly much about an individual’s precise place in the patchwork world of evangelicalism. Like Billy Graham, she could work with anyone dedicated to bringing young people in particular into a deep, abiding relationship in Jesus Christ.

That also seems to apply to the New Calvinism — not wanting to be too bound by theological systems, optimistic about all works of God (especially the New Calvinism), and willing to cross sacramental (think baptism) and spiritual-gift (think tongues) lines.

The only aspect of New Calvinism that is different is the attempt at urban hipness that sometimes surfaces among its proponents (think Greg Thornbury and image of TKNY). Henry and Ockenga had their urban moments, whether Los Angeles (okay, Pasadena), Boston, or Washington DC. But they were more earnest about the truth than being relevant. But with the success of TKNY has come the notion for some of the New Calvinists that you can be Edwards in Manhattan. For some reason, the New Calvinists don’t remember that Edwards’ earnestness landed him on the Massachusetts’ frontier trying to evangelize the Native Americans. In other words, earnestness and hipness don’t mix (which may explain John Piper’s remarkable indifference to Christian urbanism).

All about Roger

Roger Olson has opened a vein on Molly Worthen’s new book about post-WWII evangelicalism. You don’t need to read between the lines to understand that this review is more about Roger than Worthen’s book. And much of what has appeared to motivate the theologian of divine openness is a bone (it was clean a decade ago) he continues to pick with Reformed Protestantism, especially with the way Calvinists are always “running things.” Here is how he ends the first of his series:

I have been criticized by some Reformed evangelicals for claiming that Arminians (among others) have been persecuted by Calvinist evangelicals. Worthen’s book provides support for what I say—not that we non-Reformed evangelicals are actively persecuted but that we have been patronized and treated like stepchildren by the Reformed leaders of neo-evangelicalism and that we have been accepted by them only to the extent that we take on their flavor of intellectual life and spirituality.

But Olson lets on more than he knows because Arminians are not simply victims in this relationship. Turns out they willingly cooperated and may have approved the persecution themselves (at least Olson’s uncle and father did):

My uncle was president of our little Pentecostal evangelical denomination for twenty-five years. He served on the boards of both the National Association of Evangelicals and the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America. As I grew older and became more actively interested in our religious “family tree” he and I had many discussions about all things Pentecostal and evangelical. It was he who informed me that we were “conservative” and “evangelical” but not “fundamentalist.” We were not the latter because we were not cessationists (which in our informal taxonomy, anyway, all fundamentalists were by definition). We also didn’t practice “secondary separation”—refusal of Christian fellowship with all who didn’t agree with us. Compared with hard core fundamentalists we were downright ecumenical.

My father read and introduced me to magazines such as The Christian Herald and Eternity and Christianity Today. (He also read The Sword of the Lord but often only to laugh at it or borrow a sermon outline from it.) We watched both Billy Graham crusades and Oral Roberts healing meetings on television (when we had a television). Our ideal Christian hero would be a hybrid of Graham and Roberts. When it came to the past our heroes of the faith were (after Jesus and the apostles) Luther, Wesley, Finney, Moody, Amy Carmichael, Fanny Crosby, Aimee Semple Macpherson, Billy Sunday, A. W. Tozer, and, later, Kathryn Kuhlman, John Stott, Alan Redpath (Keswick) and David Wilkerson.

My father attended all the local Evangelical Ministerial Alliance meetings and participation in Youth for Christ was taken for granted—as much as was church attendance. I saw every Christian film from “Without Onion” to “The Tony Fontaine Story” to “The Restless Ones” as a kid. (We didn’t go to movie theaters but often viewed these and many other gospel-themed films at churches and YFC events.)

So Olson’s family was not as intent on staking out a separate “evangelical” identity as Olson is. Why, the Olson’s even had positions of authority within evangelicalism. But only later did Olson understand that he was different:

When I was growing up in a pastor’s family with many close relatives in ministry I was well aware that we were most definitely evangelicals. As I look back on my home church and denomination now I realize we were also fundamentalist Pentecostals. I knew then that we were Pentecostals even though we preferred the label “Full Gospel.” However, throughout my childhood and youth we spoke the language of American evangelicalism and evangelicalism’s heroes were ours—especially Billy Graham. The music that filled our home was “gospel music”—on “Christian radio” and from evangelically-produced “sacred albums.” Our home and church were filled with evangelical publications. I was raised on childrens’ stories such as “The Sugar Creek Gang” series.

But apparently, the cozy relations and positions of power for the Olsons are not good enough for the son and nephew:

One of Worthen’s main themes is that Ockenga’s and Carl Henry’s neo-evangelicalism always was and still is (as represented by Christianity Today, for example) heavily Reformed. Putting this in my own language, her point is that neo-evangelicalism privileges Reformed theology and more or less expects other evangelicals (Holiness, Pentecostal, Anabaptists, Restorationist) to adjust to that to be acceptable. And many non-Reformed evangelicals have succumbed to that pressure while others have resisted it—causing tensions among evangelicals and within denominations.

I for one don’t particularly care who gets to run evangelicalism, or who is upstairs and who’s the help. If Olson knew much about Reformed Protestantism, he’d know that folks like Cornelius Van Til, E. J. Young, or John Murray hardly had guest passes to the executive washroom at NAE headquarters because of their theological convictions. It could very well be that Princeton Seminary provided a better and classier model for conducting evangelicalism in the public square than Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Go figure. Should that kind of status consciousness influence the way Christians organize or conduct themselves? Probably not, as the founding experience of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church attests. The OPC was willing to let goods and kindred go for the sake of a Reformed church, just as it also declined to sign on to neo-evangelical institutions like the NAE.

Whether Olson is willing to make a similar renunciation is not at all clear. His continuing complaints about evangelicalism have the feel of being slighted. But given his own family’s status within evangelicalism, his complaints sound decidedly ungrateful.

Cherry Picking Alert (and boy are those trunks sappy!)

The Gospel Coalition has launched a year-long series of blog posts about Princeton Theological Seminary, a school that celebrates its bicentennial this year. The first post introduces PTS by likening the institution to the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement.

Controversies swirl around celebrity pastors and their best-selling books. Evangelicals unite across denominational lines to share resources and strategize together for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. New thought emerging from Europe demands a response. Divisions arise between those who emphasize personal piety and others who prioritize the sacraments in the Christian life. Developments in science force Christians to reconsider their understanding of Genesis.

The author, Andy Jones, a PCA pastor in North Carolina, continues:

The seminary originally aimed to produce men of great learning and vital piety. The leaders of Princeton were men who advocated for Calvinism and the Great Awakening. They were Reformed revivalists. In the classroom, they introduced their students to the biblical languages and the Latin edition of Francis Turrentin’s Institutes. Yet they also emphasized the necessity of personal piety. Their goal was to produce ministers who were biblically grounded, theologically enlightened, and spiritually awakened. By establishing a seminary that linked together vigorous learning and piety, the founders hoped that “blessings may flow to millions while we are sleeping in the dust.”

Though governed by Presbyterians, Princeton Seminary welcomed students from diverse backgrounds. It graduated men who became leaders in Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist churches. Among Princeton’s first graduates was Charles Hodge, who would become the seminary’s leading influence in the 19th century. Another early graduate and Hodge’s best friend was John Johns, a leader among Episcopalians and ultimately the president of William and Mary. One of Hodge’s students, James Petigru Boyce, became the founding professor of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In the 19th century, Princeton was a leader among conservative evangelicals in America. It was the “grand central station” for the “young, restless, and Reformed.” Through The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, a prominent voice in 19th-century religious journalism, it apprised Presbyterians of the latest thinking among biblical scholars, engaged in controversies facing the church, and responded to challenges in the surrounding culture.

In other words, PTS was the Gospel Coalition of the nineteenth century — revivalistic, interdenominational, devout, and informed.

This is one way of interpreting PTS but it is highly selective since it leaves out the less reassuring bits about Princeton’s Old School tradition — Hodge’s criticisms of the First Great Awakening, Samuel Miller’s defense of something close to jure divino Presbyterianism, the seminary’s cultivation of polemical theology, its insistence on infant baptism, and its legacy in institutions like Westminster Seminaries and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Old Schoolers like myself have not ignored Princeton’s experimental Calvinistic side and some of us have even explored the tensions between revivalism and confessionalism that the Princetonians may not themselves acknowledged. But at least we have not denied the uncomfortable parts of PTS’ past. I would hope the Gospel Co-Allies would do the same.

Meanwhile, this is the second time in the recent past where GC advocates have appealed to historical precedents for their alliance. One commenter here invoked seventeenth-century British Protestantism and its kaleidoscope of Puritans, Independents, Presbyterians, and Baptists. He left out the Quakers and failed to acknowledge that these groups did not found a parachurch agency but went into separate churches. Now comes an attempt to draw parallels between the GC and PTS. Be careful with those pits.

I do not understand why GC historians don’t liken themselves to the most obvious precedent — the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s. Leading that group was Harold John Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham. They too set up non-denominational institutions to draw in “conservative” Protestants of all stripes. And they also drew inspiration from Princeton Seminary. As George Marsden shows, PTS was very much on the minds of Fuller Seminary’s founders.

The trouble with appeals to Old Princeton like the neo-evangelicals and GC’s is that they ignore the side of the seminary that spooks pietists — the polemics not only against liberals but also against “conservatives.” PTS did welcome students from all churches. But you cannot find a bigger critic of Finney, holiness, Wesleyanism, perfectionism, New School Presbyterianism, Taylorism, biblical criticism, and Darwin. Old Princeton knew how to say “no.” Does the Gospel Coalition?

One way to answer this question without long reflection is to compare Mark Driscoll to Charles Hodge. Puhleeze. If Hodge were living today, he would take Driscoll to the woodshed (that is, unless Driscoll’s powers of clairvoyance alerted him to Hodge’s approach).