First Evangelicalism, Now W-w, but Still Hope for U.S.A.

Thabiti Anyabwile concludes his interaction with agitated Southern Baptists over social justice by making some odd concessions. If race relations started to unravel big eva in 2014, with a major goose from the 2016 election, it now looks like racism is making Neo-Calvinist w-w diagnosis look like nonsense.

How? Anyabwile faults Tom Ascol’s evidence for the influence of critical race theory (aka cultural Marxism) in evangelical circles as insufficient or anecdotal:

Sometimes people note a correlation or a suspicion and pronounce with certainty that a movement or an infiltration is there. I think that’s largely what’s happening when people claim a “movement” exists. Some look at the number of followers on Twitter or the number of returns on a search as “evidence.” But raw numbers tell us nothing about whether those Twitter followers agree with the one they follow or whether the followers were even purchased. Raw numbers of “hits” on searches tell us nothing about whether the content of the hits were for or against the subject searched.

The entire discussion is being built on an inadequate evidentiary approach. We have a low bar that actually breaks the rules of evidence in most every field, and it proves too much.

It used to be in New Calvinist and Neo-Calvinist circles that w-w was sufficient to spot a problem. You did not need to rise to the level of a movement to show that an idea or practice was sinful or destructive. Now, Anyabwile wants Ascol to show the institutional apparatus seemingly if he is going to prove that critical race theory is present in evangelicalism. Would that also mean that we need evidence of a movement to prove that sexual infidelity is making some gains in American society and the church?

Oddly, though, Anyabwile concedes that critical race theory is behind one of Truth Table’s hosts’ recent comments:

On the first point, consider Tom’s listing of Ekemini Uwan’s comments at the Sparrow Conference. He offers it as proof of secular social-justice ideologies infiltrating evangelical spaces. It’s true that Ekemini’s comments have much in common with the fields of whiteness studies and CRT. She uses “whiteness” not as a reference to skin color or even race but to a social ideology rooted in power and greed. But that’s a view at least as old as Frederick Douglass’s writing, well before CRT/IS, cultural Marxism, or today’s social-justice trends.

As long as Frederick Douglass argued that way, the ideas must be okay. So much for Abraham Kuyper.

But Anyabwile leaves room for hope. He argues that just because the founders of the SBC held slaves, we do not throw out their entire theology:

Tom leads an organization called “Founders Ministries.” It’s a reference to the theology and ministries of the founders of the SBC. Founders is dedicated to calling the convention back to the theological commitments (doctrines of grace) of those founders, among whom were men like Basil Manly Jr, who owned 40 slaves. Manley would not be the only early leader of the convention who owned slaves. In fact, the convention was formed following a split on the question of slave owning. You could say the SBC was the pro-slavery denomination. Its flagship seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently issued a report documenting that institution’s history on the question of slavery and racism. The report indicates that the seminary’s founding faculty—James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, Basil Manly Jr., and William Williams—all held slaves and, in some cases, actively defended the practice. Yet such men are cited in books and sermons as heroes of the convention and of evangelicalism.

Now, here’s the question: Are we to attribute all the beliefs and commitments of the founding leaders of the SBC and Southern Seminary to Tom as a leader of “Founders Ministries”? If a person expresses indebtedness to Boyce, Broadus, Manly, or Williams for their writing on some subject, are we to attribute to that person anything or everything we find repugnant in Boyce and company or their writings on that subject? I would answer an emphatic “No” to both questions.

By way of analogy, the same point applies to Americans who defend and memorialize the American Founding. Just because Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin owned slaves, we do not reject all that they did, especially the institutions and political rationales they left behind.

If Anyabwile is willing to entertain that sort of sifting of the American past, he needs to write a letter to the New York Times (and maybe send an email message to Jemar Tisby).

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You’ve Heard it Said that Calvinists are Mean

But I say to you, #woke Calvinists are meaner.

Here’s what one wrote recently:

Recent books such as Jemar Tisby’s “The Color of Compromise” highlight that there is incontrovertible proof that theologically conservative Christians historically created, protected and benefited from racially unjust practices and ideologies. Research has shown how the Reformed tradition in the United States has a dark history of defending slaveholding and advocating for segregation in our churches and Christian schools.

Princeton Theological Seminary, once the flagship institution of the Reformed tradition in the United States, has a well-documented history of employing faculty members who ardently defended slaveholding in their teaching and ministry and took significant donations from slave-related enterprises.

One of these faculty members, J. Gresham Machen, who went on to found the OPC and Westminster Theological Seminary, brought complaints to his fellow faculty members when a black student was assigned to live in seminary dormitories with white students.

Other writers, such as Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, in “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, show how racism and white supremacy are a present reality in the church. The experience of many people of color in Reformed churches can further attest that our churches are no exception.

Within our churches, there is a general pushback against charging Christians with dismantling racism. The fear of white supremacy is considered to be overblown, and talking about racism is equated with progressive theology outside of the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. We’ve failed to combat white supremacy with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.

Not only has the assertion that President Trump is a racist become an axiom of American math, but now we also know with apodictic certainty that white Presbyterian denominations are also.

Here’s another:

But the OPC is handicapped in its effort to combat white nationalism by the application of the very theology it promotes.

Too often Christian individuals and institutions act as if general statements condemning bigotry and saccharine assertions of racial and ethnic equality are sufficient to combat white nationalism. . . .

If denominations like the OPC wish to make their churches inhospitable to people who harbor white nationalist views — or to confront the sins of racism and white nationalism in hopes that church members will repent of them — then they’re going to have to offer unequivocal and direct teaching refuting the ideology.

White denominations, especially in the theologically Reformed branch of the church, should hold specific workshops, classes and special events explaining white nationalist beliefs and tactics so their members can guard against subversion.

White churches and leaders must bring members who express white nationalist views or sympathies under church discipline, with the ultimate goal of discipleship and restoration. But, if necessary, suspension from the Lord’s Supper and excommunication should be an option.

In addition, white churches in Reformed traditions must probe exactly why people who hold white nationalist and other racist beliefs may find a comfortable home in their fellowships.

Perhaps it’s because pro-slavery theologians such as R.L. Dabney are still cited as positive examples of godly men.

Maybe it’s because black liberation theologians such as James Cone are demonized and if they are read at all, it is merely to discount their viewpoints.

Perhaps it’s because of the almost unshakable loyalty of many white evangelicals to Republican officials who express racist ideas.

Maybe white racists and nationalists can sit comfortably in the pews of certain churches because whenever calls for social justice arise their leaders say that such issues are a “distraction” from the gospel.

I absolutely do not believe that pastors in the OPC or any similar denomination are regularly spewing anti-Semitism and racism from the pulpit or on any other occasion.

But the rigid exclusion of discussions of racial injustice from the regular preaching and teaching in these churches means that white nationalists are seldom challenged in their beliefs.

Notice that “spewing” racism or anti-Semitism is not a regular part of preaching in Presbyterian pulpits. It only happens occasionally. Thanks for that qualification.

At the same time, if pastors do not speak out against these hatreds and prejudices they are guilty of racism and anti-Semitism.

By that standard, some of the #woke Calvinists favor waterboarding, carbon emissions, the Patriot Act, William Barr’s letter, and Senator Ben Sasse. Why? Because #woke Christians haven’t said anything about these subjects.

And yet, the niceCalvinists” say nothing when #woke Calvinists turn mean.

A Recruit for the Theological Dark Web

I’m not sure Jared Longshore has it right to talk about courageous Calvinism. That sounds a little too much like the cage-phase variety. But his observations about Old Calvinism in contrast with New Calvinism suggests Longshore may want more room to dissent from the niceness that dominates the Gospel Industrial Complex:

A cowardly Calvinist is an illogical thing. I don’t say that it is a thing that does not exist. Sadly, regrettably, shockingly, it does exist. But it shouldn’t. Before we get in too deep, no offense to the courageous non-Calvinist. My point is not to say that those who disagree with God’s sovereign decrees lack courage. Not at all. My point is rather to remedy what is all too common and downright inconsistent: the Calvinistic wimp. He is an enigma.

There may be some explanation for the man. I recall sitting down some years back with a leading Calvinist in the SBC. The spot was Louisville and the ocasion was T4G. I was a student at Southern Seminary quite certain that the third great awakening had struck. As I expressed my amazement over breakfast to this gentleman, amazement that so many young men we’re full of zeal for the glory of the sovereign God, his reply was a bit of a let down. “I’m just not sure how deep this whole thing is,” came the reply.

The words from a man who was a Calvinist when it wasn’t cool. A Calvinist when it wasn’t easy. A Calvinist when you actually had to examine the arguments of the other side and come to a settled and biblical position. So, perhaps the present quivering (and there is present quivering, we’re shaking like a freshly baked flan) is a symptom of the thin theology. If so, then let us go further up and further in.

We must get down deep in our bones that this courage is needed. Courage has always been required for those who would make God’s ways known among men. But there are certain times when that courage is especially necessary. Think Latimer and Ridley.

Why is courage needed today? Because if you open God’s Word and preach it plainly you’re going to be kicking over idols in every direction. You’re going to need courage because there has been a way to massage God’s Word, appealing to the secular mind, but that way seems to be just about all the way shut. You’re going to need courage because the exaltation of man has reached such a pitch, that, if you preach the truth about man’s fallen condition, you’re going to a be an outright bigot. And the colored lights and relevant worship set isn’t going to smooth things over any longer.

Again, I’m not fan of the everything-is-an-idol approach, but Longshore’s outlook is refreshing compared to just about anything about ministry at Gospel Coalition (like this):

Ortlinghaus: I think the primary opportunity is for gospel-centered churches to show that Jesus and his followers are not “haters.” When the national media portray Bible-following Christians as hateful and bigoted, we have an opportunity and mandate to love in the same way we see Jesus loving the woman at the well in the John 4—full of grace and truth. People want to see that our love is genuine (Rom. 12:9).

Buzzard: What God is using here is robustly orthodox, warmly loving Christians who enjoy close relationships with people wrestling through issues of sexuality—boldly, kindly pointing them to the authority of Jesus and his Scriptures over a long period of time.

Don’t accentuate the positive. Be straightforward.

Did He Read Religious Affections Too Many Times?

Tim Challies explains the come-to-Calvinism moment for the young and restless when John Piper spoke:

So why and how has Piper caught the attention of this generation? I think we can sum it up in one word: authenticity. The college students attending those early Passion conferences, they’re a mix. They’re the last of Gen-X and the very first of the Millenials. A generation that, above all, values authenticity. This rising generation wants genuine, authentic faith and they’ve grown weary of preachers who water down their messages in a desperate attempt to be relevant. In Piper, that rising generation has found their authentic preacher. They’ve found someone who really, really believes what he’s saying and who is not going to pander to them in any way at all. And they honor that. They can’t listen to Piper and be unaffected by his passion. From his unglamorous clothes to his sweeping hand gestures to his dramatic facial expressions, to his booming voice. Students know that Piper truly sees the glory of God and just can’t help but declare it. Even if they don’t know what they believe, they sure know what he believes. And it is contagious. His authenticity is the bridge to his theology. Students are first drawn by his authentic passion, then they’re captivated by his view of God. So when Piper takes the stage toward the end of that rainy day at the conference, hundreds of young people have made sure to shuffle back from the porta potties to their seats. They’re now leaning forward expectantly. They’re ready to hear his passion again. But even they could not have expected what happened next.

Has he not ever seen actors play roles authentically? Since when is passion a mark of being genuine? And why would anyone think they know — I mean epistemologically know — what John Piper believes because of his clothes or body movements? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, men look on the outside of a person but God sees the heart. That implies that only God knows for sure whether John Piper is authentic; for those in his church who hold him accountable and his family, they may have a better read on the sincerity of the pastor. But in a big crowd you think you know the state of the speaker? I bet even Jonathan Edwards would caution against that kind of gullibility.

Challies may not know it but he is doing exactly what Philadelphia fans did with Mike Schmidt. The all-star third baseman was not emotional. He was stoical. And the fans thought he didn’t care, that Schmidt was simply going through the motions. When Pete Rose arrived and played in his gung ho way, the fans jumped on the emotional bandwagon. Schmidt was the high strung thoroughbred to Rose’s siss-boom-bah hustle.

And no one knows whether Rose cared about winning more than Schmidt. Not even their hair dressers.

If You Can Take Passion Out of Sex

Why do you want to keep it in worship?

Garrett Kell explains that sex is not supposed to be all zowie and pizzazz:

God created sex to be a bond between a husband and wife that strengthens over time. Married couples make love on their honeymoon and after a miscarriage. They make love to conceive children and after they bury them. They make love when bodies are healthy and during battles against cancer. As a husband and wife pursue each other through intimate service, sacrifice, and struggle, God blesses them in a way the world can never know. . . .

That doesn’t mean sex is always enjoyable or easy for married couples. Because marriage is the union of an ever-changing and ever-growing pair of fallen people, we can expect that sexual intimacy to have both sweet and sour days and seasons. That is part of God’s wise design.

He has called a man and a woman to be committed to each other and to make love with each other during every season of life. Lovemaking on a honeymoon may be wonderful or awful. Intimate times are shared when buying a new house or burying a parent. It is pursued when God gives conception, and when he withholds it.

So if sex and passion can be ordinary and even sour, why have New Calvinists insisted that worship much be intense, earnest, deeply heart-felt if it is genuine? If married couples have seasons of less and more vibrant sex, Christians may also experience worship that is true and genuine even if all the religious affections aren’t bubbling.

Or maybe it was a mistake in the first place to introduce the language of passion and hedonism into the realm of piety. The Bible invariably uses agrarian imagery to explain the Christian life. Farms and gardens do not produce the intensity or sound of fireworks. Sure, Spring flowers pop (and they last a lot longer than even the best fireworks display). But even the flowers fade. That’s why we need less passion and more routine in worship.

What married couples do in the boudoir is on them (sheesh).

Theology of Glory

Lutherans can read the times through the lens of the theology of the cross:

But it’s an entirely different question whether churches should be participating in state-run programs like that one — when they consider their own self-interest.

Secularists worry that when federal or state money goes to churches, to support either charities or efforts like the one at stake in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, the state is in effect promoting religion. But there’s growing evidence that the influence goes the other way: State support causes churches to become more secular, and generally to weaken.

In short, believers should be wary of the freedom the Court has just affirmed.

Evangelicals don’t:

In their decision on the Trinity Lutheran case the Court answered these questions, ruling that the government can’t discriminate against religious organizations and exclude them from receiving a generally available public benefit simply because they are religious.

“The Court’s decision is good for kids and good for religious liberty,” says Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket Law, a non-profit religious liberty law firm that filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the school’s behalf. “Trinity Lutheran was simply asking that the government play fair, treat churches equally, and help the preschool make its playground safer for children. Today’s decision does just that.”

Neither do Roman Catholics:

Most court watchers expected the Court (with Gorsuch now on the bench) to side with the religious school on a narrow 5-4 ruling. But, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran!

Experts agree the decision could pave the way for upholding the constitutionality of other state programs (like school vouchers) where religious groups provide a service for the public benefit.

Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority stated: “The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution.”

NOTEWORTHY: Justice Neil Gorsuch actually wrote his own opinion in the case (joined by Justice Thomas). And the newest Justice noted that the First Amendment “guarantees the free exercise of religion, not just the right to inward belief (or status)” (emphasis his).

We at CatholicVote have been making precisely this point for years. Religious exercise isn’t just about privately holding a religious belief or attending religious services. You may recall President Obama tried to quarantine our constitutional rights by defining this broad freedom as merely the “right to worship”.

Haven’t these people heard that appearances are deceptive, that praying in public, fasting, or giving alms may not be all they seem to be.

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.

Tim Keller Plants, New York City Gives the Growth

In the ballpark of always affirming, always sunny religious journalism comes Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s puff piece on Tim Keller’s retirement at Redeemer NYC. I am not sure that this is the kind of analysis of context that Joe Carter had in mind for the Gospel Coalition’s journalistic forays:

The three main forms of journalism we use at TGC (opinion and advocacy journalism; reporting and narrative journalism; explanatory journalism) are all used to help the church think more clearly about the gospel and how it leads us to interact with the world.

Although, since Carter thinks journalism at TGC should promote revivals, Zylstra’s piece certainly does that. Her account shows, whether she intended or not, how much Keller’s position in New York City made him stand out in ways that no one else among the Allies could. If you do a word count on Zylstra’s story, she mentions the PCA twice, Presbyterian six times, and New York 37 times. As for the work of the Holy Spirit — nada.

If religious journalism at TGC is supposed to promote revivals, that would place Zylstra’s rendering of Keller more on the Finney than the Whitefield side of pretty good awakenings since Finney wasn’t big on the Holy Spirit either.

What I don’t understand is why Mark Dever doesn’t get more attention in the TGC world. There he is ministering in the nation’s capitol, the center of American power, the place from which the United States leads the free world. And yet, to get traction as an urban church planter you need the mojo of the nation’s biggest city, the place that nurtured and shaped Donald J. Trump.

What’s up with that?

The Good Thing about New Calvinism

They don’t attract people like this:

The FBI closely monitors online communities that discuss ISIS, at times running so many undercover accounts that agents end up investigating one another: An FBI policy guide, obtained and published by The Intercept, notes that online investigations have “previously resulted in resources being wasted by investigating or collecting on FBI online identities,” or employees working undercover. The Bureau also takes tips from a network of sources—from security firms to random vigilantes—who monitor these communities.

The small group of people who have been arrested on ISIS-related charges are an idiosyncratic bunch—they come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and each case is distinctive. But many do share important traits with Moe and Jaelyn. According to the Center on National Security at Fordham University’s School of Law, their median age is 25. Three-quarters are American citizens. Nine out of 10 are male. Over one-third are converts to Islam. Although roughly a quarter of cases have involved people of Arab descent like Moe, whose father is Palestinian, most come from other ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans like Jaelyn. Few have criminal backgrounds. Many live with their parents. And roughly 90 percent of cases involve social media, sometimes including online conversation with a recruiter, either real or undercover.

So why is voting for Trump so scary? Have Americans really lost the capacity to discern different kinds of threats? Even words that trigger PTSD don’t have the same effect as a guillotine.

But the biggest problem with the jeremiads against the new P.C. is that they treat the so-called politically correct as radical freaks who are outside of mainstream American society—opposing the common sense free-speech position held by wholesome liberals and conservatives. Yet far from outlier ideas, trigger warnings and safe spaces grow out of impulses that are broadly shared. For many decades, the United States has been the home to a thriving vernacular therapeutic culture, where ordinary citizens borrow concepts from psychology and use them as tools of self-improvement, often, in the process, forming distinct political and social identities. In a society where Oprah Winfrey is a guru to millions and self-help books are perennial best-sellers, the adoption of folk therapy is hardly the mark of eccentricity. Moreover, trigger warnings and safe spaces echo the larger jitteriness that has marked American culture for many decades, gaining special salience after September 11, 2001.

Imagine that kind of understanding for white evangelicals.

And then duck.

Machen’s Warrior Mother

Another difference between New Calvinists and Reformed Protestants — sentimentality. Tim Challies does his best to present J. Gresham Machen as — we used to call them mama’s boys — the godly Christian son:

Because Gresham was a lifelong bachelor, his mother would remain the closest woman in his life until her death in 1931. This was the most grievous event he had experienced, for no one had held him in greater esteem than his mother. No one had been so unswervingly loyal to him. Perhaps no one had been so impacted by him. She once wrote to him: “I cannot half express to you my pride and profound joy in your work. You have handled in a very able manner the most important problem of the age, and you have given voice to my own sentiments far better than I could myself.” On the day the family laid her to rest, Gresham wrote, “My mother seems—to me at least—to have been the wisest and best human being I ever knew.”

God used Minnie’s powerful intellect and warm kindness to raise up a man who would benefit generations of Christians by his stalwart defense of the faith. And he continues to use such mothers to this day. Mothers, as you struggle to instruct your children in the Word and in sound doctrine, learn from Minnie that your labor is setting a strong foundation for years to come. As you strive to show steadfast love to your faltering children, learn from Minnie that God often uses such compassion to draw his children back to himself. Through your training and your tenderness, you are displaying the love of the Father.

Minnie had been her son’s first teacher and, with her husband, the one who led him to Christ. “Without what I got from you and Mother,” he would tell his father, “I should long since have given up all thoughts of religion or of a moral life. . . . The only thing that enables me to get any benefit out of my opportunities here is the continual presence with me in spirit of you and Mother and the Christian teaching which you have given me.” At his time of deepest need, she had comforted him with love and counseled him with the Word of God. She had remained loyal to him in that crisis and through every other controversy he endured. In his greatest and most enduring work, Christianity and Liberalism, it is fitting that its opening page bears this simple dedication: “To my mother.”

Tender. Warm. Kind. Compassion. Love. Loyalty. Those are all appealing words and they no doubt capture some of the relationship that Machen had with his mother, Mary Gresham.

But that portrait of the close relationship of mother and son (which those skeptical of Machen’s virtues have used to raise questions about his sexuality) doesn’t prepare New Calvinist admirers for the Warrior Children side of Machen. And to keep the spread sheets properly balanced, the New Calvinists (at least) need to remember how John Frame described the less than appealing side of Machen’s controversial proclivities:

The Machen movement was born in the controversy over liberal theology. I have no doubt that Machen and his colleagues were right to reject this theology and to fight it. But it is arguable that once the Machenites found themselves in a “true Presbyterian church” they were unable to moderate their martial impulses. Being in a church without liberals to fight, they turned on one another.

One slogan of the Machen movement was “truth before friendship.” We should laud their intention to act according to principle without compromise. But the biblical balance is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). We must not speak the truth without thinking of the effect of our formulations on our fellow Christians, even our opponents. That balance was not characteristic of the Machen movement.

Fighting for the sake of contention is one thing. Fighting for a Reformed church according to the word is another. Many of Machen’s warrior children think they fight for the sake of God’s word. New Calvinists tend to be skeptical, as Frame is, about the extent of battle fronts. They even call Old Calvinists mean and ornery.

As long as New Calvinists also know that Machen had critics who called him mean and ornery, they might avoid sentimentalizing Machen. If they want to sanitize him, they need to explain how Minnie Machen ever let her son become such a controversialist.