See What Keller Did Now?

Tim Keller has made the history of Presbyterianism obsolete. Look at the way Jake Meador describes the challenges facing young pastors in the PCA:

… young Presbyterian pastors, many of whom are on university campuses with RUF or working in gentrifying urban neighborhoods, face enormous class-based pressure to conform to certain progressive cultural norms. These pressures make themselves felt in a variety of ways.

First, there is a strong and classic American pull toward being dismissive of the past, toward what is established, and to embrace what is new. This temptation exerts an even stronger pull than normal on many young PCA pastors because many younger pastors and RUF guys have strong entrepreneurial tendencies. While this is often a very good thing—indeed, it’s what makes it possible for them to succeed as church planters and RUF pastors—this same trait can make them naturally inclined to be dismissive toward established norms, policies, and beliefs, especially when they are surrounded by other young people with the same entrepreneurial sensibilities. It is probably not a coincidence, in other words, that the most famous “Kellerite” to go progressive is pastoring in San Francisco, the capital of Silicon Valley.

In addition to the disregard for things that are older, established, etc. there is also strong cultural pressure to embrace a kind of bourgeois bohemian lifestyle—buy a cute house in the gentrifying neighborhood, embrace the careerism, food and exercise regimen, lifestyle trends, and broadly progressive ethos of your neighbors. You can even say you’re just being outreach-focused as you do it. While none of these things are bad in isolation, taken together they’re all steps that involve embracing the norms of a younger bobo sub-culture. And if you’re embracing those norms out of a desire to be liked rather than a pure desire to make the Gospel sensible, it will be disastrous.

But, of course, it is all very complicated: Essentially, these are young pastors being handed different cultural scripts and asked to choose which ones to follow. But these clashing scripts cannot be simplistically labeled “good” and “bad” such that we can tell young pastors to follow the “good” script and avoid the “bad.” It is more complicated than that.

This is similar to the point that Ron Belgau made in his response to Rod Dreher earlier this week: It’s not that we have a legacy PCA script that is unambiguously good that we need to cling to. That script has problems—it’s awful on race issues, for starters. So figuring out the cultural scripts question in the PCA is challenging: The young white bobo script you’re pushed toward culturally and according to class is bad, but then you don’t necessarily have a good alternative script, particularly if you’re trying to plant a church or RUF in a more hostile environment. There simply aren’t good evangelical templates for how to do that because we have for the most part been really bad at it.

In such a situation, the draw toward Keller and the ham-handed attempts to mimic him are quite understandable. What other models do these pastors have? Driscollism? Straight-up progressive Episcopalianism?

Certainly, you can argue that there actually are other models out there—Calvin basically turned Geneva into a booming intellectual hub. Someone like Richard Sibbes was a very successful preacher in Cambridge at the university in the 17th century. Richard Baxter could be helpful in that we know more about his routines as a pastor than any other minister of his era. Bucer and his colleagues in Strasbourg did good and faithful work in a major intellectual, cultural, and scholastic hub. But these examples are all either from radically different cultural contexts, much more obscure, or both.

It isn’t unreasonable that these pastors would look to Keller and, being young and failing to understand their context, fail to mimic him well. But that isn’t Keller’s fault and it isn’t entirely the young pastor’s fault either. It’s a predictable outcome given all the factors I have mentioned already.

Whatever happened to vanilla Presbyterianism? A pastor ministers the word, administers the sacraments, catechizes the youth, shepherds the flock, and goes to presbytery. What does all this worry about culture have to do with it? Meador doesn’t think Keller is responsible for leading the PCA down a misguided path of Kellerism. That is mostly true. What happened it seems to meeeeEEEE, is that Keller fulfilled the aspirations of some PCA leaders who wanted to “engage” the culture — marriage is still up for grabs.

What is happening in the PCA is what always happens to denominations that Americanize and try to adapt to the culture. The Presbyterian version of this is not whether to be Baptist or Episcopalian — though why don’t the boho’s seem to notice that Keller’s urban ways draw him to Baptists at TGC and other urban pastors like John Piper and Mark Dever? The Presbyterian version of assimilation is New School and New Life. In the 19th century, those who wanted to Christianize the culture were the New Schoolers (Lyman Beecher and Charles Finney), and their opponents were Old School Presbyterians who tried to maintain creedal theology and presbyterian governance. In the twentieth century (let’s leave aside the modernists for now), the assimilationists were New Lifers (in the OPC mind you) who wanted Orthodox Presbyterians to join with the wider evangelical world and also reach the young people with long hair. In case no one noticed, Tim Keller’s origins are in the New Life wing of the OPC, with Harvie Conn supplying a theology of the city, and Jack Miller providing a relaxed Presbyterianism that could adjust to the culture (Miller’s tastes ran less to ballet and more to Jesus people. Keller went to New Life Glenside while he taught at WTS, if I am not mistaken.) Not to mention that the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (which goes back to the Bible Presbyterians) side of the PCA that gave it Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, is not the same slice southern Presbyterianism that produced Reformed Seminary and the original PCA.

In other words, the history is thick behind Keller and simply looking at the PCA from the perspective of Baptists and Episcopalians doesn’t take you very far into the weeds.

Yet, when you apply the categories of Baptist and Episcopalian, you wind up rendering Old School (or vanilla) Presbyterianism as a couple clicks away from strange:

During times when progressivism is ascendant, as it certainly is in our day, there is a natural temptation amongst conservatives to want to double down on their most strident rhetoric, add purity tests to protect their institutions, and to begin attacking people not only for holding wrong ideas, but for holding ideas which they suspect could lead to wrong ideas (even if they won’t inevitably lead to them).

Is this a plea for Erdmanesque tranquility so that the boat won’t rock? Ministry unites, doctrine divides?

Whether Keller is responsible or no, he has not helped to prepare the PCA for the predicament that Meador thinks the denomination faces:

You’re in this weird denomination that aspires to being the church that can reach secular bobo-types in upwardly mobile neighborhoods but that also aspires to be faithful to theological orthodoxy and even to be theologically evangelical, all the way down to not ordaining women. That is an awkward position to be in from the beginning.

If Keller had left the impression that working through presbyterian channels was not weird but normal, and had achieved his fame not as a pastor with one foot in presbyterianism and another in networked Protestantism but as a regular Presbyterian minister, he might have communicated an important lesson to young pastors, namely, that it’s okay to be simply a pastor. But that is not what he did. And his fellow Presbyterian Church in Americans are sorting out what the Age of Keller means.

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What If We Are In Communion with Celebrity Pastors?

Carl Trueman takes stock of the celebrity pastor phenomenon and calls on the revived Presbyterians to spend some of their leadership capital (is Tim Keller paying attention?):

But here is the rub: If there are people out there who still believe that there is such a thing as reformed evangelicalism as a trans-denominational movement, if they believe that this movement will play a key role in the future of the church, and if they believe that they are important leaders in this movement, then they need to speak directly, clearly, and firmly to precisely these issues. You cannot be a leader without leading publicly on the major issues and major personalities of the day who impact your movement and your chosen constituency. It is not enough to say ‘That person is no longer one of us’ when you helped to create a culture in which accountability is not transparent and where your public silence encouraged the big names to think they could do what they wanted and not be held publicly to account. That is where today’s problems started.

That accountability question has always been the Achilles’ Heel of the evangelical parachurch movement. Now that there are huge sums of money involved, that question is far more pressing and yet far more complicated than ever before. We who are associated with the so-called reformed evangelical movement, whether because we want to be or because others just make the connection, now look as corrupt and worldly as the despicable televangelists of a previous generation.

I’ll see Carl’s rub and raise him one. The problem is not one simply for the heavy artillery in the Gospel Coalition. This is also a Presbyterian and Reformed problem. The reason is that some Presbyterian ministers are celebrity pastors and these celebrities are accountable (supposedly) to the assemblies of their communions. So what are officers in the PCA, for instance, to do with someone like Tim Keller who needs, as Trueman argues, to speak directly and precisely to the issues involved in the recent controversies surrounding Mark Driscoll and others? But this is not merely a PCA problem. It is also one for folks like Carl and me, who are in the OPC and are in fellowship with Keller and the PCA, or for men like Scott Clark and Mike Horton, who are in the URC and in fellowship with Keller and the PCA.

I don’t know what the answer is, even though I have tried to point out the dilemmas posed by a prominent PCA pastor’s poor ecclesiology. But if connectionalism is one of the aspects of Presbyterian church government, then all of us, celebrity or not, are connected to the problem of celebrity pastors.

New Schoolers, Neo-Calvinists, and Fundamentalists

After Darrell Todd Maurina kicked up some dust with his post at the Baylyblog on 2k, he made the following comment:

Men such as Dr. Darryl Hart have accused me in the past of holding the same position as the Bible Presbyterians and Carl McIntyre. That is an important accusation and it needs to be rebutted. If men such as Clark, Horton, Hart, and Van Drunen manage to successfully argue that they are in the heritage of Old School Presbyterianism while their opponents are New Schoolers, great damage will be done to the cause of those who oppose “Two Kingdoms” theology within the conservative Reformed world.

Well, if you look at the historical scholarship, Darrell, it gets even worse than you imagine. Consider first of all one inference that George Marsden drew in his first book, a study of New School Presbyterianism:

The most striking illustration of the similarities between nineteenth-century New Schoolism and twentieth-century fundamentalism is found in the sequel to the Presbyterian division of 1936. The newly formed Presbyterian Church of America itself was divided over a complex set of issues remarkably similar to those of 1837. The majority in the new denomination, led by J. Gresham Machen until his death . . . and then by his immediate associates at Westminster Seminary, took clearly Old School positions on each of the issues. The minority, which withdrew to form the Bible Presbyterian Synod, was led by the militant fundamentalist, Carl McIntire. McIntire, who had envisaged the Presbyterian Church of America as part of a wider “twentieth century Reformation,” soon found that he was not at home in a strict Old School tradition. The specific programs for which he fought were 1) toleration of a doctrine (dispenstational premillennialism) that the majority in the Church considered incompatible with the Westminster Confession of Faith; 2) continuation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, rather than forming an official denominational mission board; and 3) adoption by the General Assembly of a statement that total abstinence from all that may intoxicate is “the only truth principle of temperance – exactly the same statement first adopted by the New School General Assembly of 1840. These programs, together with McIntires’s claim to represent “American Presbyterianism (a former New School phrase), his avid (anti-Communist) patriotism, his zeal for revivalism and legalistic reforms, his emphasis on interdenominational cooperation, and his lack of concern for strict Presbyterian polity – all indicate a continuation of the distinctly New School traditions with the fundamentalist wing of Presbyterianism. . . .

Perhaps the greatest difference between the New School evangelical movement and fundamentalist was that the nineteenth-century movement was largely successful, while the twentieth-century movement was not. The New School was not characterized by an almost total repudiation of the cultural and scientific advances of the age. Rather, it met those challenges without losing its own respectability. The New School thus advanced toward the center of American cultural and religious life, while fundamentalism was forced to retreat to the hinterlands. This, of course, is a crucial difference and makes a characterization of the New School as proto-fundamentalist s misleading as proto-liberal. The New School was in many respects a constructive and progressive religious intellectual movement with marked success in shaping American culture at large. (247, 249)

In case Darrell and other New School-like Protestants get bogged down in McIntire’s peculiarities, the point here is not that Maurina or the Baylys are dispensationalists or tee-totalers. The point is that they put the nation and its politics ahead of their theological and confessional commitments the way New Schoolers did. They want an American Presbyterianism, a faith that shapes America. In contrast, the Old School was willing to consider Reformed Protestantism as something independent or a matter than transcended the nation. The New Schoolers were Americans first and Americans second. Old Schoolers (at least some of them) were Presbyterians first and Americans second. If the United States and Presbyterianism are not the same, the order in which you put “Presbyterian” and “American” matters. (For Presbyterians from Canada or Ireland that makes perfect sense.)

But for those inclined to think that Dutch-American (notice the order) Reformed Protestants escape these parallels and analogies, consider this point that James Bratt made in an article about Kuyper and Machen:

Put in Dutch Calvinist terms: if forced to choose, Machen would let the Christian cultural task give way to the confessional church; Kuyper would force the confessional church to take up the cultural task. Put in American Presbyterian terms, Kuyper had some strong New School traits where Machen had none. To be sure Kuyper’s predestinarianism was at odds with the New Schools Arminian tints and his movement had a low impetus for “soul-saving,” but his organizational zeal was like Lyman Beecher’s in purpose and scale, his educational purposes at the Free University recalled Timothy Dwight’s at Yale, and his invocation of the “city on a hill” to describe the church’s place in a world recalled the charter image of Puritan New England which was ever the New Schools’ aspiration. In fact Kuyper honored New England as the “core of the American nation” and shared its definition of Christian liberty as a communal opportunity to do the right thing. At that Machen would only shudder. He indicted the “angry passions of 1861″ by which New England trampled on southern rights, and defined Christian liberty as the individual’s protection from the wrong thing. When put to the test, Machen endorsed the political model of Thomas Jefferson. At that Kuyper would only shudder back. (“Abraham Kuyper, J. Gresham Machen, and the Dynamics of Reformed Anti-Modernism,” Journal of Presbyterian History Winter 1997 75.4, 254)

So if folks like Maurina are going to talk about lines of historical continuity in the Reformed world, they may want to get their ducks in a row. And by the likes of these historians who taught/teach at Calvin College, the ties among Lyman Beecher, Abraham Kuyper, Carl McIntire, Francis Schaeffer may be stronger than the anti-2kers imagine.