Another Way to Tell the Difference between the Young Restless and Old Reformed

A CNN story reports on the inroads that beer is making among evangelicals:

● “Beer, Bible and Brotherhood,” an Oxford, Connecticut, group launched by the Rev. John Donnelly of Christ Church Quaker Farms, which studies Rick Warren’s “40 Days in the Word,” while quaffing Sam Adams brews.

● “What Would Jesus Brew?” Valley Church in Allendale, Michigan, sponsors gatherings for craft beer enthusiasts, designed to “reach out to people in a loving, grace-filled way that meets people where they are and as they are.”

And all this is on top of the dozens of Catholic “theology on tap” events taking place at taverns across the country.

In the Protestant world, the trend toward tolerance of alcohol reaches beyond churches into conservative college campuses as well.

Last August, Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute — which just last year lifted a ban on long hair for men and nose stud earrings for women — dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption for its faculty and staff.

In September, Southern California’s Biola University — founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1908 — lifted its ban on alcohol and tobacco for of-age graduate students, noting that the changes “shift the responsibility of conduct from the institution to the individual.”

But John MacArthur, the watchdog of Calvinism-lite, worries about the effects of beer on the YRR crowd:

In 2011, well-known pastor John MacArthur minced no words in chastising the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement of young Calvinists for their fondness of beer.

“Cultivating an appetite for beer,” wrote MacArthur, “is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers.”

What would MacArthur do with the Nicotine Theological Journal (the next issue of which is just around the corner)?

One of the striking features of OPC and PCA General Assemblies — in this era when the fundamentalists did win the smoking wars — is the number of presbyters who light up all manner of tobacco products and seem to know that fellowship increases with the amount of second-hand smoke.

That is a reason why I will take the Young Restless as more seriously Calvinistic (pardon the adverb) when they add nicotine to hops.

Advertisements

Oldlife.org 201: Wit and Sarcasm

The first installment in this series about this blog was to clarify what a blog is. One aspect that I did not mention was that the more successful blogs are provocative – that is, they agitate readers and that’s why people come back. The most successful blogger in the world arguably is Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of the New Republic, and his blog is hardly tepid.

This leads to the second point in need of clarification. Oldlife.org is the on-line presence of the Nicotine Theological Journal. Long before provocations started at this blog, the editors and authors of the NTJ were provoking readers and library patrons in hopes of thinking through the implications of Reformed faith and practice today, with a little levity and sarcasm thrown in. The editors’ inspiration was partly Andrew Sullivan whose time at the New Republic made it one of the most thoughtful, rancorous, and witty magazines on politics and culture at the time. But Sullivan was not the only inspiration. Other authors who wrote on serious matters with wit and sarcasm that provided models for the NTJ were Richard John Neuhaus, P. J. O’Rourke, Joseph Epstein, H. L. Mencken, and Calvin Trillin.

None of these sources, readers may object, are Reformed. Which raises the question whether Reformed authors may engage in wit and sarcasm when pursuing their convictions. Well, the answer is yes. If you spend much time in the polemical writings of the Old School and Princeton theologians, you will find a fair amount of wit and sarcasm. Here are a couple examples, the first from Charles Hodge after a seven-round dogma fight with Edwards Amasa Park (named for Jonathan Edwards – ahem) over theological method and the nature of Calvinism:

It is a common remark that a man never writes anything well for which he has “to read up.” Professor Park has evidently labored under this disadvantage. Old-school theology is a new field to him; and though he quotes freely authors of whom we, though natives, never heard, yet he is not at home, and unavoidably falls into the mistakes which foreigners cannot fail to commit in a strange land. He does not understand the language. He find out “five meanings of imputation!” It would be wearisome work to set such a stranger right at every step. We would fain part with our author on good terms. We admire his abilities, and are ready to defer to him in his own department. But when he undertakes to teach Old-school men Old-school theology it is very much like a Frenchman teaching an Englishman how to pronounce English. With the best intentions, the amiable Gaul would be sure to make sad work with the dental aspirations.

The second comes from Benjamin Warfield in one of the last pieces he ever wrote, an article objecting to the latest proposal (1920) to unite the largest Protestant denominations in the United States:

Now it is perfectly obvious that the proposed creed contains nothing which is not believed by evangelicals. and it is equally obvious that it contains nothing which is not believed by Sacerdotalists – by the adherents of the church of Rome for example. And it is equally obvious that it contains nothing which is not believed by Rationalists – by respectable Unitarians. That is as much as to say that the creed on the basis of which we are invited to form a union for evangelizing purposes contains nothing distinctively evangelical at all; nothing at all of that body of saving truth for the possession of which the church of Christ has striven and suffered through two thousand years. It contains only “a few starved and hunger-bitten” dogmas of purely general character – of infinite importance in the context of evangelical truth, but of themselves of no saving sufficiency. So far as the conservation and propagation of evangelical religion is concerned, we might as well for a union on our common acceptance of the law of gravitation and the rule of three.

By the way, these were a couple of quotes readily available from Hodge and Warfield. If you go farther into their works, along with those of Old Schoolers like Dabney and Thornwell you will find many more examples, sometimes of laugh out loud proportions.

One last source of inspiration for Oldlife.org and the NTJ is – duh – J. Gresham Machen. He did not show a lot of wit or sarcasm in his writings. But his polemics were nonetheless blunt, so much so that many who believed charity to be the only Christian virtue considered Machen mean and beyond the pale. But it is precisely Machen’s candor and warrior spirit that is worthy of emulation. The following is from a piece he wrote for an inter-faith gathering on the relations between Christians and Jews:

The fact is that in discussing matters about which there are differences of opinion, it is really more courteous to be frank – more courteous with that deeper courtesy which is based upon the Golden Rule. For my part, I am bound to say that the kind of discussion which is irritating to me is the discussion which begins by begging the question and then pretend to be in the interests of peace. I should be guilty of such a method if I should say to a Roman Catholic, for example, that we can come together with him because forms and ceremonies like the mass and membership in a certain definite organization are, of course, matters of secondary importance – if I should say to him that he can go on being a good Catholic and I can go on being a good Protestant and yet we can unite on common Christian basis. If I should talk in that way, I should show myself guilty of the crassest narrowness of mind, for I should be showing that I had never taken the slightest trouble to understand the Roman Catholic point of view. If I had taken that trouble, I should have come to see plainly that what I should be doing is not to seek common ground between the roman Catholic and myself but simply to ask the Roman Catholic to become a Protestant and give up everything that he holds most dear.

. . . So to my mind the most inauspicious beginning for any discussion is found when the speaker utters the familiar words: “I think, brethren, that we are all agreed about this . . .” – and then proceeds to trample ruthlessly upon the things that are dearest to my heart. Far more kindly is it if the speaker says at the start that he sees a miserable narrow-minded conservative in the audience whose views he intends to ridicule and refute. After such a speaker gets through, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I regard him as just as narrow-minded as he regards me, and then having both spoken our full mind we may part, certain not as brothers (it is ridiculous to degrade that word) but at least as friends.

None of this is to suggest that Oldlife.org pulls off the wit, sarcasm, polemics, or bluntness of the writers who have inspired this endeavor. It is only to point out that the tone and style of Oldlife.org is not over the top.

Oldlife.org 101

Regular readers of Oldlife likely don’t need any explanation about the nature of this site but those unfamiliar with the medium or genre of blogging may need some guidance on how to read the posts published here. Genre may sound like a high-faluttin’ word to affix to a blog, suggesting some kind of artifice or even art to the mode of communication. But genre is fitting if only because a blog is a different kind of communication from older forms of publishing and readers who look at a post as if it were another kind of publication may hurt themselves as well as the author (I’m thinking here of the lack of charity or benefit of the doubt that some readers of blogs display, thus raising questions not only about the virtue of the author but also about the motives of the reader).

A blog – at least as I read them and participate in several – is somewhere between a Facebook page and an editorial in a magazine. Blogging is almost entirely personal since the author is his own editor in most cases; no editorial staff or marketing department oversees the writing. A blog is also a forum for thinking out loud – “here is something I read or observed, and I thought I’d write about it and see what readers think.” Magazines are in themselves ephemeral. I used to save old copies of magazines but soon gave up after several moves not only owing to sloth (or declining strength as aging happens) but also because highlighted articles were not as pertinent at the time of the move as they were when saved. If magazines lack permanency, blogs do so even more.

In which case readers, readers should not take a blog too seriously. It is not only an ephemeral medium but often times the author’s thoughts are highly transitional – again, this is a way of thinking out loud. James K. A. Smith recently explained the tension between a blog author’s intentions and readers’ expectations during some flack he took for thoughts he wrote in passing about a review of Rob Bell:

Um, it’s a blog post people. I wrote it in 20 minutes one morning after reading another piece of dreck by Lauren Winner. If it’s stupid, why comment on it? (There is a huge laughable irony about charges of ressentiment in the ballpark here–you can work that out for yourself.) . . . .

I must have missed the memo about the requirements for writing a blog post. Apparently, according to the self-appointed police force of the theological blogosphere, one is not allowed to comment on a topic unless one has first completed a dissertation in the field. Who decided only specialists could speak? Is there a reading list everyone’s supposed to have mastered before they can comment on an issue?

In other words, if readers don’t want to see what an author is thinking about, they don’t need to read the blog. But if they do, they shouldn’t expect the thoughts posted to be ready for prime time.

A blog is like Facebook (such as I imagine since I am not networked) in that it invites comments and an informal exchange of views. For this blogger, the responses are an important facet of the medium because it functions as a built-in letters to the editor. And just as a post can go up immediately in response to a recent event or development, so readers may respond immediately. The immediacy and the responsiveness of blogging is what makes it valuable in my judgment, and unlike most other forms of publication. It is also what makes it ephemeral. Who will read a post about the Phillies’ 2008 championship three years from now and think it poignant. Of course, some blogs do not allow comments, and I do not understand the point since part of the nature of thinking out loud is to start a conversation and see what others think as well.

At the same time, a blog is not like a magazine in that it does not reproduce well articles or material requiring hard or sustained thought. Some magazines, of course, have on-line content. But this is simply a way of reading a magazine article on-line. But a blog is more like the op-ed portion of a magazine – actually more like a newspaper because a magazine takes at least a week to be published; the newspaper comes out daily (most often) and the blog may occur semi-daily. But when bloggers are tempted to post papers or talks given at conferences, they become almost unreadable. Such material needs to be printed out, read with pen or pencil in hand, and given sustained attention – not read for three minutes before checking email or stock quotes.

Truth be told that the Nicotine Theological Journal has been delayed considerably by the distraction of blogging. And the reason has to do with the nature and immediacy of the blog; an article that I might write for the NTJ is generally too long for a blog, and the immediacy of a blog makes it a more tempting medium than a journal to make one’s thoughts public. Why wait three months to print my latest critique of Keller when I can publish it TODAY!!! at Oldlife.org.

In other words, readers of blogs need to lighten up. And readers of Oldlife, the on-line version of the NTJ, would best be advised to light up when reading the blog. Here at a blog, the most fitting form of smoke, as ephemeral as the medium, is a cigarette. For the journal, best to light up a pipe or cigar.