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.


Perspective on Tim’s Toxic Teaching

W-w will not help you sort this out. Carol Howard Merritt cannot tell the difference between Tim Keller and Tim Bayly:

I know that people are angry that Tim Keller doesn’t believe in women in the pastorate. But, my friends, this goes much, much deeper than women not being able to be ordained as Pastors, Elders, and Deacons. Complementarianism means married women have no choice over their lives at all.

So as Princeton Theological Seminary celebrates Tim Keller’s theology, I will be mourning. As he presents his lecture and receives his $10,000 award, I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that women’s genetalia is up for grabs by any man with power and influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear. Instead we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.

God, help us.

Meanwhile, Justin Taylor can’t tell the difference between Old Life and Carol Howard Merritt.

What help would confessional Presbyterianism give? It could provide a standard for teaching that cuts through male headship, or women’s liberation, or macho heterosexuality as the bright lines of Christian identity.

And notice this. Tim Keller was riding the wave of progressivism that swept through America post-Bush II. The world was getting better, conversations about race were ongoing, the economy was sluggish but improving, tolerance was increasing, cities were becoming more the sites of church life, and Christian apologists were gaining a hearing in the outlets of the mainstream media. Christians really could make a difference. A moderate, New School Presbyterianism with ties to Baptistic Calvinists could recover the cooperative endeavors that fueled Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, and Billy Graham. These sensible and extremes-avoiding Protestants could fill the vacuum created by the mainline.

Except that mainstream world, as Merritt indicates, has its own orthodoxy. You can be sensible, moderate, hip — heck, you can even like The Wire and channel Machen — and not measure up.

Maybe it turns out that Keller reached more Christians to think that the skeptics were really friendly rather than reaching the skeptics. Maybe it turns out that New School Presbyterians have more in common with Old School Presbyterians. What if they acted like it?

A 19th-Century Consensus on the Spirituality of the Church

While Europeans were figuring out what to do with Edgardo Mortara, church law, and papal power, other parts of the Christian world (okay, Protestant) were also struggling to sort out the temporal and spiritual realms. In 1834 the Afscheiding rejected the Dutch ecclesiastical establishment and opted for a church free from the constraints of political compromise. (Of course, many of these Dutch Calvinists still wanted a return to the Dutch republic of Dort’s Synod’s fame.) A similar secession occurred among the Scots when in 1843 the Free Church abandoned the comforts of the Kirk for an ecclesiastical existence free from state control. (Of course, Thomas Chalmers was loathe to call this a voluntary church – despite the name “Free” – and repeatedly affirmed that the Free Church stood for the establishment principle; this meant that the Free Church still preferred ecclesiastical establishment but only on orthodox terms.) And then there was the case of the Old School Presbyterians, who had no ecclesiastical establishment to repudiate but did reject the blurring of nationalism and Presbyterianism on display among the New School Presbyterians. This rejection involved the doctrine of the spirituality of the church – the idea that the church is a spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends.

In each of these cases, Reformed Protestants were coming to a clearer understanding of the church’s spiritual character thanks to the lessons taught by church entanglements with temporal power.

The Vatican, thanks to the case of Edgardo Mortara and a European consensus, needed also to come to grips with a church vacated of temporal power and limited to spiritual authority. Italian republicans attempted to their best efforts to teach this lesson to the papacy when in 1849 they drafted an Italian Constitution that included these articles:

1) The papacy’s rule and temporal power over the Roman State is declared over.

2) The Roman Pontiff will have all the guarantees necessary for his exercise of spiritual authority.

3) the form of the government of the Roman State will be pure democracy, and will take the glorious name of the Roman Republic. (David Kertzer, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, 22)

What conservative Reformed Protetants adopted freely with some minor discomfort, the conservative papacy had imposed on it by European politics.

Life Among the Turks

I brought along to Turkey a chapter from John B. Adger’s memoir, My Life and Times. For those unfamiliar with the name, Adger was an Old School Presbyterian who taught ecclesiastical history and church polity at Columbia Seminary, and was in some way the John Williamson Nevin (as in high church Calvinist) of the Southern Presbyterian communion. Before embarking on his teaching career, in the 1830s Adger was a missionary in Izmir (then Smyrna) not to the Muslims but the Armenians. He also ministered to African Americans in Savannah, Georgia, in connection with Independent Presbyterian Church.

Adger’s experience in Turkey was remarkably painful and would have driven your ordinary young and restless Calvinist to Joel Osteen. Three infants died during his tenure, and his wife also almost lost her life. Adger himself might have thought his days were numbered when he contracted small pox “of the confluent kind.”

But equally notable was how freely Adger moved about the Ottoman Empire, a regime ruled by the Caliph in Constantinople. Moderns might think that Christians were not tolerated in a Muslim society and that missionaries were even less welcome. Adger never mentions problems with the Turks nor does he suggest he was there to evangelize Muslims. Here is one description of his target group:

. . . the Armenian subjects of the Sultan are represented at his court by an officer called the Armenian Patriarch. This is always a bishop, who pays a large sum into the Sultan’s treasury for his official position and political and ecclesiastical power. He sells bishoprics to reimburse himself with a large profit. Bishops must sell priesthoods to reimburse themselves with a profit, and the priests must reimburse themselves by charges on the people for their priestly functions. Great is the power of the Armenian ecclesiastics. But perhaps the real lords paramount among these people are the rich Armenians of Constantinople, who are the bankers of the Sultan and all his pashas, and therefore able to make their power felt through all the empire. (95)

This kind of autonomy and power for Christians among the Turks, of course, had its limits. When Adger needed a Christian burial ground for his two infant boys, he could not find a church cemetery because he could not find a church:

There was no Protestant church building then at Boujah, but a suitable lot had been purchased, and a chapel was about to be erected. In that lot we buried our infants in one grave alongside of the one where we had shortly before assisted in depositing the remains of the wife of the Rev. Eli Smith, missionary to Beirut. No Christian church building can be built in Turkey without a special permit from the Sultan at Constantinople. Every effort to obtain this permission failed in this case. After a delay of some months, the Protestants purchased a dwelling house that had lately been erected, which with some inside alterations, would constitute a very commodious chapel. To this the Turks would make no objection. (105)

Compared to the experience of Jews in Rome and Bologna at roughly the same time (who were confined to ghettos), the Muslims were amazingly more tolerant than the Christians (more to come). And if the Ottoman Empire could be that commodious (for a price, of course), how much more the secular Turkish Republic?

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.

Who's Radical Now?

The Brothers Bayly are persistent in besmirching two-kingdom theology and its proponents but their latest swipe is rich indeed. They have reprinted a mysterious piece (impossible to find anywhere else on the Net) about the enormities of the Obama administration. Nathan Ed Schumacher is the author and Tim Bayly’s foreword runs ever charitably as follows:

This piece . . . demonstrates that the silence of Emergent and R2K men in the face of the wickedness and oppression in our public square is of the same fabric. Fear of man is a principle that knows no boundaries.

I keep wondering why fear of God pertaining to the ninth commandment, you know one of those laws that the Baylys would seem to want to prevail in the public square, does not inform the way these fellows write about Christians — not to mention officers — in the church. But I digress.

Schumacher, it seems, had a conversation with a graduate of a seminary on the West Coast – hmmm – about the woes of the nation and why more ministers were not speaking publicly about such matters. Schumacher contended with the seminary graduate that the difficulties facing the United States were not simply political but moral in nature. But the seminarian responded that the church should only speak to spiritual matters. Schumacher responded:

Here we have a spirituality radically disconnected from morality – an ethereal religion not connected to historic Christianity and its application of ethics to the real world. What kind of “spirituality” or theology is this that can disregard morals, ethics, and God’s Law and even silently abide open murder?

So what is Schumacher talking about when it comes to immorality in the United States? It turns out that morality is closely tied to politics.

We live in an astonishing time in America where the President is making open war domestically on the Constitution, and openly making unlawful wars internationally – such wars outlawed by the Constitution and long vested by the Rule of Law as war crimes and open murder – and formally recognized as such by the Nuremberg trials. When a President publicly usurps the Constitution, making an open show of violating its limits on exercising power, whether it be by his making illegal war, giving secret orders, punishing American soldiers for exposing truth, building secret prisons, operating torture chambers, running kidnapping operations (rendition), publicly asserting his right to kill American citizens with no trial or process, openly publicly stealing money via “bailouts”, taxing in violation of the Constitution, openly violating the Bill of Rights, creating illegal Federal agencies and programs, etc., ad nausem, then what does that mean according to the Principles of Law? It means, without question, that he has invoked the Law of Belligerents against the American people by acting as a belligerent upon the American people themselves, because publicly assaulting their Constitution is, in fact, an assault upon them. In other words, the President is openly making war upon the American people by these belligerent actions – actions which are open, public, and undeniable. If you don’t understand this, you are not paying attention. Our Constitution formally defines this as treason.

Schumacher’s solution is for the church to call a synod:

It is long past time for church Officers to convene formal and official church councils and synods all across this land to address the open lawlessness and public sin and crimes of what passes for “our government”- and to address the way forward. Nevertheless, it is probable that they can be expected to refuse to do this – and likely that they will always have a long list of lofty “spiritual reasons” as to why they cannot accept responsibility. But if church Officers, who are the official voices of moral authority, refuse to do this then there is a deafening silence and they cannot expect to be found faithful – and the rest of us will suffer the continuing consequences of their dereliction of duty – praying that God will raise up some “Thomas Beckets” who are jealous for the church, the Law of God, and who will have the courage to say “No” to our present political “king”.

In the comments on this post, the Baylys add a curious wrinkle to the clear overreach (clear according to what follows below). When one commentator brought up the example of the apostle Paul who did not seem to be overly upset by the rule or policies of Caligula, Tim and David ever lovingly responded:

. . . we don’t need to see it happening constantly with the Apostle Paul or John the Baptist or Jesus or Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Machen in order to know that the R2K men are wrong when they oppose the church and her officers standing against theft, oppression, rampant gross immorality, the repudiation of the rule of law, and the massive bloodshed of the slaughter of hundreds of millions of wee ones.

When you find yourself arguing that John the Baptist is no model for pastors today, you should wonder whether, just maybe, your cowardice has gotten the best of your faith.

Two aspects of this response are striking. The first is the Bayly habit of hitting below the belt – that is, questioning masculinity rather than formulating an argument. The second is that the Bible really does not need to be our guide because the existing evils are so enormous. Paul, Jesus, and the rest of the apostles may not have led protests against their societies, but their silence is only an opening for the Baylys’ shouting. Never mind that a cardinal conviction of Reformed Protestantism is that officers in the church, whether individually or collectively, need a biblical warrant for using their authority.

I do wonder why the Baylys do not recognize how partisanly political their moral hectoring looks. It is not as if Obama is the first president to abuse the powers of the Constitution or propose questionable economic policies. Can the Baylys or Schumacher remember the former president’s apparent disregard for the Constitution in the Gulf War, the Medicare bailout, or the Patriot Act? Do they not know that Christians on the Left opposed Bush in terms remarkably similar to the way they castigate Obama, thus making party affiliation more than biblical interpretation the basis for moral posturing?

I also wonder if the Baylys have ever heard of the United States Civil War and the debates that Old School Presbyterians had over support for the federal government. The 1860s was a time of grave national crisis also driven by a hotly disputed moral issue and the Old School General Assembly of 1861 decided to address the matter through the clumsy Spring Resolution. Here we have a church doing exactly that for which Schumacher calls and the Baylys approve — an Assembly addressing a moral and political question. And yet, Charles Hodge, a man who voted for Lincoln, believed secession was treasonous, and that treason was immoral, opposed the church taking a stand on matters that literally broke the United States apart. Hodge wrote:

. . . a man who acts on the theory of secession, may be justly liable to the penalty of the civil law; he may be morally guilty in the sight of God; but he has committed no offense on which the church can take cognizance. We therefore are not inconsistent in asserting, 1. That secession is a ruinous political heresy. 2. That those who act on that doctrine, and throw off allegiance to the Constitution and the Union, are guilty of a great crime; and, 3. That nevertheless they are not amenable in this matter to the church. The question whether they are morally guilty, depends on the question whether their theory of the constitution is right. If they are right, they are heroes; if they are wrong, they are wicked rebels. But whether that theory is right or wrong it is not the province of the church to decide.

The reason why the church cannot decide such political and constitutional matters, even when morality is involved, is that the Bible does not address these topics. Hodge explained:

The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids. A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.

What the Baylys (as well as most critics of the spirituality of the church) miss is the distinction between morality and authority. The Baylys go knock-kneed whenever a 2k person suggests that a moral truth should not necessarily be advocated by the church. The Bayly logic seems to be that if it is right, then all authority must be used to execute the right. But biblical teaching would also prompt questions about who has authority to enforce the good. Just because I believe drivers who pass me on the right are wrong does not mean that I have power to pull those drivers over and lock them up in our basement. The Baylys desire to marshal the church’s power behind their interpretation of the Constitution (and their assessment of the culture wars) comes dangerously close to ecclesiastical vigilantism: the church can and should do whatever is right and not bother with the technicalities such as the confession of faith or Book of Church Order. Ironically, then, in the Baylys’ twisted logic, the very constitution of the church becomes expendable in the defense of the United States Constitution.

A related point that the Baylys miss is how radical their views are compared to the supposed radicality of 2k. Charles Hodge was by no means the most vociferous proponent of the spirituality of the church. But he could see the folly of positions like the Baylys on good 2k grounds. Hodge was not a radical and neither are 2k proponents. In contrast, the Baylys’ disregard for the constitution of their church and the teachings of their confession of faith several steps down the road to anarchy.

And they call 2kers antinomian? Call again.

Feed My Sheep — With Fast Food?

Over at Mere Orthodoxy a couple of posts have tried to identify two wings of the Young, Restless, and Reformed “movement” by applying the labels Old School and New School. Since many members of the PCA and OPC would even be unaware of this nineteenth-century division among American Presbyterians and what it meant, I was naturally intrigued by the diagnosis. I am also unpersuaded.

Both posts start from the premise that in an age of Facebook and blogging, social institutions and structures have become radically voluntary. I am not sure if this is true, especially when it comes to Christianity in the United States. Ever since the Constitution and ecclesiastical disestablishment, faith in America has been voluntary. Granted, the suppliers of religious services have expanded considerably and the golden age of Protestant denominationalism is no more. But even during the first half of the twentieth century, conservative Protestants were awash in a cornucopia of religious institutions, from Bible schools (as graduates of BIOLA should know, rights?) and faith missions, to independent congregations and celebrity revivalists.

Then comes the application of Old and New School categories by Kevin White to the Young, Restless, and Reformed:

The “Parachurch” or “New School” prefer more informal church networks and more emphasize the big conferences as the anchor points for the movement. They are more likely to identify as missional and to be part of independent churches or newer church connections. (e.g., Sovereign Grace Ministries, Acts 29, Mohlerite Southern Baptists) The parts of Reformed Theology that they emphasize are sovereignty and the doctrines of grace. You might call them the “Evangelical Reformed.”

The “Church” or “Old School” have a stronger emphasis on confessionalism and formal church polity. They more emphasize the visible church as a covenant community. The conventions are more of a supplementary fellowship opportunity. Like the 19th century Old School Presbyterians, they think revivalist, pietistic evangelicalism is a good thing, that can go hand-in-hand with the best of Protestant scholastic theology. They are more likely to emphasize Reformed ecclesiology as the context for the doctrines of grace and election. You might call them “Reformed Evangelicals.”

I sure would have thought that Acts 29 or Sovereign Grace were about as churched as the Young, Restless, and Reformed get. Those are communions of some kind. Together for the Gospel or The Gospel Coalition would appear more New School than Old School compared to the networks of congregations headed by Driscoll or Mahaney. In other words, I’m puzzled by this notion that an Old School element exists among the Young, Restless, and Reformed. Neither post mentions any examples of such an Old School contingent, a figure, or set of churches. I even wonder if the authors know about the communions that comprise the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.

Mind you, the hope for a well grounded account of the church to counteract voluntarism is a welcome sign. White writes, for instance:

Once entered, membership and fellowship become a holy obligation and a familial bond, not to be broken lightly. The visible fellowship of the church is made (ideally) a living critique of unstable, self-defined voluntary culture.

Matthew Lee Anderson adds:

. . . voluntary associations of an arbitrary sort simply do not provide the stability and depth that we need for human flourishing. For that, we must look elsewhere, to God Himself, which is the first movement of the church and the fountainhead of virtue.

But when Anderson talks about the dangers of localism as a kind of nostalgia, I am not sure he understands the nature of the church. He says:

It would be easy to dismiss voluntarity and pine for a return of immobility and a small patch of land with a picket fence. But the promise of localism needs to be tempered by the perils as well. The soil is just as fallen as the pavement, and electing to reject the easy, voluntary associations of our late modern world for the involuntary ones of the local community may offer just as false a hope as the social networks did.

Well, actually, when it comes to food production, a patch of land is much better than pavement, superior in every respect. And spiritual food is best produced locally rather than corporately. It is easy to sound elitist when promoting the values of slow food over McDonald’s, and the work of a pastor is much closer to that of a slow food chef than a teenager flipping burgers at the local store of an international company. But closer to the truth is the similarity between a local pastor’s work and a mother’s. These officers prepare food (whether spiritual or physical) with a sense of what is good for the eaters. They use good ingredients and do so with a sense of what the sheep or children need nutritionally.

In which case, when Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, our lord likely did not have in mind Peter going to the spiritual equivalent of McDonald’s to purchase burgers for the flock. Care, discernment, and preparation were as important to the feeding as the actual cooking. That leaves the megaconferences like TGC or T4G or even the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology much more in the position of providing fast food than a home cooked meal since the cooks are not dining with the eaters, or spending time in between meals to see how the digestion is going or if the diet needs to be modified.

I an very glad to know that some Young, Restless, and Reformed are aware of Old School Presbyterianism. But I’d sure like to know which cooks they have in mind and what authorities are overseeing the kitchens.