Transforming History

Bill Evans thinks that a few pokes at the cultural transformers means the neo-Calvinists are taking it on the chin these days. It is in fact odd to see folks express surprise when others don’t agree with them, as if neo-Calvinism were the settled position of Reformed Protestantism since the days of Ulrich Zwingli and Zacharias Ursinus. One way a tradition becomes fossilized is to imagine that everyone is agreed; arguments keep you sharp, unless you are a follower of Abraham Kuyper whose authority cannot be questioned. I doubt Kuyper himself would be pleased with that group think.

Evans is a little worked up about a post by Carl Trueman that wonders whether the transformationalists have accomplished enough to make news:

The secular and religious media are awash with reports of how the millennial generation of evangelicals is burned out on the political activism of the religious right, and the Two-Kingdoms theology (2K) currently being trumpeted by some faculty members at Westminster Seminary in California (WSC) certainly provides a theological fig-leaf for such culture-war fatigue. In short, H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, with his favored model of “Christ transforming culture,” and the great Dutch Neo-Calvinist theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper are not exactly the flavor of the month.

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised, though certainly not shocked, to see Carl Trueman jumping decisively on the anti-transformational bandwagon (here on Ref21 and here on TheAquilaReport). Dr. Trueman, as most of us know, teaches church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS), and is the former Provost and academic dean there. But despite Trueman’s very public aversion to all things trendy, he seems to be right in step with the Zeitgeist on this one. He also seems to be somewhat out of step with his institution’s history.

Evans goes on to assert that Trueman is out of step with the history of Westminster Seminary. Trueman himself is fully capable of defending himself and I won’t speak for him. But I will observe that Evans is remarkably ill informed about the history of Westminster.

For one, he does not seem to recall that WTS’ chief founder was J. Gresham Machen, a man whom neo-Calvinists will contort into a transformationalist but who better than anyone else in the first half of the twentieth century articulated the spirituality of the church over against the transformationalism that dominated the PCUSA:

In the first place, a true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. It will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience; it will never confuse the useful with the true, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life. Into the welter of changing human opinion, into the modern despair with regard to any knowledge of the meaning of life, it will come with a clear and imperious message. That message it will find in the Bible, which it will hold to contain not a record of man’s religious experience but a record of a revelation from God.

In the second place, a true Christian church will be radically intolerant. At that point, however, a word of explanation is in place. The intolerance of the church, in the sense in which I am speaking of it, does not involve any interference with liberty; on the contrary, it means the preservation of liberty. One of the most important elements in civil and religious liberty is the right of voluntary association – the right of citizens to band themselves together for any lawful purpose whatever, whether that purpose does or does not commend itself to the generality of their fellow men. Now, a church is a voluntary association. No one is compelled to be a member of it; no one is compelled to be one of its accredited representatives. It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. . .

But when I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean simply that the church must maintain the high exclusiveness and universality of its message. It presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power. A Christianity tolerant of other religions is just no Christianity at all. . . .

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. ( “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” 1933)

Lest Evans think that Machen was Westminster’s conciliar tradition swamped by the high papalism of neo-Calvinism, he should also remember that after Machen’s death, the Westminster faculty (including R.B. Kuiper, Cornelius Van Til, and Ned Stonehouse, all sons of neo-Calvinism) opposed the transformationalists who formed with Carl McIntire the Bible Presbyterian Synod. The Bible Presbyterians wanted to retain the transformationalism of American Presbyterianism as the genuine Presbyterian tradition in the United States, hence the overture that split the OPC — one in favor of prohibition, the very crusade that had cost Machen a promotion at Princeton Seminary.

So Evans can argue for neo-Calvinism and its superiority all he wants. But he can’t read his preference back into the history of American Presbyterianism. And he should not let his preference prevent him from considering the real tension that comes from trying to harmonize Abraham Kuyper and J. Gresham Machen.

An Acquired Taste that May Not Last

The missus and I finished the first two seasons of The Killing (better than Breaking Bad, not nearly as good as The Wire) and turned last night to the third season of Downton Abbey. After two episodes, I like the presence of Shirley Maclaine far more than I expected. The differences between Yanks and Brits on tradition and history is particularly intriguing and definitely ironic. Most citizens of the United States (Canadians are Americans after all) sympathize with the idea of ending tradition and letting estates like Downton be relegated to the ash heap of housing developments, representative government, and wireless internet. At the same time, the ongoing appeal of the British royalty and the popularity of shows like Downton Abbey prove that for all the common sense of equality, merit, and reason, many moderns still enjoy having around a ruling class with its pomp and circumstance. Perhaps that kind of tradition sets a standard that provides order even for those outside the ruling class, and it is a desire for order that keeps institutions like the British and Dutch monarchies alive. Whatever the explanation, I am betting the executives at BBC know that a series based on the Earl of Grantham and his estate will always pull in better ratings than a show based on Sybel’s husband, Tom Branson, the Irish chauffeur who can’t help spouting republicanism at family dinners and making uncomfortable all guests of aristocratic backgrounds, along his former peers among the downstairs help.

That appeal of estates, titles, wood-paneled libraries, grand dining rooms, dutiful servants, and formal dinner attire may explain why some Protestants find Rome or Canterbury a better brand of Christianity. Roman Catholics and Anglicans simply set a better formal dining room table than Presbyterians. Just compare the altar and Mass to the table and the Lord’s Supper. One is grand, the other is ordinary. It is comparable to the difference between Tom Branson and the Earl of Grantham. I might feel more comfortable having a pint with Tom, but I’d rather watch a series about the Earl.

Rebecca VanDoodewaard picked up on this dynamic somewhat in her reflections about why low-church Protestants turn to high-church communions:

The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

Missing from this description is a recognition of the difference between liturgical styles in historic Christianity. The options are not simply high-church liturgies over against megachurch informality. Another layer of difference is one between simplicity and ornateness. Reformed Protestants have been sticklers for simplicity in worship. Reformed worship has plenty of reverence and transcendence but it comes from the word, read and preached, with the sacraments as illustrations. Anglicans and Roman Catholics derive reverence and transcendence from the show of the architecture, vestments, images, music (not Roman Catholics post Vatican II), and THE sacrament. It is like the difference between folks songs and opera. For Christians who want a sensual experience in worship, a Reformed Protestant service will come up short — too didactic and logocentric. For those same Christians, the P&W worship service will simply be tacky.

VanDoodewaard is on weaker footing when she goes on to commend Reformed churches for holding on to their children in ways that evangelicals do not:

But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith.

I would like to see some statistics on this, but my own sense is that communions like the OPC (perhaps not representative but certainly one where a lot of theology is taught) do not retaining their children. For instance, at the recent General Assembly, roughly one-in-ten of the commissioners was a child of the OPC. All others had jumped from somewhere else to benefit from the OPC’s dedication to doctrine. Not even the attempts of the OPC to create something of a brand with its history (the OPC has to have more pages of history per capita than any other Presbyterian denomination) — not even all that history has left the next generation (or their parents) with a sense that they have joined a tradition that is bigger than they are. Sure, 1936 is not as impressive a starting point as 1857, 1618, 1560, 1534, or 33 AD. But conservative Reformed denominations generally have no fixed sense of identity apart from family ties. When membership is part of ethnic identity (say in the case of the Covenaters or the URC), the next generation is more likely to recognize a denomination as being bigger than its teaching and ministry. But when it is limited to teaching the truths of the Bible and the catechism, children after leaving home need only look for another church that teaches the Bible.

I don’t know what the fix is. I really don’t know how to create ties of institutional loyalty among teenagers and young adults who have only been in a conservative Reformed or Presbyterian denomination for possibly only half their lives. If mom and dad switched from an independent Bible-believing church to a Presbyterian communion, why can’t those parents’ children switch to another Bible-believing church? In other words, how do you connect family loyalty to church membership? Or should you when you consider what happens to ethnic denominations? At the same time, without some sort of link between blood and creed, middle-class Christians like Reformed Protestants are never going to set a table as elaborate or refined as the upper-class communions.

Is the OPC the Church Hans Kung Has Been Waiting For?

Kung is hoping that Francis will be like his namesake and repudiate the power, wealth, and intrigue that has afflicted what he calls the “Roman system.” If the current pope follows Francis of Assisi, then he will take a path different from Innocent III:

In fact, Francis of Assisi represented the alternative to the Roman system. What would have happened if Innocent and his like had taken the Gospel seriously? Even if they had understood it spiritually rather than literally, his evangelical demands meant and still mean an immense challenge to the centralized, legalized, politicized and clericalized system of power that had taken over the cause of Christ in Rome since the 11th century.

Innocent III was probably the only pope who, because of his unusual characteristics, could have directed the church along a completely different path, and this would have saved the papacies of the 14th and 15th centuries schism and exile, and the church in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation. Obviously, this would already have meant a paradigm shift for the Catholic church in the 13th century, a shift that instead of splitting the church would have renewed it, and at the same time reconciled the churches of East and West.

But Kung wonder if the papacy can retrace its steps and take a path not taken. If it does, it will need to measure up to three standards:

Poverty: The church in the spirit of Innocent III meant a church of wealth, pomp and circumstance, acquisitiveness and financial scandal. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of transparent financial policies and modest frugality. A church that concerns itself above all with the poor, the weak and the marginalized. A church that does not pile up wealth and capital but instead actively fights poverty and offers its staff exemplary conditions of employment.

Humility: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of power and domination, bureaucracy and discrimination, repression and Inquisition. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis means a church of humanity, dialogue, brotherhood and sisterhood, hospitality for nonconformists; it means the unpretentious service of its leaders and social solidarity, a community that does not exclude new religious forces and ideas from the church but rather allows them to flourish.

Simplicity: The church in the spirit of Innocent means a church of dogmatic immovability, moralistic censure and legal hedging, a church of canon law regulating everything, a church of all-knowing scholastics and of fear. In contrast, a church in the spirit of Francis of Assisi means a church of good news and of joy, a theology based purely on the Gospel, a church that listens to people instead of indoctrinating from above, a church that does not only teach but one that constantly learns.

It is hard to look at the Eternal City of Rome, follow the rites and ceremonies of the Cardinals, notice the monarchical associations of the papacy, and find the attributes that Kung desires. But if you take a gander at the OPC, by no means the runt of the Reformed Protestant litter, you would find a church with little wealth (by Roman Catholic standards). As for pomp and circumstance, the selection of a moderator for General Assembly has no smoke (or mirrors unless you consider Roberts Rules ceremonial.

For simplicity the OPC does pretty well, at least if you look at the worship services of most congregations. An attachment to proper exegesis and correct doctrine still dominate liturgical and aesthetic sympathies.

For humility, some might think the OPC (the Only Pure Church or the little church with the big mouth) falls woefully short. But two out of three isn’t bad. And we don’t need our General Secretaries to change names.

Did God Rest In One Day?

Volume four of the Nicotine Theological Journal is now available at the back issues page. Here is a whiff, from the April number:

. . . [Morton] Smith’s study of John Murray is an example of how sabbatarian-creation logic fails. Murray understood as well as anyone the importance of creation for Sabbath-keeping: “The weekly sabbath is based on divine example,” he wrote in Principles of Conduct. “The divine mode of procedure in creation determines one of the basic cycles by which human life here on earth is regulated, namely, the weekly cycle.”

LET US CONCEDE, FOR argument’s sake, that Smith is right about Murray, and that the Scotsman “seem[ed] to have held to the 24-hour creation days.” (Smith acknowledges that this is not “expressly stated” in Murray.) So the world was created in 144 hours, according to Murray. Then what happened? “And he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he made.” But how long was the seventh day? Murray is very clear that that day was not twenty four hours. Here is more from Principles of Conduct: “In the realm of God’s activity in creating the heavens and the earth there were six days of creative activity and one day of rest. There is the strongest presumption in favor of the interpretation that this seventh day is not one that terminated at a certain point in history, but that the whole period of time subsequent to the end of the sixth day is the Sabbath rest alluded to in Genesis 2:2.”

From these citations we are forced to conclude that for Murray a literal six-plus-one creation sequence was unnecessary for the establishment of a literal six-plus-one Sabbath-keeping sequence. However symbolic God’s days were, Murray saw that creation was still revealed in such a way as to establish the weekly Sabbath as a creation ordinance. So the logic of Sabbath-creationism collapses. And if the seventh day is not literal, why do the first six days have to be?

Although Smith’s essay claims to survey American Presbyterian thought on creation, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it is largely focused on recent PCA debates, and he neglects OPC reflection on the matter except to speculate on the views of Murray and Cornelius Van Til. This is unfortunate because he omits the 1968 resolution of the OPC’s Presbytery of Southern California (comprised of Murray’s and Van Til’s students), which we believe has not been surpassed as a summary of the biblical and confessional teaching on creation. We republish those eight affirmations in hopes that they will gain a greater reading:

1. The one true and living God existed alone in eternity, and beside Him there was no matter, energy, space or time.

2. The one true and living God, according to His Sovereign decree, determined to create, or make of nothing, the world and all things therein, whether visible or invisible.

3. God performed His creative work in six days. (We recognize different interpretations of the word “day” and do not feel that one interpretation is to be insisted upon to the exclusion of others.)

4. That no part of the universe nor any creature in it came into being by chance or by any power other than that of the Sovereign God.

5. That God created man, male and female, after His own image, and as God’s image bearer man possesses an immortal soul. Thus man is distinct from all other earthly creatures even though his body is composed of the elements of his environment.

6. That when God created man, it was God’s inbreathing that constituted man a living creature, and thus God did not impress His image upon some pre-existing living creature.

7. That the entire human family has descended from the first human pair, and, with the one exception of Christ, this descent has been by ordinary generation.

8. That man, when created by God, was holy. Then God entered into a covenant of works with the one man Adam. In the covenant Adam represented his posterity, and thus when he violated the requirement, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him into an estate of sin.

CONTEMPORARY CRITICS OF these affirmations might charge them with sanctioning a “poetic” creation account. If so, it bears noting that, contrary to the slippery-slope fears of the Sabbath-creationists, neither Murray’s eternal Sabbath nor the presbytery’s interpretive openness have cultivated in the OPC, thirty years later, a “poetic Sabbath,” that is, observable decline in Sabbath-keeping. The lesson to be drawn, it seems, is this: if Sabbath-breaking is the ultimate concern of the watchdogs from Taylors, South Carolina, they had better look for causes elsewhere than in one’s interpretation of the days of Genesis one and two.

William Hayward Wilson

Debtors to Ireland

It was a soft landing mainly coming back from Dublin over the weekend. Encountering a Buffalo Wild Wings store — how could you possibly call that a restaurant — was certainly a reminder of how bizarre American culture must look even to other Westerners. Comparing a BWW to O’Neill’s pub in Dublin may not be fair. But I am not sure why one room needs what seemed like 67 television screens. Back in Dublin, not even all the screens were on even if a soccer match was available. And some patrons came to the pub to talk about the choral concert they had heard at the University, others were playing a friendly game of cards, and young men predictably were picking up girls (while also unexpectedly explaining Ireland’s strict divorce laws). Having the Fighting Irish on against U.S.C. did not make up for the difference.

The Mrs. and I spent the night in Illinois (having flown to and from O’Hare) and so worshiped yesterday at an area Orthodox Presbyterian congregation before driving back to Hillsdale. We were greeted by the invocation of a minister whose roots, according to accent, were in Scotland. I know that Ireland and Scotland represent distinct forms of resisting England, with Northern Ireland throwing an odd wrench into such patterns of resistance. But the Scottish accent was a pleasant echo of our previous Sunday’s worship in Belfast among the Evangelical Presbyterians. Helping the transition was singing the eighth-century Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Since only two days before we had seen a round tower at Glendalough, the site of remains from a seventh-century monastery founded by St. Kevin, the line, “Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower,” took on added significance.

One of the arresting aspects of Orthodox Presbyterian life is that we are ethnically a denomination of mongrels. Of course, the dominant ethnicity in the OPC is the one that comes to most immigrants after they have lived in the U.S. for generations. At the same time, since hyphenated Americans like John Murray and Cornelius Van Til were so crucial to the first thirty years of the OPC’s history, the denomination has always made room for European expressions of Reformed Protestantism in ways unusual among other American Presbyterian communions. This was particularly true of the OPC congregation where we worshiped yesterday. In addition to having a minister of recent Scottish origin, the session was composed of men all with Dutch names. Rare would be the mingling of Scottish or Scotch-Irish and Dutch Reformed constituencies in Ireland and Scotland. In the United States, it is at least possible if not common. Not to be missed is what the tensions among the various Reformed groups look like in North America. My sense is that the Dutch compete for dominance in ways unimaginable to the Scots and Ulster Presbyterians. Is that a function of ethnicity? Or is it the result of an intellectual tick in Kuyperianism compared to a tiredness among proponents of covenanting or the establishment principle?

The presence of pastors in American Presbyterian circles from Scotland and Northern Ireland does raise an important question about the United States’ relative hegemony in world affairs, not just politically but also ecclesiastically. Because this nation is one of the most powerful and wealthiest in the world, its congregations, even in sideline denominations like the OPC, can afford to pay pastors more than congregations can in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Carl Trueman sometime ago discussed the significance of a British invasion among Reformed and Presbyterian churches in the U.S. What I worry about is the brain drain from other parts of the world. Of course, American communions should not refuse to call men from other nations — that would be remarkably provincial and prevent Christians in the United States from benefiting from insights from other groups of believers. At the same time, American openness to internationals can be naive to the toll that the transfer of gifted pastors from other nations has on the exporting churches. Americans may benefit from gifted Brits, but what benefit to the British churches receive from losing their leading pastors?

For that reason, I propose that every time a congregation in the United States calls a pastor from another country, that congregation (and possibly presbytery or classis) also send back some form of subsidy to the communion that lost its minister to the United States. Monetary assistance would be one form that this subsidy could take. If denominations in the United States were willing to assist foreign denominations financially, perhaps some gifted ministers would remain in their native lands. But U.S. Reformed and Presbyterians might also consider sending to other Reformed communions (and picking up the tab) young ministers who for a short tenure of two or three years would help to plant other congregations or assist busy ministers in established works.

These are a couple of thoughts off the top of a jet-lagged head that may need more clarity. Whatever these ideas’ merits, Christians in the United States should consider the balance of trade within international Calvinism as much as they worry about their nation’s trade deficit.

First Turkey, Now Ireland — Sheesh!

The better half and I are in the middle of a week-long trip to Ireland that now has me working away as part of a visiting-faculty assignment at Trinity College in Dublin. We began the week in Northern Ireland with new and old friends. The new ones are officers and members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (no relations to the communion of the same name in the U.S.) who were eminently kind and hospitable hosts during a day of interactions, both formal and informal. On Monday night I had the privilege of speaking at a rally to honor the 85th anniversary of the EPC. My topic was “Principle Presbyterianism Today.”

One of the curious features of Presbyterianism in Northern Ireland is that the conservatives (the Evangelical Presbyterians) who have the most affinities with Orthodox Presbyterians also seem to be a bit despondent about their prospects. The EPC began in 1927 during a theological controversy which saw the Presbyterian Church of Ireland fail to discipline a professor at the church’s theological college for teaching views that were clearly outside the Confession of Faith and heterodox more generally. The EPC has always struggled as a small denomination. But now that the Presbyterian Church of Ireland has become increasingly evangelical itself (though it still ordains women — which would make the PCI more like the U.S. Evangelical Presbyterian Church), the Irish EPC lacks the rationale and clarity of vision that once animated the church. If your target no longer exists, you may appear to be shooting blanks.

Although the EPC is small — it has about 400 members with another 350 regular attenders — its size is proportionally much larger than the OPC. If Northern Ireland has approximately 1.6 million people, compared to a U.S. population of close to 300 million, the EPC within a U.S. numerical setting would account proportionately for almost 225,000 people (if my math is correct). That means that the EPC is almost seven times as large proportionately as the OPC which has a membership of roughly 30,000. Since Americans are never at a wont for overestimating their influence, the smallness of the OPC has not left the denomination with a sense of insignificance. Mark Noll’s image of the Pea Beneath the Mattress has generally typified the mindset of Orthodox Presbyterians. I hope the Evangelical Presbyterians of Ireland can find a similar diminutive vigor.

One other set of reflections worth making for now is the lack of a Dutch Reformed influence on Scotland and Ireland. On Monday morning I had a “lovely” time describing Calvinism in the United States to a small (how could it be large) group of EPC ministers and elders. I went through the classic threefold division of Reformed Protestants in North America — the doctrinalists (Machenites), culturalists (Kuyperians), and experimental Calvinists (Whitefieldians and Edwardsians). My EPC interlocutors were quick to point out that the Kuyperian tradition of transformationalism has never been a presence in Irish Presbyterianism.

Of course, that does not mean that the Scots and Irish don’t have other resources for trying to do what Kuyper did. Thomas Chalmers and the Free Church of Scotland have maintained a notion of the establishment principle that affirms in a different way what Kuyper tried to express when he spoke about every square inch. And not to be missed are the incredibly complicated relations in Northern Ireland between religion and politics, hence the sheesh in the title of this post. I had thought after visiting Turkey that the notion of a secular Muslim state was sufficiently complex to merit further consideration. But to read as I am this week about the various Presbyterian versions of church-state relations, not to mention the endlessly fascinating and troubling history of Protestant-Roman Catholic relations in Northern Ireland since the initial push for Home Rule, makes my head explode (in a good way, of course).

What is interesting to observe at this point, though, is that for all of their claims about the Lordship of Christ, whether over the church or over the state, the Scots and their Irish Presbyterian cousins have never seemed to put much stock in epistemological self-consciousness. Why do you need philosophy and the arts when law and authority are hard enough to conjure?

Why I Love My (all about me) Denomination

The Young Restless and Reformed may be surprised to learn that some Reformed Protestants do not consider the young and restless to be very Reformed. They might even be surprised to know that Reformed Protestantism exists outside Desiring God Ministries, The Gospel Coalition, and Acts 29 (but that is another matter). But the Old Settled and Reformed keep tabs on the younger crowd and the reviews are not encouraging.

Brent Ferry is an OPC minister who is not particularly old and since he is a husband and father is fairly settles. But as an avocation he plays drums for a band and has a feel for youth and restlessness. Despite his demographical profile and musical talent, he is not much impressed with the recent Crossway book by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (2010). The recent issue of the OPC’s magazine, New Horizons, has Ferry’s review of Driscoll and Breshears. Here is an excerpt:

Driscoll is sometimes identified as part of evangelicalism’s resurgent Calvinistic movement. Besides puffs and quotes from Reformed authors, however, the book does not reflect the contours of Reformed thought at all.

For example, the authors omit the covenant of works (p. 177). They argue against limited atonement in favor of hypothetical universalism (p. 267). They condition regeneration upon faith and repentance (pp. 317, 436). There is no clear affirmation of unconditional predestination. The book excludes the fourth commandment from the abiding moral law (pp. 198-99), yet has a high view of the Lord’s Day (pp. 381-84). It also contains pictures of Christ (pp. 208, 244). . . .

In short, Doctrine is a hodgepodge of various theological trajectories. When the authors compare Noah’s drunkenness to “a hillbilly redneck on vacation” (p. 184), they reveal the nature of their contextualization project, which is to promote a Christianity that embraces irreverent adolescence. Theologically, this book does does rise above that standard, but not by much.