The Real 1619 Project

Imagine understanding United States history with this view of human nature front and center (from the Synod of Dort which concluded — go figure — in 1619):

Human beings were originally created in the image of God and were furnished in mind with a true and sound knowledge of the Creator and things spiritual, in will and heart with righteousness, and in all emotions with purity; indeed, the whole human being was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil’s instigation and by their own free will, they deprived themselves of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place they brought upon themselves blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in their minds; perversity, defiance, and hardness in their hearts and wills; and finally impurity in all their ­emotions. (III/IV.1)

Another Difference between New and Paleo Calvinists

New Calvinists are mean but don’t know it.

Jonathan Merritt was an unlikely person to confirm a point made here before, namely, that when you define orthodoxy you also draw lines that to outsiders will look unloving and mean. (Think undergraduates at Oberlin seeking protection from disquieting perceptions.) For a while New Calvinists and their allies at the Gospel Coalition have portrayed Paleo Calvinists as mean. Now with Merritt what goes around comes around.

He observes that New Calvinists are full of criticism (and instructions on how to do it):

The website’s archives read like a how-to handbook for criticizing. TGC managing editor Matt Smethhurst tackles how to criticize fellow Christians. Blogger Jared Wilson lays out when you should criticize your pastor. Popular blogger Justin Taylor explains how to criticize your non-Christian friends and how to criticize another person’s theology and how to criticize the evangelical movement at-large.

Their rebukes are not always theoretical. TGC bloggers regularly express sharp disapproval of theologians, pastors, authors, and politicians using strong language. When writer Thabiti Anyabwile wanted to criticize homosexuality, for example, he encouraged readers to recover their “gag reflex” and focus on the “yuck factor.” Setting aside the many–and I mean many–problems with this way of thinking, Anyabwile’s approach is not exactly a silver-plated conversation starter in a non-Christian culture. You can’t transform a culture while you’re browbeating, rebuking, name-calling and gagging. That’s not a recipe for cultural engagement, but rather cultural enragement.

Then there is New Calvinists’ refusal to entertain criticisms themselves:

Most people who have been blocked by TGC say they were punished for questioning the coalition’s disastrous defense of Sovereign Grace Ministries, a prominent Calvinist ministry that was embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal. TGC personalities connected to SGM continued to express support and friendship for those involved with the scandal even as it became clear that Sovereign Grace leaders were complicit. Many who questioned TGC’s stance were blocked. Some who merely used Twitter handles such as #istandwithsurvivors were similarly punished by TGC.

TGC’s blocking spree has swept in countless pastors, seminary professors, bloggers, and others. One person told me they were blocked for challenging their comments about transgender people, while another said they were punished for questioning their stance on “biblical masculinity.” Several told me they were blocked for retweeting someone else’s critique, while others — like Northern Seminary professor Geoff Holsclaw — said they had no idea why TGC blocked them. . . .

A pattern of offering criticism while not being able to receive it, according to Dr. Leon Seltzer of Psychology Today, is a characteristic trait of narcissism. As Seltzer writes, “Deep down, clinging desperately not simply to a positive but grandiose sense of self, [narcissists are] compelled at all costs to block out any negative feedback about themselves.”

Finally, Merritt points out the problem of belonging to a club instead of a church:

TGC has established a system where in order to be a part of the network, one has to believe a set of doctrines that are more specific than some denominations. Basically, you have to be a conservative Calvinist protestant who holds particular views about gender roles, reads the Bible in a certain way, understands human sexuality like they do, etc. If you don’t agree to these positions, you’re out. And those who add their church to the directory of TGC-approved congregations are encouraged to police others. The site asks members to “report a church that doesn’t align with TGC’s Foundation Documents.”

The word “coalition” is defined as “a combination or alliance, especially a temporary one between persons, factions, states, etc.” But the structure of TGC allows for almost no diversity among its members–certainly none that would be noticeable to anyone who is not a Christian insider. So, technically-speaking, The Gospel Coalition is not a coalition at all; they are a club.

If the New Calvinists were more ecclesial and less parachurchian, they might not lose their critical side. And contrary to Merritt who thinks engaging culture is a positive, if New Calvinists were churchly they wouldn’t worry about the culture so much. Belonging to a church and working within its structures would not make them less critical, though Robert’s Rules supplies a structure for critique that takes away some of criticism’s sting. The best thing that might happen to New Calvinists if they looked to the church instead of the club, they would not be so doctrinaire about so many peripheral matters. The visible church has a way of focusing your outlook (not sure what happened to Pope Francis).

Seven Good Reasons to Stop Breaking the Sabbath Right Now

(Inspired by Tim Challies)

If you are consumed with secular activities and unwilling to devote merely one day a week to God, you have every reason to be concerned with the state of your soul. God promises that if he has saved us we will gain new passions and new affections. We will have not only the ability but also the desire to replace sin with holiness, to replace worldliness with sanctity.

Even those who know next-to-nothing about the Christian faith know this: Christians are commanded to “love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind.” Just like Jesus, Christians are to serve their heavenly father. Of all people, Christians should know that violating the Lord’s Day exacts a high cost — the cost to their bodies, to their souls, to their mental well-being, to their dignity, to their future. A vast amount of the worldly activities you enjoy on Sunday is done by people against their wills.

At a time when the Christian church is crying out for more and better leaders, an entire generation of young men and women are infantilizing themselves by not setting the Lord’s Day apart. They constantly choose secular activities over God and their spiritual growth is stunted. For the sake of your church, stop breaking the Sabbath.

There is scarcely a pastor ministering today who has not seen a family crumble and fall under the weight of treating Sunday like Saturday. Men are tearing apart their families for the sake of fun; women are shunning God’s word to create family moments. Children are being exposed to worldliness through the trails their parents leave behind. Fathers are inviting Satan into the home by their commitment to what God forbids and what Satan loves. For the sake of your family, stop breaking the fourth commandment.

The Lord’s commission is an urgent commission because it is a matter of eternal life and death. Time is short and hell is forever, which makes the Christian’s business an urgent business. And yet so many Christians are distracted by something as trivial as the NFL or a trip to the beach. Their attention is arrested, their energy depleted, their usefulness undermined. Don Whitney says it well: “If there are any regrets in Heaven, they will only be that we did not use our earthly time more for the glory of God and for growth in His grace. If this is so, this may be Heaven’s only similarity with hell, which will be filled with agonizing laments over time so foolishly squandered.” For the sake of your mission, keep the Lord’s Day holy.

Christians are called to be different, to stand out from the rest of the world by their desires and by their behavior. Christians are to put sin to death and to display the power of God in removing and destroying all competitors. And yet so many Christians have had their witness shattered when the sordid truth comes out and when others learn that they profess faith in Christ on the one hand, and are worldly minded on the day devoted to the Lord. Parents undermine the gospel they have been telling their children, pastors undermine the gospel they have been preaching to their congregations. For the sake of your witness, stop breaking the Sabbath.

By making light of the Lord’s Day you are making light of the death of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, you acknowledge in your profession of faith that the cost of forgiveness was nothing less than the death of God’s beloved Son. Jesus suffered and died for your sin. How can you, as a Christian, then toy with your sin and take it lightly? How can you cling to it? As Spurgeon says with his customary eloquence, “Sin has been pardoned at such a price that we cannot henceforth trifle with it.” For God’s sake, keep the Lord’s Day holy.

Of course, the New Calvinist, Challies, did not write about the Lord’s Day. His subject was pornography, which is a sin that has enormous implications for our society. But are violations of the seventh commandment necessarily more heinous than those of the fourth commandment? The history of Israel (think David and Bethsheba) suggests otherwise. In which case, the New Calvinists may exhibit a moralism (or understanding of sanctification) that is remarkably ignorant of the markers of Reformed Protestant piety.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Challies has no point about pornography. But I do wonder if porn would be less prevalent in Christian circles if the Lord’s Day received more attention. As I understand the broken windows policies that turned New York City around, if you police the small stuff like trash, graffiti, and broken windows, people notice that little things matter and so big crimes like murder and theft go down. If the church had more of a corporate sense of holiness by keeping the Lord’s Day holy, attending two services, removing American flags from the church, singing more Psalms, avoiding business activities, enjoying a day of rest in simple ways, maybe other incidents of violating God’s law would decrease. That analogy, of course, breaks down if the fourth commandment is more basic to Christian devotion than the seventh commandment. But no one said sanctification would be easy.

The Regulative Principle and the Transformation of Culture

1566_Dutch_Calvinist_IconoclasmOn balance, Reformed Protestants were no more responsible for the glories of the modern world (e.g., science, capitalism, education, liberal democracy) than were other western Christians. That is at least the conclusion of Phillip Benedict in his remarkable social history of Calvinism, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed. But Benedict does detect a level of activism among the Reformed that differentiated it from Lutherans. And the difference has a lot to do with the Reformed’s zeal for church polity and liturgical reform. Benedict writes:

It remains the case that at certain critical moments Lutheran church leaders held back from establishing churches under the cross or from defending such churches by force when the Reformed plunged ahead and did so – most notably in the Low Countries in 1566, where the Lutheran refusal to oppose the duly constituted authorities contributed to the Reformed church’s assumption of leadership in the movement of resistance to Habsbourg rule. . . . Surveying the entire period of 1517-1700, one cannot avoid concluding the Reformed embraced and acted upon such views more than any other confessional group. This is not because of any enduringly distinctive features of Reformed thinking about political obligation. It stems instead from two other foundational stone of Reformed theology: its profound hostility to idolatrous forms of worship and its conviction that certain kinds of church institutions derived from scriptural authority. The former drove Reformed believers to separate themselves from the church of Rome in situations in which other evangelicals were prone to compromise, and thus to find themselves especially often on a footing of threatened minority impelled to fight for its ability to worship as it pleased. The latter [church government] sparked movements of resistance to perceived threats to the purity of the proper church order.

This is a key difference between paleo- and neo-Calvinists (not to mention other Presbyterian transformers of cutlure). In the case of old Calvinism, the aim was to reform the church, which in turn led to various forms of political resistance and activism in order to worship God truly. In the case of new Calvinism, distinct marks of Reformed worship and polity are sacrificed in order to work with other Christians for the sake of a righteous and just society.

So if neo-Calvinists really want to enlist the support of paleos for the sake of transforming society, they’ll need to clean up their liturgy and bone up their ecclesiology. Please no Fosdickian responses of “what incredible folly.”