I Didn’t Think Kevin Spacey was an Orthodox Presbyterian

Despite what we now know about the actor, I remain a big fan of The Big Kahuna, a movie I even recommended as one of Hollywood’s better renderings of evangelicalism. (Trigger warning: language is vulgar in places.) Spacey starred in and produced the movie. Am I in danger of my publisher removing all copies of That Old-Time Religion in Modern America because of the way the book opens?

The Big Kahuna may not have been a box office hit, but the 1999 movie starring Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito offered a surprisingly candid glimpse of the way many Americans have come to regard the subject of this book, twentieth-century evangelicalism in the United States. The film features three men who work for a firm that produces industrial lubricants and are assigned to host a cocktail party at a hotel in Wichita, Kansas, during a convention for industry-related vendors and producers. Two of the characters are from the sales division, experienced salesmen for whom the task of pitching the company’s product has nurtured a degree of cynicism and weariness. The third is a young, bright and somewhat naive evangelical Protestant who works in the research division. Their chief task on this particular evening is to make contact with the owner of Indiana’s largest manufacturing company, the “big Kahuna,” whose contract could salvage the salesmen’s declining careers.

Of course, Kevin Spacey is not the only one vulnerable. But we have no better sign of how Harry Emerson Fosdick lost and fundamentalists won than the way that mainstream institutions are employing standards that would have made my fundamentalist Baptist congregation think they were living in a Christian nation. Back then, as I have remarked before, I was under the impression that anyone I should esteem as a hero should also be a Christian. And with that logic, I turned my favorite athlete, Richie Allen, 3rd-baseman for the Phillies (and rookie of the year in 1964), into a born-again Christian, only to be crushed when a television camera showed him smoking a cigarette during a game.

Has our culture really come to that, the moral calculus of an eight-year-old dispsenationalist Baptist?

Of course, Peter Leithart tries to put a better spin on it:

But is private morality so easily distinguished from public ethics? Can we trust someone who lies, bullies, and manipulates to cover up the embarrassment of private sin? Doesn’t such a person prove himself a liar? Hasn’t he proven that he lacks the basic public virtue of justice?

Leithart is writing with politicians in mind, but the same point applies to artistic expressions? Should I sit with an author, director, or musician for anywhere between 30 minutes and two weeks who may be performing acts in private that would prove distasteful in public?

But here’s the other side that few of the new morality police seem to consider: why are good works whether performed in private or public any sort of guarantee of admirable character? If good works are filthy rags, if people do good works for noble and ignoble reasons, and if someone is unregenerate, how trustworthy are they (especially by our current Wesleyan standards)? According to the Confession of Faith:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God. (16.7)

I get it that sexual abuse is bad. But let’s not fool ourselves about any actor or politician. The doctrine of total depravity teaches that behind that image of virtue and decency lurks a heart that is desperately wicked. Who can know it? Agents, spouses, interns, anyone who sees the public figure off camera.

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How to Love America

Noah Millman proposes this (while meditating on G. K. Chesterton):

People feel an attachment, and a willingness to fight to protect, their homes, and their communities. That can take noble and ignoble forms — sometimes fighting to defend your community means committing injustice (as, for example, if you band together with your neighbors to prevent someone from a disfavored ethnic group from moving to the neighborhood). But the feeling is rooted in a direct experience, not an abstract attachment.

For any political community larger than a city, though, that attachment necessarily becomes abstract. So you need to teach your children why they should care about that larger community, be proud of it, and treat it as constituent of their identity.

Chesterton famously quipped that the sentiment, “my country, right or wrong” is like the sentiment, “my mother, drunk or sober.” But the thing about the latter is that she is your mother whether she’s drunk or sober — it’s just that your obligations change based on her condition. If she’s drunk, you won’t let her drive — instead, you’ll make sure she gets home safely.

The question, then, is how you teach your children to see their country as, in some sense, like a mother when their relationship is necessarily abstract rather than directly felt. A love of country based on the lie that your mother is never drunk will be too brittle to survive any kind of honest encounter with reality. But it seems to me equally problematic to say that you should love your country because it is on-balance a good one. Does anyone say about their mother that they love them because on-balance they are sober?

While Millman stresses the particular (a people, a place, a way of life — think baseball), Kevin DeYoung goes abstract and is thankful for the “idea” of America:

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity–whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them–no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree–by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

Oh, by the way, if all humans have these rights irrespective of government, then how is that the basis for founding a nation? Didn’t this way of thinking lead in France to Napoleon’s wars to teach Europe liberty good and hard?

The thing is, if you stress ideas you wind up with a creedal nation, one that you tend to treat like a church, with people divided into the camps of orthodox and heretics, saints and pagans. Protestants suffer from this affliction and it shows in the recent anti-liberalism of Peter Leithart and Jake Meador.

Leithart took Matt Tuininga to task for turning Calvin into a liberal. Leithart added an objection to liberalism that fits with the nation-as-idea mentality:

Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her or hir own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision of the common good. That’s a deviation from classical and traditional Christian politics (including Calvin’s), which sought to orchestrate common life toward a common end—the cultivation of virtue or the glory of God. In fact—and this is the other side of the critique—liberal societies do have substantive commitments. The liberal state pretends to be a referee, but beneath the striped shirt it wears the jersey of the home team. Under the cover of neutrality, liberal order embodies, encourages, and sometimes enforces an anthropology, ecclesiology, and vision of the good society that is often starkly at odds with Christian faith. Tuininga never confronts that line of analysis.

Since the U.S. is a liberal nation, it’s its liberal order becomes its an orthodoxy. But I thought the liberalism of the founders was not to form a society. They already had one — a people, a place, and a way of life. What they wanted was a liberal government, one that would not take sides in religion and other matters. If the U.S began to replace a liberal government with a liberal society, you could blame the centralizing and bureaucratizing effects of a national government that needed to organize the economy, schools, and industry to fight world wars, even cold ones. It really helps when the churches jump on the bandwagon and tell American officials the government is making the nation great.

Jake Meador thinks that the current spate of intolerance that liberals direct toward Christians is a function of liberalism itself:

If the move that western Christians attempt to make in response to all these challenges is to simply rebuild liberalism, then whatever victories we win will be short term. Liberalism is the soil from which the current regime has grown. It’s emphasis on individual autonomy and self-definition and the illegitimacy of unchosen authorities is precisely how we ended up where we are today.

So, two points: First, trying to Make Liberalism Great Again is probably no more realistic than trying to return America to the 1950s. In both cases, the order in question was the unique product of historical circumstances that our own era does not share. Thus any attempt to recreate said order is doomed to fail. Second, we need better language and concepts to make our case to both those within our church communities and those outside the church. Liberalism is not the way forward. It is the way toward further and deeper darkness. If we start thinking about common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts, then we may be onto something. But all of these things, of course, assume a sort of communitarian sensibility that has always had a hard time reconciling itself to the deeply democratic, egalitarian nature of American Christianity. Therefore, whatever our project ends up being, it figures to be a long-term thing.

Meador should likely include Protestantism as the soil out of which liberal progressivism grew. Protestants were intolerant of Roman Catholics and other outsiders. Remember the threat that parochial schools posed to public ones and the way that American governments insisted no parochial school receive a whiff of public funding (still in the balance in SCOTUS’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision). He has a point about “common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts.” I wish he had included baseball and drip coffee makers. But why these way-of-life matters are at odds with liberalism baffles me.

A truly liberal government, like the one the founders hoped for, was one with a fairly small footprint within the broader American society. Government, in other words, is not society. Communities and people groups have existed within the terms set by the founders for better or worse for the better part of two centuries.

The challenge for the U.S. on this holiday of independence is to figure out how to separate the nation from the government, so that officials do somethings, people and communities do other, and we have a national identity that does not revolve around an idea like liberty and justice for all, and the military campaigns that justify such abstract convictions.

To paraphrase Meador, Americanism or the liberal international order that the U.S. has maintained in its capacity as leader of the free world is not the way forward, at least for building attachments to the nation. We still need less national government, more attachments to people, places, and the ways of life that emerge from them.

Christendom Exceptionalism

Not sure what Peter Leithart is working on, but recent posts on medieval and early modern Europe have shed new light on the claims that exalt Christendom and blame Protestantism for ushering in a disordered, licentious modernity.

Just how united was Christendom, you ask? Not much:

In a 1971 essay, H.G. Koenigsberger challenged the notion that the Reformation broke up a unified Europe. He criticizes historians and social scientists for assuming a norm of unity: “We have assumed that the theological and ecclesiastical unity of Catholic Christendom was its natural condition and that, in consequence, the Reformation was a dramatic break in this condition which ran counter to all previous Christian experience and which, in a sense, destroyed the natural order of things.”

Much of the essay presents an analysis of the kind of unity that existed in pre-Reformation Europe. Koenigsberger poses the question this way: “For the thousand years of the Middle Ages, Christendom and its institutions remained obstinately divided, and Christians remained distressingly prone to engage in deadly wars with each other. Why was it that only the Church survived as a unified institution?”

His first answer is sardonic: “it did not do so. Throughout the Middle Ages there existed Christian churches in Africa and Asia which were never in communion with Rome at all.”

The more elaborate answer answer is that “medieval unity, insofar as it existed, was a function of an economically poor society. The small surpluses of production of any given area would not be wanted in the adjoining area, which was probably producing the same commodities, but rather in much more distant areas. Medieval trade was, therefore, small in volume but covered large distances.”

Craft skills were specialized and scarce, and thus craftsmen had to be mobile: “Bell founding was a highly skilled and specialized craft. After a master founder had cast the three or four, or even six or eight, bells for the church of a small town, he would have to move on, for there would be no further work for him in this town nor, very likely, in the neighbouring towns. It was the same with all other skills, from the cathedral builder to the learned scholar, from the forger of fine weapons . . . . Different areas of Europe might advance in certain skills, as Flanders did in the weaving of fine cloth; but no single area of Europe could support all of the skills which European society required. Only the whole of Europe could do this.”

Cultural unity thus depended on a “thin crust of men highly skilled in the production of sophisticated commodities or in the performance of complex services. This upper crust was international in education, attitudes, and often, physical mobility; for this was the only way it could function.” Cultural unity depended on a low rate of entry into this upper crust. European unity was a unity of the “1%.”

Sounds like modern America. Substitute media elites, policy wonks, federal government workers, Ivy League professors, and Hollywood types for “thin crust of men highly skilled in the production of sophisticated commodities or in the performance of complex services” and you an American exceptionalist unity that rivals Christendom’s.

That means, the Reformation was not a break with the past but a fulfillment of medieval Europe:

Signs of centrifugal forces are evident throughout the centuries leading up to the Reformation – reforming movements within the church, sometimes breaking free into independent movements; rival papacies, with kings taking sides, anticipating the anti-papalism of their sixteenth-century Protestant counterparts. The conciliar movement tried to arrest this process but “the defeat of this movement, and the subsequent concentration of papal energies on Italian power politics made it virtually impossible for the Church to adapt itself to the changing conditions of European Society.”

Koenigsberger acknowledges that the Reformation broke the camel’s back, but sees it as the culmination of several centuries of mounting instability. He identifies two factors that made the sixteenth century decisive in this process: “the increasing political tension between the monarchies and the papacy over the question of the control of the institution of the Church and its personnel in the different countries of Europe; and the spread of the printing presses, which made the Bible available to the Christian laity and thus undermined the claim of the Church to act as the indispensable intermediary between God and man.”

Now if we reboot those arguments about the Reformation as the forerunner of 1776, we have lines of continuity between Roman Catholicism and Americanism.

The Whig historians will set us free!

Eating at Home

I’ve long thought and contended that Peter Leithart is clever. I also think he is too clever for his own good. Rather than identifying with a particular strand of Christianity (like the PCA, the RPCNA, New Light Calvinism, or even Moscowite-Baptist-Presbyterian hybrid) and trying to strengthen it, Leithart indicates that most expressions of Protestantism do not measure up. He recognizes some good in them, but not enough to come to their defense. He seems to want a new kind of Protestantism, but one that is very much in his own conception.

I thought this repeatedly while reading his series on paedocommunion. In his first post he utters a classic Leithartianism:

The question is not what the Reformed tradition has taught on this issue; I concede that very few Reformed theologians have advocated paedocommunion. Nor is the question about Jewish custom, which opponents of paedocommunion often cite. (Why should Christians care what the Talmud says?) The issue is what Scripture teaches, and if we find that our tradition is out of accord with Scripture, then we must simply obey God rather than men, even if they are our honored fathers in the faith.

The problem is, what Scripture teaches is different from a form of argument (inspired by John Frame) that because A is like B and B is like C and C is like D, A is the equivalent of D. In the case of paedocommunion, much of Leithart’s argument rests on Passover:

Though children’s inclusion at Passover is never as explicitly stated, there is a compelling—I would say, conclusive—case for paedo-Passover. Exodus 12:3–4 specifies the size of the lamb needed for the meal: “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, “On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of souls; according to each man’s eating, you are to compute for the lamb.”

This regulation makes it clear that the Passover lamb had to be at least big enough to feed a household, but what is a “household”? Throughout the Pentateuch, “house” includes children and servants. Noah’s “house” obviously included his sons and daughters-in-law (Genesis 7:1), and Abram circumcised his servants as males in his “house” (Gen. 17:23, 27). The very first verse of Exodus tells us that Jacob’s sons came to Egypt, each with his “house” (1:1). Nowhere in the Bible does a “household” exclude children. If the lamb was to be large enough for a household, it was to be large enough to give the children of the house a portion. If younger members of the household were not going to eat, why was the size of the lamb large enough to feed them? To taunt them? . . .

Israelite children shared in every meal in which their parents participated. Because the church is the new Israel, the entry requirements to the church’s Passover are the same as they were for Israel. Discontinuity with regard to admission to the table, like discontinuity between the subjects of circumcision and baptism, undermines the identification of the church and Israel. What are we saying about the church when we exclude children from the table? We are saying that we are not Israel.

Leithart fails to notice a major form discontinuity between the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper. The former happened at home. The latter is part of worship on the Lord’s Day. In fact, both circumcision and the Passover (as I understand) were not observed in the Temple or later the synagogue. They happened at home within the family. In contrast, baptism and the Lord’s Supper happen at church (unless you dunk and don’t have a baptistery).

So the real continuity would be to observe the Lord’s Supper at home. Odd isn’t it how Paul contrasts the Lord’s Supper with dining at home?

What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Cor 11:22)

Clever is like convincing except that it isn’t convincing.

When I Reach for a Gun

When someone uses “faith traditions”:

John Milbank and Adrian Pabst (The Politics of Virtue, 269) argue that secular critiques of liberalism cannot hit home because “they are incapable of making the key argument that various different faith traditions are able to make—that nature is neither external to humanity, nor should humans ever aspire simply to dominate their own or external nature.”

Well, if you ask me, a faith that goes by “faith tradition” has already inhaled a good degree of liberal secularism. But oh how warm and fuzzy if feels to unite with Hindus, Muslims, and Jews in criticizing modernity.

Peter Leithart adds:

This is crucial. To deconstruct X as socially constructed, one has to be able to distinguish culture cleanly from nature. If that distinction is messy, then there’s no space for the easy deconstructive critique.

But isn’t faith tradition “socially constructed”? And isn’t it a tad messy to disaggregate Christians from Hindus so that once both sides unite to overturn liberal secularism, they can turn on each other? Messy indeed.

So is looking to Milbank as someone who will have your back when you’re teaching the Westminster Confession (and the Divines were English even).

Roman Catholic 2k

David Schindler and Peter Leithart would likely disapprove:

If a Catholic makes a speech or writes an article attacking the principles and the methods of say, the Lutherans, that act would not necessarily stir up religious strife dangerous to the public peace. But if a Catholic seeks to penalize a Lutheran because of his Lutheranism through political or legal discriminations; still more, if he seeks the support of others in an organized manner to accomplish those ends, then he is attacking religious liberty in the social, or political sphere, which is the common meeting place of all Americans as citizens. . . .

I know that the dictionary definitions of bigotry are to the general effect that it is “an obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed.” But unless obstinate and intolerant attachment to a cause or creed becomes active opposition to some other cause or creed it is non-existent so far as the general peace of society is concerned. I may be obstinate and intolerant in my private and personal attachment to the Catholic Church (of which I am a member), yet if I invariably treat with my agnostic, and Protestant, and Jewish, and atheist neighbors, in all that concerns our common relations in society — in business, politic, and all cooperative matters — without reference or relation to their beliefs or behavior in religious matters, while I may be potentially a bigot, certainly I do not, so to speak, commit bigotry. If all of us so behave, there can be no bigotry in action. But notoriously, all of us do not so behave, although such behavior is the practical ideal of the nation of the United States of America. (Michael Williams, The Shadow of the Pope, 1932)

So when Roman Catholics or Neo-Calvinists call for “all of me” comprehensive Christianity, do they destroy any possibility of a common realm shared by all sorts of believers and non-believers? And do these “all of me” Christians believe that if I am getting along with people who do have the same “all” in “all of their identity” I am guilty of bad faith?

At the Other End of the Spectrum — Evangelicals and Liberals Cooperative

Tracey McKenzie links to sensible comments from Amy Black about a Christian citizen’s duty in the context of partisan politics:

When we do choose to respond, we can critique issue positions, individual candidates, and even the system itself with a proper sense of humility. When debates are framed in terms of personal gains or losses, we can reorient the discussion toward broader questions of political justice, asking what biblical values are at stake and what paths are most likely to serve the common good.

We can offer a quieter, less emotionally-charged counterpoint, presenting our arguments with respect and care. We can also take time to learn about political controversies before commenting on them, checking details with multiple sources and considering a range of viewpoints. Most importantly, we should commit the election, our political system, and all those participating in it to prayer.

Voter dissatisfaction has been growing for decades, and the underlying problems that have led to such anger will not be easily solved. But we can chart a different path in how we respond, modeling humbler and more informed political communication.

I’m all for learning about matters before commenting. Common good? That’s good too. And prayer is always what Jesus would do.

But I don’t know what the Bible has to do with it. Yes, on some moral matters that government oversees, biblical teaching comes into view. But Scripture never saysthat what the policy should be or what the law should say.

As much as I appreciate Black’s effort to calm Christians down, she still sounds like she thinks Christianity is a norm for public life. And if that is so, how does she avoid going whole hog with Leithart or Schindler?

High Octane CCT (Calvinists and Catholics Together)

Peter Leithart has discovered David L. Schindler and it makes sense since both men don’t like liberal modernity and do like comprehensive explanations of all things. One could call that integralism (or w-wism). It is the meeting of every square inch Calvinism with papal claims to universality. All audacity all the time.

The object of CCT’s scorn is any claim of neutrality:

The liberal state claims to be a referee, but has to decide the limits of the playing field, and in practice has to determine what does and doesn’t count as an acceptable religious contribution to the public realm.

As a result, the liberal state institutionalizes and establishes its own theology. Even the decision to remain publicly neutral about an issue like transubstantiation reflects theological opinion, the theological (or anti-theological) opinion that the real presence is irrelevant to public life. Many Christians would beg to differ.

As is the case with many comprehensivalists, the rhetorical engine always runs in overdrive. Hundreds of court cases show that “liberal” courts that have no metaphysical grounding, from the Massachusetts Supreme Court that ruled against the merger of Andover Seminary and Harvard Divinity School on the grounds that one was Trinitarian and the other Unitarian, to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hosanna-Tabor in favor of an LCMS school’s definition of a minister, the “neutral” state can sometimes make rulings based on the writings of churches. To act like state officials are stupid because they try to be umpires to contested religious claims is not fair or accurate.

And to allege that the real presence of Christ is relevant to public life because — wink, wink — some beg to differ is to avoid a chance for instruction in comprehensive metaphysics. For shame.

That doesn’t stop Leithart:

The liberal state tilts the playing field in favor of certain kinds of churches; “sacramental” churches have to betray themselves when they enter the public arena and act as if they are no more than voluntary societies. Self-denial is the ticket price for playing on the field of public opinion.

This might seem like sour grapes: The ref is biased against us, and he should be biased in our favor. It might even be taken as good news to voluntarist churches, who might conclude, The ref is on our side. As has become evident in recent years, though, orthodox believers of all sorts are being and will continue to be pressured to conform to the dictates of liberal order. All churches, not only the sacramental ones, are being squeezed into shape. That is not an aberration. Liberalism has a totalizing impulse that erodes religious liberty.

The easiest way to demonstrate that point is this: By definition, liberal order cannot be accountable to any metaphysical or theological framework beyond itself. To do so, it would cease to be a liberal state. That means that the liberal order itself is the all-embracing framework for political and social life. All other conceptions of common good, all other metaphysical or theological positions, are “private,” and only liberalism is allowed to function as public theology. All other metaphysical or theological opinions will be judged by whether or not they conform to and promote, or inhibit, the aims of liberal order. Churches that adjust to the public theology of liberalism are tolerable. Churches that do not are penalized in various ways.

So if liberalism is totalizing, won’t Christianity be as well? Where will Mormons, Jews, and unbelievers go? And will Calvinists and Roman Catholics rule together? Or will they have to carve up North America the way Germany and Japan did in The Man in the High Castle? One of the troubles that comprehensivalists have is explaining details.

Another defender of Schindler says that we will have our cake (liberal arrangements) and eat it too (metaphysical foundation):

The American Jesuit John Courtney Murray famously argued that this arrangement constitutes America’s signal contribution to the world. The First Amendment of the Constitution, in offering not “articles of faith” but rather “articles of peace,” secured religious freedom for Christians (and for others) while also respecting the rightful integrity of the secular. The American liberal order of limited government and the separation of church and state provides neutral public space while also providing freedom in the form of basic rights that provide “immunity from coercion.” Christianity and liberalism, in this narrative, are not only compatible but utterly harmonious.

Now, the first thing to note is that Schindler believes that limited government, the separation of church and state, human rights, and religious freedom are legitimate achievements that ought to be preserved. But he simply does not believe (1) that liberalism, or any other conception of order, can successfully prescind from metaphysics (he quotes philosopher Etienne Gilson: “metaphysics always buries its undertakers”), or (2) that these achievements can be preserved if they are grounded in the unwitting metaphysics of liberalism rather than in the metaphysics of love. …

The question therefore becomes which truth best secures the ends of civil society, including the noble achievements that have been realized (at least in certain senses) in liberal modernity—religious freedom, human rights, separation of church and state, and so on. Based on his metaphysics of love, Schindler suggests that the first truth that government ought to appropriate is “the truth of freedom as an essential inner feature of love.”

Maybe.

But what metaphysical construction did Paul need to say this?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

I get it. Paul appealed to God (not to the inner dynamics of the Trinity, though). But his application applies as much to liberal states like the U.S.A. as it does to Nero’s Rome.

Making Special Ordinary

If the Corinthian Christians got in trouble for turning the Lord’s Supper into a feast, what happens when you turn the sacrament into a cultural mandate? Peter Leithart may be working too hard to justify transformationalism:

Not only on the Lord’s day, but every day: We offer our works to God in worship, specifically with an act of thanksgiving. When we bring bread and wine – and, by implication, everything we make and do – before the Lord, we do it with thanksgiving. This is remarkable: After all, we made the bread and wine. And yet we thank God for them. We thank Him for the products of our hands, because even the things we make – even our works – are His gifts to us. Paul says that thanksgiving is an act of consecration: Every created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; because it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer. When we give thanks for what we have made, we are consecrating the works of our hands to God. And having given thanks at the table, we are trained to live lives of continuous Eucharist, continual thanksgiving, giving thanks, as Paul says, for all things at all times.

A lesson learned from John Frame: everyday is holy. All activities are worship.

We bring what we have made to God. But He doesn’t take it from us. We bring what we have to God, and He shares it with us. And so the things we make become means of communion with God.

Isn’t this a recipe for idolatry? Math, auto repair, fishing are “means of communion”? So we don’t have to gather with the saints on the Lord’s Day for worship?

The Eucharist is the way the world ought to be: Raw creation cultivated to grain and grapes. Cultivated creation brought to its fulfillment by cooking. Cooked creation enjoyed in the presence of God. Cooked created enjoyed together, by a community of worshipers. Cooked creation given in praise and received with thanksgiving. The final end of all things is the marriage supper of the lamb, and in the Lord’s Supper we anticipate that final feast, the feast that is the culmination of all creation. History is heading toward a wedding and eternal wedding reception, and our lives are to be spent readying the world for the wedding feast, a wedding feast that we are already enjoying now.

Wouldn’t it be better to say the wedding supper of the lamb is the culmination of redemption? After all, not everyone invited to the wedding accepts. All creatures won’t be at the wedding reception.

In the Eucharist, we bring creation to its fulfillment. We transform the creation into things useful and enjoyable for us, and we give thanks.

And so the Supper Supper reveals us to ourselves. This is what we are created to do: To be priests and kings, ruling the earth, transforming it from glory to glory, and joining it all in one great Eucharistic banquet.

At the Lord’s Supper, where we remember Christ’s death for our sins, we are impressed by how powerful and creative we are?

Yikes.

Dr. Leithart has his problems, but in this case he needs Christian editors who can tell the difference between cult and culture.

H. L. Mencken Wasn't Roman Catholic and He Could Write

First Christian presidents and now Peter Leithart explores Christian writers. Why do Christians feel the need to describe human activities in the context of sanctification? Isn’t that a tad provincial?

Leithart’s argument is that because Roman Catholics rely more on sacraments than Protestants who treat them as merely symbols, Roman Catholicism produces better writers:

Marburg is important not so much for what it achieved but as a symbol of what it failed to achieve. It provides a symbolic marker not only for the parting of the ways between Lutheran and Zwinglian, but also, for Zwinglians, the final parting of the ways between symbol and reality. J. P. Singh Uberoi claimed that “Spirit, word and sign had finally parted company at Marburg in 1529. For centuries, Christian sacramental theology had held symbol and reality together in an unsteady tension, but that alliance was ruptured by the Zwinglian view of the real presence. For Zwingli, “myth or ritual . . . was no longer literally and symbolically real and true.” In short, “Zwingli was the chief architect of the new schism and . . . Europe and the world followed Zwingli in the event.”

For many post-Marburg Protestants, literal truth is over here, while symbols drift off in another direction. At best, they live in adjoining rooms; at worst, in widely separated neighborhoods, and they definitely inhabit different academic departments.

Here is a thesis, which I offer in a gleeful fit of reductionism: Modern Protestants can’t write because we have no sacramental theology. Protestants will learn to write when we have reckoned with the tragic results of Marburg, and have exorcised the ghost of Zwingli from our poetics. Protestants need not give up our Protestantism to do this, as there are abundant sacramental resources within our own tradition. But contemporary Protestants do need to give up the instinctive anti-sacramentalism that infects so much of Protestantism, especially American Protestantism.

And Reformed Protestantism is particularly lacking:

Many Protestant churches (often the didactic ones) celebrate the Eucharist infrequently; many are deliberately, self-consciously anti-sacramental. Their worship consists of teaching but not doing, word but not sign. When they do celebrate the Supper, many Protestant churches are informed that it is a sign rather than a reality.

This is a simplification of what goes on in many Protestant churches. It is not, I think, a caricature.

The argument, based on the assumption and the assertion, comes in several stages: Churches whose worship focuses on didactic, doctrinal teaching are going to shape minds, imaginations, and hearts in a particular way. Churches with infrequent communion, and churches that treat communion as “mere sign” are also shaping the imaginative lives of their members.

Churches with didactic preaching and unsacramental worship, I submit, do not produce poets.

A poetic imagination is cultivated in churches where the beauty of Scripture is as important as its truth. Poetic imagination is cultivated in churches that celebrate Eucharist regularly. Every week, their worship climaxes with a great sacramental metaphor, a metaphor that is more than metaphor, a metaphor that also states (in some fashion) what is the case: “This is my body. This is my blood.”

By this argument, some forms of Protestantism – Anglicans with their prayer books and Eucharistic piety, Lutherans with their ins-withs-unders – are more conducive to cultivating poetic imagination than others.

What Leithart doesn’t consider apparently is that the logocentric quality of Protestantism, attention to the meaning of Greek and Hebrew involved in the study of Scripture, consideration of different biblical genres, or even the oratory involved in preaching — all of these could fire the imagination and fascinate young boys and girls with words in a way that could create good writing every bit as much as looking at statues, paintings, a wafer, and a chalice from which you’re never served.

At the same time, what does Leithart do with all those good writers who have no dog in the hunt of Christianity, like H. L. Mencken, who somehow learned to write even without going to church:

. . . the people of New York do even worse; they eat Chesapeake soft crabs fried in batter! What is cannibalism after that? I’d as lief eat a stewed archdeacon. Think of immersing a delicate and sensitive soft crab, the noblest of decapods, in a foul mess of batter, drenching it and blinding it, defacing it and smothering it — and then frying it in a pan like some ignoble piece of Pennsylvania scrapple. As well boil a cocktail, or a smelt, or a canvasback duck.

There is, of course, but one civilized way to prepare soft crabs for the human esophagus, and it goes without saying that it is the one way never heard of by the Greek bootblacks who pass as chefs in New York. It is, like all the major processes of the bozart, quite simple in its essence. One rids the crab of its seaweed, removes the devil, and then spears it with a long, steel fork upon the prongs of which a piece of country bacon, perhaps three inches long, has already made fast. Then one holds the combination over a brazier of glowing charcoal or a fire of hickory . . ., say three or four minutes.

What happens belongs to the very elements of cookery. The bacon, melted by the heat, runs down over the crab, greasing it and salting it, and the crab, thus heated, greased and salted, takes on an almost indescribable crispness and flavor. Nothing imaginable by the mind of man could be more delicious. It is a flavor with body, delicacy and character. Slap the crab upon a square of hot toast and then have at it. (“Callinectes Hastatus,” from The Impossible Mencken, 449)

The man could write and eat.