How to Observe Reformation

If you are Roman Catholic, forget Martin Luther and remember Thomas More:

We should not celebrate the Reformation, because we cannot celebrate the defense of erroneous conscience held up against the authority of the Church. As St. Thomas More rightly said in his “Dialogue on Conscience,” taken down by his daughter Meg: “But indeed, if on the other side a man would in a matter take away by himself upon his own mind alone, or with some few, or with never so many, against an evident truth appearing by the common faith of Christendom, this conscience is very damnable.” He may have had Luther in mind.

More did not stand on his own private interpretation of the faith, but rested firmly on the authority of Christendom and, as Chesterton put it, the democracy of the dead: “But go we now to them that are dead before, and that are I trust in heaven, I am sure that it is not the fewer part of them that all the time while they lived, thought in some of the things, the way that I think now.”

More is a crucial example of standing firm in a rightly formed conscience. We should remember why he died and not let his witness remain in vain. He stood on the ground of the Church’s timeless teaching, anchored in Scripture and the witness of the saints. If we divorce conscience from authority, we will end in moral chaos. As Cardinal Ratzinger asked in his lucid work, On Conscience: “Does God speak to men in a contradictory manner? Does He contradict Himself? Does He forbid one person, even to the point of martyrdom, to do something that He allows or even requires of another?” These are crucial questions we must face.

Rather than celebrating the defender of erroneous conscience, let’s remember and invoke the true martyr of conscience, who died upholding the unity of the faith.

But, if you’re Roman Catholic, you follow the pope, right?

In light of the current controversy on conscience, it is troubling that Luther is now upheld as genuine reformer. The most troubling is from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in its Resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and throughout the year 2017: “Separating that which is polemical from the theological insights of the Reformation, Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognising him as a ‘witness to the gospel’ (From Conflict to Communion 29). And so after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.” The Vatican also announced a commemorative stamp (which to me sounds like the United States issuing a stamp commemorating the burning the White House by British troops).

Pope Francis has spoken of Luther several times in the past year, including in an inflight press conference returning from Armenia: “I think that the intentions of Martin Luther were not mistaken. He was a reformer. Perhaps some methods were not correct.” In response I ask, what did Luther reform? Francis pointed to two things in his journey to Sweden. The Reformation “helped give greater centrality to sacred scripture in the Church’s life,” but it did so by advocating the flawed notion of sola scriptura. Francis also pointed to Luther’s concept of sola gratia, which “reminds us that God always takes the initiative, prior to any human response, even as he seeks to awaken that response.” While the priority of God’s initiative is true and there are similarities to Catholic teaching in this teaching (that faith is a free gift that cannot be merited), Luther denied our cooperation with grace, our ability to grow in sanctification and merit, and that we fall from grace through mortal sin. Francis also noted, while speaking to an ecumenical delegation from Finland: “In this spirit, we recalled in Lund that the intention of Martin Luther 500 years ago was to renew the Church, not divide Her.” Most recently he spoke of how we now know “how to appreciate the spiritual and theological gifts that we have received from the Reformation.”

Doesn’t the magisterium know more and better than Dr. R. Jared Staudt?

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Spotting the Difference between Piety and Snark

Old Life regular, vd, t, offered this advice for how to respond to climate change:

—Plug in your clocks only when you absolutely have to know what time it is. If you need the alarm, get up five minutes early to set it.

—Al Gore says cigarettes are a significant cause of global warming, so quit smoking and sell him the carbon credits.

—Your kids are useless for pushing your car up to highway speeds, but they can increase your mileage considerably around town. Use your headlights only when there’s no moon, and remember, your horn uses less energy than your turn signal.

—Stairs make you huff and puff and expel carbon dioxide. Use the elevator. And sports are carbon-intensive too, so do ’em on your X-box.

—Take as long as you want browsing in the fridge. Leaving the door open cools the world off.

—Down more Slurpees, or better yet, nice frosty margaritas. See, this isn’t so bad.

—Lower the thermostat in your Gulfstream jet, and make the help wear sweaters.

—We need our corn for ethanol. Switch from Fritos to pork rinds.

—Do not use a television or radio unless it’s bicycle powered, like Gilligan’s.

—Turn your computer off right now. Turn it off, get up out of your chair, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

In contrast, these are part of Pope Francis’ instructions to the faithful and beyond:

203. Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just”.[144] This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction, and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends.

204. The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”.[145] When people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.

205. Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.

I wonder if vd, t would change his tune about the seriousness of climate change after Pope Francis’ encyclical. (I hear unity and obedience to the teachings of the magisterium are traits that Protestants lack.) So far, the responses to Laudato Si at American Spectator have been pro-market and not particularly submissive.

Still, vd, t gets points for edge.

Hedging the Call

Devin Rose is one of the many apologists in the Roman Catholic world — a guy who was agnostic, became evangelical, dissatisfied with evangelicalism, and then took the plunge into the Tiber. If you want to hear his “testimony,” go here.

One thing to be said for what follows is that Rose implicitly admits the difficulty that he and other apologists face when the message from the bishops (even the pope) is not exactly what brought him to Roman Catholicism. So if you’re going to appeal to Protestants, you need to figure in Vatican 2’s equivocation:

Here are the four reasons you should evangelize Protestant friends and family with the fullness of the truth:

1. Future Souls

I have a Protestant friend who had two children then got sterilized. He and I had lots of discussions about the Catholic Faith and Protestantism. I told him at one point contraception and sterilization were sinful. He got angry.

But he also began to desire having more children. He was something of a providentialist and said that “God will miraculously give us children if He wants to, in spite of the sterilization.” I told him to get it reversed.

A year or two later he decided to reverse the sterilization. A short while later they conceived again and had a son. Then conceived again and had a daughter. So they have two older children and two little children! Sharing the fullness of truth in the Catholic Faith resulted in two new souls being created by God, destined for eternity with Him. Almost all Protestants embrace contraception and sterilization, which is really sad and not what God wants.

Note that this friend is still Protestant. He didn’t become Catholic, at least not yet. I hope he does, but I am thrilled that they opened up their marriage to God blessing them with more children.

2. The Sacraments

Protestants have baptism and marriage but not any other sacraments. God instituted seven, including the Eucharist, so that we could receive Him body and blood, soul and divinity, as well as Confirmation to be strengthened fully in the Spirit, and Confession to reconcile us to Himself and His Church. They are missing out on these.

They also miss out on consecrated virginity for the sake of the Kingdom, which Jesus in Matthew 19 spoke of and Paul did in 1 Corinthians 7. God wants His children to consider all vocations, not just marriage.

Through the sacraments we receive God’s grace in abundance.

3. Bigger Cups!

It is true that everyone in Heaven will be filled to the brim with God’s love, but some people will have bigger cups than others. Here on earth we can, with the help of His grace, become holier and holier, more and more like Him, so that our cups are enlarged. In the Catholic Faith these opportunities abound; we have the fullness of the means of sanctification.

Protestants want to become just like Jesus. They want the biggest cup possible. But they are operating outside of the ordinary means of increasing their cup’s volume.

4. Danger of Hell

It is true that God is not bound by His sacraments and can save anyone He likes. It is also true that Protestants have valid baptisms (by and large) and so receive the Holy Spirit and are regenerated, being born again, from above, to newness of life. However, it is also true that they are relying on God to work in an extra-ordinary way. He set out the way He wanted us to assure our salvation by giving us His Church, with rightful leaders, sacraments, Tradition, and protection from error of her doctrines.

Protestants eschew all those things and so in a sense test God to save them in spite of it. He is so merciful that He can and no doubt will, but Protestants are following the Faith on their own terms, not the way that God planned it.

What happens when a Protestant, after being baptized, commits a mortal sin? Their soul is in peril, and they cannot avail themselves of Confession. They have to confess directly to God and hope that they have perfect contrition to be forgiven. They are essentially gambling with their souls, though most don’t know it (invincible ignorance).

Bigger cups?!? We know how Erik will fight that reference.

We are a long way from Fulton Sheen.

Tricks of the Trade

The Catholic Lane is calling off Roman Catholic apologists who use the tired phrase that Protestantism has produced 33,000 denominations:

One Protestant friend of mine gets royally annoyed when he hears Catholics say there are 33,000 denominations in Protestantism. Paraphrased:

Really, I can think of maybe four or five major schools of Protestant theology, and maybe — maybe — 70 denominations in this country. And that’s being generous.

He once noted to me that the number of 33,000 — or 44,000, or whatever — relies on counting local communities independently, and breaking up international groups by country. By that standard, there are as many Catholic churches as there are countries in the world which have Catholics. In fact, by the standard we’re holding Protestants to; our number of churches should be multiplied where the Eastern Rites are represented. This is, of course, a bogus standard, so it will turn off Protestants of any competence.

My friend went on to insist that what really matters is the theological unity, the unity in truths professed. To say “33,000″ when there are really only about five or six or ten or seventy is a gesture of bad faith, and a sign we aren’t being serious.

“Within those schools of thought,” he said, “they don’t really disagree on anything important.”

So what is the alternative?

There are at least two Protestant churches in the world. They contradict each other on important things, or disagree about which things are important. Isn’t this a problem? Keep in mind: This is not a case for Catholicism. This is a case against Protestantism.

This is where you follow up, building a case for Catholicism. When talking to a Protestant, begin with scripture, and point out the evidence for the Church in scripture. Don’t just say that scripture or history proves the Catholic Church. Competent Protestants will here want proof, so at this point refer to scriptural passages which together and in context point to a visibly united community of believers, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It’ll still be a wild ride, so make sure you’ve studied the context yourself.

Keep in mind the stakes. Protestants aren’t merely mistaken about this doctrine or that doctrine. They lack sacraments. Some Protestants — those who were not validly baptized — lack all of the sacraments. This has eternal consequences, whether it’s as simple as not bearing the mark of chrismation in heaven or abiding forever the unforgiving fires of hell.

When we speak of communion, we mean all forms of communion, right down to Holy Communion. Yet by making sweeping claims, you might just sweep someone out of earshot, even further from the Eucharist than they were before. Allowing for God’s foreknowledge, that person you push away may come into the Church later anyway — but it may be much later, and if so you might get to answer to God for it.

In short, don’t say more than you have to. It rarely takes much to topple the internal contradictions of Protestantism. It certainly does not take 33,000 denominations.

And if two guys in white shirts and a tie show up at your front door, if it’s a Michigan winter invite them in. But if it’s warm out, be careful. They may be Roman Catholic apologists with instructions on how to reduce you to a puddle of uncertainty. But if you have a Bryan Cross hat, maybe that will provide the force you need to withstand their challenge.

Obsessive Confession Disorder

Jason Stellman may think I am obsessed with Jason and the Callers, but every time he root root roots for the Vatican team, he winds up jeering at his former teammates. So when he tries to vindicate Roman Catholic ecclesiology, he dissects the Confession of Faith:

Consider first the realm of ecclesiology (which is related to Christology most obviously because the Church is the Body of Christ). In Protestantism, there is no single visible church, there is no single visible entity that can serve as an analogue to the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth. While the people of Galilee and Judaea could have pointed their fingers and said, “That is Jesus Christ, right over there sitting under that tree, see him? No, not that guy, the one to his left. Yeah, him.” Protestants today cannot point to anything and say, “This is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church right here. No, not that one, this one.” In Protestantism, the church becomes more or less visible depending on the circumstances, fading in and out, as it were, of one’s field of vision:

This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them (WCF xxv.4).

But why dismiss Protestants when he could simply exalt and magnify his own magisterium (which has all that supremacy and infallibility)? Here is what Jason’s Catechism has to say about visiblity:

779 The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.

This might appear to vindicate Jason’s point about Protestantism lacking a single visible church. But then Vatican 2 raises its traditionalist-defying head. And what we find is that the singularity of Rome pre-Vatican 2 is subdued, thus leaving Jason to quote the Confession of Faith against HIS OWN understanding of the church:

Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life – that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem. (Decree on Ecumenism)

For the bishops at Vatican 2, the issue was not visibility but unity.

And if Jason spent as much time looking through the teaching resources of his magisterium and less combing Protestant teaching to which he objects, he might also find a rebuke to his own dealings with Protestants:

The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.

At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand.

Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a “hierarchy” of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ. (Decree on Ecumenism)

So again, why doesn’t Jason get on board with the kinder gentler version of Roman Catholicism that has only been around for as long as he has been alive? OCD?

Divided and Finally Dismissed

It looks like Jason and the Callers may be taking back the call to communion. The former is perturbed that Protestants disagree with him. It resembles a wife, who when losing an argument to her husband about a fender bender, talks about all the laundry she does. Unable to persuade us by his logic, exegesis, and historical ignorance, Jason has detected a Protestant intellectual tic:

. . . what I have observed over the past year is that this tendency to distinguish and divide is perhaps most prominent, not so much in the Reformed self-identity as in their overall polemic, exhibited especially in the way they argue against Catholics. And it doesn’t really matter what the issue under discussion actually is. It has taken me several hundred hours of discussion and debate to really put my finger on this tactic, but now that I have identified it, it has become quite predictable and obvious to spot if you know what you’re looking for.

I call it, “Divide and Dismiss.”

So when it comes to exegesis (which Jason still does not understand is what the magisterium does infallibly and so is above his pay grade), theology, and (early) church history, Reformed Protestants exhibit a preference for separateness and ghettoization.

Possibly.

Or perhaps we have brains (I know rationalism). We notice that Roman Catholicism is more than what Jason and the Callers claim it is. We notice that matters in the Vatican and beyond still need reform. We also notice that Protestantism is afflicted with a host of its own problems. But our profession does not include the notion that the church cannot err, and so we are free to notice problems on both sides of the Tiber. This may not make us superior. But it does mean we aren’t covering our eyes, like cheerleaders still going siss-boom-bah when the team is down by three touchdowns in the 4th quarter and the starting quarterback is out with a broken leg.

I understand it’s a little early for Jason to express buyer’s remorse. But his insistence that his communion is superior, more unified, and more virtuous is not an argument but an observation. For example:

The impression one gets from dialoguing with the Reformed is that there are virtually no two portions of Scripture that share the same context, no two church fathers that taught the same things, and no two Catholics from varying backgrounds that confess the same faith.

Such a hermeneutic of suspicion is to be expected from our Reformed brethren, of course, as is their desire to pit one biblical passage, or one church father, or one orthodox Catholic, against another. Division and atomization are their bread and butter, and are part and parcel of their entire worldview w-w (otherwise, how would Protestants justify their existence?). But the message I’d give to my fellow Catholics is to remind them that the knee-jerk tendency to divide and dismiss is not part of the air that we breathe, and there is no good reason why we should countenance such rationalist approaches to the biblical, historical, or ecclesiastical data, or treat this data the way higher critics do the words of Scripture.

Oh brother.

Sorry, but division and atomization is the air that all Protestants and Roman Catholics breathe post 1789. Jason would know this if he spent a little time reading history after 400 AD and looking around at the contemporary Roman Catholic scene (though I seem to recall he liked atomization and division when protesters surfaced in Seattle during the G-8 summit). Without the magistrate to enforce belief, Rome is just one more church listing in the Yellow Pages, along with the PCA and the Latter Day Saints. Meanwhile, the papacy is no more capable of making George Weigel and Sean Michael Winters agree than the PCA General Assembly is able to turn Peter Leithart into a defender of the Confession of Faith.

It is a breakthrough, though, that Jason has acknowledged that Protestants and Roman Catholics are divided. Now that he has dismissed us, we are free to pay attention to the important and cacophonous voices within Roman Catholicism.

Why Don't Jason and the Callers Ever Quote the First Pope?

(Or, could Francis ever say or write what Peter did?)

Not like I’m meditating on Peter’s epistles but the local dominie is preaching through 2 Peter and we have come to this major rough patch (even before the new heavens and new earth go up like smoke in the cosmic toaster). Peter was apparently very worried about false teachers and he spends what seems to be half the epistle on warnings about such teaching and the punishments that follow:

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;3 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Given this heightened sense of false teachers, their threat, and warnings to be on the lookout, what has happened to those who consider Peter to be the first pope when it comes to the dangers of erroneous teaching and warning about it. The Council of Trent made clear that at least some Protestant teachers were dangerous. But somehow that old sense of antithesis vanished — I suspect with the introduction of separated brethren at Vatican II.

This is not meant to be a nostalgic plaint for the good old days of Protestants and Roman Catholics anathematizing or scared of each other. But it is a reminder of how considerably times have changed (even if some refuse to acknowledge it).

More Machen, Less Mencken

Our Philadelphia correspondent alerted me to an arresting invocation of J. Gresham Machen and H. L. Mencken — Baltimore’s two bad boys (one on religious, the other on cultural grounds) — at the G-rated Gospel Coalition of all places. The post surprised me not for the appeal of Machen to those who channel Edwards via Piper. After all, the Minneapolis pastor has written quite positively about Machen. The reference to Mencken especially caught my eye. Lest Old Lifers think that the Co-Allies have all of a sudden acquired an edge, not to worry. Turns out that Machen and Mencken are, along with Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, not the best models for Christians who would be bloggers. According to John Starke:

Of course, the best of Christian public intellectuals carried this same shrewd sarcasm. C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are excellent examples, and we often follow in their lead, showing others just how exasperating their logic can be. That’s been our self-appointed task, too, ever since we registered for [insert name here].blogspot.com.

The problem is that we tend not to follow Lewis and Chesterton all the way. In other words, we adopt their sarcasm and wit but not the spirituality of their aims. They guided readers toward the place where wisdom could be found, introducing them to a kingdom that stands on firmer ground. We thrive on exposing the fool. We hold the doctrine of J. Gresham Machen but carry the tone of H. L. Mencken.

The better way is to do what Jesus would do and blog Christly:

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that our opponents don’t see us in the same light as Lewis and Chesterton, or associate us with Jesus for that matter. If we aim to follow Christ, as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2, then we must imitate not only his wit and wisdom before opponents but also his silence before enemies and mockers at the cross.

I actually think the jury is out on what tone Jesus might adopt when blogging. He did not suffer Pharisees or disciples lightly. I even once suggested to friends that Jesus loved people but he didn’t particularly like them. It all depends on how we define like, I guess. Even so, the greatest indications of warmth from Jesus, beyond his overall humiliation — from birth to descent into hell, is when he weeps over Lazarus and when John reports on his friendship with his Lord. For my part, Jesus doesn’t need to be warm and fuzzy. His accomplished redemption is sufficient.

Be that as it may, with Jesus as a debatable standard, I’ll appeal to Machen and suggest that the Gospel Coalition would be a lot more interesting and useful if it and its members could actually mix a little condemnation along with all of their back-patting. I get it, they stand for the Gospel. Who in the Christian world does not? But what about the infidelities in their midst? What happens with a James McDonald or a Mark Driscoll? Does anyone suggest their teachings and associations are wrong? Or do the Co-Allies adopt the playbook of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. when they regretfully accepted the resignation of Pearl S. Buck? Or what about the disagreements among the Co-Allies Council over what the Bible teaches? Why do their bloggers give the impression that everyone is on the same page and that rocking the boat is impious?

So to help the Co-Allies find their inner Gilbert Tennent, little sampling of no-nonsense, with a pinch of sarcasm from Machen, who wrote the following before the meeting of the General Assembly that would uphold his deposition from the ministry:

The whole program of the General Assembly is carefully planned in such a way as to conceal the real issues and give a false impression of faithfulness to the Word of God. I do not mean that the deceit is necessarily intentional. The men conducting the ecclesiastical machine are no doubt in many instances living in a region of thought and feeling so utterly remote from the great verities of the Christian Faith that they have no notion how completely they are diverting attention from those verities in their conduct of the Assembly. But the fact remains that the whole program, from whatever motives, is so constructed as to conceal the real condition of the Church.

1. Conference on Evangelism
One instrument of concealment is the program of the pre-Assembly Conference on Evangelism. That program is carefully planned. Its very name suggests to unwary persons that the Church is perfectly orthodox. “Evangelism” certainly has a reassuring sound. The contents of the program also often provides sops for the evangelical minority in the Church. There is nothing that Modernist ecclesiastics love quite so much as evangelical sermons that serve as the prelude to anti-evangelical action. They are such effective instruments in lulling Christian people to sleep. . . .

7. False Use of Sentiment
A seventh instrument of concealment is the false use of perfectly worthy sentiment for partisan ends. In 1933, there was a contest regarding the Board of Foreign Missions. The Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Missions brought in a majority report favoring the policy of the Board and a minority report opposing that policy. Now every year it is the custom to read the names of the missionaries who have died during the year. The Assembly rises in respect to the honored dead, and is led in prayer. It is a solemn moment.

Where do you suppose that solemn service was put in? Well, it was tagged on to the majority report from the Committee! Then, after the solemn hush of that scene, the minority report was heard! Could anything have been more utterly unfair? The impression was inevitably made that the minority report was in some sort hostile to that honoring of the pious dead. The sacred memory of those missionaries was used to “put across” a highly partisan report whitewashing a Modernist program which some of them might have thoroughly condemned. Unfortunately they were not there to defend themselves against that outrageous misuse of their names. There is urgent need of a reform of the Assembly’s program at that point. The honor paid to departed missionaries should be completely divorced from the report of the Assembly’s committee on the Boards.

That is only one instance of the way in which at the Assembly legitimate sympathy is used to accomplish partisan ends. Very cruel and heartless measures are sometimes pushed through under cover of sympathetic tears.

Echo Chamber?

Thanks to the Viking I see that Tim Keller has some posts about polemics (forthcoming) over at the Gospel Coalition and that Justin Taylor has aggregated part of Keller. I do go to TGC’s sites periodically and so would have likely seen these without the Viking’s help. Part of what makes TGC so effective is that it is the network for the largest celebrities in the world of non-charismatic Protestantism (aside from that awkward presence of Sovereign Grace Ministries and the anointing that sometimes drenches Driscoll). Think of how hard it would be to keep up with the respective fiefdoms of Piper, Keller, Driscoll along with the writings and pursuits of Carson, Dever, and DeYoung. It’s like trying to watch Jay, Dave, Conan, and Jimmy every night (sorry for the talk-show reference, but I’m reveling in Larry Sanders these days). You would have to stay up late and also record the different shows since they are all on different channels and times, sort of the way that each of TGC figures has his own website, congregation, and “ministries.” But now thanks to the Internet — voila — I can go to one place and keep up with all major players in the world of Baptists-and-Calvinists-Together.

I do wonder, though, what outsiders would think of TGC’s website and I have recently speculated on this in the case of neo-Calvinism’s political theology. What I have in mind is whether those who disagree with TGC would find much material or discussion that is challenging, that actually produces new or hard thought (as opposed to deep feeling or moral inadequacy). Or is the nature of such an endeavor that relies upon the fame of its evangelical pastors and speakers to offer up inspiration and affirmation, thus raising the question of whether evangelicals or their vehicles are sappy?

But what is curious about Keller’s concession that polemics is necessary as a form of medicine is whether the folks at TGC think that what they are doing through the coalition is offering a well-rounded diet. Keller says, “Polemics is medicine, not food. Without medicine we will surely die—we can’t live without it. This is why polemical theology must be a required part of every theological curriculum. Yet we cannot live on medicine.” I understand this. And it can also be said of candy, except that candy isn’t nearly as beneficial as medicine, nor is it the case that we could not live without it. Still, as I’ve asked before, what does TGC do that churches do not already do? The churches have the recipes and ingredients for a healthy spiritual diet. And sometimes they engage in polemics with those institutions that offer up prepackaged-food as the wholesome article.

So perhaps the folks at TGC need to look in the mirror and ask whether they are doing something that instigates polemics. In which case, it wouldn’t be a personality defect of Calvinists to disagree with and point out the weaknesses of a project such as TGC.

If You Can't Stand the Polemic, Get Out of the Calvinist Kitchen

An arresting little wrinkle in the current popularity of Calvinism among those who don’t baptize their infants and sometimes speak in tongues (and don’t belong to a Reformed church — redundant, I know), is the notion that Calvinists are mean. Justin Taylor is apparently on vacation and has bloggers filling in for him. Jared Wilson’s number came up on Wednesday and he tried to explain the stereotype of the “graceless Calvinist” (would Mr. Wilson actually refer to Americans of Polish descent in such a stereotypical manner?). Such exhibitions of pride are exceedingly disappointing to Wilson:

. . .gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism. Why? Because it’s a depressing irony and a disgrace that many who hold to the so-called “doctrines of grace” are some of the most graceless people around. The extent to which your soteriology is monergistic—most Calvinistic nerds know what I’m talking about here—is the extent to which you ought to know that your pride is a vomitous affront to God.

What is odd about this comment is that Wilson seems to show a similar gracelessness in calling out Calvinists. (Hasn’t every husband figured out a euphemism for observing a weight gain in his wife?) Wilson knows that gracelessness is wrong and so apparently doesn’t need to be gracious in pointing it out. He does not seem to consider that some Calvinist polemics may stem from a sense of error as deeply felt as Wilson’s. If Wilson knows that gracelessness is obviously wrong, maybe Calvinists also know that Arminianism is profoundly wrong. In which case, Wilson attributes Calvinist gracelessness almost entirely to character, not the most flattering or gracious interpretations of Reformed orneriness.

Also odd is Wilson’s perseverance in identifying with Calvinism, since the man to whom that moniker points was no slouch when it came to invective. For instance, here’s an excerpt from Calvin on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments:

. . . although the passages which we have collected from the Law and the Prophets for the purpose of proof, make it plain that there never was any other rule of piety and religion among the people of God; yet as many things are written on the subject of the difference between the Old and New Testaments in a manner which may perplex ordinary readers, it will be proper here to devote a special place to the better and more exact discussion of this subject. This discussion, which would have been most useful at any rate, has been rendered necessary by that monstrous miscreant, Servetus, and some madmen of the sect of the Anabaptists, who think of the people of Israel just as they would do of some herd of swine, absurdly imagining that the Lord gorged them with temporal blessings here, and gave them no hope of a blessed immortality. Let us guard pious minds against this pestilential error, while we at the same time remove all the difficulties which are wont to start up when mention is made of the difference between the Old and the New Testaments. By the way also, let us consider what resemblance and what difference there is between the covenant which the Lord made with the Israelites before the advent of Christ, and that which he has made with us now that Christ is manifested. (Institutes II.10.1)

Hide the Anabaptists and their unbaptized children.

Of course, we could chalk this type of polemic up to the parlance of Calvin’s time, when such vituperation was common in the academy and the church. But if that’s the case, why does Wilson not give modern-day Calvinists a similar benefit of the doubt? He concedes that other groups of believers exhibit gracelessness. And if he watches CNN or Fox News, he may also become familiar with invective in the culture at large, all of which might suggest that Calvinists don’t have a corner on meanness.

Or maybe if the young Calvinists actually read Calvin, they would come to understand that some doctrines and practices really are worthy of polemics, and some faulty ideas and forms of devotion really are harmful.

Either way, it is clearly odd to identify with Calvin who was capable of getting agitated and then object to Calvinists when they become animated. Calvinism would appear to be the wrong label. Again, why not Particular Baptist?

I could take some comfort from Wilson’s explanation of Calvinistic gracelessness:

. . . the problem is not the Reformed theology, as many of my Arminian friends will charge; it’s not the Calvinism. No, the problem is gospel wakefulness (which crosses theological systems and traditions), or the lack thereof. A joyless Calvinist knows the mechanics of salvation (probably). But he is like a guy who knows the ins and outs of a car engine and how the car runs. He can take it apart and put it back together. He knows what each part does and how it does it. A graceless Calvinist is like a guy who knows how a car works but has never driven through the countryside in the warm spring air with the top down and the wind blowing through his hair.

This is a curious analogy since it suggests that nice Calvinists conceive of the Christian life as a joy ride. This is not exactly the way that Calvin thought of our life in this world, which he likened to being on look out at a sentry post. But jarring analogies aside, what happens to the guy with the wind-blown hair when the universal joint goes on his Thunderbird? Or a little less dramatic, does the fellow who likes to take the car out for rides through the country need to worry about filling up the tank (or even about the environmental consequences of fossil fuel)? Maybe Wilson’s analogy is entirely apt. The young and restless ones don’t want to be bothered with fixing cars or refilling the tank, and as stereotypical youngsters they regard parents who say that teens should attend to these things are mean. That difference might go along way to explaining the difference between a gospel coalition and a Reformed communion.