Gospel Coalition Haiku

Why does a complementarian organization promote a congregation that belongs to a communion that ordains women?

Here‘s an explanation of complementarianism’s importance from TGC poobahs:

Probably all of us who share The Gospel Coalition’s vision to renew our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reform our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures have been asked, “So why is TGC complementarian? Are you saying only those who uphold male leadership in the home and church believe the gospel?”

If you’ve ever wondered and asked the question yourself, we hope you’ll watch this video featuring TGC founders Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper. Keller opens with a hermeneutical argument about what sometimes happens when we apply arguments in favor of egalitarianism to biblical passages that relate directly to the gospel. He also explains why TGC’s confessional statement and theological vision for ministry go beyond basic gospel doctrines to include such issues as gender roles. As Piper explains, TGC wants to say things that protect the gospel, display the gospel, and release the gospel for human flourishing. And our current age demands that believers model and argue the biblical case for Christ-like headship.

“We live in a culture where for the last 30 or 40 years, the collapse of the meaning of biblical masculinity has not produced a beautiful egalitarian society,” Piper observes. “It has produced a brutal masculine society.”

Here‘s a profile of puff piece on Hope Church, the largest Presbyterian Church in the nation (even larger than Redeemer NYC) that avoids questions about gender by featuring the topics of race and ethnicity:

The principles were solid: Churches should reflect their neighborhoods, and relationships are a good way to show God’s love to the unchurched. But the results were decidedly monoethnic congregations.

Within 20 years, Hope was the largest church in Memphis, regularly drawing 7,000 worshipers each weekend. But in a city that was nearly 60 percent black, less than 1 percent of them were African American.

At first, Hope reflected its neighborhood. The city to Hope’s south—Germantown—was 93 percent white in 2000, and 90 percent white in 2010. But its county—Shelby—fell from 47 percent white in 2000 to 41 percent white in 2010. And Cordova, the small suburb where Hope sits, dropped from nearly all white in 1988 to 68 percent white in 2010.

So Strickland and Morris set out to do what had never successfully been done before—to convert a white megachurch into a multiracial congregation.

They’re doing it.

Today, one out of five people who attends Hope is black. Of the 106 staff, 18 are nonwhite—including the senior pastor. The congregation sings hymns, contemporary Christian, and black gospel. Members work in predominately black, underresourced neighborhoods in north Memphis together through Hope’s community development corporation. They attend biannual three-day urban plunges and regularly spend eight weeks eating dinner with someone of another ethnicity.

Here’s the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s statement on women’s ordination (Position Paper, 1984):

Thus, while some churches may ordain women and some may decline to do so, neither position is essential to the existence of the church. Since people of good faith who equally love the Lord and hold to the infallibility of Scripture differ on this issue, and since uniformity of view and practice is not essential to the existence of the visible church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has chosen to leave this decision to the Spirit-guided consciences of particular congregations concerning the ordination of women as elders and deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of women as ministers.

It is in this context that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church states in its Book of Govern-ment, Chapter 6, titled “Rights Reserved to a Local Church” that “The local church has the right to elect its own officers” (6-2). This right is guaranteed in perpetuity.

Does this mean that race trumps gender?

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Tim Keller Plants, New York City Gives the Growth

In the ballpark of always affirming, always sunny religious journalism comes Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s puff piece on Tim Keller’s retirement at Redeemer NYC. I am not sure that this is the kind of analysis of context that Joe Carter had in mind for the Gospel Coalition’s journalistic forays:

The three main forms of journalism we use at TGC (opinion and advocacy journalism; reporting and narrative journalism; explanatory journalism) are all used to help the church think more clearly about the gospel and how it leads us to interact with the world.

Although, since Carter thinks journalism at TGC should promote revivals, Zylstra’s piece certainly does that. Her account shows, whether she intended or not, how much Keller’s position in New York City made him stand out in ways that no one else among the Allies could. If you do a word count on Zylstra’s story, she mentions the PCA twice, Presbyterian six times, and New York 37 times. As for the work of the Holy Spirit — nada.

If religious journalism at TGC is supposed to promote revivals, that would place Zylstra’s rendering of Keller more on the Finney than the Whitefield side of pretty good awakenings since Finney wasn’t big on the Holy Spirit either.

What I don’t understand is why Mark Dever doesn’t get more attention in the TGC world. There he is ministering in the nation’s capitol, the center of American power, the place from which the United States leads the free world. And yet, to get traction as an urban church planter you need the mojo of the nation’s biggest city, the place that nurtured and shaped Donald J. Trump.

What’s up with that?

This IS White Normativity

Maybe not, but who can imagine that regeneration washes away the perspective that comes with being a white man? Joe Carter, for instance, wrote a series on Christian journalism for the gospel allies that contains this nugget:

Almost all news stories we encounter are devoid of context. They assume we understand the broader background and that we have followed the details from previous iterations of the story. But most of us tend to “catch up” on a news item only when we have to, when we realize that a particular current event item is not going away that we should probably develop a basic awareness and understanding of why it’s important.

My role as an explanatory journalist is to “make complicated things clear, quickly” by reinserting some of the missing context. Again, this doesn’t take any unique skill. I’m able to do this not because of my own specialized knowledge but merely because I have the time, willingness, and patience to dig through a backlog of material to put together a few key details that might be useful to a casual consumer of news.

What does race do to Carter’s perspective? If, as Thabiti Anyabwile and other African-American pastors tell us, that white Americans can never escape the blinkers that filter their perceptions of the news of a black young man shot by police, how are the non-white readers of Carter going to trust the context he supplies? Won’t his perspective reflect white-middle-class America with a helping of Christianity on the side?

Or maybe regeneration is supposed to supply a better perspective. But since Carter and Anyabwile are both regenerate, then why do they see some news matters differently? So much for Christian w-w. More like ethnic/racial-Christian w-w.

When Carter further explains the work of the Christian journalist, he summons help from Tim Keller:

“When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out,” Keller says, “Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters. Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.”

This eschatological element motivates and frames the calling of the gospel-oriented journalist. The Christian journalist must constantly ask how, in the light of the gospel, we are to do God’s work of enlightening our neighbors with truth. Sometimes this means the work will have a definite and obvious gospel outcome (i.e., the article is explicitly biblical in the “Christian” genre). Other times it may mean that while the final product is indistinguishable from “secular” work (in the “common grace” sense), the journalistic process (the choosing of sources, the purpose for the writing, and so on) was guided by a commitment to the gospel.

This is where neo-Calvinist-like endeavors to claim every square inch break down. Journalism is properly a matter of providence, not redemption. Secular journalists, thanks to their creaturely capacities, have the ability to see and understand the real world in ways that escape Christians. Some of it may be IQ. Some of it may be more experience as a journalist and being skeptical about the claims that humans make. Regeneration doesn’t make someone a better journalist. One’s location in the created order — family, schooling, native ability, personal instincts — makes someone a better journalist.

Just the same, if Carter and Keller want to claim that the gospel makes Christians more interested in peace and justice in the world, they need to use that argument the next time that an African-American pastor or activist claims that white Christians “don’t get it.” If getting the gospel is what really matters for seeing things whole, Joe Carter is just as good a source on race relations at Ta-Nehisi Coates.

If Only Princeton Seminary had Read Sarah Posner on Tim Keller

They would have spared themselves a lot of grief (though one has to raise questions about Posner’s reasons for opining the way she does). Way back in 2009, the liberal journalist saw through the public relations success of New Calvinism’s favorite urban pastor/apologist:

Counterfeit Gods is an attractive, compact volume that a busy urbanite might tuck in his murse alongside his iPhone. It’s got a “there’s-an-app-for-that” sort of answer for the anxiety of contemporary city living. It’s a handy Jiminy Cricket to set you straight when you might be thinking of having sex with someone you’re not married to, contemplating a risky investment opportunity in the hopes of hitting the jackpot, or staying late at the office instead of having dinner with the family. While you’re at it, you might remind your spouse not to over-schedule the kids, because Jesus doesn’t like that, either.

Imagine: Wall Street casts its eyes upon Saint Timothy instead of Timothy Geithner! Dalton minus the uptight parents! A Manhattan nightlife free from casual sex! Coffee shops and bars purged of political ideology and discourse!

Such “counterfeit gods” ail the suburbs, too, but they are already saturated by big box mega-churches to counteract the false idols of Sam Walton-inspired strip malls and hyper-competitive Saturday morning soccer tournaments for six year-olds. Keller doesn’t bother with them. His schtick is to break into the untapped urban market for potential believers.

It’s hard to see, though, how New York’s wide swaths of spiritual diversity would take to Keller’s air of Christian superiority. For him, the Bible “comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right.” See? It’s that simple.

The focus isn’t eternal salvation, but rather remaking the cultural and political world. He offers a way of making sense of what Jerry Falwell-style fundamentalists might call the scourge of secular humanism. Instead of spiritual warfare against these satanic enemies, Keller asks his readers to confront them as biblical figures might have rejected false idols.

Thus, the hovering, over-protective mother might take lessons from Abraham: let God test your love for the children by letting them be free. The man who lusts for someone other than his wife might learn from Jacob’s misguided quest for the more beautiful Rachel. Jacob’s wife, Leah, provides cues for anyone looking for love and sex and transcendence in their romantic lives, rather than through God. The inevitable result of looking for everything in romantic love, Keller maintains, is “bitter disillusionment.”

One would think the Jacob-Leah story might yield some feminist deconstructions. But feminism, apparently, is also idolatry. Every such political ideology, Keller maintains, creates a sort of idolatry of its own. “An ideology,” he writes, “like an idol, is a limited, partial account of reality that is raised to the level of the final word on things.” Keller can’t see, somehow, that our body politic was designed to be secular, and that a religious prescription for its ills—itself portrayed as a final word—is one of the scourges that has, over the last four decades or so, led to the single-minded extremism he decries.

Keller is a favorite of flagship evangelical magazines like Christianity Today and World, but he receives glowing coverage in mainstream outlets as well. “While he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths,” observed a 2006 profile in the New York Times, “he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere.” Keller, the piece went on, “shies away from the label evangelical, which is often used to describe theologically conservative Protestant Christians like him, because of the political and fundamentalist connotations that now come with it. He prefers the term orthodox instead, because he believes in the importance of personal conversion or being ‘born again,’ and the full authority of the Bible.”

This assertion—that biblical orthodoxy is somehow apolitical—was put to the test recently when Keller became one of over 100 original signatories to the Manhattan Declaration unveiled on November 20th. Billed as a statement of “religious conscience,” the Manhattan Declaration is something more, something unmistakably fundamentalist and quintessentially political, a regurgitation of the religious right’s assertion that sexual and gender rights are somehow a threat to good Christians’ religious liberty.

What Am(mmmeeeEEEE) I Missing?

A few more observations about religious journalism after the news that Books & Culture is ending its run next month. A couple of evangelical academics have taken this news about the way that I felt when I heard that Chris Hughes had bought the New Republic and its editorial staff resigned.

According to Alan Jacobs:

For twenty-one years, Books and Culture has been one of the most consistently interesting magazines in the English-speaking world. I have often been surprised at the number and range of people who agree with me about that. Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.

Chris Gehrz seconds Jacobs:

… in any event, it’s certainly a good moment to celebrate what John Wilson has been able to accomplish over twenty years of editing B&C — and how much I appreciate that he has gone out of his way to encourage young authors and scholars. Thanks, John, and all those who have made Books & Culture possible these last twenty-one years.

Both authors mention personal ties to John Wilson and my own relations to the magazine no doubt inform my reaction to the news which is a measure of sadness, especially for people who are losing the jobs. But I can’t say I’ll miss B&C because I haven’t subscribed to it for years.

One reason was precisely those young writers that Gehrz believes John Wilson cultivated. For me that was a fault of John Wilson’s powers as gate keeper for what could have been the jewel in intellectual evangelicalism’s crown. If you want to point to the rich treasures of the evangelical mind, why not turn to its intellectual statesmen and make your publication evangelicalism’s go to place for your movement’s most insightful writers? But evangelicalism suffers from an implicit egalitarianism that elevates the ideas and opinions of the novice and untested to the same worth as the tried and true.

This was exactly what Leon Wieseltier refused to do with the New Republic. In the “back of the book” he turned to some of the academy’s best minds (including Mark Noll) and gave them lots of room to explore a range of ideas that — sorry — B&C never approximated.

Maybe it is apples and oranges, but I doubt Jean Bethke Elshtain could have evaluated Hillary Clinton for John Wilson the way she did for Wieseltier:

I am no a family-above-all person. Some families are rotten and the children in those families should be spirited to safety as quickly as possible. But truly rotten families are, thank God, few and far between. More commonly we have good enough families or almost good enough ones. How high do we place the threshhold in assessing good and bad parenting? Whose business is it anyway? Here Clinton makes one of the more lamentable moves in her book. She is dead-on about the importance of being attuned to the needs of infants, feeding them, cuddling them, holding them, but in a discussion of the fact that there is not “substitute for regular, undivided attention from parents” we learn that the “biggest difference” that emerged from a study she cites and endorses, was “in the sheer amount of talking that occurred” in various households. It is no surprise that Clinton favors the chattering classes, but she proceeds to malign poor and working-class parents because they interact less with their children….

Like Clinton, I recoil when I hear a parent shout at a child. I, too, cringe when a parent is curt, abrupt and dismissive. But I recognize that this is not the same thing as neglect, not the same thing as abuse. Perhaps, as the late Christopher Lasch insisted, the working-class or lower-middle-class style aims to instill in children a tough, early recognition that life is not a bowl of cherries, not a world in which everyone is telling you how great you are; that their lives will be carried out in a world in which they tasks they are suited for, the jobs they do, the lives they live, and even the way they talk (or do not talk) will be scrutinized and found wanting by their “betters.” I know that Clinton would argue, in response, that she means no invidious comparison. But the comparison is there and it is invidious. According to her book, the higher the income and education, the better the parenting, all other things being equal….Don’t get me wrong. As a general rule, children shouldn’t have to…[suffer]. And no group of children should be stuck in such a situation as a permanent condition. But life is hard, and its necessities bear down on people. In the light of such recognitions, it is best at times to restrain ourselves and not rush to intervene and fix everything and tell people struggling against enormous odds that they are doing a crummy job. Sometimes Clinton understands this, sometimes she doesn’t.

Humble Beginnings, Proud Endings

Can someone explain to me how you look at the Roman Catholic Church as a poor church for the poor? It’s as if Roman Catholicism was the Italian version of the Amish, and oh, isn’t so remarkable how different those believers live, how unattached they are to worldly things, how unencumbered they are by maintaining large institutions and edifices.

Has anyone been to Rome? 1362057705627

What set me off today was a piece about the humble homes in which John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis grew up. Fine. They may have had humble origins, but did the live on the streets of Rome outside Vatican City while occupying the office of pope? If indeed the papacy is an office, which it is, and the office transcends the man, then the phrase “papal apartment” should go with the residence of the Bishop of Rome, not the family residence back in the day of the man who occupies the office.

And to add a few pounds-per-square-inch to my tight jaws, Vatican News reported — aren’t journalists supposed to ask hard questions — gleefully Francis’ speech in which he distinguishes the common good from prosperity:

Francis then explained the difference between common good and prosperity. “It is so easy for us to become accustomed to the atmosphere of inequality all around us, with the result that we take it for granted. Without even being conscious of it, we confuse the ‘common good’ with ‘prosperity’, especially when we are the ones who enjoy that prosperity. Prosperity understood only in terms of material wealth has a tendency to become selfish, to defend private interests, to be unconcerned about others, and to give free rein to consumerism. Understood in this way, prosperity, instead of helping, breeds conflict and social disintegration; as it becomes more prevalent, it opens the door to the evil of corruption, which brings so much discouragement and damage in its wake.”

Again, what about consumerism in Rome, Vatican Museum shops, the postcards at the Vatican post office? Or what about the inequality between Vatican City and its residential neighbors? Or what about your own material well-being, and the fact that people treat the pope like royalty (which the popes themselves cultivated)? I understand that Pope Francis is trying to do without the papal grandeur. But is he flying coach?

If you don’t see that you may stand implicated in your own words, isn’t that a sign of limousine liberalism?

Speaking of Celebrity Pastors

I don’t know how many times I’ve read Roman Catholic authors complain about Pope Francis’ treatment in the press. Here‘s one of the latest:

Following Jesus without deviating will get you smeared every time.

I think it’s a rule of some sort, written by Satan a couple of thousand years ago.

It even happened to Jesus Himself when He walked this earth.

So … if somebody calls you names for following Him, say thank you. It’s always nice when someone notices your fidelity to Christ and pays it the ultimate compliment.

Pope Francis, who has been following right down the line on this Jesus thing, has drawn the usual verbal lightning down his own head by doing it. Just this morning, I read an article calling him, once again, a Communist for speaking out on behalf of the poor.

I believe this particular article accused him of “following Lenin” in response to the Holy Father’s linkage of economics and war. Because, you know, war has nothing to do with economics. By this logic President Dwight Eisenhower followed Lenin, too. . . .

At the other end of the wing nut comedian scale, we have a writer over at Salon who wastes a lot of band-width on her angst at learning that Pope Francis is Catholic. You know: pro life, pro traditional marriage and family; that kind of Catholic.

This author goes, alongside her right-wing-nut buddies, right past common sense and lands splat in a big barrel of mud. Instead of saying that the Vicar of Christ is in cahoots with Lenin, she informs us — with rageful venom that almost leaps through the screen and scorches the reader — that the pope is … ummmm … you know … a bigot, sexist, oppressor who supports pedophilia.

Nice shot, that last. And one that’s beginning to weary. I’ve been and will continue to be as outspoken as anybody about the failure of bishops to protect children from predatory priests. But there are pedophile protectors in just about every nook and cranny of this world of ours. We actually help victimize kids more by using this issue as a club to beat the Church with and ignoring everyone else.

In fact, I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that at least some of this outrage is just Catholic hating. The reason? I’ll give you two: Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. You need another reason? Go read Coreyography. Try the defense in trendy circles of egg harvesters who prey on young girls barely out of their teens. Or, consider the easy way the media pushed the baby-bodies-in-the-septic tank hoax. I could go on, but the examples rapidly get so ugly that I don’t want to talk about them.

If you want a pastor with universal jurisdiction to speak on all the problems in the world, do you really also think that he’ll get universal adoration? Not even “loyal” Roman Catholics give that kind of devotion to the pope. If Francis did not speak up so much or make himself so accessible to the press, he could avoid the cheap shots. But he would then be suspect for being too parochial or too spiritual.

Every celebrity is subject to scrutiny by the press. Look at Joe Paterno. You don’t like the limelight, get out off the stage.

Then again, in the world of Protestant celebrity pastors, the press doesn’t care and no one is asking hard questions. Rebecca Hamilton should be grateful that the pope is getting some scrutiny. Celebrity Protestant pastors hardly get any.