Evangelical History written by Mainline Presbyterian Abides

Some obsess about Jerry Falwell, Jr., other about Tim Keller. This time the latter obsession runs to Keller’s recommendation of a book that came out over forty years ago and remains seminal for him. Richard Lovelace’s Dynamics of Spiritual Life (1979) is what made Redeemer NYC tick. As Keller admits, “Anyone who knows my ministry and reads this book will say, ‘So that’s where Keller got all this stuff!'” (He has help from other allies.)

One oddity is thinking back to what you were reading forty years ago and then seeing whether it still holds up. Since Keller has ministered in NYC, he has read a lot of books that other pastors and theologians do not typically read — works in sociology, history, urbanism, journalism. He is the pastor as intellectual. Someone might think that reading historical scholarship over the course of a career would give you a different estimate of a history of revivalism, one not written for a university press and that reflects more the debates among 1970s evangelicals than it does what happened with Whitefield and Edwards. This is sort of like mmmmeeeEEE today recommending Francis Schaeffer’s He Is There and He Is Not Silent as the key to understanding God and revelation. After reading Schaeffer in the 1970s, I went on to read a number of theologians and confessions that let me know how little I had understood from reading Schaeffer (who at the time was a great aid). I now turn to Ursinus, Berhkof, Calvin, and Bavinck. Aren’t I special.

Equally odd but also perhaps revealing of Keller’s place in PCA dynamics are a number assertions and arguments that Lovelace, who was ordained as a minister in the PCUSA while teaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, makes about evangelicalism around the time the book was written. These may reveal less about planting churches or carrying out the ministry than they do about ways of perceiving the church in the United States.

Lovelace abounds in identifying the polarities of a dynamic and then shooting for the middle, the third way, which of course is classic Keller:

Currently our denominations seem to break down into two categories: smaller, conservative separatist bodies maintaining the pure church ideal with antisceptic discipline so strong that it occasionally sterilizes their own creativity; and the large, historical descendants of earlier separations, now so indiscriminately inclusive that to Evangelicals they resemble mission fields. Evangelicals themselves, similarly, are divided into those who might be characterized as white corpuscles, members of separated churches committed to rigorous discipline, and red corpuscles, those who have tried to adapt themselves to the large, pluralistic bodies in order to feed and serve their memberships. (291-92)

Notice the biological metaphors and think the Gospel Ecosystem.

Here’s another contrast that makes the way straight for the via media:

In the early twentieth century the immense thought storm of secular humanism, made up of apparently consistent and convincing alternates to the biblical world view, burst upon the church and shattered the clarity of its thinking and hence the unity of its forces. Live orthodoxy might have weathered the storm and risen to the educational challenge humanism presented, setting out to construct a consistently biblical counter-position which would seek to integrate all the new data pouring into human consciousness. But [Evangelicalism] broke into two. Half of it emulated the ostrich, turned its back on the culture, immersed its head in the biblical world and almost became an enculturated folk religion. The other half grappled with the task of integrating modern and biblical thought but often lost its biblical moorings and slipped away into another kind of enculturalst: conformity to the secular mind. (281)

Actually, that does remind me of Schaeffer, sweeping historical claims with remarkable confidence. A sentence distills a book and a century of developments (or not). Who does that after reading at all widely in history and knowing how accidental and contingent the past was?

Where you do see in Lovelace a forerunner to Keller’s operations is this:

What about transdenominational renewal within the ecumenical movement? We have noted above that there is already a functionally Evangelical ecumenical movement. The recognition of this fact is remarkably apparent in the recent admirable decision of the Presbyterian Church of America (the product of secession from the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches) not to form its own Department of Missions, but rather to use the existing network of interdenominational Evangelical faith missions to disseminate its Reformed doctrinal position throughout the church. (332)

Come to think of it, with Redeemer City-to-City in mind, the blueprint for Keller’s ministry very well have been in Lovelace’s book (except that City-to-City, though interdenominational, is not OMF International, Africa Inland Mission, and Ethnos 360).

See Tim Give Away the Covenant

If you are in the business of baptizing children, catechizing those same kids, encouraging parents to nurture their children, and if on top of all that you believe that God uses families (at least in a significant way) to build his church, I’m not sure how you can write this:

In China, Africa, and many other places in the world, Christianity is growing rapidly as those societies are modernizing. Then, as people come to Europe and the United States from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, they plant new churches or strengthen other ones that are growing and reaching those cities. Why? Because, while religion that’s inherited will decline in the modern age, religion that’s chosen will not. The growing Christian churches are evangelical and Pentecostal, and they emphasize the biblical call to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15) and the biblical teaching that we stand or fall on our own faith, not the choices of our family or community (Ezek. 18). These churches teach that vicarious, formal religion isn’t enough; there must be a radical, inward conversion (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 9:25; Rom. 2:29). Christianity that foregrounds these important biblical concepts and lifts up heart-changing personal faith can reach many contemporary people—and it can reach cities.

Why would a Presbyterian minister write this since he has subscribed teachings like these?

2. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness. (Confession of Faith, 24)

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (Confession of Faith, 25)

Just because you believe that infant baptism, catechesis, and covenant nurture is the way God ordained to advance the kingdom of grace does not mean you don’t evangelize or do missions. But don’t you at least have to tip the cap to the tradition in which you minister? Aren’t you as a Presbyterian supposed to believe in covenant children who, like Isaac, grew up never having known a day that you did not trust Jesus?

But if you read Richard Lovelace more than John Williamson Nevin — who is a lot hipper and accessible to urbanists than Hodge or Warfield — I guess you forget what happens to covenant children who try to convert:

I had come to college, a boy of strongly pious dispositions and exemplary religious habits, never doubting but that I was in some way a Christian, though it had not come with me yet (unfortunately) to what is called a public profession of religion. But now one of the first lessons inculcated on me indirectly by this unchurchly system, was that all this must pass for nothing, and that I must learn to look upon myself as an outcast from the family and kingdom of God, before I could come to be in either in the right way. Such, especially, was the instruction I came under, when a ‘revival of religion,’ as it was called, made its appearance among us, and brought all to a practical point. . . .

It was based throughout on the principle, that regeneration and conversion lay outside of the Church, had nothing to do with baptism and Christian education, required rather a looking away from all this as more a bar than a help to the process, and were to be sought only in the way of magical illapse or stroke from the Spirit of God;. . . An intense subjectivity, in one word — which is something always impotent and poor — took the place of a proper contemplation of the grand and glorious objectivities of the Christian life, in which all the true power of the Gospel at last lies. My own ‘experience’ in this way, at the time here under consideration, was not wholesome, but very morbid rather and weak.

Alas, where was mother, the Church, at the very time I most needed her fostering arms? Where was she, I mean, with her true sacramental sympathy and care? How much better it had been for me, if I had only been properly drawn forth from myself by some right soul-communication with the mysteries of the old Christian Creed. (My Own Life, 1870)

Rah Rah T(eam) G(ospel) C(oalition)

Justin Taylor recommends Richard Lovelace’s pro-revival book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, and shows the telltale faults of the gospel allies. Taylor praises a book that is more theology than history as a work of church history, and he reproduces endorsements from TGC heavyweights about how important Lovelace’s book was for their ministry and careers:

There is not another book quite like Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979).

It was published before Tim Keller and John Piper had written any popular books.

It was written back when Jonathan Edwards was hardly anybody’s homeboy.

It was written by an author who is a bit eccentric, but whose every page—agree or disagree—is worth wrestling with and pondering.

Tim Keller says that if you read this book, you’ll say that you now know where he got all his material. He still thinks we can’t do without this book.

David Powlison says he read the book multiple times in the 1980s.

Ray Ortlund has said that this book is rarely far from his thoughts.

So we have the problem of the veneer of uncontested scholarship followed by the problem of group think. Does anyone challenge Lovelace on historical or theological grounds? Or is Lovelace wonderful all the time because he means so much to TGC celebrities? (I suppose Justin has to adjudicate such questions sometimes as an editor at Crossway books but among TGC eminences such critical perspectives rarely arise.)

I ran a search of Lovelace’s book and discovered that it received no reviews in the standard historical journals (religious or secular). But at Reformed Journal, Mark Noll, then a relatively obscure young scholar, raised precisely the sort of concerns that should have dawned on Taylor, Tim Keller, Ray Ortlund, and David Powlison before praising the book in such glowing ways. Noll’s concerns are also those that confessional Protestants bring to the book:

The more diffuse second half of the book proposes programs for personal and parish renewal, while warning against emotional, spiritual, and theological errors which lead revivals astray. It contends for a faith that neglects neither personal spirituality nor doctrinal orthodoxy nor structural reform. It concludes with a potpourri of concerns pointing out the value to renewed Christians of remaining in their denominations, offering a blueprint for artistic revival among evangelicals, and stressing the need for a socially active faith.

The book attempts so much that it is bound to leave each reader unsatisfied at some points. To quibble, I found it strange that Lovelace would exalt Jonathan Edwards as a flawless model for ongoing spiritual renewal. However influential Edwards’ Narrative of Surprising Conversions was for the Great Awakening of the 1730’s and 1740’s, the message of renewal evidently did not permeate even Edwards’ own Northampton congregation, which dismissed him less than a decade after the flowering of the revival. Also, Lovelace’s repeated contrast between the spiritual vitality of today’s young people and the enculturated sterility of the older generation is naive.

More seriously, Lovelace exhibits a strange lack of concern for “steady state” Christianity. He focuses so intently upon the manifestations of spiritual renewal in local churches, denominations, and society as a whole—his enthusiasm is so great for the rare moments of dramatic spiritual quickening in Christian history—that he neglects what have been the day-in, day-out realities for most Christians in most eras of the church’s history. Work and family life, for instance, receive little attention here Yet if spiritual renewal is to be a sustaining presence in the church at large, it must certainly go beyond what theologians, preachers, denominational officials, and other professional Christian workers do for a living It must even go beyond what lay people do in devotion, worship, witness, and Christian social involvement. One group of Lovelace’s heroes, the Puritans, recognized the need for Christian renewal to remake relationships in the home and workplace. Yet, except for a few brief comments concerning “theological integration,” Lovelace seems content to leave untouched that artificial division between spiritual and secular worlds which has so bedeviled the church. (“Breadth and Longevity,” Nov. 1980)

Is Noll being unnice to suggest that Lovelace promises more than he delivers? Or that steady state Christianity (what some might call confessional Protestantism) is superior to the emotionally laden and earnest evangelicalism that Edwards promoted and for which the gospel allies are nostalgic? Are the gospel allies guilty of the same flaws as Lovelace? Who will compel them to see their weaknesses if critics don’t do it? If they refuse to listen to meanies like Old Life, how about Mark Noll?

Fewer high fives, more sobriety.

How Inorganic

Why do pseudo-Calvinists complain so much about mean Calvinists? If you thought much about total depravity in your own life, you might not be in a nice frame of mind during waking hours. Or if you pondered most of the Bible, saw what happens to law breakers or how Christ interacts with the self-righteous, you might not be inclined to don a yellow-happy-face pin. Or if you considered the majesty and sovereignty of God and tried to imagine how a holy and righteous God puts up with a world that — let’s say — falls short of his standards, your jaws might be tight a lot of the time. So why does Daniel Montgomery continue the meme of the Gospel Allies that TGC Calvinism is nice and other kinds aren’t? Do these folks actually think that Mr. Rogers is more interesting than Christopher Hitchens? Then why make avoidance of offense the hallmark of your brand?

The main point for considering Montgomery’s post, though, is an odd metaphor that he invokes from TKNY about theological vision (w-w anyone?):

Without the clarity of a comprehensive theological vision, we succumb to emphatic theology with no connection between all the different fragments of theology and the arenas of our lives. As Tim Keller argues, if theological confession is our hardware and methodological strategy our software, we desperately need the theological “middleware” of vision to bring our confession to life and inform our methodology. This is an extension of Richard Lints’s siren call in The Fabric of Theology. Reflecting on the necessity of having a coherent theological vision, Lints writes:

The Christian gospel calls us not only to a well-formed theistic matrix but also to make conscious connections between that matrix and the other matrices of our lives. What I believe about God ought to influence how I view my own identity, my vocation, my family, my leisure pursuits, and so on. It is this matrix of matrices that I have been calling the theological vision. It is composed more narrowly of the theistic matrix (what I will be calling a theological framework) and more broadly of the interconnections between the theistic matrix and all other matrices in one’s noetic structures. Theology involves not just the study of God (theistic matrix) but also the influence of that study on the rest of one’s life (theological vision). It is possible to distinguish these two levels, but they are never separable in practice.


One way to spot a true Kuyperian from a poser is to watch for metaphors. The more organic, the more Kuyperian since Abraham Kuyper himself everywhere employed images from the natural world — roots, branches, life-giving sources, the folk with ties to the fatherland. But Keller and Lovelace employ mechanical and even mathematical metaphors to try to explain the way that theology functions in Christian devotion.

I can’t think of a better way to remove a church’s confession from officers’ and church members’ consciousness than by likening it to computer hardware. If anything, ecclesiology is the hardware on which the software of confessions runs so that users may worship and serve God. But this is a poor analogy. I prefer the stool (preferably handmade) to the computer. Confessional Presbyterianism is like a three-legged stool with polity, confession, and liturgy each constituting a leg. Remove one and confessional Presbyterianism falls and confessional Presbyterians land on their arses.

But TKNY’s computing metaphor may explain the dynamics of TGC. When your fellowship is digital and web-based, you may wind up treating doctrine like computer hardware — invisible and beyond your competency. Keller may explain more than he knows.

By the way, Montgomery quotes Piper on the appeal of Calvinism to a certain type of person:

There is an attractiveness about [the doctrines of grace] to some people, in large matter, because of their intellectual rigor. They are powerfully coherent doctrines, and certain kinds of minds are drawn to that. And those kinds of minds tend to be argumentative. So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic. I’ll just confess that. It’s a sad and terrible thing that that’s the case. Some of this type aren’t even Christians, I think. You can embrace a system of theology and not even be born again.

Obviously, Piper has never encountered Jason and the Callers.

New England Theology Unmedicated

For all of the efforts to link certain contested views with a southern California city, why has no one spotted the ties between Tim Keller, Tim Bayly, David Bayly, Richard Lovelace, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary? Why not a South Hamilton Theology? After all, all of the above (except for the seminary, which is independent like Westminster California), are Presbyterians of the New School variety. That is, unlike the Old School which at least made a place for the spirituality of the church as part of its understanding of ministry, these New England New Schoolers believe the church should transform culture. It may be the hard transformation advocated by the Baylys, or the soft variety coming out of Keller’s Redeemer NYC. But it is transformation nonetheless and it goes hand in hand with Lovelace’s high esteem for revivalism, pietism, and the quest for personal and social holiness.

Speaking of hard, the Baylys’ recent rant about 2k is jaw dropping in its invective. Here are a few savory bits:

The brave members of the Escondido Theology R2K Sanhedrin out at Westminster Seminary (Escondido) wage war against pastors and elders who warn their flocks and neighbors about the growing bloodshed and totalitarianism of these United States. Old people are regularly murdered, little babies are subject to the wholesale slaughter protected by SCOTUS and all its law enforcement apparatus, these evils will only grow under Obamacare’s nationalized healthcare…

Meanwhile the R2K Sanhedrin is desperate to silence all those Reformed voices speaking out against the Third Reichification of nursing homes and hospitals and Ethical Review Committees.

You have, of course, noticed all those Reformed pastors and elders speaking out against the Third Reichification of our hospitals and nursing homes, haven’t you? Likely you yourself have a Reformed pastor or session in your own community that regularly pickets your county nursing home. Your hospital. A graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary who writes letters to your state’s board of medical ethics…

Aside from mixing up their seminaries — coherence is not one of the Baylys’ long suits — where do you go from an introduction like this? How about here?

Even if we thought the Escondido Theology R2K storm troopers were right in calling down fire from Heaven on pastors betraying their Gospel calling for politics, we’d look around and wonder where on earth these pastors and sessions are? I mean I have a pretty broad knowledge of the Reformed church in these United States and, for the life of me, I can’t think of even a single church anywhere that lets out a peep about politics or takes the first step toward clothing the naked public square as righteous Lot did.

These R2K men working hard to gag Reformed pastors and elders really have no one at all to gag. And they know it.

This may explain the reference in the title to medication. One of the indications of mania is conspiratorial thinking, which doesn’t let contrary evidence get in the way, no matter how close at hand it is. The piece of evidence that might challenge this hysteria is the fact that no one has yet to shut down the Bayly Blog and it would be good of Tim and David to produce evidence of anyone attempting to silence them.

But the fault in my logic could be that I don’t understand that for the Baylys disagreement constitutes tyranny. Just look at the way they jump from the martyrs of the early church (who last I checked actually lost their lives) to the contemporary social conservatives (who merely lose the respect of their fellow citizens, especially if they follow the logic of the Baylys).

Intolleristas are bloodthirsty for exclusivists. It was this way with the Early Church under Rome and it’s this way with the Late Church under Western Secularism. Separation of church and state is the death of Christian evangelism and discipleship unless Christian evangelism and discipleship becomes as vapid as the R2K monomaniacs.

Christian life, worship, evangelism, and discipleship are utterly incompatible with Western Secularism’s pluralism. Every single time a man under the Lordship of Jesus Christ tries to clothe our naked public squares, he will be shouted down by those convinced they don’t have gods and they don’t worship and they are as broad-minded and tolerant as can be.

And if that man escapes the priests and priestesses of tolerance, on the way home he’ll be cornered by the R2K Sanhedrin who will beat the tar out of him for giving Reformed copaceticdom a bad name.

I keep thinking that at some point some of the folks who have it in for 2k will back away from their prejudices because of nonsense like the Baylys’. It would be like the kind of angst that fans of Indiana University basketball experienced when Bobby Knight was doing his impersonation of John McEnroe. You might still root against 2k, but you might also begin to think that the case needs a better expression. But apparently critics of 2k are so opposed that they will turn a blind eye to God’s law and common decency.

That Tears It, I'm Joining the Gospel Coalition

There I may be appreciated finally (since it is all about me, after all).

First it was Bryan Chapell video”>saying something very 2kish about the United States as a Christian nation. His answer was essentially, no. And that answer goes well with the 2k idea that the only Christian nation that ever existed was the state of Israel before the coming of Christ. Since that political order is no longer part of God’s redemptive plan, and since the institution God is now using to establish his kingdom — as in the WCF’s assertion that the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (25.2) — Chapell seems to give 2kers room to maneuver within the Gospel Coalition without fear of being fear mongered.

Now comes an interview with Tim Keller where he encounters “This is Your Life” in a long interview. Part of his reflections on his theological formation includes the influence of Meredith Kline’s covenant theology for a redemptive historical understanding of justification by faith alone. Of course, Keller’s testimony is not solidly 2k since he also affirms Richard Lovelace’s scientific historical explanations of how revivals happen and Jack Miller’s pastoral practices in the New Life Presbyterian movement. But he does not flinch from affirming an Old Testament scholar who will in some conservative Reformed circles merit a thirteen-part series on how some Reformed authors are abandoning the faith once delivered to Kuyper.

So in conservative Reformed circles denying America’s Christian origins and affirming Meredith Kline’s teaching can get you sentenced to neo-Calvinist jail, but over at the Gospel Coalition the allies seem to think such ideas are neat.

Have I found a home, or what?