When Pastors Talk about Politics without Righteousness

Sometimes pastors make sense.

This makes me think about the issues that are most important to me. Here is a list that is neither exhaustive nor in any particular order:

1) respect for the Constitution while not treating it as divinely inspired, inerrant, and infallible.
2) appointment of judges who can say with Scalia, “I’m a textualist; I’m an originalist; but I’m not a nut;” judges who will do the “legal” not the “right” thing,
3) repeal and replacement of the ACA but not in a way that says the only way to deal with the distribution of healthcare is to let the market decide who gets what, with the results mitigated only by private charity,
4) reform of immigration in a realistic, rational, and compassionate way that does not attempt the impossible, the deportation of 11 million+ people, but does slow to a trickle the influx of illegals,
5) ending partial birth abortion and reducing all abortions through through persuasion and legislation,
6) reduction of the size and intrusiveness of the federal government, pushing more decisions and control down to the states and individuals,
7) increase of American military strength and flexibility with the ability of the US to project power internationally when necessary.
8) dealing with the deficit and balancing the budget, which will require difficult and painful decisions and actions, in a rational, practical, gradual manner,
9) preservation and reform of Medicare and Social Security by putting them on a sound fiscal footing so that they are viable for the future,
10) reduction of restrictions on individuals and businesses that keep them from thriving, but not on the assumption that free market results are a revelation of the divine will,
11) protection of the freedoms of the churches to preach, teach, and practice Christian truth and morality without review or interference by government, while protecting the rights of all persons to act in accord with their consciences so long as their actions do not actively interfere with the rights of other citizens under the law,
12) assurance of the civil rights of all persons and protection of their freedom to achieve all that they can within the limits of their ability, allowing neither discrimination nor preferential treatment to prevent or guarantee outcomes.

When I look at my list I find it is based on my political philosophy and principles, on prudence and common sense, and on preferences. I do not believe they are derived from the Bible or are an expression of my Christian faith.

Are David Robertson and Rick Phillips paying attention?

Meanwhile Presbyterians Are Separated by More than An Ocean

But they are unified in not practicing the spirituality of the church.

Rick Phillips started the kerfuffle by declaring socialism evil:

So, biblically speaking, why is socialism evil? Let me suggest three reasons:
1. Because socialism is a system based on stealing;
2. Because socialism is an anti-work system; and
3. Because socialism concentrates the power to do evil.

Even without nude scenes, that seemed to be a pretty easy call.

But David Robertson disagrees and — get this — thinks Reformation 21 is too political (has the Moderate of the Free Church missed a chance to weigh in on Scottish politics?). So he tries to correct Phillips and in so doing regards socialism as more loving than capitalism:

Firstly, in the socialist system the idea is meant to be common ownership, not a handful of people controlling or owning it all. (The fact that this does not often happen is a testimony to human sinfulness, not the inherent evil of the system).

Secondly, Capitalism is not primarily about individuals working hard to produce wealth. They work within systems. Sometimes those systems can be corrupt; bribery, greed, exploitation (refusing to pay the workers their due reward cf. James) and corruption are as endemic within the capitalist system, as they are within any socialist system.

Thirdly it is unfettered free market Capitalism, not Socialism, which is concentrating the power to do evil in the hands of a few. It is the big corporations, headed up by a very few wealthy individuals who are pushing the LGBT agenda in the US and elsewhere. It is they who are seeking to negotiate trade agreements that take them out of democratic control and leave them free to regulate their own affairs and control their massive wealth.

But this does not stop Mr Phillips hyperbole. In Socialism everyone is impoverished, everyone is in slavery and a culture of corruption is always produced. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the crass ignorance and grotesque cultural pride on display here. When I first went to the US I couldn’t believe what I saw with my own eyes in some American cities, in the richest country in the world. There was a level of third world poverty and degradation that should have been a shame to any civilised society – but no, some (rich) American evangelicals saw the evils of socialist Sweden, rather than the sick of St Louis.

Robertson even tries to get the upper hand by telling American Presbyterians not to identify so much with the United States:

In this theology, American Capitalism is the essence of America, which is in turn the essence of Christianity. To criticise Capitalism (or at least refusing to agree that Socialism is de facto evil) is apparently unchristian, unbiblical and unconfessional – which is presumably why the Alliance of CONFESSING Evangelicals allowed this post. I don’t confess that socialism is evil, and if the Free Church ever was daft enough to add another chapter to the Westminster Confession stating that it was, I guess I would be out of a job! The equation of the Gospel of Jesus with ANY of the kingdoms of this world has always been a disaster.

Again, this is rich coming from a pastor who regularly comments on Scotland’s political affairs.

Imagine if pastors had to stick to their competency — the word of God. They might recommend authors with a better grasp of politics and economics, people who don’t merely dabble or pontificate.

When All Means Some

One of the favorite arguments of Neo-Calvinists is to go to Col 1 to support every-square inch Christianity:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

But Rick Phillips puts limits on “all”:

What are some of the things that I have through the gospel of Jesus Christ? The answer is the cornucopia of salvation theology! I have justification so as to be accepted before God’s justice. I have adoption so as to be embraced into God’s fatherly love as a beloved child. I have sanctification as the Holy Spirit graciously works within me. And I have glorification, as the return of Christ is destined to admit him into his eternal presence. Through the gospel, I have the past, where Jesus lived and died on my behalf; I have the present, in which I am kept for eternal life by God’s grace; and I have the future, which holds no fear for those who are treasured in the hand of the Almighty. Through the gospel I have heaven, where my name is enrolled forever, and I have earth, over which my Savior exercises all power and authority. I have Christian fellowship through communion with the saints and I have participation in the church with its ordinances of nurture and care. Through the gospel I have perfect liberty to live above the world and sin and I have beloved bondage as a willing slave to Jesus Christ. Through the gospel, I have a new nature that partakes of the character of God, and I have the blessing of the law of God to guide me in the way of life. I have the Word of God shining within. I have prayer, which grants access to the very throne of grace. I have the sacraments, bearing the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. I have worship, service, sacrifice, and solace. Most of all, best of all, I have Jesus Christ – the whole Jesus Christ: Lord and Savior; Prophet, Priest, and King; Master, Helper, and Friend. And in union with Jesus Christ, together with communion in the gifts and graces of his blessed kingdom, through the gospel, I truly have all things!

That sounds like the Confession of Faith on Christian liberty:

The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the curse of the moral law; and, in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin; from the evil of afflictions, the sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation; as also, in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a childlike love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law. But, under the new testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of. (20.1)

In other words, that sounds like an otherworldly faith, not one that redeems cities, plumbing, and foreign policy.

I’m okay with that.

Could Christ Have Preached Christ and Him Crucified?

Rick Phillips introduces a tension — though that was not his intention — between Jesus’ preaching and Paul’s. We have the old was-Paul-the-second-founder-of-Christianity problem.

Here‘s is what Christ preached according to Phillips:

I noted 4 main types of ministry emphases highlighted by Jesus in Mark:

1. Jesus declaring his deity as Messiah, together with his teaching about God and salvation (i.e. theology and redemptive history).

2. Jesus preaching the gospel: pointing out his hearers’ need to be forgiven and God’s wonderful remedy through his saving work. Included here would be calls to prospective disciples to believe and follow Jesus.

3. Jesus training and reproving his disciples, including ethical and spiritual instruction and his call to evangelistic labor.

4. Jesus exposing false teachers and religious opposition. This includes the confronting and correcting of false doctrine.

And here is how Paul described his preaching:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)

Again, I don’t think Phillips is trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul, but the way he frames the question does lead in that direction — one that contrasts the way Jesus preached with the way his disciples did (think of Peter in Acts 2). Why isn’t it the case that Jesus is NOT a model for post-ascension preaching — nor is John the Baptist. Until the main event of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the preaching of biblical prophets is going to be types and shadows. Think Geerhardus Vos.

And also think Marilyn Robinson. This is what can happen if you use Jesus as your model for preaching and leave out Paul:

Since these folk claim to be defenders of embattled Christianity (under siege by liberalism, as they would have it), they might be struck by the passage in Matthew 25 in which Jesus says, identifying himself with the poorest, “I was hungry, and ye fed me not.” This is the parable in hallowed be your name which Jesus portrays himself as eschatological judge and in which he separates “the nations.” It should surely be noted that he does not apply any standard of creed – of purity or of orthodoxy – in deciding whom to save and whom to damn. This seems to me a valuable insight into what Jesus himself might consider fundamental. To those who have not recognized him in the hungry and the naked, he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.” Neofundamentalists seem to crave this sort of language – more than they might if they were to consider its context here. It is the teaching of the Bible passim that God has confided us very largely to one another’s care, but that in doing so he has in no degree detached himself from us. Indeed, in this parable Jesus would seem to push beyond the image of God as final judge to describe an immanence of God in humankind that makes judgment present and continuous, and that in effect makes our victim our judge. Neither here nor anywhere else in the Bible is there the slightest suggestion that our judge/victim would find a plea of economic rationalism extenuating. This supposed new Awakening is to the first two Awakenings, and this neofundamentalism is to the first fundamentalism, as the New Right is to the New Deal, or as matter is to antimatter’.

Move Over Kim Davis, Say Hello to Charee Stanley

Today’s news brings this item:

A Muslim flight attendant said the Atlanta-based airline ExpressJet suspended her for refusing to serve alcohol, a practice that is against her religious beliefs.

Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week, saying she wants to do her job without serving alcohol, as she was doing before her suspension, her lawyer said.

Lena Masri, an attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said no one “should have to choose between their career and religion.” Employers, she told CNN, must “provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely.”

Stanley, 40, began working for ExpressJet nearly three years ago. She later converted to Islam and only learned earlier this year that her faith prohibits her both from serving alcohol and consuming it. She approached a supervisor on June 1, Masri said, and was told to work out an arrangement with other flight attendants.

“We know that this arrangement has worked beautifully and without incident and that it hasn’t caused any undue burden on the airline,” Masri said.

But she said a co-worker filed a complaint on August 2, saying Stanley was not fulfilling her duties. The complaint, which Masri characterized as “Islamophobic,” also said Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and wore a head scarf.

On August 25, the airline told Stanley it was revoking its religious accommodation and placing her on administrative leave.

So I wonder if Rick Phillips’ reasons for supporting Kim Davis would apply to Charee Stanley.

Kim Davis is not violating but rather upholding Romans 13:1, which says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

Hard to say that of Stanley since she is not pretending to follow the apostle Paul.

Kim Davis is fulfilling her God-given duty as the lesser magistrate.

Again, some disconnect here since flight attendants work in the private sector, not like county clerks. But since Stanley is an American and in a democracy all citizens are magistrates, Phillips’ reason applies.

Kim Davis is being persecuted for her Christian faith by hypocritical and tyrannical powers.

Chances are that Stanley is the object of more discrimination than Davis, numbers being what they are and Christians forming the demographic majority in the United States (where Islam is still an acquired taste). But Stanley’s case could remind Christians that they don’t need to be paranoid. Everyone experiences some kind of discrimination. The authorities don’t single out Christians.

Kim Davis is demonstrating the power of the grace of God in salvation.

Stanley clearly fails on this one unless you want to find some kind of common plan of salvation among the Abrahamic faiths. On the other hand, can Rick Phillips be so sure about what Davis means? That doesn’t mean that we know what her non-Christian or discomforting meaning is. But why, with all the baggage surrounding her, would you be so confidant?

Consider how Rod Dreher saw Davis’ release from jail:

She comes out of jail with that cheesy 1980s song “Eye of the Tiger” playing, and mounts the stage, holding hands with Huck, and giving God the glory. Now, religious liberty — our most precious freedom — is associated in the mind of the public with ersatz culture-war pageantry orchestrated by a cynical Republican presidential candidate.

I thought Ted Cruz’s turning up at the Middle Eastern bishops meeting and bashing them was the most cynical move I had ever seen by a Christian Right politician, but Huckabee may have bested that. The Family Research Council and other Christian, Inc. lobbyists are already writing the fundraising appeals, you can bet. And you can also bet that they’re bending the ear of clueless House Republicans to get them to propose provocative religious liberty legislation that stands no chance of passing, but every chance of discrediting the cause in the public’s eye. (In fact, I was told last night by someone deeply involved in this issue at the Congressional level that this is exactly what is happening.)

So I’m angry about this. Huckabee and Cruz, but especially Huckabee, are doing wonders to inject juice into their own presidential campaigns, but the political cost to the long-term good of orthodox Christians will be severe. But hey, we’ve Made A Statement, and demonstrating our emotions (and, while we’re at it, raising some money for GOP candidates and Christian advocacy groups) is the most important thing.

For conservative Christians who don’t understand why we should care about the political effect of the Kim Davis debacle, and the optics of yesterday’s release rally, I want you to consider how it would appear to you if Hillary Clinton staged a rally against police brutality around the release from jail of a West Baltimore thug who had been roughed up by the cops as they were arresting him for shooting up a neighborhood. The gangster takes the stage to the sound of gangsta rap, wearing pants hanging off his butt, with cornrowed hair and covered in tattoos.

It could well be that Hillary’s principles were in order, and an important principle was at stake. But think of how the imagery of celebrating this guy like that would make you feel. How sympathetic would you be to the worthy cause of fighting police brutality after that display? If fighting police brutality means having to stand with a victim like that, would most people be more inclined to join the cause?

Look, I’m not comparing Kim Davis to a gangbanger. What I’m telling you is how this situation, especially yesterday’s celebration, looks to a whole lot of people outside our bubble. And it matters. It matters to all of us. Our side has no leadership, only opportunists leading the mob.

If only Christians could lower the stakes. Turn this into a simple case of religious freedom, then you don’t need to baptize Kim Davis as the most devout follower of Jesus Christ. You simply point out the problems of the recent Supreme Court decision for all people who might object to same sex marriage. And if it’s only about religious freedom, maybe you also defend Charee Stanley and gain some street cred with non-Christians.

But when the forces of Christianity, the Constitution, and the GOP line up in one seamless whole of goodness and truth, more than Houston has a problem.

Can You Confess Sins To Yourself?

Rick Phillips’ post about corporate confession of sins got me thinking about the PCA’s proposed resolution on race and civil rights. That personal resolution from Ligon Duncan and Sean Lucas confesses the church’s complicity with racial injustice.

Phillips attempts to find a biblical procedure for such confession.

But if he were to use the Book of Discipline from his sister communion, the OPC, he’d find judicial processes laid out quite thoroughly.

I imagine the General Assembly of the PCA would come as its own accuser:

When a person comes before a judicatory as his own accuser, the judicatory may proceed to judgment without full process, determining first, what offense, if any has been committed, and, if a serious offense (cf. Chapter III, Section 7.b [6]) has been committed, what censure shall be pronounced. (5.1)

Next comes the the work of the trial judicatory in establishing the seriousness of the sin and determining the level of censure:

In judicial discipline there are five degrees of censure: admonition, rebuke, suspension, deposition, and excommunication. Censures shall be pronounced in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, as an act of the whole church, by the moderator on behalf of the trial judicatory. (6.A.1)

This raises a real problem since everyone in this scenario would be guilty of the sin and so finding someone to serve on the trial judicatory could be difficult if not impossible. Everyone is guilty. Can the sinner determine his own form of censure? Would he not have mixed motives?

And then there is the question of the sin’s seriousness. What kind of censure will the PCA General Assembly apply to itself?

1. Admonition

Admonition consists in tenderly and solemnly confronting the offender with his sin, warning him of his danger, and exhorting him to repentance and to greater fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Rebuke

Rebuke is a form of censure more severe than admonition. It consists in setting forth the serious character of the offense, reproving the offender, and exhorting him to repentance and to more perfect fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. Suspension

a. Suspension is a form of censure by which one is deprived of the privileges of membership in the church, of office, or of both. It may be for a definite or an indefinite time. Suspension of an officer from the privileges of membership shall always be accompanied by suspension from office, but the latter does not necessarily involve the former.

b. An officer or other member of the church, while under suspension, shall be the object of deep solicitude and earnest dealing to the end that he may be restored. When the trial judicatory which pronounced the censure is satisfied of the penitence of the offender, or when the time of suspension has expired, the censure shall be removed and the offender shall be restored. This restoration shall be accompanied by a solemn admonition. Restoration to the privileges of membership may take place without restoration to those of office.

c. When a minister has been indefinitely suspended, the judicatory shall immediately notify all the presbyteries of the church.

4. Deposition

a. Deposition is a form of censure more severe than suspension. It consists in a solemn declaration by the trial judicatory that the offender is no longer an officer in the church.

b. When a minister is deposed from his office, the presbytery shall erase his name from the roll of the ministerial members of the presbytery and dismiss him to a particular church or enroll him as a member of the regional church without membership in a particular church.

c. Deposition of a pastor or his suspension for an indefinite time involves the dissolution of the pastoral tie. The sentence of deposition or suspension shall be read before the congregation, and the pulpit shall be declared vacant. In case of suspension for a definite period the presbytery, after giving the session an opportunity to be heard, shall decide whether the pastoral relation shall be dissolved.

d. When a minister has been deposed, the judicatory shall immediately notify all the presbyteries of the church.

5. Excommunication

Excommunication is the most severe form of censure and is resorted to only in cases of offenses aggravated by persistent impenitence. It consists in a solemn declaration by an ecclesiastical judicatory that the offender is no longer considered a member of the body of Christ. (6.B)

Depending on to whom you listen, racism is pretty grievous sin. But if it were sufficiently serious that the PCA General Assembly pronounced a censure of Deposition on itself, the recent graduates of Reformed seminaries might be grateful for the new calls available, but is the Assembly really prepared to wipe out its entire set of elders and deacons? Depose Tim Keller?

But if the Assembly only rebukes itself, would those most offended by racism be satisfied?

I wonder if those who support this corporate confession of sin understand how complicated it might be.

Al Mohler To the Rescue

I have often thought of the PCA as Southern Baptists who sometimes baptize infants. The autonomy of PCA congregations, the convention-like atmosphere of the General Assembly, and the original southerness of the PCA are reasons for the comparison. To be fair, the OPC is likely the Presbyterian equivalent of Reformed Baptists. Our assemblies work twelve hours a day (minus meals and devotions), we take doctrine seriously, and we can be ornery about baptizing infants (just as Reformed Baptists can be tenacious about dedicating babies). The difference between the PCA and the OPC is like that between the superintendent of schools in a county outside Birmingham and a plumber who fixes toilets in the suburbs of Toledo.

If this comparison has any merit, then perhaps the most famous Calvinist in the SBC can work out what ails the PCA. Once again the theological doctors have taken out their thermometers and found the patient in need of some program either for six-pack abs or foods that counteract stress. The rest of the ecclesiastical world seems to receive these reports every five years or so. Word of encouragement to other denominations: if you’re not asking what’s broke, you’re probably okay in a church militant sense. What is curious about Bryan Chappell’s assessment and Rick Phillips’ reply is how much the culture matters to each side of the PCA.

For Chapell, the division between traditionalists and progressives breaks down precisely along culture-war lines. His desire to avoid the culture wars is precisely why the BBs confuse the PCA hipsters with 2k even though 2kers avoid the culture wars not to avoid embarrassment but for spirituality of the church reasons. Chapell writes:

The generation that is 50-plus years old was raised in a time of perceived Christian-majority culture; according to Francis Schaeffer it was the time of “Christian consensus.”

The priority of many evangelical Christians who matured in that cultural context was to mobilize this “silent majority” in order to control the religious and political processes of the nation to halt cultural erosion (e.g., Schaeffer’s “A Day of Sober Rejoicing” delivered at the General Assembly marking the RPCES’s “Joining and Receiving” with the PCA). These dynamics created a “Halt” mission for Christians of that generation. The goals: Halt abortion, pornography, drugs, promiscuity, tree huggers, socialism, liberalism, and illegal immigration.

By contrast, Christians in the generation that is 40-minus years old have never perceived themselves as a majority but always as a minority in a pluralistic culture. As a consequence, this generation’s calling is perceived not as gaining control, but as gaining credibility to deal with an already eroded culture.

The need to win a hearing for a credible faith has resulted in a “Help” mission for this generation’s church leaders. The goals: Help orphans (to counter abortion through adoption), AIDS sufferers (to win a Gospel hearing from gays and a gay-sympathetic culture), sex-trafficking victims, addicts (enslaved by chemical, gambling, gaming, body-image, or sexual brokenness), the environment (to teach the world that we are stewards of God’s creation), and poor and oppressed foreigners within our borders.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates these generational differences than the way many Christian leaders feel about major figures in prior conservative Christian movements. To mention Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson, James Kennedy, and Chuck Colson is to identify the heroes of the 50-plus generation. Church leaders of that generation are shocked to discover that younger leaders consider these figures exemplars of failure, representing attitudes and approaches that have led to the church’s cultural ineffectiveness.

Phillips responds:

“But we are being culturally isolated!” progressives respond! Our answer is that we are indeed, just as the Chinese Christians were culturally isolated under Maoism and as the early Christians were culturally isolated as they were marched into the Coliseum to be fed to the lions. Both of those groups ended up doing pretty well. Now, we do lament this isolation, mainly because we earnestly expect that we will soon be fed to the lions, so to speak, or at least excluded to cultural gulags. What we do not understand is why cultural persecution is a cause for cultural accommodation, as if Christ had anything to fear from Caesar or the cultural elites. The confessionalist concern is whether we will stand with our fellow courageous Christians who are being slaughtered around the world because they will not bend the knee to an imperious pagan culture and with the saints of the early church as they were urged by Christ in Revelation, or whether we will cringe before the powers of cultural elitism in the media, government, and entertainment structures. A statement like this may come across as religious arrogance, and for this we are sorry, but we simply want to join the ranks of those who conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” not loving our lives even to death (Rev. 12:11). We want this not because we have embraced a traditionalist martyr complex but because we sincerely believe that this is the best way both to love God and to love the world.

This is not at all to say that Christian courage and reliance on divine grace are the exclusive province of the confessional wing of our church. We know that this valor is shared in all factions of the PCA. What we do not understand is how this leads to a strategy of cultural engagement in which the assumptions of a spiritually rebellious culture are embraced as an evangelistic starting point.

Parenthetically, let me pause to ask where these cultural attitudes put TKNY. If the culture is so broken (Chapell), and so hostile (Phillips), then why is it that the culture thinks so well of Redeemer Presbyterian Church? Or why has that NYC congregation to which professionals, artists, journalists, and movers and shakers in the culture — as we constantly hear — become the model for PCA church planting in North America? Would Tim Keller share either Chapell’s or Phillips’ assessment of “the culture”? Or should more pastors in the PCA join Bill Smith in the REC?

But this is where Al Mohler can help. Chapell is truly troubled by the pluralism that he sees in the United States:

Right now our eyes are not focused on pluralism as our greatest enemy. We are more focused on what others in our ranks are doing or not doing. Debates about charismatic gifts are unlikely to divide us. Discussions about the role of women will continue to marginalize us but probably will not break us. Dealing with changing sexual mores may drive our youth away but will probably not divide us. All these issues are secondary to the challenges of pluralism.

Does Chapell want to return to 14th-century Italy or 16th-century Massachusetts Bay colony? “Enemy” sounds hostile, war-like, more Benedict than Eusebius.

In effect, Phillips agrees that pluralism is a danger, whether it’s tolerating wrong views about race or sex:

Confessionalists note with concern the different strategies taken by progressives today regarding homosexuality versus our past strategy concerning sins like racism. One of the better moments in the PCA took place when our denomination boldly repudiated and rebuked racism, without seeking permission or giving apology, an action in which you and I were actively joined. On that occasion, no one complained that we were alienating the racists by speaking so forthrightly from Scripture. So why is that charge made when we seek to speak biblically regarding homosexuality and other sexual perversions? Is it because while racism is reviled by the culture, homosexuality is celebrated by the culture? Do we, then, only confront boldly those sins which the culture also hates, while accommodating those that it loves? Why would we do this? Where does this assumption come from that we must blur the Bible’s anathema of sexual perversion and concede ground as an initial stage in our witness to homosexuals?

But since Al Mohler is on THE council of the Gospel Coalition with Bryan Chapell and Tim Keller, an organization that Phillips supports, and since Al is also part of Together for the Gospel with Lig Duncan, one of Phillips’ associates among PCA conservatives, perhaps the difference between the two sides is not as great as each man thinks.

The parachurch, with help from Southern Baptists, will lead them.

From DGH on Can Humans Merit Before God Submitted (2) on 2015 04 23 at 12:42 pm


We need to stop meeting like this. I am still unsure why you keep pushing the dogmatic boundaries on grace, merit, the covenant of works, and the satisfaction of Christ. Perhaps you’ll recall that Rick Phillips tried to moderate your views a year ago. But you persist in ways that might have even caused Norman Shepherd embarrassment. He was not someone to show off.

Since you and Rick have gone round and around again, I only want to add two cents (same in Canadian dollars).

First, you insist that words need to mean what they mean.

Professor VanDrunen does not define “merit”. He seems to make the argument that because Christ, the true image bearer, merited before God, Adam, as an image-bearer, also could have merited before God. In his quote there appears to be a one-to-one correlation between the merit of Christ and the merit of Adam. This is questionable ground, in my view. He needs to define merit, otherwise we are left guessing, at best, what he means. Is he departing from what the Reformed scholastics meant by merit or agreeing with them?

Great. O lexicographer define thyself’s words:

There are important Christological reasons why Christ could merit, but Adam could not. If our understanding of what constitutes a meritorious work follows the Reformed scholastics, then the answer is quite simple: the dignity of Christ’s person (as theanthropos) explains why he, and he alone, could merit before God.

Sorry, that’s not a definition. So why hold Dave VanDrunen (or the objects of your criticism) to a standard that you don’t meet? Are you special like Jesus? Sorry if that’s a bit snarky, but in previous posts you have compared Jesus to believers, so it’s both fair and snarky.

Second, “voluntary condescension” is not grace. If we are going to insist on the exact meaning of words, then again you can’t pour grace into that phrase from the Confession (though I guess you can because Canada is a free country like the U.S.).

What I particularly don’t understand (howl if you like here) is why you keep stating that the covenant with Adam could not have been meritorious because the reward would have been disproportionate to the work he would have performed:

Finally, the rewards given to Christ are proportionate to the work he performed. Adam’s reward would have been far greater, assuming we say that Adam would have been granted heavenly life, than what he “worked for”.

But following your logic, was Adam’s penalty, his condemnation along with the rest of the human race, proportionate to his merely eating a piece of fruit? Yes, it was an act of disobedience. But one strike and you and your children and your children’s children are out is not an arrangement that brings to mind grace, no matter how much Canadians struggle with baseball. It sounds more like a threat or a curse arrangement. In which case, if Adam could earn everlasting condemnation simply by one act, why not everlasting blessing for the work prescribed by a just and powerful God?

Comments are still open.

P.S. A word of advice — let others decide whether your response is gracious.

Why Do We Trust Scientists Only When They Agree with Us?

This is an old question familiar to readers of the Nicotine Theological Journal (please don’t make me find the issue), but Tim Challies’ “like” of Rick Phillips’ post about evolution reminded me of that query. It concerns the degree to which Christians (especially conservative Protestants) have no difficulty with scientific results when it comes to the believers’ own prejudices. Think tobacco and alcohol (but not too long). Back in the day of the fundamentalist controversy and for three decades beyond, physicians who are known for having some scientific training regularly recommended the health benefits of smoking. Now we know scientifically what fundamentalists always believed — that it hurts the body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (for the regenerate). In the matter of human vices, contrary to Harry Emerson Fosdick the fundamentalists won with a big boost from science and its practitioners.

So why the outright hostility to scientists in other realms of inquiry? I understand that theological difficulties attend an evolutionary account of human origins. And I am not meaning to suggest that the historicity of Adam or the fall are topics easily reconciled with biological science.

What I worry about, though, is a knee-jerk hostility to science on evolution that flies in the face of the very trust that we devote to any number of scientists — from the pharmacists who mix our pain relievers to the economists that tell us Ronald Reagan was right. (This is another one of those examples that pose difficulties for the advocates of w-w; w-w may explain Darwin but what about Jonas Salk?)

Can’t Christians show a little bit of gratitude?

Lutheran Obedience Boy

I will hand it to Rick Phillips. At least when he talks about good works he doesn’t try to yuck it up as certain Canadian pastors try to have a laugh while being earnestly Owenian. Even so, I’m not sure that Phillips captures the biblical motivation for good works because of an apparent need to reject gratitude as the only basis for sanctification. For instance, when he write this I get confused:

But does not Paul plainly warn that Christians will be judged for both “good or evil”? The answer is yes, but that we must set it alongside Romans 8:1, which declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Christians need not fear any condemnation when Jesus returns. Nor should we anticipate shaming for our failures, in which case we could hardly look forward to the Second Coming as, Paul says, “our blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13). Christ bore all the guilt and shame of our sin and failure on the cross! So where does the judgment of our “evil” come in as believers? I think the best biblical answer is found in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15: “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it… If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” Here we have a saved person whose life work yielded little return for eternity, and the example is given as a warning to us. The penalty for demerits here is not condemnation or shame, but rather a lamentable loss of heavenly reward.

In considering the many biblical passages that speak of a future evaluation of believers’ lives, the overwhelming emphasis lies on the side of rewards. This is not surprising, since Jesus paid the penalty for our sins in his atoning death. Since there will be no tears, mourning, or crying in heaven (Rev. 21:4), Christians may look forward to Christ’s return with an overwhelming expectation of divine approval and reward. And this anticipation is treated in the Bible as a very significant source of motivation for sanctification and Christian service. The true danger of unholy or unfaithful living among professing believers is not that they will wear tarnished crowns in heaven but that they will not be admitted to heaven at all, their ungodliness having been the death knell of a false profession and unregenerate life.

So Christians don’t have to be fear being embarrassed in glory for having fewer crowns than the really really sanctified. No one will be lamenting anything. That’s good news. But then there’s the threat that my lapses into ungodliness may actually mean that this “professing” believer will “not be admitted to heaven at all” since my sin is the evidence of a “false profession and unregenerate life.” So much for “no condemnation.”

Maybe the Lutherans can rescue the Reformed Obedience boys. Nathan Rinne not only informs us that Lutherans really do believe in the third use of the law, contrary to the Lutheran detractors among the holiness wing of Reformed Protestants. He also explains why resting in the forgiveness of Christ (which could be pretty close to gratitude) is the best motivation for genuine holiness. Here are the three levels of obedience to the law:

At the level of outward conformity:

Christians obey due to authorities who need to use coercion (parents, teachers, pastors, neighbors, etc) because they are letting their old man get a hold of their new man (hence we read later: “But *the believer* without any coercion and with a willing spirit, *in so far as he is reborn*, does what no threat of the law could ever have wrung from him”). What this means is that the believer, in so far as he is not reborn, does good only when it is wrung out of him – maybe even by using explicitly stated rewards and punishments. Again though, these coerced works are not “works of the law” per se, because they are still done by believers, and the blood of Christ covers these forced works, making them pleasing in the eyes of God.

So we need forgiveness for good works done for the wrong reasons. A better motivation is:

Christians obey willingly without coercion, due to their putting their old man in its place – by their new man (not Christ, but the new nature that wills – “not my will…” – to cooperate with Christ’s Spirit) who is eager to do so, and spontaneously does so more or less consciously (in other words, they cheerfully and joyfully make the decision, in cooperation with Christ’s Spirit, to do something in the midst of a necessary fight vs. their old man, utilizing even “teaching, admonition, force, threatening of the Law,….the club of punishments[,] and troubles” themselves against their old man – their old nature).

Even better is being in a state of unconsciously following God’s law, perhaps out of a sense of knowing that we no longer face condemnation and are grateful to have the burden of the law removed so that it becomes simply the w-w of the Christian:

Christians obey willingly without coercion either more or less unconsciously (in other words, they simply do something without needing to fight much vs. their old man). Ideally, we do these good works more and more spontaneously, as Old Adam’s strength dissipates – while never fully disappearing in this life. Here, again, we think about Luther’s famous words introducing the book of Romans…. “When [Christ, the fulfiller of the law] is present, the law loses its power. It cannot administer wrath because Christ has freed us from it. Then he brings the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him that they might delight in the law of the Lord, according to the first psalm (Ps. 1:2). In this way their souls are recreated with [the Law] in view and this Spirit gives them the will that they might do it. In the future life, however, they will have the will to do the law not only in Spirit, but also in flesh, which, as long as it lives here, strives against this delight. To render the law delightful, undefiled is therefore the office of Christ, the fulfiller of the law, whose glory and handiwork announce the heavens and the firmament, the apostles and their successors (Ps. 19:1, cf. Rom. 10:18).”

I don’t presume to know whether Mr. Rinne is right about the Lutheran confessions or Luther himself, but his posts are instructive for remembering that Lutherans really do believe in sanctification. He may also indicate that the Lutheran Obedience Boys have a much more satisfying account of the place of the law in the believers’ life. Rather than engaging in some sort of calculus about penalties, demerits, and rewards (or — uh oh — worse), the Lutherans seem to have found a way to make the law a delight.

Who knew?