Is Conservatism Liberal?

For political conservatives, the answer is “sort of” since movement conservatives since the 1950s have generally understood themselves as classical liberals — in favor of markets, representative government, and constitutional separation of powers (including church and state). Modern political liberalism (i.e. New Deal) saw problems of economic inequality, the nature of large-scale war, and foreign diplomacy that classical liberalism could not answer beyond standing up and yelling “stop.” So modern liberals tried to update classical liberalism and ever since we have the leading wedge dividing red and blue states.

But when it comes to theology, how do conservatives fare? Richard Weaver is the fellow who will ever be associated with the conservative conviction, “ideas have consequences,” a phrase that the University of Chicago Press applied to Weaver’s 1948 book which in turn became a classic for intellectual or traditionalist conservatives (which overlaps with movement conservatism at least in the figure of William F. Buckley, Jr. and his circle). According to a recent post, Weaver was a believer in the ancient virtue of “piety”:

… the Christian ideal and Plato­nism produced in Weaver’s conservatism the final key concept of piety, which Weaver described as “one of the oldest and deepest human attitudes.” “I would define piety,” he wrote, “as an attitude of rever­ence or acceptance toward some overruling order or some deeply founded institution which the mere individual is not to tamper with.” Or to put the proposition somewhat differently: “Piety comes to us as a warning voice that we must think as mortals, that it is not for us either to know all or to con­trol all. It is a recognition of our own limitations and a cheerful acceptance of the contingency of nature, which gives us the protective virtue of humility.”

The source of his piety (other than Plato) was the fall (a version of it):

As Weaver explained, “The recovery [of a sense of piety] has brought a satisfaction which cannot be matched, as far as my ex­perience goes, by anything that liberalism and scientism have to offer.” Weaver con­tended there was a “structure of reality” called creation. Man was not the Creator; he was not self-produced. Man is the crea­ture; therefore, he is limited in his poten­tial. Confronted with choices between evil and good, man frequently chooses evil with its accompanying anguish, and this condi­tion is compounded by that ever-present matter of tragedy. In view of these impos­ing realities, would not wisdom and prudence dictate that man ought to be modest, restrained, and humble—in a word, pious? Should he not stand in reverence and awe before this miracle called life?

To compare this sense of limitation and reverence and awe for finite existence to the Shorter Catechism may be unfair. But why wouldn’t the question of this human tragedy lead to a sense of despair, like the string of questions that explain the significance of human sinfulness:

Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.

Not to be misunderstood. Any conservative or Christian it seems to (all about) me should welcome a recognition by another human being that we are not gods, that we can’t control the world, and that it is a conceit of monumental calamity to think that humans have any power to remedy or redeem our circumstances. But for conservatives to call this awareness “piety” is to invite all sorts of confusion about the real piety that looks at sin as abhorrent and hopes for a miraculous intervention to save sinners by the only true God.

If conservatives want to be the true friends of religion who mock secularists for dismissing faith, they will need to own religion. It can’t simply be a wave of the hand at “higher things” or faith-based humanism. It needs to be the real deal. And that could well involve choosing between Plato and Moses, between Richard Weaver and Fulton Sheen, or between Whitaker Chambers and Cornelius Van Til.

Advertisements

Is "Made Under Law" Gracious?

So my catechetical thought for the day is to wonder why those who insist that the Covenant of Works with Adam was a gracious arrangement don’t extend the logic to Christ’s humiliation and regard his submission to the law also as gracious. Sure, the overarching purpose of the incarnation was gracious. But was Christ’s being “made under the law” specifically a gracious reality? Or was it humiliating, as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms classify it?

Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?
A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.

For those, again, who want to say that the Covenant of Works was gracious in character, why is it uplifting and such a swell deal for Adam to follow God’s law but for Christ it was a burden and a form of humiliation? I don’t think that simply distinguishing between Christ’s divine and human natures will resolve this.

Here is how Calvin renders Galatians 4:4 (“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,”):

God sent forth his Son. These few words contain much instruction. The Son, who was sent, must have existed before he was sent; and this proves his eternal Godhead. Christ therefore is the Son of God, sent from heaven. Yet this same person was made of a woman, because he assumed our nature, which shews that he has two natures. Some copies read natum instead of filium; but the latter reading is more generally followed, and, in my opinion, is preferable. But the language was also expressly intended to distinguish Christ from other men, as having been formed of the substance of his mother, and not by ordinary generation. In any other sense, it would have been trifling, and foreign to the subject. The word woman is here put generally for the female sex.

Subjected under the law. The literal rendering is, Made under the law; but in my version I have preferred another word, which expresses more plainly the fact that he was placed in subjection to the law. Christ the Son of God, who might have claimed to be exempt from every kind of subjection, became subject to the law. Why? He did so in our room, that he might obtain freedom for us. A man who was free, by constituting himself a surety, redeems a slave: by putting on himself the chains, he takes them off from the other. So Christ chose to become liable to keep the law, that exemption from it might be obtained for us; otherwise it would have been to no purpose that he should come under the yoke of the law, for it certainly was not on his own account that he did so.

If the covenant with Adam was a covenant of works whereby “life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (Confession 7.2), it makes sense to describe Christ’s submission to the law as a form of humiliation. But if the covenant with Adam was gracious, as in God offering freely “salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe” (7.3) then how was Christ “made low” by submitting to it?

May I Buy 2 Consonants and 2 Vowels?

The Shorter Catechism says that prayer is the offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankfulness for his mercies. I don’t expect popes necessarily to conform to this definition precisely, but is it too much to ask why Benedict XVI did not use the name Jesus in his prayer at Ground Zero?

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—

the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Not to minimize the aura surrounding the pope or the poignancy of 9-11, but I could not help but be reminded in this prayer of the way pastors sometimes feel compelled to name the right parties in a prayer, and so do double duty by lifting up desires to God and ticking off items on a list. It is like when the pastor prays for the Lord’s blessing on the church picnic, this Saturday, at 2:00, in pavilion 7, at County State Park, at the corner of State Road 11 and Township Road. It’s a win-win, a prayer and an announcement.

Regeneration, Intelligence, and Philosophy

May we have a little clarity on the nature of regeneration, puh-leeze? Sorry to pick on the neo-Calvinists again, but a common construction of regeneration among those who stress the antithesis is to attribute to the supernatural work of the Spirit the intellectual genius of believers. This interpretation is strongest among the neo-Calvinists who are philosophically inclined. Because they can unearth the epistemological roots of an idea or argument, and because they operate in what at times seems like a Manichean universe divided between the knowers (of Christ) and the ignorant, these neo-Calvinist philosophers believe they hold the keys to discerning the work of the Spirit. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of the fall and now allows Christians to interpret reality correctly, and even see the philosophical basis for all things.

Never mind that the arguments for Christian schools contradict this understanding of regeneration. If regeneration does produce a new w-w, then why is education necessary? Shouldn’t the regenerate already have the tools, by virtue of the illuminating power of the Spirit, to understand all things correctly? But if covenant children and the w-w challenged need to appropriate the value added material that comes from the w-w cognoscenti, then is the Spirit’s work in regeneration really responsible for a new outlook on the world? Or could it be that a w-w is much more the product of human instruction about the fundamental truths of epistemology and metaphysics, or Christian teachers who give a faith-based reading of the arts and sciences?

Another wrinkle here, by the way, is the folly that apparently afflicts believers not only about the world but also about the faith. Remember that Paul call the Galatians and Corinthians foolish even while considering these folks to be saints, that is, people who had experienced the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Also, consider that a w-w does very little justice to catechesis. In fact, in communions where w-w has expanded, catechesis has generally declined. At the same time, regeneration is no solution to the hard work of memorizing a three-figure set of doctrinal answers. It takes time, discipline, and memory.

So what we need is clarity about the noetic effects of regeneration. And we also need to distinguish among those effects, the native intelligence of persons that comes providentially from genes, family environments, and temperament, and academic proficiency in a particular area of human investigation. Clarity may start with a reminder about the nature of the spiritual illumination in regeneration. According to the Shorter Catechism:

Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. (WSC 31)

. . . when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds. (Dort III/IV, 11)

What sure seems clear to me is that regeneration has a narrow effect — it allows a person who had no interest in Christ to understand his need and to trust the work of Christ. It is a kind of knowledge, but it is not even necessarily knowledge of well-formulated doctrine. At the same time, regeneration does nothing to take someone from a low to a high IQ. Nor does regeneration place someone all of a sudden as a graduate of a Masters-level curriculum in western philosophy. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of sin. It does not change the brain or a person’s mastery of a body of thought.

At the same time, neo-Calvinists enraptured by western philosophy may want to remember what Calvin and Kuyper, Mr. Paleo- and Mr. Neo-Calvinist, had to say about the learning of pagans.

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture [I Cor. 2:14] calls “natural men” were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good. (Institutes II.2.15)

. . . the unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato you find pages which you devour. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments. And if you consider your own surroundings, that which is reported to you, and that which you derive from the studies and literary productions of professed infidels, how much more there is which attracts you, with which you sympathize and which you admire. It is not exclusively the spark of genius or the splendor of talent which excites your pleasure in the words and actions of unbelievers, but it is often their beauty of character, their zeal, their devotion, their love, their candor, their faithfulness and their sense of honesty. Yea, we may not pass it over in silence, not infrequently you entertain the desire that certain believers might have more of the attractiveness, and who among us has not himself been put to the blush occasionally by being confronted with what is called the “virtues of the heathen”? (Lectures on Calvinism, 121ff)

What is important is that Calvin does attribute to the Spirit the knowledge that pagans possess. Truth, wisdom, and intelligence do not exist independent from God. At the same time, the wisdom of pagans is spiritual work that does not include regeneration. It is in effect another iteration of the doubleness that 2K tries to maintain. In the same way that Christ rules the work of redemption differently from the order of his creation, so too the Spirit works upon the minds of people differently, with the illumination of regeneration providing a knowledge distinct from understanding politics, the liberal arts, or even neo-Calvinists’ beloved philosophy.

So once again, neo-Calvinism’s failure to follow Kuyper and figure out how to affirm a common realm that exists somewhere between the holy and the profane bites them in their argumentative backsides. Without that common realm, believers — whether fundamentalist or neo-Calvinist — will try to baptize everything and turn all truth and wisdom into the blessings of redemption and special grace.

Glenn Beck, the Kingdom, and Me (per usual)

Criticisms of 2k theology keep coming and a major source of opposition is the distinction between Christ’s rule as redeemer in distinction from his rule as creator. For some, this kind of division within Christ could wind up in the error of Nestorianism. And yet, I wonder how you avoid Rob Bell’s error of universalism without this distinction.

This is what I have in mind. Most Reformed Protestants would likely admit that Glenn Beck and I have different relationships with Jesus Christ as savior and lord (assuming these Protestants accept that I am a believer but you know what happens when you assume). As a citizen of the United States, Beck gets my respect and civil affection even if his conservatism is several steps removed from the genuine article. But as a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Beck and I are at odds; he is even my enemy because he is not part of the kingdom of grace.

In other words, when I pray the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come,” I am praying with regard to Beck that he become part of the kingdom, not that Christ would defend Beck and the rest of the church as part of the kingdom of grace’s battle with the kingdom of Satan.

Here a little confessional political theology may be instructive. If we read the catechisms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the explanation of the second petition involves not not civil or political realities but spiritual ones.

Here is Calvin’s catechism:

Master. – What understand you by the kingdom of God in the second petition?
Scholar. – It consists chiefly of two branches-that he would govern the elect by his Spirit-that he would prostrate and destroy the reprobate who refuse to give themselves up to his service, thus making it manifest that nothing is able to resist his might.
Master. – In what sense do you pray that this kingdom may come?
Scholar. – That the Lord would daily increase the numbers of the faithful-that he would ever and anon load them with new gifts of his Spirit, until he fill them completely: moreover, that he would render his truth more clear and conspicuous by dispelling the darkness of Satan, that he would abolish all iniquity, by advancing his own righteousness.

Here is Heidelberg:

Question 123. Which is the second petition?
Answer: “Thy kingdom come”; that is, rule us so by thy word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to thee; preserve and increase thy church; destroy the works of the devil, and all violence which would exalt itself against thee; and also all wicked counsels devised against thy holy word; till the full perfection of thy kingdom take place, wherein thou shalt be all in all.

And here is the Shorter Catechism:

Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

As I read these accounts of the second petition, I do not think much about nations, politics, or rulers (why should I, the Psalms warn me about princes). I also don’t see much about the rule of law (even if it is God’s) but I read much more about the power and authority of God’s word and Spirit. And I also don’t understand anything here that would lead me to think that Glenn Beck and I are both members of God’s kingdom. Instead, these answers presume a marked division between saints and unbelievers.

In other words, these answers point in the direction of Louis Berkhof’s account of the kingdom of God:

The Kingdom of God is primarily an eschatological concept. The fundamental idea of the Kingdom in scripture is not that of a restored theocratic kingdom of God in Christ – which is essentially a kingdom of Israel –, as the Premillenarians claim; neither is it a new social condition pervaded by the Spirit of Christ, and realized by man through such external means as good laws, civilization, education, social reforms, and so on, as the Modernists would have us believe. The primary idea of the Kingdom of God in Scripture is that of the rule of God established and acknowledged in the hearts of sinners by the powerful regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, insuring them of the inestimable blessings of salvation, – a rule that is realized in principle on earth, but will not reach its culmination until the visible and glorious return of Jesus Christ. The present realization of it is spiritual and invisible. Jesus took hold of this eschatological concept and made it prominent in His teachings. He clearly taught the present spiritual realization and the universal character of the Kingdom. Moreover, He Himself effected that realization in a measure formerly unknown and greatly increased the present blessings of the Kingdom. At the same time He held out the blessed hope of the future appearance of that Kingdom in external glory and with the perfect blessings of salvation. (Systematic Theology, 568)

This quotation from Berkhof is congenial – duh! – to 2kers and before the Kuyperians and theocrats start to quote from him a couple of pages later where Berkhof speaks of the kingdom as bigger and broader than the visible church, that is, aiming at “nothing less than the complete control of all manifestations of life,” I understand that Berkhof is a mixed bag on this issue.

But this brings me back to Glenn Beck. If in a broader understanding of the kingdom, the complete control of Beck involves implementing laws and policies that he and his family will follow to the glory of God, then the rule of the Spirit and the eschatological concept of the kingdom as a spiritual and invisible enterprise located in man’s (and woman’s) heart, is lost. Or if the kingdom is so broadened to include unbelievers and believers in it, then you seem to enter the ballpark of universalism where all God’s children are God’s children – you know, the fatherhood of God and the siblinghood of all people.

We do have, however, an easy way around the problem. It is to distinguish between Christ’s rule over Glenn Beck as creator, and his rule over me as creator and redeemer. I don’t know of any other way to avoid the problems of Anabaptism or Constantinianism than by affirming this distinction. Without it, Glenn Beck is not my worldly foe, but my brother in Christ. (If only.)

Did Warfield Make the World Safe for Piper?

Are Lutherans different from Reformed Protestants? Duh! The odd aspect of the arguments that distinguish Lutheranism from Reformed Protestantism is that the arguers don’t seem to be so conscientious when it comes to Baptists. Are Baptists Calvinistic? Some are. Lots aren’t. So when it comes to drawing distinctions among Protestants why the urge to draw lines between Reformed and Lutherans and not between Reformed and the uncles of Baptists, the Puritans?

Of course, contemporary discomfort with Lutherans among Reformed Protestants and Calvinistic Baptists is not new. Benjamin Warfield, who rarely strayed in his judgments, was also inclined to draw a distinction between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism. He did so by observing the tendency of Lutherans to stress justification by faith in contrast to the Reformed impulse to push beyond faith and its benefits to the underlying circumstances of justification. Here is how Warfield put it (thanks to Scott Clark via Timothy):

Just as little can the doctrine of justification by faith be represented as specifically Lutheran. It is as central to the Reformed as to the Lutheran system. Nay, it is only in the Reformed system that it retains the purity of its conception and resists the tendency to make it a doctrine of justification on account of; instead of by, faith. It is true that Lutheranism is prone to rest in faith as a kind of ultimate fact, while Calvinism penetrates to its causes, and places faith in its due relation to the other products of God’s activity looking to the salvation of man. And this difference may, on due consideration, conduct us back to the formative principle of each type of thought. But it, too, is rather an outgrowth of the divergent formative principles than the embodiment of them. Lutheranism, sprung from the throes of a guilt-burdened soul seeking peace with God, finds peace in faith, and stops right there. It is so absorbed in rejoicing in the blessings which flow from faith that it refuses or neglects to inquire whence faith itself flows. It thus loses itself in a sort of divine euthumia, and knows, and will know nothing beyond the peace of the justified soul. Calvinism asks with the same eagerness as Lutheranism the great question, “What shall I do to be saved?” and answers it precisely as Lutheranism answers it. But it cannot stop there. The deeper question presses upon it, “Whence this faith by which I am justified?” And the deeper response suffuses all the chambers of the soul with praise, “From the free gift of God alone, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Thus Calvinism withdraws the eye from the soul and its destiny and fixes it on God and His glory. It has zeal, no doubt, for salvation but its highest zeal is for the honour of God, and it is this that quickens its emotions and vitalizes its efforts. It begins, it centres and it ends with the vision of God in His glory and it sets itself; before all things, to render to God His rights in every sphere of life-activity.

Several items are worth noting in this quotation. First is Warfield’s notion that Reformed Protestantism is not content with faith alone but embarks upon a deeper quest to find the origins of this faith. He does not explain here what this quest looks like, but his could be an argument in favor of the kind of introspection that experimental Calvinists like Edwards and Piper favor.

A second curious feature of Warfield’s contrast is the idea that Lutheranism emphasizes justification while Reformed Protestantism stresses the glory of God. This suggests common view in some union with Christ circles that Lutheranism manifests an anthropocentric view of Christianity (e.g., man’s salvation) that contrasts with Reformed Protestantism’s theocentric outlook (e.g., God’s glory). After all, an oft-made contrast between Heidelberg (which is considered a catechism that made concessions to Lutheranism) and Westminster is that the former catechism begins with man’s “only comfort” while the Shorter Catechism begins with “God’s glory” as man’s chief end.

The danger in this contrast so far – man’s salvation vs. God’s glory – is that Lutherans had good reasons for not becoming absorbed with God’s glory. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation was a forceful warning to theologians who were tempted to identify God’s glory with outward and external signs or forms. In other words, writ large in Luther’s theology is the idea that God’s ways are not man’s, and so God may not actually glorify himself the way that man expects. The cross is folly. Preaching is weak. Christians are poor and humble. In which case, God saves an unlikely people through surprising means. And that may also mean that God’s glory is not always as glorious as human beings expect it.

If God’s glory can be a complicated affair, then perhaps Warfield is wrong to draw the contrast between Lutheranism and Reformed Protestantism the way he does. If Lutherans actually believe in God’s glory but are also aware that it comes in surprising ways, then maybe Reformed Protestants need to learn a thing or two about how to be truly theocentric. The Lutheran theology of the cross could teach Reformed Protestants a measure of humility in their self-ascribed ability to locate God’s glory in every nook and cranny of the created order. Reformed might also consider that Lutherans understand better than Reformed triumphalists and experimental Calvinists that God’s glory is nowhere more on display, at least in this world, in the justification of sinners. After all, if man is the crown jewel of the created order and if Christ took on human form to save fallen sinners, then contra Warfield, we may not need to go much beyond justification and man’s salvation in seeing the glory of God.

If this is so, then Reformed Protestants may need to be content with the glory that is revealed in the cross and the salvation it yields instead of yielding to the temptation to find God’s glory in human powers of discernment. If Reformed Protestants followed the lead of Lutherans more, we might be spared many of those neo-Calvinist efforts to show the “Christian” meaning of calculus, Shakespeare, or Dutch history.

So while the game of saying that Reformed highlight God’s glory and Lutherans stop with justification sounds theocentric, it may turn out to be an unintended example of anthropocentricity in which believers try to prove their own godliness by discovering God’s glory through forced interpretations of general and special revelation. Perhaps Lutherans are the truly biblical ones who rest content with the glory that God has revealed in the salvation accomplished by Christ for weak and poor sinners. What could be more glorious than that!

Give 'Em A Break

A story from the world of higher education caught my eye and started me thinking about the nature of Sunday observance among Roman Catholics. Inside Higher Education reported on a meeting of Roman Catholic bishops and university presidents to consider how their colleges and universities may preserve academic freedom while also remaining faithful to church teaching. That is a riddle that has long affected most Christian institutions of higher learning – not particularly helped by world-viewitis or the notion that the Bible speaks to all of life. But Roman Catholics have faced this difficulty more acutely of late owing to John Paul II’s encyclical, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which calls upon Roman Catholic schools to remain faithful to church teaching at least in theology departments if not more widely across the campus. (If some of the statements expressed at the conference are indicative of Roman Catholic fidelity, the problem of adjusting church dogma and academic freedom will likely be easy. The first principle adopted by this group – we welcome “all students into a vibrant campus community that celebrates God’s love for all” – won’t force timid administrators and faculty to double down on the church’s catechism or much reason to refuse conclusions from most faculty.)

But aside from the intellectual work of the conference’s participants, what was fairly remarkable was that the meeting the reporter covered took place on Sunday. Granted, Roman Catholics have never been as anal about the Lord’s Day as Reformed Protestants (some say the real anal-retentive award for the fourth commandment belongs to the Puritans, but we all know that no can define Puritanism). At the same time, well before Willow Creek offered services for seekers and those sensitive to them, Rome was providing the Mass at different times during the weekend to accommodate the faithful who preferred other activities on Sunday morning.

Even so, if Rome is not sabbatarian as Reformed understand that notion, the Roman Catholic church does teach about the sanctity of Sunday and the need to set it aside for worship and rest. According to the Catechism:

2189 “Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Deut 5:12). “The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord” (Ex 31:15).

2190 The sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.

2191 The Church celebrates the day of Christ’s Resurrection on the “eighth day,” Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord’s Day (cf. SC 106).

2192 “Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church” (CIC, can. 1246 § 1). “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (CIC, can. 1247).

2193 “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body” (CIC, can. 1247).

2194 The institution of Sunday helps all “to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives” (GS 67 § 3).

2195 Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day.

This is not as strict as the Shorter Catechism on the fourth commandment – “spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy.” But it does tell Roman Catholics that the should attend Mass on Sunday – a rite of obligation – and that they should not work or make demands on others to work (like buying a new flat screen television to watch oversized and overpaid men play football in an oversized bowl). In addition, this teaching would certainly be a tonic for Sabbath-challenged evangelicals.

In which case, why couldn’t the Roman Catholic bishops and presidents have conducted their meetings and delivered their papers on Saturday? If they still had business, they could likely have reconvened on Monday and devoted Sunday to worship and rest. Since they were not Puritan and were meeting in Washington, D.C. they may have even taken in an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. But surely they could have rested from their weekday activities for the holy day known as Sunday.

Back by Popular Demand

Okay, one person requested a return to this golden oldie, “What We Owe Presbyterians (or, Presbyterian Justice)” (Dec. 9, 2010):

Tim Keller’s new book, Generous Justice, has him giving answers to reporters and bloggers’ questions about his argument and reasons for writing. One of those interviews came out recently at Christianity Today, under the title, “What We Owe the Poor.” Part of his strategy, as he explains, is to move people who are not convinced by the Ron Siders and Tony Campola’s of the evangelical world about the institutional church’s call to engage in social and political affairs. As such, Keller hopes to show than experience of God’s grace will inevitably lead to actions on behalf of the poor.

What those actions should be in each person’s case could differ widely. Most Americans when hearing about the poor immediately think of soup kitchens, donations, what to do when greeting a homeless person, and possible charitable organizations that provide needed services. In other words, justice for the poor should involve selflessness, taking from what you have and giving to someone in need. For Keller, caring for the poor seems to be a matter of delegating to others. As he explained in his interview with Kevin DeYoung to a question about his own personal pursuit of generous justice:

we have an excellent diaconate that works with those in need within our community. In addition, years ago I helped a group of people establish “Hope For New York,” a separate but closely aligned organization, that helps our church members give of their time and money to the needs of the whole city. As I say in the book, many churches who work among the poor establish a 501(c)3 often a “community development corporation” to do much of the direct ministry to people in need.

I wish Keller had said what his answer implies, namely, that he does not do much beyond work with and encourage others who get their hands dirty. There is no reason for a pastor to be engaged with the poor directly since he is called to other work, holy work, and since God gives different gifts and callings to members of the body of Christ. But that kind of explanation might have given an out to every other Christian who reads Keller’s book, has a full-time job, but lacks a session or diaconate to whom he can delegate his compassion. Such a person might compare his pay stub with the budget of the federal government’s Health and Human Services and conclude that he is doing as much as his pastor for the poor.

Despite this anomaly, Keller does expound a useful definition of justice. Typically we think in terms of law and order, righteousness and wickedness, as in let’s rid Washington of injustice and institute a holy and godly society. But Keller hearkens back to a classical idea where justice is “giving people their due.” “On the one hand that means restraining and punishing wrongdoers. On the other hand it means giving people what we owe them as beings in the image of God.” In which case, justice involves everything from “law enforcement” to “giving to the poor.”

Law enforcement and giving to the poor seem fairly unimaginative ways of rendering justice in this fuller sense. Other examples might include how to treat a young boy with exceptional intellectual gifts who is deciding on schools, an older woman with years of experience in child rearing or professional service who is contemplating what to do with spare time, a Senator in his home-state office who has no time to meet with constituents on a given day, a professional baseball player during the off season in an encounter at the airport who appears to want anonymity over recognition, or an auto-mechanic (see I didn’t go with plumbing) on a hot afternoon who is flummoxed by GM’s engine computers and has yet to work on your car.

In other words, a fuller account of justice might actually lead Christians to think in terms of the Shorter Catechism’s explanation of the fifth commandment: justice is “preserving the honor and performing the duties belonging to everyone in the several places and relations as superiors, inferiors, and equals.” One reason Americans likely shy away from this part of the catechism as a guide to justice is that we don’t care for those bits about superiors and inferiors. Be that as it may, preserving the honor and performing the duties would seem to cover Keller’s fuller definition of justice and while allowing for specifics instances of civil law and care for poor persons.

But why does justice for Keller only seem to extend to matters of politics or society? What about an expansive view of justice for the church, as in Presbyterian justice? What would it mean for a Presbyterian pastor to preserve the honor and perform the duties belonging to him in relation to session, presbytery, elders, General Assembly, and deacons? What would it mean also for a Presbyterian church member to do justice to the laws of his communion regarding the teachings of the confession on worship, the Lord’s Day, and Christian liberty? Furthermore, what would it mean for a Presbyterian church planter to do justice to rich people who give for the sake of establishing churches that will adhere to Presbyterian teachings and practices? What would it mean for a Presbyterian elder to do justice to those communions with whom he is in fellowship by virtue of ecumenical relations? And what would it mean for a Presbyterian denominational executive to do justice to the work of Presbyterian ministers who labored in years past to create a certain pattern of church life and teaching ministry that followed biblical teaching?

Obviously, I have my own answers to those questions. But the bigger point is why a larger conception of justice, even a generous one, does not seem to extend across the board, all the way to the claims that bind officers and members of Reformed churches by the vows they have taken to be received into fellowship and to render certain services.

You Know, For Kids

Is this the way we view catechesis, you know, for kids? My own experience as an elder is that I am harder on covenant children during interviews than adults. Questions generally work through the Trinity, Scripture, justification, sanctification, the sacraments, and church government. That’s for the kids, mind you. And if they know their Shorter Catechism they breeze right through.

The speed bump in the catechism, of course, is the law. It takes up almost half of the Shorter Catechism and separates the benefits of redemption, such as justification and sanctification (32-38), from the outward and ordinary means “whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption” (88-97). In other words, many teens are pretty solid on the first thirty-eight answers but are unfamiliar with answers eight-five through 107. Why? Because there is a whole of requiring and forbidding going on in the catechism’s discussion of the Decalogue. My sense is that teens give up on the rest of the Catechism. That leaves them without the categories for talking about the Lord’s Supper.

But at least, if they have been catechized, they can discuss in a recognizable idiom the doctrines of Scripture, God, Christ, and salvation.

For adults who have not been catechized the interview can be painful. It is actually interesting to see how people try to do theology on the spot. They are pretty good in knowing what they believe. And if you asked them yes or no questions, they would likely supply the right answers. But like spontaneous prayers, extemporaneous answers to theological questions come with lots of hemming and hawing, “just,” and “you know.”

This is unfortunate and unnecessary since the catechism is a wonderful tool for succinctly explaining and summarizing the basic convictions taught in Scripture. It is also beneficial for supplying the common language that and ecclesial communities need to retain membership and build solidarity.

So why don’t we require catechesis of adults? It sure would make membership interviews shorter.

Talk About Justification Priority

Peter Leithart has posted an excerpt from his Reformation Day sermon. I suppose I should find this encouraging to see a man who does not wear tradition readily, but enjoys the “creative tension” that he learned at least while studying at Westminster Seminary, affirm the blessings of Protestantism. But like so much that Leithart writes, the points that lead to agreement are cheek-by-jowl alongside matters of serious contention.

So first for the encouraging bit. To the question, “Is the Reformation dead?” Leithart responds without hesitation:

We don’t believe so. We believe that the achievements of the Reformation are still worth defending, that the work of the Reformation is still worth preserving. The Reformation recovered biblical truths that had either been rejected or buried in late medieval Catholicism. In themselves, the Reformation slogans are just slogans, but they get at central biblical truth.

But then comes the contentious part. Standing for the Protestant Reformation may not mean maintaining the doctrines of the sixteenth century in a dogmatic way:

If defending the Reformation means nothing more than repeating the Reformation slogans or assenting to (or claiming to assent to) the Reformation confessions; if defending the Reformation means we carry on with business as usual, carry on in the way the Reformation churches have always carried on; if being Protestant means we stay still – then the Reformation has become a kind of tribalism.

If that is what being Protestant means, then the Reformation has been turned upside down and inside out. It began as a protest against fossilized and distorted tradition, and it will cease to be genuinely Protestant if it becomes another kind of traditionalism. The Reformers called for a reform of the church according to the word of God, but the Reformers knew that the work of reforming the church would not end in their generation, or ever.

If being Protestant means simply trying to preserve or recapture the sixteenth century, then the Reformation is already dead and deserved to die.

This hostility to tradition evokes similar words from John Frame with whom Leithart studied at Westminster. In his defense of biblicism, Frame wrote that “The notion that Scripture addresses, to some extent, every important human question, produced at Westminster a high quality of theological creativity. We often associate orthodoxy with stagnancy and traditionalism. But at Westminster, the commitment to sola Scriptura propelled it in the opposite direction.” Frame added:

During my student years, I was never asked to read any of the Reformed confessions, or Calvin’s Institutes, except in small bits. I never read any official standards of church government or discipline, not to mention Robert’s Rules of Order. We used Hodge and Berkhof in our systematics classes, but for the most part we were graded not on our reading but on our knowledge of Murray’s lectures. After graduation I became ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and I confess I was rather surprised at the seriousness with which my fellow ministers took the Confessional Standards and Presbyterian traditions. Eventually I became more like my fellow Orthodox Presbyterian (and later Presbyterian Church in America) elders, but not without some nostalgia for the openness of theological discussion during my seminary years.

Would Leithart say the same of his years at Westminster? The answer is anyone’s guess. But the idea of theological creativity is one that links Leithart to Frame and Westminster Seminary of a certain era. As valuable as questioning and creativity may be in Reformed theology, the Federal Vision is not a very good way to carry on the tradition of the Reformation. I would assume that Frame agrees with that assessment. Leithart obviously does not (though I am not sure that even the Federal Vision capture and tame the footloose and highly original Leithart).

The oddest and least successful part of Leithart’s sermon comes in his paean for justification by faith:

For Paul, justification is not only a work of God but a work of all of God, a seamless work of the Father, Son and Spirit, like all God’s works.

When we do that, we find that justification by faith includes or implies everything that we want to say about a twenty-first century Reformation.

Justification means being made right with God through Christ, through the faithful death of Christ.

Justification by faith means that righteousness is given to us, not through the law but through the cross, which we receive by faith.

Justification means that Christ lives in me, and I no longer live and the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God.

Justification means that God has created a community of the justified, a community united without division of Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Lutheran or Methodist, Baptist or Catholic.

Justification means that righteousness has come, the righteousness by which God will restore the world.

Justification means that God’s promises to Abraham have been fulfilled, and that we are swept up in that fulfillment.

Justification means that God is blessing the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham.

Justification means that the Spirit has been given to those who hear with faith, the Spirit that fulfills the promise to Abraham, the Spirit of righteousness and justice, the Spirit of life and renewal.

Justification, finally, means that this is all God’s work, and that all of God has done all this. The Father sent the Son whose death brought righteousness, which is the gift of the Spirit. The Father counts as righteous those who are in the Son, and shows His acceptance of us by giving us the Abrahamic promise, the Spirit. Justification means that the Triune God is God, Just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.

Justification means that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the Triune God has revealed His righteousness, the undying commitment of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to their own eternal communion, the eternal, undying, triumphant commitment to incorporate us, the seed of Abraham, into that communion.

Maybe, but why can’t justification simply mean an act of God’s free grace wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone?

That is a whole lot clearer than Leithart’s list of meanings, and it indicates why some of us still prefer the era of Reformed orthodoxy to the one of Reformed biblicism – it’s just better.