Perspective on Tim’s Toxic Teaching

W-w will not help you sort this out. Carol Howard Merritt cannot tell the difference between Tim Keller and Tim Bayly:

I know that people are angry that Tim Keller doesn’t believe in women in the pastorate. But, my friends, this goes much, much deeper than women not being able to be ordained as Pastors, Elders, and Deacons. Complementarianism means married women have no choice over their lives at all.

So as Princeton Theological Seminary celebrates Tim Keller’s theology, I will be mourning. As he presents his lecture and receives his $10,000 award, I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that women’s genetalia is up for grabs by any man with power and influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear. Instead we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.

God, help us.

Meanwhile, Justin Taylor can’t tell the difference between Old Life and Carol Howard Merritt.

What help would confessional Presbyterianism give? It could provide a standard for teaching that cuts through male headship, or women’s liberation, or macho heterosexuality as the bright lines of Christian identity.

And notice this. Tim Keller was riding the wave of progressivism that swept through America post-Bush II. The world was getting better, conversations about race were ongoing, the economy was sluggish but improving, tolerance was increasing, cities were becoming more the sites of church life, and Christian apologists were gaining a hearing in the outlets of the mainstream media. Christians really could make a difference. A moderate, New School Presbyterianism with ties to Baptistic Calvinists could recover the cooperative endeavors that fueled Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, and Billy Graham. These sensible and extremes-avoiding Protestants could fill the vacuum created by the mainline.

Except that mainstream world, as Merritt indicates, has its own orthodoxy. You can be sensible, moderate, hip — heck, you can even like The Wire and channel Machen — and not measure up.

Maybe it turns out that Keller reached more Christians to think that the skeptics were really friendly rather than reaching the skeptics. Maybe it turns out that New School Presbyterians have more in common with Old School Presbyterians. What if they acted like it?

When You’re In the Business of Righteous Politics, It’s Hard to See the Beam in Your Own Eye

The BeeBee’s don’t seem to care for Kenneth Woodward’s complaint about the Democrats’ politics of righteousness, but the former religion editor for Newsweek and ongoing Roman Catholic makes a lot of sense. Who knew the Democrats were the Moral Majority before Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority?

The party’s alienation from the white working class began in the streets of Chicago outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention. There, antiwar protesters and activists for a host of countercultural causes fought the police of Mayor Richard J. Daley while the nation watched on television. As President Bill Clinton later observed in the first volume of his memoirs, Vietnam was only one point of contention in what was really a wider clash between generations, social classes and moral cultures:

“The kids and their supporters saw the mayor and the cops as authoritarian, ignorant, violent bigots. The mayor and his largely blue-collar police force saw the kids as foul-mouthed, immoral, unpatriotic, soft, upper-class kids who were too spoiled to appreciate authority, too selfish to appreciate what it takes to hold a society together, too cowardly to serve in Vietnam …”

The 1968 convention marked the end of the New Deal coalition that had shouldered Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to the White House. It wasn’t that white working-class Americans turned away from the party so much as that political reformers representing the young, the newly wealthy, the suburban and the higher educated deliberately cut party ties with them. “Boss” Daley, the authoritarian Irish Catholic mayor from the blue-collar Bridgeport neighborhood, became the poster boy for all that was “bigoted” and socially regressive in neighborhood-based, white ethnic America.

The new era

Over the next four years, a commission on party structure and delegate selection, with Sen. George McGovern as chairman, introduced a series of reforms ensuring that, culturally as well as politically, the delegates to the 1972 Democratic convention would resemble the young activists who had battled the police in Chicago more than delegates who had been seated inside. The McGovern Commission, as it came to be called, established state primaries that, in effect, abolished the power of the old city and state bosses, most of whom came from white ethnic stock. The commission also established an informal quota system for state delegations to assure greater representation of racial minorities, youths and women that by 1980 became a mandate that half of every state delegation must be women.

The 1972 Democratic platform formally introduced the party’s commitment to identity politics. Rejecting “old systems of thought,” the platform summoned Democrats to “rethink and reorder the institutions of this country so that everyone — women, blacks, Spanish speaking, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, the young and the old — can participate in the decision-making process inherent in the democratic heritage to which we aspire.” There was also this: “We must restructure the social, political and economic relationships throughout the entire society in order to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth and power.” The delegates put flesh on these lofty moral commitments by adding a plank commending the forced busing of students in order to achieve racial balance in public schools. Blue-collar Boston exploded.

McGovern naively took for granted the traditional party loyalty of union leaders and the white working class. But these pillars of the New Deal collation recognized that McGovern’s creation of a new “coalition of conscience” built around opposition to the war, identity politics and a redistribution of wealth excluded some of their own conscientiously held moral convictions. McGovern went on to lose every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia — and with them the party allegiance of blue-collar workers, union leaders and — what often amounted to the same voters — conservative Roman Catholics.

Jimmy Carter was not a member of McGovern’s coalition of conscience: He had his own powerful sense of moral righteousness, one he derived from his Southern Baptist heritage of personal rectitude rather than McGovern’s secularized Methodist heritage of moral uplift and social reconstruction. There was much in that mix that was admirably righteous, especially the instinct to protect racial and sexual minorities from social oppression. The problem is that pursuing righteousness by expanding individual rights at the expense of communal values often creates greater social conflict. As sociologist Robert Bellah argued in 1991, “rights language itself offers no way to evaluate competing claims.” One side wins, the other loses.

Shazzam! You mean that entering the public square with the certainty that you are pursuing holiness and your opponents are depraved is bad for The Union? You mean “I’m right and you’re wrong” is divisive? Who knew? (Actually, most married couples do.)

Punching Above His Weight

Another example of draping yourself in Calvin’s mantle on women but not on heretics:

This misquote actually drives directly at the heart — directly at the heart — of the current discussion of sexuality. When the dust settles on the Trinitarian debates, even if that time is years away, the church will still have to work out her theology of sexuality. In the Reformed world, Calvin’s own view will be one that carries weight.

And, Calvin thought sex meant something in civil society.

Serious Reformed men who differ from this view should be honest that their views are innovations explicitly rejected by our fathers in the faith.

What if our fathers in the faith put us at odds with the Founding Fathers? This weekend is a good time to consider.

A related consideration is recognizing it may be time to walk on our own in civil society and not rely on those Protestants who still held out for Constantinianism. Medieval Europe is not the standard for Christian reflection about civil society. The Bible is. And it’s hard to find Peter or Paul invoking Moses to correct Nero.

(And don’t even go to Calvin’s views on the Trinity. Nothing to see there.)

What’s To Prevent the Nationality of the Church?

I have already wondered where the PCA’s corporate confession of the sin of racism will lead. Sean Lucas’ article on the spirituality of the church in the freshly e-minted theological journal, Reformed Faith and Practice, makes me wonder more.

One of the takeaways of Lucas’ article is the fair point that Southern Presbyterian ministers and assemblies used the spirituality of the church to avoid speaking out about Jim Crow or even to defend white supremacy. Lucas makes that point stick when he observes the way that Presbyterians ignored the spirituality of the church when it came to alcohol or evolution:

And southern Presbyterians had a difficult time knowing where the line was between spiritual and secular realms. One example of this was the church’s long-standing support and advocacy of abstinence from alcohol. From 1862 on, the southern Presbyterian General Assembly repeatedly advocated teetotalism, reprobated the sale of beverage alcohol, and urged people to “use all legitimate means for its banishment from the land.” Finally, in 1914, as the political process began that would produce the Volstead Act, the General Assembly declared, “We are in hearty favor of National Constitutional Prohibition, and will do all properly within our power to secure the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution forever prohibiting the sale, manufacture for sale, transportation for sale, importation for sale, and exportation for sale of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes in the United States.” Notably, there was no hue and cry in the Presbyterian papers by conservatives about this action as a violation of the spiritual mission of the church.[11]

Another example of blurring the lines between the so-called spiritual and secular realms occurred in the 1920s over the teaching of evolution in the public schools. In North Carolina, the key leaders who opposed evolution both in the public schools and at the University of North Carolina were Presbyterian ministers, Albert Sidney Johnson and William P. McCorkle. In 1925, the Synod of North Carolina adopted resolutions that called for “a closer supervision to prevent teaching anything [in the public schools]…[that contradicted] Christian truths as revealed in the Word of God.” They also “demanded the removal of teachers found guilty of teaching evolution ‘as a fact.’” Again, beyond the rightness or wrongness of the action, the main point here is that the spirituality of the church doctrine did not prevent these Presbyterians from intermeddling in civil affairs outside the “spiritual” realm of the church.[12]

But does inconsistency really invalidate the principle? Political conservatives argue for U.S. independence in foreign affairs and then turn around and support a big military and wars of intervention in the Middle East. So we forget the policy and just send more troops to Syria? Or do you perhaps think about reaffirming the wisdom of the policy in the face of the inconsistency and ask for practice to reflect doctrine?

The problem is that Lucas is not merely calling for the PCA to be consistent. He wants the church to bring transformational grace to the world:

. . . the way forward for all of us will be our common commitment to what the church as church should be and should be doing. Central to that life together will be the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and prayer. And as we use these effectual means of our salvation, what we will find is that the grace that comes to us through them will transform us. It will drive us out into our world to share the Good News of Jesus, but also to live that transforming Gospel in tangible ways, as we love justice and mercy, as we extend ourselves in risky ways into the lives of our neighbors. This Gospel will not leave us alone and cannot leave us the same. After all, King Jesus is making his world new now through you and me—his grace transforms everything.

That sounds pretty good, as if the world will be better when we stop erecting boundaries that cut “off the ‘spiritual’ from the rest of life.” But surely, Lucas recognizes the value of making distinctions between the civil and ecclesiastical realms. I mean, would he want the PCA to affirm a motion that called for the United States to make Christianity the official religion? Or would he want the PCA to endorse a roster of political candidates — Clinton over Trump? Or how about the PCA being salt and light with the State Department and opening diplomatic talks with North Korea? Does the ministry of the word, administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or church discipline give the PCA leverage to apply its spiritual insights to the secular and temporal affairs of U.S. politics? Why stop with national borders? Why not Europe? Why not the world? I can’t believe Lucas favors that kind of mission creep. But from the Baylys in the Rust Belt to Tim Keller in NYC, many in the PCA want the communion to be transformational. Is race really the way to do this?

This is an odd development since the point of the spirituality of the church seems evident to many who are not even Machen groupies. Paul Helm once again contrasts favorably two-kingdom theology to the medieval one-kingdom approach among those nostalgic for Christendom:

The current focus on the Two Kingdoms has been on secular society and the fact that it is distinct from the church. That’s freedom, we rightly think, to be free from such things as the obligation to transform culture in the name of Christ. But actually it is only one side of freedom. Christian freedom has not only to do what we are commanded to do or to abstain from doing by the government of the day, but also from what some church or sect, or social group or cultural mood, may try to require of us, or do require of us, that would be sinful. Not permitted by the Word of God, but forbidden by it.

Meanwhile, Carl Trueman comes out for the Benedict Option precisely because of the inherent problems of ecclesiastical overreach:

Maybe the Benedict Option and my own proposed Calvary Option are really two ways of saying the same thing—that the church needs to be the church and Christians need first and foremost to be Christians before they engage the civic sphere. Maybe our current problem is therefore not that society is secularizing but rather the opposite—that the American church is finally being forced to desecularize. This will be painful. It will involve hard choices. It will involve increasingly obvious differences between the church and the world.

I doubt either Helm or Trueman would disapprove of efforts to acknowledge the racism that sometimes lurked among the proponents of the spirituality of the church. But does that acknowledgment necessarily involve abandoning a distinction between the kingdom of grace and the civil kingdom, between grace and the world, between redemption and external justice?

Why you can’t apologize for racism (in other ways) and continue to support the spirituality of the church is beyond me.

We're Closer to Turkey than You Think?

This may be the most important context for considering the controversy over Islam at Wheaton College, namely, that Americans themselves are not all that comfortable with secularity and Islam reveals where the lumps in the mattress are. Rod Dreher quoted a poignant part of Ross Douthat’s column on how the West views Islam, as either as conservatives believe “radically incompatible with Western liberal democracy, and can never be reconciled to it; or, as many liberals believe, it is capable of assimilating to become as tame and non-threatening as most forms of Christianity and Judaism in the West.” In the Protestant world, either Larycia Hawkins or Tim Bayly. According to Douthat:

The good news is that there is space between these two ideas. The bad news is that we in the West can’t seem to agree on what that space should be, or how Christianity and Judaism, let alone Islam, should fit into it.

Devout Muslims watching current Western debates, for instance, might notice that some of the same cosmopolitan liberals who think of themselves as Benevolent Foes of Islamophobia are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.

They also might notice that many of the same conservative Christians who fear that Islam is incompatible with democracy are wrestling with whether their own faith is compatible with the direction of modern liberalism, or whether Christianity needs to enter a kind of internal exile in the West.

It almost sounds like Turkey’s war between Islamic friendly politicians and secularists, from a piece quoted sometime back from Mustafa Akyol:

As you probably well know, Turkey has long been stressed by political tension between religious conservatives and secular nationalists, the latter also known as the Kemalists. However, that main fault line is somewhat passé these days given the emergence of a new kind of tension between the religious conservatives who had triumphed together in (OR: previous) tension from years gone by. This time, it is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the powerful Fethullah Gülen Movement that are at odds with each other. . . .

The term I translated here as “referee” (“hakem”) is a powerful word in Islam, referring to a neutral and fair judge who can settle disputes. And it is interesting that Ms. Eraslan, a pious, headscarf-wearing Muslim, thinks that this “referee” may be none other than secularism. Of course, this would not be the type of secularism that Turkey’s Kemalists have imposed for decades. That peculiar ideology, called “laiklik” (from the French laïcité), was based on the assumption that there was something wrong with religion and therefore it needed to be suppressed by the state.

What Ms. Eraslan probably implied, and what Turkey indeed needs, is a more American-like secularism. In other words, it should be based on the recognition that there is a problem not with religion, but with the concentration of political power.

Unlike Turkey, though, and the conflict between religion and laicite, could the struggle in the U.S. be the one that animated fundamentalists and modernists during the 1920s? The political left in the United States, like modernists, does not advocate the removal of religion from public life. They like religion (think Martin Luther King, Jr.). Jim Wallis is not a threat to them.

So too, the right also likes religion of the right sort (see what I did there?). It used to be Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Now it’s Rick Santorum and Kim Davis.

The problem is that both left and right embrace a form of American exceptionalism that needs religion to endow the United States with a righteous or holy purpose.

In that case, if we are still living with the dynamics of the fundamentalist controversy, has the United States learned lessons it can pass on to the Muslim world?

Collective Guilt

At first I thought I was clear because I’m not Tim Bayly, Tim Keller, or PCA:

Bayly Blog has published a piece by Lucas Weeks, an assistant pastor at Clearnote Church, in which he argues that the root of abortion is feminism. He contends that the PCA soft-peddles feminism; thus the PCA is complicit in the acceptance of and practice of abortion. The PCA needs to repent:

We must never forget that the blood sacrifice for feminism is abortion, and if we really desire to live in a nation free from the bloody slaughter of abortion, we must repent of our feminism. Regardless of the brand of feminism we’re talking about, the vampire that has been feeding on the blood of our children for decades was unleashed by our sexual sin and our rebellion against the very simple and easy to understand words of Scripture regarding manhood and womanhood. Whether it’s the hard-core leftist feminism of Camille Paglia and Sallie Tisdale, or the soft-peddled feminism that’s increasingly common in the PCA, or even the Sarah Palin style of feminism within the GOP, the rejection of God’s clear Word is the same.

In the discussion that followed among those who have not offended the patriarchs of patriarchy to the point of being banned one brother questioned Weeks’ words about the PCA. This provoked Fr. Tim himself to write even stronger words, taking aim at one of his favorite targets, Tim Keller:

To say that conservative Reformed denominations like the PCA are responsible for the continuation of abortion in our country is an unassailable truth, as I see it. The most influential pastor of the PCA brags about not preaching against abortion and claims this is an effective tool in opposing abortion. But of course, every pastor knows why we avoid preaching against abortion, and it’s not because we believe it’s an effective technique in stopping abortion.

So that pastor and all the many pastors who mimic him in his conflict avoidance are responsible for little babies being killed in their congregations who would have lived had their pastors warned their mothers and fathers (and grandmothers and grandfathers) not to murder their unborn. As Pastor Weeks wrote, this is the fruit of feminism. Preaching against abortion is seen as anti-women’s-rights and male pastors will do almost anything to avoid any accusation that we’re anti-women’s-rights.

Then I was feeling pretty good that it’s okay that I’m not nice (which Mrs. Hart has long known but the cats, Kibbles prostitutes that they are, don’t):

In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts the qualities of fleshly, worldly people with the qualities of Spirit-filled, godly people. He lists the fruit of the Spirit, those character traits that ought to mark God’s people, saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (vv. 22–23). Conspicuously absent from Paul’s list is niceness. Kindness is there; patience and gentleness too. But not niceness.

But then I had a wake-up call. Even though I am a Canadian trapped in an American body, I am still an American and have bigger problems:

Today is the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima. On this day, seventy years ago, the United States used an atomic bomb in warfare for the first time in history. Another would follow, dropped on Nagasaki three days later. It is no exaggeration to say that since that time the world has been fixated on making sure that no nuclear weapon is ever used again. At this very time the American Congress debates whether or not to support President Obama’s recent agreement with Iran, designed to prevent Iran from attaining the capability the United States already used against Japan a lifetime ago.

The single bomb used on this day, August 6, was not used against a military target. It was dropped on an urban area, a major population center with hundreds of thousands of civilians, including the elderly, women, and children. Some 85,000 people were killed either instantly or within the first day. Many, many more died in the days and months following. Within four months the death toll reached as high as 165,000, the vast majority of whom were civilians. For the survivors, that was just the beginning of the ordeal. . . .

In fact, both arguments – that the United States was justified in using the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and that the United States is justified in bombing Iran should it develop nuclear weapons today – are flatly contradictory to classic Christian just war theory. This is hard for patriotic American Christians to admit, but it is no less clear for that.

Matt Tuininga’s point — if he is correct about just war and the bomb — that sin is deep and profound is a good one, though I’m not sure why he thinks a social gospel will remedy the social aspects of sin. We live on this side of racism, segregation, slavery, and Hiroshima. A society or group cannot go back to a point of prior innocence. History does not work that way. Maybe we simply have to live in a perpetual state of knowing we are guilty and our only hope is a glorified existence. (Imagine what that sense would to outrage porn.)

But the earlier thought that I was without sin, and the later recognition of my guilt, did make me wonder about the propriety of such public calls for repentance. If we have no possible way of making restoration, then what good is the call for repentance other than saying something about the caller? Isn’t the caller as guilty as I am? So why is he throwing the first stone?

You Can Make This Up

You would think that between Heidelblog and Old Life, the Brothers B would have enough 2k material to critique and even ridicule. But last week they turned their sights on David VanDrunen and me and had to make up a 2k opinion to suit their purposes. (Maybe the Malware protection on their computers prevents access here and over at Heidelblog.)

In yet another brief against 2k, the BBs argue on the basis of polling statistics that the United States is still an overwhelmingly Christian land and so 2kers are gagging the sovereign people:

Rants like this, whether found raw on forums of cackling hyenas or well-cooked on thousands of pages written by seminary profs, have been successful in gagging God’s authority and Word across these United States to such a degree that anyone who speaks of God’s authority or quotes Scripture out there in public is assumed to be a member of Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church. Christians seduced by the R2K/Two-Kingdom error condemn such faithful witnesses for being harsh and “giving believers a bad name.” So we have entered a new age of starvation for the Word of God in North America when God’s servants, the prophets, have been placed in Two-Kingdom handcuffs and gagged with R2K duct tape. . . .

It turns out back in 1999 when Covenant Theological Seminary’s professor of theology, David Jones, publicly called for the repeal of sodomy laws, at least 78% of his fellow Americans were Christians. That means almost eight out of every ten human beings flourishing in the hamlets and cities across our nation have received Trinitarian baptism and would be welcomed to the Lord’s Table by almost every Reformed elder and pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America and sister Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. And even today as the number of Americans confessing Christian faith has dwindled, it still hovers above 70%, and thus we’re left with the vast majority of citizens of these United States claiming faith in Jesus Christ. Why does this matter?

Tim Bayly goes on to say that the overwhelming Christian character of the nation leaves VanDrunen and me in a morass:

either they deny the legitimacy of the confession of Christian faith of the vast majority of their fellow citizens or they are forced to give up their incessant denunciations of Christian witness and prophecy in the public square.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it but when did confessional Presbyterians, those who left mainline churches to form communions that number only in the 5 or 6 figures (compared to Rome’s glorious 10), ever trust the confession of faith of the vast majority of Americans? Maybe conservative Presbyterians have been skeptical to a fault, but the point of first opposing liberalism and then leaving behind evangelicals who wouldn’t act against liberalism, was to wonder about the plausibility of the Christian witness of lots of persons and churches. Sure, someone might talk about Jesus, but was it really a Christian witness? Anyone who grew up with that mindset (one that goes back to the Reformation — ahem) will not look at the polls and have warm and fuzzy feelings. (Could it be that the Brothers B stayed too long in the PCUSA?)

In the post in question, the BBs even concede President Obama’s claim to be a Christian:

A man like President Barack Obama claims Christian faith and we must not hold him accountable to the Word of God because of our nation’s commitment to separation of church and state?

So if the President attended a service at Clearnote or Christ the Word, the pastors B would have no trouble allowing him to participate in the Lord’s Supper?

Meanwhile, the BBs charity to the Christian profession of 70% of Americans doesn’t extend to those with whom they are in fellowship or fraternal relations (and I don’t just mean VanDrunen and me). In a subsequent post Tim takes issue with Table Talk magazine and a piece that Scott Sauls wrote for it:

Yes, yes; of course. Pastor Sauls was asked to handle the Seventh Commandment because the Church in America today—particularly the rich Reformed church—is looking for “a way forward for those who are tired of taking sides.” And the teaching of Pastor Sauls is perfect-pitch for those who want to pay lip service to God and His Word without taking up their crosses. Pastor Scott Sauls teaches and writes in such a way that none of us need feel the slightest twinge of guilt as we studiously avoid “taking sides” as we go gently into that good night.

So to clarify. The Brothers B want 2k to back down because the U.S. is such a Christian place with so many professions of faith that would gain 7 out of 10 Americans admittance to the Lord’s Supper. (This point had the unfortunate timing of preceding the latest Pew findings about the decline of Christianity in the United States.) But then they don’t trust pastors who have been vetted and approved by officers in one of their very own communions.

As Smitty was in the habit of asking, “What gives?”