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?”

The Reformed Episcopal Church

The only communion where you kneel to receive grape juice and you have a priest who is able to mix it up with the BBs. Consider the following exchange (over Tim Bayly’s recommendation of a Roman Catholic Cardinal’s views on — can you believe it — masculinity:

Bill Smith – January 14, 2015 – 5:20pm
Excellent counsel here for how to enable men to be more manly:

“The goodness and importance of men became very obscured, and for all practical purposes, were not emphasized at all. This is despite the fact that it was a long tradition in the Church, especially through the devotion of St. Joseph, to stress the manly character of the man who sacrifices his life for the sake of the home, who prepares with chivalry to defend his wife and his children and who works to provide the livelihood for the family. So much of this tradition of heralding the heroic nature of manhood has been lost in the Church today.”

“Going to Confession and to Sunday Mass, praying the Rosary together as a family in the evening, eating meals together, all these things give practical direction in the Christian life. ”

“As an example, it became politically incorrect to talk about the Knights of the Altar, an idea that is highly appealing to young men. The Knights of the Altar emphasize the idea that young men offer their chivalrous service at the altar to defend Christ in the sacred realities of the Church. This idea is not welcome in many places today.”

“In many places the Mass became very priest‑centered, it was like the “priest show”. This type of abuse leads to a loss of the sense of the sacred, taking the essential mystery out of the Mass. The reality of Christ Himself coming down on the altar to make present His sacrifice on Cavalry gets lost. Men are drawn to the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice but tune out when the Mass becomes a “priest show” or trite.”

“Young men and men respond to rigor and precision and excellence. When I was trained to be a server, the training lasted for several weeks and you had to memorize the prayers at the foot of the altar. It was a rigorous and a carefully executed service. All of a sudden, in the wake of Vatican II, the celebration of the liturgy became very sloppy in many places. It became less attractive to young men, for it was slipshod.

The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. I want to emphasize that the practice of having exclusively boys as altar servers has nothing to do with inequality of women in the Church.

I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations. It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys. If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically.”

“…the Church must make a concentrated effort to evangelize men by delivering a strong and consistent message about what it means to be a faithful Catholic man. Men need to be addressed very directly about the demanding and noble challenge of serving Jesus Christ the Eternal King and His Catholic Church. Men are hungry and thirsty for meaning beyond the everyday world.”

“We need to catechize men about the profound realities of the Mass. As I mentioned, catechesis has been poor, especially the catechesis of men. Catechizing men and celebrating the Mass in a reverent way will make a big difference. It is also clear that many men will respond to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the rite celebrated before the Vatican II Council reforms.”

“Confession becomes a mysteriously beautiful experience for a man. For a man can know with certainty that he has personally expressed his sorrow for his sins to God, he can hear the freeing words of God through His minister and that his sins are forgiven and absolved.”

Tim Bayly – January 14, 2015 – 5:45pm
Dear Bill,

The interview was not commended for its practical counsel concerning the formation of manhood. Rather I commended it for its forthright recognition of the abandonment of sexuality and manhood these past few decades.

I’m confident Baylyblog readers are skilled at differentiating between wheat and chaff.

Love, . . .

Bill Smith – January 15, 2015 – 10:28am
Patriarchy puts one into bed with strange fellows. Cardinal Burke the Roman Catholic who commends to us traditional Roman Catholicism is an ally who is willing to go outslde the camp of human approval, to be hated by the world, and to fill up the sufferings of Christ with us. On the other hand Tim Keller, the evangelical who preaches the Gospel if Christ, though not the gospel of patrimony, is rejected and warned against. It get curiouser and curiouser. . . .

Tim Bayly – January 15, 2015 – 11:52am
Bill, you are a mere scoffer. Please move on.


Bill Smith – January 15, 2015 – 12:10pm
Tim, I am not the one who commended Cardinal Burke and linked to the inteview with him in which he recommends traditional Roman Catholic doctrine and practice as the path to the recovery of manhood. I am not the one who attacks and warns against Tim Keller. I am not one who turns patriarchy into gospel and scoffs at those who do not see it and practice it as I understand it. In these cases that would be you.


While separating wheat from chaff, I wonder if the BBs readers know that wheat is hermaphroditic both male and female.

The Burden of Being Presbyterian

From a recent review of Stonewall Jackson’s biography (thanks to our federal capital’s correspondent):

Though Jackson’s soldiers were in awe of him, he was a camp-and-battlefield tyrant who arrested and court-martialed subordinates for the slightest disappointment of his expectations. J. William Jones, an army chaplain and biographer of Robert E. Lee, believed that Jackson “probably put more officers under arrest than all others of our generals combined.” In August 1862, Jackson put a brigadier-general and five regimental commanders under arrest after discovering that some of their men had purloined, for firewood, a few rails from “a certain worm-fence at a little distance.”

But Jackson was also, for all his maniacal furies, a man of unusually intense Christian piety. James Power Smith, a member of Jackson’s staff, recalled that he “was that rare man . . . to whom religion was everything.” Beverley Tucker Lacy, a Presbyterian minister who served as a chaplain-at-large for Jackson’s troops, remembered that Jackson thought “every act of man’s life should be a religious act,” even “washing, clothing, eating.” Religion opened up in Jackson what amounted to a different personality. His prayers were “unlike his common quick & stern emphasis,” Lacy recorded. They were “tender, soft, pleading” and full of “confession of unworthiness.” He prayed with a self-effacement that carried “the doctrine of predestination to the borders of positive fatalism.”

One part Tim Bayly, one part John Piper.