Why Reformed Protestantism is Safe

You have ways to avoid the excesses of Jonanthan Edwards (which you never learn about from the New Calvinists), John Wesley, and Jim and Tammy Bakker:

From Edwards and Wesley, we receive a fixation on the will, a desire to create enclaves of piety, and a belief in the possibility of the individual’s direct experience of God. In the work of their successors, such as Charles Grandison Finney, we find latent belief in the sinlessness of the true self and an approach to revival characterized by the appearance of improvisation and spontaneity. These preachers cultivated the spirits of the multitude through results-focused experimentalism in the context of camp meetings around the country, sowing in the American character the seeds of enthusiasm that would yield strange harvests in every decade thereafter. The later 19th century saw the development of quasi- and post-Christian reform movements, fads, and pop-philosophies that would call individuals to embrace their higher selves—such as “New Thought,” which centered the will in a larger project of spiritual self-advancement through the unleashing of “the creative power of constructive thinking.”

The 20th century inherited from these enthusiastic forebears an epochal optimism. Even in times of anxiety and despair, there is a hopefulness in the American self, and this hopefulness is built upon that self’s utter reality in a world of mere appearances; though circumstances change, the self remains a firm foundation. The literary critic Harold Bloom captured something of the strangeness of this in his provocative and infuriating book The American Religion. “The soul stands apart,” he writes, “and something deeper than the soul, the Real Me or self or spark, thus is made free to be utterly alone with a God who is also quite separate and solitary, that is, a free God or God of freedom.” In essence, Bloom describes a post-Protestant Gnostic cult of the self: “The American finds God in herself or himself, but only after finding the freedom to know God by experiencing a total inward solitude.”

Bloom’s analysis hinges on a metaphysical intuition: that the self is uncreated, and it knows, rather than believes in, its own innocence and divinity. “Awareness, centered on the self, is faith for the American religion,” Bloom wrote, and this religion of the self “consistently leads to a denial of communal concern.” Christ is internalized to a point of blurred identity with the “real me.” Such are the fruits of what Bloom calls the “doctrine of experience”—an outgrowth from the taproot of religious enthusiasm. Christianity, Bloom suggests, was too cramped for the young, unbounded nation. Abandoning doctrinal encumbrances such as belief in original sin (or sometimes, belief in sin at all), an intuitive and endlessly innovative spirituality grew to meet this need.

* * *
Wild spirits prepared the way for the coming of the Bakkers. Distinct from mainline, fundamentalist, and evangelical varieties of Protestantism—but eventually influential in all three—Pentecostalism grew out of late-19th-century Methodist holiness movements, dramatically emerging through a revival in Los Angeles that began in 1906 and lasted for a decade. With a mandate to seek out the signs and wonders attributed to Christ’s apostles in the book of Acts, Pentecostals trembled, shouted, spoke in tongues, and did much else to startle and shock the sensibilities of average Americans. Promises of dramatic spiritual and physical healing found great purchase among those in poverty, and the new enthusiasm became disreputable both for its excesses and its hard-up—and racially diverse—demographics.

If Tim Keller wants to join that company of enthusiasts, have at it.


At Least It’s Not a Conference about Lent

Redeemer Big Apple is sponsoring a conference during this Lenten reason not about repentance and abstinence but about work:

When we see that work is created to glorify God, our work doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it does become more meaningful. The pain in our work is faced with greater honesty, where the brokenness can finally be named and seen. The unseen potential of our work is faced with greater imagination, where an innovative spirit can unleash what yearns to be resurrected. In short, when we discover that we’re formed to work for God’s glory, we find that our small tasks aren’t so small, and our big tasks are in better hands. Work becomes desirable. Rest becomes possible. Faith becomes essential.

Join us for a two-day experience where we’ll investigate how we are formed to work for the glory of God. Artists and educators, designers and technicians, homemakers, engineers, managers, entrepreneurs, doctors, and everyone in between are welcome.

Plumbers? Janitors? Bakers? The only non-professionals included in that list are homemakers.

But the oddest part of the conference is its “Glimpses,” or “exciting opportunities throughout the city to participate in diverse experiences centered around work, culture and sabbath.” These include:


In this thrilling urban scavenger hunt, you’ll experience New York City as you never have before. Within teams, you’ll work through city-centric challenges and puzzles and learn new things about the Big Apple along the way.


Join us for a stand-up comedy performance followed by an in-depth look into how the gospel intersects with the entertainment sector.


Have some ice cream and see this newly opened and highly lauded East Village shop that blends a great product with a powerful mission.


Come visit one of the largest real estate firms in New York City, where we’ll see how urban homes are found and made, and hear from a broker about the inner workings of the vast and complex NYC market.


Learn a simple and practical method for bringing God’s beauty into your personal space. Together we’ll learn a new restful hobby and the spiritual importance of fostering beauty in your daily life.


How can running be a form of practicing rest? Come find out and run through a guided path with a group.


Get an inside look at the excitement and energy of a trading floor. We’ll also hear from a panel of finance industry employees to hear about the shifts, values, and complexities of the financial sphere.


With more than 400 years of history, come see the Lower Manhattan neighborhood where what once were cow paths and trading posts are now skyscraper lined streets.


Knowing His great care for our bodies, how can we invite God into our physical workouts? Through meditation and prayer, we’ll discover how to connect God to breathing and movement in this meditation that will also include an hour long yoga class and journaling.

Aside from blessing Goldman Sachs at a time when I would have thought progressive-leaning, Ta Nehisi Coates-reading evangelicals were woke about neo-liberalism (not to mention the 2008 financial collapse and the federals’ bailout), could this list of consumption, tourism, and entertainment be any more of a cliche? It would be like the OPC selling shirts that can’t be tucked in, pocket protectors, and slide rules at one of its pre-General Assembly conferences?

Or could it be that when you are this cool, you don’t worry about optics?

What would He Think of Machen?

This is about the reporter who has had many fruitful interactions with Tim Keller:

The late writer Christopher Hitchens had what you might call an intellectual jumper cable routine: he would wake up in the morning, open the New York Times, read its front page motto “All the News Fit to Print,” and allow that hackneyed boast to enrage him into carrying out his polemical duties. Lately I’ve found myself accidentally mimicking Hitchens, but with the Washington Post, which since Trump’s election has been running with the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” So long as that shamelessly self-aggrandizing, wokeness-overdosed, low-rent Dashboard Confessional refrain-cum-greasy fortune cookie slip remains the ethos of my local paper, it’ll only take one cup of coffee to wake me up, thanks.

This week, though, it’s the Times that’s got my goat, probably because, unlike the Post, I read as much of it as possible every morning (for its excellent foreign coverage, not its masthead). Last week the Gray Lady published a column by op-ed page fixture Nicholas Kristof, the Tom Bergeron of liberal internationalism, titled “Trump’s Threat to Democracy.” Kristof cites two political science academics at Harvard who list four omens as to whether a “political leader is a dangerous authoritarian”: he “shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules,” “denies the legitimacy of opponents,” “tolerates violence,” and “shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.” “Donald Trump,” the profs ruefully announce, “met them all.” And then the clincher: “With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century.”

Come again?

That timespan easily covers Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, during which the mildly anti-civil liberty policy of rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans and interning them in camps was implemented. But you don’t even need to go back that far to refute Kristof’s professors: events still in the public memory can provide. The George W. Bush administration instituted a surveillance regime that stretched the Fourth Amendment into cellophane, and then tried to browbeat a hospitalized (and possibly addled) John Ashcroft into granting it his approval; it allowed prisoners to be indefinitely detained and tortured, and even mulled using the military against terrorism suspects on U.S. soil. Barack Obama assassinated American citizens with drones, invoked the Espionage Act to spy on reporter James Rosen, launched a war against Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi without congressional authorization, and set a record for the most Freedom of Information Act requests denied in American history. Bush and Obama didn’t just “show some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media,” to use the academics’ soupy words; they rammed right through them with the brunt power of the federal government.

With friends like these. . .

What If Redeemer NYC Were Big Enough?

Some big changes at the most influential PCA congregation IN THE WORLD!

Here is the text of yesterday’s announcement:

The Center for Faith & Work (CFW) is pleased to announce the newest phase of its fifteen-year history as its staff joins Redeemer City to City (CTC) and continues to serve the Redeemer churches and New York City, while over time broadening its reach to global cities.

“Redeemer is changing with CFW because Redeemer is now not one church, it’s a family of three churches, which means it’s immediately looking outward to bless the whole city,” says Redeemer’s founding pastor Tim Keller. “Redeemer has become centrifugal; that is, it’s starting to push out to start new churches and help others start new churches. And so Redeemer is actually looking outwards, just like CFW will be looking outward, beyond Redeemer. They’re both making the same change at the same time. If CFW stays locked in Redeemer alone, then I don’t think a lot of its wisdom will be as available to the world. This is why now is the optimal time to do this.”

So apparently, Redeemer NYC is too New York to be of use to the rest of the world, unlike Redeemer CTC which is apparently global in orientation and structure. Do the folks who are New York Presbyterians really mean to imply that understandings of vocation in New York are parochial and cannot work in other parts of the world, unless integrated into a global organization? Since Tim Keller recently explained his worries about nationalism, what must he make of metropolitanism, something like the hyping of the Big Apple above the needs and realities of the rest of the world?

As the announcement explains:

Throughout its existence, CFW has encountered New Yorkers of all backgrounds facing a decidedly more global vocational culture. In our quickly changing world, the need for new tools, curriculum, and communities that help Christians wisely and meaningfully bring their faith to bear at work, across all spheres, is paramount.

City to City provides a developed network and infrastructure to strengthen CFW in its three-fold aim of equipping, connecting, and mobilizing Christians around the world in faith and work integration. City to City ensures a centralized effort towards that global expansion, while continuing a close and collaborative relationship with the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches.

So being a Christian banker in Beijing is decidedly different from banking on Wall Street?

Aside from vocation, this announcement raises questions about organizational footprint of Redeemer’s operations and Keller’s alliances. Are we really supposed to believe that Redeemer NYC — whichever congregation — was too inflexible a platform for the Center for Faith & Work? When did ecclesiology or administrative restrictions prevent Redeemer NYC from expanding its reach, or starting new programs? Heck, I suspect the PCA’s Mission to the World could have incorporated the work that the Center does if New York’s administrators had decided to work with PCA missionaries and their offices in different parts of the world? Is the Center’s activity really so special that the PCA’s structures can’t handle it? After all, the reading list available at the Center’s website is very, oh so very neo-Calvinist, with Al Wolter’s Creation Regained occupying the “advanced” understanding of vocation:

Few contemporary books have been cited as often by those who are writing about taking up callings and vocations faithfully. This this serious little book walks us through the key Biblical themes of the goodness of creation, the seriousness of the fall into sin, the decisive redemption gained by Christ, and the implications of working out the promised hope for a creation-wide restoration. With the keen eye of a philosopher and the passion of a Bible scholar, Wolter’s offers one of the definitive, concise books about a Christian worldview. One of the most important books for those of us in CFW and highly recommended to understand a uniquely Christian view of cultural and vocational engagement.

Granted, the neo-Calvinists never took root in NYC after the English displaced the Dutch colonists about two-thirds into the seventeenth century. But what is distinctly global about a set of readings that come largely from Christian Reformed writers living in North America and published Dutch-American editors in Grand Rapids?

And what about The Gospel Coalition? Is it parachurch chopped liver? Don’t the Allies have branches all over the world? If Redeemer can partner with TGC on The New City Catechism (TGC has a link at it’s menu page), why can’t the Center for Faith & Work collaborate with the Coalition in it’s own Faith & Work work?

The word that comes to mind is marvelous. But the marvel experienced here is that anyone in Presbyterian ministry has time for all of these structural niceties even when the bells and whistles of Presbyterian polity don’t seem to be all that important.

Imagine if the PCA were Big Enough

Then you wouldn’t need the Gospel Coalition.

So why don’t the leaders of neo-neo-evangelicalism acknowledge that a parachurch organization with a public profile generated largely by the world-wide interweb used by celebrity pastors who sometimes go to conferences and meet with ordinary neo-neo-evangelicals is a capitulation to contemporary culture? Where is all the discernment that comes from reading sociology, history, and cultural and art criticism?

What if limiting your ministry to the confines of a communion is counter-cultural? Is being counter-cultural simply a pose or does it also require subtraction — rejecting (at least some aspects of) culture?

Then, these reflections might lose some of their pietistic earnestness (sorry for the redundancy):

“If they are not controlled by Scripture and confessionalism, then of course [evangelicals] are going to fit into the grid of the broader and more secular culture,” Carson said. “By and large, these cultural evangelicals work out their cultural bondage in more conservative ways than their agnostic counterparts, but it is difficult to believe that racism is less evil than sexual promiscuity.”

Exactly. And if pastors let confessions and church polity control their ministry, they might put their own communion, the one in which they vowed to minister God’s word and the holy sacraments, ahead of all other extra-denominational activities. In other words, can you really act like you are being counter cultural when the rest of the culture is turning from denominational Christianity to none (denominational) Christianity?

“I see TGC as occupying the same space that evangelicalism’s founding fathers—like Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Billy Graham—occupied,” Keller said. They wanted to be evangelicals, not fundamentalists; to engage with non believers and with society, and not just to withdraw, Keller said.

“We don’t want to be pietists, but we don’t want to be captive to the spirit of the age either,” Keller said. “But that is actually a hard place to be. It’s a lot easier to retreat to your fortress or to just go along with the crowd. But TGC, from the very beginning, wanted to avoid going in either direction. We wanted to be prophetic from the center, as Don [Carson] says.”

What would really be counter-cultural would be commitment to word-and-sacrament ministry when the spirit of the age, thanks to Henry, Ockenga et al, is to overlook considerations like baptism, the Lord’s supper, ordination, and the sufficiency of Scripture (which would limit pastors from dabbling in sociology and cultural criticism).

In point of fact, creating a brand though social media, the way the gospel allies do, is about as beholden to the zeitgeist as someone could imagine. When I think of being counter-cultural, I don’t think of the Gospel Coalition. I think of the Amish.

Post-script: notice that evangelicalism didn’t start with Luther, the Puritans, Edwards, or Finney. It began in the 1940s. What I’m saying.

Is the PCA Big Enough?

The death of R. C. Sproul and the occasion of The New Yorker publishing Tim Keller provide the opportunity for further reflections on ecclesiology and parachurch agencies. For instance, Keller’s article in The New Yorker includes this byline:

Timothy Keller is the founder and Pastor Emeritus of the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches of New York City.

And here is how Christianity Today began its death notice for Sproul:

Late PCA leader influenced generations of Christians by filling the gap “between Sunday school and seminary.”

Both men belong/belonged to the PCA. But no one identified either man in his professional life with the PCA. Keller is his own church-planting guru with Redeemer City-to-City as the vehicle for funding church start ups in big cities around the world. Sproul made Ligonier Ministries his brand. Both are hugely successful authors who are/were known more for books than denominational affiliation. Neither man found it possible to work within the confines of denominational mechanisms. Could Keller have somehow made his church planting operation part of the PCA’s Mission to the World? (And what if Keller decided to put Crossway Publishing on his back and allow them to publish his New York Times bestsellers? Or, what if Keller became the face of the Gospel Coalition and transferred his energies from Redeemer’s many operations into the Gospel Coalition’s many operations?) Imagine what that might do for the PCA’s name recognition. Or could Sproul have operated Ligonier as an arm of the PCA’s Discipleship Ministries (the equivalent of the OPC’s Committee on Christian Education)? The answer is yes. But that affirmative would have changed significantly the shape of what Keller and Sproul accomplished as expositors of God’s word and teachers of doctrine.

This is not meant as a criticism of either man. The intention here is simply to note the real limitations of denominations. Everyone faces them. Denominations are clunky, procedural, deliberative, slow. Presbyterian denominations even more so. So to take a non-profit and move it under the umbrella of another non-profit is a dicey institutional maneuver. At the same time, becoming the head of a denomination’s church planting operations or its Christian education agency is to give up space for personal initiative and take a back seat to supervising committees and denominational procedures.

And yet, not everyone conducts work that duplicates that of a denominational agency or committee. In the case of a church historian, for instance, a denominational committee may publish books that cover institutional or theological history but they don’t produce books on the arts and sciences. In which case, an academic historian needs to find other publishing outlets for non-denominational writing. At the same time, writers and authors constantly face the temptation to create their own media company. Think Rush Limbaugh. Then imagine Rush having to cooperate and even submit to the guidance of the Republican Party. Not gonna happen. But when Rush wants to achieve a higher profile, does he work with his own website and editorial services or does he seek a trade press that knows the ropes of getting books into bookstores and handles distribution and invoices?

Which comes around then to a question bigger than celebrity, namely, entrepreneurialism. To what degree should pastors and theologians be in the business not only of creating ideas and arguments that encourage the faithful but also the start of organizations for promoting their own initiatives? The related question is whether denominations or church government is compatible with entrepreneurial pastors. Communions like the PCA, from the outside, look fairly capacious. If the OPC has the reputation for helicopter Presbyterianism — which is so far from reality — then the PCA is a Presbyterian version of a confederation of congregations like the URC or the SBC. It would seem to be a perfect place to allow for energetic and industrious pastors to work out their gifts and callings.

But the examples of Sproul and Ligonier, and Keller and Redeemer suggest otherwise. Not even as vigorous, missional, and hands-off a denomination as the PCA is capable of employing the talents of men like Sproul and Keller.

So either denominations have run their course of usefulness, or gifted ministers need to turn down their talents to settings conducive to a communion’s normal operations.


That’s An Awfully Low Threshold

Tim Challies identifies the marks of a false teacher, including this one:

Third, false teachers teach their own wisdom rather than God’s wisdom. False teachers always teach their own foolishness instead of divine wisdom. This means then, that the ultimate source of their teaching is their own minds. It’s their own hearts, it’s their own sinful desires. Listen to what God said through the prophet Jeremiah. He said, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I commend them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” That was true in Jeremiah’s day, it’s just as true in our day.

Imagine what that does for pastors who Tweet (or even elders).

Rod Reading Tim

Rod Dreher doesn’t detect much daylight between the Benedict Option and Tim Keller even though I’ve tried to describe it. Here’s Keller (from Rod) on the West:

The crazy Christian gospel, so sneered at by the cultural elites that day, eventually showed forth its spiritual power to change lives and its cultural power to shape societies. Christianity met the populace’s needs and answered their questions. The dominant culture could not. And so the gospel multiplied.

Do we have Paul’s courage, wisdom, skill, balance, and love to do the same thing today in the face of many sneering cultural leaders? It won’t be the same journey, because we live in a post-Christian Western society that has smuggled in many values gotten from the Bible but now unacknowledged as such. Late modern culture is not nearly as brutal as pagan culture. So the challenges are different, but we must still, I think, plunge into the agora as Paul did.

Here’s Rod’s rendering:

Does it surprise you that I agree with this? I’m still looking for ways in which Tim Keller and I substantively disagree on cultural engagement. If you know of any, please let me know — I’m serious about that. What I emphasize in The Benedict Option is that if we Christians are going to do that in a hostile, post-Christian public square, we have no choice but to take a step back from the public square to deepen our knowledge of the faith, our prayer lives, and our moral and spiritual discipline.

One difference right off the bat is that Keller is not pessimistic about the contemporary world, the way Rod is. That’s why it had to come as a surprise when Princeton Seminary thought Keller was too conservative and should not receive the Kuyper Prize.

Yet, Keller has other readers. Rod quotes one:

I’m somewhat favorably disposed to Tim Keller’s ministry, and even attended his church for a season. But that movement is likely to head off in its own direction. The current alliances that make up evangelicalism were forged in an era before liquid modernity. There is no reason why we should expect those alliances to continue to make sense in the very different social context that we face today. And we have to avoid the trap of conflating Christian orthodoxy with practical Christian wisdom. Families raising kids need something very different from a church community than what I need, as a 30-something professional who travels 50% of the time, usually in Asia….

Liquid modernity poses a certain challenge to Western rules-based cultures. Things change faster than our ability to develop rules to address certain situations. And that places a degree of stress on existing institutions, requiring them to be thicker than they were in the past. But it’s hard for institutions to be both thick and broad. For thickness to work, there has to be a high degree of overlap in people’s life situations. Demographic differences matter more.

I’m actually an advocate of an evangelical break-up. I believe that the Benedict Option is necessary. But the Benedict Option is going to look very different for different people. My fear is that evangelicalism ends up targeting the largest market, middle-class white suburbanites with kids, and castigated everyone else as a sinner. One need not look to hard for criticisms of Tim Keller’s efforts to reach out to people like me. And it disappoints me that Keller is largely silent in the face of those criticisms. If Christianity is to survive in an age of liquid modernity, it’s going to take more than suburban mega-churches.

Another difference then is that Rod thinks modernity is a force that hurts Christianity while Keller, like Pope Francis, tries to come along side moderns.

Still one more reader of Keller that Rod should enter into his Redeemer NYC spreadsheet:

Over the past decade or so, evangelical millennials like myself and my peers (and possibly even you), could be found across the country, repenting of our former fundamentalist ways.

We’ve put away our moralistic understanding of Christianity. We’ve reclaimed what is essential: Jesus, and his gospel. We’ve tossed aside our simplistic, and less than nuanced answers to those who criticize our faith and worldview.

Aided by an Internet-powered, Information Age, we have set out to re-engage culture in a fresh new way, following Tim Keller and Russell Moore on one end of the spectrum, or Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans on the other.

As those who will soon lead the church, we are convinced that we are called to a new vision of cultural engagement and mission. . . .

Therefore, we’ve raised our sensitivity to xenophobic nationalism, misogyny, gay-bashing, microaggressions, and anti-intellectualism. For us, being uninformed and un-’woke’ is shameful and most harmful to our Christian witness.

Instead, we have taken up the mission to winsomely engage the brightest of thinkers in order that they might believe, and to prophetically rebuke the most narrow-minded of evangelicals in order that they might think.

We see far too little cultural influencers operating out of a biblical framework. And we’ve seen too many of our friends leave the faith due to overly simplistic, unsatisfying, and stale apologetic answers to their genuine contemporary questions.

We want to articulate, in a Keller-esque fashion, an attractive “third way,” between the liberals and the conservatives, between the irreligious and the religious. And in doing so, we hope to find a better place to stand, where we are neither apostates nor anti-intellectuals, neither prodigals nor older brothers.

So we continue to study Scripture and affirm its absolute authority, while still paying close attention to contemporary culture, the media, and the academy, seeking common grace insights from them, and wrestling with how to interpret and make sense of their findings.

We heed Peter’s exhortation that we be prepared to make a defense to all, while reminding ourselves of James’ admonition to be quick to listen, and slow to speak, even when it comes to a secular culture such as ours.

We don’t settle for just being Christians, but we seek to be informed, knowledgeable, and sensitive Christians. And by God’s grace, we sometimes do find a way forward, a third way, in which we actually become “believers who think,” equipped to interact with “thinkers” who don’t believe.

And discovering a “third way” feels good. It’s the rewarding feeling of progress, and confidence — confidence in the fact that we’ve found more thoughtful and persuasive answers than the ones our Sunday School teachers gave us 20 years ago. But it’s also the feeling of transcendence, and if we’re not careful, arrogant superiority.

Thinking Christians engaged with the world. That may not have been Paul’s advice to Timothy but it’s a page right out of Harry Emerson Fosdick:

Already all of us must have heard about the people who call themselves the Fundamentalists. Their apparent intention is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions. I speak of them the more freely because there are no two denominations more affected by them than the Baptist and the Presbyterian. We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant.

The Fundamentalists see, and they see truly, that in this last generation there have been strange new movements in Christian thought. A great mass of new knowledge has come into man’s possession—new knowledge about the physical universe, its origin, its forces, its laws; new knowledge about human history and in particular about the ways in which the ancient peoples used to think in matters of religion and the methods by which they phrased and explained their spiritual experiences; and new knowledge, also, about other religions and the strangely similar ways in which men’s faiths and religious practices have developed everywhere. . . .

Now, there are multitudes of reverent Christians who have been unable to keep this new knowledge in one compartment of their minds and the Christian faith in another. They have been sure that all truth comes from the one God and is His revelation. Not, therefore, from irreverence or caprice or destructive zeal but for the sake of intellectual and spiritual integrity, that they might really love the Lord their God, not only with all their heart and soul and strength but with all their mind, they have been trying to see this new knowledge in terms of the Christian faith and to see the Christian faith in terms of this new knowledge.

For anyone who detects an example of the genetic fallacy, please write a note to Pastor Tim and ask him to explain how he avoids the errors that modernists like Fosdick committed.

If Lecrae Can Leave, Why Can’t Orthodox Presbyterians Get Out

Some of us have been saying for a while that Reformed Protestants are not evangelical, but the standard scholarship puts conservative Presbyterians squarely in the evangelical camp. Those different assessments of Presbyterian and evangelical relations make the recent discussion of Lecrae’s departure from white evangelicalism seem partial and shortsighted. But they should give confessional Presbyterians sympathy with black Protestants.

For instance, notice what happens if you change words in Raymond Chang’s defense of Lecrae:

We need to be aware of how we bring unconscious biases to our own litmus tests of whether people of color Orthodox Presbyterians are theologically correct enough based on their emphasis on justice doctrinal issues. Often times, people of color are viewed with greater scrutiny simply because of their skin tone dress. We need to be concerned with the ways our political commitments co-opt our faith commitments. The fact that people equate Christians with a particular political party is problematic, especially if we consider how both parties are deeply flawed. We need to redefine our understanding of organizational fit. This means we need to reconsider what it means to be equipped. For example, is someone equipped for the pastorate if they have racist heterodox tendencies or beliefs? And who gets to decide if they do, white people or the people they disparage?

We also need to be mindful of how networks and credibility is established. Consider who is promoted within evangelicalism through publishing deals. If a Christian publisher looks through their catalogues and white people overwhelmingly occupy the authorial space, it is likely because the people they have come across were developed through their white evangelical network. Consider who speaks at conferences like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel and you’ll see how people who had local or regional platforms, now have national or international ones. Whether you are aware of it or not, we normalize whiteness in evangelicalism by having an overwhelming majority of white speakers and only one or two plenary speakers of color Orthodox Presbyterians. Consider the ways in which people get mentored. There are tremendous barriers to mentorship felt by Christians of color Orthodox Presbyterians who would say they hold the same faith commitments and convictions as evangelicals do, but don’t either know or have an entry point into these networks (I fortunately, had people who helped me navigate in, but I am a part of the exception, not the rule). Consider who is appointed the most senior level leadership roles and how they are found and determined upon. It cannot be true that only white people are “called” to these positions of authority and influence and people of color Orthodox Presbyterians are not.

If white evangelicalism is serious about representing the unity Christ calls us to in this world, this means you cannot find successors who preach like you do, see the world like you do, and share the same skin tonefashion as you. This means Thabiti Anyabwile or Bryan Lorritts (or any of the small handful of others) Carl Trueman cannot be the only black preachers Orthodox Presbyterian in your conferences (despite their his wonderful gifts). This means that conferences need to provide substantial opportunities for Asians and Latinos and Native Americans Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Reformed to speak as well. This means that senior leadership at churches cannot be satisfied with a disproportionate percentage of white pastors/elders to non-white confessional pastors/elders.

Further, we need to look deeply into the reasons why leaders of color Orthodox Presbyterians who occupy the top spots in Christian (evangelical) organizations and churches do not last. This means we need to have the humility to listen, but not just listen, and act upon the problems we see. This also means evangelicalism needs to allow people of color Orthodox Presbyterians to speak for themselves and on their own terms. We also need to create pipelines for evangelicals of color confessional Protestants to grow in leadership opportunities (see what Intervarsity did with the Daniel Project) because we know that leadership matters and that leadership shapes organizations.

Of course, the difference is that Orthodox Presbyterians already have their own institutions and structures. That institutional basis means that OP’s aren’t necessarily jonesing for leadership in TGC. Since that is true, and since the freedom of religion means that all Protestants have the opportunity to form their own structures (which the black church already has), then why is it that Christians of color or some Orthodox Presbyterians aspire to receive the imprimatur of John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Tim Keller?

See What Keller Did Now?

Tim Keller has made the history of Presbyterianism obsolete. Look at the way Jake Meador describes the challenges facing young pastors in the PCA:

… young Presbyterian pastors, many of whom are on university campuses with RUF or working in gentrifying urban neighborhoods, face enormous class-based pressure to conform to certain progressive cultural norms. These pressures make themselves felt in a variety of ways.

First, there is a strong and classic American pull toward being dismissive of the past, toward what is established, and to embrace what is new. This temptation exerts an even stronger pull than normal on many young PCA pastors because many younger pastors and RUF guys have strong entrepreneurial tendencies. While this is often a very good thing—indeed, it’s what makes it possible for them to succeed as church planters and RUF pastors—this same trait can make them naturally inclined to be dismissive toward established norms, policies, and beliefs, especially when they are surrounded by other young people with the same entrepreneurial sensibilities. It is probably not a coincidence, in other words, that the most famous “Kellerite” to go progressive is pastoring in San Francisco, the capital of Silicon Valley.

In addition to the disregard for things that are older, established, etc. there is also strong cultural pressure to embrace a kind of bourgeois bohemian lifestyle—buy a cute house in the gentrifying neighborhood, embrace the careerism, food and exercise regimen, lifestyle trends, and broadly progressive ethos of your neighbors. You can even say you’re just being outreach-focused as you do it. While none of these things are bad in isolation, taken together they’re all steps that involve embracing the norms of a younger bobo sub-culture. And if you’re embracing those norms out of a desire to be liked rather than a pure desire to make the Gospel sensible, it will be disastrous.

But, of course, it is all very complicated: Essentially, these are young pastors being handed different cultural scripts and asked to choose which ones to follow. But these clashing scripts cannot be simplistically labeled “good” and “bad” such that we can tell young pastors to follow the “good” script and avoid the “bad.” It is more complicated than that.

This is similar to the point that Ron Belgau made in his response to Rod Dreher earlier this week: It’s not that we have a legacy PCA script that is unambiguously good that we need to cling to. That script has problems—it’s awful on race issues, for starters. So figuring out the cultural scripts question in the PCA is challenging: The young white bobo script you’re pushed toward culturally and according to class is bad, but then you don’t necessarily have a good alternative script, particularly if you’re trying to plant a church or RUF in a more hostile environment. There simply aren’t good evangelical templates for how to do that because we have for the most part been really bad at it.

In such a situation, the draw toward Keller and the ham-handed attempts to mimic him are quite understandable. What other models do these pastors have? Driscollism? Straight-up progressive Episcopalianism?

Certainly, you can argue that there actually are other models out there—Calvin basically turned Geneva into a booming intellectual hub. Someone like Richard Sibbes was a very successful preacher in Cambridge at the university in the 17th century. Richard Baxter could be helpful in that we know more about his routines as a pastor than any other minister of his era. Bucer and his colleagues in Strasbourg did good and faithful work in a major intellectual, cultural, and scholastic hub. But these examples are all either from radically different cultural contexts, much more obscure, or both.

It isn’t unreasonable that these pastors would look to Keller and, being young and failing to understand their context, fail to mimic him well. But that isn’t Keller’s fault and it isn’t entirely the young pastor’s fault either. It’s a predictable outcome given all the factors I have mentioned already.

Whatever happened to vanilla Presbyterianism? A pastor ministers the word, administers the sacraments, catechizes the youth, shepherds the flock, and goes to presbytery. What does all this worry about culture have to do with it? Meador doesn’t think Keller is responsible for leading the PCA down a misguided path of Kellerism. That is mostly true. What happened it seems to meeeeEEEE, is that Keller fulfilled the aspirations of some PCA leaders who wanted to “engage” the culture — marriage is still up for grabs.

What is happening in the PCA is what always happens to denominations that Americanize and try to adapt to the culture. The Presbyterian version of this is not whether to be Baptist or Episcopalian — though why don’t the boho’s seem to notice that Keller’s urban ways draw him to Baptists at TGC and other urban pastors like John Piper and Mark Dever? The Presbyterian version of assimilation is New School and New Life. In the 19th century, those who wanted to Christianize the culture were the New Schoolers (Lyman Beecher and Charles Finney), and their opponents were Old School Presbyterians who tried to maintain creedal theology and presbyterian governance. In the twentieth century (let’s leave aside the modernists for now), the assimilationists were New Lifers (in the OPC mind you) who wanted Orthodox Presbyterians to join with the wider evangelical world and also reach the young people with long hair. In case no one noticed, Tim Keller’s origins are in the New Life wing of the OPC, with Harvie Conn supplying a theology of the city, and Jack Miller providing a relaxed Presbyterianism that could adjust to the culture (Miller’s tastes ran less to ballet and more to Jesus people. Keller went to New Life Glenside while he taught at WTS, if I am not mistaken.) Not to mention that the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (which goes back to the Bible Presbyterians) side of the PCA that gave it Covenant College and Covenant Seminary, is not the same slice southern Presbyterianism that produced Reformed Seminary and the original PCA.

In other words, the history is thick behind Keller and simply looking at the PCA from the perspective of Baptists and Episcopalians doesn’t take you very far into the weeds.

Yet, when you apply the categories of Baptist and Episcopalian, you wind up rendering Old School (or vanilla) Presbyterianism as a couple clicks away from strange:

During times when progressivism is ascendant, as it certainly is in our day, there is a natural temptation amongst conservatives to want to double down on their most strident rhetoric, add purity tests to protect their institutions, and to begin attacking people not only for holding wrong ideas, but for holding ideas which they suspect could lead to wrong ideas (even if they won’t inevitably lead to them).

Is this a plea for Erdmanesque tranquility so that the boat won’t rock? Ministry unites, doctrine divides?

Whether Keller is responsible or no, he has not helped to prepare the PCA for the predicament that Meador thinks the denomination faces:

You’re in this weird denomination that aspires to being the church that can reach secular bobo-types in upwardly mobile neighborhoods but that also aspires to be faithful to theological orthodoxy and even to be theologically evangelical, all the way down to not ordaining women. That is an awkward position to be in from the beginning.

If Keller had left the impression that working through presbyterian channels was not weird but normal, and had achieved his fame not as a pastor with one foot in presbyterianism and another in networked Protestantism but as a regular Presbyterian minister, he might have communicated an important lesson to young pastors, namely, that it’s okay to be simply a pastor. But that is not what he did. And his fellow Presbyterian Church in Americans are sorting out what the Age of Keller means.