Paul Helm Shows 2k Isn’t Hard to Understand or Affirm

Dr. Helm is on a roll. First he defends 2k from charges of quietism and includes this poignant remark:

Those who advocate a Christian view of this or that fail to recognize the seriousness of what they are proposing. To have a Christian view of X is to be committed to proclaiming it as the word of God which Christians have an obligation to uphold and propagate.

In other words, redeeming culture or doing things Christianly may inspire, but the claims bite off more than the claimants can chew — namely, invoking Christianity brings norms that believers seldom apply to the variety of callings in which they find themselves.

Then, Dr. Helm observes how John Owen could have used a dose of 2k for the brief time he believed that England was the greatest nation on God’s green earth:

What happened to Owen’s theology can be explained in two phases. In the first phase his understanding of the accepted Reformed understanding of the secret will and revealed will distinction changed shape during the Commons sermons. As we saw earlier the distinction, as Owen understood this, is between what God decrees, reserved to himself, and what he requires, his revelation. Owen extended the revealed will, the promises, from ‘generals’ to include the particular contemporary and future events in the British Isles about which he preached to the House of Commons, going beyond what he had said were secrets to include the unfolding events of the Civil war and their significance, and in particular to the military operations in Ireland. He daringly attributed to what he said of these the character of God’s revealed purposes, long prophesied, in turn giving rise to Christian precepts.

It is likely that his relative youth, sudden promotion to Cromwell’s side, and the way of thinking exhibited in his sermons, had turned his mind. He believed he was in the cockpit of the unfolding of God’s plan for England, foretold by the prophets, and that he was their mouthpiece. The outcome was assured.

If it can happen to the orthodox Puritan, Owen, perhaps we can give Ted Cruz a pass.

Identity Economics

I thought that neo-Calvinism was supposed to do away with the sacred-secular distinction that led fundamentalists to produce the Christian Yellow Pages — you know, the phone book that allowed Christian consumers to buy goods and services from Christian providers of goods and services. Well, even in the hipster land of urban Protestantism, the logic of every square inch only extends to redeemed businesses. Bethany explains:

But we also believe that God is working in areas beyond literature, academia, and journalism. In fact, as our Theological Vision for Ministry makes clear, we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do everything—from teaching to plumbing to accounting. “Such a church will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions.”

This Christmas, our faith and work channel—Every Square Inch—wants to celebrate products made by companies founded by Christian entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, they created something from nothing and, along the way, have given people jobs, contributed to the economy, engaged in ethical business practices, been generous with their neighbors, and expressed the creativity of God.

This guide isn’t comprehensive. There are thousands of outstanding Christian-led companies, and I welcome your suggestions in the comments. Also, each company featured makes many products, not just the ones below, so I encourage you to explore. These items are simply “my favorite things.” I hope you that enjoy the guide and—even if you don’t find anything in it—that you’re encouraged to see God at work.

Aside from projecting a kind of insularity that conflicts with Redeemer NYC’s cosmopolitanism, Bethany fails to explain how exactly non-Christians fail to give people jobs, contribute to the economy, engage in ethical business practices, be generous to neighbors, and express the creativity of God. That sacred-secular distinction might come in handy and let Christians recognize the creational norms that govern not just sanctified but all human existence.

Maybe the explanation for Christians’ superiority is that only Christians can create “something from nothing.” If so, Bethany doesn’t understand ex nihilo or the omnipotence of God (where are TGC’s theological editors?). She also does not seem to agree with President Obama. Bethany appears to have us believe that Christian entrepreneurs “did build that.”

How Red State.

So the Alternative is Lepanto?

Rod needs to add the 2k secular faith option to his Benedict proposal. First he recommends a critique of Islamist terrorism on the grounds that secularism is responsible for excluding faith from politics:

It’s embarrassing for liberals to admit that liberalism offers religious freedom only to those religions that adhere to its central tenants. It’s awkward to admit that liberalism limits in advance the form any given religion may take (pray, but not here, believe, but don’t preach, hold ethical principles, but pay for others to violate them, interpret your Scriptures, but not radically, etc.). The liberal society wants to maintain that it accepts all religious beliefs with equal validity, and is thus forced, when a particular religious belief radically rejects the central doctrines of liberalism, to conclude that it is not really a religion after all, only a “group of thugs.” Liberalism, in short, does not want to admit that it is an exclusive theology, and thus does not want admit that it is rejecting a definite “other theology” — a rival set of beliefs about God and man.

Liberalism denies religious groups from dictating policy? So the alternative is a confessional state that locks up blasphermers and fights wars for sacred causes? Rod seems to think so (which is not unusual for an Eastern Orthodox guy who may track Constantinian than he realizes):

Marc says that the theology of liberalism cannot defeat ISIS; only real, committed theology can — first, he says, “the active promotion of a better theology in the form of the Quietist Salafis. . . . Marc is not claiming that Catholic apologists can turn the hearts and minds of Muslims already committed to ISIS, and make Christians of them. He is claiming that Catholics who really believe in their faith — not MTD Catholics, but the real deal — have a lot to say to Muslims in the West who are alienated from secular liberalism. Marc makes the important and overlooked point that truly believing Catholics (and, I would say, Protestant and Orthodox Christians too) feel alienated from secular liberalism also. With Catholics, he says, “Of course, there is something less of an obsession with human purity, something more of mercy, but nevertheless, the committed Catholic can, like it or not, sympathize with the ISIS-member’s primary spiritual frustrations.”

So Roman Catholics, Orthodox, conservative Protestants (think theonomists?), and Muslims get rid of the liberal state. And that leaves us where? Crusades? Ottomans conquering Hungary? Ferdinand and Isabella kicking out Muslims? The Thirty Years War?

If Augustine was right, and the earthly city has limited goods, why would residents of the heavenly city think they can make the earthly city a paradise? What about refusing to immanentize the eschaton does Rod not understand? And what about remembering how poorly Christians did when they were “running things”?

Who's Afraid of a Secular Faith?

Chris Gerhz is worried about Islamophobia among evangelicals in the United States:

In the 2015 edition of its annual American Values Survey, PRRI asked about a number of topics, but coming a day after multiple Republican candidates proposed that Christian and Muslim refugees be treated differently as they seek asylum in the U.S., this finding stood out:

73% of evangelicals agree that the “values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.”

Kidd, American Christians and IslamNow, a majority of Americans (56%) feel this way, as do majorities in every Christian group. (Non-Christians and nonreligious are more likely to disagree than agree with the statement, and black and Hispanic Americans are evenly divided.) But that 73% number is ten points higher than the next most Islamophobic group (white mainline Protestants).

But he is also worried about secularization as a solution:

I almost don’t know where to start, I’m so appalled by that 73% number.

Probably the best place is to question how much evangelicals or any other Christians ought to worry about sustaining “American values and way of life.” Insofar as there’s such a thing as “national values” and they’re consistent with the values of he who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” then sure, try to uphold them. But this just makes me more concerned about evangelical susceptibility to different kinds of secularization.

One way out of the problem is at least to decouple U.S. and Christian identity. If the U.S. is not a Christian nation, then it should conceivably be open to law abiding people of all faiths. If notions of religious freedom, equality before the law, republicanism, constitutionalism, federalism, are not revealed in holy writ, then we don’t need to attach to them religious meaning or consequence. So if evangelicals abandoned Christian nationalism, if they regarded the church — not the nation — as the locus of Christian identity, they might have a different reaction to Muslims living in the United States.

And isn’t that exactly what secularity is? A recognition that the heavenly city is not bound up with the earthly city? If we can’t identify God’s way with Rome, Geneva, Scotland, or the Netherlands, then Christians should be less invested in the religious identity of civil authorities who are only temporal (read secular), that is, rulers who are provisional and not of eternal or spiritual significance.

In which case, doesn’t that make a secular faith the solution to Islamophobia? (See what I did there?)

Who's Radical Now?

After lots of push back (at least from some readers) on gay marriage and resistance to it (the Summer of SSM), an attempt to reset the 2k thermostat might be in order.

Once again, a common objection to 2k is that if you don’t oppose same sex marriage or support Kim Davis “the way I do,” then you must really favor same sex marriage and the imprisonment of Kim Davis. It’s the same old problem that J. Gresham Machen faced because he opposed Prohibition. Taking issue with legislation or those who support it is not the same thing as favoring what the legislation opposes. Just because you object to Prohibition (Kim Davis) does not mean you favor drunkenness (political tyranny). The nooks and crannies of politics and legislation don’t allow for such simple calculations. But that doesn’t stop some attorneys from being simplistic (oh the inspirational qualities of Kuyperianism to hyperventilate away complicated matters).

But beyond this besetting problem of Americans (looking beyond the cause to the tactics of pursuing the cause), another obstacle that 2k faces is the charge of cowardice. For some Christians, apparently, serving the Lord and pursuing holiness is insufficient if it is not also creating problems for the wider society. In other words, if Christians try to make accommodations with the new legislative and marital landscape, for instance, they are not being faithful to their Lord. Only if they stand out like a sore thumb can they be counted among the true, the faithful, the holiest.

What needs to be observed about this inclusion of obnoxiousness to the fruit of the Spirit is that it is not the practice we see among some of the heroes of Reformed Protestantism. Did J. Gresham Machen try to be a pain in the neck for the ruling authorities, such as when he objected to the proposed Federal Department of Education? No. He testified before Congress, showed respect and deference in his testimony, and tried to figure out ways for Christians to pass on the faith even in the midst of legal challenges (which is why he supported private Christian schools)?

Or how about Abraham Kuyper? For all of his emphasis on the antithesis and his opposition to political liberalism (read secularization), Kuyper figured out a way to accommodate the diversity of Dutch society such that Calvinists would be able to maintain their faith and associational life even while accepting the presence of Roman Catholics and secular liberals as part of Dutch nation.

The way that previous Reformed leaders have tried to get along in their society — rather than taking the Amish or Islamist option — suggests that the real radicals today are not 2kers but the anti-2kers (RA2K). It is indeed radical to oppose the social and political order. Sometimes it may be necessary. But to make it a badge of Christian faithfulness is not only historically unprecedented but anti-biblical. Peter and Paul preached submission to and honor for the emperor, and Paul said Christians should pray for peace and quiet so they could live out their lives faithfully. But if 2kers employ arguments designed to secure such social stability, we are traitors and deny our Lord.

Funny thing is, we are actually in the majority of Americans:

62 percent of those polled support jailing people for contempt of court; only 15 percent said they opposed it

Of Republicans polled, 64 percent said they supported jailing people for contempt of court

Strong majorities in every demographic category (except for African-Americans) supported jailing people for contempt of court The region where support for jailing them was strongest? The South, Kim Davis’s home region

An overall majority of people (53 percent) believe religious liberty is under threat in America. Four out of five Republicans believe that, and 55 percent of Independents do. The only demographics that didn’t believe that? Democrats, those making over $100K per year, and those living in the Midwest (though in the Midwestern case, it was a plurality).

A slight overall majority (52 percent) believes that elected officials should not be given a religious exemption from doing their job, though the numbers break down along partisan and regional lines. Republicans alone among the political orientations are divided equally.

Majorities in all regions except the South believe elected officials should be required do their jobs regardless of their conscience — and in the
South, the “do your job” faction polled a 47 percent plurality, versus 38 percent of Southerners who believe in the conscience deferment, and 16 percent who aren’t sure.

An overall majority said Kim Davis, in particular, ought to have gone to jail for contempt of court. Interestingly, Republicans, who answered generically that someone in Davis’s position should go to jail, were evenly split when Davis’s name came up.

Big majorities across every demographic category say that Kim Davis ought to resign as a matter of principle. It’s not even close. Only 22 percent of people say she should keep her job and remain defiant

Those numbers may suggest salt that has lost its savor. I actually think it indicates which Christians are on their meds. But it hardly makes us radical.

Having Your Organism and Organizing It Too

Tim Keller devotes several chapters to cultural engagement in his book Center Church. In it he shows that he may have as much time as Fr. Dwight does for reading and reflection beyond sermon prep. Keller sees problems in both the transformational model and 2k, and in his ever constant search for a “third” way, one that adheres to the — wait for it — center rather than to margins or extremes, he winds up in solidarity with Abraham Kuyper:

Kuyper taught that the church institutional was the gathered church, organized under its officers and ministers. It is called to do “Word and sacrament,” to preach the gospel, baptize, and make disciples. (240)

There you have conceivably the 2k aspect of Kuyper, one that preserves the church’s task of evangelism and discipleship.

But Kuyper also thought of the church as organic, and here comes the camel’s nose:

[This refers] to all Christians living in the world who have been discipled and equipped to bring the gospel to bear on all of life. . . . As Christians in the world, they are still to think and work together, banding together in creative forms being the church organic that the church institutional has discipled them to be. (241)

Notice how the church organic doesn’t result in parachurch agencies that have their own non-ecclesiastical oversight. (Notice too that Redeemer PCA has lots of non-Word-&-sacrament activities in its budget lines, the finances overseen by officers called to minister Word and sacrament.) No, the model here is church officers teaching and equipping believers how to engage the culture. (Maybe a bakery and vintner ministry at least for the Lord’s Supper?) Part of discipleship is applying the gospel to culture. The church organized becomes the same thing as the church organic.

Yet to be factored into this selective appeal to Kuyper — apart from sphere sovereignty which might give parents rather than church officers lots of room for engaging the culture — is whether the Bible actually allows Christians to engage the culture in the name of the gospel. It sounds nice, but if you take Christian liberty seriously, one church organicist’s gospel engagement is another believer’s abuse of Scripture. And there goes all that organic unity in the body of Christ except for spiritual earnestness.

The other problem is the Confession of Faith’s, the one that Keller subscribed, assertion that synods and councils are not to speak to non-ecclesiastical matters (31.4). If a synod or council shouldn’t address non-spiritual matters, why should a session or Reformed pastor?

Rather than making a coherent case for why Christians must — even should — engage the culture, Keller reads like he is looking for a rationale for what Redeemer NYC already does.

Are Christian W-w Voters Selfish?

A curious exchange today at American Conservative between Alan Jacobs and Noah Millman over voting for a party that both supports religious freedom and wars on behalf of liberty. Jacobs, the Christian, writes:

Now, some Christians might also argue that the Church exists for others, so that promoting religious freedom, even at the cost of lives lost overseas, is still the selfless thing to do. And that could be right, but I think we all ought to be very wary of arguments that provide such a neat dovetailing of our moral obligations and our self-interest.

I honestly don’t know what I think about this, and still less do I know how to apply the proper principles to our own more complex political scene. But I do think it’s right to conclude that there are at least some potential circumstances in which religious believers, in order to be faithful to their religious traditions, would need to refrain from direct political advocacy for those traditions.

In other words, voting simply on the basis of religious convictions may be an oversimplification of electoral politics and of public and foreign policy. Say hello to 2k.

But Millman responds that self-interest is the wrong way to frame the question:

I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with the underlying premise that voters should aspire to cast their ballots in a selfless manner. Indeed, I think “selfless” is a red-herring. The objective oughtn’t be to deny the needs or wants of the self, but to see beyond them, to feel other selves as equally worthy of care (and yourself as equally unworthy of supremacy), and thereby to achieve a feeling of solidarity with those other selves. (Then again, I’m not a Christian, so your mileage may vary.)

So is it the case that Christians, even when they recognize the limits of faith-based voting as Jacobs does, come across as inherently selfish when they vote according to their beliefs? Millman’s point is especially pertinent when he talks about seeing others “as equally worthy of care” and feeling solidarity with them. If people who have a heightened sense of the anti-thesis, Christians, that is, people who are also keenly aware of God’s law and those who break it, are also supposed as members of a civic community to feel solidarity with other citizens, is faith something that impedes or assists such fellow-feeling? Not to put too fine a point on it, but can Christians feel solidarity with gays or advocates of same-sex marriage?

Maybe Millman is wrong about a sense of belonging with other Americans, though any small dose of Aaron Sorkin’s television series West Wing or the Newsroom should confirm Millman’s point. But if Christians judge Millman wrong, then what hope have we for a free society if it consists of Christians and non-Christians?