Gratitude As the Basis for Obedience

The title of this post is not meant to echo the Guilt-Grace-Gratitude structure of the Heidelberg Catechism but to indicate that the Obedience Men and Boys should be forever grateful to Tullian Tchividjian for providing a target for those who believe sanctification is besieged in our time. If you look around on the web for information on antinomianism or the sanctification controversy, the only name that keeps surfacing is Pastor T’s, with responses from Kevin DeYoung or the Gospel Reformation Network. Here is one example with a follow-up to a response:

I’ve read with interest debates in the Reformed community on the doctrine of sanctification the last few years. Debates about the motivations and sources of sanctification now are worked through in discussions on Ref21, The Gospel Coalition, and other Reformed web blogs. Tullian Tchividjian has been at the center of these discussions and has received critiques from theologians and pastors such as Rick Phillips, William B. Evans, and Kevin DeYoung.

But if you look at the Gospel Reformation Network’s 5 Questions to church leaders, you have to conclude that a controversy is palpable in Reformed circles over the place of the law and obedience in the Christian life. For instance, to the question, “Is there misunderstanding about Sanctification within the PCA and the broader Reformed community?”:

There is significant misunderstanding among some in the PCA regarding Sanctification. More specifically, there are a number of ministers and congregants who have (wittingly or unwittingly) been deeply influenced by a “Lutheranized” view of Sanctification.

The short answer to this question is yes. With the (proper) Reformed emphasis on grace alone and faith alone, many believers have been delivered from the guilt of performance-driven Christianity. God loves us, and in Christ he freely and fully accepts us. Unfortunately, the liberating message of the gospel has led some within the Reformed community to de-emphasize the responsibility of Spirit-empowered effort to fight against sin and temptation. Like Joseph, we’re to run from temptation (Gen. 39:12Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). And, according to Paul, we’re to sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Both require considerable exertion on the part of the believer.

Again, with Pastor T and his blog and videos, how would these people know about what is being preached and taught in PCA, OPC, URC, ARP, or RPCNA congregations?

First, how many Reformed or Presbyterian pastors preach doctrinal or catechetical sermons? If they do, then sanctification may be neglected, say like when the URC pastor when going through Heidelberg neglects Questions 88 to 115. Otherwise, most Reformed pastors are preaching through a book of the Bible where the doctrine of sanctification is not mentioned directly any more than the doctrine of the Trinity. If the Bible had a book dedicated to sanctification that most pastors were avoiding — say, the way they generally avoid Song of Solomon — then the obedience boys and men might have a point. But we don’t have much doctrinal preaching in our circles — as far as I can tell by observing the way OPC pastors operate. Otherwise, obedience and sanctification likely come up in the regular exposition of books of the Bible.

Second, how many of us who write on trends in the churches actually get around to other churches? Most of the people talking or blogging about the sanctification controversy are church officers or pastors whose duties don’t allow them to get out much. Maybe you pick up a vibe here at General Assembly, or sense a trend there when you go to a pastor’s conference. But who of us is to judge what pastors are teaching or preaching on such slight evidence? (For instance, not even Mark Jones’ book on Antinomianism has references to Pastor T or Jack Miller or Sonship in the index.)

When Luther Sounded Constantinian

From Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate

We see, then, that just as those that we call spiritual, or priests, bishops, or popes, do not differ from other Christians in any other or higher degree but in that they are to be concerned with the word of God and the sacraments—that being their work and office—in the same way the temporal authorities hold the sword and the rod in their hands to punish the wicked and to protect the good. A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, every man, has the office and function of his calling, and yet all alike are consecrated priests and bishops, and every man should by his office or function be useful and beneficial to the rest, so that various kinds of work may all be united for the furtherance of body and soul, just as the members of the body all serve one another.

Now see what a Christian doctrine is this: that the temporal authority is not above the clergy, and may not punish it. This is as if one were to say the hand may not help, though the eye is in grievous suffering. Is it not unnatural, not to say unchristian, that one member may not help another, or guard it against harm? Nay, the nobler the member, the more the rest are bound to help it. Therefore I say, Forasmuch as the temporal power has been ordained by God for the punishment of the bad and the protection of the good, therefore we must let it do its duty throughout the whole Christian body, without respect of persons, whether it strikes popes, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, or whoever it may be. If it were sufficient reason for fettering the temporal power that it is inferior among the offices of Christianity to the offices of priest or confessor, or to the spiritual estate—if this were so, then we ought to restrain tailors, cobblers, masons, carpenters, cooks, cellarmen, peasants, and all secular workmen, from providing the Pope or bishops, priests and monks, with shoes, clothes, houses or victuals, or from paying them tithes. But if these laymen are allowed to do their work without restraint, what do the Romanist scribes mean by their laws? They mean that they withdraw themselves from the operation of temporal Christian power, simply in order that they may be free to do evil, and thus fulfil what St. Peter said: “There shall be false teachers among you,… and in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter ii. 1, etc.).

Just trying to complicate the minds of those (the BeeBees, the Reformed Rabbi, Doug Wilson, and William Evans) who think that 2k and Lutheranism are responsible for secularism, materialism, and Obamacare.

Which Historical Actors Will Stand In That Great Day?

Something that Bill Evans wrote about 2k has me wondering about the way we use and abuse the past. He made the standard reductio ad hitlerum argument that discredited an idea by historical actors who used it. In this case, Evans tried to show how 2k prevented German Lutherans from standing up to Hitler, and from there it was an easy leap to tar 2k with defenses of slavery:

. . . we do well not to underestimate the impact that our increasingly negative cultural situation has on our theology. To paraphrase Peter Berger on the sociology of knowledge, this cultural context provides a key “plausibility structure” for our thinking. It informs our sense of what is plausible and possible. And so, in the face of an increasingly hostile and seemingly intractable cultural situation many are concluding that real transformation is impossible. It is to be lamented that, in order to provide an ecclesiological framework for such pessimism, some have turned to positions that have been implicated in the toleration of real and palpable evil by Christians. Here I’m thinking of the Two-Kingdoms doctrine employed by some so-called “German Christians” to justify silence in the face of the Nazi regime, and the exaggerated conception of the spirituality of the church as it was used to defend the institution of chattel slavery in the antebellum South.

This was roughly the same time that Mike Horton also tried to separate himself from certain proponents of 2k who defended slavery:

. . . Southern Presbyterian theologians who labored indefatigably to defend slavery may have cloaked some of their arguments in appeals to the church’s spiritual mission, but they were calling the state to perpetuate the institution from the pulpit and classroom lectern. I have in mind especially R. L. Dabney and James Henley Thornwell, who based their arguments on a vision of a Christian society that would make the South the envy of the world and enemy of revolutionaries everywhere. Their arguments for slavery were not based on the spirituality of the church (I’m not even sure how they could be) but on racist dogmas, Scripture twisting, and wicked cultural prejudices that vitiated the gospel. Charles Hodge was exactly right when he said that Thornwell was using the spirituality of the church as a cover for his errors. Assimilating Christ to culture is the sort of thing that the spirituality of the church is especially designed to guard against.

(By the way, the way you use spirituality of the church to defend slavery is to argue, as folks like Charles Hodge did, that the Bible does not condemn slavery. I understand that introduces a touchy subject. But to do justice to the southern Presbyterians, you do need to do justice to their exegetical arguments, something that Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese did — and if a former Marxist turned Roman Catholic can perform that feat, surely a Reformed Protestant can.)

You can go to other places to see how these ways of posing the issue don’t do justice to the historical actors. For instance, Matt Tuininga did a good job of showing that Lutherans were as much responsible for the Barmen Declaration as was the Reformed Barth (even though practically no one, neither Lutheran nor Reformed, was interested in severing ties between state and church). And others point to a troubling relationship between at least some neo-Calvinists and those who collaborated with the Nazis who occupied the Netherlands. Meanwhile, I tried to point out that racism was not something that exclusively afflicted the Southern Presbyterian theologians who defended slavery. It even afflicted the pretty good emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, who on the eve the Emancipation Proclamation told a “Committee of Colored Men,” “even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race.” Lincoln added, “It is better for us both to be separated.” (Quoted in Louis P. Masur, The Civil War, 43) (This was the same Lincoln who also said in his first inaugural that slavery was legal according to the Constitution. In other words, slavery was a legally and theological contested issue then even if it is not today.)

The dead, in other words, are people too. Scoring points on their failings does not seem to be particularly charitable or self-interested (since one day we won’t be around to defend ourselves or the limitations of our historical moment). It is not simply bad history to sort through the past for heroes and villains, since part of what historical scholarship attempts to do is understand something that is a foreign place. Such sorting also presumes that we are free from similar historical constraints that color our judgments and actions, or worse, that we reside at a time when moral reflection is as good as it ever was — the ethical parousia.

Of course, Jason and the Callers have a different problem with history — one where they do not seem to be able to comprehend the villainous things their heroes did. And since their heroes are supposed to protect the church from error, it supplies a little glitch in their argument to find that the alleged heroes erred.

But if Jason and the Callers ignore the past, Protestant historical cherry-picking is no less troubling. The past should help us to understand the clay feet that we all have. It should also make us cautious about determining the good and the bad saints. Of course, it is impossible today to defend Nazism or slavery. But part of what history does is help us understand why people even with good intentions (paving the road to hell) were loyal to Hitler or defended slavery. For Calvinists this is Total Depravity 101. Sin afflicts everyone, even when we try to show that we are better than our ancestors, or when we try to discredit our neighbors on the basis of what ancestors did or thought.

History doesn’t come to us wrapped in a pretty package that opens to reassuring truths. Just read the Old Testament. It’s a troubled world back there. It still is.

We Are Making a Difference (even if Bill Evans Can't See)

The Ecclesial Calvinist tries to correct the historical record by claiming that Machen and Van Til are more transformational (and less 2k) than some think. I do believe that Van Til’s record is mixed since he drank so deeply at the well of neo-Calvinism. At the same time, Van Til’s involvement in the OPC, which was hardly a transformationalist church (just ask Tim Keller), and Van Til’s vigorous work for the church would certainly complicate Evans’ invocation. Not to mention that Evans does not seem to recognize that he is no transformationalist on the order of Van Til’s rhetoric. For instance, Evans features this quotation from Van Til:

He knows that Satan seeks to destroy his Christian culture by absorbing it into the culture of those who are still apostate from Christ. He knows that the whole course of history is a life and death struggle between the culture of the prince of the powers of darkness and his Christ, who has brought life and light into the world. He knows that he must fight the battle for a Christian culture first of all within himself and then with those who seek to destroy his faith and with it all true culture. He knows that the weapons of this warfare between a Christian and the non-Christian culture are spiritual. He would deny the norm of his own culture and be untrue to his own ideal if he descended to the coarse and the uncouth, let alone to the use of physical force, as he engages his foes whom he wants to make his friends and brothers in Christ.

But when it came to the 2012 election, apparently Evans didn’t have this same knowledge:

If human redemption ultimately depends on divine activity at the end of history, then one should not try, as some have put it, to “immanentize the eschaton” in the here and now. Both Jews and Christians learned that lesson long ago as the biblical holy-war tradition was eschatologically conditioned and spiritualized. Jews wisely decided to eschew the apocalyptic impulse of the Jewish Wars in the first and second centuries, and to wait for the messiah to come and set things right. Christians did much the same thing as holy warfare motifs were understood in terms of spiritual conflict in the present and the second advent of Jesus in the future (and yes, I’m quite aware of the post-millennial scenario that achieved some popularity in more culturally optimistic times or recently as an incentive to action among Christian Reconstructionists).

When it comes to theonomy, 2k sounds pretty good to Evans.

Nor was he so confident of what Van Til knew when Evans commented on homosexuality:

It seems to me that there is a lot of soul-searching to be done. To be sure, at this point even a low-key statement of biblical morality comes across as narrow-minded and intolerant, and there is probably not much that can be done about that in the short term. But the problems are more complicated than the substance of biblical morality. First of all, we have come across as hypocritical. American Evangelicalism is, by and large, thoroughly compromised on the issue of heterosexual marriage. . . . Second, we are often perceived as majoring on condemnation rather than compassion. Having lectured every year to undergraduates on the Apostle Paul’s view of homosexuality, I’m convinced that many Evangelicals have tended to misread him in two ways—on the moral status of homosexual behavior and the appropriate response of the church.

That doesn’t sound very every-square-inchish.

But what is oddest about Evans’ recent brief against 2k is the notion that somehow he represents the mainstream of the Reformed tradition (I am not sure one exists since so many different hands and so many different circumstances informed the Reformed churches in so many different lands):

In short, what seems to be emerging is a “Reformed” theology of culture tailored for deeply pessimistic times. Like most theological and historical revisionisms, it is worth discussing. But let’s just not confuse it with the mainstream of the Reformed tradition.

The gasp you may have heard was your vinegary writer when reading a man who is in a secession church — an immigrant one to boot — talking about mainstream Reformed. Evans teaches at Esrkine Theological Seminary, an institution with roots in the original Reformed secession — the Associate Presbytery of 1733 where Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine walked away from the mainstream of the Scottish Kirk (letting goods and kindred go in Luther’s words) for the sake of the gospel and the freedom of the church. Of course, the Reformers had already left the mainstream to pursue reform (and boy did the church need it — still does). But after 1733, secession, or exiting the mainstream, was what various Reformed heroes thought necessary to protect the ministry and integrity of the church. The Afscheiding among the Dutch in 1834 left the national church to be faithful to the Three Forms of Unity. Thomas Chalmers almost a decade later led another secession group out of the Scottish Kirk, this time the Free Church, again to protect the gospel and to reject infidelities in the mainstream churches. Abraham Kuyper in 1886 would reluctantly and mournfully do the same because of the compromises in the Dutch Reformed Church. Rounding out this list was J. Gresham Machen and the OPC’s 1936 break from the PCUSA.

The historical record once again shows that being outside the mainstream is not a bad thing but may actually be what conservative Reformed Protestants and Presbyterians do. It also shows that since the Reformation churchmen and laity have considered the task of the church to be more important than the kind of social good they could accomplish from inside the mainstream churches. They also believed that sacrificing cultural connections and influence was price to be paid for faithfully ministering God’s word.

Which is why Evans other point about 2k being the theology for pessimistic times is odd. Has he not heard? Christians have always lived in pessimistic times. That’s the nature of being aliens and exiles. That’s what happens when you worship in the church militant. Sure, Christians are optimistic about going home to be with their Lord. But they’re not optimistic about making their home here, this side of glory.

And that is why Evans does not seem to be able to recognize that 2kers do want and try to make a difference in this world. The difference is what constitutes difference. 2kers are not impressed, the way Evans appears to be, with political engagement or attempts to win the culture war. 2kers, in fact, know that we are always in a battle and that culture wars often distract from the real warfare which is spiritual and that can only seen by faith and not by sight. But for some reason, the efforts of 2kers to remind the church of its higher calling, to avoid identifying the cause of Christ with “conservative” politics or Western Civilization or the politics of identity, do not impress Dr. Evans.

But maybe J. Gresham Machen will and the words he spoke to future ministers:

Remember this, at least — the things in which the world is now interested are the things that are seen; but the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal. You, as ministers of Christ, are called to deal with the unseen things. You are stewards of the mysteries of God. You alone can lead men, by the proclamation of God’s word, out of the crash and jazz and noise and rattle and smoke of this weary age into the green pastures and beside the still waters; you alone, as minsters of reconciliation, can give what the world with all its boasting and pride can never give — the infinite sweetness of the communion of the redeemed soul with the living God. (Selected Shorter Writings, 205)

When the transformationalist can say that about the ministry of the word compared to the temporal blessings of this life, we can have a conversation.

Transforming History

Bill Evans thinks that a few pokes at the cultural transformers means the neo-Calvinists are taking it on the chin these days. It is in fact odd to see folks express surprise when others don’t agree with them, as if neo-Calvinism were the settled position of Reformed Protestantism since the days of Ulrich Zwingli and Zacharias Ursinus. One way a tradition becomes fossilized is to imagine that everyone is agreed; arguments keep you sharp, unless you are a follower of Abraham Kuyper whose authority cannot be questioned. I doubt Kuyper himself would be pleased with that group think.

Evans is a little worked up about a post by Carl Trueman that wonders whether the transformationalists have accomplished enough to make news:

The secular and religious media are awash with reports of how the millennial generation of evangelicals is burned out on the political activism of the religious right, and the Two-Kingdoms theology (2K) currently being trumpeted by some faculty members at Westminster Seminary in California (WSC) certainly provides a theological fig-leaf for such culture-war fatigue. In short, H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, with his favored model of “Christ transforming culture,” and the great Dutch Neo-Calvinist theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper are not exactly the flavor of the month.

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised, though certainly not shocked, to see Carl Trueman jumping decisively on the anti-transformational bandwagon (here on Ref21 and here on TheAquilaReport). Dr. Trueman, as most of us know, teaches church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS), and is the former Provost and academic dean there. But despite Trueman’s very public aversion to all things trendy, he seems to be right in step with the Zeitgeist on this one. He also seems to be somewhat out of step with his institution’s history.

Evans goes on to assert that Trueman is out of step with the history of Westminster Seminary. Trueman himself is fully capable of defending himself and I won’t speak for him. But I will observe that Evans is remarkably ill informed about the history of Westminster.

For one, he does not seem to recall that WTS’ chief founder was J. Gresham Machen, a man whom neo-Calvinists will contort into a transformationalist but who better than anyone else in the first half of the twentieth century articulated the spirituality of the church over against the transformationalism that dominated the PCUSA:

In the first place, a true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. It will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience; it will never confuse the useful with the true, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life. Into the welter of changing human opinion, into the modern despair with regard to any knowledge of the meaning of life, it will come with a clear and imperious message. That message it will find in the Bible, which it will hold to contain not a record of man’s religious experience but a record of a revelation from God.

In the second place, a true Christian church will be radically intolerant. At that point, however, a word of explanation is in place. The intolerance of the church, in the sense in which I am speaking of it, does not involve any interference with liberty; on the contrary, it means the preservation of liberty. One of the most important elements in civil and religious liberty is the right of voluntary association – the right of citizens to band themselves together for any lawful purpose whatever, whether that purpose does or does not commend itself to the generality of their fellow men. Now, a church is a voluntary association. No one is compelled to be a member of it; no one is compelled to be one of its accredited representatives. It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. . .

But when I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean simply that the church must maintain the high exclusiveness and universality of its message. It presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power. A Christianity tolerant of other religions is just no Christianity at all. . . .

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. ( “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” 1933)

Lest Evans think that Machen was Westminster’s conciliar tradition swamped by the high papalism of neo-Calvinism, he should also remember that after Machen’s death, the Westminster faculty (including R.B. Kuiper, Cornelius Van Til, and Ned Stonehouse, all sons of neo-Calvinism) opposed the transformationalists who formed with Carl McIntire the Bible Presbyterian Synod. The Bible Presbyterians wanted to retain the transformationalism of American Presbyterianism as the genuine Presbyterian tradition in the United States, hence the overture that split the OPC — one in favor of prohibition, the very crusade that had cost Machen a promotion at Princeton Seminary.

So Evans can argue for neo-Calvinism and its superiority all he wants. But he can’t read his preference back into the history of American Presbyterianism. And he should not let his preference prevent him from considering the real tension that comes from trying to harmonize Abraham Kuyper and J. Gresham Machen.

Without 2K It's All A Muddle

The response to last week’s post about the similarities between the religious right and political Islam is in (at least from the person who inspired the comparison) and it seems to be to deny the point about the ways in which Christians and Muslims object to secular society simply by stamping feet harder and louder. Bill Evans is back with this rejoinder (though it is not all about me):

Some are opposed to Christian political involvement on theological grounds. Here we think of the current proponents in Reformed circles of the so-called “two-kingdoms” doctrine (2K). According to this way of thinking, Christians have no business involving themselves as Christians in the political process, nor of proclaiming that there is a Christian position on the issues of the day. Such political activity, it is argued, fails to recognize the essentially spiritual mission of the Church, and to acknowledge that the task of the Church is to prepare people for the hereafter, not to work for political or social transformation. Some 2K advocates (e.g., here) have recently upped the rhetorical ante, suggesting that there is no essential difference between Christians who seek cultural transformation and Muslims seeking to impose Sharia law.

Although my main point here is not to provide an extended critique of current Reformed 2K thinking, I do have significant reservations about it. I tend to agree with the standard objections—that it has rather little connection to the two-kingdoms theme in Calvin and the earlier Reformed tradition (Calvin certainly thought that Geneva should be governed in accordance with broadly Christian principles), and that it confuses the Kingdom of God and the Church (biblically speaking, the Kingdom involves the Church but is not coextensive with it). Moreover, its working assumption that there is no middle ground of principled pluralism between theocracy and 2K is certainly open to question, and I sense that what traction 2K is getting stems largely from the fact that it provides a theological fig leaf for the evangelical culture-war fatigue referenced earlier.

Not to be missed is that Evans’ main point is that Christians have an obligation to engage the culture war (say, hello to Abraham Kuyper):

Simply put, a refusal to engage the cultural and political issues of the day is no longer an option for thoughtful conservative Christians in America. The battle has been forced upon us. Reasons for this have to do with current political realities, especially the wholesale shift of administrative power to a technocratic elite with a rather clear progressive social agenda. Wesley J. Smith of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism has recently explored this development in an insightful article in The Weekly Standard. Smith writes, “Liberals today seek to create a stable, and what they perceive to be a socially just, society via rule by experts—in which most of the activities of society are micromanaged by technocrats for the economic and social benefit of the whole. In other words, social democracy without the messiness of democracy, like the European Union’s rule-by-bureaucrats-in-Brussels. This is the ‘fundamental transformation’ that President Obama seeks to implement in this country.” . . . If Smith is correct, and I think he is, culturally conservative religion and religious believers are in the crosshairs of these secular, culturally progressive technocratic elites.

This is a remarkable misreading of 2k and American politics. First the theology bit.

Evans, who is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, should know something about J. Gresham Machen who advocated the church staying out of politics (a 2k view) but then turned around and testified before Congress against the Department of Education, for instance. The lesson Machen taught me at least is that 2k is not opposed to Christian political involvement. What 2k opposes is the blurring of categories and confusion of arguments that so often afflicts Christians who either want to redeem the world or fear the world is out to get them. What is more, 2k actually follows the categories supplied by Reformed orthodoxy, such as the Westminster Confession.

Notice that within the Confession Christian involvement in politics has three possible expressions — believers, church officers, and Christians who hold political office.

On the involvement of Christians: It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion. (23.2)

On the involvement of church officers as members of assemblies (and all Presbyterian pastors are members of presbyteries, not congregations): Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. (31.4)

On the involvement of the magistrate, well here you may get a difference of opinion, but the revised confession says: It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. (23.3)

I believe this would apply to Christian magistrates protecting Muslims even though Islam is not Christian. Even the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, for which Evans works (at Erskine Seminary) allows the possibility of Christian magistrates in a secular country protecting Muslims:

Christian magistrates, as such, in a Christian country, are bound to promote the Christian religion, as the most valuable interest of their subjects, by all such means as are not inconsistent with civil rights; and do not imply an interference with the policy of the church, which is the free and independent kingdom of the Redeemer; nor an assumption of dominion over conscience. (23.3 ARPC Confession of Faith)

Since the United States is not a Christian country (just ask the Covenanters), the part about promoting the Christian religion is off.

What this adds up to is that 2k is once again tried and true according to the confessional heritage of the Reformed churches. I don’t suppose that Evans faults 2k for teaching that Christians may participate in politics (whether we turn into a Kuyperian holy duty is another matter but that sacred cause of politics is not something that Reformed Christians have adopted as part of their confession). Evans may disagree with 2k for arguing that churches should not meddle in politics. But that’s an issue he should likely take up with the Westminster Divines.

Perhaps the real disagreement comes over the nature of the magistrate. Here comes the political part of the post. Again, I wish that 2k’s critics would just once notice how practically all of the Reformed churches, liberal and conservative, have revised the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chapters on the duties of the civil magistrate. But let’s go one step farther. Let’s say that Evans wants the kind of magistrate taught by the Westminster Divines, the one who can call councils and synods, be present at them, insure that they follow the word of God in Constantine like fashion, not to mention have the power to abolish heresies and blasphemies. If that is the kind of magistrate Evans wants, isn’t that what he has with today’s “technocratic elite” who are increasingly regulating more and more aspects of human life? Of course, the problem for him is that today’s politicians are not Christian and are not implementing Christian orthodoxy and morality. But if his fear is of a powerful state that can interfere with all parts of our affairs, wouldn’t the magistrate envisioned by the original Westminster Confession of Faith be the kind of big government that Evans believes Christians should oppose?

This is why if you want small government you should spend more time reading not the Bible but the debates between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Bible has virtually nothing to say directly to check and balances, constitutions, executives, legislatures, and judiciaries. But the framers of the U.S. Constitution and their critics did.

2k gives a better reason to oppose the technocratic elites than Evans’ dismissal of 2k does on the way to a call for culture war (jihad?). It frees Christians to take their cues politically from non-believers. Evans appears to be left with either the Bible or the sixteenth-century Constantinian order which give him no grounds for a constitutional republic. Aside from a different religion, how is that different from political Islam?

Jihad If You Do, Holy War If You Don't

I continue to scratch my head over Christian reactions to Islam. Granted, I would not be so itchy had a three-week journey in Turkey not raised a host of questions through which I am still sorting. Even so, the Christian (and especially neo-Calvinist inspired) criticisms of Muslims for rejecting secularity are richly ironic.

Take, for instance, this plug for the new Trinity Institute to be led by theonomists-turned-Federal Visionaries, James Jordan and Peter Leithart, which talks about the all encompassing claims of Christianity, even on those areas of life considered by secularists to be not religious but secular (i.e., temporal):

When I first came to Japan in 1981, I was a premillennial dispensationalist struggling to plant a church in a pagan culture. Jordan’s The Law of the Covenant, which I read in 1984, showed me how the Bible could and must be read to apply to cultural issues today. Jordan’s various writings on Biblical symbolism, especially Through New Eyes fundamentally changed the way I read and taught the Bible. Our local church here now practices paedobaptism and paedocommunion, employs a liturgy we learned from Jeff Meyers, Jordan, and Leithart, and relies extensively on the voluminous writings of Jordan and Leithart in the research institute that supports our Christian education program. Faithfulness to the Scriptures and love for the Triune God exude from their wide ranging works that address questions and problems in Biblical exegesis, theology, liturgy, history, politics, philosophy, literature, music, and even popular entertainment. When young pastors ask me for book recommendations, I tell them to buy and read everything they can get by Jordan and Leithart.

Note that “faithfulness to Scriptures” involves politics, the arts and sciences, and movies. Note as well that Leithart himself has defended the political theology of Constantine precisely because it is a worthy alternative to secularity.

So what makes Muslims different aside from a different sacred text?

But the irony is all the more apparent in Bill Evans’ recent post about Islam. I won’t go into all of Evans’ points but a couple of paragraphs stand out. The first is the standard line about Islam lacking any room for secularity, despite the examples of Turkey and Dearborn, Michigan:

Islam is a religio-cultural-political package. There is no ultimate distinction in Islam between the sacred and the secular, and thus none between mosque and state. All of life is understood as a matter of submission to Allah. For this reason, while there has sometimes been religious toleration under Islamic governments, there can be no real religious pluralism in the practical political sense of the term. That is to say, adherents of other religions will not be viewed as equal members of society in a context governed by Islamic principles.

Don’t lots of neo-Calvinists also say this about Christianity? Substitute God for Allah and you have a fairly close resemblance, though neo-Calvinists, at least in their Dutch iteration, were never able to rid the Netherlands of the incredible toleration that the nation practiced.

Later in his piece, Evans invokes Richard John Neuhaus’ brief against a Naked Public Scqure, or an overly narrow conception of secularity:

Western secular liberal democracy no longer takes the question of religious truth seriously. In fact, it largely lacks even the vocabulary to discuss religious truth claims, and this places it at a distinct disadvantage when deals with groups for whom such truth claims are central. We in the West are the heirs of the post-Enlightenment fact/value dichotomy—on the one hand there are empirical, scientific facts; on the other hand there are values which cannot be rationally confirmed. Such values are matters of opinion, and religious beliefs and convictions are, on this reading of things, merely values. Along with this comes the inevitable privatization of religion. Religious belief is simply a matter of personal opinion that is acceptable only so long as it remains private and unobtrusive.

The public square, as the late Richard John Neuhaus aptly observed, has thus become “naked” or stripped of religious expression. When Barack Obama claims that Muslims will have a different opinion of America because he “understands their point of view,” Muslims know full well that he is not taking them as believers or their truth claims seriously, and they are not impressed. But we really cannot expect a Western secularist like Obama to respond in any other way, and hence the persistent disconnect between Islam and the West.

This may be a plausible construction of secular society, though if Christ himself introduced the notion when he distinguished between what is Caesar’s and God’s, Christians may actually embrace secularity as part and parcel of their religion. But if Evans is right about secular society in the West, can he really blame Muslims for objecting to secularism?

If Christians are going to portray the struggle between Islam and the West as a clash of civilizations, and then take shots at the West for abandoning Christianity, they will need to give a fuller account of the differences between Islam and Christianity on secular politics. Without that, they sound a tad whiney and a whole lot inconsistent.

The Problem with Seminaries

Doug Sweeney started a warm discussion about the current seminary model with a piece for the Co-Allies that echoes points John Frame made about the limitations of the seminary model. Sweeney’s larger point concerns the growing distance between the academy and church, and the way the seminary may be tilting toward academics away from pastoral ministry:

American Protestants have only had such schools for a couple hundred years. They are relatively new. And, in the main, the theological life of our churches has declined during the years they’ve been around. I suggest we move toward a seminary model in which thoughtful, seasoned pastors play a greater role on campus (not just in preaching and polity classes) and, correlatively, that seminary professors play a greater role in the educational ministries of their region’s congregations.

Bill Evans jumped on board and praised Sweeney for questioning the seminary model:

. . . the theological seminary has been perhaps the most important engine in the “professionalization” of the clergy–the notion that the Christian ministry is another of the “helping professions” in which ministers are to conform to humanly generated standards of professional “best practices” as established by guardians of the guild (such as the Association of Theological Schools).

Finally, Carl Trueman responds responded with a good point:

Here is my question: could it be that the indifference to and ignorance of the basic elements of the Christian faith are themselves functions of a widespread belief that these things are not important? And if they are not deemed important by Christians, then we must ask ourselves why they are not deemed important. Could it be because the church and her preachers and teachers are not stressing the reasons why these things, these basic elements of faith are important — that human beings are dead in sin, possess no righteousness in themselves and live in imminent danger of falling into the hands of a God who is a consuming fire?

It has always struck me as fascinating that we today lament the biblical ignorance of people in the pews while at the same time we behave in ways likely to exacerbate rather than ameliorate the problem. We reduce the number of Sunday services from two to one, thus halving the amount of preaching people hear; we look to stand-up comics as providing the key to successful communication of a serious message; we warble on endlessly about cultural transformation and about what the world will and will not find plausible in our confession; and, most crucial of all, we soft-pedal on preaching for conviction of sin.

Conciliator that I am known to be, I wonder if all of the pieces are making the same point — namely, that seminaries need to be closer to the church, professors need to be pastors who are called to the work of ministry, and the institutions themselves need to stress the skills necessary for working in congregations and discipling God’s people.

In which case, the culprit here may not be accreditors or the universities that credential seminary faculty but the seminary administrators themselves. In the 1970s conservative Protestant seminaries received a massive infusion of students who were not planning on going into the ministry (I was one of them). Masters degrees other than the M.Div. proliferated, seminary budgets expanded, and academic deans conducted searches for faculty to keep up with all the new students. All of a sudden, the seminary became the place other than the local pastor to receive instruction in the basics of the Christian faith and then go with a Christian W-W into a number of other different occupations — most often graduate school for a Ph.D. in a subject that would position someone to teach at a seminary. In turn, seminaries became used to the revenue stream and now have trouble going back simply to programs designed for prospective ministers.

The seminaries’ production of Christian or biblical counselors only underscores this shift. Rather than looking for counsel from a pastor and a set of elders (not to mention parents and grandparents), believers now look for seminaries to send out a set of credentialed and licenses “professionals” who are redundant to the work of pastors. These counselors (as far as I know) even charge their clients for their services. Can you imagine your pastor or elders passing along a bill to you after a family visit?

In which case, the real problem with seminaries is the crisis of special office more generally. Do Protestants believe that pastors do anything holy or sacred when every Tom, Dick, or Sally has his or her own “kingdom work” or when I, for instance, have a writing “ministry”? Instead of defending the unique work of pastors and the holy ordinances they administer, seminaries welcomed all the hoi polloi (myself included), expanded their programs, and watered down the specialty of special office. One way to restore the seminary’s wits is to go back to training pastors exclusively. But which school will survive in that great day?

Where's Waldo Wednesday: Dazed and Confused

Why is it that discussions of the law and sanctification invariably circle back to union with Christ? My own hunch, expressed several times, is that union becomes the way to cement sanctification to justification, especially if neither is prior to the other but union precedes both. This way, supposedly, Protestants can look Roman Catholics straight in the eye and to the charge that justification by faith alone is antinomian reply, “pound sand.”

Bill Evans stirred up the hornet’s nest with some contested hypotheses about the different emphases in Reformed circles as demonstrated in an exchange between Kevin DeYoung and the grandson of Billy Graham whose name I cannot pronounce or spell without buying a couple more vowels. Evans appealed to union to once again cut the Gordian knot between the forensic and moral renovation, but that did not satisfy Sean Lucas or Rick Philips. (Jared Oliphint has a good list of the various iterations of this discussion.)

Since so many have weighed in on Evans’ provocations, I will only make one brief comment about his initial post. He wrote this, which I believe to be typical of the kind of confusion that comes when asserting the simultaneity and denying the priority of justification and sanctification:

. . . it is unconvincing to suggest that Paul does not use the expectations and sanctions of the law as a motive for sanctification. More than once the Apostle provides extensive vice lists of behavior forbidden by the law of God, adding that those who behave thus “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-5). That sounds like motivation to me!

Well, a quick check of Calvin’s commentary on that passage in Galatians (recently preached by my pastor) shows that the Geneva pastor did not interpret Paul to be motivating believers to obey God’s law “or else.” On Calvin Galatians 5:21, Calvin writes:

Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God. The saints themselves often fall into grievous sins, but they return to the path of righteousness, “that which they do they allow not,” (Rom. vii. 15) and therefore they are not included in this catalogue.

In fact, gratitude, not fear of punishment, is the chief motivation for the Christian life throughout the most influential Reformed creeds.

I will also express some bafflement at Rick Phillips denial of any legitimacy to the idea that justification “causes” sanctification when he can assert that union “causes” justification and sanctification. If causal language is a problem for justification priority folks, why can causal language (which justification prioritoryists seldom use crudely) be applied to union?

Jared Oliphint tries to bring the whole question of the relation between justification and sanctification or between the indicative and the imperative back to the historia salutis.

Eschatology. Eschatology. Eschatology. It may initially sound foreign, but eschatology is the background of and essential to the gospel. What sets the stage for how we are justified, how we are sanctified, and what’s called the “order of salvation” is what was accomplished in history by Christ to make possible those benefits you receive by being in Christ; the history of salvation is the context for the gospel and your own personal salvation.

But the appeal to the historia soon swerves back to micromanaging the ordo salutis:

Because of the already/not yet aspect to all of reality now, that reality must inform discussions regarding the gospel, salvation, what Christ has done, what he will do, etc. There is a sense (already) in which we are no more justified or sanctified now than we ever will be, even in the new heavens and the new earth. But there is another (not yet) sense where there is still work to be done in us and with God’s unredeemed, temporary creation. While this already/not yet tension is still a reality here while our Lord tarries, the indicative of who we are as believers united with Christ and receiving every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3) as a result is never in tension with what God calls us to do here as his sons and daughters in Christ.

As an aside, do unionists ever talk about union being already/not yet? If eschatology goes all the way down and colors all the benefits of redemption, then the answer would appear to be “yes.” But the permanence and necessity of union never seems to allow for a concession that union also partakes of the two-age construction.

Yet, when Oliphint tries to clarify the relationship between justification and sanctification from the perspective of union and the historia salutis, he winds up with an explanation that adds very little to or resolves the recent discussions.

When sanctification is defined as “getting used to your justification” or “forgetting about yourself” and the law and the gospel/grace are in a tug of war of emphasis, do you not see that the entire crucial context and substructure of what Christ accomplished and how he applies it in your life is missing? Sanctification is a dying to sin and rising with Christ and has so much more to do with what Christ did for you than in your disposition of just letting the reality of the benefit of judicially being declared righteous sink in; not to mention the need to distinguish for clarity’s sake the difference between being definitively sanctified (1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; Heb 10:10,14) through our union with Christ and progressively sanctified (Rom 12:2) over time in the life of believers.

That sounds awfully antinomian. Sanctification has to do with what Christ did. So my imaginary Roman Catholic interlocutor is now wondering why the Reformed doctrine of sanctification or union does not lead to complacency? After all, Christ did it all.

To avoid that charge, Oliphint resorts to a legal “must”:

As redeemed believers we must do good works “for Jesus” as God works in us progressively to sanctify and we must do so as good and faithful servants of the Savior who requires that of us, but not do them from a false motivation to earn our salvation already achieved for us by Christ. We obey as God’s new creatures, groaning with creation for our Savior to come and complete his work in us.

This attempted resolution is not necessarily wrong. Neither is it particularly different, despite all the gloss of Vos, from what Reformed theologians have tried to say about God at work in the believer as the believer works. Another way of saying this is the third use of the law. We needed the historia salutis for that?

From my blinkered theological mind, the big question seems to be how the law functions in the life of the believer and in what way it is necessary. Here the Shorter Catechism appears to be remarkably helpful. It distinguishes two sets of requirements.

The first is what are the duties God requires of man (39)? This is the lead question for the explanation of the Decalogue. And second, after the law is parsed, the catechism asks another “require” question: What does God require of us that we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin (85)? (Notice the difference between the law required of all men and the requirements associated with the “us” of the redeemed.) From here the catechism goes on to discuss the means of grace.

A recognition of these distinct requirements and their stated audiences plausibly leads to the conclusion that the law is not a means of grace. Clearly, the law is not in view when the catechism explicitly addresses the means of grace – that is, word, sacrament, and prayer. This doesn’t mean that the law is bad, not to be followed, or not a standard of conduct. But following the law as a requirement does not contribute to justification – or to sanctification, for that matter. Attending to the means of grace, however, does contribute to salvation as a way of reassuring believers that God has promised to save them from their sins.

In other words, following the law is only the fruit of salvation, not the means of salvation (which includes justification and sanctification).

One last thought: since starting this post I see that Evans cannot let Oliphint or others have the last word, and so he writes this:

I firmly believe that balance in the Christian life is possible and that our people see the glory of God not only in the grace of justification but also in the demands of God’s law and in the way that the whole of Scripture marvelously fits together–what WCF 1.5 calls “the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and the entire perfection thereof.” And to this end we must proclaim the whole counsel of God. This means that we proclaim the imperatives of transformation as well as the gratuity of justification. Furthermore, we must do this without separating them, for both are found in Christ. Law without grace and mercy is just as unbalanced as grace and mercy without law.

As mechanical and confusing as “the imperatives of transformation” and the “gratuity of justification” as a formulation is, I don’t understand how Evans is not attaching an “or else” to “do this.” And I don’t for the life of me understand how this is a comfort, or how it does not undermine the assurance of the gospel. After all, everyone has a sense of justice and the idea that no matter what I do I belong to God because of Christ’s work on my behalf does not seem to be fair. Surely, I can prove my worth if I obey God’s law. But this is precisely what is so marvelous about the gospel, and why the law should send shivers down the spine of all people. No one can keep the law, not even the saints. That’s why good works are filthy rags. The only bleach available to make us presentable at the day of judgment is not the white hot flame of the law but the blood of Christ. Like the gospel, using a red fluid that will only stain to make ourselves clean makes no sense. But it’s the only hope for those who know that the law will always show the filth of human depravity and the dirt of good works.