Haven’t posted in a very long time. Actually forgot I was part of this. But here are a couple of videos selling Christian America you might like.
Haven’t posted in a very long time. Actually forgot I was part of this. But here are a couple of videos selling Christian America you might like.
The Ecclesial Calvinist (William B. Evans) is always worth reading, especially when he says something one has always suspected but been reticent to say aloud. Whenever the issue of creation and length of days comes up in conservative circles, one can’t swing the proverbial dead cat and not hit someone who will eventually sound like he’s more or less still fighting the early twentieth century culture wars. Evans reminds us that fundamentalism is alive and well and finds expression in the religious celebrity of Al Mohler, who by the way is also mysteriously referred to as “the most important Calvinist on the planet” (for some good reflection on that oddity, see the Curmudgeon):
Having read Mohler’s lecture carefully several times, I’m driven to the conclusion that when all is said and done this debate is really not about exegesis or theology. He simply has not engaged the theological and exegetical state of the question. Rather, it is about the sociology of knowledge, and more specifically the cultural threat of Darwinism and the need that some conservative Christians feel to exclude it a priori via LSDYEC.
Mohler is quick to accuse some evangelical scholars of capitulating to the spirit of the age in order to avoid marginalization, and that may well be a problem in some cases. Such pragmatism should have no place in believing scholarship. On the other hand, given the fact that Christians in the past have sometimes embarrassed themselves by their opposition to science, he would do well to heed these wise words of Herman Bavinck:
It is nevertheless remarkable that not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum, and that in theology as well a variety of interpretations were allowed to exist side by side. Augustine already urged believers not too quickly to consider a theory to be in conflict with Scripture, to enter the discussion of these difficult subjects only after serious study, and not to make themselves ridiculous by their ignorance in the eyes of unbelieving science. This warning has not always been faithfully taken to heart by theologians. Geology, it must be said, may render excellent service to us in the interpretation of the creation story. Just as the Copernican worldview has pressed theology to give another and better interpretation of the sun’s “standing still” in Joshua 10, as Assyriology and Egyptology form precious sources of information for the interpretation of Scripture, and as history frequently finally enables us to understand a prophecy in its true significance—so also geological and paleontological investigations help us in this century to gain a better understanding of the creation story (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., trans. John Vriend (Baker, 2003-2008), II: 495-96).
Upon reading this…
Books about Christianity and culture often spend much time speaking about cultural activities such as education, vocation, and politics but say little about the church…many of them seem to treat the church as of secondary importance for the Christian life and the various activities of human culture as where Christianity is really lived. In this book, I defend the opposite position. The church is primary for the Christian life. Every other institution—the family, the school, the business corporation, the state—is secondary in the practice of the Christian religion. The church is where the chief action of the Christian life takes place. If we do not understand that fact, then we will also fail to understand secondary aspects of our Christian life, such as studying, working, and voting.
What exactly are you doing when you go to church on Sundays? If you had to analogize going to church with something in everyday life, what would that analogy be? One popular analogy is that going to church is like stopping at a gas station. Church is a place where we stop to fill up our tanks after a tiring and stressful week and thus get recharged for the week ahead. Another analogy compares going to church a huddle in a football game. Church is the gathering of all the team’s players so that they can regroup, encourage each other, and prepare for separating again and facing the opponent through the coming week. Are these effective analogies for understanding the church?
I suggest that these analogies are radically insufficient and misleading. Perhaps most obviously, these analogies portray going to church as a human-centered event. Going to church is not primarily about me or even about us, but about God. I go to church not first of all to benefit myself (though that is a very important secondary effect) but to worship the Lord. A second deficiency in these analogies is that they place the real action of the Christian life somewhere other than in the gathering of God’s people for worship. Athletes do not play football in order to huddle and fans do not attend games in order to watch the huddles—what athletes and fans really care about are the plays executed when the ball is snapped. People do not go on road trips in order to stop for gas—drivers and passengers set out to enjoy the scenery and to arrive at their destination. Huddles and gas stations are mans to an end. The life and ministry of the church are not means to an end. They do not exist to recharge our batteries or to give us a strategy for facing the week ahead. The church’s worship and fellowship are ends in themselves. Nothing we do in this world is more important than participating in these activities. Participation in the life of the church, not participation in the cultural activities of the broader world, is central for the Christian life.
…I was reminded of this…
While revivalism upended Protestant patterns of worship wherever it went, thus making evangelicals hostile to accepted liturgies and re-defining the meaning of worship, it also proved to be destructive to a proper understanding of the work of the church. One of the curious features of the relatively recent novelties associated with church growth is the decline in the use of the altar call in churches desiring to reach unchurched harry and Harriet. This is curious because the first seeker-sensitive ministers and churches were those who took an active interest in the work of revivals. Revivals, after all, were the way to reach the lost. But in an era of refined consumer tastes and sharp competition for market share, altar calls do not appear to be effective anymore. Why would the owners of a half-a-million dollar home in the suburbs want to subject themselves to the embarrassment of walking down the aisle to pray a prayer of conversion in a place where they are strangers? These same homeowners would probably be just as reluctant to walk down to the front at the end of a PTA meeting to volunteer to assist with the school lunch program. Such an act is too uncomfortable and exacting for consumers who want the comforts of faith without the commitments.
Consequently, many churches that want to grow and make an impact (or “transform the culture,” in Reformed coinage) sponsor a variety of programs designed to meet the felt needs of residents in the vicinity. This way of growing the local church has had a profound effect on worship and says volumes about the way evangelicals regard the task of the church. If the real work of the church is the ministry that all the saints perform for each other throughout the week, whether in a Christian aerobics class, a story hour for preschoolers, classes on parenting for first-time fathers and mothers, or even the more legitimate evening Bible study, then the weekly gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day takes on a much different character and purpose. Word, sacrament, and prayer, the traditional marks and purposes of the church and, as the Westminster Shorter catechism describes them, “the outward and ordinary means whereby God communicates to us the benefits of redemption” (Ans. 88), become less important. Ministry is no longer defined by these means of grace but rather by all the things that believers do in times of fellowship and support groups…In the process, worship becomes not a time for the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament but a time to rally support for all the programs of the church. In other words, worship in the “successful” church becomes homeroom.
Homeroom, as all graduates of public high school know, is that time usually at the beginning of the school day during which the logistics of the educational enterprise are addressed. The teacher takes attendance, pupils say the Pledge of Allegiance, and the administrators or teachers make announcements about upcoming school events and programs. In many churches, this is exactly what worship has become. The attendance pads at the ends of the pews provide a record of individuals present for church. Praise songs projected overhead are the equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance. And the announcements that come in a variety of forms perform the function of—well—announcements. It is interesting to note the many ways in which announcements are given in evangelical worship. Ministers or various heads of committees talk about upcoming events in the church. Testimonies become plugs for a specific program in the church. Then there is the time for recognizing or even commissioning various workers in the church, whether Sunday school or vacation Bible School teachers, which also draws attention to church programs and the need for more laborers.
The significant differences between evangelical worship and public high school homeroom are the collection of the offering and the pastor’s message. Public schools rely on real estate taxes and therefore have no need to pass the plate inn homeroom. Public schools also have the sense to put lectures in real class time rather than mixing them with the details of operating the school. But the message in evangelical worship does allow the pastor to give a pep talk that will inspire church members to become involved in the weekly activities of the congregation, much like the high school principal’s pleas for volunteers during homeroom. In the process, the means of grace become the means of motivation. Rather than regarding the proclamation of the Word as the way of “convincing and converting sinners and of building them up in holiness and comfort (WSC Ans. 89), preaching is a tool for inspiring believers to become involved in the real work of the church—that is, all the activities and programs throughout the week. As a result, preaching and the other elements of worship, indeed, the entire liturgy, suffer. People no longer see them as the means of being nurtured in the faith but instead perceive “special ministries” as the ways of reaching out, growing the church, and making members more devout.
To be fair, I think really this acceleration of life began with the industrial revolution, and hasn’t stopped since, which would explain why we can probably find quotes like this continuously up to today (and beyond)
Today’s Wondermark! made me think of 2K, so I thought I’d share. Don’t forget to hover the mouse over the comic for the extra punchline in the mouseover text…
Alan Jacobs speculates on what it means (or doesn’t, as the case may be) to be a conservative:
I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.
So is there any sense in which I might plausibly be called a conservative? I don’t really know; I’ll leave that to others to decide. It doesn’t really matter to me whether I fit into any pre-existing political or intellectual categories. I can only say this: that I do have three overarching political commitments (or beliefs, or convictions) that are more important to me than any others.
The first is that I strive to be a consistently pro-life Christian. I am aware that many people believe that the whole notion of a “consistent pro-life ethic” is a way for liberal Christians to minimize the evil of abortion by wrapping it in a whole series of other issues, and that may well be true for many, but I do believe that there is such a thing as a consistently pro-life position and that that position involves an absolute commitment to the unborn and also to the weak, the sick, the elderly, the mentally ill, and all the others who find themselves at the margins of our society, generally unloved and uncared for. My models in this quest are the Cappadocian fathers of the Church.
One might hope that in trying to describe what a conservative is that something like the pro-life movement, that signature set of social politics in the late 2oth century which acts as a hinge to distinguish conservatives from the rest of the world, would deserve the sort of healthy skepticism Jacobs affords hyper-capitalistic economics and expansive militarism.
Some are trying to connect the dots between Calvinism and the formation of our rights-heavy republic. The project seems shaky, given how Calvin himself wasn’t particularly wild about notions of civil rebellion and disobedience. But there might be something to be said for how Calvinism bears on what it means to be conservative when it comes to a movement that tends to exalt that highest good provisional life affords, life itself, and portrays the unborn as angelic cherubim. Calvinism says that human beings are conceived in sin and that we are born children of wrath (Heidelberg Catechism QA 7).
It could be that another test of conservatism is to take the same measure of exception to “an absolute commitment to the unborn” as to the sweeping allegiance to something like nation-building and fat-cat capitalism. It may be more reflective of a modern tendency to exalt youth over age to such an extent that that segment of the human population is said to be deserving (insert Calvinist squirm) of a zealous and absolutist protection that other segments of the human population simply aren’t. Conservative Calvinists know that death is a reality. Sometimes people die, and that as a result of disease, age, violence, and even public policy. This isn’t at all to undermine the virtues of pro-lifery, namely that the strong and powerful have a duty to look out for their weak and powerless neighbors, but it is to wonder why there isn’t more effort on the parts of those who conceive themselves as conservative to moderate at least the rhetoric or dial down absolutist claims about life. And if it’s the Bible we want to bring to bear on the public square and conversation then Jesus’ words in Luke 14 about the cost of discipleship might have just as much, if not more to say about life as Psalm 134:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
The OPC is a bit of a black sheep of a denomination, so I guess it should be no surprise it would have some Woolley, but I had never heard of him, probably because he didn’t publish much (book-wise). But in the opening article of Confident of Better Things, John Muether introduces this too-little known, but very important character Paul Woolley, who was right there alongside Machen in the Independent Missions Board, filling all sorts of roles at Westminster Seminary, in addition to teaching every historical subject for years.
One of the two books that Woolley did publish was called The Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today (whence the title of Muether’s article, “The Significance of Paul Woolley Today”, which by the way can be found online, I guess as a preview of the book, which by the way is pretty cheap as books go). This will be the first of a series of at least three quotes from this article, relevant to this blog’s focus on 2K and confessionalism.
After his retirement from full time teaching at Westminster in 1972, Woolley wrote The Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today. As slim as this book was (a mere eighty-four pages), it was a timely response to some unfounded rumors. Machen, Woolley felt, suffered from a bad press, and he was zealous to correct the record about particular episodes in Machen’s life. One surrounded the Machen family’s alleged involvement in illegal liquor traffic. Machen himself was puzzled by the constant rumor that his family’s fortune was secured from the liquor trade, and he searched his father’s investments thoroughly on the matter. A variant of this story, that spread even to the classrooms of Harvard Divinity School, had to do with a distillery that was located somewhere in the basement of Westminster’s original campus on Pine Street in Philadelphia.
However fanciful, the origin of these tales lay in Machen’s conviction that the church should not engage in political acts. When the New Brunswick Presbytery of the PCUSA debated a resolution to support the Volstead Amendment, Machen spoke out strongly against the resolution. From that point on, Machen was dismissed as a “wet” by liberals and even by some fundamentalists, both of whom were eager to promote the cause of Prohibition.