Archive for the ‘Church(es)’ Category

The Most Disturbing Quote Coming From L’Affaire Driscoll

keller

It’s nothing that Driscoll himself has said, it’s nothing that any of his accusers have said, for me, it’s this:

“But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships — which he himself has confessed repeatedly — was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

This is a quote that the New York Times collected from none other than Tim Keller. I’m not sure if Keller will expand on this at all, but what he says here is pretty damning for both Mark and for the larger movement of American Calvinism. Arrogance, rudeness – and that it was obvious even from the “earliest days.” I don’t know what Keller means by “earliest days” – I assume that when Mars Hill was nothing but a bible study on the other coast that Keller had no idea about it, but certainly by the mid-2000s, Keller had to have had Driscoll on his radar. Ten years. Given how seriously most in the Reformed community take the pastoral epistles, I want to know how Keller et al squared a brash, arrogant, rude man whose traits were “obvious” with the requirements for church eldership.

This disturbs me because Keller, of all the leaders of the conservative, evangelical Reformed church in the US, is the one for whom I have the greatest respect. He has been successful as a church planter and pastor without seeming to get enmeshed in the scandals of spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, or any kind of financial wrongdoing. It disappoints me though that he is now appearing to admit that those around Driscoll who had the most power to rebuke or blunt him kept their mouths shut because they thought that Driscoll was effective as a communicator.

Samuel Davies and Emotional Outbursts

When thinking about Great Awakening preaching we often think of the emotional outbursts that accompanied it. Consider the response to Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, how people openly wailed at Whitefield’s itinerant ministry, or how people fell as if struck under Wesley’s. In light of this, I was interested to read this comment by Hughes Oliphant Old about Samuel Davies, a revival preacher of the same period, who was known as one of America’s greatest orators:

His sermons are theologically sound, but even more importantly, they are theologically perceptive. Davies drew large crowds and was a popular preacher, as were George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent, and yet we never hear of emotional outbursts attending his preaching. He was a consummate orator, yet never a rabble-rouser. He was prophetic and preached about sensitive problems of the day without any trace of the contentiousness we find in some of the New Lights of lesser magnitude. He seemed to be equally at home preaching to black slaves and to Virginia planters. His preaching was both fervent and gentlemanly.

Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Volume 5: Moderatism, Pietism, and Awakening (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 154.

Doddridge was Essentially Orthodox

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) was an influential nonconformist minister and educator who ran the dissenting academy in Northampton. He wrote a number of books, including the now class Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (1745). Though a Calvinist, he was open to other theological perspectives, including Arianism. Though his language was at times confused, he was ultimately orthodox. See the words of Van Den Berg and Nuttall:

But essentially, Doddridge was orthodox. Over against the accusation of Arianism, brought against Doddridge as well as against Watts, Goodricke pointed out that Doddridge maintained the full divinity of Christ. Nor was he a Socinian: in his doctrine of redemption Christ’s sacrifice as an atonement for our sins took a central place. Neither was he a Pelagian: man’s salvation depended from start to finish on God’s saving grace. The accusation of Remonstrantism was also far from the truth, for Doddridge unequivocally maintained the doctrine of predestination. Finally, on many occasions Doddrige had defended the idea of “plenary inspiration,” so that on this important point also the accusation fell flat.

J. Van Den Berg and G. F. Nuttall, Philip Doddridge and the Netherlands: 1702-1751 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 63.

From The Vault: Mark Driscoll Vs. Mark Driscoll

 

mark-driscoll-qwest

This was four years ago:

In recent years we’ve found that Mark Driscoll does like to have his authoritah respected by his church. From a NY Times article on Mars Hill

“In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that,according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “Hisanswer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached.”

Hmm. I wonder how an earlier incarnation of Driscoll, as depicted by the Tall Skinny Kiwi would have seen this? Once there was a Mark Driscoll who was less than impressed by pastors with big egos:

“This one guy, who’s ministry was named after himself, gets up to the stage which had his name plastered on 3 different banners around the stage. Mark Driscoll was next up to speak after this braggart and instead of trying to do one better, he simply bows his head and prays for the entire time a prayer of repentance for our arrogance. Then he walks back to our table and sits down. Sweet! Soooo timely and prophetic. I’ll never forget that one.”

Now I suppose the legion of Driscoll apologists will rush to point out that Driscoll has not ever called anything Mark Driscoll Ministries or something of that sort. Whatever. Arrogance can manifest in all manner of forms. Driscoll used to be the sort of guy who could pick out the sort guy he is now.

Two Kingdoms and the Great War

Philip Jenkins makes an insightful point about Lutheran two-kingdom theology and the Great War in his book The Great and Holy War:

German Protestants of this generation, though, had remarkably few qualms about presenting violence and warfare as legitimate tactics for a Christian state. Through its Zwei-Reiche-Lehre (two-kingdoms doctrine), Lutheran theology taught that the two kingdoms, earthly and heavenly, each had its own moral codes and ways of being. Although Christians lived in both simultaneously, it was impossible to apply the absolute demands of New Testament ethics to each: the state simply could not be expected to operate according to such standards. A state that turned the other cheek in the face of aggression or invasion would soon cease to exist. Even a nation made up almost entirely of devout Christians could never act politically according to strict Christian moral teachings. Potentially, this approach justified cynical state actions that seemed to violate Christian teachings or commonly accepted moral standards. In 1914, the doctrine overrode objections to the treatment of Belgium.

Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014), 84-85.

Neo-Puritanism

***UPDATE*** Bob Robinson kindly took the time to interact with my blogpost in the comments which you can read here. I respond to it here where I concede that I was wrong in my first criticism, but believe that the others stand. ***UPDATE***

There are a number of problems with Bob Robinson’s article, “So What is Wrong with Neo-Calvinism?” In it Mr. Robinson argues that it is better to call the Young, Restless, Reformed movement “Neo-Puritan” instead of Neo-Calvinist. I will highlight some of the historical problems with this very briefly here:

1) Mr. Robinson lends credence to the criticism of some “Old Calvinists” that due to the preponderance of Baptists in the YRR movement, it should not be called “Reformed,” hence why Mr. Robinson prefers the term “Puritan.” The problem with this assertion is that the Puritans were part of the period scholars call Reformed orthodoxy. I am not sure how “Neo-Puritan” helps protect the integrity of “Reformed” from us Baptists. Likewise, calling YRR “Puritan” does not mitigate the problem of covenant or baptism—representative Puritans were covenant theologians and paedobaptists. The early Particular Baptists were also strongly covenantal.

2) Mr. Robinson fails to provide an adequate definition of the term Puritan. Contrary to his use of the term, Puritanism was not a monolithic movement and included non-Calvinists such as the important John Goodwin who was an Arminian. Likewise, what about the General Baptists? They were Puritans and also Arminian. If you follow the work of the late Geoffrey Nuttall, a Puritan expert, then other more fringe groups like the Quakers were also Puritans. Patrick Collinson famously defined a Puritan as a Protestant of the “hotter sort.” You can see my article “Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism” for reasons why this is a better way to understand the movement.

3) In a chart seeking to provide the historical provenance of the Puritan movement, Mr. Robinson looks to Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) as the first or quintessential Puritan. The problem is that historians of evangelicalism like David Bebbington categorize Edwards as an evangelical not a Puritan. This points to the related problem of determining when the Puritan movement came to a close. Some scholars argue that Puritanism ended with the Act of Uniformity and the Great Ejection of 1662. For myself, I have argued in the essay linked above that the Puritan movement largely ended at the death of the last representative Puritan John Howe (1630-1705). While some romantically like to call Edwards, Spurgeon, and even Lloyd-Jones the “last great Puritan,” it remains the case that none of these were Puritans rightly so-called. Puritanism was largely a seventeenth-century phenomenon.

4) Related to point 3, Mr. Robinson fails to see the variegated nature of his own example of “Puritans,” lumping Owen, Baxter (not a Calvinist strictly speaking), and Edwards together as though they all shared the same theological perspective. Edwards is very, very different in terms of his theological emphases than Owen. And Owen and Baxter were engaged in a lengthy theological debate. None of these men should be conflated as Mr. Robinson does.

Although there are others, these historical problems undermine Mr. Robinson’s thesis. For a more detailed analysis on how to define Puritanism see Randall J. Pederson’s Unity in Diversity.

Against Sexual Abuse

I found this podcast really significant for a number of reasons:

  • The Mortification of Spin hosts have very strong Reformed bona fides so none of the SGM lackeys (or other sex predator apologists) can say that this podcast was somehow theologically motivated and an attack on conservative, complementarian, Reformed, evangelical Christianity. A strong stance against abusers is congruent with Reformed theology, and an attempt to make this about some kind of spat with the Tchividjian boys is merely a red herring.
  • Their guest, Diane Langberg, made the important point that stories of domestic abuse are almost never fabricated – there is no hiding in the fog of, “oh well, it’s he-said vs she-said, how can we know” on this matter.
  • The hosts made it clear that an abuser of children who has truly repented will want nothing to do with children and will happily accept a church that would rather bring the service to him than have any children put at risk. Anyone hiding behind some BS like, “isn’t the church all about forgiveness?” as a means to gain access to children and escape oversight is not truly repenting.
  • The only part I felt they missed on was perhaps spending more time on the importance of going to civil authorities. It grieves me that there are still churches who can believe that these matters can be handled in house. Thought experiment: what if the abuser was a serial car thief instead – can anyone not imagine a pastor urging that man to turn himself into the civil authorities?

Make no mistake, these wolves are stalking your churches, their victims are in your pews.

Calvin and Niccolo

…or, more accurately, the Calvinists against the Machiavellians. The pseudonymously-authored and famous Huguenot treatise Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos has been a subject of fascination for me for many years, but upon reading the recently published edition (1999) I learned something new about it. That is, while it certainly had Catholic-Protestant conflict in its background, in fact it explicitly aims not at refuting Catholicism, but rather Machiavellianism. George Garnett, the editor of the new edition, writes:

It has been argued that the preface’s promise of an anti-Machievellian treatise is not fulfilled in the book which follows. … But… this misses the point of the preface. Cono Superantius argued that an effective response could be mounted against ‘the Machiavellians and their books’ only by referring the ‘rule of princes and the right of peoples … to their legitimate and certain first principles’. Brutus had later sent him ‘a book of these investigations, which comprises these principles, and proves and expounds them’ … . Gentillet recognised that there was little point in trying to engage with Machiavelli’s arguments on their own terms: Machiavelli and the Machiavellians could only be answered effectively by pinning down the moral descriptions which they had made so slippery. And this could only be done by grounding the moral order, and therefore the governmental order, in the order of nature, created by God. This is precisely what the author of the Vindiciae attempts to do… . (xxi-xxii)

Garnett also notes that there may be some truth to the then common insinuation that the French royal government of the time really was inspired by Machiavelli:

The author of Le Tocsain, published in the year to which the preface is dated, claimed that Catherine de Medici had used Il principe as a text book for her children, and that ‘it might be described as her Bible’. If Boucher is to be believed, Henri III had learned his lessons well at his mother’s knee: he kept a copy always in his pocket, for ready reference, when he needed guidance on how to be most effectively evil. A defamatory slur this may be, but the king’s letters sometimes seem to echo the precepts and even the phrasing of Il principe. (xxi)

And to the degree Machievellianism is alive and well in the minds of the powerful today, Vindiciae may continue to have some relevance.

Thoughts on The Future of Protestantism

Protestantism

I am still trying to process the essays and interchange at “The Future of Protestantism” (video) roundtable held at Biola last night. If you are unfamiliar with what I am referring to, the Torrey Honors Institute, Davenant Trust, and First Things co-hosted an event where Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman responded to Peter Leithart and an essay that he wrote last year on the future of Protestantism. City of God friends Peter Escalante and Brad Littlejohn were both involved as moderator and organizer, respectively.

All in all, I enjoyed the interchange. Each of the conversation partners, and the moderator, had distinct personalities that made watching and listening a pleasant experience. The added element of following on Twitter with the hashtag #protfuture was also good, as people with varying perspectives on ecumenism shared thoughts and concerns. The humour over the Other Peter’s mustache was also quite hilarious—it felt a little like Dali was in the house!

I have sympathies with Leithart’s concern for a publicly visible unity of God’s people. I also agree with him that the traditional Protestant understanding about the Church of Rome is that she is a true church but has become deformed (to use the language of some participants last night). The question that I continue to wrestle with, however, is: at what point does a church cease to be a church? It strikes me, based on what Leithart said about Jehovah’s Witnesses, that an “in/out” boundary is found in the formulations of the ecumenical creeds. Thus, if a church ceases to believe in the Trinity or deity of Christ, it is no longer a true church.

However, Galatians 1:6-10 indicates that the boundaries should be tighter than Trinitarianism or Christology and should include concerns about the gospel (would Leithart say this is tribalism?). Leithart points to N. T. Wright’s definition that the gospel is only a declaration about Jesus Christ as Lord, not justification by faith. While I agree that the gospel is not less than a declaration about Christ’s lordship, it is certainly more, and is deeply bound up with justification by faith. Or, to view it with another soteriological lens, how do I a sinner become reconciled to God? Is it by my own work or merit? Or do I trust in what Christ did in his propitiatory sacrifice and his resurrection on my behalf? Based on his words last night, I would think that Leithart would have to say, ultimately, that it does not matter. If Protestants and Catholics effectively share the same gospel—that is, that the gospel is only a declaration of Christ’s lordship—then it does not matter whether my works contribute to my reconciliation with God or not. Because of Galatians 1:6-10, I can’t escape the fact that Paul would anathematize such a view. Is he not the one who elsewhere said that the gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes, Jew or Gentile? Is he not the one who linked the “good news” (euangelizometha) and “justification” (dikaiothenai) in Acts 13:13-52, esp. v.38? This is what brings about eternal life.

I do not doubt Leithart’s genuine desire that Protestantism should develop a higher liturgy. I too would love to see the Eucharist become more central than it is in many denominations. When I visit my mother’s Reformed Baptist church back home, they practice weekly Communion, and I am deeply blessed by that. I would also love to see Protestants have a more robust and Reformed understanding of the real presence. But as I listened to the discussion last night, so much of that part of Leithart’s discussion felt like a veil, masking the core question of what is the gospel? The Roman Catholic Church and Reformed Protestanism hold fundamentally different views about the gospel. Sure, we share the ecumenical creeds, but that is not enough.

One might also ask, what about those Protestant traditions that are purposefully low-church? Is it wrong to not want the accouterments and trappings of medieval Christendom? What about the Salvation Army, or Black Gospel churches? What about churches in other countries on other continents that express their worship according to different cultural norms? Leithart’s vision seems to be heavily indebted to historic European forms of worship.

These are the thoughts jumbling in my head as I come away from last night’s discussion. Leithart’s vision, if it is stripped of the admittedly important, yet also secondary issues of worship, seems to be the ecumenical message that has been in vogue for the last hundred or so years. I have yet to be convinced by that movement, and I remain unconvinced by Leithart—as interesting as I often find him.

John Newton Brown and Calvinism

In the discussion about Baptists and Calvinism, Emir Caner made some comments about the New Hampshire Confession of Faith arguing that it is neither Arminian nor Calvinist, but Baptist. Aside from the historical confusion in such a statement, is the gist of what he is getting at true?

My friend Mark Nenadov has written two posts giving pertinent advice on how to view the Confession in its historical context, particularly as it pertains to the one who most view as its principle framer, John Newton Brown. Mark is an independent researcher who runs a website dedicated to Brown and has written an excellent essay on him that I hope will soon be published. Mark is a published poet and came to his interest in Brown through the latter’s poetry.

In his first post, Mark outlines two misapprehensions about the New Hampshire Confession that are worth being aware of. In his second post he looks at the Calvinism of Brown, calling him an “American Particular Baptist.” He gives some excellent quotes from Brown outlining his Calvinism. These posts highly relevant to the current discussion and I hope that they get a wide reading.