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Archive for March, 2008

Last Saturday we took the kids to see the movie Horton Hears a Who.

It was a lot of fun.

I heard more than a Who. “Who” else detected a pretty strong pro-life theme? Was it on purpose or did Horton’s motto “a life is a life no matter how small” accidently strike a pro-life cord?

Did anyone else see the movie? What did you think?

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The DRC has been silent on the controversy surrounding Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and his spiritual mentor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Like most Americans I have been extremely interested to learn of Wright’s homiletical follies, his race baiting, his white bashing, his America denouncing, and his conspiracy theories. I am shocked to find such militancy masquerading as the gospel.

Still, I think there are complicated issues involved. Here are my thoughts so far.

1. Whatever Wright is preaching in these hate filled tirades it is not the gospel. It is identity politics baptized. Of course, it is hard to get a grasp of someone’s overall message simply by hearing snippets of a man’s most controversial declarations. At best Obama’s spirituality is a spirituality rooted in earthly liberation and the progressive do-good-er-ism of the social gospel. Sure there are huge differences but at its covenant of works roots, I wonder if we can say any more about Reagan’s spirituality than Obama’s?

2. We should be just as upset when white preachers trade the gospel for social gospel politics whether on the right or the left.

3. This morning at NRO, commentator Victor Davis Hanson suggests that Obama should have said:

“But any good that now might come by remaining steadfast to Rev. Wright in consideration of our long past friendship is outweighed by the damage that would accrue from the sanction of his extremism that my continued attendance at his church might convey.

“I have loyalty aplenty, but it is to the truth, my country, and universal tolerance, not to any one friend — however long and close our association.”

I am confounded that Hanson, writing in a Conservative environment, would argue that Obama should place his loyalty in abstractions and while dropping his allegiance to those who have been like family to him. Is that really the conservative, Christian thing to do? Shouldn’t we be suspicious of politicians who will toss old friends off the bus when it is political expedient. Wasn’t Obama more thoughtfully conservative when he distanced himself from the Wright’s crazy abstractions but showed loyalty to his old friend? Isn’t the essence of Toryism loyalty to persons over abstractions?

4. Obama’s speech “A More Perfect Union” dealt with this potentially devastating situation in a way that was, to say th least, impressive. This was possibly the most important political discussion of the race question in our lifetime. I was certainly the best speech I have heard in American politics since Reagan (and I know Reagan’s speeches- I used to have them on a set of tapes).

5. Obama’s call for fathers and families to instill a sense of self-help reliance should have been pure joy for conservatives.

6. Obama’s call to rise above cynicism and to believe that change is possible was balanced by a recognition that change must come within the trajectory of the American tradition. Isn’t this the heart of Burke who declares, “A State without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation”?

7. Having listened carefully, I fully understand Peggy Noonan’s praise for a Thinking Man’s speech and although I am not there, I can still understand the Conservative case for Obama.

8. Finally, Obama should continue to love his friend Wright and find an authentic confessional church to help him understand the gospel of Christ, the distinction between the two kingdoms, while rooting his thought in a less earthly more balanced eschatology. I would suggest fine Chicago churches like Westminter RPC (Pastored by our own Rev. Charles Brown) or Bethel OPC (Pastored by Craig Troxel)

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People may not know but the blogosphere has revealed that Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) is about to hold a decisive meeting of the board at which the fate of Pete Enns may well be decided. Enns, of course, is the author of the controversial book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. His critics argue that Enns’ views of Scripture are defective and that his proposal for the way to do theology is at best wobbly. His supporters contend that Enns is carrying on the seminary’s tradition of combining evangelical theology with up-to-date biblical scholarship. The best place to go for links to the various discussions is: http://connversation.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/wts-is-at-impasse-please-prayer-for-her-an-alumni-plea/
So alarmed are some of Enns’ supporters that they have called for a student demonstration on campus the day before the board convenes.

The problem for WTS is not simply the novelty of Enns’ views per se but that the school has lived for some time with a degree of theological latitude that is fundamentally unstable. Enns was indeed one of the first professors to come out of the closet and put in black and white the questions that some faculty have about the Reformed doctrine of Scripture. But he and other biblical faculty have been swimming in the pool of biblical theology and taking their cues from older BT sources for so long that they cannot understand why conservatives are upset. Because of the freedom unofficially granted to biblical scholars at WTS, Enns is right to be surprised that all of a sudden voicing questions about the Reformed tradition is beyond the pale.

A good illustration of the apparently valuable perspective that Enns represents comes from the testimonials at http://www.saveourseminary.com, a website started as a petition to show support for a professor admired as a funny and accessible loose canon. One recent graduate writes:

it was at Westminster where I learned the importance of the sufficiency of Scripture. It was at Westminster where I learned the importance of a redemptive-historical and Christo-telic hermeneutical understanding. It was at Westminster where I learned the importance of understanding the brokenness of our world and the corrupting influence of sin and idolatry. It was at Westminster that I learned the need to walk in another person’s shoes first, so that I might understand his or her presuppositions and worldview in order to contextualize and incarnate the gospel. It was at Westminster where the biblical studies scholars applied this culturally sensitive, presuppositional approach to the Scriptures and taught me not only how to understand people but also how to understand the Bible. It was at Westminster, through both the words and deeds of the entire faculty, where I learned the nature of God’s providence and that Jesus is Lord.

Now that’s a lot to learn and it is generally to the good. But what is interesting about the many voices expressing support for Enns is how little those graduates learned about WTS’ founding theological consensus as expressed by the likes of another biblical scholar, J. Gresham Machen. In 1929 at the seminary’s first convocation Machen elaborated the cause of the new school:

Westminster Seminary will endeavor . . . not on a foundation of equivocation and compromise but on an honest foundation of devotion to God’s Word, to maintain the same principles that old Princeton maintained. We believe, first, that the Christian religion, as it is set forth in the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian church, is true; we believe, second, that the Christian religion welcomes and is capable of scholarly defense; and we believe, third, that the Christian religion should be proclaimed without fear or favor, and in clear opposition to whatever opposes it, whether within or without the church, as the only way of salvation for lost mankind.

Machen also made clear that systematic theology, not biblical theology, was still the queen of theological studies at Westminster. “There are those who think that systematic theology on the basis of the Bible is impossible,” he declared. “There are those who think that the Bible contains a mere record of human seeking after God and that its teachings are a mass of contradiction which can never be resolved. But to that number of persons we do not belong. We believe for our part that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that he has given us not merely theology, but a system of theology, a great logically consistent body of truth.”

That consistent body of truth, according to Machen, was Reformed orthodoxy as summarized in the Confession and catechisms of the Presbyterian Church. The system of theology found in the Bible, he explained , “is the Reformed faith, the faith commonly called Calvinistic.” “It is sometimes referred to as a ‘man-made creed.’ But we do not regard it as such. We regard it, in accordance with our ordination pledge as ministers in the Presbyterian church, as the creed which God has taught us in his Word. . . . We rejoice in the approximations to that body of truth which other systems of theology contain; we rejoice in our Christian fellowship with other systems of theology contain; . . . But we cannot consent to impoverish our message by setting forth less than what we find the Scriptures to contain; and we believe that we shall best serve our fellow Christians . . . if we set forth not some vague greatest common measure among various creeds, but that great historic faith that has come through Augustine and Calvin to our own Presbyterian church. Glorious is the heritage of the Reformed faith.”

Now the interesting thing about the contrast between one of Enns’ supporters and the original vision for WTS is that Machen and the original faculty could actually support most of what the recent graduate of Westminster writes. Old WTS practiced a biblical theology that saw Christ everywhere revealed in Scripture, a form of apologetics that was philosophically savvy and culturally engaged, and advocated a ministry that took seriously human depravity. In other words, a student graduating from WTS in the 1940s might have written similar sentiments to those expressed over at saveourseminary. Yet, that 1940s graduate would have also recognized the value and importance of being narrowly and militantly Reformed, of the need to be part of a disciplined Reformed church, and that the church is always militant, always needing to be on guard for departures from the truth.

In sum, the 1940s student of WTS would have known how to join together Machen, Van Til, and Vos for ministry in the church and for maintaining and defending the Reformed faith. He would have recognized that theological breadth and tolerance were threats to the truth. And yet, he still would have seen the value of what Enns’ defender advocates. But recent grads of WTS who defend Enns do not know what to do with Van Til and Machen as contenders for the Reformed faith, as sticklers for Presbyterian polity, or as bystanders to any number of evangelical proposals for all Protestants “to just get along.” These seem like vulgarities from a polemical past that need to be excised for the generic evangelical-Reformed church to advance.

This is arguably the biggest dilemma facing the current faculty and administration at WTS – how to restore the original consensus at the seminary that balanced the fruits of biblical theology with Reformed polemics and strict Presbyterian ecclesiology. The defenders of Enns do not see the need for Reformed polemics and Presbyterian ecclesiology. Machen, in contrast, recognized that biblical theology was a necessary and valuable partner in the cause of defending the Reformed faith and in maintaining a faithful Presbyterian ministry. How to get the proponents of biblical theology to see the need for polemics and ecclesiology is the $64,000 question of the hour.

What hurts the chances for such a restoration of Westminster’s original vision is the presence of other theological tendencies that may be more conservative than Enns’ proposal but are just as uncomfortable with a militant and ecclesiastically disciplined Reformed witness. New Life Presbyterianism’s pietistic quest for relevance, Christian counseling’s egalitarian leveling of the minister’s pulpit and the counselor’s armchair, and neo-Calvinism’s push for cultural transformation all clutter the path back to the original balance of biblical theology, Reformed orthodoxy, and committed Presbyterianism. The vote on Enns could be a step in the right direction. But depending on how much the board understands how far contemporary WTS is from its founding, the vote on Enns could end up only adding to the confusion at WTS.

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According to the Christian Church calendar, today is Good Friday. It is a day of solemn remembrance of the agonizing death of Christ by crucifixion. It is the day of the cross.

Of course, Reformed Protestants have never been big on the church calendar but it is rather upsetting how the culture has thrown away Easter, Good Friday, ect. Not because all Lord’s Day point to the resurrection but because the culture no longer cares about the resurrection.

This is hard news for Christendom. Charlotte Allen has an excellent article at NRO entitled Easter, Anyone? A sober reflection.

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Ronald Reagan told close friends that he believed his Soviet counterpart was a “closet believer.”

The last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev has come out of the closet with a visit to the tomb of Saint Francis of Assisi.

History will recorded the central role played by the Christian faith in destroying the specter of Soviet Communism.

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Here’s an important post from Georgetown professor Patrick Deneen. He draws out some of the moral lessons to be learned from this latest financial fiasco.

When will we learn that bigger is not always better? Bigness is killing us.

HT: Rod Dreher

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Liberty is under attack in California. Read Allan Carlson’s excellent analysis of the situation in California.

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