Archive for August, 2008

Finally, Hope!

2008 has been a depressing political year. But hope has come.

I am absolutely ecstatic about Sarah Palin’s place on the McCain ticket. She, Bobby Jindal, Mark Sanford… these are the faces of political conservatism’s future.

Suddenly, the future is now (or at least it is visible).

I am finally excited about the Presidential election!


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American Reformed Christians have weathered a number of challenges in recent years, from Federal Vision to Ancient Near Eastern literature. Underneath the responses to those difficulties simmers a deeper question about how Reformed someone needs to be in order to be Reformed. Some refuse cooperation (at least ecclesiastically) with non-Reformed, others are willing to work around ecclesial restrictions to find common ground with evangelicals and other conservative Protestants (except Lutherans, of course).

My sense is that these dispositions among conservative Reformed Christians go to a deeper tension, one that John Frame seems to notice in his recent book on Christian ethics. He observes that Reformed Christianity has developed a reputation as a smoker’s movement. “Some understand a discussion among Reformed theologians,” he writes, “to be incomplete without cigars, pipes and cigarettes.” Frame cautions against this kind of Reformed identity with the heavy hand of mortality. “Some of the men I’ve know who have been most insistent on their freedom to smoke have died of emphysema and lung cancer.”

What Frame has failed to notice is that within another sector Reformed Christianity has become synonymous with classic rock ‘n roll of the 1970s. In those circles the discussion of Reformed theology seems to be incomplete without references to The Who or The Boss. And where the Reformed smokers tend to be unwilling to cooperate with non-Reformed, Reformed rockers have shown greater willingness to work with evangelicals. Could it be that a person’s attachment to certain forms of leisure activity affects his understanding of the Reformed faith?

The answer is unclear, but to paraphrase Garrison Keillor on non-smokers living longer but living dumber, Reformed smokers may not live as long as Reformed rockers, but at least smokers can hear.

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Alasdair Macintyre, the astute Roman Catholic philosopher, got off one of the better quips about the difficulty of feeling loyalty for the modern nation-state when he wrote that being asked to die for one’s country is like “being asked to die for the telephone company.” Whether it’s AT&T or Verizon, it’s just too big, too abstract, too bureaucratic for people to be willing to sacrifice anything meaningful. It’s even hard to imagine wearing a phone company t-shirt.

This is the way contemporary evangelicalism feels and it confounds me that so many Reformed Christians continue to show allegiance to a religious phenomenon that is as big, remote, and weightless as the phone company. A number of blogs recently have taken up the subject, Lee Irons’, Scott Clark’s, Ref 21, and the Confessional Outhouse among them. Also at Greenbaggins the posting of recent statements from administrators at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) on the schools relationship to evangelicalism was the occasion for reflections on the relations between evangelical and Reformed Protestantism.

Typically, Reformed types will concede that evangelicalism has its problems – theological especially – but the garden variety evangelical’s devotion to the Bible, sincere religious experience, belief in Christ as savior, and general zeal are all worthy of Reformed respect. So deep is this respect that many Reformed believers will speak of the fellowship they have with evangelicals.

Fellowship? How exactly is such fellowship manifest? Is it like being listed in the Yellow Pages? Where does this fellowship happen other than when American Protestants answer pollsters questions a certain way, when journalists lump everyone from Rick Warren to James Dobson under the heading of evangelical, or when a university press releases yet another book about evangelicalism in the United States?

The way Christians are supposed to consider fellowship is through the prism of the church – not the warm and fuzzy invisible church that incorporates believers the way Verizon sends out direct mail. It is rather the visible church that sets the terms of fellowship and these bodies have definite views about doctrine, worship, and polity. That’s why Orthodox Presbyterians may have great respect for Missouri Synod Lutherans but don’t exchange pulpits with Lutheran pastors. And yet, certain Reformed Protestants, who are supposed to know better because they have actually taken vows that circumscribe their ministry and membership within a specific communion, will speak of the fellowship and unity they have with Christians who are in communions not even within the Rolodex of the chairmen of their denomination’s committee on ecumenicity.

To speak of fellowship with evangelicals is really like speaking of oneness with fellow Americans who favor marriage. I do support marriage and am glad for as many citizens of this republic who value it as we can find. But what I share with pro-marriage Americans is hardly the same as the real fellowship I have, by virtue of marriage, with my wife. I wonder when Reformed Protestants will consider that their membership and ordination vows may be as serious as their marriage vows, and may even trump their identity as evangelicals.

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The DRC blog was originally established to be a sounding board for discussions of my series on Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship in the RP Witness. It has served its purpose well.

Therefore, while the site remains in its original form, I thought I might take the opportunity to point out what I have learned from the discussion. I want to thank or contributors, especially Darryl and Caleb, for their insightful contributions. Both men have challenged me. They have demand that I think and rethink along the way. I am grateful.

So what have I learned?

1. That Christ is truly King of the Nations (the bible says so) but that his reign is complex and difficult to define.

2. Because Christ’s kingship over the nations is difficult to define, it is best to stand upon the treasury of wisdom borrowed from the last 2000 years of Western Christendom. Speculative theories and ideologies are never helpful in the political realm. America represents a beautiful union between the Western Tradition of Christendom, the prescriptive rights of Englishman, the influence of Reformed theology, and the best of the Scottish Enlightenment. I would rather defend our blessings than criticize our imperfections. The best defender of Christ’s Kingship is not the speculative do-good reformer but the conservative defender of the Western tradition.

3. Theocracy is for ancient Israel and the church. One of the blessings of Christendom is that it gave room for the development of a secular sphere- not divorced from Christ but under Him– in which the politics of this age serve a less than ultimate purpose. Truly God judges nations for their sins. His hand of providence governs the nations. Yet, for Christianity politics is not the realm of faithfulness to revelation. Secular breathing space is important. It provides the possibility of compromise, a possibility unimaginable with fundamentalist Islam. At the end of the day, the most important contribution of Christ’s Kingship over the nations may be the existence of the secular sphere.

More thoughts to come…

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You may have noted that things have been rather quite around the DRC lately.

We apologize to our readers for the slow pace but are excited to announce that we have reached an agreement with the Board of Education and Publication that will remove the De Regno Christi from denominational oversight. We have had a long and successful relationship with the RPCNA and would like to thank the Board and especially Drew Gordon, Josh, and Sam for all their hard work.

What will the future bring? Change to be sure. In good conservative fashion change will be tempered by continuity. You can continue to look forward to the contributions of Pastor Brown, Barrister (DA) Stegall, and our hero the esteemed Dr. Darryl G. Hart. I will be back in action as well.

Stay tuned and look forward to the next chapter in the life of the DRC.

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Running on a “Little America” theme, Caleb Stegall scored a 30-point romp over the incumbent DA in yesterday’s election. Good news for all populists, crunchy cons, and reactionary radicals!

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