Wednesday, January 21, 2009

John Frame's Machen's Warrior Children, a history of Calvinists as jerks for Jesus ... or their idea of Jesus

At a time when there has been coverage of the young, restless and Reformed I wish this article had been written in 1993 instead of 2003 so that it could have a preventative role ... and I wish that it had been able to exist as a preface to Mars Hill's old school Midrash. Seriously, I wonder if I or any number of other people ... including pastors, would have posted half the stupid stuff we posted if Frame's observations had been available. But, fortunately, Frame's observations are at least available now. As before, a good deal of this running commentary will only make sense if you read the original article.

A few passing thoughts regarding some of the issues Frames mentions as fighting points:

1. Eschatology. I am going to get slammed at some point for saying this but too many postmillenialists are simply smug buttholes. If you're a postmillenialist, good for you. I dislike premillenialism immensely ... but they're all brothers and sisters in Christ so I try to be nice to the people even when I think they are out to lunch, particularly dispensationalist premillenialists. Frame nails it by pointing out that there's been almost no room for simply being nice about differences of opinion.

I saw first hand postmils declaring that amillenialists were pessimistic and didn't have a basis for hope, which is stupid since the hope is in Christ Himself as my inheritence through faith not that a bunch of postmillenialists will eventually hand the world to Jesus on a silver platter because they redeemed the culture. As First Things so snarkily put it, lots of mainline Protestants love postmillenialism up until World War 1 and then they dropped it like a hot potato when they found out, to their dismay, that THEY were not going to be Christianizing the world for Jesus.

Regarding Frame's point 8 ... Fans of Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen ... well ... THEY think those guys matter. But trust a broader sense of history, they don't and they won't. Frame is right to point out that the eschatological views of this or that group don't yield any reasonable cause and effect relationship between the stated view and their optimism or pessimism regarding society.

What I continually doubt regarding the likes of the reconstructionists is their failure to see that the Social Gospel movement and its eventual mainline and liberal outworkings, produced a whole raft of unanticipated social changes that I would think many conservative Christians now dislike. And if you look at the home-school movement, at the desire to teach intelligent design, at the fondness for moderated alcohol consumption, or a few other things you'll see that there's a desire to, as it were, turn back the clock on the products of the old Christian activist causes that led to things like public education, the enforcement of child labor laws to give adult men jobs during the Depression, prohibition so as to prevent abuse of alcohol (which Frame mentions).

All of these things were done with the desire to pursue "good law" and law Christians believed would better society. A consequence of all these variables was the development of the cultural entity known as the teenager, relatively unprecedented in social history. Note I hedge there because there's nothing new under the sun. Arguably the adult but not independent adult we would use to describe the teenager has always been with us, we simply see a relatively unique and modern form of the non-adult who is physically but not emotionally or intellectually adult. Christian social critics fret that this stage is prolonged more and more even into the twenties. Well, yeah, consider that the economy and the nature of cities like Seattle makes truly independent life less and less viable. I would argue that extended family is simply making a comeback so that America will look more like other cultures. This is not bad and provided Christians and Americans in general have a certain pragmatic humility about not being able to live truly independent lives but depending on some kind of community or extended family there's nothing to be ashamed of.

The problem with a theonomistic approach, to say it simply, is that it isn't practical and doesn't apply to the real world. Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world, yet this world is part of His kingdom. Christians have been struggling with that since the beginning of the Lord's ministry on earth and the theonomists can be tempted to want God's kingdom to be implemented here and now. It's not that I don't get in any way their enthusiasm, but there is a surprising lack of doubt about whether or not the thing they advocate would actually be a good idea. In a word, humility is needed and too often that isn't what I see ... which Frame doesn't necessarily address but he doesn't need to. I can blog about it.

11. Counseling. Frame touches on this and I wonder if it isn't a replay of the old conflict in viewed between Tertullian and Augustine, not a formal or personal conflict but a tension among formative Christian leaders about the things of Jerusalem that do or don't have anything to do with Rome.

This one has been interesting to me because of family history. My mom got an undergrad degree in psychology and said that it was a perfectly reliable way of assessing the ways of the fallen human heart and mind but that it was not a good way for Christians to think through how people are. So I guess the best way to articulate that position would be to say it's good to know but it's not something that supplants biblical teaching. Perhaps not the clearest way of putting it but the gist of it.

But having a charismatic/pentecostal background that included things like identifying and naming local principalities and spirits or cutting soul ties or things like that (Rebecca Brown M.D. anyone?) and Sandfords and the "healing of memories" movement ... and a lot became ... curious. Some folks believes that anything that involved psychological problems had to have a demonic explanation. Did the schizophrenia lead to demonic posession or did the demonic oppression lead to schizophrenia was almost a rhetorical question. Now I would be content to say over and over again that the body and mind and spirit are all intertwined. As Frame points out, the connections are becoming more evident and that means that both the ostensibly scientism side and the skeptical side (about science, that is) may have to learn from each other.

Now the reason I think this issue becomes important is because in the 1990s we didn't just have a craze about healing of memories we also had ... I don't know how to put this delicately, stories abounding about sexual abuse. Now I'm not saying this stuff isn't rampant. But combined with a healing of memories approach and a skepticism about professional psychiatric/psychological evaluation combined with an evangelical metanarrative of the disintegrating family and the loss of athers ... I worry (a lot, can you tell?) that this is an area where Christians can suck up gallons of pop psychological pap and meta-narrative melodrama. For those who have read this blog a long time I give you the giant shark in Finding Nemo lamenting that he never knew his father as though that would explain why he wanted to eat meat. I'm not interested in diminishing abuse at all but I'm a kid of the 1980s and I am afraid I know of some stories where tales of abuse became useful in securing custody after divorce proceedings or where real abuse went unreported for reasons no one on earth could possibly guess at. We live in a broken and often evil world.

Sometimes I worry, perhaps with no grounds, that a pastor skeptical about actual professional training in psychology may think that armed with just the Holy Spirit and his high school diploma can "discern" things about people that are not really there. It can all be very well-intended but not necessarily accurate. At a church I have attended for years there used to be quite a bit of joking that the seminarians had no life experience to know what they were doing and at that church there are people seeking precisely the seminary credentials they used to laugh at. Perhaps it is good to hold on to one and not let go of the other?

Some churches have enough disclaimers to the effect that nothing provided constitutes professional or competent counsel except from a "biblical" standpoint that the buyer beware couldn't get any bigger for those who have eyes to see.

17. Presbyterians are Baptists, too. :)

Believe it or not this ties in with the series I'm working on, it really does, but at a meta-level. Frame outlines all the ways in which the Reformed, specifically, fought battles that in hindsight seemed to be not-very-important over not-very-important things without knowing how to be gracious or patient. Calvinists are often great at being self-righteous assholes and per a recent article in the New York Times, a doctrine of total human depravity has the paradoxical effectof emboldening rather than humbling its adherents. Well, this Calvinist finds plenty to be humble about, not least the behavior of all the other Calvinists.

I "could" get up in arms about how unfair and inaccurate the New York Times was about Calvinism but I won't. See I love and serve Jesus, not Calvin. Only Jesus has the words of life, not Calvin and many Calvinists (and other sorts of Christians for that matter) so easily forget this about the Truth.

As we can see by a survey of Frame's survey your tradition can be the greatest impulse AWAY from that tradition you could possibly have. I went to a Christian school that touted Arminianism and open theism in some circles and after five years of that I came out of it very Calvinist and VEEEERRRY skeptical about the way Christians used the word "community". I bet by now you can figure out EXACTLY what school I went to with a little research. But that traditions, such as they are, in evangelicalism are often the water jet pushing the kid out to the deep end of the pool rather than making the kid able to stay near where he got into the water is for another time. . Consider this a transition that touches on part 3 in transition to part 4.

Mostly reading this article by Frame and re-reading it made me very grateful that I grew up with more of a Pentecostal background than a Presbyterian one! Not that I would say 'no' to being some kind of Presbyterian down the road, actually ... but I'm grateful to God I didn't grow up in such a setting.

1 comment:

showshyan said...

What an apt term " Jerks for Jesus"!!! It made my day. Do they really know Jesus, except in DOCTRINE.

Grace and Peace