Archive for the ‘History’ Category

James Davison Hunter says that, “…Christianity in North America…is a weak culture; weak insofar as it is fragmented in it’s core beliefs and organization, without a coherent collective identity and mission, and often divided within itself, often with unabated hostility.”

My question: “what’s the solution?”

Defending Christendom

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Christ & Culture, Church History, History, Politics
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There’s a lot in Peter Leithart’s interview with Jason Hood at the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology’s website, so I won’t try to summarize it all.  Leithart is, as he says, “an advocate of Christendom” who believes that Christians are to tell rulers that they must “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2) and obey the risen Lord of the universe, Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of excerpts, but I’d really suggest that you take 15 minutes or so to read the whole thing if this topic interests you:

Political theology is not some specialized branch of theology, but a dimension of all theology.  Politics is not simply about passing this legislation or electing that candidate.  Politics addresses questions about the distribution of power, and more broadly questions about the shape and future of a group.  Theology cannot help but address those questions, and do it all the time.  The Bible certainly deals with political questions like this.

So, even when I am not doing political theology, I am doing political theology.  Let me given a couple of examples of what I mean.  Ecclesiology has been a major focus of my work, and, as I see it, that bumps directly up against political questions.  The intimate connection between ecclesiology and politics has been obscured in modernity because the church has been marginalized and has allowed itself to be transformed into a sociologically invisible and politically innocuous religious group.  Scripture, by contrast, treats the church as a political entity in itself, each individual congregation as an outpost of the heavenly empire of a heavenly Emperor.   That means that the church and its claims about Jesus, sin, and salvation are political claims, necessarily.

Secondly,

7.  Some political theologians note that Daniel simultaneously models service, critique, and a message of divine judgment.  Are all three of these to be implemented by believers?  Are they postures we should always exhibit, or are they more appropriate at some times than others?

PL:  I do think that the mix of these three postures varies depending on the political circumstances, and depending on the person involved.   And Scripture indicates that men and women can work faithfully even under the worst of rulers – think of Obadiah during the days of Ahab.  In thinking through this, my thoughts again gravitate to ecclesiological issues.  Daniel was able to serve, but also maintain a critical distance, because he was a member of another community, of Israel.  It seems that Christians today have difficulty maintaining that complex stance, or doing that complicated dance, because we don’t have an alternative home.  When Christians enter political life deeply conscious of the fact that they are members of the church, Christians first and foremost, that gives them a place to stand when they critique and when they serve.

I noticed significant overlap between the eccelesiology of Leithart and that of James Davison Hunter in To Change the World.  Both long for a church that is a true alternate community and that forms its members so that they can engage with society in a way that pleases God.  A big difference, of course, is Leithart’s postmillenial confidence that the kingdom will triumph in history, while Hunter has more of a two kingdoms view.

To see a bit of where Leithart is coming from eschatologically, check out his sketch of “the long view.”  The consideration of just war and total war that he discusses can be found here.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

Losing Old Church Buildings

Posted: December 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Christ & Culture, From the Heart, History, Worship

I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.

With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.

Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.

So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.

Women in the Reformation

Posted: November 23, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Biography, Church History, Family, History, Womanhood
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Justin Holcomb, writing at The Resurgence blog, writes short descriptions of the lives of several women that God used in the 16th century.  Here was one that I found particularly interesting:

Olimpia Fulvia Morata was an Italian scholar born in Ferrera as the oldest child of a humanist scholar, who, after being forced to flee his city to northern Italy, lectured on the teachings of Calvin and Luther. Olimpia flourished in her studies, especially in Latin and Greek, exhibiting impeccable scholarship. She wrote Latin dialogues, Greek poems, and letters to both scholars (in Latin) and less educated women (in Italian). In her “Dialogue between Theophilia and Philotima,” she encouraged those who feared that their gross sins obstructed their way to God:

    Don’t be afraid … No odor of sinners can be so foul that its force cannot be broken and weakened by the sweetest odor that flows from the death of Christ, which alone God can perfume. Therefore seek Christ.

Hat tip: Justin Taylor

I think Horne should have heeded his suspicions in his first words, “Perhaps I’m over-reacting”. Read Piper’s brief post: http://desiringgod.org/blog/posts/thankful-they-embraced-the-risk

And then compare with Horne’s reaction. You woulda thunk Piper gave an apologetic for WWI from Horne’s response. He honestly sounds like he is ranting and raving and it is way out of bounds for him to take it out on Piper. Piper was merely giving a brief historical background of how we got Veterans Day, something that we can all benefit from in a historically illiterate society. Piper’s last words show proper empathy with the soldier,

“There have been agonizing choices the veterans have had to make. May they (and we all) turn to the cross of Christ for the final resolution of what we have done. I am thankful they embraced the risk”

This simple empathy– acknowledging complexities, horrors, and sacrifice, without seeking to pretend to know such plight firsthand, nor qualify thanks according to one’s notions of just war contrasts Horne’s tone:

“There may be a time and situation in which to thank veterans for defending our freedoms. When someone from Mexico or Canada tries to invade and we have to rise to the defense of the homeland, it would be totally appropriate.  But rather than thanking them, we usually need to tell them how glad we are that they survived the attack on freedom that regularly comes from our overlords and their volunteer cheerleaders in the Church of King Jesus.”

These qualifications on when to either thank veterans or inform them of the corrupt system that placed them there makes Horne sound like an arrogant, ungrateful elitist. BTW, the only scenario he provides as meeting his litmus test for thanksgiving would deny gratitude to just about everyone who has died in battle.  Mr. Horne simply needs to say, “Thank You”, and instead reserve his vitriol for the corrupt government if he is so convinced. Don’t deny thanks to our vets because you disagree with Wilson’s foreign policy or that they happened to lay their life down in a battle that didn’t involve Canada or Mexico.

Piper wrote a very brief piece expressing his personal thanks. Piper is well aware of the complexities, as is most of the readership, and the veterans themselves. Our vets don’t need a lecture on just war theory or be enlightened by the profound news that the poweres that be may have missed the mark in foreign policy. Horne’s expose of failed foreign policy and pointers on when to give thanks to vets fails my litmus test for the decency that is required on this day for our vets. Horne intends to be prophetic, but the weary soldier simply needs our quiet empathy.

Calvin to Cranmer on Church Unity

Posted: November 12, 2010 by joelmartin in Anglicanism, Church History, History

Thomas Cranmer desired a general council of the Protestant churches to unite them in confession and form a western, Protestant Church. Oh that it would have happened! God in his providence did not see fit for that to occur. But here is Calvin’s response to Cranmer on the subject:

I know moreover, that your purpose is not confined to England alone; but, at the same moment, you consult the benefit of all the world. The generous disposition and uncommon piety of his Majesty, the king, are justly to be admired, as he is please to favor this holy purpose of holding such a council, and offers a place for its session in his kingdom. I wish it might be effected, that learned and stable men, from the principal churches, might assemble in some place, and, after discussing with care each article of faith, deliver to posterity, from their general opinion of them all, the clear doctrines of the Scriptures. It is to be numbered among the evils of our day, that the churches are so divided one from another, that there is scarcely any friendly intercourse strengthened between us; much less does that holy communion of the members of Christ flourish, which all profess with the mouth, but few sincerely regard in the heart. But if the principal teachers conduct themselves more coldly than they ought, it is principally the fault of the princes who, involved in their secular concerns, neglect the prosperity and purity of the church; or each one, contented with his own security, is indifferent to the welfare of others. Thus it comes to pass, that the members being divided, the body of the church lies disabled.
Respecting myself, if it should appear that I could render any service, I should with pleasure cross ten seas, if necessary, to accomplish that object. Even if the benefit of the kingdom of England only was to be consulted, it would furnish a reason sufficiently powerful with me. But as in the council proposed, the object is to obtain the firm and united agreement of learned men to the sound rule of Scripture, by which churches now divided may be united with each other, I think it would be a crime in me to spare any labor or trouble to effect it. But I expect my slender ability to accomplish this will furnish me with sufficient excuse. If I aid that object by my prayers, which will be undertaken by others, I shall discharge my part of the business. Melancthon is so far from me, that our letters cannot be exchanged in a short time. Bullinger has perhaps answered you before this. I wish my ability was equal to the ardency of my desires. But what I at first declined, as unable to accomplish, I perceive the very necessity of the business now compels me to attempt. I not only exhort you, but I conjure you, to proceed, until something shall be effected, if not every thing you could wish.

Perhaps we will see more unity built from the confusion of our day, although it now seems doubtful.

Hyde, Daniel R.. Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims. Orlando, Fla.: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Reformation Trust provided this copy for a honest review on my part, so here it is:

Rev. Hyde offers readers a primer on the history and doctrine of the Reformed Church, focusing mainly on the 3 Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt).

The Good:

Although an Evangelical Baptist, I am indebted to the 3 forms more than any other confession, catechism, or doctrinal formulation. I welcome with joy this brief book which introduces many to a heritage that is little-known in the broader American Evangelical Church.

Rev. Hyde takes great care to represent Reformed theology as a religion of the heart and mind. Hyde states,

“God has established an inseparable connection between truth and godliness. If truth remains in our heads but does not proceed to dwell in our hearts and find expression in our conduct, then we are no different, James says, than the devils (James 2:18-19).”

 Many have criticized Reformed theology as being arrogant and cerebral. While there are some who may unfortunately represent the Reformed heritage in such a way, this certainly is unrepresentative of the whole. Hyde commends Scottish Presbyterian John “Rabbi” Duncan’s quote, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist and finally a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order.” Hyde reminds us that we are first Christians, and secondly catholics. Catholic in the sense that we affirm solidarity with the church behind us, the church around us, and the church ahead of us.

Hyde also reminds us that Reformed theology highlights the importance of Sanctification. While many may first think of God’s sovereignty and Justification as key Reformed doctrines, the Reformers cared just as much about holy living. Hyde notes:

“Our Reformed fathers focused heavily on holy living. The volume of teachings they devoted to sanctification in their confessions and catechisms is striking. The Heidelberg Catechism devotes forty-four of its 129 questions and answers, more than one-third of its material, to sanctification, while the Westminster Larger Catechism devotes an impressive eighty-two of 196 questions and answers (42 percent) to this subject. By this emphasis, the Reformed churches declared that Calvinism is no mere religion of “head knowledge,” and we cannot live as if it makes us the “frozen chosen,” as we are sometimes derisively known. It is a religion of head and heart.”

The last emphasis that I found helpful was Hyde’s treatment of the Church and the centrality of the means of grace through Word and Sacraments. He reminds us that,

“It is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, that creates the people of God. The gospel not only saves us from our sins and the wrath of God, it places us in vital union with Jesus Christ and other Christians. Thus, the church is the fruit of the gospel; it is not our own creation, but a creation of the triune God of grace.”

The Bad: (more…)