Against Evangelical Hipsters

In the Summer 2009 issue of The City there is a superb piece of writing that diagnoses a creature that I come across quite a bit online and sometimes in the flesh up in D.C. – the evangelical hipster.  John Mark Reynolds wrote the piece, where he diagnoses the persona of these individuals:

Secularists should stop worrying about a theocracy: Anderson finds young Evangelicals to be like young Mark Studdock in the C.S. Lewis novel That Hideous Strength—more spaniel than pit bull in their desire to charm rather than snub those that despise them. In fact, Anderson’s article essentially accuses young Evangelicals of being just like the characters Mark and Jane Studdock. Like Mark, young Evangelicals desire admission to the “inner ring” of the culture more than any other temptation. Like Jane, they are lightly educated, but take their thoughts very seriously. Unlike Mark and Jane, young American Evangelicals are given Blue Like Jazz rather than Taliesin through Logres.

Although I have often seen this, I’ve never quite put my finger on it like Mr. Reynolds does. The admission to the inner ring of the culture is THE temptation for me and many folks who have moved beyond Left Behind and Christian bookstores and think they have it all together. To me, the solution is to take a stand and appear to be a (gasp) fundamentalist on some issues. I realized some years ago that one thing which makes men like Tolkien great is that he had beliefs and he stood for them. We can easily quibble with his obscurantist stands on motor cars, roads and airplanes, but he had reasons for believing and he believed! He was not a perpetually vacillating ninny who never arrived at a position and did not stand up for the Creeds and culture which gave him birth.

I see the solution to this drift in the hermeneutic approach of James Jordan and Peter Leithart, the post-Reconstructionist conversation, the Creeds and Liturgy of the Anglican Church, and a saturation of Bible study. But many who see through Christian “positive hits” radio and local church anti-intellectualism yo-yo to the far opposite side, embracing Obama, horrible sexual ethics, a flawed Bible and no church authority. Reynolds continues:

Evangelical youth are being corrupted and Evangelical scholars and leaders are at least partly to blame. Why? The church and the Evangelical academy have, by and large and for various reasons, rejected Christendom and left Evangelical youth to create their own inadequate pseudo-culture on the fly.

Amen to this! We’ve had para-church pablum and bad doctrine on parade for 50-100 years now. The Reformed and Lutherans have held there own in terms of intellectualism, but most of the rest of the church is out to sea and doesn’t know how to think critically. Reynolds describes those who get tired of this shallowness only to embrace leftist shallowness of a different kind. Any jibe at Bush gets a laugh. Limbaugh is a buffoon. Republicans are idiots. I concur with most of this thought, but from an even way further right position, not a liberal, ill-thought out hatred of culture and mores. Still, Reynolds words strike home with me.

The attack on patriotism is a part of this assault on Christendom. “Christendom” in the mythology of the academy is about power and politics. Patriotism is a simple trick to get the rubes to turn over power to politicians. Evidently the solution to this problem is to either to abandon politics altogether or to “speak prophetically to power,” though generally only to Republican power. Of course, Christian intellectualists ignore the ties of prophets like Nathan or Isaiah to the royal house of David since this would spoil their pristine idea of the non-partisan Biblical prophet.

And Reynolds says patriotism can equate to the holy grail concept that I have espoused: community.

Of course, disdain for patriotism contradicts another value of intellectualists: the love of authentic community. Isn’t “a strong love for your folks” just another way of describing patriotism? The solution in many Christian colleges has been to allow everyone in the world to love and take pride in their people group except for Americans.

Another searing critique applies to those who utilize Orthodox and Catholic critiques of Protestants, but only as a tactical way of blasting their own communities, not at the cost of believing all that claptrap about sex taught by Rome or the East:

The group Anderson describes are more horrified by the strong, traditional Protestants than by Catholic or Orthodox beliefs, but this is no real sign of an ecumenical spirit. Too often the Evangelical young adult merely uses Catholic and Orthodox thinkers to tear down those parts of Evangelicalism they do not like while ignoring those parts that that challenge their assumptions. They are cafeteria ecumenicists. Roman Catholic teaching on birth control and sexuality are not quoted or applauded, though nothing is a greater challenge to the norms of Evangelical sub-culture. Evangelical intellectualists tend to ignore those writings by John Paul the Great or the brilliant Benedict XVI that attack post-modern or pop culture views of sexuality or scholarship. John Paul certainly spoke truth to power and helped liberate millions from murderous tyranny, but the tyranny was a leftist one and Evangelical parents admired him, so he is not the kind of Catholic they admire.

The whole article should really be read and digested. I see too much of this love of approval in myself and I am determined to root it out.

Calvary Chapel Weirdness

A few weeks ago I listened in to the Calvary Chapel Network on the radio as I was driving around. Despite disagreeing with them on many things, I usually enjoy listening to them practice verse by verse exposition of the Bible. But on this day I heard a couple of weird things that tell me that maybe it’s been a long time since I paid attention to their preachers and what they think.

First, I heard a guy saying that being vegetarian would be the best diet for us. The context was talking about God’s law and how God wants the best for us. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, he reasoned that vegetarianism would be the highest form of diet for a Christian. I think he was basing this on Adam’s diet before the Fall or something. He wasn’t saying that you have to be vegetarian, but that it would be the best possible state if you could handle it. I found this bizarre and assumed the guy was in California somewhere.

Next, I heard another preacher say that he believes that when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “receive the Holy Spirit” they were born again. I find that to be wrong for a couple reasons:
[1] The Bible does not teach this.
[2] Entrance into the covenant people of God (Israel) was via circumcision. Of course I wouldn’t expect a Calvary Chapel guy to really agree with this, because they don’t baptize infants and have no good framework with which to understand circumcision.

This got me to thinking about circumcision and “getting in” to the Old Testament Church. Why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again if he was already in the covenant by circumcision? Someone helpfully pointed out to me that “…Jesus is not talking about individual regeneration in John 3. Rather, he is talking about the need for a new Israel, a new humanity. Nicodemus needs to follow Jesus into the new world through death and resurrection. Being baptized will unite him with the disciples of Jesus, with those who are following Jesus into a new world.”

See this post for more on the topic.

A Brief History of Theonomy

An excellent email from James Jordan to the Wrightsaid list:

The problem with interacting with this is that “theonomist” refers to three different groups of people. Bahnsen had a very airtight logical system that was almost completely devoid of any covenant-historical approach to the Bible. Rushdoony was looser, and was dealing with practical rather than theoretical questions.

Persons like myself, and under my influence Gary North, were very much covenant-historical from day one. I got my Schilder and Gaffin in the early 1970s at the same time I was reading all of Rushdoony’s works. What we all had in common, of course, was being “Whole Bible Christians” as against your evangelical “New Testament Christian.” (There is, of course, no such thing as the New Testament, any more than there is such a thing as the Pentateuch or Second Samuel. As far as the Bible is concerned, it is all just Scripture, one long book, one long story in several acts.) And we all understood that Jesus had set up a kingdom (Christendom) not an ideology (Christianity). That as one nation had been baptized (in Red Sea and Jordan) and discipled (under Divine law), so the great commission says all nations are to be baptized and discipled. We tried to hear the great commission in that way, which is the way the disciples heard it: theocratically. And we all took Psalm 119 seriously.

But, IMO, having put their hand to the plough, both the Bahnsenians and the Rushdoonians pulled back. They got a lot more of the Bible than evangelicals get, because they took the social principles of the law seriously. But when the rest of us continued on into the symbolic and ritual parts of the Bible, and the narrative, transformative history of the Bible, they renounced us.

The “theonomists” (and I never liked the word and did not use it, but there you are!) were the ONLY people in Christendom who actually believed 2 Timothy 3:16-17. They believed that ALL Scripture (including, say, Deuteronomy) is profitable for instruction in ALL of life (including, say, statecraft). They were the only people in Christendom who were not afraid of the so-called Old Testament.

Times are better now. But in the 1970s & 80s thinking about political and social issues with an open Bible was scandalous. I think the bottom line on post-recons and NTW is just that all of us post-recons are Total Bible people. We think Bible first — we don’t read it through the lens of the Westminster Confession. (The WCF plays the same idolatrous mediatorial role in conservative presbyterianism that the saints play in Medieval catholicism.) We are not Bibliophobic. So, we find lots of cool stuff in NTW — stuff that in no way conflicts with historic Reformation thought, btw — and so we chow down on it.

But we also chow down on Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Rene Girard, and lots of others. Another aspect of this is that Recons were/are catholic. Most of us had mixed ecclesiastical backgrounds (Bahnsen didn’t, and he was not very catholic). Rushdoony had been both presbyterian and episcopalian. My background included Lutheranism and a lot of other stuff, including Roman Catholic grammar school. So, it was natural for us to be Bible-first Christians. Which meant that we did not care a fig for denominationalism. Plus, believing in paedocommunion meant that there was no denomination that would really want us.

Anyway, a whole lot of the prejudice against NTW in conservative presbyterianism is there simply because Wright is not “one of us.” He’s an Anglican. The world is following after him, when it should be following after us presbyterians. Plus, how could his work be any good, since it was “not invented here”? And, becoming at home in the so-called OT also plays a role here as well, I think. The “NT” cannot stand alone. If you pull out the OT foundation, you put something else as foundational. The NT cannot be read alone; it demands a context. Hence, “NT Christians” adopt all kinds of trash from prevailing philosophies. They do it unwittingly, but they do it. That’s a lot of where denominationalism comes from. For instance, your average “NT evangelical” thinks that the great commission says, “Go and make disciples in the nations, baptizing those individuals….” Which is not what it says, and not what the apostles heard. But your “NT” Christian does not even perceive what it actually says; he reads right past it. He reads it in a context of rationalistic individualism, which is the philosophy he has substituted for the OT. So, having an OT background tends to evaporate denominational prejudice.

But finally, only the Theonomists had the guts, the cojones, to look straight into the face of hard questions and think seriously about them. Only a theonomist would have the guts to suggest that maybe (maybe, I say) Charlemagne was right to march the Franks through the river. Only a theonomist would have to guts to ask if maybe the death penalty for homosexual acts is a good idea. After a while, being a theonomist, you get used to thinking the unthinkable, and you get very used to people screaming at you for daring to do so. So, then you read NTW. He says some new things. Yawn. People are screaming at him for daring to say some new things. Yawn. Been there. Theonomists have been lied about, called names, and excluded from positions a whole lot more than NTW has. Back when I was in those circles, it amazed me that the people writing to criticize it never, ever, dealt fairly and accurately with what theonomists were saying. Well, now we see the same thing with NTW. All of which is to say, I guess, that post-recons are not going to be upset by NTW, and because NTW is putting out good stuff exegetically, post-recons are naturally going to read and appreciate him. That’s probably way more than you asked for. But I had to assume that lots of younger people on this list did not know what you were asking about.