Thursday, September 06, 2007

Defeating Xerxes or Enabling Stalin?

There seems to be a lot of talk about the Reformed tendency to devour its own rather than fight the enemy. First off, I do not grant that the Reformed really fight among themselves more than they fight against unbelief and atheism as a whole. But, I do want to interact with the flurry of essays about this very topic on the web right now. Dr. Reggie Kidd uses a history lesson and a pop culture reference all rolled into one. Following up on the movie 300’s success, Dr. Kidd gives us the rest of the story. Athens apparently waves its typical right to lead the sea battles in order to ensure the war is won. Dr. Kidd wants this to be a lesson to the Reformed world. Maybe we should work together in order to defeat the common enemy. Maybe, as he puts it, "civil war in the face of external threats is suicide." He then goes on to list many external threats to Christianity, and he is right about everyone, and I am sure we can come up with a list twice as long.

The problem with historical metaphor is there is almost always a counter example. In this case the example of WWII. In that America and Russia put aside their differences and defeated the evil Axis powers. America waved its right to conquer Berlin, and let the Russians do it. After all, civil war in the face of external threats is suicide right? Despite the pleadings of General Patton, Russia went into Berlin first. What happened? Oh, only decades of a split Germany, complete Communist domination of Eastern Europe, and a nasty Cold War that taught a generation of children Nuclear Bomb drills. Not to mention the fact that blood would be shed in the downfall of the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe as a whole still suffers the ravages of Communism today. In the example of Dr. Kidd the cooperation expelled the enemy and gave the victory to the good guys. In my example the cooperation expelled the current enemy and enthroned one just as bad. Dr. Kidd provides some examples that he thinks we should rally behind and follow. Topping that list is the ever popular N.T. Wright. It is an oddity that Right Rev. Wright is a conservative in England and a bit of a liberal in America. But, should we rush to embrace him and default to his lead as Athens did to Sparta? Dr. Kidd thinks so, but if Bishop Wright is vague on the atonement, promotes a faulty Christology (as I am convinced he does in the articles he publishes on the web, a type of Nestorianism), and compromises biblical authority, then perhaps the following of N.T. Wright will free the people of Poland from Nazi rule only to enslave them to Communist rule, metaphorically speaking of course. Dr. Kidd’s examples assume that the attacks are unjustified. But, isn’t that the whole point in dispute? If Dr. Kidd agreed that N.T. Wright was shaky on the atonement of Jesus Christ then surely he would not argue he should be our leader simply because he reaches post-modern people with his shaky gospel message.

Dr. Frame has a long paper on the history of in fighting in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and thinks perhaps they inherited the problem from Machen’s fighting of the liberals. This historically entertaining and well thought out piece is worth a look. He points to 21 issues where the Reformed devoured their own with the obvious conclusion that it was needless. Now in some of the points he is quite correct. In others he seems to miss the point entirely. Machen led a split over the fact that the PCUSA no longer required people to believe in things like the inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth, or miracles, etc. John Frame views that as a good reason to leave, but thinks that Justification by faith alone is not a good reason and chastises those who would reject new positions that rewrite or outright deny justification by faith alone. Frame also seems to think that believing God created the earth in six days is unimportant or following the bible’s teachings on women in the ministry are not the same as rejecting the virgin birth of Jesus or the miracles of Jesus as the PCUSA did during Machen’s day. Do not all those positions state what the bible says is not literally true, and that culture and sciences must have their say before we hold to the Bible as the Word of God? And then of course, I think Dr. Frame pads the debates in order to reach a higher number. The debate about Tradition in Theology (his number 18) is just made up, or at least is so internal that I am unfamiliar with it. And then he adds his own Multiperspectivalism to the debate. And while I will be the first one to say I dislike the multiperspectivalism of Dr. Frame, I hardly think it fits in a paper with the Days of Creation, Shepherdism, and Women in the ministry. It seems an attempt to be persecuted.

The same critique applies to Dr. Frame as applied to Dr. Kidd. It really only seems like devouring your own, if you think the error, not an error at all. Can a female minister stand behind a pulpit and tell people to live a life in obedience to the Word of God when the hearer reads for himself I Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2? At the very least can Frame not admit a similarity to the events leading to Machen’s estrangement from the PCUSA?

I can understand people who want to make an argument that the Church should be at peace and have a broad tent. I may disagree, but I think I can understand where they are coming from. I certainly understand a call to arms against those things outside the church which need to be confronted. What I do not understand is saying that ‘the Church should be at peace, unite to fight common enemies, and the only reason it is not is because many people are nit picky and devour their own.’ This seems to be what Dr. Kidd and Dr. Frame are saying. It is difficult to comprehend why two doctors cannot understand the difference between quibbling over beer drinking and debating justification by faith alone. The first is a civil war that can cost you everything. The second is a war against an enemy of another color.


Andrea Powell said...

Good post, Lee. As a lay person, I'm very thankful for the leaders of the church who take God's injunction to protect the flock seriously. While the errors of some may not be a threat to those thoroughly educated in the history of past errors in the church, or who have a quick eye for the implications of cleverly written arguments, there are many of us who rely on the leaders to help us understand the dangerous implications of new doctrines, foreign to Scripture. We know from Scripture that there are those who come into the church to kill and destroy us, and they disguise themselves to look like one of us. I have been deceived by them in the past and am very thankful for the wise men God ordained in the church to warn me of the implications of their teachings. In fact, I've very much appreciated the analysis of doctrinal threats on your site.

Jay said...

Just a question on this post; I'll respond with some more Obama discussion below. Please explain more about your conclusion that N.T. Wright holds Nestorian views. I'm not an expert on Nestorianism, or on Wright's views, but I don't think I've heard you explain this before.

OK, I do have one other thing to say here. It seems to me that the difference between civil wars that should be avoided and necessary wars against your enemy is identifying the enemy in the first place. If an enemy is anyone who disagrees with any doctrine that you contend to be scriptural, on the grounds that they are denying inerrancy, you will have a long list of enemies. (See, for example, N.T. Wright's defense of women in the pulpit--he may be wrong about his reading of Scripture, but the defense is based on a reading of all the relevant texts, including the ones you cite. The prohibition on women in the pulpit itself is not nearly so central as justification by faith, so it seems to me that honest disagreement over the meaning of the texts should be allowed.) So I guess my question is how do you draw these lines?

Lee said...

Thanks for the kind words. I am not sure I deserve them, but I appreciate them.

I will try to make a whole post on Wright and his view of Christ. I think you are right about the difference being one of identifying your enemies. That is the big problem with the Kidd post. The whole debate is about whether or not those things he listed are friends or enemies, and his post just says stop fighting them because they are your friend. He either misses the point of the debate or makes the fallacy of circular reasoning.

I think the problem of drawing the lines between friend and foe is wrapped up in the discussions of Confessions. Most churches have a confession of faith, and that should serve as the dividing line. The RCUS uses the Three Forms of Unity, which would make Justification by faith alone a friend or foe issue, but would leave beer drinking and views about the end times a civil war type issue. That is how I would draw the line, and is one of the reasons I think Confessions of Faith very important.

Jay said...

Are you saying that confessions are the dividing line between friend and foe? Because that seems to draw the line in a way that creates a lot of enemies. Are Baptists "enemies" merely because they (wrongly, in my view) think that the Bible teaches adult baptism? That is plainly in conflict with the Reformed Confessions, but I'm skeptical that it merits "enemy" treatment. How does one identify the parts of the confession that divide friends and foe, and the parts that friends can have honest disagreements about?

I'll respond to the Obama post later.

Lee said...

Remember this post is about disagreements that are allowed in the Reformed world, not who is a Christian and who is not. I have been using Friend or Foe language because it fit with the metaphor first employed by Dr. Kidd and then used again by me.

With that reminder, do I think Baptists belong in the RCUS? No. If an RCUS minister started advocating adult baptism, would I attempt to remove him? Yes. I do not think Baptist view of the sacraments should be allowed in the Reformed or Presbyterian churches.
Now do I think that baptists are Christians? Yes, I do. Thus, I do not want anyone to think the use of 'enemy' in my analogy means that baptist are not Christians. The purpose of the post was to discuss the situation within Reformed Churches.

In short, I think adult baptism only is an error, and one serious enough that it should not be tolerated in Reformed Churches, but I am not saying that it is an error that makes shipwreck of the faith.