14 April 2013

Baker’s Banner of Truth Commentary- A Corruption of the Kingdom (Part 1 of 2)

Some readers will not be familiar with the Banner of Truth. This publishing house was founded in 1957 by Iain Murray and others and played a key role in republishing old Puritan and Reformed works. By the dawn of the 20th century these old works were hard to find and one had to comb through old dusty bookshops in hope of locating them. Today these writings are once more widespread and undoubtedly ‘The Banner’ played no small role in the revival of Reformed Christianity in the latter part of the 20th century.

In addition to the ‘old’ works, the Banner of Truth has produced a steady stream of books written by modern authors such as the aforementioned Iain Murray, John Murray, D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Arthur Pink, and others. They’re also well known for their magazine which contains a treasure trove of essays and articles. These books played a huge part in my own formation. For many years I devoured these works and they aided me as I wrestled with theological issues.

The Banner of Truth represents what might be called the Pietistic/Revivalist wing of the Reformed world. They’re not afraid of emotion, warm spirituality, and other hallmarks of the old Puritan tradition. This is contrasted with the Kuyperian Neo-Calvinist influences and spirituality found in much of modern American Reformed Christianity.[i] Though the people at the Banner would be champions of Anglo-American Christendom and all the politics that accompany that notion, they’re not Theonomists and Dominionism is not their emphasis. Largely they hold to what I identify as an erroneous postmillennial eschatology, but this so-called optimism or as Murray calls it ‘hope’ rests in outpourings of the Holy Spirit in terms of revival and mass conversion. This is different from the cultural, political, and legislative transformational agenda embraced by the culture warriors in America.[ii]

Their works and ideas deepened my own ideas of the Christian life, worship and piety. It’s a far cry from some sort of calculating academic exercise. Reformed Scholasticism, which they would champion though they would most likely reject such a label, is often characterized as cold and mathematic. I think this charge has some validity when applied to the 19th century ‘stalwarts’ such as the Hodges, Warfield, Dabney and others. The assessment is subjective of course and others would disagree. I must say though that as much I disagree with the Puritans on certain essential points, their writings are much ‘warmer’ and ‘spiritual’ than many would suppose.

While I’m not as fond of the Banner of Truth as I once was I still regularly check their website and not a few of the books on my shelf were published by this organization. In fact at one point it was a virtual pilgrimage for me to visit their offices in Edinburgh and then an equal delight to visit their stateside offices in Carlisle Pennsylvania.

For me re-reading many of their publications is something of a trip down memory lane, and I frequently revisit them.

In recent years I have moved away from them on many points and as I make my way back through some of those works it’s interesting to reflect on my changing perspective. At one time I was very frustrated with Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He seemed vacillating and lacking clarity. Today I detect a great deal of wisdom in his commentary. Some of his essays and lectures that at one time put me off, now receive a hearty nod of approval. And other authors that at one time could do no wrong, I now find myself furrowing my brow and shaking my head. Flawed ideas and reasoning seem to leap from the page.

I came across this piece recently at the Banner’s website. The author is one that I’ve only known through the essays and articles at the website. Beyond that I know little of him except that I often am not in agreement. This latest piece raised my ire enough to warrant a response.


My responses are interspersed.

 

Off The Reservation by Allen Baker

 

. . . Jesus Christ . . . the ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5).

Tim Tebow's recent capitulation at First Baptist Church, Dallas, begging off from his April 28 speaking engagement there, is the latest example of what happens when Christians 'get off the reservation.' As you no doubt know, the pro-homosexual media culture was castigating Tebow for agreeing to speak at a church with such a 'hateful pastor', Robert Jeffress. Jeffress, who originally came to the forefront of controversy when FBC, Dallas member, Governor Rick Perry, ran earlier in 2012 as a Republican Presidential candidate. The press ran clips of Jeffress' sermons where he called homosexuality a sin facing God's judgment. Jeffress has said only what any other Bible believing pastor ought to say. His remarks are clearly within the mainstream of evangelical theology. Nonetheless, because Jeffress stepped off the reservation (the church) by endorsing his friend Rick Perry for President, the liberal press began to pummel him.
Proto:

It’s one thing to preach the gospel and with that message speak to or preach against specific issues. Certainly the Scriptures are abundantly clear in their denunciation of homosexuality.

However in this case there are many other factors which most Christians seem to give little consideration. Without going into great detail I will raise just a few.

It’s one thing for a religious group to make a proclamation, but it’s something else when that proclamation is accompanied by a legal and social agenda which will affect other people in the land. As I’ve said many times, the force of law is a threat of violence. By tying the message to political expectation, the gospel is transformed and I would argue ceases to be the Biblical gospel at all.

There are many Christians of the Sacral stripe which acknowledge and in fact celebrate the prospect of state power operating at their behest and to enforce their agenda.

The problem is the United States while not a pure democracy nevertheless is democratic and has enshrined rights which grant equal protection to all citizens of the land. There are many who view the Christian Sacral agenda as subversive to this legal structure, and they would be right to be suspicious. They also are quite irritated when Jeffress and others like him live in a tax-exempt bubble (as it were) and yet seem to operate as a partisan political organization, controlling large amounts of money and influencing thousands if not millions of people.

I don’t think I can agree with the author’s concept of ‘reservation’ nor what it means to be ‘off’ or outside of it. There will be more to say on this later.

With regard to Tebow… to my mind he has already made something of a mockery of the faith. I view his displays as cheap, faddish, perhaps even sacrilege given their context. An NFL player has already demonstrated himself to be a ‘certain type’ of person. That he should be self-seeking in the end ought to be self-evident. The notion, the fantasy that many Christians have that sport figures are heroes or people worth emulation is something that has always left me somewhat baffled.

I’m reminded that while still pagan I attended a Christian High School and joined the football team. I knew enough about Christianity to be put off by the language and demeanour of the coaches. Again I wasn’t a Christian, but was able to detect something wrong with the whole ‘Christian Sports’ mindset. I remember the coach always talking about how we ‘hit ‘em hard, knock ‘em down…but we’re Christians, and we help them back up.’

Right.

Of course, someone might also ask…why was Tim Tebow going to speak there to begin with? The guy can throw and run with a ball. Does that qualify him to teach the people of God? Wasn’t this more of a gimmick, yet another instance of the celebrity cult at work within the Church?

Baker:

Al Mohler, in a typically well thought out and helpful article on Tim Tebow fumbling the ball on this issue, has said that all true Christians, sooner or later, including Tebow and Lou Giglio (he pulled out of praying at President Obama's Inauguration when the Political Correctness police found a sermon he preached twenty years ago stating homosexuality is a sin and only faith in Jesus can deliver one from it) must handle this issue. The question is - how will we handle it? Will we cave in or will we stand for the truth?

Proto:

Actually I’m familiar with the article and I would say it was indeed typical of Mohler. It was a confused and inconsistent mess demonstrating the lack of clarity flowing from these broadly Sacral camps. If your vision is to conquer the culture employing the force wielded by the state, then do it and do it boldly. The Theonomists are far more consistent on this point. They’ve had to retreat and soften their language and like all political creatures in the end their pragmatists. They’ve changed their packaging, their posture and their alliances…but they’re still there lurking in the shadows.

Trying to maintain democratic principles and a Christian whitewash of American history and its founding documents won’t stand. I appreciate the honesty that used to flow from the Theonomist camp. They’re bold enough to say democracy is a heresy and the founding documents would need to be modified if not scrapped. They would radically change the legal and social fabric of the country.

Watering down the notion of Christendom or the Sacral state and trying to re-write history to support some kind of quasi- or broad Christian narrative just muddies the waters and in the end is essentially impotent in its attempts to turn the tide.

The Theonomists are completely in error but I respect the clarity and consistency of their thought. The non-Theonomic Sacralists (who are the celebrity leaders of the Christian Right) are woefully ill-equipped to accomplish their goals. They are just as wrong but muddled to boot.

It would be one thing if these people (Mohler and Baker) were suggesting that we should suffer. But no, they want to play politics, get into the legislative and litigation game. They will always lose and even when they win, they will lose.

Baker:

Actually, I wish to make a clarifying distinction on Mohler's position - as long as we stay on the reservation, as long as we merely attend church, sing our hymns or choruses, have our preaching, teach our Sunday School classes, and have our community groups in our homes - then the Political Correctness Gestapo will not bother us. They will simply ignore us. However, the moment we venture off the reservation, like Robert Jeffress, like James Dobson and Anita Bryant did for so many years, then sooner or later we will face a firestorm of controversy. They will accuse us of hate speech and worse.

Proto:

This is fallacious argument. Simply living the Christian life is not staying on the reservation. We are martyr-witnesses. Our presence declares the glory of the Lord and proclaims the gospel of grace. Every time we step out of doors we’re leaving the so-called reservation. If Christians were being faithful I think we’d see a lot more firings and frankly voluntary resignations. And instead of whining, and threatening employers in the American judiciary we ought to be faithful to Scripture, suffer patiently, and rejoice.

Do we need political activism or do we simply need to start living out the imperatives and ethics of the New Testament? We live our lives and people know we’re different. It doesn’t mean that in every instance or on every occasion we have the opportunity to preach the gospel. But people notice. I know they do. They tell me.

I don’t say this in a spirit of righteousness. I know full well what a wretch and hypocrite I am. Despite our sinfulness and the burden of hypocrisy which must lie upon our hearts, the Holy Spirit can use us and we may be ‘shining light’ even when we don’t realize it.

Unlike Baker I believe the New Testament is sufficient for the Christian life. I believe that if we work quietly with integrity, if we guard our speech, show kindness, love and with humility speak the truth, we will be more effective as a witness to society and our own children and peers then boisterous boastful talk that whether it is realized or not is a language of threat and power.

The Political Correctness Gestapo will bother us no matter what. But why are they bothering us? Because we’re leading quiet lives, minding our own business and working with our hands? If so, then we should bear it patiently and with prayer. Yea, we should even count it all joy. If need be, knock the dust off our feet and we leave.

Or are they bothering us because we’re meddling in other people’s affairs?

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

And endorsing a candidate like Rick Perry with his ideas concerning economics, social morality enforced by law, militarism etc… that’s a threat to people. Jeffress wasn’t being ‘persecuted’ for the gospel, he wasn’t suffering because he’s a Christian. He was being denounced because he’s a busybody, a troublemaker. The gospel is offense enough. We don’t need to confuse people as to what we’re about. Sadly many Americans think the gospel means legislation, restriction, and coercion.

No one considers the Amish to be pro-homosexual. Everyone knows where they stand. And yet they don’t threaten anybody, they don’t seek power and so there’s not quite the clamour regarding them is there?

Now there are those that dislike them and there are certainly plenty of social crusaders who would (if they could) remove their children and force them to integrate. But often the larger community stands with them and opposes the pagan crusaders? Why?

“Leave them alone,” they say. “They’re not bothering anyone.”

Now I do wish the Amish had more of a gospel testimony in terms of the theology of the gospel. And I certainly do not agree with their take on ‘the world’ and technology, though I have found most people have completely misunderstood what they’re about and how they view modern conveniences. They use them but they’re a bit more careful in how they approach them. They don’t want to be brought into a form of bondage by conveniences. I appreciate that. Sadly they’re caught up in another form of bondage.

But that’s beside the point. In this case the Amish far outshine the likes of Jeffress and certainly Tim Tebow. The Amish response to the school shooting in 2006 spoke volumes compared to the cheap Las Vegas style showmanship of someone like Tebow.

I don’t think Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 5 square with Baker’s understanding of the so-called reservation.

9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

I’ve appealed to these same verses so many times. There are major thematic structures to the New Testament that certainly underlie and enforce the narrative of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God. And yet it’s harder to make a sweeping argument or to pull out entire books (like Ecclesiastes) so instead I simply appeal to these same verses over and over again because they are completely incompatible with the Sacralism Baker, Mohler and the rest seem to advocate.

Homosexuality was prevalent in Paul’s day. He denounced it as sin and it is abundantly clear from 1 Corinthians 6 that there were repentant ex-homosexuals within the Church. But that’s different than Paul endorsing a candidate for Caesar and calling on Roman law to be modified, changing the citizenship status of large numbers within the empire. That did come, with Constantine and Theodosius. In many ways for these folks the history of the Church began in 313. They would never wish to undo the titanic shift that occurred in the 4th century that affected the way the Church thought about almost every issue.

This divergence, this dichotomy becomes clearer as we read on…

 
Go To Part II



[i] The Kuyperian/Dominionists/Neo-Calvinists are more likely to imbibe alcohol, smoke, visit taverns, and be up on all the latest in pop culture. Relevance and familiarity are essential to their apologetic and transformational mission. The Banner/Reformed Pietist crowd represents a more austere, simple and culturally conservative position. This is not to say they would necessarily be opposed to alcohol or tobacco, but they’re not as likely to be zealots about it. Neither group is monolithic and you can often enough find them sitting side by side within the same congregation. I’m speaking of general tendencies based on my own observations and interactions. Despite some detractors most would agree with these observations.
 
While I am not personally inclined toward Pietism, I can appreciate those who hold to a mild form that eschews legalistic extremes. All too often I’ve been around both camps. The difference with the Kuyperians is so often it’s not about just having a beer or a glass of wine. They glory in it. They’re in your face about it. Liberty sometimes seems like bondage. You almost have to drink, smoke, go to the movies etc… Their anti-legalism/embrace the culture in order to transform it, becomes almost a new form of legalism.
 
[ii] Sometimes the Theonomists will speak of the “Banner” folks by using the pejorative ‘Pietistic Postmillennialists’. Of course I’m part of the camp they label as ‘Pessimistic’ or ‘Defeatist’ Amillennialism. We define the Kingdom in drastically different terms. How sad that they believe the Kingdom and certainly the work of the Holy Spirit have been something of a failure the last 2000 years. That’s what happens when you define the Kingdom and concepts like victory by the world’s parameters.

No comments: