R. Scott Clark and D. G. Hart have been hammering home for years that the term “Reformed” must derive from the confessions of the Reformed churches. This matters because if the definition of Reformed becomes muddied, then those in the “old” Reformed world are less likely to appropriately scrutinize those who in the “new” who apply the label to themselves.
I was thinking about this definitional struggle when I read this article by Stephen Wellum, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “3 Reasons Sunday Is Not the Christian Sabbath.” Wellum is a proponent of “progressive covenantalism” and “new covenant theology”, a hermeneutic on which he recently wrote a large book. Progressive covenantalism essentially divides the administration of God’s mercy into two eras: old covenant and new covenant, the old covenant encompassing the entirety of the Old Testament. The old covenant prefigures and anticipates the new, and never shall the twain meet. In contrast, Reformed, covenant theology holds that God’s covenant of grace is one throughout postlapsarian history, only administered differently in different eras.
Wellum’s article underscores this difference significantly: He rejects that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, holds that the Mosaic administration of the Sabbath is a uniquely old covenant relic, and that Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath means that requirements of its observance are now abolished. All of these things are contrary to the Reformed confessions, the divergence springing from the difference in hermeneutics. What is notable is not that a Baptist is making the case for a non-Reformed understanding of the Sabbath, but that recently the president of Indianapolis Theological Seminary, which employs Wellum as an adjunct professor to teach hermeneutics, insisted to me that he is “basically” a covenant theologian and is soundly Reformed. This is an example of definitional slippage, and why “Reformed” ought to mean “confessional.” Otherwise you end up thinking that you are being educated in Reformed hermeneutics, only to discover later that in reality you were trained in a different traditions masquerading as your own.
I have an article ‘All Monuments Must Fall’, up at Mere Orthodoxy. Here’s a brief taste,
“It was with puritanical glee that I read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on the portrayal of Jesus as white. Should that representation of him be rethought in light of recent events? Yes, “You go into [global] churches and you don’t see a White Jesus — you see a Black Jesus, or Chinese Jesus, or a Middle Eastern Jesus — which is of course the most accurate. You see a Fijian Jesus — you see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages and understandings.” We don’t worship these representations, but they are a “reminder of the universality of the God who became fully human.”
What Archbishop Welby intuited is precisely what the iconoclasts of Geneva and Black Lives Matter have been crying: All human-created celebrations of God are inextricably intertwined with the self-regard of the image-casters. This is precisely why some Reformed Christians have read the 2nd Commandment in the way that they have historically. The recently deceased Anglican divine J. I. Packer noted that the 2nd Commandment prohibits images of God because it is impossible to craft an image of God which does not fall into our likeness. God becomes conformed to us, not us to him, with our virtues and values (be they ethical or cultural) being imposed. This is not a reflection of the universality of God, but locating him in a man-created image of man. Human-crafted images of God are but inpourings of the self into our conception of the divine.”
Something I’ve wondered since a kid is how the Christian church would react if intelligent, sentient life from outside Earth were discovered. A silly question in some ways, since there is no evidence of space alien life, either scientifically or from scripture. But particularly in light of the recent declassified U.S. Navy files and videos on U.F.O.s, the subject deserves serious consideration. What effect would the existence of alien life have on the truth of Christianity?
Most likely, the revelation of alien life would lead to a massive departure from the Christian faith and organized religion in general. While there may be a temporary surge in church attendance from people looking for a familiar comfort, like after the September 11th attacks, a large chunk of people would see alien life as fatally undermining the claims of Christianity, discrediting the religion.
In 2014 Pope Francis said that he would baptize Martians if they requested it. This would be the second reaction: all persons, human or alien, have a need for a savior, who is Jesus. This is a plot point in Orson Scott Card’s famous Speaker for the Dead…
The defining feature of evangelicalism is disregard for the institutional church.
I was disappointed to see this proven again by “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden”, particularly with the signatories Richard Mouw and Samuel Logan. This group argues in three paragraphs that Joe Biden’s policies reflect a more biblical, pro-life ethic than Donald Trump’s, abortion notwithstanding and evidence not provided. Citing the parachurch organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Pro-Lifers for Biden state, “‘Faithful evangelical civic engagement and witness must champion a biblically balanced agenda.’ Therefore we oppose ‘one issue’ political thinking because it lacks biblical balance.” What are the additional pro-life issues that policies on abortion need to be balanced against? Poverty, healthcare, climate change, racism, and, yes, that pressing issue, smoking.
My concern is not with the political question of the importance of these issues, but the way in which the church has been sidelined by this group in favor of an equalizing idea of “balance”…