Christ and Culture: An Interview with Greg Forster (by Matthew Claridge)

Christ and Culture: An Interview with Greg Forster (by Matthew Claridge)

JFTWIs Christ with, for, or against culture? Whatever the answer, we cannot be content with an ambiguous “and.” This is an issue of increasing concern and urgency to evangelicals as they watch whatever common ground they assumed was in place in American culture swiftly eroding under their feet. Yet it is in these times of uncertainty and shifting worldviews that the church has the opportunity to scrutinize its role in society unclouded by cultural arrogance or ignorance.

It is a pleasure to have Greg Forster back with Credo for an interview on his new book Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Forster is among a cadre of evangelical intellectuals rising to the challenge the new century presents for the church. I count him among the “sons of Issachar” whom God has gifted with an “understanding of times, and what (the new) Israel ought to do” (1Chron. 12.32).

Greg Forster (PhD, Yale University) is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. He also the editor of the group blog Hang Together and a regular contributor to the Gospel Coalition, First Thoughts, and other online resources. Forster is the author of numerous articles and six books, including The Joy of Calvinism.

In recent years there have been many evangelical books coming out about engaging culture. What does your book contribute to this growing body of work?

Where most books look at “culture” generically, I look specifically at the American experiment in religious liberty and what it means for the role of religion in our civilization. I also ground my approach in scriptural teaching about how the Holy Spirit transforms the lives of believers. And rather than champion the church against the institutions of human culture as some do, or champion Christian cultural life against a commitment to the ministry of the local church as others do, I affirm the necessary roles of both. The ministry of the church (preaching, worship, sanctification) and the civic institutions of culture (family, economy, citizenship) are all necessary to a godly life and a flourishing civilization.

The conceptual center to your book is the word “Joy.” What do you mean by this term and what has it to do with influencing and rebuilding culture?

When I talk about joy, I don’t mean simply a feeling of happiness, because I don’t think that’s what the Bible means when it uses that term. “The joy of God” is the flourishing of our minds, hearts and lives, which believers have as a result of the special work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our thoughts are changed, our emotions are changed, our actions are changed. That transformation inevitably has an impact on the relationships and institutions within which we live, and thus it intersects with our culture. This is the place to start when we think about how Christianity influences culture, because this is the only thing that is really unique about Christianity. This is the one thing we bring to the table of our culture that no one else can.

I found your discussion of religious freedom quite fascinating. What are the blessings and problems of this arrangement? Can religious freedom be consistently upheld without the majority influence of the Christian tradition?

The greatest blessing is the space it creates for virtue and conscience. I think most people have forgotten that it’s very rare in human history to have a culture where people are expected to shape their lives according to an understanding of what is right. In most civilizations historically, 98% of the population was simply told how to live, and that leaves no space for people to be moral creatures. One challenge this creates is that religion and even morality can come to seem optional. Another is the fragmentation of our moral language – if you and I have different religions, we may still agree that murder and theft are wrong, but we’re likely to disagree about what actions should count as murder or theft. It becomes very challenging to hold a society together without returning to the old way of just having the elites at the top simply tell everyone how to live. Can we uphold religious freedom over time if Christianity remains a minority view? We may not need to find out, if we can reform the church effectively enough to seek revival. But if the Lord doesn’t grant that, I suppose the answer will depend on what the predominant religion ends up being. I believe that religious freedom is morally right, and I believe God gives a conscience to all people and not just to believers, so in principle it should be possible. But “possible” is a long way from a guarantee.

Explain this statement: “The people who don’t need to get into the inner ring are the people who really keep a civilization going” (157).

In that quote I’m discussing a magnificent address C.S. Lewis gave to college students about how the world works, called “The Inner Ring.” In every profession and in every other cultural group, Lewis says, there is an “inner ring” of bigshots and important people at the top of the social ladder. Many people spend their lives trying to move up that ladder, and they burn up tons of their energy and opportunities focused on that goal. It’s the people who ignore the ladder of social importance who tend to get their jobs done properly and build authentic social relationships. That’s the only thing that keeps all the professions and cultural groups from collapsing in a great heap.

Unpack this crucial strategy for cultural engagement: “embedding our opposition to the bad within the framework of the good is the best way to strengthen and empower our transformative impact” (89).

One of our greatest deficiencies in the evangelical world today is that we don’t embrace and affirm our culture and its structures. Everything outside the church, everything that doesn’t have a cross stamped all over it, is assumed to be inferior. We are especially wary of anything that smells like love of country – I can testify from experience that the fastest way to get jeered at in the evangelical world is to say something good about your country. I understand there are good historical reasons for this; we’re in detox from the Jerry Falwell generation. No one wants to go back to the Religious Right. But God loves the nations. He says the structures of human culture are ordained by him and have his blessing, and that they contribute to human flourishing. God ordains government to uphold justice. God ordains economic structures to produce the goods and services people need. God ordains the family – and not just in Christian households. By God’s grace, even after the fall these structures have a good role in the divine plan. We should love our country; we should love our democratic constitution, which gives us a role in governing; we should love the modern, entrepreneurial economy that has raised more than a billion people out of poverty. And once we truly love these structures, and prove by our actions that we accept them and want them to flourish, we will suddenly discover that we have earned the right to be heard when we criticize them. Would you let an atheist tell you how to run your worship service? No? Then why should the American people let you tell them how to run America, if you don’t identify yourself as an American who loves this country as much as they do?

Do you think the argument of Ryan Anderson that exclusively recognizing heterosexual marriage is in the best interest of the state for the raising of children is a sufficient and effective argument in the public square?

I would not limit the argument for marriage just to the goal of raising children. The state ought to institutionalize marriage only between a man and a woman for other reasons as well. And I think it is important to stress (as Ryan also does) that this is not a particularly Christian view. The proposition that marriage is intrinsically a heterosexual phenomenon is almost the universal voice of all human culture, regardless of religion, until just the other day. Even the cultures in which homosexual relationships were widely accepted and legitimized never dreamed of treating such relationships as marriages. They saw that something different was at stake in a man-woman relationship than in a same-sex relationship. As for whether the argument is “effective,” I think it is as effective as any philosophical argument can be nowadays. The deficiency is not in Ryan’s argument, but in the responsiveness of our culture to rational argument. Without leaving philosophy behind, because philosophy is critically important, I think we need a major increase of investment in other ways of making our view intelligible and plausible, such as storytelling.

You make an impassioned case for economic growth and the task of Christians to build cities, not utopias, for the benefit of others. But what about Cotton Mather’s famous statement, “piety begat prosperity, and the daughter consumed its mother”?

We have to distinguish between the warning that wealth creates temptations to sin, and the view that wealth forces us to sin by some kind of inevitable power. The latter view was held by the ancient pagans as part of their cyclical view of history; people believed they were trapped in a permanent cycle in which poverty teaches thrift, thrift leads to prosperity, prosperity leads to vice, and vice squanders wealth, leading back to poverty, and so on forever. To say that this cycle is inevitable implies that human beings do not have free will and are merely puppets. That is what the ancient pagans basically believed in – all is fate. You certainly can’t square this view with the teaching that the Holy Spirit has been given to the church to empower us to live godly lives under any kind of circumstances.

In the early modern period, this fatalistic view of economic history experienced something of a revival, and since then a lot of well-meaning Christians have been taken in by it. In scripture we find stern warnings that wealth creates temptations, and we should take that seriously. But we also find that God commands us to work for the flourishing of our households and communities – very much including their economic flourishing. And we find that the Holy Spirit has been given to the church to empower us to sustain godliness. In the Old Testament, God warns his chosen nation that they are going to get rich and it’s going to tempt them to evil – but the reason he gives this warning is because it is his intention to bless them with fabulous wealth! Israel becomes wealthy in the promised land, we are told over and over again, because it was given the law of God and it learned virtuous behavior. So does that mean God is responsible for Israel’s sin, because he taught them virtue and made them wealthy? Do we think God was just kidding when he wrote the Proverbs? The command to do honest work that creates wealth and increases the well-being of our households and communities is repeated in the New Testament. We have to avoid a prosperity gospel that says faith creates wealth by some automatic process, but at the same time, we have to avoid saying that God doesn’t care if people starve to death or die of polio. And unfortunately, the prevailing current in Christian intellectual life these days is very anti-growth. I guess I’m just not as smart as the people who take that view, because unlike them, I simply don’t know how to love my neighbor while hoping that my neighbor loses his job. In general and on the whole, virtuous behavior tends to create wealth and health for most people. God is in favor of that.

What’s the problem with “rational self-interest” as a platform for Christians and non-Christians to pursue economic growth together?

It sounds very plausible to many people – as long as we can get people to be enlightened enough to realize that lying, cheating and stealing are not in their self-interest, can’t we get everyone to behave themselves without any need for the difficult call to rise above self-interest and put other people’s needs ahead of their own? But it founders on two basic problems. First, it’s not true that lying, cheating and stealing are absolutely never in my self-interest. Mere “rationality” or “enlightenment” is not enough to transform self-interest from a selfish vice into a socially harmonious force. If I become more rational without any overcoming of the self, my rationality simply makes me more effective at cheating without getting caught. If we don’t call people to a level of moral virtue that rises above self-interest, people will not in fact behave themselves. The second basic problem is that we can’t have a legal and economic system that forbids lying, cheating, and stealing unless we have a pretty broad level of public agreement, as a culture, about what kinds of actions are going to count as lying, cheating, and stealing. People can all agree that any action that falls into these categories is wrong, yet disagree about what particular actions fall into these categories. In order to have a social system that works, you need enough shared morality to define the content of these terms. And in spite of centuries of attempts by some of the brightest minds around, it turns out you just can’t get that out of an ethic of enlightened self-interest. You have to transcend self-interest before you can really have a moral worldview.

Your key statement, when it comes to Christians and politics, I believe is this: “the most important task in political life is building moral consensus.” In what ways is this a Christian project?

Yes, that’s the top political action item in my view. We have to build consensus across all sorts of cultural lines – religion, political party, ideology, you name it – and identify shared moral commitments that define us as a people. In one sense this cannot be an exclusively “Christian project” because the whole point is to build something that has its own integrity as a shared possession. We can’t build a shared sense of who we are as a culture if we start with the presupposition that the shared culture will be distinctively Christian. At the same time, I think there is one sense in which building moral consensus is likely to be a predominantly Christian project, because it is Christians who ought to be the first to let their guard down and reach out across boundaries. Shame on us if we call ourselves Christians but don’t love our neighbors enough to try to find a way to live together in peace and harmony.

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has two children, Alec and Nora.

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Our Father in Heaven: Two Interviews on God the Father

Posted by on Feb 6, 2014 in Doctrine of God, Interviews, Trinity | No Comments
Our Father in Heaven: Two Interviews on God the Father

Interviews by Matthew Claridge–

What is the goal of our salvation? Common answers might include escaping hell fire, seeing departed loved ones, or living happily ever after in the New Heaven and New Earth.  We all should know it goes deeper than that, and more well-informed answers would refer to the famed Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But truth be told, even this classic statement isn’t as precise as the Bible puts it, or as Jesus puts it time and time again in the Gospel of John: “This is eternal life, that they know you [the Father] the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus came to grant us access to the Father, not just to God generally speaking.

What differences does that make?  Honestly, despite the fact that the Father is the goal of our salvation, I think He is perhaps the most neglected or misunderstood Person of the Blessed Trinity. To help us answer that question, a couple well known theologians and pastors have penned or edited books focusing entirely on the Father–Joel Beeke, editor of the The Beauty and Glory of the Father, and Doug Wilson, author of Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families.  Dr. Beeke is president and professor systematic theology and homiletic at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. he also serves as pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids. Doug Wilson is senior pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. He regularly blogs at www.DougWils.com. Taken together, these two books give us one of the most thorough treatments of the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and its implications for our personal and social good.

the-glory-and-beauty-of-the-father1Interview with Joel Beeke

Tell us a little a bit about this volume, its origin and why its theme was chosen.

We desired to consider the wonders of the triune God. The Beauty and Glory of the Father originated in a series of conferences sponsored by Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. We had done conferences on the Son and the Spirit, and so in August 2012 we gathered together under the theme of the Father. Various pastor-theologians joined our own faculty in preaching a series of stirring messages, and the manuscripts of those messages were published in this book.

There are churches named after the Son and churches named after the Spirit. Why not the Father? Do you think the Father tends to be neglected in contemporary Evangelicalism?

Church names notwithstanding, the entire Trinity often seems to be neglected in contemporary churches. If we are thinking biblically, then we cannot begin to meditate on one person of the Trinity without quickly being led to exult in the others. However, modern Evangelicals tend to focus so much on their feelings and activities that they neglect God Himself. If they speak much of God, then they tend to focus on His attributes–which are glorious–but remain strangely silent about the divine persons united as one God: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What would you say is the difference between the revelation of the “Father” in the Old Testament and in the New Testament?

God’s fatherhood is revealed in the Old Testament (Ex. 4:22; Ps. 103:13; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Mal. 1:6), but this theme appears with brilliant and pervasive radiance in the New Testament. One reason for this is that God the Son has come in the flesh, and His relationship with the Father illuminates the relationship of God’s redeemed children to their Father (John 1:12-14).

This may seem like a no-brainer, but what is the relationship between God as Father and the image of our salvation as “adoption”? What does this say about the nature of our salvation?

The relationship between God’s fatherhood and our adoption is Christ, for He is the Son of God. This tells us that at the core of our salvation is union with Christ (being “in him,” as Paul repeatedly says in Eph. 1:3-14). The Father sent His Son to redeem sinners from the curse of His holy law and give them adoption, and He sent His Spirit to make their adoption a reality in their personal experience (Gal. 3:13-14; 4:4-6). It is only in union with the Son of God that we have this adoption and the Spirit of adoption.

What was it about Puritan reflections on “adoption” that struck, warmed, and edified you?

More than I can say in a short space! (See my book, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption.) One thing that encouraged me is that the Puritans were the first people to put a separate section in a confession of faith on the Christian’s adoption (Westminster Confession of Faith, XII). Another thing was that the Puritans emphasized that adoption was both a legal, positional status, and also an experience to be cultivated in the Spirit of adoption. They were concerned that believers have an assurance that they are children of God, and that they enjoy fellowship with the Father in His love.

What’s so great and life-changing about the  “unlimited access to the Father we have through Christ Jesus”?

It brings the church into communion with the triune God! Paul summed up the blessings of our peace in Christ by writing, “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). In this short statement we see that: (1) our adoption leads us to consider and rejoice in the riches of Christ’s mediatorial person and work (“through him”) for His church; (2) it brings us into an experience of the fellowship with God given by the Holy Spirit (“by one Spirit”) to God’s worshipers; (3) it draws us through Christ and in the Spirit to the Father Himself (“unto the Father”) to delight in the wonders of the love that planned our salvation from eternity and now embraces us forever; (4) it unites us with other believers from Israel and Gentiles of many other ethnic backgrounds (“we both”) to know and enjoy God, not in isolation but as a loving community of brothers and sisters, God’s many colored family.

father-hunger-1Interview with Doug Wilson

What does the Fatherhood of God have to do with the fatherhood of everyone else?

In Eph. 3:14-15, the apostle Paul says that all fatherhood (patria) derives from the Father of Jesus Christ. This makes His fatherhood archetypical, and the font of everything else.

 You trace many of our current social, moral, and spiritual maladies to “father hunger.” What do you mean by this and why does it hold such explanatory power for all these other concerns?

The Bible teaches that we have fallen into sin as a race, which means that we are estranged from our heavenly Father. When we come back to Him, Jesus teaches us to pray, “our Father . . .” All our problems are in some way reflections of this central dislocation. When Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life, He is saying that no one comes to the Father except through Him. That is what we need.

 What’s the difference between “male-ness” and “masculinity”? How has the latter been “redefined by the conservative American church”?

Being male is a feature of biology. Since God the Father has no body, His masculinity cannot be a function of biology. It must therefore be something else. Masculinity in our day is defined in terms of bravado, bluster, or machismo.

 I benefited from an illustration you provided for how children learn to respect a father’s authority, namely, its like writing a check. Could you explain that illustration for our readers and how it translates into the day-to-day of fatherhood?

Exercising authority is like writing a check. Establishing a deep relationship of trust is like making deposits in the bank. When it comes to the time when you need to write a check with your kids (by saying no to something they really want), it is not enough to prove that the checkbook is yours. You have to have put money in it.

 You suggest, “I would recommend that men who have had a real shortage of practical examples should read biographies of fathers.” Any particular examples you would recommend?

Iain Murray on Jonathan Edwards, For Kirk and Covenant on John Knox, and Peter Lillback on George Washington.

 “Gratitude declares the meaning of fatherhood like little else can.” What do you mean?

Gratitude is contagious, and when a father is grateful for what he has, he is modeling for his sons and daughters how to be grateful for what they have.

 In what ways does a free society depend on families lead by masculine men?

Effeminate men can be manipulated and worked. There will always be someone available to do that. Masculine men can be led, but not manipulated. Political liberty therefore depends on a recovery of masculinity.

 “In this world, a woman is God’s chief instrument for making a man responsible.” Really?

Really. A man cannot be responsible unless there is someone to be responsible for. He needs to be needed. Without that, he is down the road.

 How should pastors resist the bumbling, nerdy stereotypes of Mr. Collins and also the testosterone induced-coma of a Leonidas? What does it mean to be a “masculine” minister?

Masculinity means to take responsibility. If a man is ordained, he is responsible to preach what the Bible says. If he does that, he will need courage enough.

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children: Alec, Nora, and Grace.

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Interviews from 2013

Posted by on Dec 31, 2013 in Interviews | No Comments
Interviews from 2013

One of our favorite features of Credo Magazine is the opportunity to interview some of today’s best authors, pastors, and scholars. With 2013 coming to an end, here are the interviews from 2013. And special thanks must go to Matthew Claridge who has conducted so many of these interviews.

From the magazine:

10 Questions with Justin Taylor

Exploring Biblical Theology: An Interview with James Hamilton

11 Questions with Andy Naselli

The Undomesticated Doctrine of Regeneration: An Interview with Douglas Sweeney

5 Minutes with Douglas Houfman

10 Questions with Tim Challies

5 Minutes with Joey Allen

The Quest for the Trinity – Interview with Stephen R. Holmes

10 Questions with David and Sally Michael

5 Minutes with Lee Gatiss

What’s the Difference? Gregg Allison discusses the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism

From the blog:

Fit to Burst: An interview with Rachel Jankovic

Calvin’s Company of Pastors–An interivew with Scott Manetsch

A Modern Calvinist: An interview with James Bratt on Abraham Kuyper

Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 1)

Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 2)

Calvinism – An Interview with Darryl Hart (part 1)

Calvinism – An Interview with Darryl Hart (part 2)

Dying as a Christian–An Interview with Christopher Bogosh

Jesus on Every Page – An Interview with David Murray

Is God Anti-Gay? Sam Allberry Answers

Christ and the Arts: an interview with Jerram Barrs (part 1)

Christ and the Arts: An Interview with Jerram Barrs (Part 2)

C.S. Lewis: A Life – Q&A with Alister McGrath

The Conviction to Lead – Interview with Albert Mohler

Churches, Revolutions, and Empires (1789-1914): Interview with Ian Shaw

Interview: A Mouth Full of Fire

Interview: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate

Thomas Schreiner’s Whole Bible Theology

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Fit to Burst: An interview with Rachel Jankovic

Posted by on Dec 17, 2013 in Gospel, Interviews | One Comment
Fit to Burst: An interview with Rachel Jankovic

As a mother of six children (two of them twins), author Rachel Jakovic has much wisdom to offer her fellow moms. But it isn’t the commiserating stories or funny anecdotes that draw women to her books—its the down to earth, theologically deep, biblical encouragement she offers them. Recently, I (Jessalyn Hutto) had the privilege of asking Rachel a few practical questions on the topic of motherhood in light of her new book, Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood.

In your book, Fit to Burst, you make it clear that our ability to obey God and love our families is a fruit of the gospel, yet you do not shy away from calling moms to actively pursue holiness. Why do you think it is so easy for moms to swing from on one side of the works-based righteousness/let go and let God pendulum to the other? How can moms passionately pursue excellence in their calling without leaving the gospel behind?

I see this as simply an issue of balance. Like so many things in life we tend to fall in one ditch or the other. So both keeping your house super clean and letting your house go could honor God, depending on the circumstance. And both could dishonor him, depending on the circumstance. Often times what we need to hear is not what we want to hear—because what we need to hear will make us more balanced, but it will also push against us and probably be a little uncomfortable.

As far as the gospel goes, it’s the drive. It is why we do everything. It isn’t like a statue that we look at, but more like the food that fuels us. We love God for he loved us first. When we want our hands to express our love for him, we are expressing his love for us. When we want the dinner on the table, the gifts under the tree, or the smiles on our faces to reflect our love for God, what they are really telling is his love for us. There is no threat that as we seek to honor God in our mundane work that it will in some way cover up the gospel. It is a way of declaring the gospel. The only threat here is that we leave off trying to honor God and get busy trying to impress one another, or earn our street cred as domestic superheroes.

1591281283DHow do you think the internet has positively and negatively affected modern motherhood? Do you have any warnings or encouragement for young moms as they discern how to make the best use of their time in this area?

I guess I would say that it has been a huge blessing in so many ways, but like everything it can be a stumbling block if you let it.

Things I love—being able to search for recipes, being able to get any knitting pattern I want, ordering things that I wouldn’t have normal access to, and keeping up with family and friends who are far away, as well as staying in touch with people who I see often in real life and seldom connect to.

Things that can cause you to stumble—looking at everyone’s life with gratitude except yours. Letting the filters of other people’s instagrams make you believe that they are living in some kind of paradise while you muddle around with crumbs on your feet. To whom much is given, much is required. If you have all kinds of social outlets available to you because of the internet, then God is requiring a lot of social wisdom from you. And that is something that requires a lot of discernment and self discipline—which isn’t easy, but it is good!

Being a mother is incredibly demanding, both physically and spiritually. How can moms put all they have into their children and still have something to give to their husbands? How do you balance motherhood and marriage?

I don’t feel like I do really balance motherhood and marriage—I guess because it is all just my life. Whenever we talk about balancing things we are talking like they are in opposition to one another—on different sides of the teeter totter. But with a husband and wife relationship we would be wrong. It is more like a merry go round of giving. The kids aren’t one of my jobs and Luke (my husband) another, with me standing in the middle trying to keep either from crashing to the ground. Luke and I together have children—and I spend my day on behalf of both of us dealing with them. He isn’t the extra kid who comes home at night and needs me. We are good friends—without seeing him I would have nothing to give to the kids. I understand the temptation to think that you don’t want to do anything for anyone else, but when a husband and wife fellowship together and spend time together, it should be a time of mutual giving and receiving. Much trouble can come from forgetting that you have been made one. His needs are your needs, and pouring yourself out for him fills you up. And the opposite is also true—needing him is filling him up. Wanting your husband’s input is giving to him. Needing his support and encouragement is a way to give.

The fifties housewife image we have of a woman greeting her husband with his slippers is more than a little impossible at times. Greet him with needing him, with loving him, and with wanting to give more than you have—not with a sense of foreboding that he may try to touch you at some point.

Practically speaking, my husband and I read books together sometimes—meaning we talk about them. Usually books related to work for him. We talk through how it applies to us, and we get a much fuller understanding of the work we are both doing through that. It is a great way to get on the same page about things, a way I can support him at work, and he can understand me at home.

Often young moms struggle to build genuine, sanctifying friendships with other mothers because their relationships are characterized by pride and comparison. Do you have any practical advice for women who long to have close friends, but cant seem to let anyone in?

Honestly, I guess I’d just say wad up all your expectations and throw them out. You may be trying to build some kind of fantasy land of friendship that you only think other people have. Then, when you are done with that, look at the people who are near you that you could minister to. Sometimes one of our kids goes through a phase where they are getting their feelings hurt because other people aren’t playing with them. Usually we discover that they were not actually doing anything but standing around feeling sorry for themselves that no one was playing with them, and that was the problem. Stop imagining that friend that comes over to fold your laundry with a coffee for you and a kind word. Maybe organize something yourself, something that is not focused on you, but rather gives you a chance to get to know others.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to read Jessalyn Huttos review of Rachels book Fit to Burst here.

Jessalyn Hutto is a regular contributor to Credo Magazine. She is just an ordinary wife and mother who serves an extraordinary God. Her passion for theology led her to create the blog DesiringVirtue which encourages women to study, treasure, and apply the Word of God to their daily lives. She is blessed to be the wife of Richard Hutto and the mother of three little boys: Elliot, Hudson, and Owen. She is also a regular contributor to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s women’s channel: Karis.

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Calvin’s Company of Pastors–An interivew with Scott Manetsch

Calvin’s Company of Pastors–An interivew with Scott Manetsch

Interview by Matthew Claridge– Many things come to mind when you think of John Calvin. Is pastoral care among them?  To bring that contribution closer to the top of our first thoughts, let me introduce you to Scott Manetsch’s fine new book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology). Dr. Manetsch is Professor of Cpastoarl care 2hurch History and the History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also happens to be one of my top favorite and influential professors in seminary. He is the perfect scholar to tackle this subject, a man of impeccable theological insight joined with a  pastor’s heart. I heartily commend this book to our Credo readers.

What drew you to this topic and what kind of work was involved in researching it?

More than a dozen years ago I had the opportunity to spend a summer reading through the published sermons of Theodore Beza (1519-1605), and I was impressed by the many pastoral themes and concerns that appeared in them.  It occurred to me that this “pastoral” side of Theodore Beza was entirely missing from the scholarly literature, and deserved further study.  In the years that followed, my family and I spent four summers in Geneva, where I had an opportunity to explore the entirety of Beza’s literary corpus.  At the same time, these summers allowed me to work extensively in the city archive, reading church documents related to religious life and pastoral practice in sixteenth-century Geneva.  What had begun as a monograph on Theodore Beza’s pastoral theology quickly mushroomed into a book on the pastoral company of 135 ministers who served the Genevan church between 1536 and 1609. As it turned out, most of the original research for my book was drawn from the minutes of Geneva’s Consistory, a disciplinary body created by Calvin that met every Thursday, beginning in 1542.  City scribes were hired to produce detailed, hand-written minutes of each Consistory session.  Most of my research time in Geneva was spent reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of these almost-illegible minutes preserved in Geneva’s city archive.

What was Geneva’s Company of Pastors and how did it change the shape of Christian pastoral ministry?

The Company of Pastors was a church institution founded by John Calvin and his pastoral colleagues in the mid-1540s.  Its membership consisted of all of the ministers who served churches in the city-republic of Geneva, including Calvin and the other ministers who served the three large parishes within the city walls (St. Pierre, St. Gervais, the Madeleine) and the pastors who served around a dozen smaller rural parishes in the surrounding countryside.  In addition, several professors from the Genevan Academy were members of the Company of Pastors.

The Company met every Friday morning to address concerns of the church both locally and internationally.  In terms of local concerns, the Company examined students for ministry, filled local ministerial posts (with the approval of the city magistrates), addressed theological disputes within the city or Company, and negotiated religious policy with Geneva’s city council.  Owing to Calvin’s theological stature, the Company of Pastors also soon gained an international role, providing support and theological advice for reformed churches and pastors in other parts of Europe.  It was pretty common for foreign churches to ask the Company to send them promising ministerial candidates from the Academy.  Moreover, as historian Robert Kingdon has shown, the Company of Pastors also recruited, trained, and secretly deployed more than 100 pastors into France between 1555 and 1562. Thus, the Company of Pastors played an important role in shaping the institutional form and theological content of pastoral ministry in Geneva.

It seems one of Calvin’s pastoral concerns was cultivating a spirit of ‘collegiality’ among the clergy.  Why was this important to Calvin?  

This was one of the biggest surprises that came from my research:  the degree to which Calvin not only championed, but institutionalized a form of church government that promoted pastoral equality and collegiality.  The caricature of John Calvin as the “dictator of Geneva” deserves to be put to rest once and for all. I think Calvin cultivated this spirit of collegiality for at least three reasons.

First, Calvin (and Beza as well) had a deep aversion to forms of church government that were hierarchical and autocratic.  They believed that Scripture taught that, though pastors’ roles might vary from parish to parish, the pastoral office was a single office, and all pastors were equally servants of Christ and ministers of the Word of God. Second, Calvin recognized the need for ministers to be accountable to one another to preserve the health of the church.  Hence, Calvin created the weekly Congregation (patterned after Zurich’s Prophetzei) where the city’s pastors met to study Scripture together and evaluate one another’s exposition of biblical texts.  So too, four times a year in the Quarterly Censure, Geneva’s ministers met behind closed doors to air their differences, to address colleagues suspected of immorality or teaching wrong doctrine, and to promote mutual trust and common vision. Third, and this is related to the second point, Calvin valued collegiality among pastors because he recognized the dangers of individual interpretations of Scripture.  Right doctrine depended on a community of pastors studying Scripture together.  In a letter to a colleague in Bern in 1549, Calvin defended the work of the Congregation as “not only useful but necessary” for the health of the church.  Calvin further stated that “The fewer discussions of doctrine we have together, the greater the danger of pernicious opinions… for solitude leads to great abuse.”

One of your main concerns is to challenge the notion that Calvin and his successors represented a white-tower approach to theology and pastoral ministry.  What kind of evidence have you found to correct this assumption?

Having grown up in the reformed tradition, I was sometimes exposed to a portrait of Calvin that focused on his theological genius at the expense of his pastoral concerns and commitments.  In this caricature, Calvin was little more than a reformed “brain on a stick.”  When one studies the documents of the Genevan church, it becomes clear that this depiction misses the mark.  I’m reminded of Calvin’s statement:  “the office of a true and faithful minister is not only to teach the people in public, which he is appointed to do as pastor, but also, as much as he is able, to admonish, exhort, warn, and console each person individually.”

The Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541), written largely by Calvin, laid out a plan for ministry that involved intensive pastoral care of God’s people through the Word.  And this plan was enacted in practice during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  All of Geneva’s ministers preached multiple times each week.  They were expected to visit sick people at bedside.  Along with the city’s lay elders, they conducted pastoral visitations of all the households in their parish each year before Easter.  Ministers also preached catechetical sermons to children every Sunday at noon to teach them the basics of the Christian faith. Furthermore, every Thursday the pastors and elders met in Consistory to interview, reprove, and offer spiritual advice to men and women guilty of a whole variety of sins, from adultery to drunkenness to spousal abuse.  Although these consistorial interviews could be confrontational and were always intrusive, they constituted a form of spiritual counsel and pastoral care as the pastors and elders engaged people at their point of greatest brokenness and need, seeking to guide them to repentance and spiritual healing.  On many occasions, the Consistory also intervened on behalf of the neglected and abused, seeking to protect the weak and poor as well as mediate conflicts between spouses and within households.  I came away from my study of Geneva’s consistorial minutes with a deep sense of admiration for the amount of time and effort that Geneva’s pastors and elders devoted to this painful, yet important, aspect of spiritual care.

What did a typical week look like for a minister in Geneva circa 1590?  

That depends on whether the minister worked in one of the three city parishes, or whether he served one of the dozen small rural parishes in the surrounding countryside.  Countryside pastors usually preached 2-3 times per week, held weekly catechism classes, and visited members of their congregation who were sick or suspected of moral failure.  Baptisms, weddings, and (quarterly) celebrations of the Lord’s Supper were performed during the regularly scheduled worship services. Many of the countryside pastors were responsible for two different congregations within their single parish, requiring them to travel on foot 3-4 miles several times each week to perform their pastoral duties.  When possible, rural pastors were also expected to come to the city to attend meetings of the Consistory (on Thursdays) as well as the weekly meetings of the Congregation and the Company of Pastors (on Fridays).  Because their salaries were usually inadequate to pay bills, at least some of the countryside pastors supplemented their incomes by raising cattle, farming a garden, or tending a vineyard. City pastors usually preached more frequently than countryside ministers.

Prominent ministers such as Calvin, Beza, and Simon Goulart usually preached twice on Sundays and every weekday morning, every other week. (That adds up to around 18-20 sermons per month!)  In addition, city ministers instructed children in the catechism at noon on Sundays, performed baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, and weddings (in conjunction with regular worship services), and attended the meetings of the Consistory, Congregation, and Company of Pastors.  Most city ministers had special assignments as an additional part of their vocations:  some like Calvin or Beza taught at the Genevan Academy; others were part-time chaplains in the hospital or army; still others visited prisoners in the city prison, or were assigned to the plague hospital.  Moreover, I discovered that nearly one-in-six of the ministers wrote books, whether theological tomes, works of poetry, historical books, or exegetical works.

How seriously did Calvin and his successors consider church discipline?  How was it enforced and how did its enforcement change over the years?

Calvin and his colleagues believed that biblical church discipline was essential for the health of a Christian church, comparing it to ligaments holding the body of Christ together.  In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin writes:  “as the saving doctrine of Christ is the soul of the church, so does discipline serve as its sinews, through which the members of the body hold together, each in its own place.”  Thus, “all who desire to remove discipline or to hinder its restoration – whether they do this deliberately or out of ignorance—are surely contributing to the ultimate dissolution of the Church.”  Practically speaking, Calvin and Geneva’s ministers insisted that the local Consistory (consisting of pastors and twelve lay elders) should meet weekly in order to address cases of moral failure and misbelief in their congregation.  The Consistory met every Thursday at noon; its case load often included a dozen or more cases, including cases such as fornication and adultery, superstitious practice, dancing and lewd singing, public drunkenness, fighting and swearing, usury, Catholic behavior, gambling, and begging and idleness.  Many offenders were scolded, counseled, and sent away with warnings.  In more extreme cases, people were suspended from the Lord’s Supper for a few months, until they repented and were reconciled to the church and their neighbors. (Note that the Lord’s Supper was celebrated four times a year in Calvin’s Geneva.)  In the five years following Calvin’s death in 1564, there was a spike in number of annual suspensions with more than 680 people temporarily suspended from the Lord’s Supper in 1568 alone.  Thereafter, the number of annual suspensions declined significantly, reaching levels of 100-150 people per year during the 1590s and early 1600s. It is important to remember that Calvin’s Consistory did not have the power to impose any form of corporal punishment on offenders, i.e. imprisonment, banishment, fines, or capital punishment – that was the prerogative of the civil authorities alone.  The Consistory could only impose spiritual penalties, namely warnings, rebukes, suspension, or, in the worst case, major excommunication (which involved a measure of social ostracism).  With that said, Calvin lived in a city republic where the civil magistrates were willing to stand behind the Consistory, enforcing the church’s suspensions and, sometimes, imposing its own punishments on sinners who refused to repent and be reconciled to the church.

My investigation of church discipline in Geneva indicates a number of changes over the seven decades from 1542-1609.  For one, as mentioned earlier, the number of annual suspensions increased significantly between 1542 and the late 1560s, peaking in 1568 at 681 suspensions, before declining rapidly to levels of between 100-150 suspensions per year.  Second, the kinds of sins for which people were likely to be suspended changed over this period.  Whereas in the early years, the single most common offense leading to suspension from the Lord’s Supper was fornication and adultery, by the latter decades of my study household and family quarrels became the most common reason for suspension.  In addition, “sins” such as ignorance of the gospel and Catholic behavior become less common as the century progressed.  What remains more or less consistent, however, was the sheer number of cases of conflict between spouses and within households in the Consistory’s caseload each year.  Consequently, the ministers and elders regularly devoted a lot of time and energy seeking to reconcile husbands and wives, and pacify households that were torn by violence, mistrust, abuse, and hatred.

Were there any surprising revelations that you came across in your research?

A couple of surprises come to mind.  First, I found it striking the degree to which church discipline served as a form of pastoral care in Geneva during the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.  Second, I did not expect the degree to which Calvin encouraged, and Geneva’s pastors pursued a form of ministry characterized by mutual accountability, encouragement, and collaboration.  Third, I was impressed by the degree to which Calvin’s liturgies (recited in Geneva’s churches several times a week) reinforced and institutionalized his vision of pastoral ministry in the city.  Finally, I was greatly encouraged and blessed by the rich (and largely unexplored) collection of pastoral resources – prayers, sermons, Christian meditations, ethical treatises – produced by Geneva’s pastors during the decades after Calvin’s lifetime.

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10 Questions with Andy Naselli

Posted by on Nov 6, 2013 in Interviews, Magazine-Born Again | No Comments
10 Questions with Andy Naselli

Besides the many articles in Credo Magazine, we also do interviews which give you the opportunity to get to know different pastors and scholars. In the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Born Again: God’s Sovereign Grace in the Miracle of Regeneration,” we interviewed Andy Naselli. Naselli is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He is also research assistant to D. A. Carson and administrator of Themelios. He is the author of Let Go and Let God? He blogs at andynaselli.com.

Read 10 Questions with Andy Naselli today:

To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

Born Again: God’s Sovereign Grace in the Miracle of Regeneration

While doctrines such as election, justification, and sanctification typically receive all of the attention in theological conversations, the doctrine of regeneration is often forgotten. Yet, it is this doctrine that undergirds the entire order of salvation. It is the initiatory change in regeneration that results in everything else, from faith and repentance to justification, sanctification, and perseverance. All of these other doctrines owe their existence to that first moment when God breaths new spiritual life into the sinner’s dead corpse.

Regeneration, or the new birth, was certainly important to Jesus. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God! Jesus goes on to highlight the sovereignty of the Spirit in the new birth as well, comparing him to the wind which blows wherever it pleases. This reminds us that since Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus there has been a long history of debate over exactly what it means to be “born again,” a debate that has preoccupied the best theological minds, including Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Synod of Dort, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and many, many others. The key questions in this controversial matter are these: Does God work alone (monergism) to create new spiritual life in depraved sinners, or does God and man cooperate with one another (synergism), man having the final say in whether God’s grace will be accepted or rejected? Also, does regeneration precede and cause conversion (faith and repentance), or is the Spirit’s supernatural work in regeneration conditioned upon man’s will to believe? We believe Scripture overwhelmingly supports the former. Anything else would compromise the sovereignty of God and rob him of his glory in salvation.

Join us in this issue as we explore the doctrine of regeneration, a doctrine so important that Jesus himself felt it was the first thing he needed to address on that dark night when Nicodemus approached him with the most piercing of spiritual questions.

Contributors include Matthew Barrett, Thomas Nettles, Jonathan Leeman, Douglas Sweeney, Leonardo De Chirico, Andy Naselli, and Tom Ascol.

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A Modern Calvinist: An interview with James Bratt on Abraham Kuyper

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Calvinism, Interviews, Matthew Claridge | No Comments
A Modern Calvinist: An interview with James Bratt on Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper was one of the most important and influential figures of the 19th century and early 20th century. Kuyper was not only a Dutch theologian, writing several works of theology that we still have with us today, but a politician, journalist, and statesman, being the prime minister of the Netherlands at the start of the 20th century. In this fascinating interview, Matthew Claridge, editor for Credo Magazine, had the opportunity to talk with James Bratt, author of the new book, Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat. Bratt is an award-winning professor of history at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. His other books include Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture and Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader.

How does your description of Abraham Kuyper in the subtitle of the book—“Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat”—capture his essential qualities?

Kuyper became a self-conscious devotee of the Calvinist tradition in his early career as a pastor, impressed by the deep piety of some of his village parishioners but also deeply troubled at the reductively materialistic philosophy being propounded at the time in elite circles. He needed the security and certainty that Calvinist theology offers, and he thought that Calvinism’s vision of God and creation was the only fully adequate antidote to the rising naturalistic threat. But he also insisted that Calvinism had to be re-articulated in terms understandable by people of his own day. Thus, he worked for the whole rest of his life for a modern Calvinism. This blend of old and new, of tradition in conscious address to current situations, of hard conviction and supple application, fits Kuyper all the way down—in thought, word, and deed.

Likewise, modern progressive political forms like democracy were held in suspicion by traditionally minded Christians in the Netherlands, being associated with the French Revolution’s theoretical and practical radicalism. So Kuyper set out to understand and ground democratic politics within a Christian framework instead. He was the greatest Protestant architect of Europe’s Christian Democratic tradition, which flourished from the late 1800s through World War II. Here Kuyper showed tremendous organizational talent as well as remarkable theoretical acumen—and a creative, productive interweaving of the two.

Was Kuyper a conservative or a liberal in terms of his theological and political views?

He was too liberal (adaptive, innovative) for the traditional conservatives in his era and too conservative for the full-out liberals. He was traditional in his assertions of Scriptural authority and confessional orthodoxy, but could practice a progressive hermeneutic upon them. In politics, he wanted to raise Christians off the standard left-right spectrum of his time and have them articulate an independent position grounded in biblical principles and their own political traditions. The actual policies he laid out were populist, communitarian, and democratic, defying sheer libertarians, free-market enthusiasts, big-government champions, and socialists alike, then and now.

Kuyper was certainly a unique and novel thinker, but in what ways were his distinctives in epistemology, ecclesiology, and political theory also a product of his times?

This is a major theme in my book, putting Kuyper in the context of his times for better understanding, so I could go on and on here. To keep it brief. Epistemologically, Kuyper was part of a generation dissatisfied with positivism and convinced that positivism failed on its own merits besides. He and James Orr thus came to the ‘worldview’ construction at the same time that Wilhelm Dilthey, the ultimate exemplar of this approach, was bringing it to its highest sophistication. Kuyper’s typology of intellectual work done within different, incommensurate and axiomatically grounded frameworks had some resemblance to the ideal types being proposed by Max Weber at much the same time.

Kuyper’s ecclesiology turns out to have roots in Schleiermacher’s proposals from early in the 19th century, so this champion of Calvinism was drafting off the father of Protestant liberalism! In wanting the church to be involved in every domain of everyday life, rather than bottled up in a Sunday cloister, Kuyper resembled Richard Rothe, the mid-century German liberal. But Kuyper kept himself from Rothean conclusions by postulating a church as organism outside of the church as institute, thus preserving the church’s separate identity while maximizing church people’s involvement with public affairs on a Christian basis.

In political theory, he was one of many thinkers and practitioners who—amidst high-powered industrialization, urbanization and the resulting emergence of a mass society—were trying to find a way between ‘big-state’ and laissez-faire conceptions of political economy; between moralism and materialism in ethical theory; between individualism and the anomic mass in society; between religiously endorsed authoritarianism and secular-based radicalism in politics. Thus, his was a Calvinist version of small-government communitarianism that hoped to protect and enhance local, bottom-up empowerment of people to stand their ground against big business and big government alike.

Christians continue to struggle with the feeling that they must keep their faith private and out of the public square. How did Kuyper try to confidently maneuver around this axiom of secular orthodoxy?

Quite simply, he championed separation of church and state, but thought that separation of religion and politics, or of faith and reason, was not only impossible but would be bad even if possible: unfair to religious believers, corrosive for society and academy, and intellectually deceitful. He sharply differentiated between formal institutions, especially those with official legal authority, and domains of human activity. In some of the former, religion must be given no preference, but in all of the latter faith would necessarily, and beneficially, come to expression.

As you emphasize, one of Kuyper’s distinctive theological contributions is in the area of “Common Grace.” Could you briefly describe this aspect of his thought and how it relates to another long-standing tradition mediating Christian and non-Christian interaction in terms of “Natural Law”?

Kuyper eschewed Natural Law terms and substance because of Calvinism’s insistence on the broad and deep ontological and noetic consequences of sin. That is, the fabric of law is badly damaged, and our unregenerate ability to apprehend it with confidence and clarity is seriously impaired. Plus the approach puts too much emphasis on unaided human capacity in any case. Common grace, which taught the preservation and sustenance of creation as well as unregenerate capacity to create and understand with many positive results, puts—according to Kuyper—the emphasis where for Calvinists it belongs: in the active, gracious work of God.

Kuyper built his political reputation on the inherent good of a commonwealth consisting of diverse worldviews. At the same time, he argued that only the Calvinistic worldview could maintain this balance. Would you explain this relationship and if and how Christians today can maintain this balance?

To give each faith/worldview community its fair share of public funds and space is the demand of biblical justice, Kuyper thought. But biblical norms were the surest—maybe the only—foundation of or warrant for a shared sensibility that would acknowledge and abide by these rules of the game. Some common operational loyalties are needed for an equitable pluralistic society to thrive, even endure. Rightly or wrongly, Kuyper saw the natural rights and human rights warrants typically offered for this role to be ineluctably premised in the biblical tradition. The Bible is the tree or canopy in the shade of which this sort of public order can live. Remove the tree and the shade will soon be lost.

What do you see as the greatest lessons we can learn and avoid from the life and thought of Abraham Kuyper?

Cautionary side: God doesn’t need you to work God’s will. Kuyper said this too, but didn’t practice it consistently enough. Especially in his late career, he pushed would be successors out of the way, leaving a thin bench when he finally departed the game. In the mediations he wrote in his Sunday paper, Kuyper was very insightful about the danger of believers inflating their egos to the place, role, or even status of God; but he had a hard time remembering that truth in the hurly burly of everyday life. “God may use us but he does not need us”—so his financial backer wrote him when Kuyper was off recuperating from one of his several nervous breakdowns. It is very good for us to remember that!

Exemplary side: to think and venture boldly and broadly, updating a tradition for current use, fathoming the hidden connections between disparate domains via a theologically informed critical sensibility. To endow his followers with a method that can effectively critique his own errors. To bring the highest-level intellectual capacity to the aid and education of ordinary people, and to show them how the big themes of Scripture apply in the routine detail of everyday life. Kuyper was remarkably perceptive and innovative amid the quickly changing scene of his own day, and saw how his faith tradition could speak a prophetic, challenging but also comforting word anew amid those circumstances.

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has two children, Alec and Nora.

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Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 2)

Posted by on Oct 9, 2013 in Atonement, Calvinism, Interviews | No Comments
Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 2)

[Editor's note: To read part 1 of this interview, click here.]

I (Lucas Bradburn) had the pleasure recently of interviewing Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society and Editor of The NIV Proclamation Bible (Hodder). Lee is also Review Editor of the journal Churchman, and Series Editor of The Reformed Evangelical Anglican Library. He has studied history and theology at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and trained for Anglican ministry at Oak Hill (London). He has served in several Anglican churches including St Helen’s, Bishopsgate and the Church Society Trust parish of St Botolph’s, Barton Seagrave. Lee is also Adjunct Lecturer in Church History at Wales Evangelical School of Theology and the author of many books, articles, and reviews. One of his most recent books is For Us and Our Salvation: ‘Limited Atonement’ in the Bible, Doctrine, History, and Ministry.

As I read through the historical section of your study, I was surprised to see how nuanced Reformed theologians have been on the issue of Limited Atonement. For example, Charles Hodge is quoted as saying that Calvinists “do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that He died equally, and with the same design, for all men.” Now some have suggested that this indicates that Hodge and other Calvinists did not truly hold to the doctrine of Limited Atonement as defined by modern five-point Calvinists. What do you make of this assertion?

It’s easy to caricature. Who, for example, are “modern five-point Calvinists”? The people you have in mind when you read that phrase are almost certainly not the ones I think of. So labels can be slippery. Even “five-point Calvinists” is not a very happy phrase. Do Calvinists only believe in 5 points, spelling out the word TULIP? Do they not also believe the solas of the Reformation, the divinity of Christ, the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments, and so on? What is the “standard definition” of limited atonement which “Hodge and others” are falling short of?

If there is such a standard, maybe the Canons of the Synod of Dort might be it? But they are far more nuanced and careful than many headline writers and sloganeers today might allow. They are still clear though. And I think Hodge, if he is not a TULIP Calvinist by some people’s reckoning is certainly a Dortian.  If I may say, it is often ignorance of historical theology that leads people to make such erroneous sweeping assertions. That’s why I like church history, because it teaches me to be more humble than I would otherwise be, and not to rush into dramatic generalizations which are easily refuted by anyone who actually reads old books!

You mention that the Lombardian expression that Christ’s death was “sufficient for all but efficient for the elect” has not been universally received by Calvinists. Why do you think this is the case? Do you consider this a helpful or unhelpful way of talking about the extent of the atonement?

Medieval big guns like Lombard and Aquinas used this distinction. They may have been trying to avoid the clamor which surrounded the more clearly particularizing doctrine of some “Carolingian Calvinists” such as Gottschalk of Orbais. Calvin was OK with it, but thought it wasn’t relevant where others would often invoke it. Neither the Genevans nor the British at the Synod of Dort used it. It doesn’t say anything about intention, which is the big thing (as I said earlier), and even Arminius was happy with it!

If you thought everybody was elect, you could still sign up to “sufficient for all but efficient for the elect.” So it can be used as a summary, in a blurry, lets-not-get-too-precise sort of way. I can see why people might want to use this formula and stop there. But it doesn’t actually say much about the real question of limited atonement in a careful or really clear way. That might be a good thing for some people, but others will want to pray and press for further light from the Scriptures before resting on this convenient tradition.

In your discussion of Amyraut’s view of the extent of the atonement you suggest that modern defenders of five-point Calvinism ought to talk more favorably about the multiple-intentions view than they typically do. What did you mean by this?

What I said was that the generally Calvinist substructure of many varieties of “hypothetical universalism” ought to be more widely acknowledged. It’s a form of Calvinism, a type of Reformed theology. Those who don’t favour such a “middle way” view might accuse “Amyraldians” of being on a slippery slope to Arminianism, but that’s often unfair. If it is unfair, then advocates of such positions need to talk more often than they sometimes do about the other “points of Calvinism” which they do affirm, such as unconditional election or the preservation of the saints.

What I’m worried about, otherwise, is that one generation of people who are basically Reformed, but who don’t like particular redemption for some reason, will only end up teaching the next generation to disapprove of Calvinism as a whole. Or to put it another way, if you regularly hear people you look up to using Arminian arguments against limited atonement but never preaching TULIP, it’s not going to be long before you start to find Arminian arguments on other things more congenial, and begin to sneer at Reformed theology, even if your mentors were usually more subtle.

As far as the multiple-intentions view of the atonement is concerned, what do you believe is the fundamental biblical problem with this view?

I think it’s a textless doctrine. I have not seen a persuasive biblical case for saying that the Father sent the Son to both save his people and also make other people savable. It could be that I just haven’t read enough. But where would one go to in order to ground this idea in the Bible, which seems to me to reveal a God with a sovereign, focused, definite plan? The multiple-intentions view seems to be more of a convenient systematic invention than a biblically-derived necessity, and creates more theological problems than it solves. But I may be wrong, and am happy to be corrected from the unerring scriptures.

Why do you think that the doctrine of limited atonement is so despised by many within the Protestant church? Why is this doctrine so often viewed differently from the other doctrines of Calvinism?

The name doesn’t help. Who wants to limit God’s redemption? Being converted to Christ and filled with his Spirit unfolds us as people; it stops us being curved in on ourselves and pours the majestic love of God into our puny hearts. With such a change, with that kind of new blood pumping into our veins, we tend to magnify everything about God. So limited atonement sounds like something penny-pinching, mean, narrow, and cold — something to be avoided.

The actual doctrine is nothing of the kind of course: it is heart-warming, beautiful, romantic even, and joyous, and it spurs us on to seek Christ’s lost sheep wherever they may be found. It animated the great evangelists of the past, such as Whitefield and Spurgeon, and it is biblically satisfying to inquiring minds who search the Scriptures. I like to think of it as personal, intentional, effective atonement. But PIE is as unhappy an acronym as TULIP, even if the thought is more readily embraced.

Caricatures don’t help either, and people on all sides of this theological debate often forget that whatever their view of the extent of the atonement, Christ certainly did die for their believing brothers and sisters who passionately disagree with them on this issue!  I’m also not sure that the Reformed doctrine of the atonement is any more hated than other aspects of the Calvinist doctrine of salvation such as unconditional election. That has a better name, it’s true (we like things to be unconditional!), but it is equally reviled by a modern world obsessed with its liberty of consumerism and the idol of self-determination.

I thought you made a great point in the practical section that the doctrine of limited atonement, properly understood, does not stand against a healthy and robust understanding of the necessity of evangelism. In fact, rather than detract from evangelism, limited atonement provides the proper basis for successful (and hopeful) evangelism. Can you briefly explain to our readers how this is the case?

Christ will have the prize for which he died — an inheritance of people out of every nation, tribe, and tongue. So the church’s task is to get out there and search for the lost sheep in every corner of the globe. But it’s not a hopeless, fruitless task. Those sheep will be found. Evangelism is not a pointless exercise — and all because we know that Christ died for a certain number of people according to the definite and sovereign plan of God. Not a drop of his most precious blood will be wasted. And we can offer people an effective, completed, perfect redemption — as opposed to the hollow, superficial mere possibility of salvation on yet another performance-conditioned treadmill.

Part of the misunderstanding about limited atonement and evangelism is that some people have elevated a particular evangelistic technique into a shibboleth. I have been told by some people that they couldn’t possibly believe in limited atonement because they have to be able to say to everyone, “Christ died for you.” They use this phrase in their evangelistic talks and sermons, and plead with people to come to Jesus because he died for them. There may be reasons why this kind of evangelistic appeal (based, it seems, on the moral influence theory of the atonement) may have been pragmatically useful in some contexts, and I explore those in the book. But I have yet to find the speech in Acts where the apostles used this phrase in their evangelism. It is a textless doctrine.

I have been hearing about the forthcoming book on Limited Atonement From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (Crossway) in which you contribute a chapter on “The Synod of Dort and Definite Atonement.” Tell us a little bit about this book and when can our readers expect to see this book hit the market?

It’s been a labour of love for Jonny Gibson, my desk-buddy at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and his brother David, for several years. My book is 130 pages or so, and attempts to cover Bible, doctrine, history and pastoral application of limited atonement, and the volume the Gibsons have edited does the same — but supersized! It will be a monster of a book, with contributions from the great and the good of the Reformed world doing in-depth exegesis, solid theology, careful church history, and sensitive pastoral application. It’s a huge privilege to have been asked to contribute to what I think will be the definitive book on the subject for decades to come. It’s because there was nothing like it that I dropped my small mite into the treasury with For Us and For Our Salvation. I hope people still buy mine; but From Heaven He Came and Sought Her will be the academic gold standard, the book that anyone touching this doctrine in the future will need to reckon with and engage.

I noticed that you recently edited two volumes on the sermons of George Whitefield. Can you tell us a little bit about these books and why Whitefield was such an important figure in church history?

A few years ago while I was writing another book called The True Profession of the Gospel: Augustus Toplady and Reclaiming our Reformed Foundations (Latimer Trust, 2010), I came to see just how important George Whitefield was to Reformed Evangelicals, especially Anglicans. Toplady was glowing in his praise for the man, so I wanted to read as much of Toplady’s hero as I could while I was researching him. I looked around for modern editions of Whitefield’s sermons. Banner of Truth had done a small selection of half a dozen, but that was about it. So being in Cambridge, I realised I had access to almost anything I could want in the libraries here (and Tyndale House even has a set of Whitefield’s Works in the Common Room!), and I set about making a new edition of all his authorised, published sermons. If no-one else would do it, why not do it myself?

I lightly edited it to update punctuation and orthography, and added some explanatory notes here and there, as well as chasing up relevant historical information on each sermon where I could. It was my “insomniac project” for a year or so (I don’t always sleep well, so I sometimes get a lot done in the dead hours of the night, when I’m not fearfully meditating on the last clause of Psalm 127:2). I added an introduction and offered it to Church Society in the UK for publication and they snapped it up (I now work for them!). Crossway came to me within a few months wanting to publish it in the States and elsewhere, which was an unexpected joy. The most satisfying moment for me was presenting a copy to one of my heroes, Jim Packer, who has written so well on Whitefield himself, when he was visiting Cambridge.

Whitefield is important because he was a Reformed Evangelical Anglican celebrity. He took Reformed theology and preached and popularized it. He led the Evangelical awakening on both sides of the Atlantic. He maintained his Anglican credentials (unlike Wesley, who abandoned them, and despised Reformed theology), and loved the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, often quoting them in his sermons. And he was what Professor Packer calls “God’s barnstormer,” a huge celebrity with a big personality and an even bigger voice. He also, incidentally, believed in both covenant theology and limited atonement — but none of this stopped him being the most prolific and fruitful evangelist. Glory be.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and you can follow his blog at www.gatiss.net.

Lucas Bradburn is book review editor in pastoral theology for Credo Magazine. He is an M.Div. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is married to Allison and they have two children, Anna and Benjamin. Lucas blogs at Guarding the Truth.

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Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 1)

Posted by on Oct 8, 2013 in Calvinism, Interviews | 2 Comments
Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 1)

I (Lucas Bradburn) had the pleasure recently of interviewing Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society and Editor of The NIV Proclamation Bible (Hodder). Lee is also Review Editor of the journal Churchman, and Series Editor of The Reformed Evangelical Anglican Library. He has studied history and theology at Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and trained for Anglican ministry at Oak Hill (London). He has served in several Anglican churches including St Helen’s, Bishopsgate and the Church Society Trust parish of St Botolph’s, Barton Seagrave. Lee is also Adjunct Lecturer in Church History at Wales Evangelical School of Theology and the author of many books, articles, and reviews. One of his most recent books is For Us and Our Salvation: ‘Limited Atonement’ in the Bible, Doctrine, History, and Ministry.

In your new book, For Us and Our Salvation, you note that you are doing doctoral work on John Owen. What exactly are you writing on? How has Owen most influenced you? Was he the inspiration for your book?

My PhD, just submitted, is on Owen’s Hebrews commentary, which at 2 million words in length is more than twice as long as the whole Bible. So that has kept me busy, as you might expect! I’ve looked at his major interlocutors and sources, e.g. Socinians (anti-Trinitarians), his use of Jewish material such as Targums and Talmuds, his covenant theology, and his interaction with Roman Catholic exegesis. Post-Reformation exegesis has a bad reputation, but I think Owen has a lot to offer and the reputation is unfair.

I know it might be surprising to some, but no, Owen was not the inspiration for my book on limited atonement, which I’ve tinkered away at for about 15 years. Nor did I come to his commentary because of his doctrine of the cross. I wanted to do research which enabled me to use the Greek and Hebrew I was taught at seminary, but which integrated that somehow with doctrine and history (my undergraduate major at Oxford). Studying an old commentary (I mean, “historical exegesis” or “exegetical history”) seemed like a good way to achieve that integration, and I’ve learned heaps from doing this, and hopefully sharpened my skills while producing something of interest and value in the undiscovered country of seventeenth-century biblical interpretation.

Which arguments that Owen (specifically in The Death of Death) makes do you find to be the most compelling? Which arguments do you find to be the most problematic?

Mike Horton from Westminster Seminary in California first taught me the logical approach to this doctrine when we met in Oxford about 20 years ago, and he stole it entirely from Owen. The atonement must be either:

For all the sins of all people

For some sins of all people

For all the sins of some people

Which is it? Thinking through this question, and the consequences of going down each route, I find quite useful. That being said, I don’t find all the details of Owen’s exegesis of the so-called “problem texts” quite so compelling. But that’s OK, because Reformed exegetes have not had a monolithic, standardised approach to handling those texts, even if they are generally agreed on the doctrine.

When approaching the issue of limited atonement, you mention that the extent of the atonement must be determined by the intent of the atonement. Briefly spell this out for our readers?

The real issue is the design, intent, or purpose of the cross. That’s how theologians such as Berkof, Turretin, Hodge, Boettner, Murray, and Nicole have defined the question. To talk about extent alone could miss this point, and confuse the issue. For example, what is the extent of God’s love? He clearly loves all! Psalm 145:9, Matthew 5:44-45, and 9:36 are sometimes cited for this. Then, people might conclude, Jesus must have died for all, since the cross is about God’s love, surely?

I think this is faulty logic and confused thinking, but it’s an understandable mistake because of the way the question is sometimes put. Asking it a different way can help: What did Jesus come to do? What did the Father send him to do?  That can help bring clarity to the debate. The cross achieved what the eternal will of God planned it would. In essence, this is about how God’s eternal plan relates to the cross, and not an argument about whether God loves everybody or not and in what way.

You present four main exegetical arguments for limited atonement, including: those texts which affirm that Christ died for a particular group of people, those texts which present the atonement as actually achieving the salvation of people (and not merely making it possible), those which indicate that Christ’s death purchased and bestows on his people the conditions of salvation (like the gift of faith), and those NT passages that are typological fulfillments of OT texts (like Jesus’ death as the fulfillment of the sacrificial system). Out of these arguments, which one do you feel is the strongest? Are there any other arguments that you did not mention that add greater weight to those presented in your book?

All these different lines of argument really work together. I am persuaded by the texts which particularize what Christ did (he died for his church, his bride, his sheep etc., Ephesians 5, John 10 and so on). If the atonement was truly universal, then the cord of assurance and joy which links me as a sheep to my shepherd in such verses is decisively cut. Why should “he loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20) be any comfort or help to me if he actually loved everyone and gave himself for everyone (even those who will end up in hell)?

People may cavil at some of the verses, or say they don’t logically prove limited atonement. And on their own they may not. But add the sheer number of those kinds of verses to the other lines of scriptural argument, and a fuller picture emerges which shows what the most natural explanation of the verses might be. I wouldn’t hang the whole thing on one or two verses, because I often have wobbles or doubts about my exegesis of particular verses, but the cumulative case gets more and more persuasive every time I look at it, so that keeps it in perspective.

I tried to make my book as comprehensive as I could, while remaining readable but, since you ask, I didn’t say much in there about arguments from covenant theology. That’s a whole other ball game when it comes to controversy! I didn’t want to open that can of worms, so to speak, because it might have put off some people whom I was most intent on reaching with a winsome, gracious presentation of this doctrine. But arguments from the nature of the eternal covenant of redemption between the Father and Son for our salvation (which is a biblical doctrine not well understood or preached these days) have significant weight to them in my view. I just chose not to go into this in the book because I thought I would have to do a lot of work just to argue for the validity of covenant theology first, before we even got to how it relates to the cross.

How does your claim that texts such as 1 John 2:2 (and others) cannot simply be taken at face value without proper interpretation and harmonization of other biblical texts square with the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture? Should we not seek to ascertain the “plain” meaning of a text?

I don’t think John 3:16 says anything about the extent or intent of the atonement. I don’t think that John, when he wrote that verse (or Jesus when he spoke it), was intending to teach us something about the topic of limited atonement as defined by theologians since the 17th century. But it is too easy for us today to read 1st century texts with 17th (or 21st) century spectacles. Why do we ignore the Jew-Gentile division background to 1 John 2:2, and the proto-Gnosticism of John’s opponents, when interpreting that verse for example? Why is it quoted so often as if it just settled a 17th century question in a line (and as if Reformed theologians had forgotten to read 1 John)? I think we need to be careful to understand the plain meaning of a text in its own context, rather than what it might mean if it was spoken by one of us today in an entirely different context and with different presuppositions about what the words might signify.

For example, I don’t think the apostle Peter would have simply said “baptism saves you” (1 Peter 3:21) in an evangelistic sermon to 21st century nominal churchgoers. They’d misunderstand what he meant when he said that to the Christians of Asia Minor in the 1st century. The “plain meaning” of John 6:54 is taken by many Roman Catholics to be that consuming the Mass, understood as transubstantiated bread and wine consecrated by an authorised priest, is essential to salvation. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus was talking about when he said “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” James 2:24 was used by many to oppose Luther’s doctrine of justification, because it clearly refutes this nonsense about justification sola fide. But does it, really?

Similarly, there are texts which might appear to us today to be speaking to our specific debates many centuries later, but which in their own context had a completely different plain meaning. It is absolutely vital to grasp that one can use the exact words of scripture and still lead people astray. Context is key.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this interview.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society and you can follow his blog at www.gatiss.net.

Lucas Bradburn is book review editor in pastoral theology for Credo Magazine. He is an M.Div. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is married to Allison and they have two children, Anna and Benjamin. Lucas blogs at Guarding the Truth.

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Calvinism – An Interview with Darryl Hart (part 2)

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Calvinism, Interviews | No Comments
Calvinism – An Interview with Darryl Hart (part 2)

Editor’s note: If you are joining us for the first time, you may be interested in part 1 of this interview.

Darryl Hart, Visiting Professor of History at Hillsdale College, is one of America’s premier Christian historians. Since publishing his work on J. Gresham Machen in 1994, the Church has been blessed with a series of well written studies on Presbyterianism, American Evangelicalism, Jonathan Edwards and American Christian conservatism. Recently Yale University Press published his latest academic study—Calvinism: A History.  It has already been reviewed in several prominent places like the Wall Street Journal, The Tablet, and the International Catholic News Weekly. Any evangelical book taken up by the Journal certainly warrants consideration from Credo Magazine. Recently I (Jeff Straub) spoke with Darryl Hart about his new book, Machen and Presbyterianism, and his view of the current evangelical fascination with Reformed theology.

Would you summarize what you consider to be the sine qua non of Reformed identity today?

Simply put, although it’s a much bigger answer, it’s belonging to a church that confesses a Reformed creed. Those creeds are many, but the ones that have emerged historically as the most influential are either the Westminster Confession and Catechisms coming from the Westminster Assembly in the 1640s or Three Forms of Unity that the German and Dutch Reformed Churches have used, which include the Heidelburg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dordt at the Synod of Dordt, 1618-1619. That’s an institutional, formal understanding of Reformed Protestantism or Calvinism, I understand that. But historically it’s been very difficult to isolate, even though people think of Calvinism as pertaining to election or predestination and doctrines like that, but I still think that overall, what the churches have done has been more important.

A really important aspect of the Reformation was to break away from a hierarchal church, dominated by the bishop of Rome and the bishops whom he appointed, to a conciliar model of understanding the church, which the Reformed churches did whether through a Presbyterian form of government or synodical forms of government. So when those churches meet in their assemblies or their councils, that’s where the authority in Reformed churches tends to be. When those churches and councils articulated a confession of faith that was going to set the doctrinal standards as well as the worship standards as well as the governmental standards of those churches, in some ways, that is what Reformed Protestantism meant and continued to give those churches coherence and identity. That’s a way historically to try to limit what Calvinism is, because if you tried to write a book on Calvinism or the idea the way people have used it, it would go in so many different directions.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t overlap between Reformed churches and Baptist churches or Congregational or Puritan or even some Anglican communions. There clearly is an overlap, but institutionally those creeds matter quite a bit. That’s why I have been identified with people talking much more about a confessional understanding of Protestantism, not so much simply creeds themselves (confession in that sense), but also confessional in the sense that these are the confessions that the churches themselves have confessed and those confessions have identified or marked off those churches.

Can you comment on the state of the evangelical world with reference to the so-called “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Is it helpful to the cause of Reformed truth or does it ultimately undermine the Reformed faith?

I think it is good any time people take more seriously the transcendence of God and the power of God, which Calvinism has been known for, although most of historic Christianity have confessed these as well—Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans. So if there is a greater seriousness about a sovereign, transcendent, powerful, omniscient God, I think that’s a good thing for Christianity.

However, it strikes me that much of the current understanding of Calvinism comes from people who are intrigued with Jonathan Edwards. Edwards has a lot of admirable features, but Edwards was also not the clearest of teachers.  A brilliant mind, but that doesn’t make his writings always clear and compelling. Edwards also represents a strain of Calvinism that was different from what preceded him. People call this experimental Calvinism. It’s more interior, subjective, and concerned with religious affections—he wrote a book about that. It’s that subjective side I think that may not be as helpful. That’s probably a concern that I have about the Young, Restless, and Reformed. It’s a Calvinistic understanding of evangelical faith that is already largely too devoted, for my taste, although I could give some biblical reasons for this, to what’s going on inside the believer and making sure that the motives are authentic and sincere. If you read Roland Bainton’s biography of Luther, which I think is a great biography, it was that interior struggle which drove Luther crazy and ultimately drove him to the cross as the way out of that struggle. I would prefer to see more of the objective nature of the gospel and the institutional nature of the Church as placeholders that can really define us and shape us in our walk.

What other projects are you working on now? I have heard you say elsewhere that you are working on H. L. Menchen (a contemporary of J. G. Machen).

Yes I am. I am getting ready to write a religious biography of Menchen, which seems odd in that he was not a religious man. But I think he was one of the most astute observers of religious life between 1880 and 1956. He was very penetrating and perceptive. In the current debates about the new atheism, he is a person I think people need to think more about because, while I don’t think he thought of himself as an atheist, he is clearly something more than an agnostic. Yet he was, even as funny and as ridiculing as he could be, good natured a lot of the time and there was a kind of respectfulness for religious people and institutions that you just don’t see in the new atheism. I am most interested in his objections to Protestantism of that era. I think he is registering similar kinds of criticism of liberal Protestantism as Machen was and that makes him very interesting because he sees the problems with it from a different perspective, from a different side of the aisle.

Also, I am interested in a comparative perspective of Presbyterianism politics in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and United States. Additionally, for American tastes, I am thinking about the degree to which Presbyterianism was a factor in the American War for Independence. This is a question in the study of Presbyterianism: What was the degree to which Presbyterians were rebels or revolutionaries or not? There is also a book on Roman Catholics and conservative politics in America since Vatican II. Among the things I am fascinated by now, Roman Catholicism is particularly intriguing. I am not happy with some of the conversions among some prominent Protestants to Roman Catholicism on the one hand. But as a subject of historical research, it’s an amazing institution and set of people to try to get some kind of understanding of, particularly looking at the presence of Roman Catholics in the Religious Right and conservative politics in the last three decades.

Jeff Straub (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

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