When engaging with a subject like this one, I usually feel positively invited to limber up my keyboarding digits, and to then give way to some jolliment. But at the same time, because these are serious issues at stake, it is important to note that no adjectives were harmed during the composition of this post.
I shall be interacting with some comments made about us in passing by Mark Galli, and then by Rod Dreher. The initial impetus for these comments appeared to be a desire to head off a certain narrative from developing—a narrative which said that if you were interested in heading off the woke rot that is permeating evangelicalism, then our style of Calvinism was “the only game in town.” If ever there were an ugly baby that needed to be strangled in the cradle, it is that one.
So I hasten to reassure everyone at the front end that I know my place. I understand that my assigned station is that of doing theology among the deplorables, and I have no intention of trying to shinny up the great pole of ecclesiastical ambition, which is far too greasy anyhow. There are of course caveats (Luke 1:52), but that remains the basic lay of the land as far as we are concerned.
Although I will be taking issue with a handful of things that Galli and Dreher wrote, I do want to say, also at the front end, that both of their pieces were filled with trenchant observations that the judicious really should take to heart. There were many good things said by them, along with a few things that illustrated the fact that they do not really understand that when you let the clutch out, as they exhorted us to, the car moves.
Okay, then. The last few weeks have been interesting for us, if “interesting” is measured by magazines of various stripes taking notice of us. First there was the drive-by attempt perpetrated by Vice magazine, which I shall not link to. That would associate me with them, which I do not want to do. The only Christians who associate themselves with Vice are the respectable elites, about whom more in a minute, and they are only willing to do this as a means of avoiding being associated with me, I who am disreputable, raggedy, despicable, and untouchable. You know, deplorable.
And then The American Conservative came out with a piece that contrasted our Nashville conference with another Nashville conference that was meeting at the same time, and it was a study in contrasts. This article was all about the glaringly obvious divide within evangelicalism, and how there were basically only two ways to go. Then The Federalist entered the lists with a comment that lined me up with the resistance to all the wokery that is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention. That was a little misplaced in that I am not a Southern Baptist, but I am friends with some Southern Baptists, and I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church, so that should be good enough. And I certainly do wish the SBC good guys well as, led by men like Tom Ascol, they man the ramparts of their Baptist Alamo.
And now comes again The American Conservative with a piece by Rod Dreher, interacting with an article written by Mark Galli. Here is Dreher interacting wtih Galli, and here is Galli his very own self. The article by Dreher was like overhearing a conversation in which you were being discussed, and having opinions about what was being said by the two conversation partners, and then thinking to yourself hey, I have a blog.
I used the word untouchable up above, but something has changed. I used to be undiscussable. I was preeminently attackable, and have been for years, but not really discussable. Discussing our project out here might give it some kind of credibility, and that is an outcome, depending on your circles, that is greatly to be reprobated. Hence the comments by Galli, describing our movement as a little putt putt operation.
Damned with Faint Praise
Lest I be thought to be humble bragging, hitching my wagon to the star of the big boys, and throwing a few of their backhanded compliments into a Kitchen Aide devoted to mixing my metaphors, let me say right at the outset that Galli does a great job of patting me on the head patronizingly while reassuring the folks that what we are up to is “tiny and inconsequential.” I am glad we have that straight anyhow.
According to his piece, I am a “provocateur,” but remember that we live in a time when trigger warnings about everything are most necessary, and this means that we are surrounded by people who are easily provoked. Maybe that’s the real issue. Provocateur, eh? I’ll show you provocateur. Ready? Bruno shouldn’t be allowed to shower with the junior high girls. Buster Keaton shouldn’t have been put in charge of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Men really shouldn’t have sex with unstable women. And there is plenty more where those came from.
Here is Chesterton, a far greater provocateur than I.
“We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which furious party cries will be raised against anybody who says that cows have horns, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.”Chesterton
Moreover, I and my following will never amount to much. We are “tiny and inconsequential.” He is trying to tamp down the insinuation by the American Conservative piece mentioned earlier that our brand of beer drinking and psalm singing Calvinism, a sort of “pirates for Jesus” vibe, was going to provide red state evangelicalism a regular Cave of Adullam to resort to. And if there is anything we don’t want, it is giving the outcasts of Judah a place to take refuge. They might go there, and what will the harvest be?
“But Doug Wilson and his following are a tiny and inconsequential part of the evangelical movement. Recent accusations of sex and wife abuse in Wilson’s Moscow, Idaho community will only sideline that movement even more.”
The thing that is really curious about this casual reference to us getting sidelined by accusations of “sex and wife abuse” is that he writes this in the very same article in which he confesses that he once shelved a piece that he wrote, in which he defended traditional masculinity (and good for him), but that he sidelined it because some of his staff were worried that he was defending wife abuse. So you would think that a man like Galli, of all people, would know just how easy it is to get accused (these days) of defending wife abuse.
And you would also think he would know, in an essay describing Christianity Today‘s long slow glide plane down into tepid liberalism, and how it was the result of CARING WAY TOO MUCH what the editorial sob sisters think, that for him to try to pull the same stunt on me that his editorial staff pulled on him was to attempt to spin the situation in a way that imitated—do you think this sentence is getting too long? almost Pauline?—the lilies of the field, which toil not, and neither do they spin.
Okay, let me try that again. Galli wrote an essay, accurately describing how he put his common sense biblical observations on the back burner because of the feelings of certain wilted evangelicals, and then has the gall to say that we are going to be sidelined because we don’t put up with that crap? It doesn’t work that way. We are not doing what he confesses he did. And he unsuccessfully tried to do to us what his wilted staff successfully did to him. But we aren’t playing that game, which is what makes me a provocateur.
And that link? That link in there was actually not to anything recent, but was a link to Rod Dreher’s article from back in 2015, in which Rod weighed in on the wrong side of a controversy about which he knew virtually nothing. He then went on to write the (very fine) book Live Not by Lies, having decided to move on from our particular debris field of lies, leaving us to pick up the pieces and haul them off to the landfill. To be clear, Dreher did not tell any of those lies, but he did believe them, and he gave them a very wide circulation. But it didn’t work in 2015, and it is not going to work now.
Then comes Galli’s backhanded compliment. You were eager to get to this part, right?
As for the alternative group to lead evangelicals in the future? It will have to be a group with some intellectual and psychological backbone, like Doug Wilson’s, but not so idiosyncratic. I’d offer the Gospel Coalition. It is a major force that someday could supplant Christianity Today as the major intellectual voice of conservative Christianity.
So this gets even funnier, on a number of counts. The future leadership of evangelicalism will need our “intellectual and psychological backbone.” But it will have to achieve this feat without becoming “idiosyncratic.” And there you have the problem of all moderate conservatives in a nutshell. This is their afflicting and wasting disease.
Stand against the spirit of the age! Don’t be idiosyncratic!
Topple the idols! Make sure the idolaters like it!
Be a lonely reformer! Listen for the polite golf applause!
Whatever we say about the next conservative voice of evangelicalism, I think it is safe to say that it will not be any group uninterested in paying the price it takes in order to conserve stuff. And the reason folks won’t pay that price, as Galli accurately describes it, is the lust for respectability. Long ago mainstream evangelicals made a devil’s bargain with the urbane sophisticates that had already wrecked the mainline denominations. That devil’s bargain went something like this: “We’ll call you Christians if you call us scholars.”
But paying the price means that you must be absolutely willing to be called names. And that includes being called them by Mark Galli or Rod Dreher.
Galli here talks about Christianity Today as though someday soon it might cease being the conservative voice of evangelicalism. But I am here with some late breaking news. CT ceased being that decades ago. Not only so, but Galli’s piece describes that deterioration in painful detail. It is as though you were listening to an announcer at a football game describing each play with astounding accuracy and precision, but it slowly dawns on you that the announcer somehow does not really know which team is winning.
The Gospel Coalition?
I was interested in Galli’s nomination for the next stalwart voice of evangelicalism, which is The Gospel Coalition. Okay then. Shall I say a few words?
Here is Dreher, quoting that section of Galli’s essay.
In his essay, Mark Galli says that:
“Evangelical religion has become theologically pluralistic and incoherent; as such, it is too subject to the changing winds of secularism to stand erect in the hurricane of our times.”
He is no fan of Douglas Wilson, but he says whatever successor emerges to the dissolving Evangelical mainstream is going to have to have the “intellectual and psychological backbone” like Doug Wilson’s, but not be so “idiosyncratic.” He proposes that the Calvinists of the Gospel Coalition might be the ones to take over.
Dreher then helpfully fills out what he thinks my idiosyncratic characteristics might be.
“Doug Wilson’s Kirk’s idiosyncrasies have more to do with Wilson’s pugilistic character, and the robust authoritarianism within the Kirk’s culture.”
Two things to address there, and then I will get back to The Gospel Coalition stuff. The first is “pugilistic character.” I do grant that I am in the middle of an ecclesiastical saloon brawl, and have been for years. And so here I am, under a table, and a woke theorist has just broken a chair over my head, and a victim advocate is biting my ear. In this moment, Rod Dreher taps me on the shoulder and wants to share a few quiet words about my pugilistic character. I will grant to him that there is a fight, and I will acknowledge that I am in that fight. And my rule of thumb is that when you are in a fight is that you should remember to act like you are in a fight. Is that a pugilistic character? I submit that question to you, gentle reader.
The weird comment here, out of the left field bleachers actually, was his reference to the “robust authoritarianism within the Kirk’s culture.” There is a fight going on, but there is no robust authoritarianism going on. We are conservative Presbyterians, for pity’s sake. Galii is a Roman Catholic and Dreher is EO. Would they think me less guilty of authoritarianism if I paraded around in a funny hat, and told everybody when they had to quit eating certain foods?
So. Back to The Gospel Coalition. Allow me to say a few things about The Gospel Coalition. Shall I?
I may surprise you by what I say here, and then unsurprise you again after that. There are some really solid citizens in The Gospel Coalition, men with backbone and theological integrity. They are the real deal, and I appreciate and admire them very much. And no, I am not going to tell you which ones of them I admire because that would kind of ruin their day, and possibly their careers. That fact alone should tell you something.
Christianity Today has Stage IV cancer and The Gospel Coalition has Stage I. But the same dynamics that Galli described happening at CT are manifestly going on at TGC.
I do agree with Galli and Dreher that the only hope for evangelicalism is to grow an intellectual and psychological backbone. I differ with them on whether this is possible to do without being automatically labeled as idiosyncratic. And evangelicals with “the disease” will always react to that with an anguished “No, no, not that! Anything but that! Not idiosyncratic!”
Look. If you oppose the sexual revolution, or all this woke nonsense, or critical race theory, or any other variant of these hoojums from smart people in the academy, and if you do it with any kind of clarity at all, you will be deemed idiosyncratic. The respectable elites will pull their skirts away from you, and they will clutch their pearls. They will act like they were hosting a wine and cheese soiree, with light classical music playing in the background, and you show up at it, you and your three heads, two of them drooling.
And the future voice of conservative evangelicalism wouldn’t care that they think that. Not even a little bit.