The Hell You Say

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The original Auburn Avenue conference, the font of all the trouble, occurred in 2002. The ruckus proper began the following summer, and since then, we have had another Auburn Avenue conference, a Fort Lauderdale colloquium, a book that resulted from that, a book published by Athanasius Press (The Federal Vision), a book by me (“Reformed” Is Not Enough), a conference at Westminster West, a conference at Greenville Theological Seminary, a presbyterial exam of me in the CREC, several presbyterial exams of Steve Wilkins in the PCA, and a recent flurry of critical books from the opposition. The most recent of these, By Faith Alone, is edited by Gary Johnson and Guy Waters. I just finished reading the Introduction to this modest volume, written by Guy Waters, entitled “Whatever Happened to Sola Fide?”

During the course of this controversy, extending lo, these last five years, I have been a sweet Christian boy. I haven’t lost my temper once, and I haven’t sent any jalapeno emails. I have not punched any holes in the sheetrock, whether at the office or at home. As the apostle Paul would say, I am out of my mind to talk like this, and he never sent any letter bombs either, just like me. I have sought to clarify my position in any way that I could do so, and I have gone the second, third, and fourth miles in offering to meet, discuss or debate. I have yelled at my windshield, but that was just a fun metaphor. I didn’t really.

All this to say, I think I am entitled to a rant. A “rant” is, in blogospheric terms, a bit of prose written in the style of an Elizabethan pamphleteer, with color, and bite, and dash. A rant is a full-throated expression of . . . exuberant dismay. Watched carefully, a rant can occur with a rare-jewel-of-contentment smile on the face, and not break any of the Ten Commandments, or cause any of the fruit of the Spirit to rot in the bowl. But it has to be done with self control — you can’t be seeing red. Light pink at the most. At the same time, the tactical point is to come off the top ropes. The tactical point is to uncork. I think I am entitled to that kind of rant at least. Just a short one. Hold on. Let me shake it first.

* * *

The need of the hour is not to defend the solas of the Reformation the same way F Troop defended the American frontier. We don’t need any more conservatives who don’t conserve anything except their own sense of self-importance. Here we conservatives are in Fort Hapless, and we are surrounded by hordes of seeker-sensitive CEOs, fully credentialed entertainment engineers, and they have recently been reinforced by a bunch of postmodern hooey-mongers from France. Things are looking pretty grim for us, and so, at this critical point in the movie, when the music is really tense, some of our guys decide to start a fight along the ramparts over whether the sole instrument of justification is a living faith or a faith that is living.

Sincerity is not the issue. There may be some who are doing this for cagey political reasons, but I prefer to think that the problem is naivete. For some that naivete is a function of having decided thirty years ago to translate all discussions of theology into the metric system, just to keep life simple. If ten won’t divide into it, then it can’t be a part of the dikai– word group. For others the reason for the naivete is more obvious — graduate school is still a fresh memory. They are just out of the egg with bits of shell on their heads.

We don’t need any more male cheerleaders for the Reformation, chest-bumping in front of the stands. We don’t any more cardboard megaphones of truth, and we don’t need any more slogans instead of argument. We don’t need any more attempts to rouse a bewildered crowd that is proving hard to whip up. “So-LAH, so-LAH, so-LAH!”

The need of the hour is not to try to establish the Reformed faith in America through apostolic signs and blunders. What in the foggy blue morning is this? I feel like somebody locked me up in a Walker Percy novel.

Suppose the apostle Paul had been unable to make the confrontation at Antioch, and had sent some of his seminarians instead. So off they went to confront Peter and Barnabas because they were compromising the truth as it is in Jesus. Suppose they walked up to a group at lunch to rebuke them for withdrawing table fellowship from Gentiles. That group responded with, “Nope. That’s actually a false report, about us at any rate. We have some Gentiles right here at the table — here, meet Nicholas, and Stephen, and Demetrius, and Bob.” The seminarians’ eyes narrow. The confronation had been going so well, and the idea that they may have gotten the wrong table is beyond their ken. “And so now you compound your corruption of the gospel with dishonesty?”

I am a high Calvinist. For almost twenty years, I have been standing here well past the tree line, up amongst the boulders. I am prepared to be rebuked for lots of things, but living in a semi-Pelagian swamp is not one of them. Try something else. Try something plausible.

But never mind. This is all being done because “the truth” is under attack. The foundations of “the truth” are being undermined. The “truth” is precious, and is to be defended at all costs. “Truth” is not relative, elastic, or dependent upon how we wish things were. The “truth” recovered at the Reformation must be preached with power and defended with courage today. The “truth” cannot be reduced to mere slogans. The hell you say.

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