Some Musings on Upper Middle Class Guilt Manipulating Pietism

There are few things in the world that annoy me more than upper middle class pastors living an upper middle class lifestyle in an upper middle class home within an upper middle class community who moralize over the evils of an upper middle class existence. The dangers of idolizing wealth are prevalent in the Scriptures and ought to be preached. In fact, they ought to be preached intelligently and repeatedly. But when the messaging turns to a pietistic drivel about Jesus not caring about your retirement accounts and not needing you to make money or steward money or grow money the pastor has made a theological decision to miss nine Biblical messages entirely for the purpose of getting one Biblical message patently wrong.

Any attempt to equate “Christian service” with “abandoning our earthly careers” is a message hostile to the Christian faith as laid out in the Scriptures. I no longer willing, as a matter of conscience, in discerning between when this error is made with good intentions and when it is made with bad intentions. I don’t extend the same grace in the public policy sphere and I shouldn’t here either. A message that pretends that God is not interested in our achievements, our careers, and our material prosperity is devoid of Biblical basis. Pointing out that God doesn’t NEED our careers to accomplish his ends is a worthless point; He doesn’t NEED heart surgery to heal a sick patient either but we don’t spend time bemoaning the evils of modern medicine. God has certainly planned to use our careers and good endeavors for His purposes, and to pietistically suggest that these things are peripheral to the “really important stuff” is offensive to any decent theology of Kingdom living.

We make distinctions in today’s church on this subject (and sometimes ONLY on this subject) that the Bible not only doesn’t make; it repudiates. The only noble possible reason to preach such a cavalier and dismissive message of career and wealth is because of a separatist, tribalistic view of the Christian life. And I don’t find that very noble.

The other reason is why it really happens 90% of the time: Because it is a rank guilt-manipulation towards a utilitarian goal normally involving a church budget and a church building fund. Anyone want to bet me how often churches without debt preach these messages vs. churches with debt?

I am not picking on any particular church or minister here. My own senior pastor is, I believe, simpatico with my perspective on this issue. But the Calvinist-Kuyperian view on vocation, calling, and wealth has tremendous implications for the Christian life. Sadly, the view that varies from it does too.

What do you think of John Piper and John MacArthur?

A friend of mine privately emailed me that given my “outspoken Calvinism” he wanted to know what I thought of John MacArthur and John Piper. I thought my response may make for a fun blog.

I like both but am not over the top on either. They are both Calvinists only in their soteriology which is the least important piece of Calvinism to me. In other words, they are Reformed baptists. Yes, I am a predestinationist, and they are too. But I barely care about the issue any more and you will note I never, ever, ever talk about it. The pieces that matter most to me in my Calvinism are first and foremost the Lordship of Christ – the “God in the universe business” – the view that my faith matters outside my own personal relationship (this is the world and life view of Calvinism, and it is also called Kuyperianism after the great Dutch heir to Calvin). Piper and MacArthur sometimes can be very tribalistic (M more than P). I also am very covenantal in my Calvinism. I baptized my children within two weeks of birth. I believe God deals covenantally with families and societies. M and P loathe this. I appreciate much of their work, but am far less Romeaphobic than they both are, and happen to be less rah rah for the predestination piece (as Biblical as it is) than they are. Helpful?

Alexander Hamilton and Greg Bahnsen

A month or so back I read Thomas McCraw’s very informative work, The Founders and Finance. The book essentially paints a picture of the early developments in American finance, particularly as directed by three immigrants (Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, and Albert Gallatin). Because there would have been no America (as we know it) without Alexander Hamilton, and because Hamilton’s work served as the cornerstone of America’s early financial foundation, the bulk of the book centers around Hamilton. It is not a comprehensive biography of Hamilton in the way that Ron Chernow’s masterpiece is, but it was a wonderful read and certainly gave me an even deeper look at the man I consider to be the most important of America’s founders.

Hamilton’s personal life story is the stuff legends are made of, and make no mistake about it – Alexander Hamilton is a legend. People do not suffer through the personal adversity he suffered through and still becomes such instrumental figures in history. It is positively surreal, made all the more so by the fact that Hamilton helped birth America, helped navigate her through her founding, was a key author of the Federalist Papers, established America as a nation that would pay her bills, and served two terms as the Treasury Secretary, all in a life that was tragically ended at age 47. I can’t do justice to what Hamilton went through as a young lad, or what he accomplished as a grown adult, in this brief piece. Hamilton’s history should be required reading in our schools but I may be being greedy since I am not totally sure that reading itself is required in our schools these days. But I want to repeat something I just said – Alexander Hamilton changed the world, and Alexander Hamilton died at the age of 47.

I am keenly familiar with another man who died at the age of 47, and that is my personal hero, the smartest and most capable man I ever knew personally, Greg Bahnsen (yes, my dad). My dad did not die in a duel, though – he was brought down at the age of 47 but a congenital heart defect that challenged him his entire adult life. I have wondered countless times in my own adult life, “why would God take a man like Greg Bahnsen at age 47?”, and of course I have also wondered what else he would have or could have accomplished had he gotten an extra ten, or twenty, or thirty years. Like you, I will never know. His legacy has expanded a great deal since his death, primarily because his apologetics skills and contributions have been impossible to ignore. He could never have the reputation or contribution in the church-at-large he deserves, probably because of some fruitcake associations he never shook more than anything else. But at age 47, Greg Bahnsen had not “peaked”. Not by a long shot. His abilities as a scholar and his wisdom in addressing pertinent ethical and theological issues could have been extraordinary throughout the late 1990’s and the first decade or two of the third millennium. God had a different plan.

And God had a different plan for Alexander Hamilton as well. His legacy was already firmly enshrined in the birth of America. His role in creating the Constitutional Convention and influencing the content and philosophical direction of the Constitution are undeniable. So are his achievements in navigating America through her fiscal woes after the Revolutionary War. Hamilton was a visionary with an intellect, but he was the MOST visionary, with the KEENEST intellect. Would the utterly disastrous Embargo Act of 1807 ever seen the light of day in a world with Alexander Hamilton? It is highly unlikely. America went through some tremendous growing pains from 1800-1830, and surely she would have had those even if Hamilton were still alive. But it reflects a real profound ignorance to not acknowledge that an alive Alexander Hamilton during those growing pains would have been a tremendous asset for our young nation.

History is full of examples of people passing early, and I certainly do not mean to equate the loss of my dad with the loss of Alexander Hamilton (as far as national history is concerned). But the parallel works at least in this sense: Sometimes we not only need to understand history for what it was, but for what it may have been.

The Notable Thing about Evangelical Endorsement of Rick Santorum

I have not endorsed any candidate in the Republican primary, other than to say that I plan to enthusiastically support the guy who ends up running against Barack Obama. If any of these candidates are nominated (besides Ron Paul) I will be prayerfully and aggressively supportive of their candidacy. I have my own opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, and I have my own opinions about who has greater electability concerns, but at the end of the day, there is no reason to endorse when I am fine with any of the candidates besides Paul, and when these things are going to get settled soon enough.

With that said, a large handful of “evangelical leaders” made news a couple days ago by endorsing Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. I am fine with their endorsement, though frankly pretty confused. On one hand, they would have faced a lot of pushback had they endorsed Romney (due to the Mormon issue). And on the other hand, the serial adultery of Newt Gingrich (though repented of now) would have likely raised some eyebrows. However, what is confusing about this is what exactly they are trying to accomplish. Ummm, isn’t this endorsement a bit late? As many of these guys did four years ago with Huckabee, they waited until AFTER Santorum won (or nearly won) Iowa, thereby giving their endorsement no basis for credit in the success he has had thus far (obviously), and also assuring that their endorsement would be way too late to make any difference going forward. My personal opinion is that they wanted to show their constituents that they were doing something to stop Romney, but they didn’t want to do it in such a way that it stopped Romney. Regardless, many can debate if they should have endorsed Newt or Santorum (or even Perry), and I am sympathetic to their desire to be perceived as having influence (if they endorsed Perry and he continued at the bottom of the polls it would look really bad). The truth is that for reasons already mentioned, I don’t think any of this matters much, and after Newt’s performance in the debate last night, I expect that it is Newt, not Santorum, who has the last chance to stop Romney in South Carolina.

But I didn’t write this blog to say any of the above. I just wanted to point out to those paying attention that the big debate last week amongst these “evangelical leaders” (a high degree of which, I can assure you, are of a Baptist orientation) was whether or not to endorse the Roman Catholic, Newt Gingrich, or the Roman Catholic, Rick Santorum. And as previously stated, they elected to endorse Rick Santorum, a long-time devout, practicing Roman Catholic. I think this is fantastic. I do not believe it would have happened 10 or 20 years ago, and it would have caused dogs and cats to rain from Texas if they had done it 50 years ago. As one who values the orthodox truths of the historic Christian faith and believes those things ought to be the real source of our unity, this is a splendid development. I was never a Pat Buchannan fan (for purely economic reasons), but I can remember just 20 years ago the refusal of many to endorse him because of his Roman Catholicism (the right decision made for the wrong reason, as I see it). The reality is that Christendom in the public square is presently RIDDLED with Roman Catholics, and I am thrilled to see Protestant evangelicals accept this, embrace it, and function within it. Our Supreme Court only has four justices worth a hill of beans, and yet they are all Roman Catholic. Going forward, as it pertains to needed changes in culture and social thought, I love the idea that former Romeaphobes are locking arm in arm with our Roman brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, is THIS Roman Catholic (Rick Santorum) going to be the next President? I sure doubt it. But it is nice to know that the reason for that is not going to be a blind evangelical distrust of Rome that only hurts our causes in the public square.

P.S. – Would I vote for a Mormon in the general election? If a Mormon is the nominee and is running against Obama, then of course I would. But that is a whole different subject for a whole different day. I’ll address it if and when Romney wins the nomination. But yes, I would.