A Farewell to Mad Men

If Mad Men wasn’t the greatest show in the history of television (geez I loved The Sopranos and Breaking Bad), it certainly was the greatest “business” show in television history, but really that doesn’t come close to covering it. What Mad Men was can best be called an “era” show – capturing the very worst parts and very best parts of a certain era of American culture-history, and pretty much sparing us from everything in between. The series lasted eight years, made stars of some, resurrected others, and generally captivated its audience with its disturbing but nobly honest portrayal of the most unfortunate reality in our heroes: their virtues and vices are often impossible to separate.

Don Draper was a complex person, which is not to say he was likable or sympathetic. He was as selfish as humans can be, which did not make the scene in a early season where he basically brought Peggy back from the land of the lost any less meaningful. Sociopaths have hearts. And Don Draper was a sociopath, and he certainly had a heart. But Matthew Weiner didn’t tantalize us with Draper’s heart – it was his mind that crested the life he had. He was a genius, a creative genius, but also just a genius. Rarely was he ever not the smartest guy in the room throughout the eight years of Mad Men. And THAT is what tore the audience up – how someone that smart, could be that stupid.

The iconic portrayal of Madison Avenue life in midtown Manhattan was worth the price of admission for the entire show. It was a tapestry like I have never seen in any form of screen art. I am a sucker for 20th century New York aesthetics – an obsessive sucker. I have, on many occasions, taken 30 minutes to walk from the elevator to my hotel room door in the Park Avenue Towers of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel where I have stayed over a hundred times, for the simple reason that photo by photo in the hallway I am distracted into stopping, and if not in a hurry, gazing. Mad Men was sixty minutes a week of beauty – pure, uncompromised fashion, decor, culture, and history. If there had been no narrative, no characters, and no plot, but there had still been that imagery, I would have kept watching.

But narrative and characters there were – in abundance.

The series ended Sunday night and bloggers and critics alike are out in full force with their take on the highly memorable ending. Don Draper did make that Coke commercial, and he didn’t make it as a result of having his soul fixed by two days of yoga. He was a deeply broken man and his smug hillside smile was the personal revelation that he is irreparable, but can hide in materialism and crass shallow marketing – successfully – forever. He was gifted in a sort of irreplaceable way, but his depravity held him down. I’m positive he made the commercial and positive he did it back at McCann-Erickson, still broken – just smarter. Weiner had no reason to make it a redemption story. He threw romantics a bone in the final episode with Pete, with Peggy, and even Roger. But Don was broken, and Don was brilliant. The ending gave us both, fully interwoven, in all their paradoxical luster.

The story of broken, brilliant men intrigues me because I am half of one of them. I am broken but redeemed, and when Hollywood (or real life) gives me a look at a broken man without redemption it gives me a look at the God who makes all things beautiful. From Madison Avenue to the grotesque life Don Draper grew up in (Dick Whitman for you literalists), God makes it all beautiful. Many broken men don’t find that redemption, but for those of us who have, it makes the shows actually capturing the reality of human depravity all the more powerful. And that redemption is a tapestry with which even the New York skyline cannot compete.

Tim Keller: My Intro and Some Thoughts

Because my church in Newport Beach, St. Andrews Presbyterian, is committed to the growth of the believer’s mind as well as their heart, we have frequently brought in guest speakers over the years to accomplish just that: Spiritual stimulation that involves the whole of the believer.  Yesterday I was honored to introduce Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer New York at the 11:00am service at St. Andrews.  I wanted to share my introduction and make a couple quick comments.

For whatever reason, there are few people I receive more criticism of in my inbox then Tim Keller (within the tiny land of Reformedville, that is).  The criticisms cover things people are upset that he did say, to things people are upset about that he didn’t say.  Any google searches or time spent in the cyber-world would reveal this same leel of often hostile controversy to be there (though I would sooner take on cutting as a habit than spend time in said cyber-world).  I don’t have the time or interest to devote an extended piece to the subject of defending this remarkable teacher, but I thought five very quick points would be helpful.

(1) If enemy #1 on your list is Tim Keller, your priorities are really skewed.  Like, REALLY skewed.

(2) The absolute vast majority of criticism of Tim Keller within Reformedville are not remotely rooted in theology or ideology, but rank, sick, juvenille jealousy.  Some are more self-aware of this than others, but it is the prevalent cause.

(3) “Issues”:

– I have not heard Tim say anything about the role of women in worship that made me uncomfortable.

– He has stood his ground on Biblical marriage.

– He doesn’t seem to me to be offensively wrong on economics, as much as I suspect he simply doesn’t have the full economic worldview picture down the way I wish he would.  I could be wrong about this.  I would spend any amount of money to facilitate a private rendezvous with Father Sirico at Acton and Tim Keller, where I suspect they would find a lot of common ground.

– I haven’t heard Tim express openness to the non-historical Adam but it does appear he is more open on various forms of theistic evolution than his confession may allow.  Not my cup of tea personally but nothing that keeps me up at night.

– His vision for church planting across lines that are not denominational not only doesn’t bother me, it endears me to him more.

(4) The idea that when one discusses someone who is having tremendous Kingdom impact and with whom there is common ground on the vast majority of issues that there needs to be all sorts of qualifiers and “yeah buts” is a reflection of immaturity and frankly a totally bizarre view of human interaction.  I hold no such hope and have no inner need for some “leader” out there who bats a thousand on my ideology test.  Who cares?

(5) If one does not see the net net positive in the life and ministry of Tim Keller, particularly as it pertains to his irrefutable case for Christians reclaiming the cities, they have something wrong in their life spiritually.  Disagreement here and there on certain issues is not a big deal, but Tim and his ministry are doing world-changing things, and I don’t know why anything else matters in the context of what we are saying here.  Issues like the ones in point #3 come up because of people struggling with point #2.  That’s really all I have to say about it.  See below for my introduction, and please pray for Redeemer City to City, as they march on in their efforts to plant churches in the world’s great cities.  Using Acts 8 as a model, there is an effort for organic, integrated, scattering that is going to change the world.  No “yeah buts” about it.


It is a privilege and honor to be able to introduce this morning’s guest preacher to the St. Andrews community. Pastor Keller and I do not know each other well but I like many have been blessed by his teaching and writing ministry, and much of my business is in a city – the world’s greatest city of Manhattan – that has itself been dramatically impacted by Pastor Keller’s teaching and preaching ministry.

My name is David Bahnsen. My two brothers are named Jonathan and Michael. Pastor Keller’s three sons are named David, Jonathan, and Michael. My father married someone named Cathie; Pastor Keller’s wife’s name is Kathy. My late father was a Christian author, apologist, and pastor in a Reformed Presbyterian church. Pastor Keller is a well known Christian author, apologist, and pastor in a Reformed Presbyterian church. My father did his seminary studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia; so did Dr. Keller. But no, Pastor Keller really isn’t my dad. Other than all of our family’s names being the exact same and the actual profession he is in relative to my dad’s and having come from the exact same seminary etc. there really is nothing in common. (ha ha)

In all seriousness, more than the coincidence of overlapping life circumstances and family names and connections and all of that kind of stuff, Pastor Keller and I do share something else in common, and it is frankly something he has blessed me with in ways I am incapable of adequately articulating. And that is a zeal and passion for seeing the gospel transform the culture, in the great cities, but beginning with our own hearts. Pastor Keller is no pietist – his message of a soul-saving gospel is never MERELY internal, but also something that becomes transformative in our families, our jobs, our communities, and the world around us. He also is not doctrinalist – meaning, while sound and orthodox in doctrine and teaching, he holds no such hope that merely get the doctrine right will in and of itself be enough. He is rather, and forgive me for those who haven’t heard this term before, he is a true Kuyerpian in the spirit of the magnificent Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper – a gospel-centric, world-impacting theologian, who knows better than anyone I have read as an adult the gaping holes that exist in our souls until we find Christ, and the gaping holes that exist in our world that only Christ-filled believers can seek to fill.

A self-admitted workaholic like me found his book on a theology of work, Endeavor, to be one of the truly great treatments of the subject of a believer’s relationship to his vocational calling . I also found his devotional work, Counterfeit Gods, to be truly humbling and convicting. Pastor Keller can share with you more about the core that drives his thriving teaching ministry. But what I want to share as someone who has grown up loving apologetics, loving Christian theology, and fervently desiring the application of that theology to the whole of our lives and the world in which we live, is that I, like all of you, have also grown up in a time when the best-“selling” parts of American theology were rapture fever escapism and name-it-and-claim-it prosperity theology. Today, Tim Keller has brought to Manhattan, and through his books and church planting to so many more, a message about a transformative gospel rooted in the person and work of Christ. That message, especially from a man of Dr. Keller’s simply extraordinary skills, is one that we all should be praising God has found the audience it has. And today, we are blessed to be that audience. St.Andrews, please welcome from Redeemer New York, Pastor Tim Keller.


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.