Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Does the Cultural Redemption/Social Justice Movement Have Fundamentalist Roots?

I don't have the necessary grasp of 20th century american Presbyterian history to judge the validity of the analysis, but that's the argument Darryl Hart makes. In the course of questioning Tim Keller's plea for a theologically "big tent" Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he writes:
"Granted, Keller hails from the RPCES wing of the PCA, those descendants of the Bible Presbyterian Synod who grew tired of Carl McIntire’s antics but who retained much of his Christian America outlook. The southerners in the PCA were likely unaware that receiving the RPCES into communion would bring a form of religious social justice since they thought they had left such Protestantism behind in 1972 in the mainline church."
Here's the short version of the chronology: As the liberalism of the northern Presbyterian denomination crystallized in the 1920s, J. Gresham Machen left Princeton to establish Westminster Seminary. By 1936, he left the denomination to found the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The next year, Machen died, and tension between two camps of the OPC rose.

That year, 1937, premillennial fundamentalist culture-warrior Carl McIntyre led one of those camps out of the OPC to the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC). He also presided over the fundamentalist American Council of Christian Churches. In 1956, the BPC divided, and the splinter group, most notably identified with Francis Schaeffer, eventually (after morphing a bit) folded into the PCA in 1982. It's that splinter group—a descendant of Carl McIntire's premillennial culture warrior fundamentalism—that Hart argues was the soil for Keller's views on culture.

If Hart is right, how ironic that the driving force for social justice issues (and postmillennialism?) in the 2010 PCA ultimately emerged from the premillennial fundamentalist refugees from the OPC of 70 years ago. Perhaps this lesson might be appropriate with the approach of July 4th—the day Baptists everywhere gather to worship . . . something.

P.S. And you thought Baptists liked church splits. So much for the unifying nature of Presbyterian polity.


d4v34x said...

Both of these are sort of tangential, I guess. Anyway . . .

It's always bothered me that at (Keller's church's site) in their tagline about Renewing the City, socially comes before spiritually.

Somewhere there is a TGC vid of Piper, Carson, and Keller discussing social activism (or maybe it's benevolence action). Piper does most of the talking though.

This talk of a "Christian America" doesn't have anything to do with the weekend ahead, does it?

Anonymous said...

Be careful to avoid the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy.

Yes, the sequence of events you list is accurate. That does not necessarily establish causality.

Also, there are quite a few other factors and influences that, in addition to those mentioned, occured over the same historical period in the PCA/RPCES.

For example -- Kuyper's influence which introduced the concept of "sphere sovereignty". The fact that Keller was raised Methodist (or was it Lutheran? It wasn't RPCES). The fact that it's now often southern churches that are more "red, white, and blue -- Fox News conservative" than the former RPCES northern churches. The death of Machen, Van Til philosophy, Rushdoony's theonomy, etc. The difference between Keller style (and Covenant Seminary style) social justice concerns and Coral Ridge Presbyterian (a southern congregation) style patriotism.


ben said...

Dave, the timing of the article was merely providential. But just as Rahm Emmanuel doesn't want to waste a crisis, I'm not one to waste an opportunity.

Keith, like I said, I can't really speak to the validity of Hart's argument. Maybe I'll let you Presbyterians fight that one out. In any case, my sense is that the burden of proof is on the people who still worship America several Sundays out of the year to demonstrate that their prioritization of societal transformation is disconnected from Keller's, well, prioritization of societal transformation.

Joel said...

Maybe this is not the main argument of this post, but I think that both Ben and d4v34x assume that Keller prioritizes societal transformation over the gospel. I'd dare to say that is quite the misnomer. Here is a scholarly article that Keller writes which specifically states his belief of how evangelism and social justice relate to each other, especially when one of his main points states that "evangelism is more basic that social ministry" and where he declares that the eternal is more important than the temporal.

Basing an argument on a tagline or whether Piper does the most talking about social activism/benevolence does not seem to be good grounds to assume that Keller is prioritizing societal transformation above evangelism.

ben said...

Joel, I haven't argued that Keller prioritizes societal transformation over the gospel.

I've read the article you link, and I appreciate Keller writing it (as well as those who encouraged him towards better articulations of his emphasis). It was a useful clarification of some of his previous ambiguous or unhelpful expressions.

Joel said...


Sorry if I assumed something on my end.....I didn't understand what you meant by prioritization of social transformation and assumed it was over the gospel or evangelism.......

ben said...

No worries. Happy to clarify. For brevity's sake I chose not to fully explain at the outset.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a worthless posting and conversation. Lets give Christians another reason to bicker rather than love.