I get absolutely giddy over a used bookstore with books stacked floor to ceiling in every nook and cranny complete with an overflow of boxes of books in the narrow aisles. Its musty atmosphere beacons my bookish treasure hunting. New bookstores generally only stock the sorts of books that are new, popular classics, or best sellers. While I value keeping up to date with the latest good reads, I want to dig through the old books and find the books I would not know to search for on Amazon or would not see on a shelf at my local Barnes & Noble.
This past Thanksgiving, I treasure hunted in two used bookstores while I was out of town. I found this thin book entitled Calvinism in History: A Political, Moral, and Evangelizing Force by Nathaniel S. McFetridge. Little did I know how impactful this little book would be. Upon embarking on this read, I learned that the author, McFetridge, was an Irish born Pennsylvanian Presbyterian Pastor writing in 1882. His words carried the weight and force of true history and theology. Some of the history I had a vague knowledge of, but some of it I found to be previously unknown to me and exciting.
Beyond 5-Point Calvinism
He wrote of Calvinism not as an ecclesial five-point doctrine, but as a historical nation building force from which we all benefit. The outworking of Calvinism did not stay cloistered into religious space but had a large civil impact on the liberties of men and the downfall of tyrants. McFetridge writes that “while Calvinism can live and do its divine work under any form of government, its natural affinities are not with a monarchy, but with a republic. This is the reason that it has made so splendid a record in the history of human freedom. Where it flourishes despotism cannot abide.”
In fact, quoting from another little book I read this year on Calvin, The Legacy of John Calvin by David Hall, “Many ideas that began with Calvin’s reformation in Geneva and later became part of the fabric of America were cultivated and crossbred in the seventeenth-century. Customs now taken for granted, like freedom of speech, assembly, and dissent, were extended as Calvin’s Dutch, British, and Scottish disciples refined these ideas” (Hall p. 27).
Christians far too often operate in what is called the “secular / sacred divide.” We bifurcate reality creating a private personal religion and a secular “neutral” public world. We essentially create two buckets. We erroneously categorize our lives to where God’s truth applies and where we believe it does not. We misjudge the secular as neutral, even sending our children to “neutral” secular education. Consider the two buckets where we compartmentalize sacred and secular.
Deception lurks in the unknown, or so we tell ourselves. Often what we do to guard against deception is precisely what opens the door to it. We want to stay in our current comfortable level of knowledge. If we explore beyond it, if we journey to the edge of what we know, we cannot be assured that that book, that speaker, that preacher, that journalist is not going to draw us into a snare of deception.
The Bible is safe. Perhaps we will only read that. We can eschew all other books and stay in the safety of only reading the Word. If we hear controversy surrounds an author, we steer clear. We wouldn’t want to get deceived. Is that not how the thinking goes?
However, we cannot grow staying cloistered in what we believe is the totality of safe truth. Maybe we have been unknowingly nursing bondage. What if someone has the truth that unlocks us from our entrapment?
If we had a modern-day Martin Luther, a reformer compelling us to see differently, would we want to shun him or her or grow in that greater truth despite becoming a rebel?
Much of the theology we take for granted is applied theology. It is rooted in chapter and verse, but it is down the road from its source. The chapter and verse are the roots of the tree, but the tree has grown thick, tall, and wide. Sometimes, when we try to force applied theology into a chapter and verse, we undo centuries of work. When we try to put it back in the box it came from, we essentially start over, or worse, we remain at the beginning of the truth never to be strengthened by its application.
Sometimes applied theology requires tracing back to its source to ensure it has not gone awry and still holds true in its applied state. Many ideas have originated from the Bible in good form and yet have strayed down the road from being good theology. This reformation work is essential. But we can only do this rightly if we understand its theological history – not only church history, but world history. While I greatly appreciate judging all thought by The Book, we must do so with understanding of that thought’s history lest we simply demand chapter and verse and dismiss all that is derivative.
I write often about the discipleship required to know truth in every sphere of society. I am usually speaking of learning truth through reading, listening to lectures or podcasts, learning in training events, classrooms, conferences, and small groups. But there is another level to learning truth and it involves learning to recognize its presence or its absence through spiritual discernment.
Recognizing truth or the lack thereof in this manner requires having your senses trained. I remember a conversation with a good friend one day. He was warning me about articles from a certain “news” source for they lacked truth and often good sense. I remember bursting out a bunch of questions. What are your sources for this? Did you research these articles and find out their information is wrong? Where can I find a good source that disqualifies this website as a source of truth? He did not have the answers to my questions. I was poised to dismiss his claims. He told me it was obvious to him that the site lacked credibility. It took me sometime before I could understand this. The website was saying things my circles validated as true. These were not questioned. I did not choose to dismiss him out of hand, because I knew him to be a wise friend. However, I had not yet gained understanding.
Once I learned to see from my spirit, to discern, I recalled this conversation and realized just how obvious I recognize malarkey even when others think it credible. Malarkey always has just enough of truth mixed in to make it believable. The spiritual discernment of truth heightens the natural senses as well to recognize where truth is lacking. The lack of spiritual discernment decreases the ability to see truth in the natural or to recognize where it is missing.
I hear a lot of criticism of what gets dubbed “Christian nationalism” or “white nationalism.” Some of what I believe is being thus labeled is indeed worthy of some thoughtful constructive criticism. However, the more disconcerting occurrence is that people are eschewing the theology of nations altogether throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. If we do not have a healthy theology for nations, we cannot rightly judge unhealthy theology or praxis. It is just as dangerous as witnessing greed within capitalism and jumping over to socialism losing the theology for personal property in the process. We can reject ugly behavior or the wedding of religious zeal to politics without rejecting good theology. We do not have to reject patriotism, or the Pledge of Allegiance, or our national anthem because of the overzealousness of some. Our flag raised high with the great red, white, and blue should catch in our hearts as Americans as this is home. This is the near and dear place that we are to steward as people who are citizens of this nation and not a different nation.
I cannot think of a word strong enough to express just how much I love America. I am the girl who read the handbook on the American flag etiquette. I used that knowledge to write an editorial when the local fire department planned to stop keeping a Bible in their department. The Virginian Pilot ran my letter to the editor and my pastor printed it in the bulletin the next Sunday. I fought my way through the State University constantly fending off ideologies that undermine the American way of life because I love my nation. The anti-biblical worldview of secular humanism, Marxism, and postmodernism that has overrun the universities is detrimental to the stability of our nation. I have since published two books to argue for the reformation of America upon her biblical foundations.
I am an Evangelical Christian
I fit squarely within evangelical Christianity historically and yet I do not join without remainder all the modern voices that are so classified today. The more nuanced I become the more I cringe at some of the current trends of communicating a love of country. I am so happy that there are those who hold the fort even if it is with an extremity that I do not share.
Modern evangelical conservatism is creating a surge in liberalism. Unlike many headlines, my provocative statement is not an overstatement device simply intended to garner your attention. Though I hope I have your attention, because this is a very important observation for which I have great hope in seeing this trend reversed. In fact, my thoughts are often arrested trying to solve the puzzle of this all-too-common occurrence.
While a great deal more thought is required, I will share the insight I have thus far. Some I have shared before because it is ever present on my mind. My writing returns to it again and again as of late.
Avoid the Extremes
The more extreme our perspectives become the more nuance is discarded. When our worldview reduces to the party line it becomes combative of the other party to an extent that any common ground is lost. We stand on opposite sides with a large gulf separating us leaving no room for interchange. We create the false idea that we cannot come to any agreement together. Polarized thinking requires that we label any idea that takes any step towards the other party as joining the other party. I am not advocating a middle of the road merging of two extremes – but a return to thoughtful argumentation which requires exploration and understanding of the worldviews we do not hold as our own.
The prophetic, prophetic words, and Prophets have been under the microscope lately due to recent national words prophesying a second term for Trump. A few Prophets have apologized for error. Some Prophets have spiritualized the word given making it more about some other non-political way of fulfillment removing its time and space truth to a more elusive interpretation that is difficult to affirm or deny. Still, some are holding fast to the word that we will see a second consecutive term for now former President Trump.
I cannot help but cringe at this last pronouncement. First let me say that the prophetic community within the Church is my stream – it is my church family. I love the prophetic. I will not write disparagingly of the Prophets. I know firsthand what it is like to hold on to a word from God beyond its apparent death and to still believe for a resurrection when there seems to be absolutely no way for it to come about. I applaud that sort of faith. Some words from God take many years to come about. Some prophetic words die and look impossible before they resurrect.
When truth is lost error grows exponentially in many different directions. We are watching the consequences of the loss of truth playing out in our nation. As a result, powerful people and businesses compete to control information as if it is a commodity of consumerism.
Information alone does not create knowledge – that requires wisdom to take accurate information of real facts and produce knowledge of what is true. Careful investigations take time, discipline, dedication, and integrity. Instant tweets, pictures, and videos from a variety of vantage points all dumped into social media do not produce knowledge. It takes more work to arrive at truth. We would do well to remember that when combing through all the instant information looking to make sense of it.
I understand in a world where we do not trust the professional journalists and investigators that we would want to look for alternative sources of information. But sometimes those who try to fill in the gap are simply not equipped to handle the burden of suddenly becoming an expert in investigative research and reporting.
In these trying times it is imperative to practice patience, pausing before believing the latest meme claiming to have the real truth which fits neatly on a digital square. What is true would fill more than a book and still we would have unanswered questions. We can have partial information instantly, but truth takes time. Knowledge requires patience.
Another loss of truth is in theology. There is a great deal of reactionary theology going on today. We witness the ugly results of one theological extreme and we pull hard the other way to avoid being like the ones we critique only to fall into the ditch on the other side. Case in point, I hear people react to extremism in support of the President with a denouncing of what gets termed “Christian nationalism” or “white nationalism.” As I have written before, at length, nationalism has no color. However, the very concept of nationhood comes from Judeo-Protestant theology. We cannot eschew nationalism without embracing a non-biblical theology destructive to modern nations.