Who's kidding whom...

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Over and besides those qualifications that should be in all Christians--they that rule the church of God, should be men of counsel and understanding. ...Remember what was said of old, (Malachi 2:7) "the priest's lips should preserve knowledge: and the people should seek the law at his mouth."  But when this is wanting, the people will be stumbling and departing from God and one another. Therefore God complains, (Hosea 4:6) that his people were destroyed for want of knowledge; that is, for want of knowing guides. For if the light that is in them that teach be darkness, how great is that darkness! and if the blind lead the blind, no marvel both fall into the ditch. (John Bunyan, Exhortation to Unity and Peace, pp. 29,30.)

In a screed for peace posted by Prof. Reggie Kidd of Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando) a week ago today, Dr. Kidd proved himself an able controversialist, but of the modern sort. A jab, a parry, and a thrust; he lopped off the heads of his opponents sending them rolling into the ditches at the side of the road, but all was well—Dr. Kidd never posed the slightest threat to the feminized discourse characteristic of our modern defenders of the faith who claim for themselves Calvin’s, Luther’s, or Machen’s mantle. Said the good Dr. Kidd while sheathing his bloody blade,  “It should be obvious to all that I am a man of peace.” And so he titled his post, “Mutual defenestration means self annihilation.” Not surprisingly, the one-hundred plus comments his post garnered are permeated with admirers congratulating him on his irenic spirit.


Apparently it takes a pastor with many session meetings under his belt to see who’s kidding whom. One could go on at length demonstrating the exact perimeter of the swaths cut by Dr. Kidd’s sword, but there’s one stellar example. Keeping in mind that Dr. Kidd possesses the terminal degree and his life’s work is within the Academy, could there be a more fatal thrust to the bodies of his intended victims than to call the Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies adopted by the PCA General Assembly this summer “a tendentiously and carelessly written paper?”

No, this short piece by Dr. Kidd is no blow for peace. It’s too bad the guys commending him can’t see it, but the rest of us shouldn’t allow ourselves to be bamboozled. To focus our thoughts, let’s line up Dr. Kidd’s good guys and bad guys. In fact, to purge the pomo spirit from among us this Monday morning, all at once let’s do every one of those hateful things that go directly against the spirit of our age: let’s delineate, distinguish, and divide.

First, who are Dr. Kidd’s friends?

They are “evangelicals,” they are “sisters (who) raise voices of orthodoxy in (mainline) pulpits,” and they are a whole host of suggestion box stuffers—those who “suggest” paedocommunion, those who “suggest that we might do a better job representing Paul’s view that the Body and Bride are elect as a whole,” those who “suggest that more could be said about the way Jew and Gentile oneness in the gospel demonstrates the righteousness of God than the Westminster Standards say,” and those who “suggest that all parties ought to be a part of (the) conversation” surrounding these suggestions; and finally, they are “postmodern deconstruction(ists)… and dispensational fractur(ers).”

Who are Dr. Kidd’s enemies? They are “militant Islamists,” “Mormons,” “angry atheists,” purveyors of “eros” and “heterodoxy” in “mainline” churches, evangelicals who oppose women preachers, evangelicals who “abandoned” mainline “pulpits” and “gave up on their (mainline) denominations;” they are those who authored the “tendentiously and carelessly written paper,” those who accuse the Federal Vision “of denying that Paul teaches individual election,” those who accuse the Federal Vision “of denying justification by faith,” those who, Dr. Kidd assures us, use “fluffy, but smugly cute repartee,”  “derisiveness,” “disingenuous faux-rebuke(s),” “vacuous remark(s),” and “sycophan(cy).” (Dr. Kidd issued an apology to one of the men he obliquely criticized.)

But really, the lists above are too complicated. If I’m reading the central thrust of Dr. Kidd’s paper correctly, we could simplify his good guys and bad guys this way.

Dr. Kidd’s friends are evangelicals, women-preachers (as long as they preach in mainline pulpits?), and academics whose calling is to make lots of suggestions within the Great Conversation; while his enemies are militant Muslims, Mormons, atheists, liberal mainliners, and pastors whose calling is to guard souls. In other words, the real burr under Dr. Kidd’s saddle is the effort of churchmen to silence suggestions and stop the conversation. He believes, instead, that they should be focusing their controversial work on the “real enemies”—Muslims, Mormons, atheists, and liberals.

So it all seems to boil down to the old battle of the Church vs. the Academy, and much of this present controversy becomes clear when we begin to use our academic vs. churchman filters. To be sure, David and I aren’t going to say the academics are wrong and the churchmen right. Evil motives can corrupt one side as well as the other, and the pecking order of the scholarly world has been no more visible than the ecclesiastical pecking order in this war. But since it’s a representative of the Academy who struck this blow, let’s put his own allegiance under a little scrutiny.

The academy has its tenure and will yield it to no one, but since guarding tenure itself is too obvious, a second wall has been erected to preserve the crown jewels. That second wall is academic freedom. No, Dr. Kidd doesn’t actually come out and say it, but read his paragraph about men who “suggest” this and that as a part of the “conversation” and you’d have to be the Pinball Wizard to miss it.

To Dr. Kidd, men should be free to make suggestions within the Great Conversation. And any church father who initiates or supports ecclesiastical action that jeopardizes these foundational goods of the Academy is a country bumpkin, a Neanderthal, a benighted ignoramus, an anti-intellectual, a zealot, an unenlightened primitive, a backwoods hick, a fundamentalist, or a dumbhead. Get it?

“What’s the big deal, guys? My highly esteemed colleagues, here, are only giving themselves to the building blocks foundational to academic progress—namely, making ‘suggest(ions)’ as a part of the Great ‘Conversation.’ If you want to fight, take your weapons somewhere else—somewhere they may do some good. Go outside the camp and use them to slay Muslims, Mormons, atheists, and mainliners—not your own brothers and sisters who are busily engaged in making ‘suggest(ions)’ as a part—a responsible part, you understand—of the Great ‘Conversation.’”

In the modern world, scholars are national treasures and should be treated with respect. They should never be denounced or condemned simply for making honest suggestions and participating in the Conversation. Didn’t we learn anything from that most-embarrassing-of-all-occasions-in-western-church-history, the Galileo controversy?

Really, reading Dr. Kidd’s few words reminds me of nothing so much as reading Mark Noll’s many words thirteen years ago when he issued what I, personally, have always believed was best understood as a splenetic diatribe against Wheaton College’s Board of Trustees for appointing a pastor to the presidency of the institution, rather than a scholar—and specifically, the pastor Duane Litfin instead of the scholar Nathan Hatch. I’m speaking, of course, of Noll’s book titled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind which received rave reviews everywhere that mattered—particularly the New York Times.

Speaking only for myself, buying and reading it fresh off the press, Noll’s work struck me as a somewhat sloppy bit of scholarship with all the marks of being hastily written in the midst of great emotional turmoil of the sort produced by the Green Monster. I mean, after faulting Jonathan Edwards for “promot(ing)…a program that led to the eclipse of the evangelical mind in America…(through his) seeds of individualism and immediatism;” Noll adds that George Whitfield’s preaching was characterized by a “‘deeply populist frame of mind’ as he determined to “‘simplify the essentials of religion in a way that (gave) them the widest possible mass appeal.’” Then Noll caps his argument:

As it was in the days of Whitefield (and Edwards), so it has been in the two centuries since. The most visible evangelicals with the broadest popular influence, have been public speakers whose influence rested on their ability to communicate a simple message to a broad audience. So it was in the nineteenth century in the era of Charles Finney and D. L. Moody; so it has been in our own century of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Kenneth Copeland, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell, John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

No, I’m not making this up. At the center of Nolls’ scandal is the populist and simplistic preaching of John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones who are the rightful heirs of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards.

Whitefield? Stott? Lloyd-Jones? Edwards? The man can’t be serious. Finishing this paragraph thirteen years ago, I sat back and laughed out loud. It boggled the mind.

Straight up, David and I admit we have a pony in this race. Her name is “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15). Our oaths and allegiance are to Christ’s Bride and we are called to oppose every enemy who seeks her harm, regardless of the direction the threat comes from. Recognizing threats is at the very heart of our duty. Remember Jesus’ words:

(Jesus said) “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? (Luke 12:51-57)

Discernment is one of the most vilified gifts in the church today. But Christ commands us all to cultivate and seek this gift, rebuking us when we lack it.

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Hebrews 5:12-6:3)

Much of the present war over the New Perspective, but also the Federal Vision or Auburn Avenue movement, is a war for the manly exercise of discernment and judgment. True, the New Perspective is an academic phenomena whereas the Federal Vision is ecclesiastical. Bishop Wright’s acolytes only make suggestions whereas the men of the Federal Vision are shepherds concerned about doctrine and practice.

Leaving the New Perspective to the academics and turning to the war over the Federal Vision, we see, on the one hand, real men who believe there is such a thing as sacramentalism within the reformed church today, and who believe it’s an enemy deadly to the souls of our sheep. On the other hand, we see men who believe that broad evangelicalism has corrupted the doctrine of the Sacraments turning them, even within the reformed church, into tools for a spiritual rush, and thereby denying Christ’s Incarnation and the covenantal ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Some men believe ecclesiology has been the great error of twentieth (and some, even eighteenth and nineteenth) century evangelicalism and echo Cyprian and Calvin who had no hesitation writing, “He who does not have the Church as his mother cannot have God as His Father.” Other men doubt that church membership is mandated by Scripture and are content to have confessors of Christ approach the Lord’s Table directly, on their own terms, rather than through Church officers who are ordained to, among other things, administer that Table.

Some men believe that a cheap grace that denies the “holiness without which no man will see God” has infiltrated the reformed church under cover of teaching and preaching not faithful to the more biblical emphases of the reformers and their catechisms and confessions concerning soteriology. Other men believe that any talk of perseverance or the Lordship of Jesus Christ, let alone the proclamation of God’s Moral Law, are a denial of the historic doctrine of justification by faith alone.

There are many more battles that could be added to this list, but this short summary is enough to demonstrate that this war is real, and that it needs to be fought with resolve by men in both camps. To try to dismiss it all as mere “suggestions” made to further the Great Conversation is either naive or disingenuous.

Yes, of course there will be sins committed by each of us as we fight. But fight we must. And our conflict is for the souls God has placed in the Church for protection. This may not be the calling of the Academy—I’m always confused by teachers within her walls being called “Professors;” what do they profess?

Regardless of our view of the Academy, though, we have no doubt concerning the duties of the officers of Christ’s Church. We are shepherds sent to guard the sheep. And we should always be expecting wolves to come over the wall of the sheepfold, seeking to devour the sheep. Then the battle will be engaged and we will show ourself to be a dilettante or an Apostle Paul; a hireling or a good shepherd.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!