I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity to break bread with some fine young men. One of these chaps, for whom I have great affection, knows of my previous sojourn in American Evangelicalism (including the Southern Baptist Convention and other baptistic denominations) and my later (and longer) respite as a Presbyterian. The latter filled about 30 years of my life. Then, at the ripe old age of 50, I ceased protesting and came into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Yeah. I’m that guy.
Recently, my friend sent me an article by Tom Ascol and commentary on the same by Doug Wilson (Unleashing my Inner Tozier), wherein Wilson expresses his dismay at the state of affairs in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). My young friend asked me what I thought.
His bad. Here’s my response:
I read the article you sent my way. Thanks for thinking of me. As you said, you know my solution to your “protestant problems.” Not particularly surprised by the SBC’s bad behavior. Actually, I’m kinda surprised anyone’s surprised. But I find Doug Wilson’s commentary on Ascol more interesting.
I have only two disagreements with Wilson’s conclusion (“burn the SBC and PCA to the ground”):
- It doesn’t go far enough, and;
- He presupposes ecclesiastical cataclysm. The process is way less dramatic, but the result is wholly inevitable.
I must add to the points of disagreement the question that neither Ascol nor Wilson ask: At what point can we say that the great protestant ecclesiastical experiment is a failure?
I have said for years, decades now (even while still a protester), that Protestantism has within it the seeds of its own destruction. If I had to prove that thesis in court, I’d offer Ascol’s article as Exhibit A. Doug Wilson’s commentary would be Exhibit B. Sorry Doug.
But I don’t think the demise is going to be some Noahic cataclysm. I’d guess more of a yawning collapse. What “started” (to the extent that one presupposes that rebellion started in the reformation) as a correction (Luther, Calvin et al. ‘fixing’ the abuses – real and perceived – of Rome) has devolved to its current expression in a scant 500 years. I can’t help but wonder if these protesting patriarchs are consigned to an eternity of asking themselves “What were we thinking?”
Since then we have accelerating, ever-fracturing denominationalism (especially that denomination of non-denominational) with its “because I say so” claim to authority. Luther loved that phrase, by the way. But, hey, that’s just how vow-breakers roll.
Now we’re well into the last gasp of Protestantism: the devolution from denominationalism to Ecclesiastical Tribalism.
Wilson’s call is to “burn down” two big pillars of American evangelicalism – the SBC and the PCA. Interestingly, Wilson calls out the conservative wing. But that’s how it goes: the fracturing is fueled by the auto-cephalic pursuit of orthodoxy. Instead of “holier than thou”, Protestantism’s decline is marked by a Pharisaical “more orthodox than thou.” Orthodoxy is obviously good; but, to quote Calvin, this elevation of consensus-driven orthodoxy of the chieftain and his tribe is “like putting a sword in the hand of a lunatic.”
I assume, by extension Wilson would include just about every mega-church in America (Andy Stanley, Joel Osteen and all those other, equally lovely TV preachers). If they want to be thoroughgoing protestants about it, why not say “Burn them at the stake” – and mean it – instead of a figurative “burn the [entities] down”?
They long for the days of Tozer (1897-1963) from which we’re just a generation past. Yet, they regale him like he hearkens to us from antiquity (calling Tozer a Tishbite, a scriptural assignation exclusive to Elijah). The descent into Tribalism is not being led the ecclesiastical Bernie Sanders of our day, but by men who all consider themselves “conservatives” (because getting rid of “booty-shaking in church” will fix everything). Yet they completely forget what being a conservative means: conserving a history; a heritage. You know, like real Church Fathers. They want to turn the clock back; but only by a nanosecond.
We’re in the death throes of Protestantism and the ones standing on the gas pedal facilitating it don’t even know it. How can they not? They are generally guys that are way smarter and more well-read than I am. A “sign” shouldn’t be necessary for the obvious. They see neither the sign nor the obvious.
You know my solution to your “protestant problems,” which you – for now, at least – don’t accept. Fine. But know that your alternative is to embrace of Ascol, Wilson, and company’s call for more of the same? “We’re headed for that cliff. Floor it!” Seems like they’re looking for a solution, any solution. Except THE solution.
What we have here is a really bad case of Romophobia. They’d rather dip seven times in the Jordan that do that! (II Kings 5). Or just stick with the leprosy.
Remove or reduce the Sacraments and try to fill the void with a version of America’s Got (Preaching) Talent. Then reject the visible Head of the Church on Earth. All that’s left is a bunch of chieftains doing their own enlightened form of booty-shaking around the tribal campfire, holding on to their miniscule papacies.
To paraphrase Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) in The Patriot: “I’d rather have one [Pope] 3000 miles away than 3000 [popes] one mile away.” And, trust me, the woods are lousy with popes.
And while Ascol, Wilson, et al. stare heavenward looking for something A.D. 70ish, it will be more like an old wooden shed that once stood on the back of my property. It leaned. A lot. (To the right, BTW.) Then one day with a puff of wind, it was in pieces on the ground. Burnt to the ground. Only better.
So, it matters not whether the collapse of the SBC or the PCA (and all of Protestantism) is a good thing. It’s that it’s an inevitable thing.
It’s already at the end of the sidewalk.