Kevin DeYoung

The Crushing Obligation to Keep Doing More and More

Jesus didn’t do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.

Doing More for God
I understand there are lazy people out there who need to get radical for Jesus. I understand that many people are stingy with their resources and fritter their time away on inane television shows. I understand there are lots of Christians in our churches sitting around doing nothing who need to be challenged not to waste their life. I am deeply thankful for preachers and writers who challenge us to risk everything and make our lives count. I know a lot of sleepy Christians in need of a wake-up call.
But I also know people like me, people who easily feel a sense of responsibility, people who easily feel bad for not doing more. I was the kid in grade school who was ready to answer every question the teacher asked. I signed up for things just because they were offered. I took on extra credit just to be safe. I never skipped a class in college and would have felt bad for missing any chapel service. I took the practice ACT the year before I really took the practice ACT, which was a year before I took the real ACT. For all sorts of reasons—pride, diligence, personality—opportunities have often felt like obligations to me.
And surely I’m not the only one. Surely there are many Christians who are terribly busy because they sincerely want to be obedient to God. We hear sermons that convict us for not praying more. We read books that convince us to do more for global hunger. We talk to friends who inspire us to give more and read more and witness more. The needs seem so urgent. The workers seem so few. If we don’t do something, who will? We want to be involved. We want to make a difference. We want to do what’s expected of us. But there just doesn’t seem to be the time.
Calming the Crazy Man Inside
I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived (1 Cor. 4:4), and it’s not how God wants us to live, either (Rom. 12:1–2).1 Either we are guilty of sin—like greed, selfishness, idolatry—and we need to repent, be forgiven, and change. Or something else is going on. It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, “do more or disobey” is not the best thing we can say.
Here are some of thoughts that have helped me get out from under the terror of total obligation.
I am not the Christ. The senior sermon for my graduating class at seminary was given by Gordon Hugenberger of Park Street Church in Boston. The sermon was based on John the Baptist’s words, “I freely confess I am not the Christ.” Hugenberger’s point to a group of soon-to-be pastors was simple: “You may be part of the bridal party, but you are not the groom. You are not the Messiah, so don’t try to be. Along with the Apostles’ Creed and the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession, make sure you confess John the Baptist’s creed: I am not the Christ.” I still have a copy of the sermon and listen to it whenever I can find a tape deck. Our Messianic sense of obligation would be greatly relieved if we confessed more regularly what we are not.
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A World Awash in Sheer Monkery

While our modern world may not speak with the same theological vocabulary, modern people face just as much pressure to prove that we are right with ourselves and right with the world. We may not ascend a holy staircase on our knees, but many of us daily count our steps and count our calories. We may not cry out to saints in the middle of a storm, but every time a hurricane comes, leading intellectuals will cry out to science to save us from our carbon sins.

Reformation Day may be behind us, but a huge responsibility lies before us. The faith of the Reformation must be kept alive because the ideas Luther combatted are just as much present in our own day.

The story should be familiar to most Protestants.

Martin Luther was walking toward the village of Sotternheim when he got caught in a thunderstorm. Terrified by a bolt of lightning, Luther cried out in fear, “St. Anne, save me! And I’ll become a monk.” Two weeks later, an anxious Luther entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt.

Five years later, in the winter of 1510, Luther and another monk were on their way to Rome to represent one side of a conflict involving the Order of the Augustinian Hermits. As the junior partner in their monastic tandem, with few official responsibilities, Luther turned the trip into his own personal pilgrimage. For Luther, the Holy City of Rome was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see holy places and sacred shrines, to do works of penance, and to gain indulgences for himself and for his loved ones.

One day while in Rome, Luther visited the Scala Sancta—the Holy Stairs said to be the very steps Christ ascended during his trial before Pontius Pilate. The staircase, filled with relics and carved crosses, provided pilgrims with an unparalleled opportunity to procure a plenary indulgence for himself or for others. A young man racked with guilt, Luther dutifully climbed all 28 steps on his knees, kissing each step as he went and repeating the Lord’s Prayer all along the way.

As earnest as he was in his self-abasement, the Scala Sancta provided no relief for Luther’s anxiety. Upon reaching the top, Luther looked back down and said to himself, “Who can know if these things are so?” Luther desperately wanted to know that he was right with God, which is why he cried out to St. Anne in the thunderstorm, and why he made an 800-mile pilgrimage across the Alps to Rome, and why he climbed the Holy Stairs on his knees, and why he was almost killing himself with vigils, prayers, and a punishing pursuit of obedience.

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The Darkness Does Not Win

If God can summon light into existence when there was only darkness, surely He can send His light into the world with assurance of complete success, no matter how impossible the odds. For this is the miracle and the wonder of Christmas: The Light of the world was born in the darkness of night, as the Word of God lay in the manger unable to speak a syllable.

The title of this article is hard to believe, isn’t it?

Doesn’t it seem like every week we hear about wars and rumors of wars, about terrorism or mass shootings, about Christian persecution and cultural degradation? We can look back on this past year and think of loved ones who’ve died, or friends who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. And others who are gripped by addiction or saddled with chronic pain or mired in a depression that will not lift.

In our own lives, there are too many tears, too many unknowns, too many closed doors. It’s not hard to be discouraged, maybe even despair.

And yet, the spoiler is true: the darkness does not win.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

The symbolism of “light” in John’s Gospel has many layers. Light can refer to Christ (as in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world”), or to obeying the will of God (as in John 3:20, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light”), or to eternal life and the abundant life that can be found only in Christ (which is what verse 4 means by “In him was life, and the life was the light of men”). I think John is being deliberately ambiguous in verse 5. What he is saying is that the entire Light Side is victorious over the entire Dark Side.

Christians will not be overcome by the darkness—either amid our lifetime struggle with sin or in the life of eternal bliss to come—because we belong to the One who is the Light of the World. Darkness, which is John’s way of talking about the fallen world of sin and Satan, will not prove victorious in its long, persistent fight against the light.

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Pastor, Don’t Get Cute this Christmas

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The Rise of Right-Wing Wokeism

Decline and Retreat
Let me start by acknowledging the understandable desire for something like Christian Nationalism. The best part of the book is Wolfe’s chapter on “The Good of Cultural Christianity” and, in particular, the section on “Celebrating Decline.” Wolfe is right to maintain that while cultural Christianity cannot save sinners (i.e., the message of the gospel is entrusted to the church, not to the civil order), a Christian culture can be both preparative and persuasive in direction of the gospel (213). Just because hypocrisy and nominalism are dangers—dangers that ministers should and do warn against—that doesn’t mean we should welcome the collapse of social assumptions and stigmas that pushed people in the direction of biblical truth and basic morality.
Too many Christians are quick to wish away cultural Christianity without considering the alternatives. “But wouldn’t you prefer to live in a community,” Wolfe asks, “where you can trust your neighbors, having mutual expectations of conduct, speech, and beliefs according to Christian standards? Wouldn’t you prefer to have neighbors with Christian standards of decency, respect, and admonishment, even if it is merely cultural?” (223).
These are good questions. I share Wolfe’s bewilderment over the Christian leaders who seem to prefer a society hostile to Christianity. I’ve seen pastors in my own denomination look wistfully at Christians losing power and becoming a minority in the country, as if Constantine ruined everything and our influence would be so much greater if we only we could lose power and become more marginalized.
It’s one thing to acknowledge cultural Christianity comes with tradeoffs or to recognize cultural Christianity allowed for certain sins to flourish; it’s another thing to say “good riddance” to Bible Belt near-Christianity, as Russell Moore did in a 2015 article that Wolfe quotes at length (224–25). Wolfe notes how Moore rejoices that “we don’t have Mayberry anymore, if we ever did” (226). Traditional family values may have kept some children in intact families. “But,” Moore concludes, “that’s hardly revival” (225). True, not revival, but something worth preserving, if we can?
I’ve given a mini-speech in private settings probably a dozen times in the past five years. I’ve said something like this to my friends and colleagues:
We have to realize that people are scared and discouraged. They see America rapidly becoming less and less Christian. They see traditional morality—especially in areas of sex and gender—not only being tossed overboard but resolutely and legally opposed. Of course, we should not give way to ungodly fear and panic. We should not make an idol out of politics. We should not fight like jerks because that’s the way the world fights. But people want to see that their Christian leaders—pastors, thinkers, writers, institutional heads—are willing to fight for the truth. You may think your people spend too much time watching Tucker Carlson, or retweeting Ben Shapiro, or looking for Jordan Peterson videos on YouTube, or reading the latest stuff from Doug Wilson—and I have theological disagreements with all of them (after all, some of them aren’t even Christians)—but people are drawn to them because they offer a confident assertion of truth. Our people can see the world being overrun by moral chaos, and they want help in mounting a courageous resistance; instead, they are getting a respectable retreat.
The online “winsomeness” debate of 2022 was a reprise of the “empathy” debate of 2021. In both instances, someone raises the point, “Hey, that word should not represent the sum total of our Christian witness. In fact, by itself, that word may smuggle in some bad ideas and assumptions.” A number of voices chime in in agreement.
In response, other Christians say, “Woah, wait a minute. Jesus was full of compassion. We should be kind to one another and love our neighbors. Why are you anti-Jesus?” Which prompts the first group to say, “That’s not really what we were talking about.” Meanwhile, another group runs with the idea that “winsomeness” and “empathy” are bad and concludes that if you don’t assert yourself with maximum obnoxiousness and offensiveness, then you’re a Big Eva Squish. Lather, rinse, repeat. The conversation devolves into the usual taking of sides.
As frustrating as those discussions can be, they highlight an important difference in evangelical sensibilities. I’ve used the word “winsome” for years. It’s a good word. One of the unofficial slogans of Reformed Theological Seminary, where I gladly serve, is “winsomely Reformed.” If “winsome” means we engage in the battle of ideas with respect and civility, looking to build bridges where we can, then it’s certainly a worthwhile goal. The problem is when “winsomeness” and “empathy” get to be defined not by our words and deeds but by how our words and deeds make people feel. “I will be kind” is Christianity. “I will not do anything to jeopardize your good opinion of me” is capitulation.
The other problem is that winsomeness almost always runs in one direction. The “winsome” folks are careful to speak respectfully and humbly to an LGBT+ audience, while they’re eager to speak “prophetically” to the MAGA crowd. Many conservative Christians are tired of always being on the defensive and always having to communicate their convictions in ways that left-leaning secularists approve of. They want more than a tiny island of religious freedom where we promise not to bother anyone; they want a vigorous defense of what’s true.
The appeal of something like Christian Nationalism is that it presents a muscular alternative to surrender and defeat. Few conservative Christians have anything like a sophisticated political philosophy. But they know gay so-called marriage is wrong and drag queen story hour is bad. So if the two choices in political philosophy are (1) supporting gay “marriage” because that’s what pluralism demands and defending drag queen story hour as a blessing of liberty or (2) Christian Nationalism, millions of Christians in this country are going to choose the latter. I imagine the same basic equation explains the newfound interest in Catholic integralism as well.
I sympathize with the reasons many Christians want something like Christian Nationalism. They aren’t necessarily looking for culture warriors. They just don’t want to be told that the increasing hostility toward Christian ethics is all a figment of their imagination or really their own fault. These Christians are looking for leadership. They’re looking for confidence. They’re looking for a way to assert not only that Christian ideas have the right to exist but that Christian ideas are right. When a 475-page book with hundreds of footnotes from people like Althusius and Turretin reaches the top 100 on Amazon, you know something deeper is going on than a passion for political theory. Many Christians want an alternative to decline and retreat. So do I. But Christian Nationalism is not the answer.
Difficult Task
I’m going to get to my critique, but first let me make some preliminary remarks about what makes this book difficult to review.
For starters, it’s a long book, covering a lot of ground—from philosophy to history to theology to political theory. Wolfe has a lot to say, and there’s a lot that can be said in response. But a book review is not a book, so the reviewer has to practice restraint. If you want a fuller summary and more comprehensive evaluation of the book, I recommend Neil Shenvi’s four-part review.
Second, this is a personal book. Although there are plenty of footnotes and evidence of academic research, this volume is not meant to be a dispassionate scholarly reflection on the nature of civil society. As Wolfe says in the last paragraph on the last page, “This book is not an intellectual exercise, nor intended simply to ‘contribute to the field’ of Christian political theory. It is personal. It is a vision of the future, and my family is a part of that future” (478).
With that aim, it’s hard to know whether the book should be reviewed as a work of political theorizing, as a work of historical retrieval, or as a personal manifesto. Wolfe isn’t just arguing for the establishment principle or for legislating both tables of the Mosaic law, he’s justifying violent revolution (324) and calling for “the Great Renewal” (435). It would be a mistake to think Wolfe’s interest is in settling antiquarian debates.
Third, reviewing The Case for Christian Nationalism is difficult because Wolfe stacks the rhetorical deck against critical engagement with his claims and his ideas. At the beginning of the book, Wolfe emphasizes his commitment to use “an older style” of writing that relies on actual arguments, logical coherence, and scholarly demonstration. He laments the fact that so many Christians “resort to rhetorical devices, tweetable shibboleths, and credibility development to assert disparate principles and applications” (19–20). He decries those who “personally attack those who would disagree” and “appeal to common prejudice or sentiment” (20).
And yet, Wolfe doesn’t abide by these same ideals in dealing with those who would disagree with his ideas. He speaks of his opponents as “regime evangelicals” (341) and describes them as “rhetorically enslaved to the sentiments of a coastal elite” (456). Likewise, he anticipates that “the most vociferous critics [of his pro-Russian views] will be [Globalist American Empire]–affirming Christians” (445).
Just as the left has predetermined that any opposition to its ideology must be attributable to racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, so some voices on the right have predetermined that anyone unwilling to go all the way in the direction of Christian Nationalism must be sellouts eager to please a nefarious cabal of secular elites. This posture hardly encourages an open and honest exchange of ideas.
These difficulties notwithstanding, I want to offer a substantive critique of The Case for Christian Nationalism. I’ll group my concerns under four headings: nations and ethnicity, the nature of the church, Protestant political thought, and the way forward.
1. Nations and Ethnicity
By Wolfe’s own admission, his definitions are often idiosyncratic, and by my estimation, they’re not entirely consistent. For example, the all-important concept of “nation” sometimes operates in Wolfe’s thinking more organically like an ethnicity, sometimes more loosely like a culture, sometimes more locally like a love of people and place, and sometimes more traditionally like a nation-state with a recognizable set of laws, a governing magistrate, and the power of the sword. The front cover contains a picture of America with a cross in the middle, so the book would seem to be about the nation-state we know as the United States of America. But at other times, it’s clear Wolfe doesn’t like that idea of “nation” and is animated by a different understanding of nation—one that defines “nationalism” as the natural good of becoming conscious of your own “people-group,” being for your own people-group, and keeping your people-group distinct from other people-groups (135).
There are many problems with Wolfe’s defense of this “similarity principle.” It’s built upon a weak and speculative foundation about how people would have formed distinct nations even without the fall, it gives too much credence to our own fallen inclinations, and it gives too little consideration for how our desire for “similarity” has been tainted by sin. Grace may perfect nature, but it often does so in ways that feel unnatural to us.
Likewise, Wolfe’s argument doesn’t reckon with the way the Bible relativizes our sense of family (Mark 3:31–35), tears down dividing walls between people groups (Eph. 2:11–22), and presents a multitribal and multilingual reality (and hoped-for future) as a heavenly good (Rev. 5:9–10).
I also fail to see how Wolfe’s rejection of the West’s universalizing tendency squares with Wolfe’s use of natural theology and natural law (which are, by definition, universally accessible, leading to truths than can be universally affirmed). Shenvi’s review is particularly good on the issue of ethnicity, so I won’t repeat all the same arguments here.
But before moving on from this point, it’s worth mentioning how Wolfe leaves a number of serious questions unanswered. Wolfe often decries the mental habit, forced upon us by secular elites, that makes Christian nationalists feel the need to prove they’re not racists or kinists or xenophobes. Wolfe refuses to play by those rules (456–57). I understand the frustration. But surely in a 500-page book, it wouldn’t have been misplaced, or kowtowing to the spirit of the age, for Wolfe to make clear exactly what he is and isn’t arguing for (especially when he quotes approvingly from Samuel Francis on
Wolfe says a mark of nationalism is that “each people group has a right to be for itself” (118), and that “no nation (properly conceived) is composed of two or more ethnicities” (135), and that our “instinct to conduct everyday life among similar people is natural, and being natural, it is for your good” (142), and that “to exclude an out-group is to recognize a universal good for man” (145), and that “spiritual unity is inadequate for formal ecclesial unity” (200), and that “the most suitable condition for a group of people to successfully pursue the complete good is one of cultural similarity” (201).
What are we to do with these statements? Is Wolfe’s main concern about immigration policy for a nation-state? That’s part of what animates his warning against self-immolation and national suicide (171). Is he making the argument that we need not be ashamed to love our family, our country, and our place more than other families, countries, and places? That’s also part of his concern; fair enough.
But you don’t have to be a left-wing watchdog to wonder how these “similarity” arguments work out in practice. In a footnote, Wolfe rejects modern racialist principles and denies that he’s making a “white nationalist” argument (119), but if we cannot accept the creedal nation concept, and if ethnicities are grouped by cultural similarity, it’s an open question how much cooperation and togetherness blacks and whites (not to mention Asians and Hispanics and Native Americans) will ever share—or if they should even try to live and worship together.
Is this really the direction we’re to be pushed by the gospel? Are we really to pursue a social ordering on earth so different from that which is present in heaven? Are we really so sure that our love for people like us and our ostracism of people unlike us are God-given inclinations and not fallen ones?
If there were no other problems with the book, Wolfe’s vigorous defense of becoming “more exclusive and ethnic-focused” (459) should stop in their tracks all who are ready to follow Wolfe’s vision for national renewal. The fact that the left thinks racism is everywhere doesn’t mean racism is nowhere. Wolfe may eschew contemporary racialist categories, but he doesn’t make clear how his ideas on kinship are different from racist ideas of the past that have been used to forbid interracial marriage and to enforce the legal injustice of “separate but equal.”
By God’s grace, America has made great strides in overcoming racism in the past 60 years. I fail to see how Wolfe’s vision isn’t a giant step in the wrong direction.
2. Nature of the Church
Key to Wolfe’s political theory is the contention that “a Christian nation is a nation whose particular earthly way of life has been ordered to heavenly life in Christ” (174). I will say more about Protestant political thought in the next section. My criticism at present isn’t about moral philosophy as much as it’s about systematic theology.
To his credit, Wolfe clearly distinguishes between the civil realm and the ecclesial realm. He holds to a (kind of) two-kingdom theology. Wolfe’s project doesn’t entail theocracy; neither is it theonomy: “The Christian nation is not the spiritual kingdom of Christ or the immanentized eschaton; it is not founded in principles of grace or the Gospel” (186). Nevertheless, civil government ought to direct people to the Christian religion because “an earthly kingdom is a Christian kingdom when it orders the people to the kingdom of heaven” (195).
Wolfe doesn’t conflate the church and the world, but he argues that “the Christian nation is the complete image of eternal life on earth.” Wolfe rejects the idea of the church as a “colony” or “outpost” of heaven (222). The church may give us the “principal image” of heavenly life (public worship), but only a Christian nation can give us the “complete image” of heavenly life. “For in addition to being a worshipping people, the Christian nation has submitted to magistrates and constitutes a people whose cultural practices and self-conception provide a foretaste of heaven” (223). In short, Wolfe maintains that a Christian nation should be ordered “to make the earthly city an analog of the heavenly city” (209).
I disagree with this conclusion. It’s one thing to suggest civil society may bear resemblance to heavenly realities or that in the life to come we’ll more deeply enjoy whatever is excellent in this life. It’s another to suggest the analog of the heavenly city is to be found in the earthly city. Contrary to Wolfe, I maintain the church is an “outpost” or “embassy” or “colony” of the heavenly city.
This comports with the sweep of redemptive history: the reality of heavenly paradise is first found in Eden; then a reflection of Edenic bliss is to be found in the nation of Israel (the land in which God dwells, described with Edenic language and marked by Edenic boundaries); at present God’s dwelling is with his people in the church (where the judicial punishments in Israel are recalibrated as ecclesiastical disfellowshipping and the picture of Edenic plenty is manifested by giving generously to our brothers and sisters); and finally at the consummation will the kingdom of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15).

4 Questions about Headship and Head Coverings

When women pray and prophesy in the assembly, they must do so with some sign that signifies their authority to do so. In other words, something must tell the congregation, “This woman speaking in public is not throwing off her role as the glory of man. She is still in submission to her husband (if she has one), and therefore has authority to speak.” Maybe this symbol is a wedding ring, or the way she dresses, or taking her husband’s last name (in some cultures), or a well-known demeanor of gentleness and respect.

Q: What does it mean that the husband is the head of his wife?
A: I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor.11:3).
Verse 3 outlines a series of overlapping relationships: “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Anyone familiar with the scholarship on this issue knows that the little word “head” (kephale) has killed a lot of trees. Scholars, using their expertise in Greek and the latest computer software, have gone back and forth in articles and books arguing whether kephale means “authority over” or “source” (like the head of a river is its source). Others have argued that the word means “prominent,” “preeminent” or “foremost.” In the end, the context suggests that kephale in verse 3 must have something to do with authority. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner are right:
Even if by “head” Paul means “more prominent/preeminent partner” or (less likely) “one through whom the other exists,” his language and the flow of the argument seem to reflect an assumed hierarchy through which glory and shame flow upward from those with lower status to those above them. In this context the word almost certainly refers to one with authority over the other.1
Furthermore, we have other examples in Paul’s writings where kephale must mean something like “authority over.” In Ephesians 1, Paul says that Christ has been seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and all things have been placed under his feet, and he has been made head (kephale) over all things to the church (Eph. 1:20–22). The context demands that kephale refer to Christ’s authority over the church, not merely that the church has its origin in Christ. Likewise, in Ephesians 5 Paul says wives are to submit to their husbands, for the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:22–23). Citing the headship of the husband as a reason for the wife’s submission makes little sense if headship implies only source or origin without any reference to male leadership. Kephale, in at least these two instances in Ephesians, must mean “authority over.” And there are no grammatical or contextual reasons to think that Paul is using kephale in a different way in 1 Corinthians 11.
Therefore, we should understand 1 Corinthians 11:3 as saying that Christ has authority over mankind; the husband has authority over his wife (the Greek words for man and woman are the same for husband and wife); and God has authority over Christ. Thus, we have male and female—equal and interdependent (1 Cor. 11:11–12)—relating to one another within a differentiated order.
In previous years, some complementarians made too much of the fact that Paul relates the husband-wife relationship to the headship of God over Christ. To be sure, there is an important point to be made from the God-Christ parallel in verse 3—namely, that headship does not imply ontological inferiority. To have authority over someone—to be head of another—is not inconsistent with equality of worth, honor, and essence. But even here we should be careful to note that there is an “economic” expression of the Son in view in verse 3 (“Christ”), not an immanent or ontological expression (e.g., “Son”). We should not use the Trinity “as our model” for the marriage relationship, both because it is not necessary for complementarianism to be true and because the metaphysical inner workings of the ineffable Trinity do not readily allow for easy lifestyle applications. In fact, it is striking how the New Testament often grounds ethical imperatives in the gospel (e.g., marriage as an outworking of Christ and the church), but never in the eternal “ordering” of God.
If we are talking about the economic Trinity—the activity of God and the work of the three persons in creation and redemption—we can certainly say that the Son acts from the Father, while the Father does not act from the Son. There is an eternal ordering (taxis) of the Trinity that finds expression in time. And yet the language of the eternal subordination of the Son is not the best language to describe this order, nor do we ever see in Nicene tradition that the persons of the Trinity are distinguished by a relationship of authority and submission. Traditionally, the way in which the persons of the Godhead have been distinguished—and technically, they are distinct (which suggests three hypostases) not different (which would suggest another ousia)—is not by roles or by eternal relations of authority and submission, but by paternity, filiation, and spiration. To put it another way, the Father is the Father (and not the Son or the Spirit), the Son is the Son (and not the Father or the Spirit), and the Spirit is the Spirit (and not the Father or the Son) by virtue of the Father’s unbegottenness as Father, the Son’s generation from the Father, and the Spirit’s procession from the Father and the Son.
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What is the Difference Between Men and Women?

God didn’t create another man, he created a woman—and yet she’s taken from the man. So there is a likeness and yet a fundamental difference and distinction. And everything about God’s design in this world must keep in mind this sexual differentiation between men and women, which is not an accident of creation, but from the very beginning, was God’s good, glorious plan.

We all recognize, if we have our eyes open or pull up the internet on our phones, that we live in a day where there is great confusion about men and women—confusion down to the very foundations. Is there such a thing as a man and a woman? And you’ve probably seen the clips that get passed around. High ranking, very intelligent people don’t know how—or at least they pretend not to know how—to answer the question, “What is a woman?” And as Christians, we have the Bible and we have what the world needs to hear, whether it wants to hear it or not. And we, of course, want to present it in a way that is most robust in truth, and also so that people can hear and can listen. But it’s really important that we’re clear about “What are men and women?”

What are Men and Women?

I mean, the etymology actually helps us in English. And in Hebrew, it’s ishah, for she comes out of ish. Even there in the Hebrew, the two words are connected. And it’s like that in English: A “womb man,” that a woman, biologically, is the person of God’s design in creation who—if all of the the plumbing, shall we say, is working correctly—gives birth to human life. That’s the latent possibility. Of course, we know that some people are are called to singleness and sometimes our bodies, because of the fall, don’t work in the ways that we would like. But there are those latent possibilities, that a woman is that person whom God has designed to incubate, to nurture, to nourish, and to give birth to life.

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The Case for Kids

When Genesis 5 traces the line from Adam to ­Noah, the refrain “and he died” is a reminder of the curse of death—but that each man had a son is a reminder of the promise that comes through birth (Gen. 3:15). The God who has put eternity into our hearts (­Eccl. 3:11) also means to put children into the womb (Mal. 2:15). When we grasp one, we will grasp the other.

The most significant thing happening in the world may very well be a thing that is not happening: Men and women are not having children. The biblical logic has been reversed, and the barren womb has said “Enough!” (Prov. 30:16). The paradigmatic affliction of the Old Testament is now the great desire of nations. If ­Rachel wanted children more than life itself (Gen. 30:1), our generation seems to have concluded that nothing gets in the way of life more than children.
True, human beings are reproducing—but in most countries, not fast enough to replace themselves. Measuring total fertility rate (TFR) is not an exact science, so the numbers vary from source to source, but the trends are undeniable. Outside of Africa, which is home to forty-one of the fifty most fertile nations, the planet faces a bleak demographic future. Many major European nations—such as Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, and Spain—have a TFR of 1.50 births per woman or lower, disastrously below the replacement rate of 2.1. Italy’s future is especially grim, as that country has one of the lowest TFRs in the world, just 1.22. Virtually every country in Europe—including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, Finland, and Denmark—has a TFR below 1.8. Only France, with a TFR of 2.03, comes close to the replacement rate. Decline is on its way. The Russian population is already contracting. Germany’s population is on pace to shrink from 83 million to around 70 million over the next thirty years. If trends do not reverse, Europe’s population will plummet from 750 million today to less than 500 million by the end of the century.
The numbers for East Asia are even worse. Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Taiwan each have a TFR around 1.0; South Korea’s is 0.81. These countries make aging and shrinking Japan, with its TFR of 1.37, look almost vibrant. And whatever military and economic power resides in China, increasingly children do not. Despite the replacement of the notorious one-child policy by a two-child policy in 2016 and then a three-child policy in 2021, China’s birthrate has continued to tumble. As recently as 2019, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences predicted that China’s population would peak in 2029. But the decline has already started. This year, for the first time since the Great Famine (1959–61), China’s population has shrunk, by just over 1 percent since 2021, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
For many years, the United States appeared to be an exception to the rule of declining birthrates in the industrialized world. In 2007 the United States had a TFR of 2.1, whereas the figure for the European Union was below 1.6. But since then, the U.S. birthrate has fallen by 20 percent, to as low as 1.73 according to some estimates. What looked like American exceptionalism less than a generation ago now looks like mere delay.
At no time in history have people been having fewer children. In most countries the number of births per woman is well below the replacement rate, and even in countries with a high TFR, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa, the rate is dropping. The human race seems to have grown tired of itself.
The reasons for declining fertility are no doubt many and varied. Surely, some couples want to have more children but are unable to do so. Others struggle with economic pressures or health limitations. But fertility does not plummet worldwide without deeper issues at play, especially when people around the world are objectively richer, healthier, and afforded more conveniences than at any time in human history. Though individuals make their choices for many reasons, as a species we are suffering from a profound spiritual sickness—a metaphysical malaise in which children seem a burden on our time and a drag on our pursuit of happiness. Our malady is a lack of faith, and nowhere is the disbelief more startling than in the countries that once made up Christendom. “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven,” God promised a delighted Abraham (Gen. 26:4). Today, in the lands of Abraham’s offspring, that blessing strikes most as a curse.
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted worldwide famine and a “race to oblivion” in his book The Population Bomb. Fifty years later, the bomb has not detonated. Today, we must fear population bust rather than boom. The list of Very Bad Things—as Jonathan Last calls the consequences of declining fertility in his 2013 book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting—is long and depressing: an aging population, a shrinking workforce, a declining tax base, a decrease in technological and ­industrial dynamism, difficulty in finding a spouse, empty buildings and crumbling infrastructure, unfunded entitlements, and a general disquiet as more and more people get older and sicker with fewer people to care for them. Some future president might be forced to coin the campaign slogan, “It’s midnight in America.”
Last emphasizes economic and national concerns, the sort of developments that get the attention of presidents and parliaments. But the problems with declining fertility, and the accompanying collapse of the family, go much deeper. Whittaker Chambers was led to reject atheism by studying the miracle of his infant daughter’s ear. As he watched his daughter eat in her high chair, an “involuntary and unwanted” thought entered his mind: “Those intricate perfect ears” could have been “created only by immense design.” Faith can give us a heart for children, but children can also give us the eyes of faith.
When family formation fails, so does the inculcation of faith. This is Mary Eberstadt’s argument in How the West Really Lost God: Family decline is not merely a consequence of religious decline; it is also a cause of it. Religious people are more inclined toward family life, but it is also the case that something about family life inclines people toward religion. There is no need to prioritize chicken or egg. It is the indissoluble connection that matters: The fortunes of faith and family rise and fall together.
There are many plausible reasons for this connection. The Christian story is set within the matrix of family—from the expectation of Eve’s Snake-Crusher, to the Promised Seed of the ­patriarchs, to great David’s Greater Son, to the birth of the Christ Child to Mary with Joseph at her side. The presence of children often drives parents to church, whether for help in raising them or because the experience of creating children helps us apprehend our Creator. The sacrifices required in parenting are the same kinds of sacrifices required in a life of Christian discipleship.
The connection between faith and family cuts in the opposite direction as well. As Eberstadt observes: “In an age when many people live lives that contradict the traditional Christian moral code, the mere existence of that code becomes a lightning rod for criticism and vituperation—which further drives some people away from church” (emphasis original). In other words, if your parents were divorced, or you grew up with two mommies, or you are currently sleeping with your girlfriend, or you are not particularly enamored of the thought of monogamy and raising children, the Christian faith—which has always been a scandal to sinners—carries an additional offense, which previous generations did not have to overcome. “People do not like to be told they are wrong,” Eberstadt notes, “or that those whom they love have done wrong. But Christianity cannot help sending that message.” No doubt, secularization has undermined family formation. Just as surely, though, the collapse of the married, intact, childrearing family has made the Christian faith harder to swallow. The biggest plausibility structure for faith is not intellectual but familial.
Carle C. Zimmerman’s Family and Civilization (1947) is remembered as a book about family types, but it is fundamentally a book about fertility. Borrowing from Augustine and Aquinas, Zimmerman argues that marriage has historically had three functions: proles, fides, and sacramentum. That is to say, the good of marriage (and of family life more broadly) depends on childbearing, sexual fidelity, and the permanence of the marriage bond (whether one holds to a Catholic view of the sacraments or not). ­Peter Lombard ordered the marital goods somewhat differently, placing fidelity before childbearing. But ­Zimmerman observes that the ordering of ­Augustine and Aquinas emphasizes childbearing—or ­prior to marriage, the intention of it—as the first and determinative step in the development of marital fidelity and permanence. Without children (or an openness to children), the other two commitments lose their moral and logical coherence.
Already in 1947, Zimmerman saw that the atomistic family—the family based on individualistic assumptions about happiness and the role of marriage—would lead to rapid and groundless divorce; that looser family structures would be proffered as solutions to family problems, only to make those problems worse; that the stigmas inhibiting adultery would deteriorate; that fertility would decrease; and that sexual perversion would be normalized. He also predicted that the decline of fertility among intellectuals would embolden them to challenge the validity of marriage itself; that it would take two generations (slowed by ­immigration) for family decay to become ­evident; and that the Christian Church would be the ­only cultural institution capable of encouraging a view of family grounded in something more than ­personal fulfillment.
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From Silence to Complexification to Capitulation

…the movement is unmistakable, and it is unidirectional. Evangelicals who set down the path toward LGBTQ acceptance rarely turn around and head back in the other direction. And once the revisionist jump—that really wasn’t a jump—is complete, the tolerance and inclusion don’t usually last long. Sex is too powerful a thing to allow for competing visions. And so Neuhaus’ Law almost always proves true: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be outlawed.

I don’t often agree with David Gushee, the liberal Christian ethicist whose “battles,” by his own description, have included “issues like climate change, torture, LGBTQ inclusion, and white supremacism.” But he spoke the uncomfortable truth when he observed years ago that when it comes to LGBTQ issues, there is no middle ground: “Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.”
I thought of those words, written way back in 2016, in recent weeks as I read of Michael Gerson’s tacit approval of gay marriage and of Dr. Bradley Nassif’s claims that he was expunged from North Park University because he upholds traditional views of sex, sexuality, and marriage. These aren’t the first cases of a self-described evangelical or evangelical institution moving into the revisionist camp, nor will it be the last. I hope I’m wrong, but I have my mental list of writers, thinkers, schools, and organizations that eventually will make the same move.
I almost wrote “jump” in the last sentence instead of “move,” but “jump” is not really the right word. Rarely do evangelical leaders and institutions leap all at once from the open celebration and defense of orthodoxy to the open celebration and defense of (what they once believed was) heterodoxy. In fact, when evangelical capitulation on LGBTQ issues makes the news it is rarely a surprise. There are almost always a series of familiar steps.
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Franciscus Junius, Old Princeton, and the Question of Natural Theology

It can be fairly concluded that the entire tradition of Old Princeton stretching back to Geneva understood natural theology as a species of true theology. The theologians we examined all believed natural theology to be an important, separate, and complementary discipline to supernatural theology.

Franciscus Junius (1545–1602) was one of the most influential theologians in the post-Reformation period. His Treatise on True Theology (1594) established many of the categories, and set in place the basic outline, that later systematicians would use in defining and delineating the nature of theology. Junius did not just shape later Reformed prolegomena, in many ways he established Reformed prolegomena in the first place. Not surprisingly, Junius is considered by some to be the quintessential Reformed theologian in the period of early Orthodoxy.[1]

Given Junius’s influence and stature, Nathan Shannon’s recent article “Junius and Van Til on Natural Knowledge of God” (WTJ 82 [2020]: 279-300) makes an important and provocative claim.[2] According to Shannon, assistant professor of systematic theology at Torch Trinity Graduate University in Seoul, “Junius and Van Til . . . agree that post-fall natural theology, unaided by special revelation, is not theology in any meaningful sense” (279). The singular thesis—and the most important claim of the article—is that for Junius, as well as for Van Til, “relational reconciliation is a necessary condition of true theology” (279). Or to put it even more bluntly: “Since true theology is determined by redemptive relation, natural theology, lacking this redemptive relation is not true theology, not in fact theology at all. Natural theology is in the end anti-theology” (279-80).

This is a bold thesis, as Shannon recognizes. The entire tradition of scholasticism affirmed the existence and importance of natural theology. And yet, according to Shannon, “Junius’s view of natural (as in unregenerate) theology marks a conspicuous point of departure from pre-Reformation scholasticism” (281). More than that, if Shannon’s argument is correct, Junius sounds a different note than virtually every orthodox Reformed theologian to follow in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the tradition of Old Princeton theology that developed in the nineteenth century. Considering the debate in Reformed circles about the legitimacy (or not) of natural theology, to have Junius on the side of nein would be significant—not only for one’s view of the post-Reformation period but for the pedigree of more recent Reformed theology. “This thesis,” Shannon writes, “so far as it is true, enhances the historical credentials of Van Til’s characteristically neo-Calvinist view of natural theology and natural reason.” In other words, if Junius believed that genuine theology is impossible “apart from monergistic establishment of relational restoration” (281), that “the theology of the unregenerate is prolific idolatry” (287), and that “even falsa theologia is charitable nomenclature” for post-fall natural theology (298), then Van Til’s thought has found a significant historical precursor.

My argument, however, is that Shannon’s innovative thesis does not fit the facts. If “the unregenerate must, it would seem, either know God or know nothing at all,” Shannon commends Van Til for betting on the latter (294). But is this the choice early Reformed theologians would have made? For whatever useful elements there may be in Van Til’s apologetic method, his approach to natural theology was a departure from the larger tradition. Mainstream Reformed thought has consistently affirmed that post-fall natural theology can be true theology. The theology of the unregenerate—though marred by imperfections and never saving—cannot be reduced to “prolific idolatry.” Natural theology is, in the end, not anti-theology.

In the first half of this article (Parts I and II), I will focus on Junius, arguing that he did not consider natural theology to be falsa theologia, but rather that natural theology, as a means of divine revelation, could communicate truths about God. In the second half (Parts III and IV) I will focus on Reformed theology after Junius, arguing that the tradition of Old Princeton—from Turretin through to Warfield—also affirmed the possibility of meaningful post-fall, unregenerate natural theology.[3]

I. Reading Junius: A Confusion of Categories

The central problem with Shannon’s thesis is that he has misread Junius, confusing his rejection of the theology of the pagans with a rejection of natural theology itself. A careful reading of Junius demonstrates the opposite conclusion from Shannon’s; namely, that natural theology—while imperfect and unable to save—is nevertheless divine revelation and belongs in the category of true theology.

The first sentences of Shannon’s article lay out his main claim, and they also manifest the main area of confusion. “According to Franciscus Junius (d. 1602),” Shannon writes, “since the fall, true theology is possible only where a redemptive divine-human relationship is established ‘through the communication of grace.’ For Junius this relational reconciliation is a necessary condition of true theology” (279). After Shannon’s first sentence there is a footnote which quotes from the eighth thesis from A Treatise on True Theology. The quotation from Junius reads: “Ectypal theology, whether taken in itself, as they say, or relatively in relation to something else, is the wisdom of divine matters, fashioned by God from the archetype of Himself, through the communication of grace for His own glory.” To be sure, ectypal theology (i.e., the theology God fashions for his creatures) is established through the “communication of grace,” but nothing in Junius’s statement indicates that this language implies redemption or relational reconciliation. For Junius, natural theology is a communication of grace, even though the recipient has not been savingly reconciled to God.[4]

The next two sentences from Shannon are also problematic. He writes, “Outside of this relational establishment, theology—dubiously so-called—may be found, but it is necessarily theologia falsa. There is for Junius no activity of the natural man which may properly be called ‘theology.’” The footnote for this sentence points to pages 95–96, 143, and 145 of Junius’s Treatise on True Theology. But these two sections of the Treatise are not talking about the same thing. The earlier reference (95–96) is about the false theology of the pagans, which is not properly called theology. The latter references (143, 145) are about natural theology, which is not to be confused with the pagan philosophy categorized by Varro and Augustine as superstitious (i.e., mythical), natural (i.e., physical), and civil (i.e., political). Introducing the category of natural theology by revelation, Junius writes, “When we say natural, we do not want it in this passage to be understood by the same meaning as we showed in the first chapter above from Varro and Augustine, but rather by its own sense and taken in itself as we will soon (if God wills) define it.”[5] In other words, Junius uses “natural theology” in two different ways—in a narrow way referring to a branch of pagan philosophy (which is not, strictly speaking, theology at all) and in a more formal way referring to a branch of true theology which is communicated through natural grace as opposed to special grace.[6]

Granted, Junius says about natural theology that “this theology” cannot “be called wisdom according to its genus except equivocally.”[7] But notice, Junius does not say natural theology is not theology; in fact, he explicitly labels it as such. What he posits is that natural theology is not “wisdom” in the same way that supernatural theology is wisdom. The equivocation is not whether natural theology is genuine theology (it is). The equivocation is whether natural and supernatural theology are theology in the same way (they are not).

At the heart of my disagreement with Shannon’s article is his tendency to read Junius’s discussion of pagan theology into Junius’s discussion of natural theology. You can see this confusion in the article’s footnotes which bounce back and forth indiscriminately between page numbers in the 90s (the chapter on false theology) and page numbers in the 140s and 150s (the chapters on natural theology). Shannon collapses two categories that are distinct in Junius—pagan theology and natural theology—and interprets them (like Van Til’s theology does?) as the same thing.

II. Junius on Natural Theology

In order to better understand the confusion at the heart of Shannon’s thesis, we  must understand the basic contours of Junius’s prolegomena. A Treatise on True Theology consists of thirty-nine theses expounded in eighteen chapters. These chapters outline a highly technical, but rather straightforward categorization of true theology.

According to Junius, theology—which can be of God (as its author) or about God (as its subject)—is commonly spoken of in two ways. One theology is true, the other is false and subject to opinion (Thesis 3). False theology is called theology only by equivocation (i.e., it is not genuine theology), for it “rests on opinion alone.” False theology consists of “unalloyed dreams and games in place of the truth, and idols . . .in place of the true God.”[8]

Further, there are two kinds of false theology: “common,” which is not disciplined by the cultivation of reason, and “philosophical,” which is aided by the development of reason (Thesis 4). This philosophical theology, which flourished in the centuries before Christ, was labeled by Augustine, Varro, and Seneca as superstitious, natural, and civil. All of this is labeled “false theology, which is nothing other than opinion and the shadow of wisdom grasping at something or another in the place of divine matters.”[9]

True theology, in turn, is either archetypal or ectypal (Thesis 6).Archetypal theology is the divine wisdom of divine matters (Thesis 7). It refers to God’s knowledge of himself.Ectypal theology is the wisdom of divine matters, fashioned by God from the archetype of himself and communicated by grace for His own glory (Thesis 8). The genus of true theology is wisdom, which includes “all principles both natural and supernatural.”[10] Ectypal theology can be known by the creature because of the capacity of the Creator (Thesis 9). In other words, God makes true theology possible.

Ectypal theology can be communicated, according to the capacity of the creature, in three ways: by union, by vision, or by revelation (Thesis 10). The first is the theology of Christ as God-man. The second is the theology of spiritual beings in heaven. The third is the theology of human beings on earth.[11] This last category is our theology, the theology of pilgrims (Thesis 13).[12]

Continuing with his careful distinctions, Junius posits that the mode of communicating revealed theology is twofold: by nature and by grace (Thesis 14). God is the author of both natural theology and supernatural theology: “The shared principle of nature equally as of grace is God.”[13] To be sure, supernatural theology possesses an entirely different kind of wisdom than natural theology.[14] Even before the fall, natural theology had to be nurtured by reason and perfected by grace (Thesis 17). After human nature was tainted by the fall, those first principles of natural theology remain in us, but they have been corrupted and quite confused (Thesis 18). As such, the light of natural theology after the fall has been rendered more veiled and more imperfect.[15] Natural theology cannot lead to perfection and cannot, in and of itself, be perfected by grace (Thesis 19). Nevertheless, we should not “ignore” or be “ungrateful” for “this grace, although it is natural.”[16]

Natural theology, for Junius, is that which proceeds from principles that are known by the light of human understanding (Thesis 15). Natural theology deals with things that are common (Thesis 16). The knowledge of natural theology and supernatural theology are imparted by the same mode (revelation), but they impart different kinds of knowledge.[17] Supernatural theology, because of its prominence in communicating divine truth, is sometimes called, narrowly, a theology of revelation, even though more broadly speaking natural theology is also given by revelation.[18] The false theology Junius repudiates at the beginning of his treatise refers to the idle musings of the pagans, not to the imperfect theology of the unregenerate man deducing principles from the light of nature.

Junius’s language can be ambiguous—using words like natural, grace, and revelation in different ways at times—but the overall structure of his argument is wonderfully organized. And within this organization we can see clearly that natural theology—though inferior to supernatural theology—is still true theology. Natural theology cannot save; it cannot (post-fall) be perfected; it does not impart the same kind of knowledge or wisdom as supernatural theology. But it is a species of revelation and of grace. In short, natural theology does not belong to the branch theologia falsa. It belongs to the category of true, ectypal theology communicated through revelation by nature.

Shannon’s interpretation of Junius fails to convince because of a fundamental misunderstanding that equates the false theology of speculative pagans with the natural theology of revelation. Writing in the tradition of Junius, Petrus Van Mastricht (1630–1706) insisted that “natural theology must be carefully distinguished from pagan theology as such, because the latter is false and the former is true.”[19] One could try to argue that Junius would have disagreed with Van Mastricht, but we must remember that Van Mastricht borrowed wholesale from Junius’s outline and from Junius’s categories, both of which had become standard Reformed fare by the first half of the seventeenth century.[20] For Van Mastricht to deviate from Junius on such a crucial point would have necessitated a lengthy discussion defending his more sanguine view of natural theology. The simple explanation is to see Van Mastricht’s careful distinction between false pagan theology and true natural theology as the same distinction Junius made at the end of the previous century. Consequently, in so far as Shannon is right that for Van Til true theology is impossible apart from the “monergistic establishment of relational restoration” (i.e., redemption and regeneration), Shannon is wrong to find an antecedent for this idea in Junius. For Junius, natural theology, always imperfect and never saving, is nevertheless a communication of divine grace and a species of true theology.[21]

III. Tracing the Tradition of Old Princeton

If the first half of this article argued that Van Til’s conception of natural theology does not find a precursor in Junius, the second half argues that Van Til’s entirely pessimistic view of post-fall natural theology is not resonant with the tradition of Old Princeton either. I should make clear that I am working from Shannon’s description of Van Til’s theology. In my estimation, Shannon gets Van Til right, but if someone were to argue that Van Til’s thought allows for a robust natural theology that would not undermine the more important point I am trying to make with respect to Old Princeton. My burden is not to repeat Shannon’s exploration of Van Til, but to argue that in so far as Van Til rejected the possibility of post-fall natural theology (as true theology) he is out of step with his own Reformed tradition.

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