Aftershave And The Case For Political Preaching

There’s an experience common to all sports-television-watching American males. The game comes to a break and a commercial begins. Your face is still pointed at the screen but your mind has gone elsewhere. Through the portals of your eyes come images: a fast car, a sleek woman, and a confident smile. If you were asked one minute later what was being advertised, you wouldn’t be able to answer. But later, for reasons unknown to you, there you are buying a new aftershave or razor or brand of beer – and feeling good about it – along with a subliminal expectation that the fast car, sleek woman, and confident smile will be forthcoming. That’s the theory anyway, as advertisers strive to associate images and emotions with their product.

But it’s not only commercials that use this technique. A similar thing can be happening in any given speech or essay. Or it might be happening in a blog associated with Reformed Theological Seminary.

More specifically, it could be happening in a defense of political preaching written by Michael Anthony Milton, its Chancellor. His main point follows:

A pastor I know recently told me that he was criticized for being “too political.” He has heard such an indictment all his ministry, he said. Today he leads a major ministry in America and battles daily for the rights of pastors to speak so that believers can speak. … Is a pastor solely limited to sharing the Gospel to his flock on Sunday mornings? Or was the late Dr. John Stott right that one of our identities as Gospel preachers, in a faithful Biblical portrait of a pastor, is a “herald”? The pastor is not a prophet, yet he most certainly does carry a prophetic voice and speaks with Biblical authority to other Beast-like powers when there are souls at risk or the honor of Christ and His Church under siege.

Obviously the images in support of this idea won’t be fast cars and sleek women, but, rather, names and causes that serve as positive images for political preaching. The most prominent of these images is a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. next to the article. Then there are flashes of other religiously-inspired heroes: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, J. Gresham Machen, and, ultimately, Jesus. Now think of the evil forces implicitly lurking: the Ku Klux Klan, The Nazis, the Soviet Union, and the Roman Empire. Of course there has to be mention of liberals (three, actually), and political correctness. Those are pretty powerful associations to support a commercial for political preaching.

But it’s legitimate to ask what the connection is between fast cars and aftershave, and it’s legitimate to ask for the connection between all these and the ultimate point of the article. The question is how these names contribute to establishing a mandate for reformed preachers of today to engage in politics from the pulpit. For example, is Rev. Milton really ready to sign on to all the causes for which Rev. King preached? If not, that would seem to be a counter-argument. Solzhenitsyn was an individual citizen staring down an oppressive government, not a Russian Orthodox priest. And, although he was admirable and astute in many ways, he also said

One must not have any negative attitude to any religion but nonetheless the depth of understanding God and the depth of applying God’s commandments is different in different religions. In this sense we have to admit that Protestantism has brought everything down only to faith. Calvinism says that nothing depends on man, that faith is already predetermined. Also in its sharp protest against Catholicism, Protestantism rushed to discard together with ritual all the mysterious, the mythical and mystical aspects of the Faith. In that sense it has impoverished religion.

So maybe the reformed pastor should pause before hitching his wagon to the overtly religious aspects of Solzhenitsyn’s thought.

But what about Jesus? Here is Milton’s introduction to the paragraph on King, Bonhoeffer, and Solzhenitsyn:

The prophets and church fathers of old spoke forth concerning the actions of governments, individuals yielding power, and the idols of culture. Our Lord Jesus did when he said of Herod “Go tell that Fox.” [sic]

Most telling about Milton’s case for Jesus as an example of a political preacher is the weakness of his proof text; it’s quite a leap to go from Jesus calling Herod a fox to a mandate for a certain kind of preaching. I’m guessing the pastors that have come out of Reformed Theological Seminary wouldn’t put so much weight on so slender a reed. Finally, Milton name-drops the apostle Paul for support, but doesn’t provide any scripture reference at all.

Although Milton goes on to add some nuance on how political topics are to be chosen by a preacher, this first part – where he makes the case for doing so – really is pretty much a commercial. Had it not been a commercial, it might have had some nuances, like distinguishing between what a pastor might say from the pulpit as opposed to what he might do as a citizen; one is intended to bind the believer while the other isn’t. Or maybe it would wrestle with the significance of “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary” from the Westminster Confession. But, just as the old-fashioned information-based commercials are passe’, maybe real arguments are as well.


Filed under Culture Wars, Spirituality of the Church, Two Kingdom, Westminster Confession of Faith

26 responses to “Aftershave And The Case For Political Preaching

  1. Pingback: Aftershave And The Case For Political Preaching | erikcharter

  2. Richard

    Dabney’s quote on political preaching is the best: “God has reserved for our spiritual concerns one day out of seven, and has appointed one place into which nothing shall enter, except the things of eternity, and has ordained an order of officers, whose sole charge is to remind their fellow-men of their duty to God. Surely, it is a tribute small enough to pay the transcendent weight of eternal things, to reserve the season and the place sacredly to them, which God has set apart for hem. This surely is not too much for resisting the tendencies of man toward the sensuous and toward forgetfulness of the spiritual life. But when the world sees a portion or the whole of this sacred season abstracted from spiritual concerns, and given to secular agitations, and that by the appointed guardians of sacred things, it is the most emphatic possible disclosure of unbelief. It says to men, “Eternity is not of more moment than time; heaven is not better than earth; a man is profited if he gains the world and loses his soul, for do you not see that we postpone eternity to time, and heaven to earth, and redemption to political triumph—we who are the professed guardians of the former?” One great source, therefore, of political preaching may always be found in the practical unbelief of [the preacher] himself; as one of its sure fruits is infidelity among the people. He is not feeling the worth of souls, nor the “powers of the world to come,” nor “the constraining love of Christ” as he should; if he were, no sense of the temporal importance of his favorite political measures, however urgent, would cause the wish to abstract an hour from the few allowed him for saving souls. We solemnly protest to every minister who feels the impulse to introduce the secular into his pulpit, that he thereby betrays a decadent faith and spiritual life in his own breast. Let him take care! He is taking the first steps toward backsliding, apostasy, damnation.”

  3. I agree with you that politics ought to remain out of the pulpit. Word and Sacrament is the focus on the Lord’s Day. Engagement with politics for the Christian, however, I take a different position on. So I guess I could be considered somewhat 2K

    • Oops, Scott, you used a smiley. Cuss words and smileys are strictly prohibited at PB. I’ll clean that up for you.

      To clarify, 2k is not inherently opposed to political activity. It will impact how it is done, with fewer prooftexts and more natural reason arguments adapted to political discourse. And it will somewhat put politics in its place, a tendency that flows quite nicely from having Sunday as a poltics-free zone. Pleasant byproducts include no broken fellowship over who voted for whom and “the world” seeing Christians as something other than a political faction; one less impediment for the gospel to be heard.

  4. Even less star power is Stuart Robinson:

    “On the other hand, it is equally plain that, as the affairs of the spiritual kingdom of Christ are of such a nature as to preclude any human devices in the way of means and instrumentalities for administration, so also the divinely appointed agencies for the administration of these affairs preclude the idea of the use of these agencies and the power accompanying them for any other purposes than the one great purpose of the kingdom itself. The officers, the ordinances, the courts, of the Church have, as we have seen, a very definite and a single end in view,—viz.: the evangelization of the world, and the calling and gathering out of it the elect of God. Hence the too common conception of the Church as power to be used directly for the promotion of mere humanly devised reforms, however desirable in themselves considered, and important to men, as men and citizens, to effect such reforms, or the conception, of the ordinance of the word preached as an instrumentality to rectify wrong public opinion, wrong moral views of social and civil affairs; or the conception of the courts of the Church as agencies through which to reach directly and reform civil evils and to arraign the State on national wrong-doing, is inconsistent with the fundamental nature of the Church itself, and must ultimately work out only confusion and corruption. This kingdom, in its administration, contemplates men only in relation to Jesus the Mediator. It ignores all strifes and parties of the kingdom of Caesar. It knows men only as friends or enemies of the King, and knows no parties but the parties of Christ and of Antichrist.”

    But if it’s star power and brevity you want, Machen:

    “. . . you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .”

  5. Scott, ever since Augustine everybody is “somewhat 2k.” When it comes to the nature of the kingdoms and their relationship to one another is where divisions begin. There are even cultural preservationist 2kers in distinction from cultural transformationalist 2kers. The former affirm political engagement but do so with a much more moderated expectation of the power of politics and legislation. One benfit is being able to live with those with whom we disagree without having to suggest either impiety or falling skies. What a relief—free at last, free at last, thank heaven above, we are free at last (see, we can use MLK, too).

  6. Richard, careful, I’m not sure exclamation points don’t count as emoticons and forms of outburst around here.

    • Excessive use of exclamation points is frowned upon. If accompanied by unnecessary CAPs or boldface I make a psychiatric referral. But Richard is easily in the safe zone.

  7. Richard

    I guess Rev. Milton is happy with something like this in his church on the Lord’s Day:

    • Here’s an excerpt:
      ‘The iPledge Sunday: A Call to Faith, Family, and Freedom Simulcast will gather Christians across the country on Sunday, September 9, 2012 for a nationwide, live simulcast co-hosted by Family Research Council and American Family Association. The event features Tony Perkins, Senator Rick Santorum, Bishop Harry Jackson, Kirk Cameron and other key Christian leaders for a 90-minute event celebrating Christian citizenship and exhorting Christians to rise up on Election Day to make our voices heard. Your church members will be informed, equipped, and challenged to advance faith, family and freedom in your local community.”

      And did you notice yet more proof that Santorum is an evangelical Catholic? Theology was an early casualty of the Culture War.

      • In fairness to the writer, Rick Santorum has been wrongly identified a number of times as an evangelical by reporters in the secular mainstream media who don’t always understand the difference between being a traditional Roman Catholic and an evangelical Protestant. From what I read of Rick Santorum, he is very much aware of the differences and it’s not fair to blame him for media mistakes, but it is very fair to blame evangelicals who make that mistake.

        BTW, Santorum’s ancestors and mine both come from the same region of Italy. Maybe there’s something fiery in the genetics?

      • DTM, I wrote that against the background of an earlier post on Santorum’s affiliation with a Catholic subgroup whose self-description sounds very “evangelical.” It’s at Then there was a debate in Iowa hosted by evangelicals in which Santorum’s manner was very much like that of evangelicals and, in fact, he won the Iowa evangelicals. Then I dealt with Santorum and evangelicalism here: . Combine that with a few posts I have done on the imprecise meaning of “evangelical,” and you have the context of what I said there.

      • Not a problem, Mikelmann… wasn’t intended as a criticism of you but rather of the mainstream media who should know better but often do not.

        I do think some interesting things could be said about how many grandchildren of 1950s Southern evangelicals who were very upset about John F. Kennedy running for president decided in 2012 to back a Roman Catholic candidate who was much more explicitly Roman Catholic in his politics than Kennedy ever wanted to be. Traditional Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants have much in common and good reason to cooperate in the political realm, but it won’t be the conservative Roman Catholics who compromise their beliefs, and too often evangelicals don’t know their doctrine well enough to know the difference.

        We need to go into that kind of “co-belligerency” with a clear understanding of what we believe and the limits of our partnership. Abraham Kuyper did so in the late 1800s and as a result suffered splits with Kersten over Catholicism and even with less radical people who joined the “Christian Historical Union” political party. In his day, Protestants knew what they believed and could split over the question of cooperation with Roman Catholics; today it’s not at all clear that is the case.

      • No doubt you are familiar with the website “Get Religion,” which tracks how the media follows religion. Good stuff, and I think they looked at how some journalists were flat-out calling Santorum an evangelical. Sloppy journalism, but understandable at one level.

        In terms of co-belligerency without theological dilution, 2k is your friend. I can cooperate with Catholics as a citizen of the USA and then recognize that my spiritual citizenship is differently defined, primarily in the WCF, so theological distinctions are maintained. The other point of view, whether it’s called worldview, Kuyperianism or something else, tends toward a unfication of the two citizenships. That force of that unification tends to be in the direction of muddling theological distinctives to facilitate co-belligerency, and the ascension of vaguely philosophical notions over what is theological and confessional.

      • While I agree with your concern, mikelmann, about potential muddling of denominational distinctives in the modern American culture wars, I can’t agree with you historically when it comes to classic Kuyperianism.

        Are you familiar with the Dutch concept of “pillarization?” Basically confessional Protestants (which in the Netherlands at the time meant various types of Calvinists) and traditional Roman Catholics created their own separate schools, political parties, and social organizations, separated much more radically than is the case in modern America virtually anywhere in the broader evangelical world. That lasted several generations, being wrecked mostly by World War II and the efforts of both Nazis and post-war socialists to homogenize Dutch society.

        That isn’t to say that pillarization is possible or even desirable in modern America — the Dutch immigrant experience is a bad example of what happens when ethnicity trumps theology in defining a subculture. However, compromise in theology was not a characteristic of Kuyperianism as a result of political cooperation with Roman Catholics in a fight against the French Revolutionary ideals which infected most of 1800s Europe.

      • DTM, that is an interesting history. It may be valid to make a distinction between classic Kuyperianism and worldviewism in the evangelical church, but I wonder how many remain within that classic Kuyperianism vs. how many are now the progeny of its evangelical mutation.

      • darrelltoddmaurina

        Mikelmann, I think we agree that there are important differences between classic Kuyperianism and the modern Christian Right. There are clear lines of connection between Kuyper through Francis Schaeffer to more modern leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and D. James Kennedy, but there are also important differences — some of them very, very important.

        The modern Christian Right is not a movement which is animated by a strong theological tradition of any sort, let alone a confessionally Reformed tradition which places great value on a studied ministry, an educated laity, and a pattern of Christian conduct based on hard analytical thinking. On the contrary, the modern Christian Right is a movement coming out of Baptist and Pentecostal circles, with a significant admixture from the Roman Catholic pro-life movement.

        I can easily understand why an evangelical who cares deeply about the sort of thinking that’s necessary to understand legal principles would find broad evangelicalism and fundamentalism wanting, and be attracted to the Roman Catholic legal tradition. The number of high-level conservative Republicans joining the Roman Catholic Church, having found broad evangelicalism to be theologically lacking, is probably a testimony to the poor foundation which non-confessional and even-anticonfessional emotion-based forms of religion make on which to build a Christian philosophy of government,

        It would be nice to point such people to the Reformed tradition of political engagement, which has some points of commonality but many points of difference with the modern American evangelical view of politics.

        Then again, this is in some ways applying to the realm of politics the same issues which Calvinists have always had with broad evangelicalism. Anticonfessional forms of religion provide a poor foundation not only for politics but also for developing a Christian worldview or even a well-run Christian church life.

      • DTM, I’m nodding my head to most of what you’re saying here. I’m just wondering if the old school Kuyperian approach is remaining distinct or if it being assimilated into evangelical worldviewism. I’m neither from Grand Rapids nor from Pella so I don’t have the best vantage point for seeing that, although I occasionally see a local CRC pastor and some northwest Iowa reformed folk acting like their baptistic allies on the Christian right.

        I have had a somewhat closer look at the thought processes of some who grappling with the RCC v. evangelicalism, and I have to also nod my head to some of their complaints about evangelicalism. Giddy worship, no sense of historical connectedness, indifference to the church as a divine insitution, and shallow culture are all legitimately tied to evangelicalism as a whole. That’s part of why in other places I make a clear distinction between Presbyterianism and evangelicalism. But that’s another conversation.

      • darrelltoddmaurina

        MIkelmann, much more deserves to be said in reply to your question than a few sentences, but my short answer is that the theological collapse of the Christian Reformed Church has had, as would be expected, consequences far beyond theology. It’s pretty difficult to be advocating a Kuyperian world and life view for activities outside the church (of which politics are only one part) when you’re fighting life-and-death battles **INSIDE THE CHURCH** for the inerrancy of the Bible and losing those battles to advocates of women’s ordination, theistic evolution, and even worse things like homosexuality and abortion.

        Here’s a somewhat longer answer. A proper answer would require a book-length treatment, so for “insiders” reading this, please forgive the “glittering generalities.” I know I’m brushing lightly over things that requir deeper treatment.

        Pella and Northwest Iowa still maintain a Dutch subculture which is the dominant culture in many ways, though that is changing quickly. What you would see today in Grand Rapids does not reflect what was present even a generation ago, and probably reflects the future of Pella, Northwest Iowa, and the other Dutch enclaves as well. Isolated cultural pockets may preserve their cultural identity like fossils for a while, but being cut off from the organizations which define and propagate that culture — in this case, the colleges which train the Christian school teachers and the seminaries which train the ministers — typically results in people being absorbed into a broader culture. For the Dutch moderates and liberals, that’s the mainline church world; for the Dutch conservatives, it is more often evangelicalism than conservative Calvinism.

        In what was once the West Michigan heartland of the CRC and RCA — places like Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, and Muskegon — the main Dutch Reformed denominations have only a fraction of their prior strength. Large numbers of CRC and RCA members who actually believe the Bible but haven’t been taught theology are fleeing the Dutch Reformed world for broadly evangelical churches, and the seceder Dutch denominations (URC, PRC, FRC, NRC, HRC) are very small groups which, even if they wanted to do so, can’t effectively influence their broader culture and have no choice but to focus on their own narrow church culture or cooperate with non-Reformed evangelicals.

        This is in many ways very different from the not-so-distant past.

        The Dutch Reformed managed to create an immigrant subculture which, unlike most immigrant groups, managed to not only survive but thrive after the inevitable loss of the native language and connection to the “old world” culture. Not all of that was good by any means — Kuyperian “pillarization” took a particularly nasty turn in America where the legitimate desire in the Netherlands to create distinctively Reformed organizations became a religious justification for ethnocentric bigotry in which the separate Dutch Reformed organizations preserved not only Reformed theology but also Dutch separatism. However, it is pretty hard to argue that the Christian Reformed Church was the only denomination of any significant size which retained a distinctively Reformed identity after the fiundamentalist-modernist conflict. The OPC has been a tiny group for most of its history and most other distinctively Reformed denominations since the 1950s have been even smaller; the PCA is the only other Reformed denomination since the PCUSA/UPCNA/PCUS mergers that even comes close to the size of the CRC.

        Culture cannot be influenced effectively by small church bodies. Doing that requires large numbers of people. Even the PCA is not large enough to have a major influence on American society, though it can and does have influence in academic circles and some local areas, and the same was true of the CRC and RCA in an earlier generation, with the major difference being that the Dutch immigration was concentrated in small areas where the Dutch became the dominant influence rather than merely being a significant minority, as the PCA is in most Southern communities where it has a presence.

        Again, that’s a very broad brush but I think it gives a taste of some of the main reasons for the decline of traditional Dutch Reformed views of Reformed political engagement in America.

      • darrelltoddmaurina

        One more thought, Mikelmann, responding to this: “I occasionally see a local CRC pastor and some northwest Iowa reformed folk acting like their baptistic allies on the Christian right.”

        Permit me, if you would, to raise a caution here.

        It’s possible for two people to do the same thing for different reasons. Motives count. If a conservative Calvinist, a traditional Roman Catholic, a fundamental Baptist, and a charismatic are all working together to fight abortion, they may have very different reasons for doing so.

        I live in the Ozarks where Calvinism is virtually unknown. If somebody who wasn’t paying attention to details watched what I say and do in political engagement, they might not see the difference between what I do and what the Roman Catholic director of the local crisis pregnancy center does in pro-life advocacy.

        Scratching below the surface, however, will reveal major differences. If I were to give a lecture on why Christians should be involved in politics, and especially if I were asked how Christians of different creeds can cooperate, I would give some answers that would immediately show influence of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty concepts. Around here where Calvinism is virtually unknown, I would use the concepts and cite the Scriptures without distinctively Reformed terminology or confessional references, but I certainly don’t hide the origins of those concepts and often use Kuyper’s name as an example of a successful Christian politician who cooperated with other Christians in politics with whom he could not cooperate in the sphere of the institutional church.

  8. Richard

    Kirk Cameron is a “key Christian leader”? Zounds! Forsooth!

    • Well if he could play a “grizzled journalist” in those rapture movies then why cant he play the role of a Christian leader? Among evangelicals celebrities are automatically leaders. See Tebow, Tim.

  9. Zrim

    But, DTM, you forgot to include not only Mormons but also Secularist Pro Lifers, whose motives are hardly religious and so should give some pause to true religionists who seem to think Christianity is a big gun in any social or political fight. If true religionists can be indistinguishable from false religionists and irreligionists in the public square, and if true religionists are serious about being counter-cultural, then maybe true religionists want to re-consider the dangers of culture war.

    But when Reformed neo-Kuyperians fill evening pulpits here in Grand Rapids and talk positively about taking over Hollywood and sound an awful lot like fundy Christian rightists, motives tend to become a way to make perhaps an interesting distinction but one without much relevant difference.

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