A 4th of July Testimony of Presbyterian Resolve

WE might underestimate how deeply American Presbyterianism was indelibly impressed by the American Revolution. Just as much, Presbyterianism was a defining characteristic of the War for Independence.

At the time Walpole addressing the British Parliament, said “There is no crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson and that is the end of it.”

This theology of religious agitation and historical advancement was rooted in the fertile ground of John Calvin and John Knox, neither of whom had respect for theologies of that abandon the duties of civic virtue.

“These revolutionary principles of republican liberty and self-government, taught and embodied in the system of Calvin, were brought to America, and in this new land where they have borne so mighty a harvest were planted, by whose hands? — the hands of the Calvinists. The vital relation of Calvin and Calvinism to the founding of the free institutions of America, however strange in some ears the statement of Ranke may have sounded, is recognized and affirmed by historians of all lands and creeds.” E. W. Smith

The revolutionary sentiment was often considered a particularly Presbyterian sentiment and the theologies and sermons of the era not only promote religious zeal behind the concept of ordered liberty but the sheer force of the theology of the Westminster Standards applied to civics. Their Presbyterianism was not our Presbyterianism; they likely would have had a hard time recognizing their off-spring in the faith.

Here is an example of the kind of fire that peppered Presbyterian sentiment of the era: http://www.bcgv.org/_images/DavidJonesSermon.pdf

They were Postmillenial and unashamed of the immediate application of Christian theology to time, place and circumstance. The idea of a Christianity without a transformative effect upon “culture”, the political landscape and the social condition of the people would have seemed wholly alien to them. Such theologies were rare but for the Quakers, Shakers and Amish; it would likely have been considered by them outside the scope of Christianity.

Modern Presbyterian historian D.G. Hart makes an ongoing effort to track the deep differences between traditional American Presbyterian sentiment in regard to its inherently “political” nature as opposed the Dutch Continental strand of reformed thought, much more amenable to monarchy, subjection and indifference to the course of civic virtue. His historical works are perhaps the most biased I’ve read that can still be called history but are useful for dates, events and the names of the parties. He’s not wrong about the deep divides but doesn’t seem interested in grasping the traditional Presbyterian arguments against contemporary versions of Presbyterianism. 1 The American revolution was a Presbyterian religious war against what they perceived to be dominating Papists and Anglicans. Methodists were Anglicans, Baptists were rare and there weren’t enough of anyone else to make them numerically significant.

“When Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate retreat and surrender at Yorktown, all of the colonels of the Colonial Army but one were Presbyterian elders. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Presbyterians.” Size

Did they think they were entering the “promised land” or that they were in the subject condition of “exile in Babylon”, intended by God to suffer the weighty hand of evil empires (Horton, Van Drunnen)? They considered slavery in the promised land their condition and the war against domination by the English analogous of putting off the chains of the Amalekites and the Philistines. They had a duty to resist and a duty to free themselves of paganization and tyranny. Religious freedom was better than life and death was preferable to religious compromise; they were willing to die even for their neighbor with whom they disagreed about matters of theology so that both might worship in accord with conscience and best understanding.

The majority of those with whom D.G. Hart has to do in interpreting the record of contemporary Presbyterianism had no experience or history in Presbyterianism, by his own description arriving from nationally, ethnically and religiously Dutch Reformed backgrounds and uncomfortable with American Presbyterianism. In this he does help us to see vast differences between the path and trajectory of the Dutch Netherlands civilly and religiously from the United States civilly and religiously. That Continental theologies tend toward the abandonment of the civic realm to ‘secular’ powers, personalizing religion and religious ethics while American theologies are prone to the formally predictable effects of God’s providential care in history.

The Christian concern for the political life of the community is a trait of traditional American Presbyterianism (by way of the English and Scottish reformations and revolutions) while ideas of two realms, one sacred and one secular, one of Christian obedience and one of natural law and civil domination by the elite is not. We might also argue that one is true civil Calvinism and one is not, but for another occasion.

The American Presbyterians saw the American experience as that of a new Jerusalem, a “city on a hill”, while the Amsterdam theologies were powerfully influenced by German Pietism. The Kantian religious explosion was beginning at that time but dominated the thought of Continental religion for the next 200 years through the rise of “Critical” approaches to knowledge and Holy Scripture.

We see these in Hegel, Barth and Brunner but no less in the PCUSA today.  “The quest for the historical Jesus” and “the New Perspective on Paul” were both sown in this field.  The Enlightenment glorification of autonomous reason raised an anti-enlightenment tension in the seminaries with the abandonment of reason as applied to religion and the interpretation of Holy Scripture, and brought about a crisis in American theology from which we are yet to ‘emerge’.

Neiswonger

 

 

1. Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by D.G. Hart and John Muether.

A few rules for the beleaguered marital heart

The most dangerous mistake married couples make is to put off marriage counseling too long in relation to the need. Other than that here are a few rules for the beleaguered marital heart.

A few rules:

1. Things don’t tend to just get better.

2. If left to themselves conditions and issues tend to get progressively worse or more intransigent.

3. Words are the most harmful things a person can misuse in a marriage; after that actions then failures to act.

4. Silence is worse than miscommunication. Miscommunication is curable through explanation or learning to understand one another; silence is deafening.

5. Don’t ignore or repress characteristics, clues or knowable conditions when choosing a spouse.

6. Romantic love tends to grow, recede and resurge at unpredictable times in a perfectly normal relationship.

7. Planning or scheduling intimate time together is fair, responsible and if spontaneous time is rare or awkward, absolutely necessary.

8. Your spouse is the primary human relationship you have in this world; kids come next; then parents; don’t mess that order up because it will eventually cause harm.

9. The simple, common and normal things will always cumulatively out weigh the “big” things, events or communications.

10. Anger, fear, pride, vanity, lust, envy and complacency are the marriage killers. They are not rules to be followed but virtues to be cultivated in yourself and your spouse. Handle them or they will handle you.

 

neiswonger

The History and Current Status of American Presbyterianism

Here’s the link to the recording of the KKLA 99.5 FM radio program: “The History and Current Status of American Presbyterianism”, with Lindsay Brooks(PCA), Pastor Kent Moorlach (ARP), Pastor Lance Lewis (PCA) and Christopher Neiswonger (OPC/PCA)

“The History and Current Status of American Presbyterianism”

From Bowe Bergdhal (of the Obama prisoner exchange) as a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to the this week’s adoption of gay marriage by the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, sorting through the mess of Presbyterian issues and denominations is difficult business.

Well known pastors like R.C. Sproul and Tim Keller are Presbyterians but what does that really mean? Is there a future for Presbyterianism?

http://apologetics.com/radio/?sermon_id=25

So what does “Christian counseling” entail?

Family-Counseling

Well it’s not the same as secular counseling but since secular counseling is usually framed in the traditional shell of Christian counseling there will be similarity.
Christian counseling is the response to an emotional crisis serious enough to cause a disruption in life, behavior or relationships.

Counseling isn’t reducible to just getting together to talk about things but it’s not just giving out sage advice either. There is an important interactive element and the intent to move toward some kind of resolution.

So it isn’t psychology? Well certainly there’s a healthy bit of psychology in it because psychology is the applied understanding of the human soul and why we do the things we do. We can’t get by without a bit of Christian psychology and certainly Jesus spent a lot of time teaching us the inner contours of man’s battle with himself.

Here’s one of the most important things about counseling, it’s supposed to go somewhere. It’s self involved but not self resolving. It should never be an ultimately selfish endeavor. From a Christian perspective every bit of the counseling process is to restore the relation of the person to God, their neighbor and their own well being but in that order. Of course these are inter-related aren’t they? Could we think that a person could be O.K. in the absence of a good relationship with God? He’s our Father but along with that our closest and most enduring relationship. We quite literally exist because He holds us in existence; the Apostle Paul spoke to this by saying that, “in Him we live, and move and have our being”.

As such most conflicts of the soul are by nature of the case something to work out with God, but it’s not really that simple, is it?

It’s not usually the God-conflict that brings one into counseling care but more immediate personal or inter-personal relationships.

When a person can’t get along with themselves or another that’s where the rub comes in. Anxiety, despair, depression, anger, loneliness and sadness are the most common personal symptoms bringing someone into a counseling situation. Most substance abuse and sexual problems also flow from these which are not directly addressable as “sins” when we talk about what we mean by them in a counseling situation but conditions of the soul, the causes and resolutions to be addressed.

When a person isn’t relating well to others that’s what we’re talking about when we get into “marriage counseling”, “family counseling”, “group counseling” and intersession.

Let me say something very controversial and generally disliked but incontrovertibly true: every conflict in a marriage is ultimately a problem in the relationship with God between one or both of the parties. So in a marriage when some kind of crisis has risen to the place where one or both of the spouses are reaching out for counseling the elephant in the room is always going to be “Where are we missing the will of God for our lives?”

Happiness is very important; the Bible doesn’t anywhere imply that being unhappy is a good in itself, but happiness isn’t to made an idol either. It’s where and when and how we want to be happy that is usually the fatal flaw in our spiritual resilience. If we want to be happy in a way that harms our selves, our neighbor or our relationship with God that’s going to be something that will inevitably need to be addressed.

This comes up quite a bit with drug and alcohol counseling. We might see the entire sweep of drug and alcohol related problems (different but related to any addictive behavior from tobacco to pornography) as seeking happiness through artificial and illegitimate means. There is a happiness that is true and a happiness that is false; there is a holy happiness and a worldly happiness that merely covers the place where happiness should be.

When we come to a marital interest and unhappiness in the relation there might be hidden somewhere or in plain sight, something somewhere that speaks of a dissatisfaction with God and His hand in our life. There are many ways to study the avoidance of our Heavenly Father’s good pleasure in what He made us, where He has us, what He wants us to do, where He wants us to go, what He would have us suffer for the sake of Christ but therein lies the “secret” of life, if there is one.

It is that humble submission to the details of divine providence is an unavoidable element in the emotional well-being of any Christian life.

While it is certainly not all there is to happiness in the Christian life, no happiness that is deep or lasting will be had without it.

It is the vantage point from which all of the other joys that we think of as easy or lesser find their frame and reference. So we move toward an understanding and apprehension of this one thing as the platform for building every other thing, and them toward joy and peace.

Neiswonger

Basic Rules for Being Effective and Getting Things Done

It’s not that this kind of thing is reducible to “the rules” themselves. In a sense, getting things done is as much a function of temperament and personality as the steps to take but there are a lot of things we can do to maximize effectiveness and achieve goals.

Here are a few:

1. Make a list.

I know it seems simple enough but all of them are going to be simple. It’s not figuring out hidden strategies for success that’s on point but planning steps in such a way as to get them done. The simplicity of “the list” might mask its importance and power as a tool for self and time management. It is a powerful tool but one you can make with a pencil, software or in your own head. It’s my experience that people that make lists and apply them get a lot more done than people that have a jumble of ideas and a vague recollection of the things they wanted to get done that day, week or year.

Here’s a great business note or planning app that’s free and effective: http://evernote.com

Remember, you only get out of a tool what you put into it.

2. Get Clarity: Clearly define what you want to get done and plan reasonable steps toward its accomplishment.

You must know what you want to do.

What do you want out of life. What does God want for you. What does God want for you to want.

Almost anything is easier to do if you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve before you start. If you’re already on a path and you find out you need to change course during the walk, it’s a lot more difficult.

In simpler or lesser things the principle still applies. I want to grow a nice garden or I want to learn to cook are probably too vague for a reasonable expectation of success. What kind of a garden and cook what are things you should explore early and deeply.

3. Count the cost: Everything has a cost and everyone pays the toll.

This is perhaps the hardest aspect of getting things done but also the most fruitful. If it’s a complicated task like “get a degree” or “learn a language” or “become the world’s greatest whatever” there will be clear, identifiable, achievable steps to complete that task. Your job is to find out what they are and measure your available time and resources against the completion.

Google it. Research. Ask around. Read a book. Do some searches and find out what the big, main issues or concerns are in achieving the goal at hand. If it’s unfathomable then pass it by but if it’s doable then maybe you take a run at it.

Anything can be done but not everything should be done.

This is the biblical maxim of “counting the cost”. Jesus uses it as an analogy of the Christian life when he says, “”Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” We’re not one to try to use a scripture out of its context but if the principal wasn’t true to life in general he wouldn’t have used it as a teaching tool for this issue in specific. We need to know what we’re getting ourselves into.

Search engines like Ask.com http://www.ask.com and Google.com are places to start researching almost anything but remember you’re not just looking for what you want to achieve but the intermediate steps between wanting and achieving.

4. Time management:

The most valuable resource in life that you’ll never have enough of is time. It’s always running out. This goes back to making lists and gaining clarity but when planning, whether getting the groceries or climbing Mt. Everest we need to know how much time is should take, how much time it could take, and when to just stay home. Remember the old maxim time is money? It’s because the amount of time that something takes is directly related to how much it will cost you and thus how much you will gain or lose through achieving it.

Everything in your schedule has a reasonable amount of time that it should take and should be scheduled accordingly.

It’s incredible the transformation that happens in some peoples lives when they start to apply time management principles to daily or weekly activities. It’s not that they need to remove every “fun” thing or hobbies or social events, they find that they have more time for all of those things when they sharpen the amount of time they spend in necessary but time absorbing tasks.

Things like blogging, Facebook, reading, etc are things that you can and should set an amount of time for, and discipline yourself toward those ends. If we don’t the mindlessness of the activity (and I mean that in the good way) can make minutes and hours disappear that we will never see again.

If you Facebook in the morning for example, set a five minute time limit; if you can’t do it or lose track of time, set an alarm. If you still find that you can’t drop it and not check it again till lunch time or after dinner, lose it. There is nothing in there that is that important to your own or another person’s well being. You are quite literally giving a chunk of your life away that should be being spent somewhere else doing something else.

“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath” Psalm 39

If you’re 16 and you play video games for hours on end, maybe you get a pass. If you’re 26 and have a wife, kids and duties in the community and you spend your time playing video games instead of dealing with your home life and catering to the needs of family, career and community (please insert any of a number of time-wasters like working on your car restoration project, fishing, bowling, watching T.V., reading fiction, whatever) you probably aren’t dealing with a potentially serious problem. If history serves us well you can expect that it will catch up with you and hurt. It’s as inevitable as the ticking of the clock.

Life is short. You won’t get another one. At the end of it you are not going to list trivia as a worthy object of the cost you paid with your seconds, minutes and hours.

5. Manage fatigue: Anything worth doing is generally hard to do.

With that there are usually a lot of un-glorious, boring, monotonous things to do in the process of achieving any good thing. To raise children we change diapers. To get through law school we brief cases. To win a race there are a thousand intermediate steps before a finish line.

If you just want to manage your house better that’s easy in theory but hard in practice. The sheer number of actions that are needful each day can wear you out. It’s not the big things, it’s the small ones multiplied over and over again.

When I’m working on a big project and under the gun I still take ten minutes out of every hour for a brain break, do something else, check my email, call my kids… anything that resets the intensity and keeps you working harder, faster and more effectively through the next 50 minutes. Fatigue is inevitable if you’re doing anything that carries the glory of painful labor (which is its own beauty), it’s all in how you manage it.

Adopt a conscious mental stance that you will not be defeated by the drudgery of doing toward the glory of succeeding. Consciously deciding is better than hoping for an automatic or unplanned resilience. If you’re trying do anything worthy of doing the thought of quitting might come to mind more than once along the way. Be ready for that, and when it comes hit it with something heavy.

Do you know what sets doctors and lawyers apart from most folks? People usually think it’s natural intelligence. It’s not. Lots of very intelligent and and skilled people drop out/flunk out of medical or law school and find something else to do. It’s bruising, tenacious, unyielding, unforgiving focus and tenacity coupled with the willingness to do the heavy lifting and back-breaking labor. Success at most things boils down to the willingness to do the hard work. If you already know you’re not willing then you’ve already found a reasonable limit to what you’re really willing to achieve.

Socrates was not wrong when he said, “Know thyself”. It’s a painful lesson so learn early to get it over with.

Is what you want to do something you want to do bad enough to actually do it? Are you willing to suffer and dig deep? Are you willing to risk failure for the hope of success?

At this point you might be thinking, geez I just wanted to learn how to tango and this conversation and suddenly gotten all heavy, and that would be true. You don’t need to lean this heavy on the inner workings of the soul to learn the macarena, but if you want to do something heavy you’d better get used to thinking heavy thoughts. Heavy thoughts are heavy for a reason.

6. Value good advice:

The Proverbs teach that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

How many people, when they were 17, thought their parents were complete idiots but by the time they’re 37 think their parents are geniuses? It’s pretty common. Wisdom hangs out where it wants too; you can’t choose where to find it. If you need to know how to fix your marriage you go to a marriage counselor; if you want salvation get thee to church; if you want money see the banker. It’s not rocket science.  It’s obvious. Get some counsel.

When you get contrary counsel choose between them as best you can.

People that aren’t willing to take the wisdom of those that have already walked a few miles rarely do anything very interesting. Yeah, every once in a while you get an Albert Einstein but he was Albert Einstein. The rest of us are just trying to get things done.

Neiswonger

School counselor is publicly arrested because his 4 year old daughter draws a gun with crayons at a government school

gun-drew-daughters-picture.si

“After Jesse Sansone’s 4-year-old daughter drew a picture of a gun, cops handcuffed the clueless father and dragged him off to jail. It was there that the dad was stripped of his clothes and searched by the authorities. Sansone was never charged with a crime.

Sansone wasn’t expecting to be greeted by police when he went to pick up his three children from school last week. Faculty there had become concerned, however, after the man’s 4-year-old daughter drew an image last Wednesday that they thought warranted investigation. It was a picture of a man holding a gun, and when teachers asked the girl to explain it, she said it was a depiction of her father.

“He uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters,” teachers say the girl explained.

The father says he doesn’t own a gun. Nor does he kill monsters.

“I’m picking up my kids and then, next thing you know, I’m locked up,” Sansone, 26, tells The Record out of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

“I was in shock. This is completely insane. My daughter drew a gun on a piece of paper at school,” he says.

After seeing the image in question, the school’s staff became shocked as well. So much so, in fact, that they rang up child welfare officials and local law enforcement and arranged for them to meet the girl’s father at the end of the school day. By that evening, Sansone had been handcuffed, whisked away to jail and forced to remove his clothes so he could be subjected to a strip search.

Authorities took all three of Sansone’s children and dragged them to Family and Children’s Services to be interviewed. His wife, Stephanie Squires, tells The Record that authorities never explained themselves.

“He had absolutely no idea what this was even about. I just kept telling them. ‘You’re making a mistake,’ ” she says.”

http://rt.com/usa/jail-sansone-gun-waterloo-333/

Commentary:

Few people working in the system know the rules, limitations or best practices.

Many decisions are not made by “law” but are reducible to the subjective judgments of a series of individuals lightly prepared to make such judgments. This might include the police; social work is not their primary concern nor is it their primary area of training.

The decisions tend to be made by social workers often with a minimum of education (AA or BA). The training can be more politically slanted than we might imagine instilling a certain fear of “religious” people or “homeschooled” as worthy of higher scrutiny.

The government regulations have created a culture of fear and suspicion with the tendency to presume that parents are a threat until they prove otherwise and there is no clearly defined way for the parent to prove otherwise. The threatening parent is often the one that harmlessly comes up on the radar of the child protection machinery through which tens of thousands of people make their living.

The impetus to find something wrong with with a parent in order to validate philosophies, gain advancement, increase income and prolong government funding is acute. We’ve created a system in which finding something wrong with the people they serve is what makes the job important, so they measure you, measure your children, look for flaws, errors, mistakes, and then act when they find them. It’s a bit orwellian and should be reasonably scary.

The entire project of the governmental institutionalization of childhood is at risk if the system doesn’t find something wrong with someone. This is different from it existing just in case there is something wrong to be found. It’s different because this active searching system requires billions of dollars in funding, training, staff, pensions, buildings, officers and intra-governmental cooperation, whereas a passive or reactive systems requires only the knowledge that something is wrong according to the pre-established laws.

Home schoolers are perceived as a threat for no other reason than that they are not under constant state scrutiny. Whether they are actually doing something wrong isn’t really the problem; the problem is that the state doesn’t have access to seeing on an ongoing basis if they are doing something wrong. Notice that the American legal system was not designed for this kind of methodology. It was made for citizens to be presumed innocent of any offense and so their privacy protected until the state had some overt reason to think otherwise.

This has been sold as the very reason that this system should exist, because some child, some where might be being abused, and so all citizens should subject their families to state over-site and surveillance for the common good, but this isn’t as good an argument as it seems on the emotional level.

First, the Constitutional right to raise one’s own family without governmental interference and the right to privacy are voided by the methodology. This kind of a shift in civil rights should require a constitutional amendment. The mere creation of legislation or governmental regulations are insufficient to justify many of the practices currently in place.

Second, there are already laws against abuse that can be enforced without foregoing the constitutional protections of the family. If there aren’t then we should create them. If there are but they are not enforced then we should enforce them.

Third, the statistical data tends to show that for all of the increases in arbitrary governmental power advanced in the institutionalization of childhood there has not been a corresponding increase in the protection of children or a decrease in child abuse.

Fourth, that we should hand our children over to the state (which is the same as handing them over to other persons, since “the state” is just other people, perhaps with different ideas, values, commitments and ideologies) because some child, some where might be being abused does entail:

1. that we should sacrifice the well-being of our children for the hypothetical well being of an imaginary child

And 2, that there is more good in the incredible and widespread human suffering being created through state schooling, state over site and state regulation than that which would be created without it.

Most children that are bullied, are bullied in state schools. Most children that are attacked, are attacked in state schools. Most children that are abused, are abused in state schools. Most children that take drugs, take them in state schools. Attending a state school dramatically increases the child’s risk for rape, murder, pregnancy, drop-out of education, battery, assault, depression, anxiety, and almost every other risk factor we can imagine; it soon becomes apparent for the even the moderately interested party that the state answer should be presupposed to be the largest part of the problem.

Educational decisions are best left exclusively to the family.

The systemic interactions of the educational system with the quasi-governmental CPS and law enforcement is a dangerous but powerful system with light accountability and few standards for redress.

Neiswonger