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’.




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

It’s the End of the World as We Know It – The Conference for the End of the World

It's the End of the World as We Know It - The Conference for the End of the World

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It “- The Conference for the End of the World. Eschatology is a very important part of a Christian understanding of faith and practice. Here we’ve gathered some of the world’s best scholars on the Christian understanding of the End of the World. What will it look like? What should we expect? When will it happen? Register now for this important Conference in Torrance, CA on January 31st, February 1st and February 2nd 2014.


Conflict is an aspect of any relationship from parenthood to politics

Conflict is an aspect of any relationship from parenthood to politics.

The absence of conflict is rare because imperfection suggests different ends, different means to achieve those ends and different powers in the parties.

Even those with common ends can differ as to the best means to achieve those ends.

If a given resource is scarce, the control over and use of that resource can be the root of conflict.

Thus argument over who is right in regard to the “best” while potentially helpful often simply emphasizes the difference in personal desires in regard to resources, ends and means.

“Rational” can mean using reasonable actions to achieve objective goals, for subjective reasons that can be completely non-rational (not to be confused with “irrational”).

A resource is anything a person might want (will), an end is the provocation toward a resource (hunger provokes eating food as a means of personal peace; a man wants to marry a woman as a means of companionship, procreation and godly children), a means is any of a hypothetically infinite variety ways that a person can achieve their desired end through an existing resource.

When we say conflict, there are really only two options: either one of the parties is right and the other is wrong or both are wrong. A misunderstanding still implies error.

One party might convince the other party of their position but that seems pretty rare as we see in politics through the general irreconcilability of the sides involved.

Normal, healthy, reasonable people often disagree regardless of the available information and a clear understanding of the argumentation.

Thus while ideally we might conceive of conflict resolution as an exercise in logic, or reasoning, the heart has a different logic rooted in unsophisticated desire that in Christian theology, we might characterize as a bit twisted.

This is to say, modernism strives to advance interpersonal conflict and political theory as resolved through mere information and reason without taking into account the true depth of bias, perspective, human nature and preference so that what is imagined to be a debate over facts is often merely a recitation of preferences.

Preferences of course, merely by their existence leave no external means by which they can me measured against each other.

Liking evil is as much a liking as liking good.

Here that which is often displayed as an epistemic consideration is often a battle of wills; the intellect and the will are related but non identical aspects of the soul but which had dominance?

That’s a riddle I can’t answer and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all carry subtle differences but minimally speaking (in the effort to reserve to scripture the highest authority) the corruption of the human will makes any affirmation of unaffected human reason impossible.

With all our might, with prayer and with subjection to the Word we carefully attempt to navigate and discriminate between truth and error, the desire of our heart and what is actually the case, the world as God made it and the world as we would like it to be.

The Devil Made Me Do It: On truth, revelation and the satanic methodology

“The Devil Made Me Do It” Christopher Neiswonger at Branch of Hope Presbyterian Church



Hear the sermon by clicking this link…


How Should We Then Live

New Audio from Christopher Neiswonger on Apologetics.com Radio: “How Should We Then Live?” (click link)

“Many years ago, Francis Schaeffer had the role of both prophet and poet to the evangelical world. Easily the most influential evangelical of the last century, he combined and uncommon understanding of the times with a spiritual insight into the condition of the human soul.

In speaking to the culture the idea that the Christian was living outside of the realm of civic responsibility was something he sued as dangerous and frightening in it’s probable consequence. A world without the ethical leadership of the Christian church was a world without the influence of Jesus in cultural norms.

And thus he provided a way to both bless the world and the church through the same instrumental graces by saying that the God of the Bible is both there, and not silent in any sphere, discipline or subject.

The God Who Is There is vibrantly interested in every molecule in the universe, and says to all of them that they are his.

Christopher Neiswonger and guest Larry Jones”


Astronomy and the importance of location in the universe, theologically speaking

It’s hard to focus on the important things when life is so full of distractions.  The universe is big, and wide and with trillions upon trillions of this and that, and so contemporary thought has a hard time seeing the value of being here, or being human, or that God would take an interest in our tiny place in the cosmos.

The ancients thought that the earth was the center of the universe, or perhaps the Sun, and that all the stars in the Heavens circled around in spheres of glass, or some other celestial mechanics.  We laugh about Aristotle and Plato, Copernicus and Galileo who argued about what goes around what but saw through meager lenses.  Our Babelian view might not be much clearer for having peeked behind the sky.

There’s a doctrine of law that can be helpful in this, being that one needs to distinguish between the “muscle” and the “nerve” centers of an entity to find out the proper jurisdiction.  Is the most important place where we find the physical property?  Or where the work gets done?  Or where the corporate officers make the important decisions?

Astronomy and measurements of mass don’t tell us much about importance, just as the size of the universe says nothing very interesting, bigness and smallness being relative and so uninformative.  The only reason we think the universe is big is in relation to ourselves, but if we compare ourselves to molecules we are suddenly great and powerful.

Israel was purposefully the smallest and least important in the eyes of the educated, but important to God and the center of his purposes on earth.  A tiny island in Western Europe had an empire that spanned the globe, while Alexander conquered the world from an unexpected place.

In relation to the universe, the centers of importance seem to be where God does his important work, and not mere centers of mass or raw materials.  We could set up stars and galaxies and universes themselves as cosmic paperweights and for all their power they would have no more significance than their creator chose to give them.

The world tends to dismiss the Earth and the value of human life because the Earth is relatively small compared to the cosmos.  We are a small people on a small planet in a small place, but God interprets these things according to prudence, not physics.

The most important error of neo-modernism is the reduction of all things to the relation of objects in space, incapable of deeper evaluation and meaning.  The second flaw is different, but overlapping, being that since we aren’t anything in particular, we can decide what we are, and so are the creators of our own meaning.  If we were important, or valuable when we came into the world, not because of what we decide to be, but because of what we already are, most human miseries could be avoided through the simple reconciliation of our intentions with our greater purpose.

If the creator of all things that gives them their value and meaning should choose to manifest his presence on one particular sphere, one tiny ball of green and blue floating through space, that place would be a very important place indeed, and those with whom he chose to dwell of greater honor than the stars and galaxies that seem to shine with greater brilliance.

Entire galaxies after all, might be just back-lighting for the cosmic stage.


One’s politics are an expression of one’s religion

One’s politics are an expression of one’s religion. If one’s religion is man, the politics will be far too human (man rarely has the ability to see his own best interests); if one’s religion is divine then one gets a God’s eye view of the self and the world, and the best ends and means of human flourishing are the measure of political life.

It’s a very hard thing to abandon one’s self to the judgements of God, especially when we don’t understand them, or when they are contrary to current cultural consensus, or to the changing opinion of the sciences, or just plain common sense, but since the judgements of God are not for our good only in this life, or at this time in history, always looking beyond to an ultimate good for our souls that escapes the pressing urgency of the present, we abandon ourselves to God with great confidence.

Politics is ideally, the public discussion of “what is best” for our selves and for the community, but often these two things are irreconcilable. At times the differing motivations between competing “interests” (persons or groups that come together for the purpose of power in numbers) are also irreconcilable.

Inevitably, the good of one group will win and the good of another group will lose, and rarely if ever are there “win – win” situations, since the nature of politics is in arranging which perceived good will advance and which will diminish.

Sometimes a good is complicated, in that it is subtly tied in with a hundred others, so that losing one good has an effect upon many others that don’t seem to be inter-related, such as how the legality of abortion might have a cumulative effect on a nations overall concern for children, or how a simple law affirming no-fault divorce might lead to a cultural devaluation of marriage in general, and thus a disintegration of the nuclear family.

In any case, one’s political life is only lightly insulated from one’s religious life and that insulation sometimes wears thin.