A Modest Sketch of a Christian Ethic on Race & Justice

While the social fabric of our nation seems to be unraveling before our very eyes, the American Church has also been unraveling over the last several years in discussing everything related to Social Justice, Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, White Fragility, Police Brutality, etc.

Social media sees Christians labeling one another ‘Cultural Marxists’ and ‘White Supremacists’ sometimes based on the use or non-use of certain terminology.

And with the recent national unrest our denominations, seminaries, parachurch ministries, podcasters, bloggers, etc. are at it again and there seems to be little if any progress in mutual understanding to chart a path forward.

Over the last few years I’ve been sketching in my mind a way forward, and I have yet to see anyone propose this particular thesis. So, I’ve decided to throw the jello against the wall and see what sticks.

For nearly twenty years I have appreciated and followed John Frame and Vern Poythress in their theological method known as multi-perspectivalism or tri-perspectivalism. It is a multi-decade project best summarized in an article by Frame as well as in his Doctrine of the Knowledge of Godand Vern Poythress’ Symphonic Theology, triperspectivalism has earned much praise and criticism in the conservative American Reformed tradition.

Without going into my personal narrative of being generally supportive of this project, I agree with my former professor, Robert Cara, that while I do not agree with triperspectivalism as a “philosophical system” I am convinced it is a very helpful pragmatic tool in theology and Christian ethics. (Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame, xxxviii)

So, the triperspectivalism project of Frame and Poythress, while perhaps not without some flaws as an overall hermeneutical. method is a pragmatically helpful tool and paradigm, especially in epistemology and Christian ethics. In particular, I believe triperspectivalism might be useful in bringing the necessary nuance and balance to discussions about race and justice.

To begin, what is a brief summary of triperspectivalism? Here is my formulation of it (which may differ slightly from Frame and Poythress).

First, our knowledge of God and our knowledge of applying the revelation of a God (two books) to all of life is limited. Our perspective is never complete and never matches God’s perspective. As finite, temporal creatures we only have a limited range of knowledge on any subject, but God as the infinite, eternal Creator has the comprehensive and total knowledge on any subject.

Second, our knowledge and theology is analogous rather than univocal or equivocal. A common example of this is the proposition “The rose is red”. While I may affirm the truth value of this proposition and God may affirm the truth value of the same proposition, the knowledge of this true proposition is markedly different between myself and the triune God. There is overlap and continuity while also being discontinuity. So, my knowledge of any true proposition is, at best, analogous to God’s knowledge of that same proposition.

This is different from a univocal or equivocal view of knowledge. The former (affirmed strongly by the late Gordon Clark) claims that my knowledge of the proposition and God’s knowledge of the same proposition must match exactly. The latter would claim that there is little to no overlap of my knowledge and God’s knowledge of the same proposition.

Third, the meaning of revelation is also the application of revelation. While some posit a stark dichotomy between meaning and application, Frame and Poythress have helped popularize William Ames’ definition of theology as the application of God’s Word to all of life. Thus, meaning IS applicatiom.

AND, that meaning is a ‘circle’ (to borrow an illustration from Robert Cara) which we will never fill given our  finite creatureliness. God’s knowledge fills the entire circle of meaning of any proposition or point of knowledge in all his revelation, but our knowledge takes up a tiny spot in that circle.

Fourth, a helpful way to fill out our overall perspective is through three distinct perspectives: normative, situational, existential. Frame expounds these three perspectives in his four-volume Theology of Lordship series while Poythress applies it to a variety of academic fields. These three perspectives are philosophical categories, especially in the field of ethics. But Frame and Poythress have found them useful to diagram a number of doctrines and issues.
Fifth, the normative perspective deals with the objective, more absolute claims of revelation (particularly Scripture) which transcend personal experience and culture. The focus is on the ethical norm or obligation by God toward all his creatures.
Sixth, the situational perspective is bound to the systems, persons, and cultural problems we deal within a particular ethical situation. The situational may emphasize the biblical category of wisdom and the means by which one obeys God’s normative obligations.
Seventh, the existential perspective is bound to the individual’s relationship to the ethical situation. Their conscience, consciousness, etc. are bound up in the person as an ethical agent to discover what it means to obey God’s will.

Eighth, all three perspectives are legitimate perspectives. No perspective outranks any other perspective as they are interdependent. This is not unlike John Calvin’s dictum that the knowledge of God presupposes a knowledge of self (and vice-verse). And the exploration of these three perspectives are bonded together by the Holy Spirit.

I am being purposefully brief in defining triperspectivalism as the best way to understand it is to see it in action, which Frame and Poythress do in most of their books.

Now, how would we use the normative, situational, and existential perspectives in shaping a Christian ethic about race and justice? This blog post can’t trace out all (or even most) implications and applications, but I will trace some.
The normative perspective would emphasize Scripture’s teaching on the imago dei (Gen 1:26-28; 9:6; 1 Cor 11:7; 15:49), one human race (Acts 17:26-27), our union with Christ creating a new humanity (Gal 3:28-29; Eph 2:11-22), the church as the place where reconciliation by Christ is accomplished and objectively lived out (Acts 2:42-47; 2 Cor 5:16-21)…especially in the sacraments (1 Cor 11:17-34; 12:13).
The situational perspective would focus on particular scenarios of injustice in a culture, sociological descriptions (this is where intersectionality and concepts like white privilege and white fragility may be helpful). But sociology (especially its secular form) is able to offer descriptions though it rarely offers moral prescriptions.
The existential perspective might relate to things like racial consciousness, racial cultures, etc. A way to understand something like racial consciousness is that there are black people alive today who theoretically knew another black person who someone who existed when slavery was still legal. If slavery ended 155 years ago, then an 85 year old black person would have had a grandparent or great-grandparent alive when slavery was still legal. White people need to show compassion toward black brothers and sisters who speak of still carrying the conscious trauma of slavery, Jim Crow, and other historical racial discriminations.
Now that we have defined our basic terms, let’s apply this triperspectival paradigm to some phrases which are controversial right now: Black Lives Matter and White Privilege.

Black Lives Matter

According to the normative perspective a Christian should confidently affirm that black lives do need matter because of the imago dei. Also, the doctrines of the incarnation and atonement supply more reason to affirm that black lives matter. Jesus was truly human, sharing the same human nature as black people. And Jesus died for black people. Now, this leads us to affirm that all lives matter. But, at this point I think it is important to note that only a Christian worldview can answer WHY black lives matter. It is difficult to construct a reasonable answer as to why black lives matter from a Marxist perspective or a naturalistic perspective since both reject the doctrines stated above. So, while many today are tweeting or chanting “black lives matter” they may not have a basis as to why black lives matter.

The situational perspective. Is “black lives matter” a movement, a hashtag, or an organization? It depends! Context is king in the situation perspective.

As Carl Ellis argues, we need to distinguish BLM and blm. There is an organzation, Black Lives Matter, and there is the situational dilemma where the church and culture must demonstrate that the lives of black people do indeed matter when it comes to public policy.

Now, does this mean a Christian can never partner with a non-Christian organization like BLM? No. Ellis also talks about Francis Schaeffer’s notion of co-belligerency where Christians may align with non-Christians for a good end. So, are Christians allowed to partner with BLM? It is a wisdom issue and it may depend on a number of factors (e.g. some BLM chapters aren’t as radical as others and may offer better opportunities for co-belligerency).

In my opinion, Christians should be gracious about those who want to overlap with BLM as well as those who feel uncomfortable with BLM. In other words, let’s not succumb to the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer is harassed simply because he “won’t wear the ribbon“.

The existential perspective might induce a solidarity with one’s skin color. Seeing and knowing others who suffer because they share common characteristic (skin color) as you matters. I think this piece by Rev. Russ Whitfield (a Pastor in my denomination), first published in Heal Us Emmanuel (ed. Doug Serven), is a great example of the existential perspective.

A lot (not all) of white evangelical Christians are ignorant of the importance of the existential perspective when it comes to issues like police brutality. Certain statistics might favor a conservative viewpoint on this matter, but you can’t ignore how an instance of police brutality against a black person conjures up images of lynching, past police brutality, historical racial trauma in their conscience, etc.

I’ve heard conservative commentators say that statistically a young black male is more likely to be killed by other things like a bee sting than by a police officer, but the existential perspective helps one understand why a black parent warns their black son about how to respect a police officer but doesn’t warn them about avoiding bee stings.

So, it is understandable why black evangelicals (who may share the same confessional beliefs as white evangelicals) may be more favorable to the BLM organization while whit evangelicals aren’t as favorable.

White Privilege

Next to Black Lives Matter, White Privilege may be the most controversial term being debated today when it comes to race and justice. (Although White Fragility is also controversial.) White privilege was introduced into academia in a 1988 in a famous article by Peggy McIntosh. Over the last 30 years this term has evolved in its meaning and is used in both substantive and shallow ways in debates about race and justice.

The normative perspective would emphasize God’s providence, this broken fallen world, the instability of culture, etc. and how they all play a role in various forms of privilege.  We may inherit privileges from a sinful past or a good past, though children aren’t responsible for the sins of their parents (Ezek 18). The one who possesses privilege should steward it for the generosity and good of others (Gal 6:10) in the imitation of Christ (2 Cor 8:9).
In the situational perspective, there may be examples in our culture where white privilege of a sort is exemplified. Though we should recognize that white privilege (or any racial privilege) isn’t a universal, absolute part of our ontology. ‘Whiteness’ in its various usages is a sociological, cultural, situational term…not a normative or ontological term. However, problems abound in discussing white privilege because many speak of it from the normative perspective.

So, if white privilege may be a valid term from a situational perspective, how does it show itself? Some common examples are cited studies where whites get more call backs than blacks when applying for a job. The historic practice of redlining is also relevant. Perhaps the most awkward example is that of racial cultures themselves. I won’t go into detail of how certain attitudes and practices within a culture may lead to less privilege than other cultures, but thinkers such as John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, Thomas Sowell, and Anthony Bradley have competently discussed this issue.

The situational perspective would have us recognize that there isn’t some abstract entity known as ‘white privilege’ but rather a nearly infinite number of privileges one may count in our society. Anthony Bradley emphasizes ‘class’ instead of ‘race’ as the driving force when it comes to various forms of privilege. (And this is where the notion of ‘intersectionality’ can be a helpful concept, though it certainly has baggage given its secular academic origins.)

In the existential perspective, the heaviness of ‘feeling black’ versus ‘feeling white’ (though some whites can feel the heaviness of being ‘white trash’, rural and poor, etc). I once listened to a lecture on Critical Race Theory by Neil Shenvi, and during the Q&A a young black man said, “If I don’t get a job, I wonder if it is because they knew my skin color.” A white person almost never wonders that.
While I think white privilege is a legitimate sociological and psychological observation which may helpfully illuminate discussions on race relations we need to recognize that it isn’t a neat and tidy concept. Many have noted the difference between American blacks and West Indies blacks in terms of economic and cultural success. And back to our friend Anthony Bradley,  he has noted that while he doesn’t experience whites privilege (obviously) he experiences other forms of privilege. (Two parents, steady household, valuing education, good Credit score!)


So, when it comes to two controversial phrases, BLM and WP, nuance is need with these terms. There is both common grace and antithesis. Things like Critical Race Theory may display a lot of antithesis, but conservative (white) evangelicals don’t often have a good theology of common grace and they don’t distinguish between various, valid perspectives on concepts within Critical Race Theory.

I believe triperspectivalism can help the American church do the theologizing needed so that we may be as balanced as the Bible is balanced on race and justice. In addition, emphasizing multiple perspective will encourage white evangelicals to be empathetic, to weep with those who weep, to show a Jesus who will not break a bruised reed (existential)….while also being truth seekers in statistical date, sociology, etc. so that we may contribute to reasonable and informed policy (situational)…and we must have a proper systematic and biblical theology to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation (normative).

This is just an initial sketch and tracing of how triperspectivalism might be a helpful paradigm in evaluating certain theses, concepts, and issues with race and justice. I don’t have the entire mosaic completed! That would likely take multiple volumes of capable theologians (male and female, white and non-white, Reformed and one-Reformed, American and international…hopefully engaging with church history and different traditions). But hopefully there would be a few footnotes to Frame and Poythress. 🙂

A Seinfeldian Guide to the COVID-19 Pandemic!

Since we are a nation in lock down and practicing social distancing, there is more time to invest in our flourishing and moral betterment. Yes, there is more time to watch the greatest television show of all time. 


“And about this, there can be NO DEBATE!” – Poppie

Since Seinfeld is an encyclopedia for all of life, I’ve collected several episodes which in some way relate to this COVID-19 pandemic.

Cue the bass riff.

  1. “The Pie” (Season 5, Episode 15)

Yes, let us begin with Poppie being a little sloppy! Jerry dates Audrey, and while she doesn’t eat her peas “one at a time” she nonetheless refuses to eat apple pie (even on her birthday). She is also the daughter of Poppie, who ends up having his restaurant closed by a health inspector because (we assume) he doesn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom.

Lesson? Wash your hands!

     2. “The Merv Griffin Show” (Season 9, Episode 6)

This is my second favorite episode (the first being “The Marine Biologist”). As a Pastor, I had to deliver a sermon to my congregation through Facebook Live even though the sanctuary was empty. As I sat there talking to…well…no one, I thought, “I guess I am Kramer on the Merv Griffin set in his apartment.” Well, at least I technically had a camera. (That would satisfy Jim Fowler.)

This episode is filled with amazing story lines. Elaine and her ‘Sideler’ of a co-worker. Jerry drugging her girlfriend in order to play with her ‘toys’. George accusing the pigeons of breaking their deal with us. And finally, Kramer’s ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’ saga of hosting the Merv Griffin Show in his apartment. Oh yeah, Newman makes an appearance too.

Also, George’s reaction to when he first walks into Kramer’s apartment is maybe the greatest acting in the history of the show.

3. “The Apology” (Season 9, Episode 9)

This is the classic germophobe episode. It is likely that if the coronavirus pandemic was happening 20 years ago that Peggy would think Elaine is a carrier. Even though I rank “The Susie” episode above this one, I always enjoy Peggy and Elaine’s interaction. Throw in some David Puddy (always a winner) and you get some great laughs.

Plus, the other story lines of George having anger issues (and a feud with James Spader!) and Jerry’s girlfriend testing the limits of modesty are pretty good too.

     4. The Kiss Hello (Season 6, Episode 17)

Maybe you are like Jerry and prefer less physical contact, whether there is a pandemic or not! This episode centers on Jerry being the only tenant in his building against Kramer’s idea of putting everyone’s picture and name in the lobby resulting in everyone giving a “kiss hello” to one another.

There isn’t much else desirable in this episode. Wendy doesn’t do it for me as a side character. And while I normally enjoy me some Uncle Leo and Jerry’s parents, their particular plot line doesn’t deliver a lot of laughs. Still, enjoy this episode simply for Jerry’s painful endurance of getting kissed hello!

     5. “The Pothole” (Season 8, Episode 16)

One of a few episodes which show us Jerry the germophobe, Jerry accidentally knocks his girlfriend’s toothbrush into the toilet and doesn’t get the chance to tell her before she uses it. That Jerry’s girlfriend knows how to mess with Jerry by putting an anonymous object of his into the toilet is priceless.

I love Kramer’s plotline as well in adopting a highway and giving it wide lanes. And this leads to perhaps the greatest ending to any episode of Seinfeld with Newman’s mail truck catching on fire. “Oh, the humanity!”

     6. “The Gymnast” (Season 6, Episode 6)

While the main plot of this episode has to do with Jerry’s relationship with a gymnast, it is George (no surprise) who steals this episode. He strikes out on three hilarious occasions with his girlfriend, the most notable being when his girlfriend’s mother (Mrs. Enright!) catches George reaching into the trash can to consume a half-earth eclair. (I could imagine George being PatientZero in today’s COVID-19 crisis because he was eating trash.)

We also get an Elaine and Mr. Pitt plotline involving 3D-art, but the punchline of that story (which is the final scene of the episode) doesn’t do it for me.

Still, this is a classic George episode that is always worth watching (and cringing).

      7. “The Stall” (Season 5, Episode 12)

Since humanity has proven Agent K from Men in Black to be correct when he says that while “a person is smart, people are dumb panicky dangerous animals” by hoarding toilet paper during a pandemic of a respiratory virus, this episode has much for us to relate to. An anonymous woman doesn’t have a “square to spare” for Elaine in a public restroom. That’s right, this episode is about someone hoarding toilet paper!

The story gets better as we find out that Jerry’s girlfriend is the anonymous woman. While Jerry tries to keep her identity a secret from Elaine, eventually we see our favorite female Manhattanite get her revenge. Call this episode, “Revenge of the Toilet Paper!”

This episode also gives us the hilarious plot line of Elaine’s boyfriend, Tony (aka the Male Bimbo, or Mimbo), and George has a due crush on him. Although, it is heartbreaking to hear Tony tell George to “step off.” 😦

        8. “The Butter Shave” (Season 9, Episode 1) and “The Voice” (Season 9, Episode 2)

These two episodes may be the two best episodes to begin any Seinfeld season (though season 7 with “The Engagement” and “The Postponement” are a close second). Both have a similar running gag of Jerry being…yes, a germophobe. In one episode he throws away his shoelaces because they touched the bathroom floor, in the next he throws away his belt because it touched the bathroom stall.

Aside from those two gags, these episodes are hilarious. George pretending to be handicapped so that he can get a spiffy office and a private bathroom before getting caught and then spending the next episode trying to survive his new hostile work environment is amazing.

“The Voice” is memorable because it made everyone in corporate America say “Hello!” the day after it aired. Also, Kramer getting an NYU intern, Darin, is just perfect. I miss Darin, is he still in jail?

Okay, go enjoy these sit-com episodes about nothing! (And listen to this Seinfeldian wisdom about how hard it is to do nothing.)

A Tribute to Terry Eves

Image result for terry eves

A little over a month ago, one of my seminary professors wrote a moving piece about the sudden passing of his Doktorvater. I reached out to this professor and expressed my condolences as it seemed he had a special friendship with this scholar.

None of my theological professors from college or seminary had passed on until this morning. I heard the news just this afternoon that my Bible & Religion professor at Erskine College, Terry Eves, passed into glory.

For a lot of us men who become Pastors or go into some form of full-time ministry, we become attached to the scholars who most influenced us in our studies. While there are usually a few influential voices which stay with us for the rest of our lives, there is always one which is exalted above the others. For me, Terry Eves is the most influential teacher of the Bible I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

I first met Terry in the summer of 2003. I was a 17 year old kid on a visit to Erskine College. I was born, baptized, and raised in the ARP church, so it was fitting that I checked out Erskine. The Admissions office knew I was interested in Bible & Religion and Philosophy as potential majors. So, the first professor I had a meeting with was Terry. As I sat in his tiny square-shaped office in Belk Hall, my eyes roamed over the thousands of books tucked into every nook and cranny of that claustrophobic space. (It has been said that geniuses are the messiest humans. If that is true, then Terry passed that test.)

A 17 year old talking to a 50 year old scholar who cut his teeth at the famous Dropsie College of Hebrew & Cognate Languages doesn’t sound like a promising conversation. But our first encounter felt like we had been friends as Teacher-Student for many years. Two hours felt like twenty minutes. At that moment, I knew I wanted to sit under this man’s teaching for four years.

Terry had to get to an appointment, so he asked if I wanted to meet Dr. Wingard, who taught Philosophy. So, Terry dropped me off at John Wingard’s office. The Admissions office couldn’t find me! They had to tell my parents, “We can’t find your son at the moment.” Good job, Terry. 🙂

My Freshman Seminar class was with Terry. It was a crash course on Christian Worldview using Al Wolters classic text Creation Regained. One student that semester asked, “Dr. Eves, what is the most important class that you teach?” Terry responded, “Actually, I think this class is the most important.” 

I think that response is one reason why there are no published volumes of Terry Eves works. Some scholars love their scholarship more than their students, but Terry loved students more than his scholarship. It is why he fit so well in a small town at a small Christian liberal arts college.

I graduated from Erskine with a B.A. double majoring in Bible & Religion and Philosophy, but I basically graduated with a degree in Evesism. While I am (to quote the other influential Bible & Religion professor I had at Erskine, Bill Evans) “an unrepentant Calvinist” I am really a follower of Terry Eves. I ended up taking seven classes from him in three years. (Terry would move from the College  to the Seminary before my senior year.) A degree in Evesism makes one an expert in the book of a Genesis as Terry had difficulty getting past that book in his classes. 🙂

Terry was a favorite to us Bible & Religion majors and to many other students. In the early years of Facebook (back when it was still limited to college students), we created the Facebook group “Terry Always Wins”. 

In admiration of our professor, we developed our best impressions of Terry. There were many Evesisms that we loved to quote to one another. Our favorite was when Terry led prayer before a Friday class, “And Lord, we thank you that it is Friday.” 

It was Terry who gave me my first exposure to biblical theology, Dutch Reformed emphases and contributions to theology, the paradigm of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration, the role of the imagination in theology and discipleship, the conditionality of the covenant, the NT use of the OT, and the art of biblical narrative. While many of my pastoral colleagues express their difficulty in teaching narrative portions of Scripture, Terry helped me to love biblical narrative and the literary artistry of the biblical text. He gave me a balanced approach to a high view of Scripture’s authority (including inerrancy) and the common grace wisdom sometimes gained from critical approaches to the text. (Though when Terry disagreed with a critical scholar he would express his desire to take them “behind the woodshed and whack them with a peach branch”.) 

By the final exam of my seventh and final class with Terry, I didn’t study for it. It wasn’t that it was easy, but it was easy for me. I had become so in tune with my professor’s intuition and instincts with the Bible that I didn’t need to study. I passed that exam with flying colors. I had studied three years for that final exam.

While Terry was the best Bible teacher I’ve ever sat under, he was also a mentor and a friend. We had countless talks in his office. (Terry had an open door policy with students. I can’t remember one time where he told a student to come back later because he was too busy.) He held a Bible or book study in his home most semesters. We had many meals together. (Terry loved going to restaurants with students.) While we talked about class content, most of our conversations revolved around the Christian life and discipleship. He would listen to me as I bemoaned my girlfriend breaking up with me, struggled in another class, or had some unique difficulties which I experienced during my junior year at Erskine. 

During one meal together in the cafeteria I broke down crying. I was weeping over a particular sin in my life, and Terry, in his usual calm and empathetic voice, said, “Well Daniel, we know the gospel is good news for you. Especially for you.” Terry was an important shepherd to me during my college years.

His compassion and gentleness with students was a shadow of the loyalty and love he has toward his wife, Diane. A lot of the marriages I observed of my professors with their wives inspired me. Terry’s commitment to Diane was no exception.

My congregation in Cortland, NY may not know it, but about 20-30% of the stuff I give them comes from Terry Eves. Just a couple of weeks ago I gave them Terry’s speech about how “Exodus Precedes Sinai”. I usually don’t plan to quote this or that from my former professor. Rather, Terry is organically weaved through my teaching, preaching, and shepherding. 

Terry was also instrumental in Erskine College’s growth as a Christian liberal arts institution. More than any other professor on campus, Terry spoke of the importance of a Christian worldview and the school’s mission to integrate Faith and Learning. I’d like to think Erskine’s current emphasis on its mission is in part because of Terry.

For years it has been my desire for Terry’s former students to take our class notes and put together a published work to honor a scholar who probably could have been a big name theologian in our day. While I enjoy the creative musings of N.T. Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, Peter Leithart, James K.A. Smith, and others, none of them have inspired me like Terry Eves.

Now that Terry is absent from his body and present with the Lord, I hope his students will find a way to honor his legacy and see that his brilliance might be made available to future students, Pastors, and laypeople.

Farewell old friend, mentor, professor, and shepherd. I can’t wait to experience the restored new creation with you.

Terry on Youtube
Terry Eves on “The Nature of God’s Goodness”
Terry Eves on SermonAudio


“A Companion to Mercersburg Theology” Review

A typical seminary student or even a Bible & Religion major at a Christian college might hear the names John Nevin, Phillip Schaff, and Mercersburg Theologyin their studies. But these names are more than likely relegated to footnotes in the curriculum. 

However, the resurgence of interest in this somewhat short-lived nineteenth century theological movement over the last few decades has allowed seasoned pastors, theologians, and other Christian ministry workers to learn more about these footnotes from their undergraduate and graduate studies.


William B. Evans is the perfect choice to write this volume on Mercersburg Theology. His dissertation deals with some of the issues that grabbed the interest of the Mercersburg Theologians, and he has a solid trail of scholarly articles examining the figures of themes of this movement.

For those who are just getting their feet wet with Merscerburg thought, Evans writes at an accessible level, which is purposeful for this volume. I myself am a recent explorer of Nevin and his colleagues. I read The Mystical Presence this past year as well as Jonathan Bonomo’s excellent Incarnation and Sacrament: The Eucharistic Controversy Between Charles Hodge and John Williamson Nevin and D.G. Hart’s Nevin: High-Church Calvinist. Like Bonomo’s work, Evans is aware of the philosophical, sociological, and theological issues of the period. But unlike Hart, Evans doesn’t romanticize Nevin or try to rescue him for his own historiographical agenda.

The book is a relatively short read, though it packs a punch with substantive, though accessible, content. At around 140 pages, this book would be a great addition to any church history or American religious history curriculum. In addition, the layout of the book is excellent. With the web of issues related to the Mercersburg movement, it would be easy to get lost in historical details, but Evans lays out the issues and narrative of Mercersburg with catchy chapter titles.

And, we get discussion questions at the end of each chapter! Woohoo!

Again, this book is comprehensive, and it has a little bit of something for everyone. The “Introduction” and “Dramatis Personae” chapters cover the basic history of the figures of Mercersburg. Of particular interest was the relatively unknown E.V. Gerhart, the leading systematized of Mercersburg Theology (31-35).

Evans is able to give a helpful introduction to the philosophical undercurrents of the Mercersburg period in the “Tale of a Two Continents” chapter. As a Philosophy major, I found this chapter quite fun to read.

An examination of the revivalism of the American religious landscape and how Nevin critiqued this phenomena in his The Anxious Bench occupies the chapter “Revivalism Engaged”. In my opinion, the issue of revivalism and excessive subjectivism in Christian piety is crucial to understanding Nevin’s project.

The two beefiest chapters are “Christ and Salvation” and “History and the Nature of the Church”. Here, Evans gives us the theological mindset of both Nevin and Schaff. I jotted down some questions in my reading. For example, Nevin doesn’t deny the doctrine of imputation (65-66), but does imputation occupy any place of importance in his soteriology or Christian piety? How ahead of his time is Nevin in his sensitivity to the flow of redemptive history (71)? With Nevin’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, should he, like Calvin, but dubbed a theologian of the Holy Spirit? With the differences between Nevin and Schaff on justification and sanctification (75-77), did they ever discuss/debate their differences? Is Nevin’s distinction between the ideal church and the actual church (83-84) significantly different from the Reformed confessional distinction between the visible church and the invisible church (WCF XXV.1-2)? Is Nevin and Schaff’s optimism about the church in history (85-86) coherent with WCF XXV.4-5? What would a volume examining Nevin’s hermeneutical and exegetical practices look like given his disdain for a “Bible as storehouse of facts” perspective and his support of a sensus plenior reading of Scripture (92-93)? Finally, what accounts for Nevin pitting “the sacramental Calvin against the predestinarian Calvin” (107)? 

The final chapter examining the issues of Mercersburg deals with ministry and liturgy. Here, Evans shows how Mercersburg and the Reformation part ways on the prioritizing of the word versus sacrament (119). My favorite section of this chapter was near the end when Evans tries to apply the mistakes of Mercersburg theologians when it came to liturgical reform in the German Reformed Church. Evans writes, “But was it wise, for example, to insist on excluding free prayer from services? Was it prudent to throw prescribed “altar” and “sacrifice” language in the faces of those who were sure to be offended by it? In short, could the Mercersburgers (and Nevin particular) have accomplished more in their context had they been more diplomatic? Such questions are difficult to answer, but there are likely some practical lessons here for theologians and liturgical reformers today.” (127) Indeed, I as a Pastor of a local Presbyterian congregation I need to exercise the patience and balance that Nevin and Schaff didn’t always demonstrate.

The “Epilogue” is perhaps Evans at his best as he ties everything together and explores how relevant Mercersburg Theology can be for us today. I think this chapter is worth the price of the book (which is a steal at $15 in paperback and $10 on Kindle).

As already iterated, this book is now the best introductory text to Mercersburg Theology. I would make it the first book to read before reading other secondary texts and then the primary texts from the Mercersburg men themselves.


Note: I received a review copy of this work from the publisher. I was not obligated to give a positive review.

Lessons from the ARP for the PCA

I was ARP born, I was ARP bred, but when I die I may be PCA dead! I transferred into the PCA two years ago after spending several years planting an ARP church. I went to Erskine College, spent months of my existence at Bonclarken, was a Camp Joy Counselor, etc. 

I also was in the ARP and involved with its denominational politics during a somewhat tumultuous period. From 2007-2017 I attended the ARP Synod almost every year, and I went to Presbytery meetings whenever possible. If you google my name you might find out that I was one of the students heavily involved in bringing concerns to the ARP Synod about Erskine College.

Imagine being a 21 year old college student and almost every Minister in the ARP knew you as “that troublemaker at Erskine”. Some liked that I was a troublemaker, others didn’t like it. Some Ministers would call me up to pray for me and offer encouragement. Others would verbally rebuke me. It seemed that this peaceful little denomination was split in two, I had something to do with it.

I don’t regret raising concerns about Erskine’s issues more than a decade ago. It led to some good results. Today, I would recommend Erskine to any Christian high school student so long as they had the financial help to attend a private liberal arts Christian college.

However, I do have one regret…breaking the 9th commandment against ARP Ministers and Elders. In my mind, voting for my side or cause at a meeting of Presbytery or Synod meant one was conservative, and a vote against my side meant one was a liberal. Only the faithful voted for my side. The compromised voted against my side.

In my heart, from my keyboard, and through my lips, I labeled many men as liberal, squishy, or some other insult.

But in a few years time I would regret those sins.

I discovered that a good bulk of men in my denomination were confessional. They were Reformed (some even more Reformed than me). They also wanted Erskine to be a faithful missional arm of the church. But, there were different rationales for voting on this or that issue of church polity. Not everyone is a strategic politician. Some think a bit more independently. Some had a different perspective than me.

How did I come to realize that I judged certain men too quickly?

I did something radical and other-worldly.

I met with them. Face to face.

We had meals. We had coffee. We went to conferences together. We laughed. We prayed for each other. We hashed out our differences.

Our disagreements remained in some cases. Some still jokingly said “You’re the reason we are in this Erskine mess.” But we became friends.

At one point, some men who I voted with and sympathized with concerning Erskine would imply that I was a ‘chameleon’. I just wanted everyone to like me. That is why I began to befriend those from ‘the other side’.

I admit my deep sin of wanting to be liked, but I don’t think it was a sin to enjoy the fellowship of brothers in my denomination. I don’t think it was sinful to repent of my slander against certain men.

I discovered that probably 80-90% of the ARP was basically in agreement on the core issues, but there was disagreement on how to accomplish certain goals in becoming a more faithful denomination.

In 2007, the ARP seemed deeply divided. But when I left the ARP in 2017, it was a very unified and peaceful denomination.

I think other men did what I did. They sought out those who voted differently. They came to the table together. They realized that they had misjudged one another.

As I look at the seeming divide in the PCA on the heels of the 2019 General Assembly, I see a lot of overlap between my experience in the ARP and my experience in the PCA.

I think 90% (or more) of our denomination is firmly solid on the biblical perspective on human sexuality. And I think we also want to love and care for LGBT folks, especially Christians trying to live faithful lives even with their ongoing struggle and temptation.

I think we love being Reformed and Presbyterian. I think we love our Westminster Standards.

But I also think we love demonizing each other within this 90%.

And the fringe voices, that last 10%, love to stir up this demonization.

In other words, we are more fearful and irrational about one another than we ever imagined, but we are much more united than we ever hoped. (Yes, that was a very bad Tim Keller joke.)

The most eye-opening part of the 2019 PCA GA was hearing Ligon Duncan during his GRN talk say that the PCA is not slipping into liberalism and is not deeply divided on the issue of human sexuality. He even defended Covenant Seminary and Memorial Presbyterian Church in saying that those institutions have not endorsed ReVoice.

I think Duncan is right.

We are much more unified, but we act as if we are miles apart.

I give credit to Satan and our flesh in creating this kind of fictional division. The Evil One doesn’t want Jesus’ church to be unified.

While the PCA is different from the ARP (size, geography, culture, etc) there are also enough similarities for me to think that the solution for unity in the PCA is the same as it was in the ARP.

We need to get together.

We need to invite people from ‘the other side’ to speak at our conferences and gatherings. We need to tear down our echo chambers. We need to say ‘no’ to the PR battles we wage with one another so as to please our constituencies. 

I am not a member of the National Partnership. I don’t have anything to do with the GRN. My GA Trading Card names me ‘The Mole’. (Is that better than a chameleon?) If tomorrow I was offered a high ranking position in any denominational political organization, I would turn it down. I’ve been there and done that in my previous denomination.

Next year when GRN does it’s luncheon, maybe a Greg Johnson or a Scott Sauls should be part of a panel discussion.

Maybe RTS and CTS do a joint luncheon?

Maybe when we debate the human sexuality study committee report someone might say, “I disagree with Greg Johnson on some things, but I am glad he is serving in our denomination and reaching LGBT people for Christ.” Maybe a National Partnership person can say, “I praise God he has given us men in the GRN.”

A few things bothered me about ReVoice. (Last week when I met Stephen Moss I told him that I am a friendly critic of ReVoice.) A few things bothered me about how the GRN conference came about this year and how the Nashville Statement debate went (though I have no problem calling the Nashville Statement an, overall, biblically faithful document).

More than ReVoice, the GRN, or the Nashville Statement, I have a much bigger problem with how Satan is tearing us apart and sewing fear mongering and lies among us.

I have no influence in the PCA, but I guess I will take a little credit if at the 2020 PCA GA I see some of my above prophesies come true.

May the Holy Spirit bring the PCA to the to the table and begin the work of living peacefully so far as it depends on us. (Rom 12:18)