Saturday, May 29, 2010

Darryl G. Hart on If George Washington Gets A Pass, Why Not William Ernest Hocking?

Here. A big taste.

Well, one reason is that Washington was the nation’s first president and the U.S. Capitol has a whole lot of hullabaloo about him as a divine-like being (see the image of Washington’s apotheosis). Hocking, by contrast, was merely a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. As positions go, teaching at Harvard is not too shabby, but it runs well behind the founding president of the greatest nation on God’s green earth.

But when you read the religious statements of each man, you do begin to scratch your head about the relative orthodoxy of George Washington, regarded by most professional historians to be a deistical member of the Masons, compared to the theological liberalism of Hocking, who wrote the controversial report on American Protestant foreign missions, Re-Thinking Missions (you know, the report that led Machen to found the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and to Machen’s conviction and suspension from ministry in the PCUSA).

Here is Washington’s statement regarding a national day of thanksgiving


And here is a statement from Hocking about the aim of missions:


Whatever the merits of either statement, it is curious to note that Hocking at least mentions Jesus Christ while Washington rarely referred to the second person of the Trinity, except when using the conventional language of the Book of Common Prayer. (It is odd, by the way, for evangelicals to cling to the language of formal prayers when defending Washington’s piety when that same liturgical language was and is off limits in born-again worship where sincerity demands extemporaneous prayers and repudiates merely going through the motions of “prayer-book” religion.)

Which leads to the question: if we can make allowances for George Washington’s religious statements, don’t we have to extend the same generosity to Harry Emerson Fosdick, Hocking, and Pearl Buck? In other words, if you show charity to the American founders, don’t you have to extend the same to Protestant liberals? In which case, if we believed in the orthodoxy of the Founders, would we actually have communions like the OPC and the PCA?

What I get from all this: Lillback argues that "social justice" Christianity is not authentically "Christian." Hart properly points out, whatever the failings of "Christian authenticity" of social justice Christianity, it is FAR MORE identifiably and authentically "Christian" than what came out of the mouth of George Washington and many other "key Founders." And Hart is right.


Tom Van Dyke said...

What I get from all this: Lillback argues that "social justice" Christianity is not authentically "Christian."

"Send ye the tax collectors to the rich man's house, take his stuff, and give it to the poor."

This would be public charity, not private, and a politics, and nope, it's not in the Bible.

"Social justice" Christianity is an theological argument for a redistributive politics, which is fine. But it's not a definitive argument, nor is its legitimacy self-evident.

"5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you."
2 Thessolonians 3

It's a live theological dispute, but I don't see where the Founding or Washington's paucity of mentions of Jesus Christ is involved here. Machen was talking about Christian missions, yes?

LILLBACK: The phrase “social justice” cannot be found in Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.

Neither is the concept. Hart is going to have to do a more coherent job of attacking Glenn Beck than this. [Neither do I see where Beck's Mormonism is relevant. Mormons accept the New Testament.]

Anonymous said...

The problem with this is that Lillback fundamentally misappropriates the Bible in service of his vision of a Christian America. It does not really matter whether George Washington or the Founders used scripture but HOW they used it. A president of a conservative Reformed Seminary should know better. For further discussion of this see

Jonathan Rowe said...

I just quoted from this at the top.