Don Carson’s Warrior Children

Posted: December 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

7 years ago, John Frame wrote an influential article entitled, “Machen’s Warrior Children” (you can find it online for free).  Frame argued that early 20th century scholar J. Gresham Machen had left a mixed legacy. 

Machen, a professor of New Testament at Princeton, took on the emerging theological liberalism of his day.  In his book Christianity & Liberalism, Machen argued that the enlightenment progressivism was not just a strand within Christianity but a new religion. When Machen failed to purge the mainline denominations and Ivy League schools of liberalism, he established his own seminary, Westminster, and, eventually, his own denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He took many influential scholars with him and started a conservative revolution that would spawn, among other things, modern Reformed Evangelicalism. 

Not bad.

But Frame argues that Machen’s “children” became so accustomed to fighting liberalism that they developed an insatiable appetite for battle and that when the left began to fade they turned on each other to try to satisfy their taste for blood. Frame asserts that the divisive conflicts between conservative Calvinists over issues such as how to interpret Genesis 1-2 or Revelation 20-22 or how to counsel parishioners or how to preach from the Old Testament largely stem from this desire for discord.

Will history repeat itself?

About 10 years ago, reformed evangelicals began to call out the leaders of “the emerging church” such as Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, etc. Influential scholar D.A. Carson helped lead the charge.  Carson masterfully dismantled liberalism 2.0 piece-by-piece and many young Christian pastors (like me) followed him.  Emergents fired back with snarky comments on blogs (like this one!) and war broke out. 

Fortunately, the war between reformed evangelicals and emergents was more like Grenada than Afghanistan.  Emergents now sell fewer books than Salmon Rushdie in Tehran while conservative Christians may be the last group on earth that still sell consistently (check out the sales stats for Platt’s Radical Chan’s Crazy Love or anything by Tim Keller)–that’s great news as far as I’m concerned but will the brief skirmish with emergents develop a taste for blood among the Young, Restless and Reformed? Will they turn on each other? There are certainly areas ripe for division such as whether to engage in politics (or how…think of the stink made by some Christians over The Manhatten Declaration) or what personal holiness looks like in our culture. 

If you have listened to Matt Chandler’s series on authority then you know that he recommended Wayne Grudem’s new book Politics & The Bible while Westminster Theological Seminary’s Carl Trueman obviously has very different political views from Grudem and many still follow John MacArthur who preaches abstinence from any political involvement.

John Piper and Kevin DeYoung have called out their fellow reformed Christians for failing to focus on personal holiness.  Both Piper and DeYoung are concerned that many of their comrades wallow in the vulgarity that pervades pop culture and downplay sins of sexuality and drunkenness.  Yet, many Calvinists who watch Tosh.0 and love beer fear that any hard push on “personal holiness” will lapse into stifling legalism.

Will there be a fight?

I hope not but it may be inevitable.  Yet, forewarned is forearmed. Let’s hope that Carson’s Warrior Children heed Frame’s admonition to respect a bit of plurality within the movement and only be willing to throw down over truly central issues like the inspiration & inerrancy of Scripture, the trinity, etc.

So, my friends, before you send in a check to Sarah Palin 2012 and watch last Sunday’s DVR’d The Walking Dead (and you should do both), raise a Guinness to our differences and remember to focus on the areas that are truly important–Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone); “Sola Gratia” (Grace Alone); “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone); “Solus Christus” (Christ Alone); and “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God Alone Be Glory).

Grace and peace.

  1. There is an insane amount of foresight and wisdom in this article. My only hope is that plenty of evangelicals (and especially the New Calvinists) read it.

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