An Open Letter to DG Hart

Darryl G Hart is an Orthodox Presbyterian Elder, an historian and visiting Professor of History at Hillsdale College, Michigan. He is the author of several interesting books including A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State, and From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism. I have a couple of other books of his on my ‘to read list’. I have never met with Mr Hart, never spoken to him, never written about him and yet he seems to take quite an interest in some of my musings. In his latest offering, Darryl speaks of ‘our interactions’. Given that we have not actually had any – I thought I might try. And see if I can help my Reformed Historian brother, come to a better understanding of Reformed history! Here is the original post…(which Darryl helpfully posted on my blog),

http://oldlife.org/2014/10/pastor-verge/

And here is my response:

Dear Darryl,

Thanks for posting your wee comments on some of my musings. I have to confess I found them a little bit hard to understand so forgive me if I have picked you up wrong. I thought that since you deemed to worthwhile to comment on my comments, I would do you the courtesy of taking you seriously and respond…

1) You talk about our interactions. I am not sure that we have actually had any (hence this letter). I understand interaction as being when one person speaks, another responds, the first responds to that and so on. They interact with one another. From what I understand you post some of my comments, make a couple of encouraging and disparaging remarks and then leave it. There does not appear to be any interaction. Unless you call the mocking comments by various posters on your site that usually follow, interaction. On this side of the pond we generally like our interaction to be well, interactive. We talk to each other (not about each other),we argue and we engage. I’m afraid we are not large enough to engage in the kind of tribalism that seems to infect the American Reformed church.

2) Thanks for the advice about hearing myself. I personally hate to listen to myself and to read what I write. I don’t really like talking to myself. I prefer talking to and listening to others. In that respect sometimes it is fascinating seeing how one is perceived by others at a great distance. Thanks for the insight.

3) I am sorry that you think I have a patronising attitude towards Christianity in the United States. I hope that I don’t. Firstly I don’t actually know enough about it, and secondly I have greatly benefited from many Christians and churches in the US. My life would be much poorer without the likes of Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, Ravi Zacharias and many of the non-superstar American Christians I have come to know and love. I am also a little concerned that you think there is nothing wrong with being patronising about the Church in the US. I think it is actually a dreadful thing – and certainly not something I would want to do, or make a career out of!

4) I am not sure I should be classed a defender of Tim Keller. Tim can speak for himself. What I find fascinating is the advice I was given to stay out of the cesspit that is American church politics. It strikes me as wise advice that I try to heed. I cannot understand why people seem to find it so appealing and essential to attack and condemn those are different from them. Is it really because they are the bigger fish in the small pond? Personally I remain deeply thankful to the Lord for the ministry of TK and I rejoice in the new partnership between TK/Redeemer and Ligon Duncan and RTS. I’m sure you will join in the celebrations!

5) I may be wrong but it seems as though you are not the biggest TK fan. So I assume that stating that even TK would not express himself in the way I do, is your way of saying ‘how low can you get’! What I find intriguing is that you then give a lengthy quote from yours truly and use it to complain about the way I speak about Prime Minister Cameron and other UK officials. The trouble is that the quote was not about Cameron or other UK officials. You are an historian and therefore you should know that a text without a context is just a pretext. You manage to quote me speaking about Scottish religious and political officialdom and then comment as though I was talking about the UK Prime Minister. The very opposite of what was being said. Besides which, much as I appreciate and love Tim Keller, I don’t determine how I speak, or what I say, by him or anyone else, (outwith Scripture).

6) Can you help me with your remark – ‘though if Keller channelled Robertson he would be a lot more interesting to read’? We are not really into ‘channelling’ on this side of the pond – we tend to associate it with New Age practice (are you in California?) – however were you saying that TK would be much more interesting if he wrote like me (a wee dig at him and not true) or that I would be much more interesting if I wrote like Tim (a wee dig at me – and certainly true). Either way it’s a wee bit of a catty remark isn’t it and not really something you should be sending to me to post on my blog is it?

7)Thanks for quoting my last quote – I like it so much (and often I don’t like my quotes) that I repeat it here “In 1979 I had just become a Christian – I saw in the Gospel a far deeper hope and more radical solution that even Mrs Thatcher was offering and, as I wept, I dedicated myself to proclaiming the cause of Christ, where-ever He called me. Today I weep again for my country and I rededicate myself to that same cause. I don’t want to spend my time trying to steady the sinking ship. I want to man the lifeboats and rescue the drowning. I want to turn the world upside down. Is that so wrong?! Were you citing it as something to be commended or condemned? I’m sorry but I don’t understand the subtle nuances of American Reformed culture – as a Brit I just don’t get that irony thing! Mind you I enjoyed a laugh at the man who commented on your blog “Wow, the equivalency he’s making in that second quote is thoroughly Xian Right.” I’ll have to keep that one for my resume – its makes a change from being called a socialist! I am not ashamed to say that I believe that politics will never save my country and that I do look for a spiritual revolution/reformation/revival.

8) I find it interesting that you cite the USA as an example of a Christian Revolution. Interesting for lots of ways. You are someone who critiques the American church constantly and especially the ‘we are a Christian nation’ theocrats. So do you reckon that the USA is a Christian Revolution that failed? As you seem to have been against Scotland being independent of the UK, do you think that the colonies should be returned to her Majesty now that the American Christian Revolution has failed?

9) I don’t blame you for this one – after all one can chose one’s friends but not one’s commentators but do you not find this comment which appeared on your blog, rather trivial and unbalanced? “And while the UK (still) religious and secular press hail Robertson as a visionary and a successful religious figure please remember that he was a big part of introducing hymns into the previously exclusive psalmody Free Church — a dubious accomplishment in my mind. I think someone else on your blog accused me of introducing contemporary worship. I can see the thinking – socialism leads to cymbalism! I used to love the way that a handful of people in the OPC and PCA would go on about ‘purity of worship’ and marvel at the quaint ‘Brigadoon’ image they had of the Free Church. I am sorry that we spoiled that vision. The Free Church actually had a full, frank and honest biblical discussion on this over a period of four years and we came to a biblical conclusion and changed our practice – which is now actually the practice of your own denomination. We still sing psalms, we have not split (in fact we are growing) and we have not turned into a bunch of happy clappy Arminians! Go figure.

And while you are figuring, perhaps you can tell me why anyone in the US would comment on anything I write or say? Not just on your blog, but also in a few other US sites, I come across (or get sent links to) people I don’t know, and who don’t know me, talking about what I believe and think – and often just getting it completely wrong. My favourite was a Baptist eccentric who managed to take 45 minutes of an hour long sermon to critiquing yours truly because I did not think that American street preachers yelling at people on the streets of Scotland was the most effective way of communicating the Gospel. I’m sure you will agree that was hardly ‘preaching the Word of God’! My point is that I cannot see how anything I write would be of any relevance in some of the circles it gets quoted. But if it is, I would appreciate if people could actually argue against what I do say and not attribute motives and beliefs I don’t have. E.g. Just because I appreciated our National Health Service does not mean that I am an Obama supporting socialist and Satanist!

One small matter for some of your correspondents – I don’t mind people who know me well calling me ‘Robbo’ or having a wee go. But those who don’t know me at all? It’s a bit cheap…so until you know me better, give up the faux pas familiarity and stick with ‘brother’ or ‘Sir’!

10) And finally…lets turn to history again. You argue against the Establishment Principle and for a strict separation of Church and State. You may be right. It could be that the traditional Reformed position of Calvin, Luther, Knox, Chalmers, McCheyne etc. is wrong and that these men were just a product of their age and culture. It could be that the best system is the US style separation of Church and State. Or it could be that we are just as much a product of our age and culture. I don’t know if you would be interested but I wrote a defence of the Establishment Principle for the Free Church’s 150th anniversary in a book of essays called ‘Crown Him Lord of All.
As Christianity declines in the US I’m not so sure that your system will not actually result in more extreme atheistic secular humanism than we get in Europe with our decaying Church state system. I actually don’t know the reality of what we will happen – though I suspect we would both agree that without Christ all our systems will fail.

I know you are a history lecturer but you will forgive me for offering a little correction to your misunderstanding of the situation in Scotland. You wrote “ But shouldn’t he also say something about a complicated relationship between church and state in Scotland that concedes that the head of the church — the British monarch — is also head of the state.” It’s a simple but important fact; the Queen is not head of the Church of Scotland or in Scotland and never has been. Basic Presbyterian church polity tells us that Christ is the sole head of the Church. Basic Scottish history tells us that people were prepared to die for that belief!

I think I’ll leave it there. It’s been fun. If you actually want to interact (as opposed to using me as a sounding board for whatever particular political issue is playing out in your circles across the pond) feel free to do so. Even better, the next time you are in Edinburgh Theological Seminary let me buy you a beer and give you a copy of Chalmers six lectures on the Establishment Principle!

Wishing you all the best,

Your brother in Christ

David

PS. After writing this I went back to your blog which you linked me to. It is very very sad the pettiness, viciousness and ignorance shown in the comments. How pathetic that you seriously have people who think my speaking at Twin Lakes was a sign of its Downgrade – and the nasty snide comments about TK and LD. Do you think you could discourage this kind of comment (and the ‘fake David Robertson’ one) and encourage some of your followers to a) grow up a wee bit and b) start thinking and behaving like Christian men and not internet cowards. Having read the comments I’m afraid I have no desire to engage in any kind of internet debate. I have too much to do and don’t really want to wade around in that cesspit. I will of course respond to any serious comments you might make in due course….but sorry – I’m out of this. Already it leaves a bad taste..Lets just get on with The Work.

5 thoughts on “An Open Letter to DG Hart

  1. I agree with you David. That was a very depressing message board, and “Fake David Robertson’s” message should have been deleted. Life is too short to engage with this sort of nonsense. Furthermore, I simply cannot fathom Hart’s point. Well done for responding in good humour.

    Graham

  2. ” How pathetic that you seriously have people who think my speaking at Twin Lakes was a sign of its Downgrade – and the nasty snide comments about TK and LD.”

    That’s a pretty serious misreading of what I wrote. I had no intention of referring to your presence at Twin Lakes as a Downgrade. That was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I generally came away with a favorable impression after you spoke. As I stated at Old Life, Twin Lakes was started as a confessional alternative to the broad evangelical tendencies and practices of the PCA. It is a ministerial fraternal for kingdom extension. It has always been about the ordinary means of grace or as some put it, word and sacrament ministry. Your comment, as quoted by D.G. Hart appears to lack these qualities. That’s all I intended to say. As for the little joke about TK and LG, lighten up. You weren’t at GA and didn’t see what I, and quite a few other folks saw.

    As it stands it looks like I’m the one who doesn’t fit at Twin Lakes. I’ve attended three times and each time I come away with the impression that the leaders are singing off a different sheet of music than I am. While they talk about ordinary means of grace they tolerate in their presbyteries and in the denomination all sorts of things that go beyond Word and Sacrament ministry.

  3. David,

    Brother, I skimmed through both your post and that of DG Hart. In principle of course either of you could be making appropriate comments or not. All of us have the battle between the flesh and the Spirit to contend with. I know that as much as anyone from my own experiences! As one Indian elder said once, there are two wolves we battle with and the one that wins is the one we feed.

    Again I support what you have on a previous occasion talked of with a need to repent from stupid arguments and return to the God of the bible. I find it tempting sometimes to engage in an argument just to win it and your word have helped me to keep Christ central.

    As I was reading what you mentioned what stuck me was the power that you clearly have in your comments to draw out such a reaction from Americans. God must be allowing you to have that power! Also the thought came to me one time of the insult you received from Dawkins in calling you “nasty presbyterian minister who isn’t a proper clergyman”.

    I haven’t got time to go though the arguments you and Hart are making and to be honest being involved in an argument that others are making is something I understand scripture guides against.

    Therefore I would give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that what you are doing is appropriate and encourage you with the words Christ gave at the sermon on the mount:

    “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.

  4. 1. I wish you would use the word “wee” a wee less. It’s a wee distraction the way you use “wee.”

    2. I don’t think there is a distinctly Christian political worldview. If there is one, it has proved impossible to articulate in any way that gains consensus approval. The places to join political debate are matters of wisdom, prudence, liberty, practicality and the like.

    3. I am serious when I say that, if I thought there was such a thing as a Christian political worldview, I would find Mrs.Thatcther’s considerably closer to that worldview than your leftist views. But my preference for Mrs. Thather’s philosophy and policies is that they appear to me far wiser and more likely to do more good for people than the alternatives on the left. She believed in hardwork and thrift and she believed that evil in the world had to be restrained by force. Common sense. Consistent with the world as we have it, people as they are, and life as it works.

    4. There are two things that are off-putting about your political views. The first is your assertion that you are reflecting a Christian worldview. I find your appeal to Christianity to support your leftist views as offensive as the appeal over here of the right to the Bible. The second thing that is off-putting is the leftist stuff itself. On practical grounds leftist politics is untethered from reality. Leftist policies have created a weight of debt under which the western democracies are staggering. More confiscation of weath ad redistribution of it cannot work much longer. That said, if you could just be a leftist, and stop trying to baptize it with the Bible, you would irritate much less.

    5. You like the rough and tumble. So, don’t get your underwear in a wad when people like DGH play the same game.

    6. Just one final thing. Rule Britannia.

    1. You are making a fundamental mistake. I don’t think there is a Christian political worldview and often say so….so your assertion about my assertion is just wrong. Because it is an assertion I don’t make.

      I have no idea what you mean by leftist.

      Actually what was wrong with Mrs Thatcher is that she did not have a biblical doctrine of evil. I heard her once regret that she trusted the wealthy and the stock brokers that once given more money and freedom there would be a trickle down effect. Sadly in unleashing market forces without restraint, she unleashed a a great deal of evil, rather than restraining it.

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