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Volume 13, Issue 5: Meander

Hither and Yon

Douglas Wilson

I am very sorry to recommend books that are currently out of print, but I hear rumors that P&R is working on getting this one back into print. At any rate, the book is entitled The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant by a fellow named Schenck. He shows clearly in this book that the revivalism of the early nineteenth century in America had a profound effect upon American Presbyterians. Many modern conservative Presbyterians are not holding to the faith of the Reformation, but are rather holding to certain colonial innovations, propagated in the name of the Reformation. And the end of the matter is that our children are in the covenant, and they ought to be treated as though they are.


P & R gets two notices in a row here. They have published a wonderful book called Rediscovering Catechism by Donald Van Dyken. For those parents interested in returning to a teaching technique which has centuries of success behind it (as opposed to educational fads of today, which have three years of failure behind them), this book is an extremely helpful place to start. The book also has a list of resources in the back.

The only critique I would have is minor. Having written a book entitled Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, I soon discovered that the word Recovering, and associated words, is singularly not memorable. Consequently, nobody remembers it. They call it Rediscovering, Recovering, Re-upholstering, and so forth. But other than that, this book is a must-have for every pastor and parent. Van Dyken's book, not mine.


I have had a subscription to the American Spectator for many moons, and have enjoyed it—an engaging, well-written magazine of opinion. In recent months, the magazine was purchased by George Gilder and overhauled, all to the better. The old Spectator is still there, and some of the best features remain. But the new is not so narrowly political—features now regularly address historical issues, technological Gilderesque issues, and fine art layouts. And they have added, in the style of The New Yorker, outstanding cartoons throughout.


I have the soundtrack to the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. It is a collection of very strange music, some of it strange indeed, and some of it with a profound folk loveliness. The best cut is "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Kraus. The worst is "In the Highways," sung by some southern girls imitating Alvin and the Chipmunks.


Within the Reformed world, a phrase which more of us should be aware of is "cage stage." Whenever someone comes into new-found truth (and this often happens with those first coming to embrace Reformed theology), the phrase refers to that period of time where the new (and usually young) convert should be locked up in a cage. That period of time is usually about two years. Of course, there are some pitiful cases that should never be let out, and there are many more evangellyfish who do not ever need to be locked up. But cage stagers, however many of them there are, can do a lot of damage. Ironically, they do much to make the theology they profess to love obnoxious to outsiders. Paul did teach, unambiguously, the doctrine of election. But he also told the Colossians, as the elect of God, to put on tender mercies.


Scripture tells us that there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of the thing is death. One of these destructive "ways" is the practice of judging motives. Whenever we are wronged, misjudged, or mis-characterized, the easiest thing in the world to do is to impute certain (foul and nefarious) motives to the offender. In the midst of conflict, imputations of motives are almost always entirely wrong. Scripture tells us that a man, by himself, on a pond, in a row-boat, on a calm day, has a hard time judging his own motives. How much harder is it to judge the motives of another when I am in the middle of controversy with him? Should we not be a little more careful?


Unity is easy to talk about, along with comments on the importance of love. But frequently those who talk about the centrality of love (over against what they call "doctrine") can be very unloving with those who differ with them. In an ironic twist, some people can be very bitter over what they see as a lack of love in those who desire a more doctrinal Christianity. Of course, orthodoxy should never be used as an excuse for a lack of charity. Jesus threatened to remove the lampstand at Ephesus because their hatred was sound, but their love was not. But as a general rule, doctrinal Christians exhibit far more love than loving Christians do.

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