Archive for the ‘Hart’s Secular Faith’ Category

Wilson’s article reminded me of last year’s exciting discussion of D.G. Hart’s excellent A Secular Faith. I will not rehash my objections to the book but will restate my deep appreciation for Darryl’s cogent arguments and much needed warnings.

At any rate, RP minister Aaron Goerner sent me this Richard Gamble review of A Secular Faith. The review ran in the OPC magazine Ordained Servant. Keep in mind that this Richard Gamble is not the RPTS Gamble but the Hillsdale College Richard Gamble. Readers of this blog are familiar with the former but need to be better aquanted with the latter. A significant conservative voice among Reformed Protestants. Both are excellent scholars, politically and theologically conservative, but the Hillsdale version is better groomed– just kidding Rick.


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Andrew Matthews

Darryl Hart writes: “by this point in the blog, surely you can see ‘how I get around the fact that the cultural mandate was reaffirmed as part of the redemptive promises…’ I don’t know how I could be clearer. You disagree, of course. But really, you don’t see how I separate the cultural mandate from redemption?”

Of course, I see what you are doing. I just don’t see how it can be sustained from Scripture. At some point W2K theologians are going to have to admit there are laws operative within the economy of grace. The third use of the law, including the cultural mandate, flows from, and is determined by, the new covenant established by Christ. We are not obeying the terms of the CoW (we are no longer in that position), we are obeying laws that have been transferred over into the CoG. As Q.44 of the Shorter Catechism states, we are to obey God’s commandments because “God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer.”

Darryl writes: “the Westminster Divines do not regard the cultural mandate as part of redemption. Questions 21 to 38 of the Shorter Catechism teach about Christ’s work and the application of it by the Holy Spirit. There the cover effectual calling, justification, adoption, etc. I look in vain for anything that approximates the cultural mandate or its subsidiaries.”

I have two questions in response: First, did Christ fulfill the cultural mandate or not? Second, why would duties of Christians be included under questions relating to Christ and the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t they be included in the questions relating to our moral duty (Q.39-Q.81)?

Darryl writes: “Why would the Divines be silent? It could be they ran out of time or room. It could also be that they saw how to distinguish between the perishable and imperishable.”

The cultural mandate was not a question the Westminster Divines were concerned with. They assumed the possibility of Christian culture: it was all around them. It is only in recent times, due to pervasive secularization, that the cultural mandate has become an urgent question.

However, there are questions that touch upon aspects of the cultural mandate:

Q.49: God shows disfavor unto the third and fourth generations of those that hate him & shows mercy unto thousands (of generations?) of those that love him and keep his commandments. Doesn’t W2K deny that this is how God still works?

Q.59: The Divines affirm the perpetuity of the Sabbath ordinance, thus implying that all work carried out in the week should be done for God’s glory in anticipation of the Sabbath rest (the eighth day). The Sabbath was moved to the first day of the week to show that we now pursue our vocations on the basis of gratitude for redemption & the power of Christ’s life. We do all things (not just cultic activity) by Christ who strengthens us. (Of course, many take exception to the Confession on this point because they have been allowed to. Nevertheless, Sabbath observance is confessional while non-observance isn’t.)

Q.66: The Divines affirm that the keeping of the Fifth commandment is attended with the blessings of “long life and prosperity” with the qualification: “as far as it shall serve for God’s glory and their own good.” St. Paul affirms this in Eph. 6:1-3. I happen to know that W2K people don’t believe this either in the sense it was intended by the Divines.

Q.102: The Divines affirm that we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, the destruction of Satan’s, and for the “hastening of the kingdom of glory.” W2K men transgress the spirit of this petition when they deny we should endeavor to take every thought captive to Christ.

Q.103: The Divines affirm that we pray for God’s kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven.” W2K men transgress the spirit of this petition when they work to keep the city of man oriented toward the love of self for self’s sake.

W2K is not true Augustinianism because St. Augustine spoke of two cities with two loves, while W2K speaks of two cities without reference to the driving motivation of each. As soon as it is admitted that there are only two loves, the question becomes how (and not whether) Christians are to influence the earthly city for a higher purpose. Since Darryl likes to refer to St. Augustine so much, here’s a quotation:

“[A] good and honest life is not produced in any other way than by loving, in the manner in which they should be loved, the proper objects of our love, namely, God and our neighbour… Here also is security for the welfare and renown of a commonwealth; for no state is perfectly established and preserved otherwise than on the foundation and by the bond of faith and of firm concord, when the highest and truest common good, namely, God, is loved by all, and men love each other in Him without dissimulation, because they love one another for His sake from whom they cannot disguise the real character of their love” (Letter 137, 5.17).

Finally, I deny that the Christian’s obedience is perishable. Our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).

Darryl writes: “If you think the Divines were wrong, Andrew, what revised questions do you propose adding to the Shorter Catechism?”

I don’t favor revising any historic confession, which seems to be the (to my mind unfortunate) practice of American denominational Christianity. Rather, a new document should be drafted which addresses this particular issue.

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Andrew Matthews

A Non-redemptive Providential Reign of Christ?

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the high priest, Yeshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from this place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’” (Zech. 6:9-13).

In order to maintain his earthly people/heavenly people dichotomy, John Nelson Darby multiplied Christ’s priestly ministries. In studying Hebrews, Darby thought he discovered a distinction between Christ’s Melchizedekian ministry of blessing and another sacrificial ministry analogous to Aaron’s priesthood. The Klinean-W2K theology accomplishes the same effect in the particular way it distinguishes between common and redemptive grace. The intent is to maintain an earthly secular kingdom (culture) parallel with a heavenly kingdom of redemption (cult). For example, Darryl Hart writes: “Well, maybe we could choose the wise, strong and high and reputable if two ways are at work, the way of redemption and the way of creation-providence.” Both Dispensationalism and W2K have an interest in denying the catholicity of the new covenant—its cosmic universality and authority—during the present “parenthetical,” as they call it, Church age.

While Meredith Kline employs “common grace” language, Darryl dislikes the term, since it is a legacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Neo-Calvinism. He prefers instead to talk about Christ’s providential rule vs. redemptive reign. This is basically a semantic difference, however. Darryl understands history in light of Kline’s cult/culture dichotomy. Having examined Kline’s arguments for common grace in Kingdom Prologue, I have found them to be exceedingly weak (See below). In the final analysis, the Klineo-Hartian method of “dispensationalizing” Scripture turns out to be yet another destructive nature-grace dualism.

There is no providence/redemption dichotomy to be found in either God’s redemptive purpose, the post-Fall economy, or Christ’s mediatorial ministry. Rather, considerations may be brought to bear from each which imply a complete coordination of divine creative and redemptive acts in every era prior to the eschatological consummation. What I intend by “complete coordination” must be understood in light of the incarnate economy of Christ’s two natures united in his single hypostasis. It is time to exorcize the Nestorian spirit from the Reformed subconscious once and for all.

A. God’s Redemptive Purpose

First, redemption, broadly considered, is the activity God undertakes to save his created works from the ravages of sin, death, and corruption. It is quite literally the salvation of the kosmos (John 3:16-17). The argument being made here is that it was God’s intent all along to beatify creation. Compelling evidence for this is to be found in St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8. Paul speaks of an intrinsic “desire” within creation for the liberty it will experience when God’s sons are revealed (Rom. 8:19). This desire, a desire for life—not annihilation, was inherent within it from the very beginning, part of its nature as created by God. This is because all creation was to be glorified with Adam after the probationary term of the CoW expired. Therefore, the world’s originally created purpose and its anticipated deliverance seamlessly coincide.

St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 is not a metaphorical anomaly easily dismissed by sophistical rationalization. Creation’s corruption and consequent suffering is integral to the narrative structure of redemptive history. When Adam fell, sin came into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12). Also, the ground was cursed to yield thorns and thistles, and generally to impede man’s labor, which had once been a joyous task (Gen. 3:17-19).

There is thus a relationship between creation and the fate of humanity. Man was to rule and subdue the earth, rule the animals, and be sustained by the earth’s produce. However, the ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin, and the principles of death and corruption entered the created order. This means, at the very least, that the structure of organic life was biologically altered. At this point I’d like to recommend the traditional view against Kline that animal death did not naturally occur before the Fall. Indeed, Kline’s work is largely an attempt to demystify Scripture. He seems intent on providing theological reasons to explain away the mystical-cosmological features of biblical revelation, effectively dissolving much of the material into insubstantial abstraction: ceremonial symbol (e.g., the typological theocracies of the Ark and Israel) and literary metaphor (e.g., the framework hypothesis).

B. The Perpetuity of the Cultural Mandate

Meredith Kline argues that the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-31) was altered after the Fall. He writes:

The common culture that is the direct fruit of common grace is not itself identifiable with the holy, Sabbath-sealed redemptive kingdom of God…Another way of saying this is that common grace culture is not itself the particular holy kingdom-temple culture that was mandated under the creational covenant. Although certain functional and institutional provisions of the original cultural mandate are resumed in the common grace order, these now have such a different orientation, particularly as to objectives, one cannot simply and strictly say that it is the cultural mandate that is being implemented in the process of common grace culture. It might be closer to the truth to say that the cultural mandate of the original covenant in Eden is being carried out in the program of salvation, since the ultimate objective of that mandate, the holy kingdom-temple, will be the consummate achievement of Christ under the Covenant of Grace. On the other hand, the genealogical and earthly aspects of the original cultural mandate that were to consummate its preconsummation history are not part of the redemptive program per se…As brought over into the postlapsarian world, the cultural mandate undergoes such refraction that it cannot be identified in a simple, unqualified way with either the holy or common enterprises. (KP, 156-7, bold face added).

Here we see that Kline held that the original mandate had as its goal consummated glorification. He writes, “to produce the cult itself, the cosmic-human temple, was the ultimate objective in view in the cultural enterprise” (ibid., 89). We know that man’s confirmation in a state of righteousness was promised in the sacrament of the tree of life and was to be granted after Adam completed his probationary test. Humanity was to fill and cultivate the world in anticipation of his future glorification. Kline believes he can affirm the perpetuity of the cultural mandate post-Fall, and at the same time say it has been refracted. The question I have been raising is whether Kline has indeed preserved anything like the original cultural mandate in his theological reading of Scripture.

The answer is no. To refract a beam of light is to bend it. A prism can be used to break light up into its constituent spectral colors. Kline says that the post-fall economy divides the cultural mandate into parallel redemptive and common grace rays, and redirects cultural labor under common grace to a different end, a dead end. Here, then, is the source of the W2K providence-redemption bifurcation. Prisms are used to produce beautiful rainbows of light. Kline’s hatchet job on the cultural mandate separates the means from the end, effectively destroying it. Man’s work is now not only rendered difficult by God’s judgment; it is drudgery, stripped of its God-glorifying potential. God is then glorified only in the intention of one’s faith and not in one’s labor.

It should be noted that W2K proponents work with demonic persistence to strip temporal vocations of any intrinsic transcendentally oriented character. They applaud pagans who organize society on “neutral” technological and utilitarian principles, and oppose Christian transformationalists at every turn. W2K’s raison d’etre is to desacralize human life and to keep it profane.

Kline has two arguments that the common grace order was established to be secular: 1) Adam and Eve were addressed in the post-fall arrangement as representatives of common humanity, not as God’s elect and, 2) The Sabbath was not to be observed outside Eden, the Sabbath sanctuary.

Kline finds special significance in the fact that on the occasion of the protoevangelium, the first gospel, God addressed all three offending parties: Satan, Adam and Eve. He writes,

In pronouncing his verdicts, the Lord followed the sequence in which guilt had been incurred in the temptation and Fall. Judgment, therefore, moved on from the devil, by whom the temptation was first conceived, to the woman (Gen. 3:16) and then to Adam (Gen. 3:17-19)…Covenant-breakers though they were, Adam and Eve were predestined to become God’s covenant people once again through redemptive grace. Before long they were displaying faith and hope in the salvation promise contained in the curse of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Nevertheless, the divine revelation addressed directly to them (Gen. 3:16-19) did not have in view their personal identity as elect individuals; it rather contemplated the mankind that had been represented in Adam and in him had broken the covenant (ibid., 134).

Here we have simultaneously what Kline calls “the inauguration of the covenant of grace” (ibid., 143), and the inauguration of the common curse/common grace order. It can be clearly seen that whatever common grace is for Kline, it is founded by and for the Covenant of Grace (CoG).

Kline’s methodology is that of the Darbyite dispensationalist. Where there is only one covenant, he tries to find two. He wants so badly to find both a redemptive and a common grace covenant, that he imports predestination into the scriptural context.

Wonderful things in the Bible I see, things put there by you and by me.

Adam and Eve not viewed as elect? What is he talking about? Were they elect or weren’t they? Where else was the woman’s seed to come from that would defeat the serpent?

Yes, Adam and Eve broke the covenant. But God’s purposes for humanity and creation were not to be overthrown. This is the predestinarian error as opposed to true Calvinism: to underplay God’s steadfast commitment to ensure that his creative purpose is achieved. This can only arise from a hesitation to affirm that the Lord is truly good. Seeking to glorify God, an imbalanced piety says that God could have destroyed all creation and started everything over after the Fall. No, he would not. For his own sake, God initiates a covenant of grace to save the world.

Immediately after confronting the man, God pursues a line of interrogation until he reaches the source of the rebellion: Satan (Gen. 3:9-13). Without asking Satan his side of the story, God pronounces judgment upon him and declares warfare between Satan and the woman(!). He also announces—and by his word, guarantees—that the woman’s offspring will destroy him (vv.14-15). Redemption is clearly in view.

Why then does Kline claim that God “did not have in view their personal identity as elect”? The answer is simple: he wants to literally divide the covenant into separate dispensations. But God’s word cannot be broken. The contextual chain of thought remains intact: When he next speaks, God addresses the woman, taking up the difficulty she will experience in laboring to bring forth her seed (v.16). In doing so, the original mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” is perpetuated in the service of redemption.

When he addresses the man, God declares that man’s toil will be both painful and wearisome, that the earth will not easily yield its produce as before (vv.17-19). The original mandate to cultivate the earth is perpetuated despite the fact that death has entered the picture. Adam and Eve must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. Kline is surely correct to note that God’s graciousness maintained marriage, the propagation of offspring, and labor to sustain human life and realize “cultural satisfactions” (ibid., 154). For Kline, “cultural satisfactions” must mean anything other than works done to glorify God, because he thinks he has successfully divided redemptive cult from common grace culture. But he hasn’t.

Everything we have seen so far shows that God has graciously carried over the cultural mandate into the post-Fall phase of history. He has done so in the context of his announced redemptive plan. He affirms the perpetuation of the mandate’s various duties despite new difficulties. There aren’t two covenants present in Genesis 3; there is only one.

I mentioned above that Kline also argues for common grace’s secularity on the basis that the Sabbath was not institutionally reissued after the Fall (ibid., 155-6). Did it need to be reissued? God sanctified the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3) so that man would labor six days and rest the seventh (Ex. 20:8-11). Was Adam to laboriously toil without respite, without following this pattern? Was Adam to pursue cultural ends without reference to the final rest of which the Sabbath is a sign? To ask these questions is to answer them.

A principle of discontinuity—a kind of crazy regulative principle—is at work in Kline’s theology here. In fact his treatment of the Sabbath is nothing more than an argument from silence. To assume that man is no longer to pursue the cultural mandate’s original purpose through his labor, despite all the evidence of continuity; to deny that God’s original purpose remains intact, despite his gracious intervention, evinces a presumptuous wresting of the word of God.

C. The Corruption of the Earth

After God cursed the ground for Adam’s sin, subsequent acts by succeeding generations led to further curses. The shedding of Abel’s blood led to Cain’s alienation from the ground (Gen. 4:10-12). By Noah’s time, the earth was corrupted so much by violence that God wished to destroy it (Gen. 6:5-7, 12-13). And though after the Flood, God promised never to comprehensively curse the ground again (Gen. 8:21), sinful and violent men have further defiled it. Later, the land of Canaan vomited out the nations that had originally settled it due to the defilement they perpetrated (Lev. 18:24-28). All this is to show that, according to Scripture, death and sin, especially the shedding of man’s blood, corrupt the earth. The provided examples show this “corruption principle” to be operative well before the “typological kingdom” of Israel was established in the land of Canaan (Numbers 35:33-34). The Israelites were even commanded to destroy the livestock of particularly wicked peoples (e.g., 1 Sam. 15:3). The same principle forms the basis for the Jerusalem council’s prohibition of food associated with idolatry (Acts 15:29) and St. Paul’s teaching about food associated with demonic idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14-22; Cf. 2 Tim. 2:20-21). This is confirmed by the fact that the council grouped “idol food” together with blood-eating and sexual immorality. The reasons for this particular association will become clear in my dicussion of the Noahic covenant.

The corruption of the earth by sin provides an explanation for the biblical differentiation between clean and unclean animals. The ground is where blood is shed and corpses are left to rot. This defiles the earth (Gen. 4:10; Num. 35:33-34; Cf. Deut. 21:22-23) and the creatures that move upon it, especially carnivorous animals (Lev. 5:2; 11:1ff.; 17:15-16). To engage in a bit of speculation, we know that once an animal tastes human blood it acquires a taste for it. There may be a partial explanation here for the disorder and violence of the natural world. However, it can hardly be denied that a cosmic imbalance occurs when the image of God is destroyed (or murderously attacked) (Gen. 4:10; Num. 35:33). Such is intuitively understood by every man whose moral sense has not been entirely extinguished.

Even the killing of an animal is not meaningless, but contributes to the disruption of the created order. When animals are slaughtered their blood must be poured out and buried under earth (Lev. 17:13-14). This is because burial is a kind of temporary atonement, a restoration of balance in creation. Since life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10ff.), the consumption of animal blood entails an unlawful taking of what belongs only to the Lord (Lev. 17:11) and is indicative of man’s transformation into a bestial deity who wastes and destroys creation for satiating his own lusts. It is plain that the prohibition against blood-eating has validity outside the Mosaic dispensation (Gen. 9:4; Acts 15:20, 29), and is therefore obligatory for Christians as well. Therefore, a “corruption principle” is operative in the fallen creation that is not peculiar to the symbolic economy of the Mosaic covenant. Even now there is “fruit” forbidden to us.

Kline tries to evade the import of the scriptural data by restricting the clean/unclean distinction to various “intrusive” theocratic dispensations. Another strategy he employs is to restrict the blood prohibition to altar communities (ibid., 256-62). What his explanation does not account for is why all animal blood is disallowed, and not just that of animals designated for sacrifice. His account also fails when he tries to explain the presence of the blood prohibition in the so-called postdiluvian common grace covenant. I will return to this issue in my discussion of the Noahic covenant in the next installment of this series.

The Bible presents a metaphysical view of reality that constantly leaps off its pages. God sovereignly created the world to be enchanted by supernatural powers. Angelic beings govern creation. The Fall affected creation metaphysically. Sin is the principle of corruption and death. Both righteous acts and sin affect the world. Demonic possession happens; exorcisms are performed. Symbolic actions have cosmic ramifications. The water of baptism is the washing of regeneration. We should take care that we accept Scripture’s teaching by faith and then seek to understand it. We do not begin by deciding what is first possible. God’s word defines what’s possible. Meredith Kline’s biblical theology is an attempt to accommodate Scripture—to domesticate it—to the modern secular mind’s sensibility. It’s time to identify this kind of theology for what it is—a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.

To be continued…

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Andrew Matthews

O GOD, merciful Father, who despisest not the sighing of a contrite heart, nor the desire of such as are sorrowful; Mercifully assist our prayers which we make before thee in all our troubles and adversities, whensoever they oppress us; and graciously hear us, that those evils which the craft and subtilty of the devil or man worketh against us, may, by thy good providence, be brought to nought; that we thy servants, being hurt by no persecutions, may evermore give thanks unto thee in thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. O Lord, arise, help us, and deliver us for thy Name’s sake.
(Litany. Book of Common Prayer)

I’d like to begin this post by apologizing to my fellow contributors for writing so much. My purpose is not to “hog the blog,” but rather to provide a defense of theocratic-transformationalism as thoroughly as I’m able while critiquing what I see as a terrible error: W2Kism. The time, energy and inspiration are not often there, so I’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. This third part of my defense begins with a few further reflections on suffering and obedience.

“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them” (Heb. 13:3). While humility is essentially a spiritual quality, the intensity of one’s suffering often has to do with the outward circumstances one finds himself in. In the last post of this series, I made reference to Christians’ disproportionate experience due to outward circumstances. At the present time, the vast majority of Christians throughout the world suffer deprivation and impoverishment. Not a few must bear oppression on a day to day basis. The Sudan, North Korea, China, and the Middle East come to mind. Those who are privileged to live in the West have little awareness of the extreme spiritual suffering these most precious members of the body of Christ endure.

On the inward level, western Christians suffer. We suffer in our sin, our own difficult trials, and the separation from loved ones by death we experience. Even here there are saints who have profound insight into the meaning of suffering. But these, knowledgeable of their own privileged unworthiness, should have a sense of the difference in proportion between their suffering and that experienced in other parts of the world. We should join with the prayers of our oppressed brethren in imploring for the cessation of persecution.

Some incongruity becomes apparent when we see some W2K men rationalizing suffering as normative, even as spiritually beneficial, while third world Christians cry out for justice and deliverance. It is better to let the downtrodden speak about the virtues they find in suffering, if any. We could do no better than to read Richard Wurmbrand and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s descriptions of their experience under Communism. These men are more aware than most of the threat posed by a culture that turns itself away from the Lord. They and countless others were spiritually crippled for life from the things they went through. Here in the “free” West a less obvious, but no less insidious, deformation is taking place.

On the broader scale, the American church languishes in its fat and lazy accommodation with godless culture. We excuse this accommodation as being submissive to the ruling authorities, of choosing the “lowest place.” But what does this mean in the context of a democratic society where everyone is “equal” and the government is accountable to its citizens? What does submission mean when the majority of our elected leaders claim some form of Christian adherence? What are we doing to disciple our fellow countrymen, the majority of whom are descended from Christian ancestors, whose only religious heritage is Christianity?

[As an aside, I’ll grant that the activist strategy of the so-called religious right inspired by the civil rights protests of the 1960’s is woefully insufficient for the task at hand. Darryl’s Confessional-Liturgical Protestantism is indeed central to the program we should pursue.]

What are we doing with the “quiet and peaceful” existence we have been blessed with, with the vast resources available to us? What are we doing to alleviate the suffering of our brethren abroad? Are we conceiving of new ways to justify our inaction, new ways to rationalize how making the world better is impossible? What are we doing?

Excursus: Macro Ethics Applied

There has been some discussion lately about an incommensurability between Christian ethics and the natural laws required for the maintenance of common culture. Darryl Hart argues that Christian virtue and natural virtue are incompatible, and Caleb Stegall invokes Tolkien’s authority that possession of the ring (of power) is inherently corrupting. Lord Acton’s ghost must be lurking nearby.

When I was younger, struggling with dispensationalism, I used to ponder how the natural right to self defense fits with the Lord’s commands to “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek.” The W2K answer to this question is that the Christian holds dual citizenship in two ultimate realms: the City of God and the City of Man. In doing so, W2K men appeal to Calvin’s teaching that determining what is proper to temporal affairs—versus spiritual—was as easy as distinguishing body and spirit. But I have difficulty seeing how W2K—and even the great Calvin—has provided a practical solution for this Gordian knot every Christian must face. Can body and spirit be so easily separated?

“No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). God or mammon must be served. How are we to understand (and obey!) Jesus’ words if we possess two citizenships, two ultimate loyalties? Oh, they aren’t ultimate? One is higher than the other? I see: “We must obey God rather than men.” Earthly citizenship must be subordinated to heavenly if we are to avoid the alternative—ethical schizophrenia.

It may be objected that I might overemphasize how often earthly and heavenly loyalties conflict. Perhaps it is thought that most of life consists of things indifferent, of adiaphora. It seems that most of our choices are between similar alternatives: Shall I eat roast beef or steak? Should I drive a Mercedes or a Lexus? Should I play a ball game or watch TV? As long as we fulfill obligations of health, family, and employment, we are free to choose from the alternatives available to us. For Christians, most of life may be lived in the world according to its laws while faith is exercised in the remaining time left, in attending church and offering private works of service.

There is much truth in this for how individuals live out their lives. However, there is more to life than the exercise of private faith and the fulfillment of personal needs. The outside world influences us in ways that are not obvious at first glance. Our behavior validates (or not) and/or enables (or not), various interests pursued on the macro level of life.

The meat that I eat, is it raised in a factory farm where animals are pumped full of hormones and treated inhumanely? The brands that I choose, which causes are supported and who benefits from the support of my hard-earned money? The pursuits, indifferent or not, that I habitually engage in, what is the cumulative effect of practicing them? What kind of culture am I promoting by the choices I make?

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28,29). This decree from the very first Church council has relevance to the point raised in the previous paragraph, I believe. All is not resolved by appealing to Christian liberty. St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 10 does not rescind the council’s decree. In 1 Corinthians, one of Paul’s earliest epistles and contemporaneous with the Jerusalem council, Paul is concerned to show how things of creation can be received with thanksgiving, even after they have been defiled by pagan practice. To give thanks is to sanctify, and whatever is done should be done to God’s glory (vv. 30-31). What the council was concerned about, on the other hand, at least in part, was the defilement of conscience inevitably resulting from association with—or regular support—of idolatry. The council was not so much concerned with the occasional eating of defiled food out of necessity, but with the habitual way of life of Gentile Christians.

That the Jerusalem council concerned macro (social-public/large scale) issues and Paul micro (personal-private/small scale) can be ascertained from the following considerations: It cannot be disputed that the council issued decrees concerning the lifestyle of Gentile converts, whereas Paul was concerned with the private consumption of defiled foods. It is doubtful he would have advocated their regular consumption. That he never countenanced the public eating of such food, which would amount to a flaunting of Christian liberty, can be seen in 1 Cor. 8:9-13.

Macro and micro considerations need to be taken into account whenever the commandments of Scripture are applied in particular circumstances. This is not to be confused with situational ethics. Rather, the exercise of judgment is needed for the appropriate application of law in a particular case. Whatever Christians do should always be done with an eye for its public—as well as private—consequences, for every act has both micro and macro ramifications.

Steve Zrimec writes: “The go-to charge of antinomianism seems odd. I know you make these micro- macro-distinctions but, to be honest, I find them sort of manufactured since it should go without saying that the categories for obedience to which I refer are both individual and corporate; the HB was written for both the individual believer and the church proper. But therein seems to lie our difference. I see these forms culled from scripture to mean how the church may and ought to govern herself and her members.”

Here’s my problem with Steve’s point of view. He is only concerned about individual and corporate obedience of Christians in the Church apart from culture’s purpose. For him, Christianity has nothing to offer to the historical task of human culture. The public consequences, the cultural impact of our behavior, indeed, the cosmic consequences, don’t even register on his radar.

Much of life is lived in the public realm, and the standards of public behavior are different than those in private (i.e., We don’t engage in sexual intercourse or defecate in public. We observe the manners and mores of polite society.) And all the things that we do, we do as Christians, our essential identity. Make no mistake about it: the people of the world know who we are, especially if they have spent any time at all with us.

This micro/macro “distinction” I’m making is merely an attempt to account for the disparity of significance between public and private acts and their consequences. Further, it is a way to express the interrelatedness of individual life and the life of the larger community, since every ethical choice has immediate and far-reaching consequences. Micro and macro considerations are an important element of moral casuistry. Indicatives and imperatives just won’t do the whole job. Living a principled Christian life requires more. And the social aspect of Christian ethics cannot be dismissed by appeals to free justification.

The antinomianism discernable in Darryl, Steve, and other representatives of W2K has to do with their lack of serious engagement with macro ethical issues. The chain of reasoning that follows is denied: A collective cultural task was given to humanity. This culture mandate has been assimilated within every subsequent covenant, including the new covenant, the Church’s constitutional order. After his redemptive work, the Lord Jesus ascended to a Throne to whom every other authority is subject. The Church witnesses to Christ’s lordship, announces his accomplished redemption, and cooperates in the royal-sacerdotal task of applying it. When this task is complete and the Lord returns, the old creation will be transformed into a new heavens and a new earth. At that point the Church and new creation will be coterminous with one another, suffused with the glory of God.

To ascribe cultic qualities to the Church devoid of cultural import, to disengage the Church’s mission from any culturally transformative purpose, is effectively for Christians to forsake the macro-ethical sphere of life altogether.

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Andrew Matthews

Darryl, you write: “Andrew, I’d be glad to answer these reflections if I weren’t already asking for you to answer them.”

What?! I have been providing answers to this (admittedly) difficult question. The “hard sayings” of Jesus are called such because they are not easy for anyone who recognizes the validity of natural law, even in the Christian life.

Alright, I’ll summarize my view for anyone interested in interacting with it.

First of all, Jesus’ commandments do appear to go against our desire for earthly justice and natural inclinations for self-preservation. At times, faithfulness to Christ demands that we give up everything for his service. However, we do not choose the when and how of this. We do not manufacture the circumstances in which we are called to obediently suffer. It is up to the sovereign Lord to determine when our faith will be tested in such a radical way.

Second, in my series on the cross and glory, I’ve been arguing that in life everyone has to go through probationary tests in order to advance to a position requiring greater responsibility. This was a dynamic in the original CoW, and is still operative in the economy of grace, though there is no longer a possibility of eternal condemnation. God puts every individual in a lowly circumstance, peculiar to whatever status he is originally given (i.e., born into). For example, before becoming a journeyman lineman, an apprentice must go through several years of apprenticeship. Another example is that before becoming king, a prince must be under the discipline of tutors. You get the point.

Third, a Christian is to be characterized by humility both in his probation and in his responsible vocation. Just because someone has been given an exalted position doesn’t mean that there aren’t probationary tests anymore. Rather, Christian sanctification is a progression “from glory to glory” as the flesh is further mortified. This process doesn’t stop after a particular plateau has been reached. In the last comment I wrote under this heading, I said that there is humility “appropriate to kings, another appropriate to parents, another appropriate to husbands, and another appropriate to single unattached people.” The station one finds himself in determines in what way and how extensively he is able to lay down his life in imitation of Christ. Single people are freer to do this, while married people are less free.

I deny that desiring a Christian state in any way contradicts these principles. It should be fairly uncontroversial that a king can serve Christ and his subjects in a self-sacrificing way, while a beggar, eaten up with resentment can hoard whatever wealth he can acquire and refuse help to people around him. Yes, God uses the humble to shame the proud. So what? This doesn’t mean that the humble always remain in humble circumstances. King Nebuchadnezzar said, “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17).

Furthermore, using the power of the sword to enforce a social way of life is not necessarily tyrannical, but in fact a legitimate function of the state (if approached wisely). Scripture is clear: kings not only punish evildoers, they promote the good as well (Rom. 13:3-4; 1 Pet. 2:14). St. Paul says, “once your obedience is complete, we will be able to punish every act of disobedience” (2 Cor. 10:6). After a person acquires the responsibility of parenthood, a period of obedience has been completed and a new obedience requires a new exercise of disciplinary enforcement (in children). Accession to a royal throne involves an analagous progression into a new obedience of enforcement.

A state may become Christian through the natural course of things (i.e., not through revolution). At that point the king has an obligation to confess Christ’s Lordship, emulate Christ in a way appropriate to his responsibility, punish those who trouble the Church, and foster that which facilitates discipleship while suppressing ungodliness.

Darryl, you write: “So it seems that you also concede that Christians resort to the city of man. Why is this only a problem that I have to solve when you yourself admit that you do not pursue a life of weakness, folly or poverty, at least when you’re thinking about culture and politics.”

I deny that Christ intended us to pursue “a life of weakness, folly or poverty” at any point. Rather, we are to take the “lowest place,” when presented with options in a probationary test.

I have provided an account how to apply Christ’s commands in real life. W2K avoids this challenge. W2K men think that by prohibiting theocratic transformationalism they are taking the path of humility, and somehow fulfilling Christ’s requirement. This is mistaken, and falls far short of Christ’s intent. Jesus calls us to obedience in every sphere of life in ways appropriate to our vocation.

By positing dual citizenship in two ultimate realms, the “city of man” and the “city of God” with an ethic proper to each, W2K leads immature Christians into error. The simple are deluded into believing they will be okay (i.e., justified) even if they live their everyday lives according to the fallen principles of the city of man.

And so, Darryl, my challenge to you still stands: How do you do justice to Christ’s commands in all their comprehensive radicality?

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Andrew Matthews

In response to a comment I made about Christianity’s cultural accomplishments, Darryl Hart writes: “Who is this ‘we,’ white Calvinist man (read: Andrew)? Could it be that the we is Roman Catholicism? And could it be that all those good things in Rome came with the cost of missing what was most important — how we are saved and how we respond to God in worship?”

I should have given a more representative sampling of Christianity’s cultural achievements. Not all such achievements are “Roman Catholic.” I could have listed the practice of family life among Christians that became envied by Romans prior to Blessed Constantine. I could also have listed the laws against abortion, infanticide, and exposure of the elderly enacted by Constantine. Post-medieval accomplishments would include contributions made to emerging European languages by Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer, as well as the abolition of slavery (Wilberforce, John Newton) and racist law (the civil rights movement). And though I am unfamiliar with many of the details concerning Christian contributions to science, George Washington Carver’s well documented love of God and creation led to amazing discoveries and applications in the agricultural field. In recent times, the ID movement has been busily preparing Darwinism’s interment. Once evolution loses its grip on the popular mind, the cultural fallout will be astronomical.

Very well, let’s talk about Rome. Despite all her sins and failures, she shows no sign of diminishing as the pre-eminent Christian voice. For good or ill, Rome continues to set the standard for how Christianity represents Christ to the world, and even how different Christian bodies relate to one another. We all live in her shadow. We are constantly reacting to all that Roman Catholicism is and does.

Darryl, you are fond of saying that we can learn from pagan wisdom on how to live in the world; I suggest that we can also learn much from Rome. Over the centuries, what Rome has achieved is nothing short of breathtaking. From her missions of charity to her church councils and official pronouncements, from her remarkable personalities to her institutional procedures, Rome consistently demonstrates amazing competence in her affairs. Through her Distributist economic theory, her moral theology, and her world class theologians, philosophers and legal thinkers, Rome shows every sign of dominating the world’s intellectual future.

Finally, the traditional Roman liturgy and churchly (some would say–medieval) aesthetic is the standard by which all Christian worship in the west measures itself. A few Protestants claim to follow the “biblical pattern,” but the NT does not provide us with a description of early Christian worship. The essential elements are present, of course, but Scripture is silent as to how it all fits together. The Bible is not a book of church order.

Rome’s greatness and longevity can only be attributed to special divine care or satanic ingenuity. The latter might be argued, but I am inclined to doubt that God has allowed Satan such power over his people for so long. There are a billion Catholics in the world, far more than any other Christian body, and odds are that the majority of the regenerate are enfolded in the Roman communion.

Let’s talk about why a Reformed church council, much less a Protestant one, is inconceivable. Let’s talk about why the disciplinary actions of one church are (or even should be) rarely honored by other churches. Let’s talk about how seminaries substitute insufficiently for official teaching magisteria. Let’s talk about how ad hoc committees make insufficient substitutes for standing administrative bodies. Let’s talk about why every Protestant denomination has been unable to last longer than fifty years without falling into an irreversible decline in vitality. Let’s talk about why so few Protestants care about sacraments, faithful preaching, reverent worship, or Christian unity.

Perhaps we have tried so hard to be “not-Rome” we have suppressed the obvious truth that all we have came through her and all we will be (historically) is either positively or negatively dependent on her existence.

What if Rome redefined herself? What if she were able to jettison papal infallibility in favor of a less rigid conception of papal authority? What if she were able to repeal the anathemas of Trent? What if St. Thomas’ thought was assigned a less authoritative role? You might think these developments impossible. However, is it not our responsibility to constructively engage with our Catholic and Orthodox brethren on these matters? How is it not our responsibility?

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Andrew Matthews

Darryl Hart admits that Christendom was far better then the Roman Empire, but asks whether America did anything significant. How America fits in post-apostolic redemptive history is a good question to consider. (I think a case can be made that redemptive history continued after New Testament times. Think of the A.D. 70 Judgment, the conversion of Constantine, the rise of the Papacy, etc.) The following may be suggested for America’s role: America was colonized to begin Christendom afresh in the New World. Its establishment meant the end of heathen barbarism, at least in North America. The U.S. has been preserved an an unofficial Christian nation (Lincoln’s “almost chosen people”) with the resolve to oppose some of the great evils of recent times: Nazism, communism, and Jihadist Islam. America has one of the best track records for promoting human rights, national self-determination, economic prosperity and governmental stability all over the world, especially after World War II through the Cold War. The Cold War was truly a contest between an evil empire and a God-blessed nation. So, I do not accept that God’s will is equally accomplished through the rule of George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein.

Since the Church is not exhausted by its ecclesiastical institutions but ecompasses families (and by extension–nations), I see no necessity in preferring the “Pilgrim” metaphor to the “Crusader” metaphor. The NT contains plenty of martial imagery describing the activity of Christians in the present age. This warfare is primarily “spiritual” in the sense that the Gospel addresses the root problem: sin and the demonic oppression that results. St. Boniface was acting in a capacity beyond “wayaring pilgrim” when he cut down Thor’s Oak in Geismar and converted the tribes of Germany. Of course it has been the lot of the Reformed to inherit lands already purged of the demonic.

According to a 2007 Princeton survey poll conducted for Newsweek, 82% of Americans identify themselves as Christian or of Christian heritage. A supermajority of Americans are probably covenantally Christian (i.e., baptized). Can Darryl explain why Americans shouldn’t have a polity and culture that reflects their actual heritage? Why should Americans be happy with the sorry alternative of secular progressivism that virtually guarantees the ascendancy of antichrist in our culture?

But since it can’t be a pleasant experience being accused of cosmic misanthropy, I welcome Darryl to provide an alternate account of W2K than the one I’ve attempted. My critique capitalizes on W2K’s rejection of the abiding validity of the cultural mandate and the substitution in its place of an unstable culture that has no other intrinsic purpose than to gratify men’s needs and wants. Darryl is welcome to explain how this down-grading of humanity’s task glorifies God. Does he hold that God is equally glorified in Constantine and Tony Blair, in Michelangelo and Jackson Pollock, in the Hagia Sophia and Las Vegas’ Bellagio?

Darryl says that “transformationalists” ascribe ultimate significance to culture & politics, and that this was crucial to Rome’s error. I am persuaded he is wrong on both counts. Megapolis is not Metapolis. Megapolis is penultimate rather than eschatologically ultimate. However, this does not mean that the human race should not cultivate the world to its full potential in anticipation of the consummating work only God is able to perform. And I don’t believe Rome ever considered secular (as opposed to ecclesiastical) culture to be an ultimate good.

Darryl affirms the inherent goodness of creation and counter-charges that the “constant need to redeem creation” implies the opposite. My own counter to this is that just as human nature is corrupted but still retains its essential goodness, that is, its purpose to conform and be glorified in the Image of God, so creation has been diverted from its original purpose, subjected to “futility.” Just as believers receive God’s forgiveness anew when they confess their sins and brought back into the joy of their salvation, so things of this life can be removed from service to idolatrous futility and consecrated to serve the Lord.

Since humanity is ontologically related to the rest of creation, as its summit and capstone, all of creation was affected by the Fall. It is consequently the work of God’s grace through the agency of the theanthropic Person of Jesus to restore creation and re-orient it to its original purpose. This is an on-going ministry of reconciliation that the Church performs on the basis of the once-and-for-all sacrifice of our Incarnate Lord. In asserting this basic biblical teaching, I believe I justly claim that W2K is a degraded expression of our catholic and apostolic faith.

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