“Common” is Not “Neutral”

An HB Classic

cornelius-van-tilOne of the more frequent criticisms of the attempt to appropriate the older Reformed “two kingdoms” (or as Calvin put, “a twofold kingdom”) approach to Reformed ethics for a post-Constantinian setting, as distinct from the “transformationalist” or some versions of neo-Kuyperianism, is that it introduces a kind of “neutrality” into Reformed theology. A comment made by a recent correspondent suggested that this remains an issue for some folk.

Anyone who is familiar with the work of Abraham Kuyper or Herman Bavinck or Cornelius Van Til knows that the idea of “neutrality” is consistently and thoroughly rejected by the framers of much of modern Dutch Reformed theology and thus, were a 2K (as people like to put it) guilty of introducing it into Reformed theology that would be a great, even fatal flaw.

In this discussion, “neutrality” means “a sphere of life which is un-interpreted by God’s Word” or “an un-normed sphere of life” or “an un-interpreted sphere of life” over which the Christian or even an unbeliever would be able to say, “This is mine.” This is a truly legitimate concern. Reformed theology opposes human autonomy (self-rule). Abraham Kuyper was absolutely correct to say, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’””

For proponents of a so-called 2K ethic, the question is not whether Jesus is sovereign but how. As I understand the neo-Calvinist movement (van Prinsterer, Kuyper, Bavinck, Van Til, Berkhof, et al) they all taught two complementary principles: antithesis and common grace (Gemeene Gratie). As I understand a so-called 2K model, it is an attempt to describe the way common grace functions relative to the antithesis.

Common grace  is a way of speaking of those areas of life which are not ecclesiastical, which are, in some sense, common to believers and unbelievers and in which God operates by his providence to restrain evil and in which unbelievers are said to be able to do civic (not saving) good. It also relates (see below) to the question of the Free or Well-Meant Offer of the gospel. The contemporary discussion of them, in N. America, tends to start with the three points of doctrinal deliverance by Synod Kalamazoo (1924) of the Christian Reformed Church(es):

Synod, having considered that part of the Advice of the Committee in General which is found in point III under the head: Treatment of the Three Points, comes to the following conclusions:

The First Point

Concerning the first point, touching the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general, and not alone toward the elect, Synod declares that it is certain, according to Scripture and the Confession, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen to eternal life, also a certain favor or grace of God which he shows to his creatures in general. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dort, II, 5, and III and IV, 8 and 9, where the general offer of the gospel is discussed; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.

The Second Point

Concerning the second point, touching the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession, there is such a restraint of sin. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Belgic Confession, article 13 and 36, where it is taught that God through the general operations of his Spirit, without renewing the heart, restrains sin in its unhindered break¬ing forth, as a result of which human society has remained possible; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.

The Third Point

Concerning the third point, touching the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good (Canons of Dort, III, IV, 3), can perform such civic good. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dort, III, IV, 4, and the Belgic Confession, where it is taught that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence upon man that he is enabled to perform civic good; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers have from of old championed this view.

The supporting material offered by Synod in defense of the three points is omitted for space. Synod quoted chiefly Calvin and Petrus van Mastricht on these points. I’ve discussed the first point in “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149–80.

One of the problems in the neo-Calvinist movement is that folk have tended to fall on one side or the other of the common grace/antithesis distinction. Some, such as K. Schilder and H. Hoeksema, rejected common grace altogether. Others seem to ignore antithesis altogether. Kuyper, Bavinck, and Van Til, however, tried to keep the two principles together.

Unless common grace entails neutrality, and Cornelius Van Til did not think so, then the 2K ethic does not entail neutrality. Van Til wrote in defense of common grace at length. He wrote three books on common grace specifically:

  • Common Grace (1947)
  • Particularism and Common Grace (1951)
  • Common Grace and the Gospel (1977)

This list of titles only suggests his interest in common grace. A doctrine of common grace pervaded his writings, so much so that Gary North wrote a volume rejecting it (and CVT’s amillennial eschatology) while trying to hang on to his Van Tillian credentials.

When CVT taught common grace he did not teach “neutrality.” He did not teach that there is a square inch over which Christ has not said, “This is mine!” He taught that God operates in common life in one way and he operates savingly in another. The restraint of evil is not a saving operation by the Spirit. The work of the Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel, is a saving operation. These two operations may be thought of as occurring in different spheres, or to use the older language, “kingdoms.” To be sure, these spheres overlap because we live in both spheres or kingdoms simultaneously.

It is sinners who sit in church to hear the gospel. Those sinners are citizens of the common (or secular) sphere. If a sinner parks his car in a red zone during church, he is likely to get a ticket just like a pagan. He is under the authority of the magistrate, even in church. We count on the magistrate to keep us safe while we gather in church for Word and sacrament. That magistrate is simultaneously protecting the unchurched. Pagans and Christians drive the same cars on the same roads. We eat in the same restaurants. We do the same math. Christians learn from pagans constantly. How? Common grace. Proponents of a so-called 2K ethic place this common life under the “civil kingdom.”

The antithesis exists on multiple levels the most foundational of which is the level of explanation. The Christian and the non-Christian give quite different explanations for the meaning of common life, providence, and reality. The non-Christian asserts his independence, his autonomy from God. He asserts his lordship over area, sphere, and inch. With Van Til, the Christian who understands Scripture and the faith correctly, rejects the pagan’s claims to autonomy. We say, “You are like a child who slaps his father’s face. He is only able to do it because he is sitting in his father’s lap.”

In truth is no such thing as neutrality. We live in a world that has been described authoritatively by God. He has revealed himself and laid claim to all of life. He has assigned meaning to everything and the Christian submits to that authoritative description of reality. Reformed theology teaches, however, that God has revealed himself in two books: nature and Scripture. In nature God has revealed his existence, some of his attributes, and his moral law. In Scripture, God has revealed his moral law and his gospel, so there is some overlap between general or natural revelation and special revelation. The moral law of God is seen in both places. The gospel, however, is only seen in Scripture.

The doctrine of the natural revelation of God’s moral law is not only clearly taught in Reformed theology since the 16th century but it is also enshrined in the Reformed confessions. In the modern period, however, this idea has fallen on hard times and those for whom Reformed theology started in the 19th or 20th centuries, are likely to be unfamiliar with it. Karl Barth, the most influential Reformed theologian of the 20th century, rejected the very idea of natural law. Just as many Reformed folk have apparently been influenced by his rejection of the law/gospel distinction and his radical re-working of covenant theology, so to many have been influenced by his approach to natural law and natural revelation. By this I do not mean to say that people have sat down and read Barth and agreed with him, but people have, nevertheless, come under his influence or the influence of his ideas.

Others, in reacting to the collapse of the culture, have so emphasized the antithesis between Christians and non-Christians as to almost obliterate any notion of common grace. The antithesis is real and essential to Christianity and a Christian interpretation of the world (the so-called “world and life view“). To reject common grace or a common sphere of life or the civil kingdom, which operates under the moral law of God known in nature, conscience, and Scripture, is to run the very real risk of Manicheanism, i.e. of dividing the world into ontologically good and and evil categories so that the common world becomes no longer “creational” but “wicked” and in need of cleansing (baptism).

In truth, no self-respecting Kuyperian or Van Tillian should be talking about “re-taking” any common cultural endeavor since Christ is already Lord. We do not have to “make him Lord,” as some say. He is Lord. Certainly, post-Christendom and in a post-Christian world, fewer people are willing to acknowledge that fact but their refusal to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship doesn’t change the fact of his ascension and his ruling over all things.

Nor does the refusal of the pagan to acknowledge King Jesus alter his sovereign decree to administer his kingdom in two distinct spheres. Here’s where it seems that some trip over the nomenclature of “two kingdoms.”  Lack of familiarity with the Reformation and older ways of talking about this question has confused some. We might just as well speak of one kingdom with two spheres. King Jesus rules the ecclesiastical or redemptive sphere with law and gospel. The latter is found only in special revelation and the former is in special and natural revelation. He rules the civil or common or creational sphere with his law, revealed in creation (nature) and the conscience and by his restraining providence. He is equally Lord over both. His revelation norms both spheres but they do function distinctly and he administers them distinctly. We do not expect the magistrate to preach the gospel but we do expect him to punish the criminal. We do not expect the minister to write parking tickets but we do expect him to preach the gospel. Both preacher and judge are ministers of God but they have distinct functions in two distinct spheres or kingdoms.

The difference between the two spheres is the difference between law and gospel. This is another of those classic Reformed distinctions that has been lost in the modern period. You can read more about this in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. The civil magistrate is concerned with the law, not the gospel. In covenantal terms, the magistrate’s work is part of the covenant of works. Our relationship with each other in the civil realm is based on works, not grace. Our relationship to each other in the ecclesiastical or spiritual or redemptive sphere/kingdom is based on grace, not works. When the United States Navy defended that ship they were not conducting a gospel ministry but a legal work. Piracy is a violation of an implied or explicit legal relation between those who sail. Theft  is a violation of God’s law.

There is no such thing as epistemic or moral neutrality. God’s Word has sovereignly described all things. In civil or common life we acknowledge his Kingship by conducting ourselves according to his law revealed in creation and conscience. In the ecclesiastical or spiritual or redemptive sphere we acknowledge his Kingship by preaching the law and the gospel and by living according to his moral law out of gratitude, in the Spirit, in union with Christ, as adopted children of our heavenly Father.

[This post was first published on the HB in 2009 and has been lightly revised]

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Thank you for this, Dr. Clark. The recent election has made this a vital subject. I can’t tell you what nonsense I hear in the Christian world, and, I think, real fear, with an economy that seems to be out-of-control, and the absence of the “Religious Right” at the seats of power. I wish you would write more on this.

  2. Let’s not talk about parking tickets.

    Let’s talk about preachers publicly advocating the enshrinement God’s norms for marriage in the civil law.

    I seem to have read in ModernRef magazine that that’s a violation of the 2k theology.

    This essay is perfectly fine, but really uncontroversial because it contents itself with pedestrian examples (including pirate rescue) and avoids the really uncomfortable questions. Should preachers remain silent when the magistrate promotes and encourages clear and unambiguous immorality? Am I wrong that ModernRef has castigated such “politically active” preachers? I’m pretty sure that was the gist of the special election issue last year.

    Common grace and antithesis are great in theory, and I cherish the truths of both; I just wish 1) there was not such a glib attitude by many about how easy it is in practice. It is anything but simple or easy, and hardly something obvious. And 2) a bit more introspection about how grace is to permeate and renew nature. The 2k theology has a tendency, which appears to be not much reflected on, to relate grace to nature like oil on water. The point of common grace is not so that the world can just “keep on keeping on,” ruled by law, and thus divine judgment. The point is that there remains a world to be transformed and renewed. Jesus is not content for the world to remain as it is. Speaking as though civil life, due to common grace, is okay as far as it goes, and not in need of anything (it’s just designed to operate on covenant of works principles) is the precise opposite of the legacy of Kuyper and Bavinck.

    It seems to me that if a preacher can’t oppose homosexual marriage in the civil sphere, you’ve got dualism, whether you want to call it that or not. And that’s the challenge I’d like to see answered. If he can preach it on Sunday when Romans 1 rolls around, why is he prohibited from preaching it in the public square Monday through Saturday, to his legislator, his governor, his judges? Why is it that if he does so he occasions condescending scorn from, say, ModernRef magazine?

    Just some questions I think deserve some thought.

    • Brian,

      The real questions are of ministerial vocation, the nature of the church, and the marks of the church.

      I am an advocate of the 2K and I’ve addressed the question of homosexuality at length here. Did you miss it? You can read it here.

      As to preaching, well, imagine all the crimes against nature against which the Apostles’ might have preached in 1st-century Corinth or Rome or Asia Minor. If the Acts and the Epistles are any indication (and they are the only indication we have) there’s not much evidence of Apostolic preaching against the “evil out there” so much as there was of the 1st use of the law, the Gospel, and the third use of the law for professing Christians.

      Might a preacher address such issues, from the pulpit as a matter of creational norms? Sure. If you paid close attention to, e.g. Mike Horton on this very question you would have heard him say exactly that. The sermon has to be driven by the biblical text. When the biblical text requires the minister to speak to such questions he must do it, he’s a minister not the master of the text. That said, the minister is not called to pontificate on social questions nor is he called to pick on those sins he deems to be worse than others.

      Common grace and antithesis aren’t just theories. When we make them thus we make them dead orthodoxies. In the nature of the case, however, common grace deals with common life. The pulpit isn’t about common life. It’s about sin and redemption. Political insight we can get 6 days a week. The minister must do what ONLY he can do and he must announce the message that ONLY he can announce: that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

      That’s not pietism. We’re not talking about my subjective experience of Jesus or walking with him in the garden when the dew is still on the rose. We’re talking about a public, redemptive act on the same order as the flood and the Red Sea.

      I don’t know where you go to church, but I’ve had a lot harder time in my life finding preachers to preach Christ than to denounce the evils of homosexuality or whatever the sin du jour might be. If you’re looking for preachers to do that I can give you a list of a few hundred, maybe a few thousand places to look.

      Where exactly, read in context, does God’s Word command the visible church, as such (not speaking about Christians as private persons in their office as citizens and as prophets, priest, and kings) by precept or example to transform the surrounding culture in the way you describe?

      Didn’t the Apostolic church fail your tests?

    • Brian,

      An interesting dimension to the sorts of points you bring up is that there is a continuum that things temporal and thus passing run along, from the trivial (traffic tickets) to the substantive (marriage laws).

      What I never understand is why transformers and theonomists want to make the discussion simply revolve around the latter. If preachers are to “publicly advocate the enshrinement God’s norms for marriage in the civil law” why shoudn’t they also weigh in on zoning laws? At least one answer is that God only cares about substantive (yet passing) things. But then the notion that there is no square inch Jesus doesn’t claim as his makes little sense. In other words, if God’s officers are to speak publically about marriage laws, then why not whether cities have 4-way stops or turn-abouts? And if that is true, it doesn’t take long to figure out that, if you’re right, the mission of the church (read: the reconciliation of sinners to God)quickly becomes obscured and edged out by zillions of worldly concerns. Not only that, but there will be as many solutions as there are resolvers.

      What’s wrong with simply opposing sexual deviancy within the walls of the church and not getting so worried about what pagans are doing? That’s what Paul did. Not only that, Paul’s opposition to sexual deviancy doesn’t resemble the sort of culture warriorizing often seen in our day (and I’m sure he had his theonomists). All he called for in the midst of Corinthian horrors, stuff even the pagans didn’t do and would make most of us today turn a whiter shade of pale, was expulsion (1 Cor 5). He didn’t call for cultural, political or social punishment, today’s version of stoning. He called for such to be handed over to Satan. Excommunication was far worse than making sure Adam and Steve remain permanently single.

      I highly doubt he didn’t have plenty of contemporaries taking to task his two-kingdom theology, saying instead it was every believer’s duty to go vote yes on prop 8.

    • The link above in your April 2009 post no longer works. I’m guessing it went to your old site, now deleted, from which you seem to be piece-by-piece re-enabling some parts. It might be very helpful to re-enable that link in this paragraph: “I am an advocate of the 2K and I’ve addressed the question of homosexuality at length here. Did you miss it? You can read it here.”

  3. RSC,

    Agreed. Why didn’t Paul “preach” against slavery? Instead he says, “Slaves obey your masters.”


    • Because the “slavery” in the NT wasn’t man stealing, it wasn’t a violation of creational law. The “peculiar institution” in the US was a violation of the law of God: You shall not steal.

      • Perhaps.

        But, speaking as one who is as 21st century American as they next guy, I don’t think our cultural-moral repugnance has as much to do with the idea that our history in human trafficking was based in stealing as much as it is that we think slavery is conceptually offensive. I saw “Roots,” too, and was as morally moved as most of us. But it had nothing to do with the fact that anyone was stolen; it had to do with being socially, culturally and morally conditioned to believe human slavery was intrinsically evil.

        I don’t mind the “human stealing” argument, but I do wish those who put it forward could also just as readily admit that they are also products of their time and place. When that is not admitted, it all tends to come off with a bit of modern cultural righteousness where those in one time and place look back at others in another and pass judgment. Not only that, but Paul’s failure to fault slavery as an institution makes little sense if we don’t at least admit as 21st century Americans that slavery bothers us more than stealing.

  4. You wrote:

    To reject common grace or a common sphere of life or the civil kingdom, which operates under the moral law of God known in nature, conscience, and Scripture, is to run the very real risk of Manicheanism …

    And then you wrote:

    He rules the civil or common or creational sphere with his law, revealed in creation (nature) and the conscience and by his restraining providence.

    If the common sphere operates under a moral law known in Scripture, shouldn’t/ may a Christian appeal to, and be governed by, those norms of Scripture when operating in the common sphere?

    Or in your mind, must the Christian in the common sphere only appeal to the moral law as revealed in nature and the conscience?

    • Mark,

      What is the “second use of the law”?

      Does the minister preach from the United States civil code on the Lord’s Day?

      Should the magistrate, who is the minister of the sword (Rom 12) conduct his ministry by convicting folk of not obeying Eph 5-6?

      Is natural revelation from God? Is it the Word of God?

      • Answers:

        1.Second use of the law prescribes/teaches conduct in the civil/political realm.

        2. No.

        3. Depends what you mean by “convicting”. But does the magistrate have an interest in promoting these things, sure. You can look it up in one of our Reformed confessions.

        4. Broadly, yes and yes, with the understanding that Reformed folk do not *equate* natural revelation with special revelation.

        Looking forward to your answers to my questions, as well as an additional one which was brought to mind in light of yours to me:

        Do you believe in the second use of the Law, and if so, is that to be done by appeal to the Bible or by appeal to natural revelation only?

    • Mark,

      There are some distinctions, which I understand you may not accept or like, which need to be made to answer these questions.

      1. A minister as such is not called to speak to extra-ecclesiastical areas. He might speak to them as a private person, but he should not, e.g. run for civil office while holding ecclesiastical office as a minister. He ought not to preach political sermons nor sermons concerned with public policy as such. That’s not his vocation. He must preach the Word of God which contains both law and gospel.

      2. The church as church might, in a broader assembly, in extraordinary circumstances, speak to a civil issue that impinges directly on the visible church but the visible church, as such, isn’t called to speak to civil issues e.g. the budget or policy matters any more than the civil legislature is called to speak to ecclesiastical issues (e.g. paedocommunion).

      3. A minister should preach the civil use of the law to his congregation regarding their conduct in the civil sphere but this would also be the first (to those in the congregation outside of Christ) and third (to those in Christ) uses. A minister should preach the 5th commandment, e.g. as Paul did in Rom 12.

      4. A Christian acting in the common sphere/civil kingdom or a group of Christians acting as private persons should certainly speak God’s moral law as revealed in nature and in the conscience to civil/common issues. We should apply the law: “You shall not murder” to abortion. We should exhort the magistrate to respect private property as an application of “You shall not steal.” We should insist that the magistrate require public officials and others to tell the truth as an application of “You shall not bear false witness.”

      Not theonomist (See WCF 19) the churches have agreed that the Israelite judicial laws have expired except insofar as their general equity informs the application of the moral law to civil polity. Thus, legal scholars still have recourse to them and insofar as the Decalogic revelation of the Moral Law is a witness to its Israelite expression, Christians could appeal to it and to other expressions of it. Calvin points this out in Bk 4.

      To what are Christians appealing in that instance? Is the law binding for ciivl/common sphere questions because it’s canonical or because it’s the
      moral /creational law? I think the latter is correct.

  5. RSC,

    Just a couple of things, since I see that my desire for a bit more modesty regarding the complexity of these issues is not to be satisfied.

    The notion that “there is not much evidence” of Apostolic preaching about the “evil out there,” depending on what you mean, it just silly. Even if it weren’t silly, what conclusion are you drawing from this silence, and why do you think you can draw it?

    You commit the fallacy again in asking me specifically where the church is commanded to transform the surrounding culture. Okay, let’s just say for argument’s sake that Scripture is completely silent on the question. What conclusion are you drawing, and why do you think you can make a conclusion about silences? But, as it is, Scripture isn’t silent, and the kingdom parables of Matthew 13 come to mind.

    You completely dodged the obvious reductio regarding slavery by explaining (again) Scripture’s silence as indicating that 1st century slavery wasn’t man-stealing. (Really? All 1st century slavery?). That is completely irrelevant, so let me ask the question pointedly: where in Scripture, rightly read in context, is the church commanded, by precept or example, to transform *at any point in this present age* a surrounding culture committed to any kind of immoral slavery? Answer your own question. (On that note, I find it fascinating that your 2 kingdoms view has distinct parallels with that of Thornwell and Dabney. Has it occurred to you that Thornwell and Dabney may well have developed their views precisely *to* support the slave system of the southern states?)

    Last, you say that preachers can’t pick on sins they think are worse than others. 1) ARE there sins worse than others? 2) Can there be a situational societal outbreak of a particular sin that requires a directed response by a pastor? Or does an Irish pastor not preach against drunkenness but a few times a decade because he’s not the master of the Word?

    Zrim: If you don’t think there’s a difference in the moral weightiness of zoning laws and homosexuality, then nothing I can say will help you.

    Incidentally, if anyone is interested, Bavinck addressed the reason why the NT doesn’t strongly exhibit a “transformationalist” ethic in two papers in his career. You might find him persuasive, you might not. He’s certainly not the last word. You can read both in John Bolt’s forthcoming book. If nothing else, it will show that Bavinck’s views are decidedly NOT the views expressed on this blog, and the current 2k types would be wise to stop citing Kuyper and Bavinck as allies.

    • Brian,

      You miss the point. The point is that the Apostles has abundant opportunity to preach against the evils of Greco-Roman society. The evidence of their preaching, as we have it in the NT, is that they didn’t do much of it. Paul was a lot more concerned about the evil INSIDE the congregations than he was about the evil outside them. He was concerned about those who corrupt the gospel (Galatians). He was concerned about those who denied Jesus humanity (1 Tim). He was concerned about dividing the congregation over gifts and power (1 Cor). The social evils of 1st century Greco-Roman society are well-known to historians. They were well known to the Apostles.

      If I tried to deduce Paul’s social views from silence I could see your complaint but deducing a relative lack of interest in any sort of social transformation program from the remarkable absence of such preaching/teaching in the NT is not unfair. We have a good picture of apostolic preaching. Luke captured it selectively and carefully in order to give us that picture so that we would have some way of knowing what our preaching and teaching ought to be like.

      I’m not saying that Christians as private persons, as I’ve said here many times, ought not to be socially engaged. If I said that, then I would be guilty of the sort of dualism about which the neo-Calvinists were and are concerned. Christians ought to be engaged. Os Guiness is doing a bang-up job of speaking to issues. Others, such as Ken Myers, are also doing an excellent job of speaking to the nature of culture and the state of our culture.

      My concern is that the visible, institutional church do what only it can do: Preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and administer discipline. I don’t see why that’s so controversial.

    • Zrim: If you don’t think there’s a difference in the moral weightiness of zoning laws and homosexuality, then nothing I can say will help you.


      My 2K can work with sphere sovereignty and every square inch (Kuyper), but it has a really hard time swallowing Aristotle—instead of John the Baptizer—as messianic forerunner (Bavinck). If it’s all right with you, may I keep Kuyper if I let you have the Bavinck card?

      Re zoning laws and martial laws, you missed it. Inherent in my point was that these are in fact different concerns that merit different regard in earthly endeavor (trivial and substantive). But the larger point was that they both still comport under a passing age. Consider the fact that not only did Jesus come to set father against son, but that our own marriages (even those that align with creational norms) will be dissolved in the age to come. So much for family values and the Good Society.

      You keep pleading the complexities in these issues, and I’m trying to agree with you even as I think you’re missing it.

      If Jesus is Lord over every square inch, and I believe he is, why may some quarters of earth get neglected (zoning laws) and others get all the play time (marital legislation)? The irony here is that I am fully confessing that Jesus is sovereign over all things trivial and substantive, yet I am also saying his officers have no jurisdiction over any of it. His members (who can include his officers) are another matter, even as they may disagree as to how natural law ought to be applied politically or employ wisdom throughout all of it.

  6. RSC,

    Does it occur to you that you are reading of Paul’s ecclesiastical concerns in his letters to CHURCHES? Your interpretation that he, personally, was *more concerned* about corruption in the church than in the wider world, is utterly fallacious. Really. You can’t be serious. You can’t write a tourist guide to New York City if your only knowledge largely comes from the Crime section of the New York Times – well, you could, but it would be completely distorted.

    So you’ve just given me some kind of defense that arguing from silence isn’t fallacious when it’s done by you.

    Why is it that when you are pressed, you retreat to the “I just want the church to preach the gospel!” line? That is hardly in dispute, and none of your Reformed interlocutors would find that controversial. You are changing the subject. I note that you didn’t answer your own challenge re: the slavery question. So, I’ll ask it again:

    Given the NT alleged lack of concern for societal transformation, where in the Bible, read rightly and in context, is the church ever commanded, by example or precept, *at any point in this present age* to transform a surrounding culture engaged in immoral forms of slavery? AND: isn’t this exactly what Thornwell and Dabney argued? AND: does that make you at all, at least a tiny bit, uncomfortable? Or does nothing shake your self-confidence?

    Finally, it is precisely the ease with which you throw out distinctions like “private person” and “institutional church” that prompted my comment in the first place. The homosexuality “test” challenged the boundaries of this distinction, and you replied by just declaring to me that “the real questions” are about the nature of the church, its marks, etc., i.e., your first premise. Is there any ambiguity at all as to what, exactly, is extra-ecclesiastical and what is not? No fuzzy boundaries? Any room anywhere for a judgment of charity toward pastors promoting Prop.8? Or are these divisions all crystal clear in your head? Your “boilerplate” question-begging response: “I just want to Christ-centered preaching, this isn’t controversial,” etc., isn’t helpful one bit.

    • Brian,

      I’m a very busy guy. If I wasn’t serious, i.e. if I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t write these things.

      The fact that Paul wrote his epistles to the churches is precisely the point. One of the great concerns of distinguishing between spheres is to ask, “In what should the visible church be involved?” or “what are the vocations of the visible church”? Analyzing what Acts shows and what Paul wrote are essential ways of answering those questions.

      If you’ve read my posts and responses, then you know that the difference between the NT institution of “slavery” and the 18th and 19th-century American practice is the difference between man-stealing, which is a violation of the natural/moral law of God and an employer/employee relation. Our knowledge of Greco-Roman social practices is more extensive than it was 150 years ago. One cannot simply apply the NT language about “slaves” directly to the peculiar American institution.

      I’ve not read Dabney et al extensively but yes my arguments are similar in some ways to theirs.

      Yes, there may be some fuzziness as to what is extra-eccelesiastical but we can certainly find examples of the churches speaking to issues that are beyond their purview, e.g. “Woman in combat,” or perhaps any one of the social pronouncements made by the PCUSA.

      The distinction between public and private goes back to the early 16th century. I use them easily because they’re been a part of confessional Protestant ethics for hundreds of years. E.g. If am a Christian magistrate and my city is attacked, I have a public office, a covenant of works, and that office requires me NOT to turn the other cheek. If, however, if I’m not acting in my public capacity, the judicial robe is off, as it were, and someone slaps me. I turn the other cheek. In one instance I have a duty as a public person and in the other I have a duty as a private person.

      When I say “I just want the church to preach the gospel” that IS in question. We’re it happening I would be out of job but as it doesn’t seem to happen very often I keep writing.

      I think you’re making a big assumption that my experience doesn’t allow me to make: that the church understands her nature and vocation and practices the marks. Would that it were so but I don’t see it.

      Have you read Recovering the Reformed Confession?

  7. RSC,

    Sorry, I missed it again. Was there an answer to *this* question:

    Given the NT alleged lack of concern for societal transformation, where in the Bible, read rightly and in context, is the church ever commanded, by example or precept, *at any point in this present age* (i.e., 1st c. to 19th c) to transform a surrounding culture engaged in immoral forms of slavery?

    Still waiting on that one.

    Do you always advertise your own books as a debating technique? Or was there some other particular reason you mention it?

    • Brian,

      You are an arrogant ass. Nevertheless , having spent some time on my grandpa’s farm, I’m used to dealing with livestock so I’ll answer your questions.

      1. If you read RRC you might perhaps relieve yourself of some ignorance and that’s always a good thing.

      2. The church as church is never called to “transform” anything but the sinners within it and that by the sovereign grace of God through the due use of ordinary means.

      Christians might form societies to oppose manstealing or abortion or what have you. The visible church is called to preach the Word, administer sacraments, and administer discipline. See Belgic Conf Art 29.

      • Wow. This could be quite a useful debate but when people start being rude to each other it turns me off.

  8. Zrim,

    What does this mean?

    “My 2K can work with sphere sovereignty and every square inch (Kuyper), but it has a really hard time swallowing Aristotle—instead of John the Baptizer—as messianic forerunner (Bavinck). If it’s all right with you, may I keep Kuyper if I let you have the Bavinck card?”

    • It means when some say “…Bavinck’s views are decidedly NOT the views expressed on this blog, and the current 2k types would be wise to stop citing Kuyper and Bavinck as allies” that it could be 2K can work with Kuyper easier than with Bavinck when it comes to the kingdoms. Maybe not. But you seem to be suggesting neither can be cited by 2Kers for support. What’s next, that because Calvin was a product of his Constantinian times we should shelve our Institutes,etc.?

  9. RSC,

    Argument from silence? Check.
    Question-begging? Check.
    Ad Hominem? Check.

    I’d appreciate you highlighting anything in my post that is either arrogant or mule-ish. I asked a carefully-framed question (and, yes, indicated that you’ve dodged it more than once), and then inquired why you were asking whether I’d read your book (and yes, indicated that it might be interpreted as advertising, in the absence of some particular purpose for mentioning it). So, you can justify your ad hominem, or, in the alternative, I’d be happy to accept an apology as public as your remark.

    But thank you for answering the question. So, as I don’t want to misrepresent you, just correct me if I’ve got it wrong: the church, *as church*, is prohibited from seeking the civic transformation of a slave-holding society. Preachers would be prohibited from doing anything other than demanding repentance from the slave-holders in their own congregations. That’s all I wanted to know.

    Zrim: it’s the Aristotle/John the Baptist part that throws me. What are you talking about?

    • Brian,

      I don’t have the reference on me at the moment, but here is the quote:

      “The good philosophical thoughts and ethical precepts found scattered through the pagan world receive in Christ their unity and center. They stand for the desire which in Christ finds its satisfaction; they represent the question to which Christ gives the answer; they are the idea of which Christ furnishes the reality. The pagan world, especially in its philosophy, is a pedagogy unto Christ; Aristotle, like John the Baptist, is the forerunner of Christ.”

      Now, if you would, why do you think church officers have a duty to speak to marital legislation but not zoning laws? Isn’t Jesus Lord over stop signs just as much as he is marriages? I say he is.

  10. Zrim,

    You don’t have the reference, but you know it by heart, eh? 😉 Where do you think the good contributions of pagan philosophy come from?

    But, to answer your question, because 1) I don’t believe in the egalitarian equality of sins, 2) I believe in the concept of adiaphora, and 3) I’m not a theonomist. I believe in the concept of biblical wisdom; I don’t need a mechanical, clean-cut principle for everything, which is what 2k theology purports to be. As, as we’ve seen right here on this blog, the clean-cut principle gets pretty muddy re: the slavery issue, and I dare say it gets equally muddy re: the abortion and homosexuality questions. But never mind: let’s just keep on confidently trashing pastors who supported Prop.8, or leveling vulgar slurs against those who don’t see the obviousness of the 2k principle.

    • Brian,

      An ad hom argument an attempt to defeat an argument by attacking the source. That’s not what I was doing. I was making a blunt assessment of your conduct in this space. I figured someone needed to say it and I’m the guy to do it.

    • Brian,

      (Isn’t “egalitarian equality” sorta redundant?)

      The problem isn’t pastors who support or oppose prop. 8. They’re citizens, too, who have every right to their political views; they even have the right to not have a particulalry strong view one way or the other (gasp!).

      The problem is pastors who support or oppose prop. 8 publically and explicitly or implicitly compel consciences to do the same. I’m all about adiaphora, too, but I prefer the hard stuff. And if you think that certain ordained officers of the church don’t have a burden on them in ways un-ordained members don’t to play their politics close to their chests, then you may not be quite as non-theonomic as you think. Chances are you’re of the softer variety.

      I’d like to hear pastors give heavenly sanction to states’ rights as opposed to the moralized politics of natalists and feminists. But the spirituality of the church thankfully disallows my politics to be baptized. And, yeah, I agree, biblical wisdom is really cool. Too bad theonomists (soft, hard and mediocre) regard its best book, Ecclesiastes, to be an epistle of straw.

  11. You are an arrogant ass. Nevertheless , having spent some time on my grandpa’s farm, I’m used to dealing with livestock so I’ll answer your questions.

    LOL!!! Highlight of my day. Thanks.

  12. Brian, I’m a bit perplexed at your dismissal of 2K as a “mechanical clean-cut principle for everything.” 2K clearly requires a lot of wisdom in synthesizing and applying knowledge from both books of God’s revelation, precisely because it has no mechanical clean-cut principle for anything.

    If there is anywhere that 2K is clean cut it’s this: the gospel of Jesus Christ as the power of God unto salvation. There’s a kingdom that’s not of this world that will endure while this present age is passing away — isn’t the minister charged to proclaim the former in the midst of the latter. The charge is to give the Words by which the Spirit brings people from death to life. I don’t see in Scripture where the charge is to dictate to idolators (whether individuals or governments) how to run in their idolatries more efficiently.

    The point is this: if we acknowledge the messy, provisional nature of the world (and you seem to), then whence the authority to preach conclusively things like public policy with the same confidence that we preach the life-giving Gospel? 2K does not advocate preaching one thing in one place and something else in another; to say one thing is sin here, and be unable to somewhere else. Rather, it entails that the ministerial office exercises the keys of the (heavenly) kingdom — we call sin “sin” with the authority to call the sinner to repentance, to believe the gospel unto life. It’s not an authority or competence, once sin is identified, to dictate to the civil authority the exact procedures, penalties, etc.

    I don’t like the term “transformation” when it comes to the civil sphere. People are transformed, from death to life. But history demonstrates that institutions that are “transformed” get untransformed in another generation. Believe me, 2K people would like to see society increase in justice and morality. But we can’t be satisfied merely with that because it might be the epitome of self-righteous idolatry which may at the end of the day be a worse rebellion, more resistant to the Gospel than Berkeley (ever hear Barnhouse on what happens when Satan takes over a city?). I’ll trade Pleasantville for Sin City any day if in the midst of the latter, sinners are repenting and bowing down to the Living God. God isn’t looking for merely moral society. He’s looking for true worshippers.

    • I had a couple questions with regard to the 2K v. Transformational concepts as they apply to modern society (simply point me to books or what have you if I’m asking dumb questions)

      1. What is the effect of modern political systems on these ideals? Looking through the debate above, one question kept coming to me. The apostles may have spent their energy on transforming their church rather than advocating social change, but there are a couple reasons I could see for that which wouldn’t apply today (beyond the simple, compelling reason that the church was their primary concern): i. ancient Rome was not a participatory society, so political transformation was hardly even possible without revolt, and ii. any scent of such a political agenda would likely have doubled the persecution (taking Roman treatment of Jewish revolts as an example).

      Modern society has embraced much more of the concept of the Social Contract than previous cultures have, and I’m pretty sure that at least van Prinsterer wouldn’t have had many positive things to say about a Rousseauan ideal considering his stance on the French Revolution (even though much of Rousseau’s ideas came from what he saw in his time at Geneva). To help focus my question, I’ll restate it in light of this: How are Christians to behave in a society in which churchgoers have a deciding hand in governance? As I understand at least some transformationalists, the idea of a transformation of society flows from the individual transformation which individuals undergo by the power of Christ (special revelation), so that in a participationist system, there will be a positive social transformation of society to reflect to positive transformation of people into fruit-bearing believers.

      2. Assuming the question(s) above are still governed by the thought of past scholarship: How does the modern 2K church relate to the issues raised by transformationalists? I don’t mean to be restating questions from above, so let me narrow the scope a bit. It seems from the above that 2K permits congregants to do whatever they want politically, but a pastor (and elders?) should refrain from taking strong public stances on political issues lest people believe they are doing so in their ecclesiastic capacity. If so, it seems to me that we’re operating under the considerable freedom which the U.S. system permits (sep. of church and state), but I would strongly hesitate to call this a divinely inspired system, so how is the church then to respond when the political system intrudes on its sphere?

      It may be my legal orientation, but it would not be unreasonable given race discrimination laws which exist in some states (such as Texas) that if homosexuality attains the same level of protection, then ministers who decline to marry homosexuals and churches which punish homosexual promiscuity while refusing to recognize gay marriage will lose tax-exemption. When the political sphere intrudes on it, how is the church to respond? Are we only to respond when it gets to this point, or is there room for trying to improve society before that?

      I hope these are coherent questions. I guess my root concern here is a question of how much 2K is avoiding transformational language out of a conscious effort not to be confused with transformationalism and how much the 2K approach says (as this conscious distancing from transformationalism makes it appear) to hell with the world, we’re only concerned with the church. I know some of the comments above have expressed displeasure with the rarely lasting effects of efforts at social transformation (which I think could be characterized not so much as asserting Lordship [as if it didn’t exist] as bringing society more line with Christ’s legal decrees), but it seems that the entropic effects of sin are hardly an argument against the pursuit of righteousness, even on a societal level.

      • I guess one of the reasons why 2K sounds like a kind of socio-political quietism is our hesitancy to lay out a distinctive plan of how Christians are to be involved in such things.

        Basic answers to some of your questions, Donald:
        Q. How are Christians to behave in a society in which churchgoers have a deciding hand in governance? A. As responsible dual-citizens. The command to the exiles in Jer 29:5-7 seems like a good place to start. Nothing stops a 2K person for running for office. But 2K avoids mistaking provisional benefits in the worldly kingdom with the eternal benefits and blessings of the heavenly.

        Q. How does the modern 2K church relate to the issues raised by transformationalists? … how is the church then to respond when the political system intrudes on its sphere? By applying wisdom. Here’s why I found it befuddling to have heard the accusation that 2K offers clean-cut principles in a muddy world. The lack of a clear-cut answer here is not saying that we’re not allowed to respond. It’s not that the Bible lacks principles of how we could respond. But we have no comprehensive set of marching orders or some 12-step technology to claim as definitely Christian. At Darius’ blasphemous decree, Daniel went up to his room and prayed. When it comes to participatory politics, we’re talking one of the most powerful men in the Median-Persian empire, poised to be 2nd only to the king. To hear transformationalists talk, one might think Daniel lacking in faithful Christian action (on that note, we have no evidence that Daniel was transforming the institutions of Babylon into New Jerusalem … in fact, he seemed to keep the two kingdoms distinct in his mind; he set his face towards Jerusalem as he prayed in Dan 6:10). Could a 2Ker in a similar situation decide there are political actions he could take, that Daniel decided not to? Sure. But the church isn’t exactly qualified to dictate prophetically to him what those actions ought to be.

        Q. Are we only to respond when it gets to this point…, or is there room for trying to improve society before that? A. Sure there’s room for proactive, preemptive action, not just defensive rearguard reactions. But again, it’s an exercise in wisdom and not a divine blueprint. And it’s provisional and penultimate, not eternal and ultimate.

        “… but it seems that the entropic effects of sin are hardly an argument against the pursuit of righteousness, even on a societal level.” And no 2Ker would make that argument because no 2Ker (at least that I know of) opposes the pursuit of righteousness on a societal level. But the 2Ker recognizes that this pursuit is for a provisional outward righteousness, lacking power to justify or to create righteousness in the sinner’s heart. The 2Ker doesn’t mistake this pursuit with the gospel; societal improvement is not equivalent to the growth of the heavenly kingdom, and indeed, there isn’t even a necessary strong correlation between the two. Civic righteousness may facilitate the gospel’s advance in some cases, and in others, it might become a stumbling block.

        Does this help clarify?

        • Darren,

          “The 2Ker doesn’t mistake this pursuit with the gospel; societal improvement is not equivalent to the growth of the heavenly kingdom”

          Well said.


        • Thanks Darren,

          It does help a bit, I think I was partly taking your last statement about societal transformation being untransformed as meaning that it’s a worthless enterprise, which is unfair of me.

          I guess my further desire for clarification would follow along these two paths:

          1. The 2k view, as it appears to have been defined here, still recognizes Christ’s Lordship over the secular world via the law. That is, while the ethical Lordship of Christ amongst the saved is not a source of damnation but a call to sanctification and indeed greater freedom, it remains a command over the civil realm as well (the 2d use of the law if I have my numbers correct… depending on whether you’re Lutheran or Reformed). But while the impact of the law differs, it is in fact the same law in both contexts, correct? While I can understand refraining from specifically explicitly supporting legislative initiatives, would what I’ve summarized above (if it’s correct) still support the concept of the church taking an explicit position on an ethical issue (even though that would make their position on the legislation fairly obvious)? I.e., it seems clear, at least to me, that Scripture shows homosexuality (like all extra-marital sex) to be sin… would it be permissible in your view for the church to say that it considers homosexuality sinful and does not believe that its congregants should in any way be validating people’s willful sin as if it were not sinful?, or does the church’s silence (or unsuccessful opposition to) things like common-law marriage mean that it has lost the right to condemn such things by name?

          2. I know this was more of zrim’s argument, but generally, I am concerned with the criticism of pastors who supported prop. 8 (being in DC, not Cal. anymore, I don’t know what forms all of it took) if this criticism carries with it the view that the perception of a pastor speaking out on ethical issues (here separated from those who explicitly lobby for legislation) puts implicit weight behind a political view and therefore should be silent in the public arena and play such concerns ‘close to the vest’. Does the 2k view mean that if a moral or ethical issue of the type directly addressed in Christ’s lordship over both spheres (ie. murder [abortion]) becomes a ‘hot issue’ due to pending legislation, a pastor should avoid speaking on it, and, even if a sermon series would cover related verses, avoid preaching about it (especially if this would mean a topical sermon)? What if the issue is policy-driven (ie. a law banning sex discrimination of any kind, ie. banning women in office), or is raising divisions in the church (ie. legislation imposing new, heavy fees on Christian schools). In these cases should the church (in the former) avoid sermons or any special assembly addressing its view of the issue and (in the latter) decline to speak to the issue and refuse to try to raise additional funds or hold special offerings to help local Christian schools out of respect to the growing number of Reformed congregants who believe supporting Christian education is not a churchly function?

          I guess a summary of my concern here is that language which seems to be trying to distance itself from theonomy or transformationalism also appears to be advocating apathy on social issues. This is sort of a reverse of Zrim’s argument from above: while you don’t want pastors carelessly leveraging the power of churchly offices in the civil realm, would strict silence and careful language saying we’re not particularly concerned with what goes on out in the world since God isn’t concerned with the world’s morality but our worship send a an implicit church-endorsement of apathy? It seems that God is deeply concerned with the morality of the world, that’s why it will suffer judgment, and if we are talking about Christ’s Lordship over the civil realm, it seems we should be actively pursuing moral law, not to save civil structure from damnation but as a reflection of servants of Christ seeking to reflect His dominion.

          • Let me try to take a stab at this:
            Christ is still lord over the earthly kingdom, yes; all men are under the same moral law. Secular rulers are God’s servants, ultimately accountable to him (Rom 13:1-7; Titus 3:1). It gets more complicated, however, in trying to apply this to practical civil legislation. Not every sin can be punished under secular authority, or else we’d all have to turn ourselves in as law-breakers. The church cannot be silent about sin. But why does it seem like we constantly have sex on the brain? The church is called to demolish all idols in ever sphere of life and bind every thought and heart captive to the Word of God.

            But the church does it by calling men to repentance, to believe the gospel of life, to bow down and worship the living God. Getting the government to write down a law the way we like doesn’t destroy idols. Our wicked hearts will find ways to weasel around the letter of the law to indulge in our idols, if we don’t ignore it outright.

            Individual Christians can and should take stands in the common, secular realm (dual-citizens). But it shouldn’t surprise us when (a) Christians disagree on the extent of the civil law, and (b) when you find an unbeliever agreeing with you politically. But the church qua church speaks as the beachhead of the sacred heavenly realm. The faith handed down once for all to the saints is (a) something Christians should (ideally) agree on and (b) something no unbeliever will have in common with us.

            What should the church do? Proclaim what is right and what is sin (whether to Christians or not)? yes. Call all sinners (Christian or not) to repent and believe the gospel? yes. Exhort Christians not to validate other people’s sin? yes. Discipline church members unrepentant in sin? yes. All these things are done according to Scripture regardless of the political situation. Nothing becomes a “hot issue” because 2K doesn’t let the world set the agenda for our preaching (that’s a really weird concept — that I wouldn’t preach something I otherwise would?) … the Scriptural text sets the agenda. But to dictate prophetically to civil authority which sins to punish and how? er… I don’t see any evidence of that in the NT. In laying this out, I really don’t see how this is “strict silence,” or that we’re in any way weaseling around preaching what’s actually in the text. In many cases, it seems to me that demanding a specific government legislation or action is a way of going beyond the text. And 1Cor 5:12 seems to indicate that we should be much more interested in getting the gospel out, than getting all tied up in knots about what those heathen allow each other to do.

            I don’t know what the thing with pastors and prop 8 is, so I won’t comment directly about that. However, I don’t know any evangelical or reformed Christian (other than perhaps the pomos, emos, and larrys curlys and moes) who wouldn’t prefer that society come to a consensus that traditional marriage is the way to go. But what is more likely to bring us closer to that situation? The church winning hearts and minds with the gospel, or ramming a law onto the books? And more than the question of effectiveness, on the question of faithfulness, it seems to me that the overwhelming testimony of the NT points to the former being the church’s commission rather than the latter.

            Does this encourage apathy? Every election season, I’ll spend time studying the obscure wording in those election guides to figure out what I’m voting for, and I’ll stand in line (in Berkeley, it can easily mean waiting an hour or so) to cast my ballot. I’ve discussed (and commiserated) with friends on the state of education, the economy, and culture. I’ve volunteered in soup kitchens; I’ll give change and food I’m carrying to homeless people. Is this apathy? Granted, I can’t pass this off as activism, but does Scripture demand activism of every believer?

            As a 2K guy, I agree that God is deeply concerned with the morality of the world, thus judgment. But 2K sees the pursuit of the moral law as a common endeavor, part of the creation mandate for those made in the image of God. It’s good, and it’s important (and this is the matrix in which we live, so I don’t see how we can avoid taking interest in it), but it will never be perfect and it doesn’t save anyone. The unique mission of the church is grander, more powerful than that. Heb 7:18-19, “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” The law was weak and useless. Not my words, but God’s. And this isn’t man’s laws; this is the holy law given to the covenant people. The better hope is the power of the gospel to make the dead alive.

              • Thank you once again Darren. I have a couple final questions which I hope to state more briefly than my last post (sorry for sort of hijacking the comments here):

                First, I want to clarify my points of agreement here to help inform anyone’s response. I don’t believe that the church is a political body which should, as institution, be the source of legislation or even that the church should be a civil lobbying body by either advertising or donating money directly to legislative efforts. In saying that the concern of the church is, as Bucer put it: “the true care of souls,” I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, as far as the positive statements of church purpose here go, I am in full agreement.

                My primary concern here is the practical implication of these positions. Jesus, James, and others make clear that we know belief by its fruits. If we hold to the 2k beliefs that you’re talking about, what are its fruits? Here are my more briefly stated questions that will hopefully get at that goal better than my comments above:

                1) If an issue is developing in the civil sphere, can the church specially address that issue with its own congregants? (i.e. Churches having special meetings about the ‘Passion of the Christ’ back when it came out, a sermon on marriage when debate over proper response to new marriage laws comes up, or [addressing one of my hypotheticals above] lead a special drive to collect funds for Christian schools should the state levy special fees on schools which do not teach the public curriculum.)

                2) If other Christians, in their private capacity, spearhead proposed laws or civil reform movements which advocate positions aimed at better expressing and upholding God’s moral law, should we oppose them because (to take the marriage issue as an example) we believe that saving souls will better accomplish that task?

                To try to sum up: My concern here is the reactive action of the church and how much it can voice support for Christ’s dominion in the civil realm (not using the rough language of ‘reclaiming’ which some take as an assertion that Christ is not Lord, but of ‘reasserting’ in a nation which claims to be made up of God-fearers that Christ is indeed Lord). I must confess that I am only in the beginning of reading more thoroughly through the works of the Reformers, but it appears that their concern for morality embraced both church and state. I have a hard time seeing them condemn immorality so strongly in their own (and the Catholic) church but then opposing or failing to condemn state moral laws because we could stop murder more effectively if we just converted everyone (assuming a law change came along making murder a misdemeanor or just a fined offense) or because we’re really not concerned with the morality of the world, just saving souls. Wrapping up by going back to my fruit comment, my greatest concern is how we demonstrate our beliefs here. If a law defining marriage comes along and I support it, or if I advocate tax measures which would help Christian schools, will I be called a transformationalist? If I were ever to come to a pulpit and preach sanctification in concrete terms, will I be called a legalist? Reactions seem natural to me, but a huge concern for not appearing to be like Christian brothers with whom we disagree seems to compel cautious inaction rather than a pastoral concern with positive statement of beliefs/actions which may in fact result in the same actions, but for different reasons.

                • 1) If an issue is developing in the civil sphere, can the church specially address that issue with its own congregants? (i.e. Churches having special meetings about the ‘Passion of the Christ’ back when it came out, a sermon on marriage when debate over proper response to new marriage laws comes up, or [addressing one of my hypotheticals above] lead a special drive to collect funds for Christian schools should the state levy special fees on schools which do not teach the public curriculum.)

                  There are lots of ways to go in responding here, but the question I have is: How is this different from the slogan of 20th century Liberals who said, “The world sets the church’s agenda”?

                  2) If other Christians, in their private capacity, spearhead proposed laws or civil reform movements which advocate positions aimed at better expressing and upholding God’s moral law, should we oppose them because (to take the marriage issue as an example) we believe that saving souls will better accomplish that task?

                  It is true that believers are being sanctified. And while I appreciate the point some try to make here, I’m never sure how that translates into a better society. If we are still more sinful than not for the remainder of our justified/sanctified lives I don’t know how that means making more Christians is the exchange to making more laws.

                  I have a hard time seeing them condemn immorality so strongly in their own (and the Catholic) church but then opposing or failing to condemn state moral laws because we could stop murder more effectively if we just converted everyone (assuming a law change came along making murder a misdemeanor or just a fined offense) or because we’re really not concerned with the morality of the world, just saving souls. Wrapping up by going back to my fruit comment, my greatest concern is how we demonstrate our beliefs here. If a law defining marriage comes along and I support it, or if I advocate tax measures which would help Christian schools, will I be called a transformationalist? If I were ever to come to a pulpit and preach sanctification in concrete terms, will I be called a legalist?

                  Again, I don’t know how converting sinners means a better society (and I don’t know how we can get “everyone” converted). Don’t unconverted people make pretty good society? My Hindi and Mormon neighbors are pretty good people. And I wonder if you have considered that the “marriage issues,” as you call them, may have more to do with punishing certain sinners than with upholding creational laws for everyone. Just because some say they (rightly) believe a marriage is between one man and one woman doesn’t mean their project isn’t really more about making sure certain people they don’t like don’t have rights. Prop 8, for example, was about stripping rights already given, not with defining marriage.

                  • Zrim,

                    I disagree about prop 8. I don’t think it was about punishing certain
                    sinners—but of course the state does that daily and rightly so!
                    It doesn’t (yet) punish thought crime but if I act on my thought to
                    steal a car, then the state punishes me. That’s selectivity of a sort,
                    but it’s a righteous selectivity. So too it is the state’s obligation
                    to uphold creational norms including heterosexual marriage.

                    • Scott,

                      I’d rather have my magistrate punish criminals after they break the law instead of certain sinners after he has mistakenly let them marry. I agree it’s the state’s duty to uphold creational laws, but there is such a thing as getting it right the first time; isn’t there a difference between saying, “No, I’m sorry, you cannot marry,” and “Yes, you can marry…oops, you’re gay, please see the clerk for your divorce”? And if the Prop 8 people don’t get busy chasing fornicators and adulterers out of Dodge the Prop 8 stuff begins to look a lot like homophobia to me.

                      In other words, I don’t buy this “it’s only about upholding creational norms” jazz. If we really believe creatures are complicated we have to admit that’s at least as much about culturally punishing certain sinners as it is about upholding creational norms.

                    • Zrim,

                      Prop 8 happened, as I understand it, because the courts refused to
                      recognize the validity of the earlier prop defining marriage. A
                      society has a right under natural law to define marriage in
                      heterosexual terms.

                      I take it that you were not convinced by my account of natural law viz

                    • Scott,

                      I think a society has both a right and a duty under natural law to define marriage in heterosexual terms. I don’t believe homosexuality is a legitimate sexual expression; it cannot be located in creation and therefore cannot be sanctioned in marriage. I don’t think Prop 8 was only about that though. Whatever immediate legal manuevering was also involved, I think it was more an effort against homosexuals than for creational norms. Again, where is the effort to criminalize fornication and adultery amongst hetero’s?

                      I think you made some good and convincing points wrt NL in relation to homosexuality. What I am not convinced of is that it helped explain everything going on in the cultural politics of Prop 8. There’s a lot more to the story.

                    • Zrim,

                      Heterosexual fornication and heterosexual adultery should be criminal
                      as should be the alienation of affections.

                      I agree that homosexuality should not be singled out necessarily but
                      the advocacy of it does threaten to re-shape society in a way that
                      heterosexual sin, however immoral it is, does not. Sexual sins are, as
                      Paul says, against one’s own body but they are not against nature in
                      the same way that homosexuality is. Heterosexual acts are at least
                      potentially procreative. The same cannot be said for homosexuality (or
                      for beastility or pederasty, both of which are likely to be issues
                      after this one). Thus the civil magistrate has an immediate interest
                      in restraining the attempt to include homosexuality in the definition
                      of marriage. Nevertheless, it is demonstrable that no-fault divorce
                      has been a disaster and that the social experimentation with no-fault
                      sex has been equally disastrous.

                      Perhaps prop 8 looks different in a relatively homogenous area such as
                      W. Michigan than it does in So California? Amway has its headquarters
                      in GR not LA or SF.

                    • Scott,

                      Well, at least CA is being allowed to govern itself wrt to marriage laws. Now to let it decide what it wants to do with abortion.

                      I just wish Prop 8 proponants would be able to admit that homosexuality bothers them more than other sins. I have a particular chaff against fornication and freely admit it. Even so, I’m still not ready to criminalize it like some want to criminalize homosexuality (discipline is another matter).

                      I have a close extended family member who is gay. He seems quicker to listen to me when I tell him it’s immoral when he also knows I’m not interested in making him a politically second-class citizen like his fundy family. I recall the anecdote at the end of Horton’s “Beyond Culture Wars” between he and the gay bank teller to a similar effect. Something like, “You can call my lifestyle immoral, but if you allow me to exist it’ll go down easier.” I think while Prop 8’s text is to tell homosexuals they can’t marry, but it’s sub-text is that they can’t exist. Sub-texts are far more powerful than texts. And associating the gospel with those who are more interested in culturally disenfranchising certain people than with cultically upholding creational norms just seems to be working harder instead of smarter.

                    • Zrim,

                      But we live in two kingdoms simultaneously. Of course the homosexual
                      banker wants to be allowed to practice his lifestyle, but he’s not
                      just asking to be left alone is he? He’s asking courts and
                      legislatures to re-define marriage and to re-organize society in
                      fundamental way. If he wasn’t asking us to ignore nature, we probably
                      wouldn’t be having this discussion, but since he’s out, he’s loud, and
                      he’s proud, he’s forced the issue hasn’t he?

                      Yes, it’s much easier to talk to people about their sins when the
                      question of civil prosecution is not in play but we’re not all civil
                      officers and so we don’t have any duty to report our homosexual
                      neighbor to the authorities. I’ve had homosexual relatives and
                      friends, I understand what you’re saying but the fact that we are
                      citizens in two kingdoms simultaneously makes this a more complicated
                      issue than you seem to present.

                    • Scott,

                      Yes, 2K is all about complication over against over-simplification (I’m not clear on how I am guilty of the latter). But when I do my civil citizenship I simply choose a different posture than you for reasons I hope are at least somewhat clear by now. I don’t know why that’s such a problem. This is why I thought Darren’s insight was so helpful: “But it shouldn’t surprise us when Christians disagree on the extent of the civil law.” You smell something good in Prop 8, I smell a rat.

                      If Prop 8 were on the Michigan ballot I likely would’ve abstained, probably making both sides a bit put out. But I don’t like having to decide between bad law and obnoxiousness. Sorry, for better or ill, that’s just how this 2Ker sees it.

                    • “Heterosexual fornication and heterosexual adultery should be criminal
                      as should be the alienation of affections.”


                      I didn’t know you had a theonomist hiding inside you. Because something is wrong it should be outlawed by the secular state? You want the government arresting singles who have sex before marriage? I guess your 2k and mine look very different; your 2k is looking more and more like soft t theonomy to me.

                    • Todd,

                      apply the natural law or re-instating common laws that were accepted
                      widely for a 1000 years and changed only in the last 20 years hardly
                      makes me a theonomist! I’m not arguing for such laws on the basis of
                      the abiding validity of the Mosaic judicial law but on the basis of
                      the nature of the family and society’s inherent interest in a stable
                      family units.

                      I was mostly kidding about alienating affections, but as a pastor who
                      has done marital counseling, one might be able to make a case. It’s
                      arguably a form of theft.

                      There’s a real case to be made, however, for bringing back the laws
                      against fornication/adultery. I’m not a lawyer, but I believe that
                      there is a distinction between misdemeanors and felonies. I don’t
                      think the cops haul people away for misdemeanors, but they can write a
                      ticket or it could become a basis for legal action in some cases. It
                      would the corollary to ending no-fault divorce. If marriage is a
                      social contract and if business contracts are broken only with
                      penalties, then why not social contracts?

                      Clark a theonomist? That’s amusing. To the theonomists I’m antinomian!

                    • Scott,

                      I was also mostly kidding about you being a theonomist, but I think the your natural law position in practice is the same as soft core theonomists, though you may arrive there from slightly different roads. The Ten Commandments are the Moral (natural) Law, the government can and should enforce violations of the Moral Law, etc… Are you sticking with the Second Table for government enforcement?

                    • Todd,

                      You seem to be arguing that ANY law that is universally binding is
                      inherently theonomic. One of the great benefits of the NL position is
                      that it provides a source of moral law that is universal and not
                      Mosaic, i.e. not tied to the typological system. It is historic and it
                      is biblical, i.e. the doctrine of natural law is clearly taught in Rom
                      1-2 among other places.

                      Have you seen Dave VanDrunen’s little volume on the biblical doctrine
                      of natural law?

                      I hope you’ll reconsider your view.

                    • Scott,

                      I’m a big believer in natural law – but politics and civil law is not the art of enforcing natural law. That’s maybe where we differ, I think. Saying homosexuality is wrong acording to natural law has little to do with whether homosexuals should be given marriage rights. Why should we care as Christians whether the states grant marriage rights to homosexuals? And natural law tells us what is sinful, including gossip, pornography, fornication, etc…What does that have to do with actual civil enforcements of a society? On what basis does a magistrate decide what should be punished? The Bible – no, natural law – no. I would say – what is best for that particuliar society to function, as skewered as that will look in a sinful world.

                    • Todd,

                      If we find ourselves in a totalitarian state, well so be it. We are
                      not, however, yet in a totalitarian state.
                      Insofar as we’ve been given a voice in our own governance, there has
                      to be some baseline against which to judge the laws and acts of the
                      magistrate. One stable basis for making such an evaluation, indeed,
                      the basis on which our republic was founded, has been natural law.
                      That was the conceptual background of the the verbiage, “nature and
                      nature’s God.”

                      If there is to be any restraint on the magistrate, it has to be a
                      universal law. One of the intended functions of natural law is to
                      serve as a guide for the magistrate. We righty expect the magistrate
                      to preserve my safety and my property. On what basis does the
                      magistrate perform that function? On the basis of natural law. In any
                      given society there is an social contract between the governed and
                      between the governed and the governor. What is the charter of those
                      relations? It has to be natural law. If it is whim or will then there
                      is no stable basis for social relations. Society moves from tyranny of
                      the one to tyranny of the many and back again.

                      Your theory makes “nature” purely theoretical or subjective or
                      private. The point of appealing to nature in the civil or common realm
                      is that everyone in it may be justly governed by natural, creational
                      universals. We don’t have to appeal to special or redemptive
                      revelation for norms, but you’ve denied the appeal to any norms
                      whatever in the common or civil sphere.

                      What responsible social theorist (exempting anarchists and the
                      Yippies) have theorized ONLY positive law as the social norm? On your
                      proposed basis there is nothing higher or more basic to civil law than
                      positive legislative enactment. That’s tyranny. It’s civil

                      Who would want to live in such a dis-order?

                    • Scott,

                      I won’t presume to speak for Todd, but I think his point may be that politics is the art of compromise, not the enforcement of natural law. From where I sit, this is a pretty important point given the fact that this is actually how we live every day. So defined, politics happens everywhere, even the most intimate of institutions like family. It sure does in mine. But at some crucial point pulling my creational (and redemptive) rank as head of household becomes lording it over others in the name of creational norms. I have every right to declare submission by all those who make my daily life uncomfortable, but is it wise?

                      I can’t help but think what is going on in certain national theatres is the version of me stomping around the house forgetting that politics is the art of compromise writ large.

                    • Zrim,

                      I did my BA in poli sci and one of my earliest memories is of putting
                      Hubert Humphrey signs (and city council signs) in front yards. I read
                      “Steal This Book” long before I read the Bible. I was weaned on
                      politics. I’ve been an academic dean. I understand the necessity for
                      realistic politics and for compromise, but there are basic principles
                      on which we cannot compromise. We don’t compromise on whether the
                      unjust taking of a human life is murder, so why should we compromise
                      on the nature of the family?

                      The question is whether there really are such things as foundational
                      social (which are necessarily common) relationships. It seems to me
                      that the movement to re-define “family” in homosexual terms and to
                      impute to these new, artificial social units the name “family” is a
                      part of the baby-boom (and post-boomer) attempt to evade or overcome
                      the limits of nature. It is a Nietzschean will to power, an assertion
                      of human autonomy against the Creator. It is instructive to me that
                      when Paul prosecutes human depravity, on the basis of natural law, in
                      Rom 1-2 one of the things he mentions is homosexuality, which was
                      pervasive in 1st-century Greco-Roman culture. Greek art glorified the
                      male form in erotic terms. He alluded to the anti-creational nature of
                      homosexuality saying,

                      Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

                      I might be wrong about this, but I guess I could find pagan social and
                      political philosphers (e.g. Seneca or Cicero) who argued similar cases
                      and who, on the basis of nature alone, would define the family as a
                      founded upon a monogamous, heterosexual relationship.

                      I have no interest in persecuting homosexuals or in jailing them but
                      neither should we simply sit back and allow fundamental social
                      relation to be re-described. If family and marriage may be radically
                      re-constituted at will, then I cannot see how human/animal relations
                      cannot be re-described at will. If animals (as it is being argued
                      earnestly in academic circles) have “feelings,” and “will” such that
                      they can “consent” it won’t be long before there’s no such thing as
                      “bestiality.” In case one thinks I’m being hysterical I refer the
                      gentle reader to Anthony L. Podberscek et al, Exploring the
                      Relationships Between People and Pets
                      (Cambridge: Cambridge
                      University Press, 2005). This volume contains an essay (ch. 17) “re-
                      evaluating bestiality….” There are already groups arguing vigorously
                      for a re-description of relations between adults and children.

                      The point about about creational norms is that they are not “mine” or
                      yours. They are God’s and they’re no more arbitrary than the laws of
                      gravity. You and I don’t impose the laws of gravity upon anyone. Those
                      laws just are. They are the laws of physics. So too the laws of nature
                      are built into the nature of things. They just are. When we break the
                      natural laws of physics we incur a penalty, so too, as Paul says, when
                      we break equally and properly basic natural laws, we also incur a
                      penalty. The state has a right and duty to recognize those laws, just
                      as they recognize the laws of physics (and so require airplanes to
                      have wings and motors etc).

                    • Scott,

                      I have a point of consistently being clear that: homosexuality is contrary to nature and immoral; that the institution of the family is a founded upon a monogamous, heterosexual relationship; that homosexuality is no where legitimately located in creation and is an invalid sexual expression and should not enjoy the sanction of marriage; and I agree that,

                      …creational norms…are not “mine” or yours. They are God’s and they’re no more arbitrary than the laws of gravity. You and I don’t impose the laws of gravity upon anyone. Those laws just are. They are the laws of physics. So too the laws of nature are built into the nature of things. They just are. When we break the natural laws of physics we incur a penalty, so too, as Paul says, when we break equally and properly basic natural laws, we also incur a penalty. The state has a right and duty to recognize those laws, just as they recognize the laws of physics (and so require airplanes to have wings and motors etc).

                      But, I get the distinct sense that until I, in a manner of speaking, “vote ‘yes’ on something like Prop 8,” none of that matters. Else I suspect I wouldn’t be reminded over and again of these things. This is precisely what I find so frustrating and bothersome. I am mystified as to why a particular piece of political legislation should be afforded such great bearing on whether one really and truly believes the above propositions wrt a certain sexual deviancy, creational norms and the nature of marriage and family. I am puzzled as to why, if one should raise his hand in dissent and suggest that it is entirely feasible that a lot more is going on than questions over creational norms, that he is rendered to “sit back and allow fundamental social relation to be re-described.”

                      I don’t at all rule out that the re-definition of creational norms is roiling around in all this; to suggest it isn’t would indeed be naive. What I don’t understand is why you can’t return the favor and concede that also roiling around in all of this is some measure of cultural persecution. Are not creatures highly complex (whereas the Creator simple)? And if so, how can it not be then possible that the plight of creatures in their politics couldn’t also be fraught with all sorts of motivations? I can afford you your view that it’s mostly about re-defining creational norms (thus your “yes vote”). May I have my “no vote” because I think it is mostly about cultural persecution? If it helps, I’ll settle for letting me abstain. Both will satisfy my desire to be faithful to the NT ethic of living quietly, minding my own business and being at peace with my neighbors, even as I dissent from any attempts to re-define creational norms.

                    • Zrim,

                      There may be problems with Prop 8. In my earlier piece on
                      homosexuality I didn’t tie my argument from natural law to that prop
                      nor do I intend to tie my argument here to prop 8.

                      My main purpose here is to argue for the propriety of a civil,
                      magisterial interest in natural law-based policy/legislation regarding
                      such questions.

                    • Scott,

                      Sorry for the delay in responding – been away from a computer for a while. I was joking about the theonomy remark, you have been a great proponent of 2k thinking. Your comment that you would desire to criminalize fornication reminded me of theonomists, so I threw you a jab.

                      Theonomy says you can discern God’s will for civil legistlation through the Bible. You seem to suggest you can discern God’s will for certain civil legislation through natural law. I think both attempts are flawed, though I’d take yours over the theonomist any day.

                      But I think Zrim expressed my concern. Politics is the art of compromise. I look at natural law as so general and basic that it condemns the motivation of law makers more than the right or wrong of actual legislation. Natural law on the conscience informs man of the sinfulness of using people for gain, or being power -hungry, of hurting others for selfish reasons, of pride, etc… How that looks from a legislative perspective is unclear, though that would clearly condemn much evil from lawmakers from both the liberal and conservative side, depending on motivation.

                      Why can’t we see how at some level Prop 8 seeks to help certain people? Why can’t we even see that some pro-abortion rights advocates have good intentions to help young, scared girls? Why can’t we see that outlawing abortion is complicated, and that maybe leaving it to God on Judgement Day is enough? Do the natural law norms really force me to take sides on these civil matters?

                      I fear that our tendency to believe we know the right or worng or certain civil matters hurts our ability to see the image of God in unbelievers, that Planned Parenthood workers, homosexual rights advocates, etc… can have good, caring, civic righteousness motivating them. What you have said doesn’t nullify this ability if we are careful, but I don’t usually see this perspective from either reformed or evangelical conservatives.

                    • Todd,

                      1. As C S Lewis argued in The Abolition of Man, it is holding people
                      accountable that recognizes their status as image bearers.

                      2. I’m not defending particular legislation or propositions (I’m not
                      crazy about the whole proposition process anyway) but I’m defending
                      the propriety of criticizing legislation or of proposing legislation
                      on a natural law basis.

                      3. For me, natural law is about principle not politics. I realize, as
                      I’ve said to Zrim, that politics is about compromise. Natural law,
                      however, is prior to politics, it is about foundational, common,
                      universal civil principles that guide a community or a polity. Unless
                      these things exist, then civil justice is virtually impossible because
                      the magistrate faces no restraints.

                    • Scott,

                      Do you think it possible that Utah being barred from coming into the union until it criminalized bigamy was perhaps a mixed bag of wanting to maintain creational norms and a way for orthodox Protestants to stick it to heretics, or was it just the former? I tend to think it was both, but my Calvinism, with all its obessions with personal sin, tends to pull more toward the latter.


                      There’s a real case to be made, however, for bringing back the laws
                      against fornication/adultery.

                      I had asked you before to perhaps clarify this. Unless I missed it, I don’t see that you did. But I’m still rather curious as to what you have in mind here. What laws?

                    • Hi Zrim,

                      I don’t doubt that the admission of Utah was as you say, quite mixed.
                      So too with the origin of public schools as a vehicle to make good,
                      mainline protestants out of everyone and especially Roman Catholics
                      emigrating to America.

                      As to bringing back some of the older laws, I really only have in mind
                      rolling back the “no fault” divorce laws — these have been a
                      disaster. If heterosexual marriage is a creational institution, then
                      the magistrate should be protecting it and not weakening it. The
                      boomers wouldn’t brook any limits on their sexual freedom and now that
                      most of them are too old to care about sex any more and now that
                      (according to the commercial) 20% Americans have herpes or chlamydia
                      or something equally awful, maybe it’s time to go back to a more
                      reasonable social policy. If people suffer civil sanctions for
                      breaking commercial contracts, and they do, they ought to suffer civil
                      sanctions for breaking social contracts as well. Adultery is a
                      violation of the most central social contract: the contract between a
                      man and a woman. If one is videotaped for “Cheaters” committing
                      adultery, there ought to be some sanction beside universal humiliation
                      and shame (if those penalties exist or do people get high fives or
                      chest bumps for adultery these days?).

                      Arguably, fornication is theft. I don’t know that the magistrate can
                      do anything about it but it is a mistake to legalize it. It’s
                      unavoidably the case that when we decriminalize something we send the
                      message: It’s okay. No matter how much the government preaches (the
                      government is a terrible preacher because it’s contrary to the
                      government’s nature and vocation) against smoking it persists among
                      young people and casual sex in bath houses is on the rise again.
                      Everyone knows intuitively that, if it were really bad it wouldn’t be
                      legal, but it is legal so it mustn’t be that bad. This goes
                      against my libertarian leanings but it seems to be true and we must
                      always get to grips with facts.

                    • If one grants the state the authority to legislate morality, isn’t that giving the state authority that should only belong to God, and therefore inherently idolatrous?

                    • Echo,

                      That sounds pretty “radical” (as in Anabaptistic) and a way to resolve kingdom tension that really isn’t waranted either by Scripture or the Reformed tradition.

                      The term “legislate morality” is dicey. Most times it seems to imply something just that side of antinomian. But to my mind, the problem isn’t “legislating morality” since the magistrate is indeed the left-hand viceroy of God. The problem is doing it poorly or with more ignoble motivations than wisdom would seem to warrant. I realize that is highly subjective. But so often it seems to me that those who claim creational norms also don’t seem very cognizant of the fact that there is more to these things than whether certain sexualities are deviant.

                      Should my wife submit to me in all things? Yes, both creation principles and redemptive mandates make this clear. But does that reality trump ever interaction I have with her and dictate everything? Maybe I really am a worm-boy wuss, but wisdom tells me that soften compromise and yielding are much more successful. If that’s true for those who hold rank in private instititutions why not on the parts of those who are right about creational norms in public considerations?

                    • There’s a real case to be made, however, for bringing back the laws
                      against fornication/adultery.


                      The notion that you harbor any form of theonomy is indeed amusing (even if made in jest); my own take here is that this has been a friendly food fight amongst 2Kers. Even so, I think the confusion may be that we hear theonomists, soft and hard, speak this way all the time. So, I wonder if you might elborate here–what laws do you have in mind exactly?

                      And another question: Do you think it’s possible that while one may not share the letter of the theonomic law (“I’m not arguing for such laws on the basis of the abiding validity of the Mosaic judicial law but on the basis of the nature of the family and society’s inherent interest in a stable family units”) one could have some shared space with the spirit of theonomy?

                    • Well, as CVT said long ago, it’s either theonomy or autonomy. I’ve
                      always agreed with that axiom. I’m serious when I say that there’s no
                      such thing as epistemic neutrality. That doesn’t mean that, however,
                      there’s no common civil space. Sure there is. Common is not the same
                      as neutral. I guess if I’m getting it in the neck from some 2K folk
                      and from the theonomists, while it doesn’t mean I’m right, it also
                      suggests that those who criticize the natural law view for being
                      “antinomian” are probably wrong.

                      Maybe the difference lies partly in my view that the civil sphere is a
                      legal sphere not a gracious sphere. I don’t want the magistrate being
                      gracious. He can be merciful (withhold punishment and the like) but I
                      don’t want the magistrate being gracious (administering undeserved

                      As an administration of the covenant of works, the job of the
                      magistrate, virtually the only real job of the magistrate, is the
                      administer the law. What law? The civil law. What makes a civil law a
                      valid law? If it conforms with the law of nature — the 2nd table of
                      the decalogue. I take it that all humans know this law, that it is
                      accessible to all, understood by all, applicable by all. The
                      magistrate’s job is, therefore, to the degree appropriate to his
                      office, to punish those who violate the social contract implicit in
                      the natural covenant in which we all live. Those who violate the law,
                      e.g. “You shall not steal,” have violated the social/natural covenant
                      that exists. They’ve violated the trust implicit in all social
                      relations. Without that trust, as we’ve seen, society collapses into
                      the Hobbsian state of nature. The same is true of murder, of defiance
                      of just authority and the like. Obviously the magistrate cannot punish
                      covetousness or envy, but he can refrain from legislating covetousness
                      or envy. Thus laws that determine that “x number of dollars are too
                      many for anyone to have” are inherently unjust. I think our entire tax
                      code is probably a contradiction of natural law/rights. The magistrate
                      has a right and duty to take taxes to perform basic natural functions
                      (e.g. defense of the peace and safety) but he has no right to engineer
                      society. That’s a matter for persuasion (suadenda) not for imposing
                      (imponenda). So, I guess I’m increasingly libertarian. I just want to
                      be left alone WRT to social contract.

                      Speaking about the civil magistrate administering law doesn’t share
                      any space with the theonomic ethic because it’s charter is creational,
                      it’s goal is preservation (not glory) and it’s not redemptive (as it
                      is under theonomy). It’s not fueled by the postmil vision of a future
                      glory age.

                      Yes, the civil realm is a inherently a legal realm, but that doesn’t
                      make it a quasi-theonomic realm.

                  • So that you might better see what I mean (the numbers correspond to your response to my numbers):

                    1) I’ll tell you how it’s different. The church sets its own agenda, runs its sermon series, catechisms, etc. What I’m asking here is not an ‘issue of the week’ approach or letting the world hijack our services. I mean responding to particularly prominent or salient issues. Your response to me gets at the fear I have. To stay away from the homosexuality issue which is clearly close to you: when churches called special meetings to address whether people should go see “the Passion”, was that rampant liberalism? If I dare to address exceptional issues, does that make me a liberal?

                    2) I’m not sure if you’re responding against my comment or agreeing with it. Let me disclose my thought behind this so that you can better respond. As a personal issue, I have a hard time voting against a law defining marriage as b/n a man and woman, clarifying that abortion murder, or one which helps Christian education because I see these things as being in line with Christ’s Lordship (the law) in both spheres. As a Christian, I feel a personal call to sanctification, and I feel that opposing (or even ignoring) laws which would better reflect rightly ordered law hardly reflects well on me as a purported servant in the kingdom bounded by this law (not in a salvific sense for me, but hopefully no one thinks that God changed His mind on the moral law at some point and became less concerned about it).

                    3) Again, while I think that converted Christians are generally better people than they were (they certainly SHOULD be), my point was upholding Christ’s Lordship as a moral matter (so seeing the legislation as a task wholly separate from salvation). Mormons and Jews and many others are indeed good people, I am supporting the idea of not opposing moral laws which multiple faiths recognize as rooted in a shared natural or religious law (even if they don’t recognize their source in God).

                    As for Prop 8, I most certainly have thought deeply about that issue (you wouldn’t believe how often it has come up in my Constitutional Law class). You seem to have bought the line that anyone who doesn’t support gay rights hates them. I find it difficult in this debate because only a few years ago, no one would talk about marriage, it was all about giving them civil unions and then they would be happy. Where did that rhetoric go? This is most certainly a matter of a politically powerful minority using the judicial system to structure rights and privileges for themselves that the people will not. The thing is, the courts are not the last word on this matter. Our government is by the people, and the people determine the rights in the end. Courts may carve out new rights, but if they are sufficiently out of line with the populace, they can be overruled, and that is precisely what I see the Cal. amendment to its constitution as being. Even Justice Stevens, one of the more liberal S.Ct justices, believes that fundamental rights and entitlements may change and shift with the beliefs of the populace, if he were (as was done in Roe v. Wade) to discern a new fundamental right were society saw none (ie. the right for homosexuals to marriage on equal terms to heterosexuals), it would be based on his own evaluation of society, and it would be fine for society to then correct his misperception.

                    • Donald,

                      1.) If the church sets its own agenda then I’d be more convinced when the subject is, say, the ordo salutis instead of the latest Mel Gibson or Tom Hanks movie. And if I wanted to stay away from the homosexuality issue I hardly think I’d carry on here as I have. I’m doing precisely the opposite, in fact. It is more likely that you don’t like my posture on the issue and have translated that into some sort of apathy. It’s an old trick: you don’t care the way I do, therefore you don’t care. If it helps, this can cut both ways. Just because I am not wild about hate crime legislation doesn’t mean I don’t care about minorities.

                      2.) I believe in sanctification, too, and I don’t think the Host of heaven “changed his mind on the moral law.” But I don’t see how my judgment that something like Prop 8 is problematic implies the opposite of any of that. What if I said the way you vote or think did? You’d be right to say, “I think what you mean is that you disagree with me on a civil matter, not that I disavow sanctification or the moral law, etc.”

                      3.) If converted people are better than they themselves were when unconverted that must mean converted people are better than unconverted people. How does that square with the notion that even the holiest amongst us can only make but a small progression toward holiness in this life, or that our good works are yet filthy rags? Something tells me your doctrine of sin may need a tune-up. But if natural religionists, those characterized by law, like Christ-hating pagans like Mormons and Muslims, are excited about making sure natural law is strenuously enforced, I wonder if that should give those characterized by grace pause? It’s one thing to say, as I do, that homosexuality is an illegitimate and immoral sexual expression, another to get lathered up about making sure gays can’t marry. This is the difference I don’t think is very well understood.

                      You seem to have bought the line that anyone who doesn’t support gay rights hates them.

                      How does abstaining from Prop 8 support gay rights? I suppose homosexuals can tell me my hesitations mean I hate them, just like those who tell me my protestations mean I am apathetic, simplistic or don’t believe in sanctification…but, it’s just not true. It just means I have a brain and it keeps generating more questions than easy answers. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but isn’t that what a liberal democracy is sort of all about?

                    • Zrim (Todd?),

                      1) So any time the church deviates from the ordo salutis it’s the effect of liberalism? I picked the Passion example because churches which I have a deep respect for (ie. Escondido URC, Sanborn URC, and many others) called such meetings addressing whether this movie was idolotry. Even though I was one of the wretched sinners who saw the movie, I didn’t think there was anything liberal about the church addressing this issue. Obviously, if we get to the point where sermon series are constantly dictated by politics and we call weekly issues meetings, we’ve fallen into the trap, but, again, I don’t think addressing exceptional issues is liberal.

                      I think you misunderstood me about the gay rights issue. I was saying that I would use a different example because it is clearly a sensitive issue for you (didn’t want my hypo to distract you from my question). I respect your position and my reading skills are not so handicapped as to think you are apathetic about it.

                      2) This was actually initially a response to either Darren or Dr. Clark (I don’t remember which) who said something about the possibility that saving souls would actually better uphold marriage than making laws defining it. I’m not meaning this as an assertion against your position, and, as I said, the point of my response to you was to show my personal feelings, not set forth a model of how everyone should act. I personally feel that I cannot oppose laws upholding Christ’s moral law and still claim to be striving after deeper and deeper service to Him in abiding by those laws. If this is still offensive to you, then we can drop this whole point.

                      3) This is a bad logical argument. If all people who convert are more moral than they previously were, it does not follow that all people who convert are more moral than all who have not. It’s a subjective improvement. If I’m a drug addicted, porn addicted, child rapist who converts to Christianity and never rapes children again, but still struggles with occasional bouts of drug use or porn viewing (which now brings about great remorse and conviction on my part), I am subjectively better than I was, but that doesn’t mean that I’m better than the Mormons across town who never had those problems.

                      You say my doctrine of sin may need a tune up. Let me state in brief form what I believe about sin and the law, and I genuinely ask you to point out where I am in error: sin, by definition, is a rebellion against God’s law. Unbelievers are still under the law, revealed in nature, their hearts, and Scripture and are condemned by it. Believers are saved under Christ’s grace, and that very same law no longer functions to condemn to hell, but to lead us to condemn our continuing sin as unseemly, drive us to Christ for forgiveness, and guide us to ask the Spirit to sanctify us so that we may sin in that way no longer. Our good works are useless when it comes to our justification (salvation before God), but God still delights to crown His gifts (which includes both our salvation and the good works He has stored up for us). As such, we are still rewarded for the good we do (which is only acceptable by reference to Christ, but not acceptable as saving, merely as now pleasing), and, as you yourself said, we can make small steps toward holiness in this life (making us better than we started)… in fact, this seems to be the demand of Christ when he calls upon us to bear fruit or the meaning of James when he says that faith without works is dead.

                      I think the mistake that people make with the law goes to our fundamental sinfulness. You see, I think that legalism is a symptom and not a root problem with Christianity. Christ told us to remove the log from our own eye, yet the spirit of legalism is usually about justifying ourselves before the law (saying “I basically kept it” or “I’m excused for X reason”) while judging others before it. The fundamental antinomian in all of us wants to feel better about our obviously sinful action and so we try to put ourselves in the seat of the Pharisee so that we might condemn the publican behind us. Christians should be applying the law to themselves and standing admittedly condemned rather than spending all their time condemning others.

                      However, in the civil sphere, we take part in the government by setting the laws (voting). The government itself plays the role of judge in a way which we personally do not, and it does this because God has granted this authority to the civil magistrates. When it comes to judgment, I don’t believe that we should be supporting a judicial stance which validates sinfulness because it is not in keeping with the grant of legal authority which God gave to governments. In modern society, we have a role in government which Christians of ages past did not, and I think that my unwillingness to vote against moral laws stands in accord with that.

                      3a) As to how voting against Prop 8 supports gay rights: let me begin by demonstrating to you that I am in no way rigidly moralistic on this point, siding against the right to gay marriage because they’re icky. I have a gay cousin, several close (well as close an non-believing friends can be) friends at law school who are gay, I will be working at a firm with two gay partners, have worked on behalf of one of those partners with respect to a lobbying project for a gay advocacy group (because I weighed the issues and believed it did not compromise my faith), and I volunteered to host a gay man from the “Equality Ride” protest group when it came through my undergraduate institution.

                      Through this experience, I have become convinced that the root goal of the gay rights movement is one of the slogans repeated by the Equality Riders: “It’s impossible to love the sinner and hate the sin, validating us as people means validating everything about us” Like I said before, the rhetoric a few years ago was hesitant about talking ‘marriage’ but big on ‘civil unions’. At that point, I found their arguments somewhat compelling on a civil level, but that rhetoric has vanished, and now I am convinced that the goal of the movement is not equal protection but validation. Gay marriage isn’t as much about a right to live in a monogamous loving relationships as it is about getting people to come to believe that there’s absolutely nothing sinful about the orientation. For these reasons, and because I believe that God decreed that marriage be between a man and a woman, I support legislation which seeks to define marriage as such. Hopefully you see from the above that I am not calling you apathetic or simplistic in any way, but I hope it also demonstrates that the implication of your tone surrounding your statement that you have a brain (ie. that I don’t) is also unfounded. I respect your democratic right to differ with me on how policy should be worked out, but I resent you taking what you construe as my religious deprecation of your position and turning it back on me by calling the support of prop. 8 or anything of the like a form of ‘soft theonomy’.

                      I’ve successfully been led far afield of the original topic in this particular post, but again I will reiterate my concern from before about what fruit the 2K view is meant to bear. You seem to be validating my previous statements that I am concerned about the strength of the language 2K’ers use in condemning transformationalism, because it seems to be supporting the view that you yourself appear to express here (ie. that any application of the law is either legalism or theonomy).

                    • Donald,

                      I’ll cut through the stuff you rightly point out has grown up around all this and get to your concern: that any application of the law is either legalism or theonomy.

                      I think that my suggestion that there is a letter of theonomy and a spirit of theonomy is still helpful, even if RSC dismisses it. One may technically get all his anti-theonomy right but still harbor theonomy in his heart. I’ll be the first one to admit the spirit of theonomy abides within me. My Calvinism, however, daily mortifies it for what it is. I know I promised to cut through what has grown up but indulge me an example:

                      I consider my own particular disdain of fornication. When I hear it suggested that fornication might be politically sanctioned I can sense a little inner enthusiasm; and I wonder where the petition might be that would help keep sophomoric silly hearts from playing house and pretending to be a real live grown up like me who has put his licks in as an actual married person for years because heaven knows we could use a few more like me in this world who haven’t forgotten what self-sacrifice, loyalty and abiding love is (pant, pant).

                      But I’m pretty well persuaded that what belies my rant (and it is real) is a judgmentalism and an all too easy disposition toward self-righteousness. After all, I have creational norms on my side, right? That may very well be, but being able to recognize my sin is more important to me than making sure somebody else has law pressed upon him.

                      Like Scott, I want my sheriff to dispense law, not grace. But not only that, I want is dispensed well. I guess I want it all. And so I am not convinced that it is somehow impossible that the “civil magistrate administering law doesn’t share any space with the theonomic ethic.” Can you say, “Prohibition,” or how about John Dewey’s educational ethic that conceived of transforming society through the classroom? The list could go on, but it should be clear that the magistrate can be very theonomic (soft or hard) and worsened by being erroneously explained by some as simply upholding creational norms. Prohibition was about making the Good Society by punishing drunkards, and Prop 8 is about making the Good Society by punishing homosexuals. The letter of theonomy is fairly easy to take care of, the spirit of theonomy, like sin itself, is an equal opportunity affliction and is one wily SOB.

                    • Sorry, see my comment above, I apparently clicked up higher than I thought when posting.

                      (As I’ve evidently done a few times here) I must confess my own apparent inability to discern which threads are the indented responses to what comments.

    • Vic,

      I love watching Constantinians fight. It doesn’t even matter when one is soft and the other is hard. It’s just wholesome fun.

  13. Darren,

    With “stabs” like that you could make a killing selling Ginsu knives. Good stuff.

    As a 2Ker, here’s what intrigues me the most:

    Individual Christians can and should take stands in the common, secular realm (dual-citizens). But it shouldn’t surprise us when (a) Christians disagree on the extent of the civil law, and (b) when you find an unbeliever agreeing with you politically. But the church qua church speaks as the beachhead of the sacred heavenly realm. The faith handed down once for all to the saints is (a) something Christians should (ideally) agree on and (b) something no unbeliever will have in common with us.

    Lots to unpack there and perhaps not for the faint of heart.

  14. I agree with Dr. Clark’s statement that the magistrate both plays a non-gracious role and a preservational (not redemptive) role. I guess when I’m talking about increased morality in society, I understand that it’s a losing battle. When I express desire to codify a definition of marriage in keeping with biblical (and natural) law norms, I understand that it will still probably only be a matter of time before those mores come crashing down. We live in a society which has enthroned the “every man does what is right in his own eyes” ethic. By converting people and striving to live more holy lives ourselves, we are generally throwing up poor defenses against the flood tide of human wickedness. The good news is that while the gates of hell may be enough to conquer the best efforts of the world, they can never hold back the church. While we may not be able to legislate morality that will stick, the souls saved from the world are snatched out of hellfire and held in security against the last day.

    In the holding action which is engaged in in the civil sphere however, I find myself tempted by but having a hard time being a libertarian. The fact is that the wicked one (who drives the world) will not be happy to merely give sin its full freedom, it will inevitably impose itself on the righteous (not that it will defeat them, but it will try). So we might be able to rest in a ‘live and let live’ ethic now, but it is a narrow distinction between a freedom to acknowledge all truths and a mandate that there be no truth. It may be my youth, but I’m not ready to support legislation embracing immorality. Perhaps this would be an easier matter if we focused on the hypothetical of abortion rather than homosexuality, as (I hope) more of us may agree that the magistrate has no place creating room for free murder.

    As to the social engineering issues, how are we surprised? Being a future tax lawyer, I obviously feel differently about our current tax system, and I can give a few examples why aspects of it have developed. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was developed as a measure to protect the pensions middle/lower class workers in benefit plans which, at the time, were more about increasing the salary of the rich and were often looted when troubles came on the company, meaning that middle class workers who retired with the promise of a pension were often stripped of it as soon as corporate boards deemed the plans too expensive. I could go on, but many of the social policies we have today were once created to stem the tide of rampant abuse. Unions were once not something that so many people criticized. Social Security was at one time not a retirement entitlement program but a protection for the poor who outlived their life expectancy. Reading through James as I am now, I have a hard time criticizing measures which initially protected the poor from abuse, even if I think many of those structures have in turn been twisted into weapons of entitlement. Maybe that’s why Jefferson said a period revolution was a good thing… just to sweep away the stagnant accumulated mess of sin fixed and then perverted and fixed and perverted once more.

    In any event, I guess I just disagree with both you and Dr. Clark when it comes to the role the government should play in society, not because I think it should be redemptive, but because I think some morality can be legislated inasmuch as society puts its stamp of approval on private action. As far as having a condemning spirit to it, I think that’s about cautioning Christians, not on what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it. I believe that if legislation were to be raised to do away with no-fault divorce, I would support it whole-heartedly (in fact, considering the percentage of Americans who are actually gay, doing away with no-fault divorce would be a much better way of protecting marriage). At the same time, I believe that the nature of the message that I give when someone questions me on this stand has a lot to do with trying to explain God’s grace. I cannot turn my head and pretend that something isn’t sin, or allow it to flourish because I don’t think that the government has any right to legislate morality. At the same time, I believe that individual Christians should be both gracious, open about their own sinfulness and unwilling, when pressed, to retreat from the truth contained in the law.

    As to Dewey’s educational engineering. I think that’s all the more reason to support Christian education. We have our own engineering program between church, home, and school, and hopefully we will be blessed through that with a crop of Godly youth who will surpass our own meager faithfulness.

    • Donald,

      I’ve been consciously avoiding your Xian education points for fear of letting loose more worms.

      Suffice it to say, I don’t believe Dewey’s legacy of educational transformationalism has continued. The secularists figured that one out long ago. Now for religionists to catch up. A start might be to quit charging public education with its quasi-statist history. It’s not too unlike throwing Servetus in the face of Calvinists or Calvin’s theocracy in the face of 2Kers. We get it, turn the page already.

  15. Urgh, I know I shouldn’t as a 2K guy, but the latent theonomist in me has emerged long enough to make this declaration: nested comments are evil.

    Anyway, Donald, you ask good questions, and again, my answer is the same: wisdom. I have no pat answers for what the church must or must not do other than what I delineated previously.

    On the Second Commandment and The Passion (or the Jesus film or whatnot), I actually once addressed it briefly from (surprise?) the pulpit. But I did it this way: I explained a bit of the rationale of the 2nd commandment in Deut 4, and equated use of the films as evangelistic technique or worship experience as breaking that commandment — what seems to me to be the clear consequence of Scripture’s teaching. But also importantly, from the pulpit, I’d address the positive God-ordained means of seeing and experiencing Christ through Word and Sacrament.

    I didn’t say that viewing the movie is inherently sinful (I suffered though watching that awful Jesus film in order to see what was being used so pervasively by evangelicals as an evangelism tool), although I think the force of what I was saying would be discouraging people from it. I’d voice my opinions and advice (not to waste time watching these things) personally. But I didn’t really see a need to address it in a special meeting of the church. But maybe for another church, a special meeting may be the better way to address the issue. I don’t know. I can’t account for every possible situation.

    Similar with cultural and worldview issues. I polemicize against idolatrous thinking and attempt to counter it with Biblical thinking all the time in my sermons. But I tend to stop short of giving the specific marching orders (don’t watch; don’t touch; vote for x; eat bran instead of granola; cf. Col 2:20-23), which cuts back a lot on the need for calling special meetings. I’m not out to simplify people’s lives and make them into obedient but uncomprehending Pharisees. I want to see hearts change, minds enlivened by the Word, learning wisdom to think through complexities of the world. Marching orders are for children who refuse to grow into maturity of thought; for servants who don’t know the heart of the master (John 15:15). And really, if they get what I’m saying from the pulpit, a lot of the first-order applications are pretty obvious.

    A last thought I’ll leave here is again to point back to Daniel. You ask about fruits; well, what were the fruit’s of Daniel’s arguably non-theonomic, non-theocratic, approach to governance in a pagan land, but simply himself living in accordance to God’s law? Could it have been that his impact was greater, not because Babylon became more like Jerusalem, but praise of the living God was brought forth from the lips of Gentile kings?

    Our idolatrous hearts want to believe that we are wiser than God… I know mine does. God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of man. When heaven came to earth, it didn’t take the form of a political utopia… or any necessary political improvement at all for that matter. It came in the form of a man, broken and dying on a cross. As a private and public citizen, sure I have stock in the political, economic and cultural arenas (it’s the air I breath, how can I not?), and yes, being Christian deeply affects my engagement in these things. Others wiser than me in worldly affairs can “civilize the barbarians.” But the authority and prestige of the church is to proclaim Christ and him crucified.

  16. If one grants the state the authority to legislate morality, isn’t that giving the state authority that should only belong to God, and therefore inherently idolatrous?

  17. I feel that I am in the middle of both camps. I find that Christians are quick to look at the scripture and quick to determine if gay marriage is biblical, but I never see any Christian actually look at the Constitution and say “article 1 section 10 of the United States Constitution says there cannot be an obligation of contract”. From that point, the Christian should recognize Romans 13 and submit to are ruling authority THE CONSTITUTION, because we are ruled by law, not man. I also would like to add that marriage licenses were only acceptable for slaves in the 1800’s, but after the reconstruction act in 1872, we were placed as government property, and at the same time placed into slavery. This is why the 14th amendment says “birth” grants rights, and that we are United states citizens with a small “c”.

    I feel neither the theonomic crowd, nor the natural law crowd has picked up on this.

    Marriage licenses are not valid in the common law, and they are also crimes in nature. The State does not have the right to be a third party in marriage.

    Also, abortion was illegal tried int he supreme court because the cited the 14th amendment that says “birth grants rights” rather than the Constitution that claims “God grants rights”. Do you see where I am going here? Our government is in violation of our supreme law of the land, and in violation of natural law. How do I respond?

  18. Excellent post, Dr. Clark. I especially found helpful your clarifications in the back and forth of the comments. Thanks!

  19. I’m approaching this as an EX-Arminian and it boggles my mind that those who grew up “reformed” cannot see CG as arminian through and through. First, NONE can do good. God doesn’t, in His Word, distinguish btwn civic and salvific good. there is only One who is Good and that is God. None of us can do any “good” b/c we’re fallen. We are totally depraved.
    I laugh too at how you say God “restrains” sin. God has ordained whatsoever has come to pass. whatsoever. that includes all things and yet is not the Author of Sin. But seriously, have you read the news lately? Restrain?? If this world is God restraining sin then YIKES is my response. thousands murdered in the womb every day. hundres of thousands robbed every day. hundreds killed b/c of their faith every day. theft, adultery, fornication, smut, lying, cheating and worshipping other gods goes on in millions of lives every day.
    But, back to my point: NONE does good. You say it’s “civic” good. Okay, give me an example that is not a Law of God from the Decalogue or some variant of it. You say people are benevolent. Okay, what is their motive? Does it come from faith? No!??? shocking. Well then it is not “good”. Does it come from a well that is not infected with the cancer and poison of sin? No!??? Shocking again…no not really, I’m joking. I’m not shocked at all. Scripture says that the only good works are those done from faith. So you’re going to tell me that God distinguishes civic duty from good works…how??? Right. You can’t. God’s Word doesn’t differentiate civic duty from duty to Him for in our civic obedience we are obeying His Law to honor those whom He has put in governance over us. And back to doing “good”. If i have a polluted stream can i get pure water from it? James didn’t think so and I think I’ll stick with Scripture on this.
    As to Common Grace: the first time i read the three points i did not know it was created by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and honestly said to myself: hmmmm that’s arminianism. Then when i told that to a urc-na friend she claimed I was a “hyper-calvinist” and threatened to bring me up on charges at my church….yeah okay. Serious Dr. Clark, I like your stuff but you’ve seriously let Arminianism in the back door and as I said to my friend, Did the CRC NOT see the pointy tail poking out the backside of it’s pants when they let common grace saunter into the synod??? Guess not. Well, there’s a group of us who are taking a stand and most of us are EX-evangelicals, EX-arminians, EX-charismatics and NOW-Reformed/Reforming and we won’t stand and just let this poison infect the wells of our beloved reformed/presbyterian churches. Love you brother, but seriously those who advance CG are on the wrong side of this argument and that saddens me.

    • Seriously Nancy, you need to recognize that Synod Kalamazoo 1924 didn’t mean what Arminius meant by Gemeene Gratie. Arminius, like Pelagius, collapsed grace into nature. He made nature into “grace.” Pelagius and Arminius set up a system whereby humans have the power to capitalize on what is universally given to all humans in order to come to faith.

      That’s not what Synod Kalamazoo taught. They were trying to account for God’s sovereign suppression of evil in the world. How on earth is that Arminian? Kuyper and Van Til were NOT Arminians and it’s just ignorant to say so. I don’t like the phrase a lot because I don’t think it helps us but if I have to choose between the utter rejection of GG with its denial of the historic Reformed doctrine of the free offer, then I’m with Synod Kalamazoo because I find it in the 16th and 17th century orthodox.

      You’re saying that God isn’t restraining sin? Really? You don’t think things could get worse? I can. Things are bad but they could get much worse. I don’t know anyone who says that God might not lift his restraining hand.

      Not everything with which you disagree is Arminian. That word denotes specific errors rejected by the Synod of Dort.

      Denial of the Free/Well Meant Offer is hyper-Calvinism.

      See this essay:

      “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149–80.

      Was the Synod of Dort Arminian?

      Paragraph 6 [We reject the errors of those] Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the careless and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as He is concerned, has willed to apply to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; and that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they pretend that they present this distinction in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of Pelagianism.

      Article 9
      It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel and confers upon them various gifts, that many who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves;1 some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the Word of life; others, though they receive it, do not allow it to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the Word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower.

      Article 14
      Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God,1 not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to do,2 works in man both to will and to believe, and indeed He works all in all.

      Article 5
      Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life.1 This promise, together with the command to repent and believe,2 ought to be declared and published to all nations,2 and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

      We don’t know God’s secret decree. We know his revealed will. That’s basic Reformed theology.

      • Dr. Clark,

        As an Ex-Arminian when i first saw this i said, “This is arminian theology.” You did not understand my point at all. I agree it is not what the Remonstrants brought to the table, but the seed is there. Their descendents have brought it though and this is the doctrine taught ot most arminians: “sincere offer” and the like. This Kuyperistic (but not even fully from Kuyper) and the synod prior actually agreed with Hoeksema and the others on the committee to look into it.

        Sorry to say, Dr. Clark, but if this is what you put forward then I must most strongly disagree with you.

        the CRC made “things” into grace. This has always been God’s Providence to provide rain, heat, snow, autumn etc for His Creation. He provides but these things are not salvific or grace. As the Creator and Sustainer He provides what is necessary to sustain His Universe. That’s not grace. Grace or favor is spoken of in Scripture as toward the elect alone. For the reprobate it is judgment. Even the good things they receive is more like a loose noose around their neck for they are ungrateful for it, refuse to acknowledge the God who gives it and therefore one day they’ll hang from those things in judgment. That’s not grace.

        I would propose a more historically Reformed and Biblical term: Common Providence.

        God provides for His Creation the things necessary to sustain life here for the benefit of Christ and His Church. that the reprobate also get these things is not to be viewed as “grace” but simply as sustenance.

        as to this world, well, yes, things could get worse and they have: Auschwitz, Berlin, Genghas Khan, Nero, and the list goes on and on. However, again whether one is a secretary stealing a paperclip or a Nero lighting up a christian to light his garden both reprobates are hated by God and any things they garner here are only evidence to be used against them. It’s like they’re the rich on the Titanic. No one, now, thinking properly and logically would say that was one grace filled trip, look at all the “blessings” they had (meaning really the wealth, food, drink, etc.). Rather they would recognize that was the worst cruise ever. Well, same for all the reprobate. They may have a life of ease now but those things are not blessings but instead they are curses because they neither make them think of the true God but instead fill him/her with further disdain for the True God.

        Anyway, Dr. Clark, one day if we could meet in person it would be treat to actually sit and talk with you about this so that you can see that this CG position is neither Reformed nor Biblical. I’m glad too that it has not come up for those in our denom to have to sign on to it as that would probably cause much damage in the congregations.

      • as to the well-meant offer. May i use an example to try and show how illogical that position is? I know examples are limited but here goes:

        A young man has chosen a bride. The wedding is set.
        This same young man then goes to a different gal and says, “Will you marry me?” Now, this man has no intention of marrying girl #2. Is this a “well-meant offer?”

        No. Folks would say this man is cruel, hideous, mean and rotten playing a trick on this gal.

        Okay, example #2:

        I go up to my dad’s coffin and say to him: Dad, here’s your favorite perogies (he loved them). I’m truly offering them to you and all you need to do is take one.

        Q.1: Am I insane to do this? Knowing full well my dad is both unable and unwilling to take it (as a dead person you don’t have a will or ability anymore).
        Q.2: Is this then a “well-meant offer”? Well, you may say yes, because I’m so distraught at his death that i’m not thinking straight. But, can we apply that to God?

        So, you say that the Gospel is an offer. I say, and the language of Scripture and Reformed Theology says it’s a Command to repent and believe. It is also known that to some this command is the sign or fragrance of death b/c they are not elect but reprobate (God never set His Love on them). So this “offer” is not truly offered b/c God never intends to save them to begin with for if He did, they’d not be reprobate but elect and yet still unregenerate until God by His Spirit gave them new life.

        So, change the term to Gospel Command and see how well that “well meant” phrase fits it. It really doesn’t. Now, i may not be a doctor (yet) like you (heads up i’m finishing my PhD in Theology/Philosophy in May) but I can still see that this is illogical. A well-meant offer means that it is truly offered. But, since God has not chosen some, then when they hear the Gospel it is not truly offered to them. However, it is still a command and like every other command we cannot obey unless the Lord give us life and a will to obey it.

        So, we will disagree here too.

        • Nancy,

          Your argument is a classic example of the sort of rationalism that I find pervasive among opponents of the Free Offer. You think you know what God knows, the way he knows it.

          This disregards a fundamental tenet of biblical and confessional Reformed theology: “In the beginning God.”

          We are analogues to God, not the Creator. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are above our thoughts.

          He has chosen his elect from all eternity, in Christ, and he administers his grace through the free, well-meant, offer of the gospel. Offer is the word used by the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries? Perhaps they were ALL Arminians.

          The marriage analogy fails because because it’s false analogy. Salvation is offered freely to all, whosoever will may come–but only those whom God has elected, only those whom he gives new life, only those to whom he gives the grace of faith, will come.

          Those Arminians, the Westminster Divines taught:

          1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.

          Nancy, you’ve just carried your Arminian rationalism into the Reformed church. You should stop writing and read a bit of orthodox Reformed theology because you’re quite confused about what we confess.

          What you’re experiencing isn’t unusual. Lots of people have gone through it but now people seem to go through it publicly, on the web.

          We all reject Arminianism. Some of us have actually read Arminius and the Remonstrants and know what we’re rejecting and how it differs from historic Reformed orthodoxy. Not every anti-Arminian movement is really orthodox. Some of them are just as rationalist as the Arminians?

  20. Nancy, let me try here for a moment to make the point Dr. Clark is making about the Reformed understanding of common grace. Perhaps if you reject what Dr. Clark is trying to say, since I am someone who has serious problems with the way Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace got abused in the Christian Reformed Church, and who generally tries to avoid “picking fights” with the Protestant Reformed since I regard them as a legitimate conservative Reformed denomination, what I say will make more sense.

    I’ve written some pretty strong things over the years against over-reliance on the doctrine of natural law. I do not believe that the unregenerate human heart is capable of looking at general revelation and coming to correct conclusions. Furthermore, it is possible, as Romans 1 teaches, to so seriously reject the knowledge of God that God sends special sins such as homosexuality into wicked cultures as a mark of His divine displeasure. It should logically follow that when a society is accepting homosexuality, which is so obviously against nature, that people in that society have proven that they have so seriously rejected God that they are no longer able to understand much if anything of general revelation.

    If you want to argue that common grace is a poor term and it would be better to speak of “common providence,” I won’t dispute with you.

    If you want to argue that some in Reformed church history have seriously abused the doctrine of “common grace” and acted as if unbelievers can do good deeds that are pleasing to God, not only will I not dispute with you, I’ll agree with you. And remember, that statement is coming from someone who really likes Kuyper’s doctrine of political theory, but who has significant problems with some of the routes by which he arrived at his conclusions.

    If you want to argue that general revelation is no longer capable of leading to much more than a very vague understanding of the existence of God, and often not even that, we agree. A conclusion of that would be that we shouldn’t build entire theologies on the basis of the ability of unbelievers to understand God’s revelation since unbelievers are almost completely unable to understand it.

    However, it is far too much to say that common grace is Arminianism.

    At most, you may be able to say that common grace, if not held in balance with other parts of Reformed doctrine, can lead to Arminianism. It simply makes no sense to accuse large numbers of Reformed theologians who affirmed common grace of being Arminian. That goes beyond even what the Protestant Reformed say.

    Being “more PR than the PRs” is not a good thing.

  21. On the one hand, there is no question that God freely offers to salvation to all sinners who repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    But as per BB Warfield, thank God he does more than just offer salvation. IOW effectual calling is just that: effectual, otherwise no one would accept the offer/repent and believe.

    On the other hand, the problem – for some anyway – is the modern J. Murray version of the free offer in which God purportedly has an archetypal love for those who are not elect/refuse the offer.

    But one, archetypal is exactly that, unknowable for humans.
    Two, if one error is to deny the free offer, the other is to read to much into the free offer.

    Again, the PrRefChs. over react by denying the confessional free offer along with the “Well Meant Offer” and its amyrauldian baggage, while those who affirm the WMO assume it to be confessional.

    Thank you.

    • Bob,

      The point of the TA/TE distinction is not to say what God thinks in himself. That’s hidden from us.

      What we know is what God has revealed. We know that God reveals himself as not desiring the death of the wicked. He also has revealed that he has reprobated some and elected others. We don’t know a priori, of course, whom God has elected/reprobated.

      We preach the law and gospel (including the offer of salvation to all who believe) to all with the understanding that God uses the Word to accomplish his purposes. We preach in obedience to his revealed will.

  22. I noticed that Nancy said, “God doesn’t, in His Word, distinguish btwn civic and salvific good. there is only One who is Good and that is God. None of us can do any “good” b/c we’re fallen. We are totally depraved.” I have to strongly disagree with this. I am reminded of Dr. Van Drunen’s book, A Biblical Case for Natural Law, where he cites the incident where Abraham was corrected of his evil conduct of lying about his wife by a pagan. I am also reminded of Peter referring to Lot as righteous; it seems it is a relative righteousness within the context in which he lived. Also, Job is called “blameless” and “upright” by God, and God points to his conduct as evidence of it in his dialogue with Satan. It seems clear from the Scriptures that there is civic good and a civil righteousness which is disntinct from the righteousness which comes through faith. I have heard Dr. Horton also speak of his dislike of phrases like “total depravity” because it tends to be associated with an incorrect understanding of the nature of man.

    This is one of the reasons why I like much of what Dr. Clark is doing. Everyone seems to be an expert on the history, theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed (yes it is hyperbolic, but only a little). I think people coming out of evangelical and independent type churches bring old baggage where they think they have the knowledge and right to speak authoritatively about the church to which they belong. What makes things worse is when people start using fighting words and basically insult other Christians. I think it’s Ok to disagree, but you better have the knowledge and reasoning to back it up; be ready to be put in your rightful place if you are not.

    I don’t claim to be Reformed. I stopped after seriously considering some of the things which Dr. Clark has said. Nevertheless, I am able to read the Scriptures and understand some things which have led me to agree with the Reformed.

    One more thing concerning arguments from analogy. I don’t have my old textbook on Logic, so this is from Wikipedia; it sounds just like what I rememember:

    The process of analogical inference involves noting the shared properties of two or more things, and from this basis inferring that they also share some further property. The structure or form may be generalized like so:

    P and Q are similar in respect to properties a, b, and c.
    Object P has been observed to have further property x.
    Therefore, Q probably has property x also.

    Of course, the argument doesn’t assert that the two things are identical, only that they are similar. The argument may provide us with good evidence for the conclusion, but the conclusion does not follow as a matter of logical necessity.

    Ok, now me again; I am typing this fast so I apologize for the lack of editing.

    I would like to clarify something even further. Arguments from analogy are inductive, and therefore they are absolutely incapable of providing certainty; at best, if they are good, inductive arguments can only offer high probability. So if you want to dogmatically argue for something, you better find another way.

  23. Dr. Clark,

    Agreed, but what you describe is not the WMO or JMurray’s version of the FO is it?

    One of the reasons I ask is because at a Seattle area Sunday eve. Reformation Day service in the late ’80’s I heard Murray’s heir apparent, Robt. Strimple preach on 2 Pet. 3:9.

    Best I can recall (in part because I had never heard it before off a pulpit and was still ‘working’ my way out of arminianism), his take was the standard reformed view of the passage: “longsuffering to you-ward” referred to the elect.

    But that is not J. Murray’s treatment of 2 Pet. 3:9 as the chief proof text in defense of the free offer. “The pronoun “you” cannot be restricted to the elect”.

    [Yeah, I know. Everybody on the internet has an axe to grind.]

    Thank you.

    • Hi Bob,

      I haven’t heard that sermon but I did learn my understanding of the Free/Well Meant Offer from Strimple and he was mediating what he learned from Murray, whom he succeeded at WTS/P. I fairly confident that he saw no difference between his view and Murray’s. As to that particular passage, it’s a matter of exegesis. What does the passage intend to say?

      All I’m trying to do is to add a layer of historical background to the exegetical arguments made by Murray and Strimple. I published an essay some years back in a collection of essays written in honor of Bob Strimple (with which he was happy) on this topic, in this volume. The basic argument is that while we know, on the one hand, that God has decreed, in Christ, from all eternity who shall be saved and to reprobate others, he works out the salvation of his elect through the preaching of the gospel, which entails an offer made indiscriminately to sinners. That offer does not imply any native ability in the sinner to respond. The difficulty that some (e.g., Nancy and others like her) have had with this way of speaking is that they still assume that ought implies can. That’s a false premise. The law always says “ought!” but it doesn’t imply “can” after the fall. Nevertheless, God says “ought” every time the law speaks. This is why they want to turn “offer” into “demand.” The great exegetical problem is that doesn’t explain God’s Word. It runs roughshod over the grammar and authorial intent of many passages, as Murray has indicated. The historical problem is that our orthodox writers, claims to the contrary not withstanding, repeatedly and consistently used the word “to offer” in the sense in which we use it now. Something is being presented to someone else for their benefit. It is is being offered to them and, if they accept that offer, they will benefit. Whether one accepts the offer, however, is not contingent upon some libertarian (free relative to God) idea of free will. No, it’s dependent upon what God has willed from all eternity and whether the Spirit sovereignly regenerates one through the preaching of the gospel.

      This is why Christ must be offered promiscuously to all. We don’t know who are the elect. God does. We don’t know who shall believe. God does. Unfortunately, the opponents of the Free/well meant offer—though they don’t like to admit it—really seem to think that they know who is and isn’t elect. That much emerged in the analogy Nancy (for example) chose.

      Hywel Jones gave a series of messages on this topic this past autumn. I recommend them.

  24. Dr. Clark,

    Not to be a nuisance, but the well known objection to Murray’s Free Offer is that the offer indicates some kind of inchoate/archetypa/middle will love of God for the reprobate.
    That’s all.

    I have the book PatOfSWords and we’ve discussed this before although there is no disagreement with what you’ve written here.
    Only that Murray’s conclusion about the offer is a non sequitur. We are commanded to preach the gospel and God is pleased with sinners only when they repent. He is not pleased with sinners per se and the offer is not proffered and God is not longsuffering in hope that ” that all men – whether elect or reprobate – should come to repentance.”

    Thank you.

    • Bob,

      Can you show me from Murray’s essay where he makes the free offer a part of archetypal theology? The reason I doubt this is because I don’t think he was using those categories. Secondly, anything that is archetypal is, in its nature, hidden. We can’t know it. If we know it, then it necessarily is ectypal. That’s the point of the distinction.

  25. Dr. Clark,

    If Murray was not using the arch/ectypal categories, then why are those categories brought up in your preface to Murray?

    He certainly seems to rhetorically confuse the decretive and revealed wills in order to make much more of the free offer than is warranted by Scripture or history.

    IOW I think William Young’s Minority Report on the FO (bottom of page) is a much better analysis and summary of the issue.

    Thank you.

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