Ridderbos: The Kingdom Of God Is Not Brought By Human Action

[The] absolutely theocentric character of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching…implies that its coming consists entirely in God’s own action and is perfectly dependent on his activity. The kingdom of God is not a state or condition, not a society created and promoted by men (the doctrine of the ‘social gospel’). It will not come through an immanent earthly evolution, nor through moral action; it is not men who prepare it for God. All such thoughts mean a hopelessly superficial interpretation of the tremendous thought of the fullness and finality of God’s coming as king to redeem and to judge.

Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (HT: Reformed Reader)


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  1. So, if Ridderbos is correct, and he is right more often than the average bear, and the social gospel is a monolith, then we can ignore it. That would be true if we can reduce the social gospel to an attempt to usher in some kind of utopia. But my feeling is that something in the social gospel sparks fear in conservatives.

    Those who are more liberal are wrong to reduce the Gospel of Christ to a social gospel. But those who are more conservative are just as wrong to completely sever it from the Gospel.

    • Curt,

      The Rauschenbusch movement did terrible damage to the church and to the faith. Confessionalists (which covers a range of social/political views) rejected it because it confuses heaven and earth, law and gospel, Christ and culture.

      It’s not a conservative thing. It’s a confessional thing.

      I get the clear sense that you’re frustrated with the conservative Reformed world. I understand that. I am too but perhaps for different reasons. I also get the sense that you don’t have a clear sense of the tradition. Since the HB exists principally to call the churches back to the confessional theology, piety, and practice your continual and apparently unreflective criticism of the same is a source of tension. It doesn’t seem to be a creative tension since nay-saying isn’t constructive. It’s just wearing. I provide content to provoke thought and dialogue but you seem bent on reacting. I know you’re busy (so am I!) but I don’t get the sense from your comments that you’re exploring the tradition and researching and contributing. I get the impression that you think that you have it all figured out and it’s inherently defective and you’re going to set it right—except that your comments don’t give evidence of a profound grasp of the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed confession.

      So, in order to prevent another run round the tree I’m going to put you on moderated status. You’re welcome to comment but I’ll see the comments before it goes online and if it’s not helpful, if it’s merely reactionary, then it won’t appear.

      I’m also a little worried about Bruce’s blood pressure. 🙂 He’s a really good guy and a faithful pastor and I don’t want him to blow a gasket and force his church to form a search committee.

      • Dr Clark,
        I am finishing my teaching career this semester and so I don’t have the time to explore all you suggest. I appreciate the fact that you have frustrations too but I wish that Reformed Theologians and ministers would react to the criticism from the Left. That criticism does not target the conservative church or churches alone; the criticism is pointed at all institutions. That most, if not all, institutions serve as places of indoctrination for maintaining the status quo. I have not found one Reformed Theologian or minister who has an adequate answer or provides a counterexample. The implication of the charge is that we show deference in preaching repentance. To those with wealth and power, we submit so as to submit to the authorities so we can live peace. But to individuals with personal moral issues, we can be quite tough. To me, that smacks of the preference James preached against.

        BTW, I do think it is a conservative politics, not you personally, but across the church. The question becomes what is the spectrum of opinions that are aired in the Reformed churches in America? To me, the answer indicates that the Reformed Churches definitely exhibit a conservative political bias. Think of your praise of Thatcher, for example. Thatcher supported Pinochet even after what he had done became known. Thatcher was also seen as a strong supporter of neoliberal economics which is a favorite of the political conservatives. BTW, neoliberalism was why Pinochet was picked to follow Allende in Chile. However, Pinochet was picket by other countries, not the people of Chile and thus they had to orchestrate a military coup to change the leadership. She also attacked the unions, which is again a conservative trait.

        BTW, I have a blog and all comments are moderated. And there is only one person whom I block because his comments consist only of personal attacks. On the other hand, I have responded to the posts an comments on your blog with respect. So I will interpret your filtering of my comments differently than you. I am finding the filtering/censoring of comments to be a trait of conservative blogs. Here, I am speaking from my experience only so there is no implication regarding conservative or liberal blogs in general.

        Finally, I will write my own blogpost on why Christians should include the social gospel as part of their faith. Of course, here one must provide careful definitions of terms like, “social gospel.” It is not monolithic term and certainly Christian Fundamentalists must work with a different definition of social gospel than naturalists/liberals do. Whether you post it or not, I will leave the link as a comment so you can choose to read or not to read.

        • Curt,

          If you spent more time reading and less time commenting perhaps your comments about Reformed theology would be better informed?

          For example, you indicted Reformed theology universally for failing to engage post-modernism. You were completely unaware of a major 4-volume series by Mike Horton that has been available for years.

          Covenant and Eschatology
          Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology
          Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ
          People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology

          Then, when I point this out, you complain that it hasn’t filtered down to the pew! When I point out that it has filtered down to some pews, in some places, you have yet another response.

          My fundamental problem is that you are a rationalist. You’re just like the Christian right. You are a mirror. You can’t be bothered with facts because you know a priori what must be. The great value of your posts has been, however, to illustrate one of theses about modern Reformed church life: that there are two great problems: QIRC and QIRE. Your comments have added a layer to my understanding of QIRC. That it comes not just from the political/cultural right but also from the political/cultural left.

          Reformed orthodoxy has a great benefit of teaching an analogical relation between God and man. You went to WTS/P so you should be familiar with the work of Cornelius Van Til. He was right with the tradition on this. As analogues we don’t know what God knows, the way he knows it. We don’t have archetypal theology. We have ectypal theology. As analogues we give ourselves over to the Word, to see what the Word says and we read the Word with the church. Hence the confessions, which are the public, ecclesiastical interpretation of holy Scripture on the topics regarded by the church as most important. You, as a QIRC-er, place yourself above the church and her confession of Scripture. Thus, when I point out that Scripture NOWHERE advocates a “social gospel” (which is an oxymoron, since social life is law, not gospel—another fundamental Protestant category with of you show no awareness and with which you show no sympathy) and it appears nowhere in our confession and has a history of damaging the Christian religion everywhere it has been adopted, this phases you not at all. Of course not! How could it. QIRC uber alles!

          I hope your vacation from the HB will give you the time you presently lack to read and get caught up. When you’re done with Prof Horton’s 4-vols, take a look at RRC. Then take a look at Hart’s Lost Soul, one of the most important best volumes by any confessional Reformed writer in decades. Then read his A Secular Faith which will provide an antidote for your over-realized eschatology viz. the visible church. After that I recommend VanDrunen’s books on natural law and two kingdoms.


          • Dr. Clark,
            Criticizing the confessions as being written by equals does not place one above the Church. It merely says that as an equal to those from the past, I disagree. And as for my reading, I have been reading different things when time permits. And I listen to sermons from more than one reformed source.

            BTW, I am theologically conservative and politically left. My journey to the political left was not arrived at in a priori manner, it was inductive. It was from dealing with the facts on the ground. The facts on the ground include seeing how those in the reformed churches in America respond the world outside vs how others respond. And the facts pointed to a disturbing problem; that those outside of the Church often showed more Christian concern for the suffering of others than those inside the church. And when I point this out, the only answers I receive are prefabricated responses. They don’t look at the facts on the ground, they rely solely on their models of thought.

            One other disturbing fact on the ground is that the Reformed Community tends to be amish in practice. Most if not all of the answers come from within the reformed community and thus what we imply when we do this is that we have everything to teach and nothing to learn from the outside world–to adapt a Martin Luther King quote. This is especially evident by the way we respond to challenges and questions. But this kind of mindset lends itself to cults and to what the Left charges us with being, an institution of indoctrination for maintaining the status quo. This kind of mindset leads to group think and, in the end, mindless submission.

            In Math, we teach students to always substitute an arrived at solution into the original equation. That is what I have been doing when I hear Reformed responses to my questions. I plug these potential solutions back into the Bible and I find that too many of these solutions do not solve the original equation.

            Finally, if you were solely about the Reformed Faith here, then I would not be finding political views being expressed as in posts against scientists who warn us of Global climate change and in posts praising Conservative political leaders who advocate certain kinds of Capitalism, there is more than one kind. See, it is your binding of conservative politics with the reformed faith that lends support to the charge from the Left. I find this disturbing and so far, a part of a larger disillusionment.

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