But Is It Biblical?

Anthony Bradley has posted a provocative essay arguing that church planting is insufficient for social change. He appeals to his own experience and to the history of education and Christendom. His post begs some questions and raises others. As to the former, it assumes that Christians are called to change society. Perhaps. It depends, I suppose, upon how we define “change.” Did the apostolic church “change” first-century, Greco-Roman society? Well, the mob who laid hands on the house of Jason (Acts 17) alleged that the Christians were turning “the world upside down” (v. 7). Was that literally true? Again, it depends upon definitions. Were the Christians changing the Roman government? No. Were they revolutionizing education? No. Were they transforming art? No. Were they affecting music or literature? Not perceptibly. There’s no evidence that they used music in their services. They used existing literary genres and conventions in their epistles and sermons.1  Did we overturn Greco-Roman slavery? No.2 They were active in government service but they worked within existing structures. They established schools but they followed existing patterns. Further, what was it they were doing when they were accused of fomenting radical social change? Preaching and planting churches. That’s just about all the Apostle Paul did. That’s all the Apostle Peter did and that’s about all the rest of the apostles did. They established a system of poverty relief among the Christians but there’s little evidence that they set up social welfare organizations to relieve poverty beyond the visible church (e.g., Acts 11:29). One might draw inferences that lead to different conclusions but there isn’t any unequivocal evidence to the contrary.

So, we should question the premise of the post that Christians are called, as Christians, to promote and advance social change. What sort of change? From what, to what? That may be the case but it cannot simply be asserted. It must be demonstrated. There are good reasons to suspect the “social gospel” or grand social plans in the name of the kingdom of God. Herman Ridderbos says the coming of the kingdom

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….

If we survey the way Luke uses the expression “Kingdom of God” (βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ), as I wrote earlier, there is no obvious evidence of any political or cultural agenda associated with the “βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ” in Acts. At every point when the Apostles had opportunity to “speak truth to power,” to challenge the socio-economic or political or cultural status quo they refused. According to many modern conceptions of the Kingdom of God, the disciples failed rather badly to “bring in the kingdom” or to restore it. Instead Paul insisted on preaching the foolishness of the crucified Messiah and the foolishness of his resurrection.

So, if Christians are going to require other believers not only to engage the world around them—about that I have no question—but to transform it, they have an obligation to demonstrate from Scripture unequivocally that it is a moral duty of believers. I can show that we are to be in subjection to authorities (Rom 13:1), pray for the king (1 Tim 2:2), and that we are to live godly and peaceful lives (idem). This seems to have been the pattern of the earliest post-apostolic, pre-Constantinian Christians, including the family of our Lord. Peter wrote to Christians (many of whom were slaves) in Asia Minor in the early 60s:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:11–25; ESV).

When Peter says “Gentiles” he was referring metaphorically to non-Christians, to the surrounding culture. There were Gentile Christians in Asia Minor. Subjection. Honor. Love. Suffering. These are the operative words in his instruction to the Christians. There just isn’t any idea transformation present in this text. The hope here is that the surrounding unbelieving culture will see the contrast between our conduct and theirs, between our godliness and the way we relate to each other and to them and notice. For Peter it is a shame if we act the way they do, if we come into contact with the authorities because of disobedience or sin. It is quite another thing if we come into contact with the authorities because of our profession and confession of faith.

It’s interesting that Bradley appeals to the rise of Christian universities. They, of course, developed in the context of Christendom. Those were a great benefit to culture but they developed gradually out of existing institutions inherited by the Christians. Whether they developed as they did (from catechetical schools to cathedral schools to universities with multiple faculties) because of the faith is very difficult to know. The validity of the Constantinian arrangement cannot simply be assumed. It is a historical fact and, in the providence of God, many good things came from it and some terrible things (e.g., the Crusades were mostly failures even from a military perspective and have served mainly as weapon in the hands of modern(ist) critics of the faith). The Apostolic church and early post-apostolic church did not develop within a Constantinian context but in a (paleo-) pagan context. We were not cultural, military victors over the pagans in the 2nd century. We were exiles (we leave Palestine in advance of the destruction in AD 70) and our principal plea to the surrounding culture was first: “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the Kingdom of God is at hand;” and second: “Please stop murdering us. We are no existential threat to the prevailing civil order.”

There is no doubt here whether there is a need for mediating institutions or whether Christians should be involved in them and engage them. The question is how? May we simply assume that we must think of our cultural engagement under the category of redemption (e.g., redeeming music, art, literature, politics etc)? Again, I should like to see a clear, unequivocal case for this from Scripture. Does Scripture speak this way, of redeeming various cultural enterprises? I understand that some followers of the great Abraham Kuyper have spoken this way but does Scripture, read carefully, in context, teach or imply it? There is no doubt here as to whether there is a Christian worldview. There is. A proper Christian worldview, however, entails sound doctrine (as we learned from Cornelius Van Til, who before he ever defended the faith laid out a comprehensive summary of the orthodox faith) and a Reformed view of Christian liberty.

Would it not be better to think of our cultural engagement, as part of our citizenship in Christ’s twofold kingdom, to think of our engagement with mediating institutions as part of our service to God and neighbor, under Christ’s general Lordship over creation? Doesn’t our engagement with such institutions come under the heading of creation rather than redemption? Isn’t it a matter of fidelity to our calling as image bearers in the temporal kingdom, rather than a matter of service in the eternal kingdom?

NOTES

1. The gospels are an interesting genre and perhaps somewhat original.

2. Paul did encourage Philemon to free Onesimus but did he intend to forbid all forms of slavery? This is not evident. Is this a defense of modern chattel slavery? No. Modern European and American slave traders were guilty of man-stealing and a violation of natural, creational human rights for which one finds no defense in Scripture.

44 comments

  1. The unchecked assumption, and often an arrogant one, is that the church’s mission must be the same as Christ. If he came to redeem creation it must also be our job. This same assumption is among the “missional” “incarnational” “for the city, love the city” crowds. This is why I have so appreciated 2k theology, it’s the intersection of reformed eschatology and ecclesiology.

  2. It seems that this post takes the literalist-regulative principle to determining what the Scriptures say regarding whether Christians should be involved in cultural change. I am assuming that part of the cultural change to which Bradley is referring involves social justice. This is the part I’ll write about here.

    The problem I have with the approach taken by this blog is that it seems to conflate the historical context of the whole New Testament period into 1 period. That the above approach does not recognize any differences between a time period when Christianity first started under a strong-armed empire from today’s post-Christian world where because of Christianity’s ties and influence in Western Civilization where democracy has played such a significant role, we have automatic associations between both cultural practices, politics, and even national policies with Christianity. And where those cultural practices, politics, and national policies promote injustice, their association with Christianity brings a reproach on the Gospel and causes outsiders to blaspheme God.

    But just as those practices and policies can cause harm to the reputation of the Gospel by their past associations with Christianity, so can inaction and passivity to today’s injustices. How? Because what many people find is that nonChristians are showing a deeper love for those who are suffering than Christian despite having received the greatest love in history. When Christians work just to keep their own noses clean, they only show the world that they are aiming to live righteously selfish lives–self-centered lives that celebrate the keeping of certain rules.

    So while some Biblical literalists who expand the regulative principle to interactions with culture and society assure themselves that they are doing all that God requires as specified in the New Testament, they are forgetting the words of the prophets which told Israel that their worship of God was being rejected because they tolerated, and even benefited from, injustice.

    I don’t always agree with Bradley’s notions of what cultural influence the Church should have, but his article being referred to seemed very Biblical to me.

    And what is even worse is that many who take this literalist position and expand the regulative principle to interactions with culture at the same time as saying that the Church should not take a stand, celebrate their favorite practices and values of their own culture as if they supported by the New Testament writers. Such celebrations are only attempts at self-flattery.

    • Curt,

      Don’t those (on the Christian right and left) who would impose upon other believers have a duty to make some sort of case from Scripture? How can you seek to bind my conscience to support your (or someone else’s) social program (“Christians should do/support this/that transformationalist (left or right) program as a matter of Christian obligation”) without making the case.

      “It seems biblical to me” isn’t a compelling argument and certainly not sufficient to bind my conscience.

      Biblical literalism? If by that you mean, “seeks to read Scripture in its original context, according to its original intent” then, yes, mea culpa but you’re using the expression in a pejorative sense. How did I misuse Scripture? Did I not give a brief account of some passages, in their context, according to their original intent? Isn’t that how Christians interpret the Bible?

      Don’t you owe some account of Christian liberty (which I’ve provided above in a linked article). Isn’t the Reformation sola Scriptura principle still valid?

  3. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. An a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Mt. 10:34-36).

    Granted, this was said in the context of Jesus’ own time, when a great divide fell among the Jews over whether this Jesus is Messiah or not. But this is something that can continue to happen, especially when the Gospel goes into area where other gods are worshiped and people start turning away from the idols.

    So, I guess that there’s some kind of transformation of social relationship and people’s associations.

    Also, I think the Gospel revolutionized sexual relationships in the western world; and also the power in the hands of a head of a household. The ancient Roman Paterfamilias had power of life or death over his own children and slaves; and the latter could also be used/abused sexually as the master saw fit. However, in the 1640’s, Samuel Rutherford, in distinguishing kingly and paternal power, notes (after more than a millennium of Christianity in Scotland), that a father does not wield the power of life or death over his children. The monogamous pattern of marriage is yet another major revolution introduced by Christianity.

    I also believe that a working system of constitutional liberties and political compact probably requires serious reading of the Old and New Testaments in a people’s cultural DNA, or at least a long tutelage under a people who had it (such as India under the British).

  4. “Because what many people find is that nonChristians are showing a deeper love for those who are suffering than Christian despite having received the greatest love in history.”

    This may be a perceived reality but oddly enough many sociological studies have shown the opposite to be the case. Mainline or liberal Christians who pride themselves on their concern for social justice, tend to display less commitment to the poor compared more conservative evangelical Christians. See Christian Smith, American Evangelicals: Embattered and Thriving, 39-41. and “Who Gives to the Poor?” in Journal for Scientific Study of Religion 7, no. 3: 481-93 and see J. Todd Billings book on Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church.

    It seems that when people like yourself hear Dr. Clark, they hear him saying “Christians do nothing,” but that is obviously not the case. He is saying that Christians have a duty and possess the Holy Spirit to love their neighbors more and more but we still always remember our eschatology. Transformation and redemption of this earth awaits the consummation. The “peace” that occurs in your neighborhood is not the same kind of peace that the Kingdom of God brings. “peace” between Hamas and Israel will be temporary, ALWAYS! Peace between a sinner and God through Christ is eternal. So all the things Christians do as citizens (not as the church as an institution!) are good but they are not redemptive or transformative or bringing in the kingdom. You are not Christ! You cant redeem your workplace institution any more than you can redeem your boss from sin and death.

  5. Dr Clark,
    But does the principle of Sola Scriptura mean that the only scriptural case we have is one from examples especially with the historical differences that exist?

    In addition, aren’t the writings of the Old Testament prophets instructive here? That when we ignore injustice, we are complicit and our worship is rejected.

    Also, if we are followers of God, shouldn’t we celebrate every act of justice and peace, regardless of how temporal, rather than thinking in all-or-nothing terms?

    And finally, I don’t know of anyone who works for justice and peace who presume that they are Christ. Nobody. The ones I know aren’t looking to bring some sort of utopia or the final Kingdom of God. Rather, they are trying to partially address what is before them. Working for peace and justice means defending those who are oppressed and calling the oppressor to repentance. And doing so does not take the place of the redemptive work of Christ. Plus, we can use the opportunities to defend the oppressed and call the oppressor to repentance as opportunities to introduce the greater peace that comes from believing in Christ. But the less we are involved in helping the oppressed, something that Jeremiah 22 takes very seriously, the more we are correctly seen as institutions of indoctrination to maintain the status quo for those with wealth and power. For while we show muscles by telling the individual sinner to repent of private sins, we shrink from the opportunity to preach repentance to the system and to those with wealth and power for their social sins. Doesn’t such violate the teaching against showing partiality as was written in the book of James? And doesn’t the command to love thy neighbor apply here especially when technology causes almost everyone to cross our path?

    • Curt,

      Your arguments remind me how close the Christian left and right really are. At the end of the day you want to do very similar things with the OT, even when the NT doesn’t.

      In both cases utopian eschatology trumps all.

      Both groups have pushed me toward a more libertarian position. I don’t want either of you using the levers of the state to impose your eschatological vision on me. I mainly want to be left alone and I want the church to be what she’s supposed to be: minister of word, sacrament, and mercy (to Christ’s people) and not a pawn in a utopian scheme.

    • Hermonta,

      Who is “dispatching with the OT”? I am not. The question is not whether to interpret the OT and apply it but how. My problem with the Christian Right and the Christian Left is that they seem to want to make use of the OT as if there was no NT or as if the NT did not instruct us on how to read and use it.

      How did the NT writers apply the OT to their social situation? Show me please.

      I’m trying to be faithful to WCF 19.4:

      4. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

      How, after Christendom, do we establish a “social program” from Scripture? Theonomy fails to account WCF 19.4. Theocracy assumes Christendom and I’ve offered at least a sketch of how the NT interprets the OT.

      Did you read the post linked above concerning the NT teaching re the Basileia tou theou?

      Is Ridderbos guilty of “dispatching the OT” in the quote above?

  6. But one quibble: If the point is to be biblical in all of this then why not the category of Christian faith instead of Christian worldview? It’s not clear why the latter has to be conceded, since when you describe worldview it sure seems like you’re saying what the old timers meant when they spoke of faith–something otherworldly. The way worldview is used seems this-worldly.

    It may seem picky, but the more this discussion ensues the more it seems like one of the differences is between those who wait for a better country to come and those who want to build it here and now (speaking of utopian schemes), and the categories of faith and worldview serve the respective purposes.

    • Zrim,

      I’m sure you read the two pieces I linked above in which I defined “worldview.” It’s a modern word and, in that respect, a novelty in the Reformed vocabulary so I’m not wedded to it but I am wedded to the idea that there is a biblical, Christian, and Reformed way of interpreting the meaning of reality. That’s basic Christian doctrine. I do think that there is a web of assumptions through which we see the world and that web needs to be criticized. Of course I don’t accept the way the noun “worldview” has been used by everyone (e.g., all the various neo-Kuyperian movements). I don’t think we can reason from a few loosely used biblical passages (e.g., “take every thought captive”) taken out of context to deduce that “you must agree with me about social issue x or you’re not thinking biblicaly” but there is a Christian interpretation of the significance, the meaning of reality. Our writers have been teaching the substance of this notion long before we appropriated the term Weltanschauung to express it. Jason Wallace’s critique of the appropriation and use of that term was very helpful, I thought.

    • Scott, agreed (and, yes, Wallace’s series was quite good). As I say, it’s only a friendly quibble but as logocentrists language matters and I’m just not sure how useful it can be to use the language of the modernists to make a biblical point.

  7. Dr. Clark,

    Given that some of us have become totally allergic to the ‘worldview’ concept (i.e. a category hard to prove from Scripture), I think Zrim’s point about using a more ‘universal’ category that is not enslaved to Enlightenment thinking is quite valid.

    What’s wrong with just saying the ‘Christian (=Reformed) faith’ teaches a, b and c but does not give specifics on x, y, and z?

    ‘Worldview’ is really just a fancy way of saying the Bible tells us about everything even when it clearly doesn’t.

    Just sayin’!

    • Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us about everything, but by reasonable inference, we may apply biblical wisdom and insight to just about any given situation in the world, and to the meta-structures of how the world works.

      It is in fact the Spirit of God who leads His people to more and greater insight into practical living in light of God’s holy nature, which informs our steps more so than the letter of the law(s) contained in Scripture, though without abrogating those laws as obsolete for our instruction and guide rails.

      Cheers on another counter-cultural post, Dr. Clark.

  8. ‘…reasonable inference…about any given situation…meta-structures…’

    Geezzz, does this explain why Michael Servetus could explain complex workings of the cardiovascular system when John Calvin couldn’t?

    Worldview is useless.

    • “Worldview is useless.”

      Hey Bob, do you think Christians should support their country’s military having a $770 billion budget, with troops in 3/4 of the world, while the southern border of our own nation is wide open to drug cartels, terrorists, and hordes of undocumented migrants?

      Well Bill, let me see what the Bible says about that – hmmm…. [ten hours later] not coming up with anything! I’m not even finding the word “billion” in here. Not sure what I think Bob. I wish there was a method of applying biblical doctrine to any given situation in the world around me, but then again, that would be useless.
      *yeah, ok*

  9. “Would it not be better to think of our cultural engagement, as part of our citizenship in Christ’s twofold kingdom, to think of our engagement with mediating institutions as part of our service to God and neighbor, under Christ’s general Lordship over creation?”

    Not better. Best.

  10. Very helpful post, Dr. Clark.

    A question for you, if you don’t mind:

    I’m a Literature teacher at a Reformed-ish Christian school. Each unit/subject emphasizes that we try to teach our material (a novel or whathaveyou in my case) from a Biblical worldview. Often this seems a bit forced, and I am uncertain what to do with it. I realize this might be opening up a whole other can of worms (Christian Schools), but how does the transformationalist/two kingdom debate play out in this kind of situation.

    Thanks!

  11. Justin, so what are you suggesting, that there is an obvious biblical answer to the specific political question posed for all Christians? But before the modernists gave us worldview and implied as much, the old timers spoke of liberty of conscience which made it possible for two believers to have two different political conclusions.

    • I’m almost incredulous at the replies, but I think we really are just vomiting at semantics for no reason.

      Call it whatever you want, but your old timers’ doctrine of the liberty of conscience is a biblical teaching, and one that the Christian ought to apply when framing his view of the workings of particulars in this, *ahem*, world.

      And the conclusions to which two different Christian consciences may arrive ought never to be a conclusion that demonstrably condones the breaking of the commandments, e.g. voting for a politician who endorses child murder, yes?

      Call it what you will…

    • I suppose I might, depending on the character of the person, and depending on their brand of Islam. The Amaddiyah, for instance, are peace-lovers, and as an oppressed minority are more likely to seek justice and equality for all under law. Why do you ask?

    • Not sure how your conscience might “arrive … at a conclusion that demonstrably condones the breaking of the commandments, e.g. voting for a politician who endorses [idolatry]” …

    • Well, voting for a politician to serve in the civil realm is a bit different than electing a pastor or elder, unless you are a Theonomist, in which case I can’t begin to argue charitably.

    • I agree- but you implied earlier that a Christian ought not vote for a politician who endorses the breaking of the sixth commandment. How would you reconcile your last comment with this earlier (implied) statement?

    • I’m only pointing out that Justin’s statement above would benefit from some nuance.

    • That’s it, Doc. Murder is a concern of the civil magistrate, idolatry is not as long as it is not manifesting in harm to life and property.

  12. Andrew, throw Noe onto the pile.

    http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=302

    Education is something of a third rail in the modern Reformed world where there can seem to be a relative categorical confusion of catechesis and curriculum. But it could be that there is at once a fine line and wide distinction between Christian education and Christians doing education:

    In conclusion, it seems to me that, as with cycling, philosophy, and music, the most we can say about “Christian education” is that it is education delivered or provided by Christians. This, of course, is not an unimportant claim. But when we say that, however, we are once again talking about dispositions and motives and saying nothing distinguishable either about the process or the result of that process. In short, it seems there may be no such thing as Christian education after all, at least not in the sense in which it seems often used, and that grand adjective which indicates a special closeness with the divine Son of God ought, perhaps, to be confined within a much closer compass: to persons whom Christ has saved, the worship such persons offer, and the study and promulgation of the divine Word on which that worship is based. If by “Christian education” this is what is meant, the term seems quite apt.

    • Andrew,
      Also recommend you check out Dr. vanDrunen’s book, “Living in God’s Two Kingdoms,” I believe the last chapter has some excellent thoughts on our work in the civil kingdom, especially in the area of education/schools. I have hiccups with “worldview” language as well–my experience is such curricula come from a theonomist perspective.

  13. And the conclusions to which two different Christian consciences may arrive ought never to be a conclusion that demonstrably condones the breaking of the commandments, e.g. voting for a politician who endorses child murder, yes?

    Justin, I get it, you are politically opposed to elective abortion. So am I. But you are framing things in a loaded way, a way that suggests something impious about another believer who simply votes differently than you. But I have voted for folks who don’t share our mutual opposition to elective abortion. Was that impious? What else might be off limits, someone who opposes civil punishment of fornicators and adulterers? When did political views become as prosecutable as personal behavior?

  14. First a poser: do you believe that society produces people or do you believe that people produce society?

    Let’s get back to the biblical criterion/warrant for societal change and consider Jeremiah 29.7 “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Near as I can tell that is a royal/moral imperative for all believers, in all situations, at all times. Now it seems a stretch to say that “welfare” here is limited to mere economic opportunity or civil tranquility in this life. We can’t just sit back and watch our neighbor’s house burn just because it’s “burning” with immorality or ignorance or injustice. That would be bad. Or was Jesus just off base when he said that those who seek to gain the whole world will “forfeit their life” and being ridiculous when he answered the lawyer with the Parable of the Good Samaritan?

    On the contrary, the ultimate good for our neighbor is to bring them into a personal relationship with Jesus – which would necessarily transform them according to the likeness of Christ. That would be good. Good not only for them but for their families and their community – Oh gee, as a byproduct it looks like “society” might benefit as well.

    So the real lesson is not whether we ought to change society (“seek the welfare”); the real lesson is how we ought to change society: by its constituents, that is one heart at a time rather than one institution at a time.

    • Problem is with baptizing the institutions.

      So… we want cultic “toleration” as long as we’re in a minority. But when we get to be a majority, then we’ll be fine with *imposing* our vision of religious-orthodoxy-same-as-social-change, because objectively we know what’s good for ’em.

      Yep, sounds like typical complaints about muslim strategy.
      Reasonable conclusion: theonomy=xian-taliban.
      Same goes for other versions of Christendom. Exhibit A: the Inquisition.

      Maybe Christians could do with a definition of “salt and light” that doesn’t sound like a page borrowed from the islamic-political playbook.

      The church is best off when her influence is all personal and “unofficial.” God save us from the moral busybodies!

  15. Dr. Clark,

    When you use, or read the the word ‘transform’ what do you have in mind? Are transforming and making something holy essentially the same thing. I’m thinking here of the Klinian use of holiness.

    • Hi Douglas,

      I’m using the term the way the “transformational” neo-Kuyperians use it. As I understand their usage it (as with the verb “to redeem”) seems to mean “to Christianize.” This raises the question: what does that mean? I’ve been asking this question for some years and haven’t had a satisfactory answer. I don’t know what Christian math is. I can say what a Christian interpretation of the significance of math is but math is math. In other words, the difference is not math per se but theology. When I put it that way, however, my discussion partners respond by insisting that there is distinctly Christian math as opposed to math secular or pagan math. I’ve decided that this is code. It means “On his premises/presuppositons the pagan should not be able to do math.” Okay. I understand that. That’s why we teach a doctrine of general providence (= common grace). By God’s general providence, the pagan is blessedly inconsistent with his presuppositions. The question is whether Christians really “transform” math? Does it need to be Christianized?

      There are some neo-Kuyperians who do think of transformation as sanctification. My concern is that implicit in that way of thinking is that certain vocations are inherently unclean. I agree that certain jobs are immoral (e.g., theft, prostitution etc) but a honorable vocation doesn’t need to be redeemed or sanctified. It’s not inherently dirty. As I understand the Reformation doctrine of vocation, there aren’t “dirty” and “clean” vocations—sacred is not good and secular is not evil. Being a plumber is not a lesser vocation than being a minister. So, though people most certainly need to be sanctified I don’t know that vocations need to be sanctified.

      Here’s more on vocation.

  16. First, the “donate” button is huge. Second, this debate was really part of the 90s church growth movement. What it looks like now is a strengthening of the doctrines of the visible church and the Trinity. Third, 2k theology is good systematics and wretched ethics. That’s why it reads but doesn’t preach.

    • Theodore,

      1. Your email address is bogus.

      2. When the donations get bigger, the button will get smaller.

      2. Nolo contendere.

      3. How so? Those are some big, unsubstantiated claims on a shaky premise. I doubt there is such a thing as a monolithic “2k” ethic.

      Belgic Confession, art. 35 says:

      Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal—they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only.

      Calvin said that we live in a “twofold kingdom.” It’s a set of questions more than a set of answers. Given that we live in two realms, under Christ’s sovereign Lordship simultaneously, how do we then live faithfully in both? How is that a bad ethic?

      Since when did good theology lead to bad ethics? Isn’t good theology eminently practical?

      More on the twofold kingdom.

  17. Because of all the anti-2K rhetoric that exists in the Reformed ‘space’, I understand the struggle that most have with accepting 2K; it is simply incorrect to say that it has ‘wretched’ ethics (as if all non-Christians are automatically the non-ethical ones).

    I highly recommend D. van Drunen’s book (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms) as already suggested by Richard. Not a long book but I’m yet to read anyone who thoroughly engages the theological arguments* in that book.

    This audio interview is a good intro but is definitely not a substitute for that book: http://wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/living-in-gods-two-kingdoms-a-biblical-vision-for-christianity-and-culture

    *I am, similarly – amidst all the ‘worship wars’, am yet to read a critique of this argument against the use of instruments in worship: http://www.covenanter.org/Girardeau/Instrumental/instrumentalmusic.htm

  18. TBR, you can try Leithart’s From Silence to Song where he argues for instruments and relegates Girardeau to a footnote. Or Jordan’s Liturgical Nestorianism, in which he can’t even quote G’s argument correctly. Other than that, it’s a dead issue and dismissed out of hand by most as preposterous.

  19. Someone needs to re-publish that treatise by Girardeau to get this going… Btw, Girardeau was all round ‘awesome’ it seems:

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