World And Life View: License To Baptize? (Part 3)

An Alternative To Transformationalism

In an essay dated 1 March 1996, Fred Pugh sketches what has become a fairly standard view among many neo-Kuyperians.1 His account probably obviously leans to the cultural-political right, and the antithesis is established as “secular humanism.” The views Pugh categorizes under the heading “secular humanism,” Kuyper would have attributed to the anti-Christian spirit of the French Revolution.

The label “secular humanism” is unfortunate, however, because, in themselves secular and humanism are unobjectionable terms. Thrown together thus, they have been made by culture warriors into an epithet. As J. I. Packer and Tom Howard pointed out years ago, and as thoughtful Christians have known for centuries, there has been a Christian humanism since the earliest years of the medieval period.2 Several of the major Protestant Reformers were trained humanists. The adjective secular is derived from the Latin word saeculum, which means “age” or “world.” The phrase in saeculum is used in theological Latin for “forever.” The expression, “secular humanism,” has come to mean, however, an anti-Christian and anti-theistic assertion of autonomy. Thus, Christians would do better to refrain from using secular as a pejorative. The secular realm is better considered the common realm preserved by the providence of God as outlined in Genesis 9 (as distinct from the covenant of grace in Genesis 6).

In Pugh’s essay, however, it becomes clear that, to have a true CWLV, one must oppose the enemies of the cultural right (e.g., Planned Parenthood). This comment is not meant as an apology for Planned Parenthood. Anyone who knows the roots of PP in the quasi-Nazi eugenics movement would be wary of defending it for that reason alone. The essay moves on to tick off (list) the enemies of the cultural right, feminism, and the sexual revolution.

This strikes me as a sort of metaphorical baptism of the culture, the effect of which is to make a certain approach to cultural issues incontrovertible. What is the biblical basis for this baptism? The writer appeals to 2 Corinthians 10:1–6. The author’s deconstruction of the parade of culturally leftist institutions is “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (Pugh quotes the NKJV). The most serious problem with the author’s use of this passage is that it has little to do with Paul’s intention. This use of Paul has more to do with subjectivist late-modern reader-response hermeneutics than it does with historic Reformed hermeneutics. The apostle Paul was addressing a threat to his apostolic authority and office from opponents to his ministry. He has spent chapter nine defending his office and ministry against these critics because Paul, the suffering apostle, did not much resemble what the Corinthians thought of as an apostle. He was not nearly as glorious as the “super apostles.” Those are the non-Christian ideas he intends to tear down. The sphere in which he was speaking was distinctly spiritual and ecclesiastical, not secular or cultural. This does not mean that Christians ought not to subvert fundamentally non-Christian theology and philosophy; but now, in this tranformationalist application of the passage, we have entered into a different realm of discourse. Moving to a list of approved social views is yet another step removed from Paul’s original intent.

Central to this approach to the “Christ and Culture” problem is the “Biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all of life.”3 Now, all Reformed confessions and theologians and theologies confess and teach the absolute sovereignty of God. Of this there is no question now. This deduction from the doctrine of divine sovereignty, however, does not seem to appreciate the difficulty of moving from the theological doctrine of divine sovereignty to an allegedly Christian set of social values or cultural views.

The author quotes Van Til: “The Scripture is authoritative in every area of life to which it speaks and it speaks to every area of life.”4 Again, this principle is not in question, at least not here. But it is one thing to affirm that Scripture speaks “to every area of life,” and quite another to say what the Christian view of any number of penultimate questions might be.5 Math works because God is sovereign and has ordered all things. Christian theism is the necessary assumption to human life. Those who deny God and who continue to act as if he exists are hypocrites. The author continues to qualify this claim by noting that one “should not misunderstand that idea to say that the Bible tells you how to fix your washing machine when it breaks. It does, however, give either direct orders or indirect principles that one is to follow in every area of life.”6

I quite agree that Holy Scripture does not teach me how to fix my washing machine, but one does need to parse and apply very carefully the claim that it gives “direct orders or direct principles that one is to follow in every area of life.”7 God’s Word does describe reality, and God’s moral law does norm all our actions. Once more, there is no neutral sphere of life.

Nevertheless, it does not follow, as Pugh claims, that there is no distinction “between sacred and secular,” and that all “of life is sacred.”8 He assumes that if Christ is Lord of all (and he is!), that therefore he exercises his dominion in only one kingdom or in only one way, without distinction. Why is it necessary to baptize the washing machine repairman? We baptize sinners because they are born in sin. By baptizing we testify that those who are united to Christ sola gratia et sola fide are holy. That which was unclean is now recognized as sacramentally, outwardly clean. Is repairing washing machines unclean in the same way, such that it needs to be baptized?

What about Romans 8? After all, it does say that creation is groaning:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

There is a cosmic element to the Christian faith, just as there was a cosmic aspect to the covenant of works. What was, as it were, frustrated in the fall, will be consummated. Had the first Adam obeyed, the creation would have been glorified. Now that the Second Adam has obeyed, he has initiated, in the church, a new creation.

At the same time, we cannot say that Jesus died for creation per se. He died for sinners. Our longing for the consummate state is analogous to the longing of the cosmos for the consummation, but there are discontinuities. We redeemed sinners long for adoption (or the consummation of the adoption that was inaugurated in the ordo salutis), but nature, per se, is not said to have been “redeemed.”

The transformationalist confusion of the creational and the redemptive is the very sort of metaphorical baptizing about which this series has been concerned. Affirming God’s sovereignty over all of life does not eliminate the need to distinguish between two spheres. Pugh’s appeal to 2 Corinthians 10 illustrates the problem. What the apostle addressed to the visible, institutional church is taken out of context and applied in support of cultural agendas that the apostle himself did not imply or teach, at least not in that passage. And it gets to a larger problem: the apostles did not lay out a cultural agenda. God the Spirit did not reveal the Christian approach to the federal budget. They were busy preaching the gospel of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection. Yes, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, and he administers his spiritual kingdom through the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16)—namely, the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. Approaches such as this one fail just where they need to make the connection between divine sovereignty and cultural engagement. They assume what needs to be proved: the direct nexus between divine sovereignty in salvation and the writer’s opinion about this or that cultural problem.

The second fundamental weakness is the failure to recognize that cultural issues are not only addressed from the kingdom of God (Word, sacraments, and discipline). They are also addressed from creational or natural revelation. The response to Planned Parenthood is that it denies the creational or natural order. It is against nature to selectively eliminate certain races (the original intent of PP) or to destroy human beings in utero. As Darryl Hart has argued, the Christian faith is not intended to serve as a platform for political parties. It should certainly inform Christians in civil affairs, but the integrity and original intent of Scripture must be honored if we are to deal with Scripture honestly. Christians may disagree over civil policy.

Another distinction the author fails to make is that which exists between law and gospel. In his zeal to transform the existing social order he argues that “any gospel . . . which does not affect the political and social structures in which it is proclaimed is a truncated gospel.”9 The apostle Paul characterized his gospel relative to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15). He seems to have left the social consequences of the gospel up to the Holy Spirit. Luke does not record that Paul gave divinely inspired advice to the rulers to whom he preached. Was Paul’s a “truncated” gospel?

More importantly, the civil or common (not neutral) realm is not a “gospel” realm. It is a legal realm. It belongs not to the covenant of grace but to the covenant of works. The second table of the law directs the civil magistrate. “Do not steal” is God’s holy law, which the magistrate is morally and duty-bound to enforce. It is not the gospel. The gospel is an announcement of good news accomplished for sinners by Christ.

Do the apostles Paul, Peter, and John pass the author’s test? Did their gospel affect the “social structures” in which it was proclaimed? Not in their lifetimes. The church was persecuted into the middle of the fourth century. Who gets to say what constitutes the correct “effect”? One of the earliest Christian writers, the author of the epistle to Diognetus, simply asked his non-Christian inquirer to allow the Christians to live quietly and in peace. He explicitly denied that Christians had a distinctive language or culture. This, of course, is exactly what Paul commanded we should pray for (1 Tim 2:2).

We should agree with the author that the way to develop a CWLV is to “immerse” oneself in Scripture.10 But as we do so, we should recognize that Scripture itself teaches us that our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) and that, in this world, in “this age,” we live in two kingdoms simultaneously. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Our doctrine of divine sovereignty is a precious and absolutely necessary biblical truth confessed by the Reformed churches; but it is much more difficult than some think to deduce from it a social policy or a distinctively Christian approach to any given cultural problem or social policy.


  1. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View,” The Forerunner (blog), March 1, 1996.
  2. Thomas Howard and J. I. Packer, Christianity: The True Humanism (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1995).
  3. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  4. Cornelius Van Til, quoted in Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  5. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  6. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  7. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  8. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  9. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”
  10. Fred Pugh, “The Necessity of a Reformed World and Life View.”

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can view the whole series here.

Editors Note: This article was originally published on the Heidelblog in 2009.


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