Why Isn’t Otherworldliness a Christian W-W?

In a moment of piety this morning (don’t worry, didn’t last long), I read this from Martin Luther in a 1535 sermon on Romans 8:17:

And now he (St. Paul) begins to comfort Christians in such sufferings, and he speaks as a man who has been tried and has become quite certain. And he speaks as though he can see this life only dimly, or through coloured glass, while he sees the other life with clear eyes.

Notice how he turns his back to the world and his eyes toward the revelation which is to come, as though he could perceive no sorrow or affliction anywhere on earth, but only joy. Indeed, he says, when we do have to suffer evil, what is our suffering in comparison with the unspeakable joy and glory which shall be made manifest in us? It is not worthy to be compared with such joy nor even to be called suffering. The only difficulty is that we cannot see with our eyes and touch with our hands that great and exquisite glory for which we must wait, namely, that we shall not die for evermore neither shall we hunger nor thirst, and over and above shall be given a body which cannot ever suffer or sicken, etc. Whoever could grasp the meaning of this in his heart, would be compelled to say: even if I should be burnt or drowned ten times (if that were possible), that would be nothing in comparison with the glory of the life hereafter. For what is this temporal life, however long it may last, in comparison with the life eternal? It is not worthy to be called suffering or though of as a merit.

This is a perspective on this world and the world to come that seldom surfaces among the transformationalists (from Kuyper to Keller). It is supposedly too pessimistic about this world, and overestimates the differences between temporal and eternal existence. But at the same time, it is hard to deny that Luther has missed a large streak of Pauline teaching and outlook. So even if the transformers can dismiss such otherworldliness as Lutheran (as opposed to Calvinism as perpetual change machine), how do they get around Paul? And if they try to get around Paul, how is their effort different from the way that liberal Protestants tried to separate the kernel from the husk of Scripture?

As troubling as these questions may be, I do understand how Luther’s outlook on the temporal world and a Christian’s experience of it would force the revision of countless Christian school mission statements and tempt believers not to look to New York City as the new Jerusalem.

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  1. Richard Smith
    Posted April 26, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    John Yeazel: “This was the main problem that Tillotson had with Puritan theology: it was too pessimistic about the capacities of fallen humanity and thus necessitated a view of justification that eliminated man’s response to divine grace…..For disillusioned clergyman like Tillotson who had experienced what is believed to be the antinomian consequence of Puritan theology, religious life was essentially moral and was achieved by active human effort in cooperation with divine grace.”

    RS: Without having read a lot of Tillotson or of Kim, there is the possibility that Kim has misread Tillotson. I know there are a lot of people today that misread Jonathan Edwards. There are other issues as well, but so many toes to step on. The religious life of the Puritans was not essentially moral in that sense, but essentially love for god. It was achieved by grace in the soul.

  2. Posted April 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Richard, I’d have thought it was obvious the standard for humor – the Word of God.

  3. Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Baus, you’re not much of an interlocuter. Here we are having a conversation and you say, read my paper. Fine. I skimmed your paper and saw this neo-cal speak:

    The structure/direction distinction relates to the two senses of holiness in that what has been called the objective, ceremonial, or official sense of holiness is a matter of structure, and what has been called the subjective or ethical sense of holiness is a matter of direction. The distinct holiness of the church and its sphere of activity is official or structural. For instance, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is not a common meal. It is a specially set apart sort of meal. It has a holiness, by virtue of Christ’s appointment, that any given meal outside the institutional church does not and cannot posses. However, in the ethical or directional sense there can be holiness, or conformity to God’s norms, in cultural activity. This re-direction toward God that enables the regenerate person to discern and act in accordance with God-ordained norms for cultural activity is accomplished by redemption in Christ.

    So are you saying that a regenerate person may act culturally in accordance with God’s norms because of redemption? What does that mean? Does it mean that a Christian may speak English better than non-Christians? And how about Shakespeare? Why he speak English so better?

    It sounds to me like you think there are laws out there that are norms for cultural activity. That sounds awfully legalistic. Language is a great example. What works in French may not work in German. So where is the structure/direction norm for language — the most basic element of culture?

  4. Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Terry, I know. You even sing that stuff and wear that stuff in worship. Ugh.

  5. Posted April 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink


    I once heard John Gerstner say something that often comes into my mind and haunts my assurance that God has imputed my sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to me. He said something to the effect that Christians should be the hardest working moralists on the face of the earth. He must have picked that sentence up by reading Edwards. I’m not sure what to make of that-maybe you can help me out and tell me what you think about that- not!!!

  6. mark mcculley
    Posted April 27, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Mike Horton on the first death. Immortality is a gift not inherent in the human condition. http://d1w4yg6zersvbl.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/18-Bent-and-Broken_-Theological-Origins-of-the-Blues-1.mp3

  7. Posted April 27, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    That Horton talk was superb McMark.

  8. Posted April 27, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Darryl, of course there are laws of language–that what linguists study. (One of those laws is to never use the quasi-word “Ugh” unless you mean to suggest that your disdain is just a matter of taste.) There is a God-created ordering of reality that those of us called to study and engage a particular aspect of are called to discover and discern. No doubt you believe such about the physical universe and it seems that you think there are norms elsewhere (for example, in music where you suggest that certain styles are more appropriate for worship than others).

    But why is this legalism? Legalism is salvation by law-keeping, not law-keeping. Reformed people acknowledge this basic point in contrast to antinomians and dispensationalists and others. If God sets the boundaries of the sea, why doesn’t he set the boundaries of the state or the school or the hospital or the charitable organization or … Is it too outrageous to suggest that it’s the failure to observe God’s Creational law for societal entities that is part of the failure of those institutions (that’s a particular form of sin–and, of course, sin in general leads to these failure). God has left these norms for us to discover (just as scientists discover laws of nature). Unbelievers can help discover these laws as they are objective and empirically determined and God enables by common grace the unbeliever and believer alike to see them. Here again I don’t think we’re really so far apart. The believer has no special insight into these laws other than knowledge of their source and ultimate religious meaning which includes a view of the whole of Creational reality that the unbeliever cannot/does not have.

  9. Posted April 27, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Terry, actually, to say that salvation is by law keeping is to contradict where God has clearly said it’s by faith alone. But legalism is saying that God has spoken where he has been silent. And so to suggest that God has been vocal about the rules of language is to be legalist. He hasn’t told us there is a Christian way to speak any more than there is a Christian way to eat, drink, vote, drive a car, buy a house, or spend leisure time.

  10. Posted April 27, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Zrim. I’ll assume that you didn’t read my post very carefully. I never said that salvation was by law keeping, but the exact opposite. Nevertheless, saved people empowered by the Holy Spirit strive to keep the Law. That’s why the 10 Commandments are exposited in the Heidelberg Catechism in the section on gratitude and why in the Westminster Standards the 10 Commandments describe the Christian life.

    But I think you miss my point. God has “spoken” in Creation and when we study it we find his speech. That’s what the scientific enterprise is about, whether it be mathematical, physical, biological, psychological, social, economic, political, aesthetic. This speech is less clear than the revealed Word of special revelation, but it’s no less God’s speech. It is binding in a different sort of way than Scripture. But we ignore or violate it at our own peril. Try jumping off a ten story building without the appropriate equipment and you will see.

  11. Posted April 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Terry, I know you’re not saying salvation is by works. What you said was that to say so is legalism. I’m trying to clarify the terms and say that there is contradicting what God has clearly said and then there’s speaking on behalf of God where he has been silent. The latter is legalism, the former is anathema.

    Pursuant to that (and your point), if you think we are to peal back creation to find God’s voice then what do you do with Belgic 13:

    We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

    I’m all for creational inquiry, but when you start suggesting we’ll find sacred speech under it, I worry. It’s the doctrine of creaturely limitation embedded in something like BC 13 that I think you guys, in your more intellectually pietistic impulses, gloss over.

  12. Posted April 27, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Zrim, methinks you’ve taken that passage out of context. It’s talking about God’s decree and execution of that decree in His providence of all things including the actions of wicked men and the origin of evil. BC (along with Calvin) tells us not to pry to deeply or speculatively into this matters that are God’s ways beyond our ways. It has nothing to do with what we’re talking about.

    Only the Word of God binds us. It seems you’re talking to some other perhaps misguided transformationalist if you’re hearing someone say that the conclusions of our investigations are binding. The church needs to stay out of these things and let Christian thinkers and practioners duke it out. By the way, in my experience it’s usually the theologians that want to bind the scientists (think young earth creationists) rather than the other way around.

    If God made it, then we’re going to find something like sacred speech, although not on par with scripture and certainly not binding. I’m increasingly troubled by you and Darryl’s worry that someone is making you do stuff. Perhaps you just feel marginalized by the Moral Majority or by the Neo-Cal “majority”.

    I think your definition of legalism does not accord with the historical use. Of course, sometimes legalists add things to God’s law that aren’t there. Legalists aren’t Christians since they seek to be saved by their own works. Adding to God’s law but not requiring it for salvation is more a violation of Christian liberty. And, yes, this theological debate between 2k and transformationalists is in the realm of Christian liberty. It seems to me that all the essential points of transformationalism are accepted by DVD in Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. I quibble with the eschatology but even here there has been liberty (at least in the OPC, as long as you’re not a dispensationalist). Hopefully, we’re all willing to admit that we’re a little in the dark about the future especially with respect to the details. You all make a big deal about “no marriage” in heaven. I’ve never really been convinced that that is a particularly clear passage with lots of analogy of scripture to back it up. Maybe it’s one of those “baptism for the dead” passages.

  13. Posted April 27, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Terry, but what if unbelievers have more insight into the laws of language or biology than believers do because the unbeliever studies language and biology more than the believer (who thinks that the Bible reveals the laws and norms of all things)? Don’t you become smarter at math by studying it more? Or do math smarts come by way of word, sacraments and prayer? In my estimation, there has to be something said for spending a lot of time on a particular activity — from hitting a curve ball to figuring out quantum theory.

  14. Posted April 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Terry, “the providence of all things” would seem to include scientific enterprise. So where do you see any limitations of scientific inquiry? It seems like one thing to inquire all the way up to proving heliocentrism over geocentrism, but another to keep going and try to discover God’s speech in all of it, whatever that means. So, yes, neo-Calvinism does seem to be pushing to do something, namely go beyond our human limitations and discover more by way of natural revelation than we were intended to.

    It’s also pushy about transforming at the expense of preserving and has even made the very term household. In case you don’t think so, when was the last time you heard anybody describe the church’s mission (organic or institutional) in terms of cultural preservation as opposed to some variation on transformation? Not much because it doesn’t exactly inspire human fantasy and utopian dreams and useful religion. Not that I think that cultural preservation is the church’s mission at all. You’re right, it’s liberty, but when it comes to what the NT exhorts believers to be, quiet and peaceful sure seems to align better with preservation than transformation. So does salt.

  15. Posted April 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Check out my 9:29 am today post. I don’t think the believer has any special advantage, but he/she is still studying God’s world. You see, common quantum mechanics is Christian quantum mechanics even if the unbeliever doesn’t admit it. I never said that the Bible teaches me about quantum mechanics. The Bible teaches me about God, Creation, Providence, salvation, life before God, thanksgiving, being a God-pleaser vs. a mere man-pleaser. Understanding those things is key to understanding the truth about quantum mechanics. Unbelievers can do quantum mechanics, as Van Til says, after a fashion and sufficient to get along in the world, but denying the God-createdness of quantum mechanics, they don’t get one of the most fundamental points.

  16. Posted April 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Zrim, back to your 2:13 4/27 post… Creational law is divine speech. The universe is upheld by the Word of His power. Scientists seek to discover that law. Practitioners practice in accord with that law.

  17. Nathaniel Ruland
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    What does W-W mean?

  18. Richard Smith
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    John Yeazel: Richard, I once heard John Gerstner say something that often comes into my mind and haunts my assurance that God has imputed my sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to me. He said something to the effect that Christians should be the hardest working moralists on the face of the earth. He must have picked that sentence up by reading Edwards. I’m not sure what to make of that-maybe you can help me out and tell me what you think about that- not!!!

    RS: Christians are Christians by grace alone. There is no morality or anything they can possibly do that adds to the grace of God that saves them. Sinners are delivered from the wrath of God by the blood of Christ alone and they are given entrance into heaven based on the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. But that fact that Christ died for sin should not make us careless and so give ourselves to sin, but to give ourselves to Christ. If we really believe that He had to suffer for each or our sins, then each sin we commit would in one sense add to His sufferings, though indeed that has already been accomplished. The fact that sinners are given free entrance into heaven based on the imputed righteousness of Christ should not make them easy on sin, but they should love righteousness. The resurrected Christ lives in His people and works in them to love the glory of God and true holiness. It does seem that true Christians should love holiness more than all others because they alone see and love the holiness of God.

  19. Richard Smith
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    D. G. Hart: Richard, I’d have thought it was obvious the standard for humor – the Word of God.

    RS: There may be more truth there than your worldview will allow for you to think. If believers are to be holy in all things and if they are to love God with all of their beings, one would think that their humor would have God’s Word as a standard.

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