Our favorite Byzantine-rite Calvinist (how many fish can there be in that pond?), David Koyzis, has written another post (July 28) critical of the two-kingdom/spirituality of the church views advocated here. In the piece he brings up the common retort of neo-Calvinists that all other so-called Christian outlooks are guilty of affirming neutrality if they don’t follow a Reformed world-and-life-view. In this case, our debate has concerned the contemporary academy and remedies for the secularism that afflicts it. (Actually, banality may be the bigger problem of the modern university, except of course during March Madness.)
Leaving aside finding solutions to what afflicts contemporary academic life, the neo-Calvinist pattern of falling back on charging non-neo-Calvinists with neutrality is getting old (and worse than being called Lutheran) and fails to see how much neo-Calvinism actually resembles fundamentalism at a deeper level.
The fundamentalism on which I cut my soul was constantly splitting the world in two, between the sacred and the profane, as if some shared existence was not possible for believers and non-believers inhabiting the same neighborhood, working in the same office, pledging allegiance to the same flag. Kuyperians may have a more sophisticated version of the fundamentalist mindset â€“ think of all that epistemology and post-Kantian idealism â€“ but the position still strikes me as one that fails to recognize the common arenas of the created order such as the state, marriage, and education. Do Christians and non-Christians pursue these matters differently? From an ultimate perspective, yes. The former strive to engage in these activities to the glory of God, the latter do not. (But letâ€™s remember the filthy rags that afflict even the pursuit of Godâ€™s glory.) From a penultimate perspective, itâ€™s hard to see how a history prof teaching the survey of the United States at Cow College U. is doing the job any worse than the prof at Consistently Calvinist College. The standards for that evaluation are not Scripture or the creeds; they are set by the American Historical Association and the leading graduate departments of history.
It is also hard to see how neo-Calvinists make any sense of the Westminster Standardsâ€™ teaching on the Lordâ€™s Day, as in the distinction between sacred duties of worship and rest, profaning the Lordâ€™s Day by doing that which is explicitly sinful, or even breaking the fourth commandment by doing common work on the Sabbath that is actually lawful on other days. In other words, the Standards assume that three categories of moral evaluatoin â€“ the sacred, profane, and the common, and these spheres actually shift depending on whether the day is holy or ordinary (as in common).
So someone like myself who affirms the common is not asserting neutrality. God is Lord over all things. But that Lordship is not always redemptive. Sometimes it is merely creational or providential. As I like to say, Christ was Lord in Iraq even before U.S. forces invaded.
This distinction is also important for two-kingdom folks who worry about neo-Calvinism invariably turning theologically liberal. Koyzis objects to my apparent fallacy of saying neo-Calvinism is flawed because it has so often resulted in churches more concerned about working out a Reformed view of math or television than communions that hold on to the Cannons of Dort. He may have a point regarding the logic of my historical observation. At the same time, I wonder if neo-Calvinists have the capacity to observe that their project has not worked out well in either the Old World or the New one and that adjustments may need to be made.
But aside from the merits of historical trends, the distinctions among the holy, common, and profane are actually important for the way neo-Calvinism has played out in theologically suspect results. By trying to redeem the culture, or the state, or the house, neo-Calvinists feel good about denying the sacred-secular distinction, thus asserting Christâ€™s Lordship over every single cubit millimeter. Yet, I have not seen a neo-Calvinist recognize that one of the chief features of Protestant modernism was a similar denial of the sacred-secular distinction in order to Christianize everything, to affirm Godâ€™s rule over all areas of life, not just in the religious or holy ones. Again, fundamentalism is the flipside of this impulse, and differs by refusing that the culture or the state can be Christianized (of course the home is sacred, family values and all that). By failing to acknowledge that part of existence is good even apart from redemption because it is created, neo-Calvinists want to redeem things that do not need to be saved. And it is this expansive view of salvation â€“ because of the missing category of the common or created â€“ that leads to liberal theology.