Transforming History

Bill Evans thinks that a few pokes at the cultural transformers means the neo-Calvinists are taking it on the chin these days. It is in fact odd to see folks express surprise when others don’t agree with them, as if neo-Calvinism were the settled position of Reformed Protestantism since the days of Ulrich Zwingli and Zacharias Ursinus. One way a tradition becomes fossilized is to imagine that everyone is agreed; arguments keep you sharp, unless you are a follower of Abraham Kuyper whose authority cannot be questioned. I doubt Kuyper himself would be pleased with that group think.

Evans is a little worked up about a post by Carl Trueman that wonders whether the transformationalists have accomplished enough to make news:

The secular and religious media are awash with reports of how the millennial generation of evangelicals is burned out on the political activism of the religious right, and the Two-Kingdoms theology (2K) currently being trumpeted by some faculty members at Westminster Seminary in California (WSC) certainly provides a theological fig-leaf for such culture-war fatigue. In short, H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, with his favored model of “Christ transforming culture,” and the great Dutch Neo-Calvinist theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper are not exactly the flavor of the month.

Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised, though certainly not shocked, to see Carl Trueman jumping decisively on the anti-transformational bandwagon (here on Ref21 and here on TheAquilaReport). Dr. Trueman, as most of us know, teaches church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS), and is the former Provost and academic dean there. But despite Trueman’s very public aversion to all things trendy, he seems to be right in step with the Zeitgeist on this one. He also seems to be somewhat out of step with his institution’s history.

Evans goes on to assert that Trueman is out of step with the history of Westminster Seminary. Trueman himself is fully capable of defending himself and I won’t speak for him. But I will observe that Evans is remarkably ill informed about the history of Westminster.

For one, he does not seem to recall that WTS’ chief founder was J. Gresham Machen, a man whom neo-Calvinists will contort into a transformationalist but who better than anyone else in the first half of the twentieth century articulated the spirituality of the church over against the transformationalism that dominated the PCUSA:

In the first place, a true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. It will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience; it will never confuse the useful with the true, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life. Into the welter of changing human opinion, into the modern despair with regard to any knowledge of the meaning of life, it will come with a clear and imperious message. That message it will find in the Bible, which it will hold to contain not a record of man’s religious experience but a record of a revelation from God.

In the second place, a true Christian church will be radically intolerant. At that point, however, a word of explanation is in place. The intolerance of the church, in the sense in which I am speaking of it, does not involve any interference with liberty; on the contrary, it means the preservation of liberty. One of the most important elements in civil and religious liberty is the right of voluntary association – the right of citizens to band themselves together for any lawful purpose whatever, whether that purpose does or does not commend itself to the generality of their fellow men. Now, a church is a voluntary association. No one is compelled to be a member of it; no one is compelled to be one of its accredited representatives. It is, therefore, no interference with liberty of a church to insist that those who do choose to be its accredited representatives shall not use the vantage ground of such a position to attack that for which the church exists. . .

But when I say that a true Christian church is radically intolerant, I mean simply that the church must maintain the high exclusiveness and universality of its message. It presents the gospel of Jesus Christ not merely as one way of salvation, but as the only way. It cannot make common cause with other faiths. It cannot agree not to proselytize. Its appeal is universal, and admits of no exceptions. All are lost in sin; none may be saved except by the way set forth in the gospel. Therein lies the offense of the Christian religion, but therein lies also it glory and its power. A Christianity tolerant of other religions is just no Christianity at all. . . .

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. ( “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” 1933)

Lest Evans think that Machen was Westminster’s conciliar tradition swamped by the high papalism of neo-Calvinism, he should also remember that after Machen’s death, the Westminster faculty (including R.B. Kuiper, Cornelius Van Til, and Ned Stonehouse, all sons of neo-Calvinism) opposed the transformationalists who formed with Carl McIntire the Bible Presbyterian Synod. The Bible Presbyterians wanted to retain the transformationalism of American Presbyterianism as the genuine Presbyterian tradition in the United States, hence the overture that split the OPC — one in favor of prohibition, the very crusade that had cost Machen a promotion at Princeton Seminary.

So Evans can argue for neo-Calvinism and its superiority all he wants. But he can’t read his preference back into the history of American Presbyterianism. And he should not let his preference prevent him from considering the real tension that comes from trying to harmonize Abraham Kuyper and J. Gresham Machen.


67 thoughts on “Transforming History

  1. “…the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord;…..”

    Thanks Darryl.

    Raising a glass to JGM,



  2. Good stuff, Darryl. Keeping things straight amongst the many voices, one post at a time…

    Just a thought – 2k as a theological fig-leaf – In some circles one never lets an opportunity pass without properly impugning “E2K koolaid”. Hide the children…


  3. I’m quite surprised (should I be?) and perturbed by Machen designating the church as a voluntary association. For whom, exactly, is it voluntary? Certainly not the regenerated, for whom membership of the church is a de facto reality; not the visible church/covenant community to whom is given the command not to forsake the assemblies of the church; and not, really, to any man to whom is given the command to repent and believe in Christ.

    I suppose it’s voluntary in that office beaters so not go round the parish compelling its inhabitants to attend the means of grace (at least, not anymore- ah Aeneas Sage…), but that’s hardly a principle.


  4. Alexander, is any citizen of the state forced or compelled to become a member of a church? Within modern Western civil societies isn’t the answer ‘no’? In that context the church is voluntary. Gresham isn’t addressing election or God’s eternal sovereignty. One automatically is a member of a state upon birth. The involuntary membership of all in a state requires tolerance in order to accommodate quite a bit of varying opinions and outlooks. Just the opposite for the church.


  5. Jack-

    I addressed that point- but it’s not a high principle on which the church stands or falls. Machen went beyond merely recognising that no one- in this day- is compelled to attend church. Machen seems to be arguing that that is in the nature of the church and so he calls is a voluntary association. Now anyone who knows their church history knows such language is very loaded. The voluntary controversy raged throughout the Free Church for most of the 19th century. The fact that the state does not compel attendance at the means of grace does not change the fact that all men are compelled to attend to the means of grace. God commands belief, never mind if the state does.


  6. “It is crucial to note that such Neo-Calvinism from the get-go evinced a somewhat chastened transformationalism”

    Yeah, they’re only into kinda sorta changing things…

    What does something that is only “partially transformed” look like? Maybe it’s like the car on cement blocks that has been in the driveway for 8 weeks with a tarp over it. “Just waitin’ on some parts!”


  7. Those that refuse the gospel… isn’t it upon their own heads? God doesn’t involuntarily force membership. All are not “compelled to attend to…” by God otherwise they’d involuntarily be there and attending to… All are indeed bound by the law, so they are without excuse for their refusal to repent and believe. I don’t see a problem with Machen’s argument.


  8. Evans takes the sign, eyes the runner at first. Here’s the pitch. Hanging breaking ball, belt high, over the middle of the plate. And there it goes, a towering shot by Hart that lands 450 feet away in dead center. He threw that one right in Hart’s wheel house.


  9. But I will observe that Evans is remarkably ill informed about the history of Westminster.

    Add that one to the list.

    1. The function of the ordo salutis in the history of the Reformation and Reformed theology.

    2. The history of Reformed covenant theology.

    3. The relations between early Reformed theology and Reformed orthodoxy (see #2).

    4. The Protestant doctrine of justification.


  10. Alexander, here in the United States the church is not established, nor are we on the state’s dole. We are completely voluntary. And that makes us superior (kidding).


  11. Taking J.G. Machen to be an Escondido-like advocate of 2K deserves a few questions.

    Please read the data: Machen was a transformationalist early in his life, at an opening address at Princeton in 1912. You can read it for yourself: it’s available online in several places, entitled “The Scientific Preparation of the Minister” (Princeton Theological Review, 1913). Please look it up and read it for yourself and see if Machen isn’t promoting a culturally transforming vision of life.

    So did Machen “mature” past this “erroneous” view, as some have claimed?

    Well, Machen again endorsed a transformational vision of life in 1933 when he addressed the National Union of Christian Schools (available at the PCA Historical Center under “The Necessity of the Christian School”). This was in 1933. In 1937 he’s dead. Please look it up and read it for yourself and see if Machen isn’t promoting a culturally transforming vision of life. One has said, “Well, he was addressing the NUCS; what do you expect?” But that’s not very cautious.

    So in 1912 he’s a transformationalist.
    And in 1933 he’s a transformationalist.
    By 1937 he’s dead.

    If you have bought into Escondido’s hypotheses, you owe it to yourself to read Machen for yourself. The claim that Machen “matured” past his 1912 views is difficult in light of data like these.

    Transformationalism is far more nuanced than the caricature some would give.

    With Machen, I desire the consecration to God all the arts and sciences: “Furthermore, the field of Christianity is the world. The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think Philip’s criticism is valid. I don’t think Machen fits neatly into either camp, but then again, most theologians from the past don’t fit neatly into our modern categories. The way I harmonize the seemingly contradictory statements in Machen is that in his expectations for the future of Christianity there were some transformationalist and post-milennial leanings, which was common at the beginning of the century. Yet when it came to what should be preached from the pulpit on the Lord’s Day, he was much more stridently 2k. In other words, I see no contradiction or significant change in Machen over time on these matters. Machen may have believed Christianity would eventually transform the arts, sciences, etc., as the gospel spread across the land…but that was not a matter for the pulpit; the pulpit was meant to deal with eternal matters only, not how to transform society. Darryl can tell me if I am on to something or not.


  13. In effect, Machen developed a vision that no longer directly burdened the church with the task of cultural transformation. Instead it set before the church the spiritual goal of proclaiming the gospel though Word and sacrament. Although Machen no longer saw a direct role for the church to affect culture, this did not mean that he withdrew from or avoided political and cultural involvement in society. Quite the contrary: Machen’s activism continued when he addressed a number of political and social issues, including prohibition, jaywalking, prayer in school, environmental preservation, and the establishment of the Department of Education, against which he testified before the U.S. Congress. However, his activism here was motivated more by his libertarian and civic (rather than purely religious) sensibilities. As Hart puts it:

    Machen was not implying that Christianity is unrelated to any range of activity beyond the ministry or fellowship of the church. Instead he was raising questions about the much more difficult issue of how Christianity is related to these other areas of human activity [and how] … Christians, even Reformed ones, may actually give different answers to the questions about the best form of government, cultural and religious diversity in a single nation, the value of mountain climbing or the significance of advanced learning.[6]
    The conviction that Christianity was not able to provide a sufficient basis for public life in a pluralistic American society came from Machen’s deep conviction that “historic Christianity was fundamentally narrow, exclusive and partisan.”[7] Thus Christians who used the church as a vehicle for political involvement were in danger of being intolerant or of treating the Christian faith instrumentally, to promote morality or American culture.

    The spiritual aspects of Machen’s Christianity become evident in his commencement speech, titled “Consolations in the Midst of Battle,” delivered at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1931, when he said:

    Remember this, at least—the things in which the world is interested are the things that are seen; but the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal. You, as ministers of Christ, are called to deal with the unseen things. You are stewards of the mysteries of God. You alone can lead men, by the proclamation of God’s word, out of the crash, and jazz and noise and rattle and smoke of this weary age into the green pastures and beside the still water; you alone, as ministers of reconciliation, can give what the world with all its boasting and pride can never give—the infinite sweetness of the communion of the redeemed soul with the living God.[8]


  14. And here I liked the man in question because he fought for my right to a Friday night beer after a week’s work. True, him and I have similar tastes in what we like to read, as well. Anyway, yeah, who knows what avatar that dude would have chosen for his comboxxing, debating who Warfield would have been for or against. “The more things change…

    Have a nice labor day weekend, all.


  15. To echo Todd, While Machen may have been caught up in some of the transformationalist fervor of his era in theory, notice how he was consistently unenthused about when the rubber met the road. Prohibition? No thanks. Presbyterian social gospel? No thanks. Joining with other churches and theological liberals to do good works? No thanks.

    Cite some concrete examples of Machen doing the transformationalist thang in practice, as opposed to mere rhetoric before a transformation-friendly audience. Even Hart doesn’t bring his crabby Old School Presbyterianism full-force when he knows his audience isn’t completely on board.


  16. Phil, are you kidding?

    Machen thought everything should be consecrated.

    He opposed prohibition.

    He opposed prayer and Bible reading in public schools.

    He opposed Christian nationalism that regarded the U.S. as a Protestant country and advocated the civil liberties of Roman Catholics and Communists.

    And in case you didn’t know, he believed segregation was legitimate (as did most whites in the U.S.).

    That should scare you out of your neo-Calvinist slumbers.


  17. Reading Van Drunen the longer again tonight on Hodge v. Thornwell on the Spirituality of the Church. Several fascinating nuggets:

    “Hodge, however, had harsh words about Thornwell’s doctrine of the spirituality of the church. He called it ‘new’, ‘ambiguous’, ‘extreme’, and ‘palpably unsound and untenable'” (p. 263)

    So apparently calling 2K “R2K” is not a new thing.


  18. “Thornwell drew upon the Reformed two kingdoms tradition by appealing to its notion of Christian liberty. Whether or not Christians participate in organizations for social reform is ‘a matter of Christian liberty.’ such that ‘Christian people may choose to adopt this particular mode of attempting to achieve the good at which all Moral Societies profess to aim.’ The church must ‘leave the whole matter where the Scriptures leave it, to the prudence, philanthropy, and good sense of God’s children; each man having a right to do as to him shall seem good.” (p. 262)


  19. “Reformed theologians and confessions spoke of Christian liberty in regard to the justified individual, who was freed in the civil kingdom from any obligation to do things contrary to the teaching of Scripture and in the spiritual kingdom from any obligation to do things beside the teaching of Scripture. In other words, the state has a wide discretionary authority, such that Christians must obey its commands except when they contradict Scripture, while the church has a more circumscribed authority, such that Christians must obey its commands only when its commands are the commands of Scripture. Where Scripture is silent, neither commanding nor prohibiting, the church cannot burden the conscience of Christians…

    Key to (Thornwell’s) case was the argument that Hodge had things backwards. Hodge’s principle that the church is permitted to do all that Scripture does not forbid it to do was not the Reformed principle of Christian liberty over against Rome but the principle of Rome which the Reformed doctrine of Christian liberty sought to overthrow,” (p.259)


  20. Philip,

    There is no such thing as “the Escondido” anything. Stop it. If you’re referring to the whole city, that’s just silly. If you’re referring to the seminary, that’s still silly. There is a diversity of views re Christ and culture in the board and faculty at WSC. The seminary board and faculty are, however, united around God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. Everything else is up for discussion.


  21. Could we argue that just as some conflate the church with the hierarchy, if not its earthly head, (cough) some conflate the church with Christians in their daily calling?
    IOW as per Turretin, distinguish. Who or what is Machen exactly talking about?

    Speaking of T, at the upcoming conference of the shadow government for true presbyterianism, maybe the hat could be passed to set up a fund to buy some of the CtC trophy converts a copy of his Institutes, so we don’t have to endure any more excuses for their apparent theological illiteracy when it comes to what reformed protestantism actually holds on, let’s say, the atonement, the “discussion” of which has just finished up over at one site.

    Hey, jus askin.


  22. Old Bob has been away from OLT for quite some time now. Anyone notice? My 85 year old WTS-trianed brain is more confused by my quick scans of recent posts than in days of yore? My old brain? Screwy subjects and comments? Seems like recent comment list is still heavy with brother E.C.’s contributions! A welcome change would be stuff which helps Old Bob’s Alexian ministry and which encourages all of us in our Christian sojourn? Love, OB P.S. Is most of OLT efforts still mostly preaching to “choir”? Any comments by WTS Prez. Pete Lillback or other balanced guys? I don’t have time nor interest to read endless stuff @ OLT.


  23. Old Bob,

    Things are good here. Don’t worry, none of us have free time. Imagine those of us with retirement still to save up for. Now is not the time to tarry. I can’t say I’ve seen Liliback, unless he hides behind one of those cartoon avatars (I still wonder who “Vermonster” is).

    Andrew B


  24. Thanks. dgh: “It is in fact odd to see folks express surprise when others don’t agree with them”.

    I don’t think it’s an accident that the same people who want churches to have a non-voluntary nature, also want these churches to transform the world. I also don’t think it’s an accident that those who want to transform this age, also tend to confuse law and gospel. Of course, I know that not all “transformationists” use the concept of “union with Christ” in order to introduce conditionalism and synergism into our assurance of some “final justification”. But many do.

    Certainly the two kingdom theology of Machen is much different from the two kingdom theology of Augustine (in which Donatists are handed over to the other kingdom), but that is a good thing. Machen is not the same on “Christendom” as the Magisterial Reformers, but that new “fad” (as Evans puts) is to be welcomed. If the brothers Niebuhr are indeed old news, that is good nes.

    I also like how Machen’s gospel is different from Augustine’s version of God’s sovereignty.

    Augustine—“it was neither grace alone nor he himself alone, but the grace of God and himself together….It is not we who by virtue of the freedom of our wills co-operate with God, but God who by virtue of the gift of grace co-operates with us” (The Anti-Pelagian Writings, 224)

    “Let not men say, then, that perseverance is given to any one to the end, except when the end itself has come, and he to whom it has been given has been found to have persevered unto the end.” Augustine, “On the Gift of Perseverance,” 529


  25. DGH,

    Thanks for the Machen quote. I think I could spend the rest of the weekend meditating on this by itself:
    “In the first place, a true Christian church, now as always, will be radically doctrinal. It will never use the shibboleths of a pragmatist skepticism. It will never say that doctrine is the expression of experience; it will never confuse the useful with the true, but will place truth at the basis of all its striving and all its life.” (emphasis added)


  26. Since this site has been a 2k safe zone for many of us, I thought I’d provide a response here to some of the rather sharp accusations against my political libertarianism from the anti-2k Internet crowd.

    And here is a paper defending what is (wrongly) known as Escondido 2k, at least from my perspective.

    I welcome questions, reasoned challenges, etc…


  27. Machen’s Preaching?

    “At present we are inarticulate; we know the riches of the gospel; we wonder at those who have it already at hand and yet are content instead with the weak and beggarly elements. When will God raise us the man of His choice to give His message powerfully to the world? We cannot say. But the truth is not dead, and God has not deserted His Church. Behind all the darkness and perplexity of the present time we can discern, on the basis of the promises of God, the dawn of a better day. There may come a time, sooner than we can tell, when again we cry in the Church, as every redeemed soul cries even now: ‘The old things are passed away; behold they are become new.”

    J. Gresham Machen
    God Transcendent, pg. 51
    Some of Machen’s Sermons

    Could Escondido 2K proponents speak of a “dawn of a better day?” Machen’s postmillennialism could never fit into the old wineskins of E2K.

    Machen writing in 1925 showing his non-E2K self.

    “But this is not the first period of decadence through which the world has passed, as it is not the first period of desperate conflict in the Church. God still rules, and in the midst of darkness there will come in His good time the shining of a clearer light. There will come a great revival of the Christian religion; and with it will come, we believe a revival of true learning: The new Reformation for which we long for and pray may well be accompanied by a new Renaissance.”

    J. Gresham Machen
    The Modern Use of the Bible
    Princeton Theological Review, 23 (1925), p. 81


  28. Peter H., 2kers speak of a better day all the time when they pray, “thy kingdom come.”

    Would Machen be so uncharitable as your characterization of 2k?


  29. To give credit where credit is due, I think our somewhat eccentric critic Rabbi Bret hits the nail on the head when he cites the underlying presupposition that drives our 2k as a consistent a-millennialism. I used to wonder why Dr. Kline believed a-mils and post-mils would do well to serve in distinct denominations. Maybe he was correct. Modern a-mils and post-mils, even though outside of FV get justification right, still tend to have two distinct views of the role of religion and church in society. And while there are some middle ground positions, I wonder how it is possible for post-mils, who believe as Rushdoony did below, can serve alongside a-mils?

    “Amillennialism … (is) in retreat from the world and blasphemously surrender(s) it to the devil. By its very premise that the world will only get worse … it cuts the nerve of Christian action…. If we hold that the world can only get worse … what impetus is left for applying the word of God to the problems of this world? The result is an inevitable one: amillennial believers who profess faith in the whole word of God … are also the most impotent segment of American society, with the least impact on American life. To turn the world-conquering word of the sovereign, omnipotent, and triune God into a symbol of impotence is not a mark of faith. It is blasphemy.” (“Postmillennialism versus Impotent Religion,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, pp. 126, 127).


  30. “Would Machen be so uncharitable as your characterization of 2k?”

    It is hard for me to believe that D.G. Hart, of all people, would criticize someone for a lack of charity. I have read several of your books and many of your blog posts. Lack of charity towards those with whom you disagree seems to be the norm.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Todd, and if Vos was right then Kline’s point is very much worth pondering.

    “…second to none in its importance for the Pauline system of thought, the eschatological appears as pre-determinative both the substance and form of the soteriological.”

    “It would be far more accurate to say that the eschatological strand is the most systematic in the entire fabric of the Pauline thought-world. For it now appears that the closely interwoven soteric tissue derives its pattern from the eschatological scheme, which bears all the marks of having had precedence in his mind” (Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology).


  32. As a recent finder of DG Hart’s writings, I’m especially interested to hear more where Thomas finds Darryl unchartible in his books. I’m enjoying “Calvinism” (the most recent section being the happenings in the new world in the 17th century), and the WSJ review called out DG as especially charitable. Of course, there’s no pleasing some people…


  33. It seems the pendulum always swings. And I think Pastor Trueman’s remarks are best seen not only in light of his response at Ref21 but his sermons. The spirituality of the church centered in our union with Christ forms the heart of true Christian culture. If that sounds too 2k or too tranformationalist- whatever … If there is any problem in relation to a “political theology” in relation to whether one of 2K or a transformationalist it seems to become a war of words of what appears to be behind the various Reformed and evangelical camps. But since the political and embodied nature of Christian life is unavoidable and can easily poo-pooed in a kind of gnostic fashion, what it means to be Reformed Christians within a 2nd amendment liberal democracy that is increasingly hostile to faith as Carson mentions in Christ & Culture Revisited between Romans 13 and Revelation 13 & 14. Carson’s good book could have given more attention to the aspects of human nature in relation to nature but in relation to a tension between understanding the present creation in common grace and the spirituality of the Church, the answer is the already/not yet of Christ’s Lordship and the eschatological consummation of a new creation.


  34. Rob, it sounds surreal. Language is the basis of culture, according to many folks who study it. Christians don’t speak a Christian language. They use the tongues of all other cultures.

    Sorry, but it’s true.


  35. Well.. OK … Language is the basis of culture. I would agree with you … really. But Christians do use language that refers to spiritual reality that secular man denies. Christ is the Logos, the Word. And the unity between the Word, Scripture and the Gospel should be transparent. But the referentiality of language which is so commonly denied in the modern and post-modern situation that only refers to political/social self-referential ends in which language is merely a political means of hegemony and easily abused ala Joseph Pieper is no culture at all. It is a coercive secular elitism of political power. What language involves is reality, not merely the gospel but also the defining space of creedal historic confessionalism. But this view of language in relation to history, tradition and embodiment is denied by secular too. Even Steven Shapin’s book, Never Pure would critique the univocal hegemony of science with its reductionistic view of language.


  36. Rob, you’re over thinking this. If Paul and Peter had gone through Shapin to reflect on language, would they have ever picked Greek over Hebrew? Sure, language is part of larger structures. It hasn’t prevented Christians from using the language in which Chris Hitchens wrote.


  37. Well … I do want to agree with you about the basic givenness of language but as Van Til would modestly critique Bavinck, in the kind of sense of… “can you keep God and His knowledge in mind in your epistemology”? Perhaps I am overthinking it but where did language come from? Isn’t it connected to our humanity as imago dei? And given the modern and postmodern situation hasn’t J. Judd Owen, in his book, Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism: The Foundational Crisis of the Separation of Church and State and Steven D. Smith, in his book The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse shown the bankruptcy of modern and postmodern language?


  38. Rob, despite its divine origins, language is common and Christians don’t use it differently. I’d say the same goes for culture (after Israel and Hebrew).


  39. As with Clinton’s use of the word “is”, perhaps it depends upon how you are using the word “use”. Surely language is not an oracle experience but tied to ordinary experience, but then ordinary experience is providential. Borges’ Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius in an Anthony Flew like fashion is nonsense. So in one sense, use is the same … we use the same dictionaries. Yet as Van Til noted concerning the antithesis, Christians and non-Christians have everything metaphysically in common but not epistemologically. As Carson points in Christ and Culture Revisited, worldview is inescapable and everyone has one … that is one of a certain kind. Perhaps you agree with Stanley Fish’s definition of liberal discourse- in the Public Square, religious people need to check their religious convictions at the door.


  40. “Thomas, to disagree is not to be uncharitable. To misrepresent is to be uncharitable.”

    That’s more or less true (although it is certainly possible to disagree in an uncharitable way). Either way, I don’t fault you for disagreeing with people. I fault you for your lack of charity when you do so. I don’t know you personally nor do I read your blog regularly. So I’ll freely admit I’m basing my opinion on a limited set of examples. Nevertheless, I have found your writings which I have read to be particularly uncharitable in their characterizations of those with whom you disagree, often using straw men to misrepresent their arguments.


  41. Bill Evans seems to think that justification is not the main thing, espeically when we live in such an increasingly bad world.

    Evans: I have noticed that some who are deeply concerned to safeguard the extrinsic and forensic alien righteousness of justification are reticent to speak of any real, intrinsic change in us. Positive changes in our behavior are explained in terms of direct divine activity on us, a divine occasionalism that nevertheless leaves us unchanged as to our being. They will speak of immediate divine grace, but not of “created graces” in us. Historically, this denial of created graces was a hallmark of antinomianism…It makes little sense to speak of corporate or societal transformation when we are embarrassed to say much about individual transformation.

    Evans: Interestingly, this sort of thing would not have passed muster with that great nineteenth-century champion of forensic justification, Charles Hodge. Hodge insisted that regeneration is “physical,” by which he meant that it was a real and lasting bestowal of “immanent dispositions, principles, tastes or habits which underlie all conscious exercises, and determine the character of a man and of all his acts” (Systematic Theology, III:35).

    Evans: We do well not to underestimate the impact that OUR INCREASINGLY NEGATIVE SITUATION has as on our theology. To paraphrase Peter Berger on the sociology of knowledge, this cultural context provides a key “plausibility structure” for our thinking. It informs our sense of what is plausible and possible. And so, in the face of an increasingly hostile and seemingly intractable cultural situation many are concluding that real transformation is impossible.

    mark: Is the gospel less true if the world doesn’t believe it? Is the gospel less true if a church doesn’t believe it? Is the hope to change the world the gospel? Evans has a chicken and egg question.. It’s like possibility thinking (“faith healing”)—if you think you can transform things, you can transform things. On the other hand, if history does not get transformed, it must be your fault for not believing that history can get transformed.


  42. Scott Clark—This is not to say that there was no diversity within Reformed orthodoxy

    William Evans—Number Ten: You define the “gospel” primarily in terms of freedom from the condemnation of sin (justification) rather than freedom from both the condemnation and the power of sin (justification and sanctification).

    Number Nine: You are much more much more concerned about legalism than antinomianism.

    Number Eight: You view sanctification as a more or less optional add-on to justification (or maybe as an evidence of justification, though you are concerned that even that concession to necessity might be potentially legalistic) rather than as grace parallel to justification that comes with our union with Christ and that is essential to the walk of faith and the path of salvation.

    Number Seven: You sense a tension between the Christ pro nobis (Christ for us) and the Christ in nobis (Christ in us). Thus, you are very suspicious of those you deride as “unionists” who want to see justification as communicated to the Christian through spiritual union with Christ.

    Number Six: It is not enough to affirm that justification is forensic and synthetic (a justification of the ungodly that involves the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the merits of Christ) and received by faith as the instrument that unites us to Christ who is our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Rather, if the gratuity of justification is to be properly safeguarded justification must be completely abstracted from transformation of life. Thus, if justification from eternity is too daring for you, you place heavy emphasis on an ordo salutis (order of salvation) that seeks logically and temporally to separate justification and transformation.

    Number Five: In order further to keep justification and sanctification separate you are suspicious of any real transformation intrinsic to the Christian. Thus, your view of sanctification tends to be that of a divine actualism.

    Number Four: it is difficult to completely expunge the notion of conditionality from the concept of covenant and you may be dimly aware of the way that foregrounding the covenant theme has placed the Reformed tradition on the horns of the conditionality/unconditionality dilemma, and so you may eventually feel the tug of Lutheranism.


  43. Carl Truman on Thomas Aquinas
    George Marsden on Jonathan Edwards
    D H Hart on John Williamson Nevin
    Sinclair Ferguson on Thomas Boston
    Peter Lillback on George Washington

    How much irony and poetry would it take for a historian to be cynical in all directions?

    dgh—Those who know the breadth of the Reformed tradition as Mark Jones does are different from and less appealing than the Truly Reformed who read the Reformed confessions in a wooden manner (unlike someone trained in historical theology):

    tip for the TRS
    after you remove the l from the tulip
    then explain how the u stands for union
    not unconditional

    “covenant love” not governed by “election love”

    Evans—“The problem has to do with the relation of the present verdict and the final verdict. Wright seems to equivocate on the identity of these two verdicts. He argues that the future verdict is according to works and will truly reflect what people have actually done. In the end, these seem to be separate verdicts, the congruence of which is maintained by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.



  44. dgh: “It is in fact odd to see folks express surprise when others don’t agree with them”.

    It’s not only the winners who get to define history, but also those on the margins, in the OPC, who represent the “historic scholastic” tradition which represents Calvin and Luther, who stand in the “mainline” of what it means to be “catholic”…

    So the point is to understand history not transform history? Except we can’t understand the history that happens in our lifetimes?

    Malesic—-Response is at the center of Aquinas’s work. The disputed question, which was his mode of classroom teaching and the format of the Summa Theologiae, is built on responding to others’ ideas. There are thousands of “articles,” or points of controversy, in the Summa. In each of them, Aquinas poses a question, entertains several proposed (wrong) answers, gives his (correct) answer, and then responds critically to each of the wrong answers


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