The Ecclesial Calvinist tries to correct the historical record by claiming that Machen and Van Til are more transformational (and less 2k) than some think. I do believe that Van Til’s record is mixed since he drank so deeply at the well of neo-Calvinism. At the same time, Van Til’s involvement in the OPC, which was hardly a transformationalist church (just ask Tim Keller), and Van Til’s vigorous work for the church would certainly complicate Evans’ invocation. Not to mention that Evans does not seem to recognize that he is no transformationalist on the order of Van Til’s rhetoric. For instance, Evans features this quotation from Van Til:
He knows that Satan seeks to destroy his Christian culture by absorbing it into the culture of those who are still apostate from Christ. He knows that the whole course of history is a life and death struggle between the culture of the prince of the powers of darkness and his Christ, who has brought life and light into the world. He knows that he must fight the battle for a Christian culture first of all within himself and then with those who seek to destroy his faith and with it all true culture. He knows that the weapons of this warfare between a Christian and the non-Christian culture are spiritual. He would deny the norm of his own culture and be untrue to his own ideal if he descended to the coarse and the uncouth, let alone to the use of physical force, as he engages his foes whom he wants to make his friends and brothers in Christ.
But when it came to the 2012 election, apparently Evans didn’t have this same knowledge:
If human redemption ultimately depends on divine activity at the end of history, then one should not try, as some have put it, to “immanentize the eschaton” in the here and now. Both Jews and Christians learned that lesson long ago as the biblical holy-war tradition was eschatologically conditioned and spiritualized. Jews wisely decided to eschew the apocalyptic impulse of the Jewish Wars in the first and second centuries, and to wait for the messiah to come and set things right. Christians did much the same thing as holy warfare motifs were understood in terms of spiritual conflict in the present and the second advent of Jesus in the future (and yes, I’m quite aware of the post-millennial scenario that achieved some popularity in more culturally optimistic times or recently as an incentive to action among Christian Reconstructionists).
When it comes to theonomy, 2k sounds pretty good to Evans.
Nor was he so confident of what Van Til knew when Evans commented on homosexuality:
It seems to me that there is a lot of soul-searching to be done. To be sure, at this point even a low-key statement of biblical morality comes across as narrow-minded and intolerant, and there is probably not much that can be done about that in the short term. But the problems are more complicated than the substance of biblical morality. First of all, we have come across as hypocritical. American Evangelicalism is, by and large, thoroughly compromised on the issue of heterosexual marriage. . . . Second, we are often perceived as majoring on condemnation rather than compassion. Having lectured every year to undergraduates on the Apostle Paul’s view of homosexuality, I’m convinced that many Evangelicals have tended to misread him in two ways—on the moral status of homosexual behavior and the appropriate response of the church.
That doesn’t sound very every-square-inchish.
But what is oddest about Evans’ recent brief against 2k is the notion that somehow he represents the mainstream of the Reformed tradition (I am not sure one exists since so many different hands and so many different circumstances informed the Reformed churches in so many different lands):
In short, what seems to be emerging is a “Reformed” theology of culture tailored for deeply pessimistic times. Like most theological and historical revisionisms, it is worth discussing. But let’s just not confuse it with the mainstream of the Reformed tradition.
The gasp you may have heard was your vinegary writer when reading a man who is in a secession church — an immigrant one to boot — talking about mainstream Reformed. Evans teaches at Esrkine Theological Seminary, an institution with roots in the original Reformed secession — the Associate Presbytery of 1733 where Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine walked away from the mainstream of the Scottish Kirk (letting goods and kindred go in Luther’s words) for the sake of the gospel and the freedom of the church. Of course, the Reformers had already left the mainstream to pursue reform (and boy did the church need it — still does). But after 1733, secession, or exiting the mainstream, was what various Reformed heroes thought necessary to protect the ministry and integrity of the church. The Afscheiding among the Dutch in 1834 left the national church to be faithful to the Three Forms of Unity. Thomas Chalmers almost a decade later led another secession group out of the Scottish Kirk, this time the Free Church, again to protect the gospel and to reject infidelities in the mainstream churches. Abraham Kuyper in 1886 would reluctantly and mournfully do the same because of the compromises in the Dutch Reformed Church. Rounding out this list was J. Gresham Machen and the OPC’s 1936 break from the PCUSA.
The historical record once again shows that being outside the mainstream is not a bad thing but may actually be what conservative Reformed Protestants and Presbyterians do. It also shows that since the Reformation churchmen and laity have considered the task of the church to be more important than the kind of social good they could accomplish from inside the mainstream churches. They also believed that sacrificing cultural connections and influence was price to be paid for faithfully ministering God’s word.
Which is why Evans other point about 2k being the theology for pessimistic times is odd. Has he not heard? Christians have always lived in pessimistic times. That’s the nature of being aliens and exiles. That’s what happens when you worship in the church militant. Sure, Christians are optimistic about going home to be with their Lord. But they’re not optimistic about making their home here, this side of glory.
And that is why Evans does not seem to be able to recognize that 2kers do want and try to make a difference in this world. The difference is what constitutes difference. 2kers are not impressed, the way Evans appears to be, with political engagement or attempts to win the culture war. 2kers, in fact, know that we are always in a battle and that culture wars often distract from the real warfare which is spiritual and that can only seen by faith and not by sight. But for some reason, the efforts of 2kers to remind the church of its higher calling, to avoid identifying the cause of Christ with “conservative” politics or Western Civilization or the politics of identity, do not impress Dr. Evans.
But maybe J. Gresham Machen will and the words he spoke to future ministers:
Remember this, at least — the things in which the world is now 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 waters; you alone, as minsters 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. (Selected Shorter Writings, 205)
When the transformationalist can say that about the ministry of the word compared to the temporal blessings of this life, we can have a conversation.