While Kevin DeYoung summons James Bannerman to help Bill Evans figure out 2k, I will once again appeal to the doctrinal standards of the Reformed churches. Evans summarizes the “cash value” of 2k as follows:
I think the basics can be summarized as follows: (1) There are two realms [or Kingdoms]—a. the world, which is governed by creational wisdom/natural law, and b. the Church, which is shaped and governed by the Gospel. (2) There is no distinctively “Christian worldview” that is to be applied to all of life (i.e., no Christian-worldview perspective on politics, economics, etc.). (3) Christian efforts to transform or redeem society will inevitably fail, and the ministry of the Church is exclusively spiritual in nature.
Since Evans’ summary received scholarly blessing on Facebook (always a reliable theological resource), he felt comfortable proceeding to register three complaints against 2k, all of which he also needs to take to the Reformed churches that confess either the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity:
“First, there is a failure to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God. More specifically, the institutional Church is wrongly equated with the Kingdom.”
As an accommodated Reformed Protestant living under Dutch neo-Calvinist hegemony, Evans goes on to appeal to the “seminal” Herman Ridderbos to show that the kingdom is bigger than the church. Maybe, but that is not what Evans’ communion, the OPC, or the PCA confess:
The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (25.2)
I don’t blame Evans for being confused on this one. I still have vivid memories of a conference in Colorado where I presented a paper on the spirituality of the church and appealed to the confession on the visible church only to receive questions from two notable ministers (one from the OPC, one from the PCA) about whether I really believed this. The influence of Ridderbos has been so great that we Presbyterians no longer believe that we confess.
“Second, 2K theology persistently evinces a radical dualism in its understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption. There is a denial of any real continuity or carryover from the old creation to the new.”
Perhaps Evans doesn’t remember the split in 1937 between the Bible and Orthodox Presbyterians, but one of the controverted points concerned whether the church would tolerate a variety of views about the millennium. The OPC came down on the side of eschatological liberty, and opted to require only the language of the Confession of Faith. The last two chapters of the Confession (32 and 33) are completely silent about the relationship between the existing creation and glorification, other than to affirm that bodies will be resurrected and judged, with believers going “into everlasting life, and receiv[ing] that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord” and the “wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, . . . be[ing] cast into eternal torments, and . . .punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”
If Evans wants to argue for a confessional amendment that would require postmillenialism, he is free to do so. But he is wrong to argue that 2k is somehow outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy, unless he wants to define that narrowly — and dare I say provincially — with a certain strain of extra-confessional Reformed Protestantism.
“Third (and most important), there seems to be at work in 2K a real skepticism about any sort of intrinsic transformation—personal or corporate. In an earlier post on this topic I noted that there is “a connection between personal transformation, or individual soteriology, and corporate transformation, and battle lines on the question of individual soteriology have been sharply drawn more recently.” Related to this, there is in 2K a persistently disjunctive impulse—separating sanctification and justification, Law and Gospel (another Lutheran distinctive), the transformatory and the forensic, the kingdom of the world and the institutional Church.”
Again, Evans holds 2k up to a standard that may have an informal consensus (not here of course) but that has no confessional standing among the Reformed churches. For instance, nowhere do the Reformed confessions or catechisms state or imply that sanctification of the person leads to transformation of society:
1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (Confession of Faith, 16)
Evans may think that sanctified saints (pardon the redundancy) will make the world a better place, but the confession only speaks of the “whole man” not the whole world.
Meanwhile, he trots out once again the Niebuhrian boilerplate on Lutheranism and Christ and culture (was ever a liberal Protestant ever followed so carefully?), and fails to remember what the Heidelberg Catechism says about law and gospel:
Question 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?
Answer: Out of the law of God.
Question 4. What does the law of God require of us?
Answer: Christ teaches us that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Question 5. Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?
Answer: In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbour. . . .
Question 14. Can there be found anywhere, one, who is a mere creature, able to satisfy for us?
Answer: None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, so as to deliver others from it.
Question 18. Who then is that Mediator, who is in one person both very God, and a real righteous man?
Answer: Our Lord Jesus Christ: “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.
Question 19. Whence knowest thou this?
Answer: From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly, has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.
Question 21. What is true faith?
Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
One of the more curious features of the current debate over 2k is that it comes from folks in the orbit of Dutch Calvinism, a variety of Reformed Protestantism that was arguably the least hostile to Lutheranism of the major branches of Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Indeed, Heidelberg has the law-gospel dynamic woven into its teaching. But that won’t stop 2k critics from the philosophical parochialism that searches for a version of Calvinism that is intellectually self-contained and pure. Sometimes that urge for purity is so strong that 2k’s critics even forget to check what the Reformed churches confessed and continue to confess.
Maybe the churches were wrong. We have ways of amending the confessions since we don’t believe in infallible popes or churches inerrant. But if neo-Calvinists were to claim that the Reformed churches erred on the kingdom of Christ, or eschatology, or sanctification, then their argument that 2k is outside the mainstream would put them a good stone’s throw from that stream. Confessionalist, confess thyself.