Christ and City, City and Celebrity

I followed Dr. Kloosterman’s advice (is this a two-way advice street?) and listened to Tim Keller’s sermon on politics. It strikes me that Keller’s rendering of Render unto Caesar is a way to avoid partisan politics while also keeping the flame of political engagement bright and inflaming. TKNY will not be captive to either liberals or conservatives but he won’t abandon N.T. Wright or Abraham Kuyper.

What I found difficult to fathom was the harmony between Keller’s understanding of the gospel and how it upsets worldly ambitions with his own standing not just in Presbyterian circles but in American Christianity more generally. After all, if he had been a pastor in Kalamazoo (think Kevin DeYoung in Lansing or any pastor in Birmingham, Alabama), he might have achieved a spot in the Gospel Coalition’s roster of speakers and bloggers. But without his apparent success in the most powerful and wealthiest city in the world (or at least the West), would people listen as attentively when TKNY speaks? Yes, celebrity is in view, but celebrity includes all sorts of American associations with numbers, size, success, wealth, and influence.

Think, for instance, of what Keller says about the meaning of the gospel:

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

All of that is true. But it is not true of Keller’s or Redeemer’s reputation, status, or celebrity. In fact, my jaw dropped when I recently saw that Redeemer NYC’s expenses for 2012 were over $21 million. (In contrast, the entire budget for the OPC’s General Assembly this year — which includes foreign and home missions — is about $3.8 million.) New York is an expensive place to live and work. It, like the federal government, sure do take a bite. In Keller’s case it is a considerable part of his visibility and fame. At the same time, using NYC’s power and wealth to enhance ministerial reputation is not exactly the fruit of the gospel that Keller understands and preaches it.

A better city for cultivating a gospel sensibility, one that reverses our world’s expectations for success and wealth, is Istanbul, which Orham Pamuk describes in the following manner:

. . . in Istanbul the remains of a glorious past and civilization are everywhere visible. No matter how ill-kept they are, no matter how neglected or hemmed in they are by concrete monstrosities, the great mosques, and other monuments of the city, as well as the lesser detritus of empire in every side street and corner — the little arches, fountains and neighbourhood mosques — inflict heartache on all who live among them. . . . [F]or the city’s more sensitive and attuned residents, these ruins are reminders that the present city is so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to the same heights of wealth, power, and culture. It is no more possible to take pride in these neglected dwellings, in which dirt, dust and mud have blended into their surroundings, than it is to rejoice in the beautiful old wooden houses that as a child I watched burn down one by one. (Istanbul: Memories and the City, 91)

50 thoughts on “Christ and City, City and Celebrity

  1. A telling golden nugget from the annual report:

    59 deacons and deaconesses served hundreds of clients.

    Not of fan of TKNY’s church government or their appropriation of government/business speak and “best practices.”


  2. So, I achieve the end product of the health and wealth gospel; health and wealth, but maybe couched as ‘true health and true wealth’ but by means of reverse psychology? This is the counter-intuitive nature of the gospel? Or better the kingdom of God? And I’m not a protestant liberal because I still believe in innerancy and supernaturalism, but I’m appropriating all the other parts, primarily a change in the meaning of grace, salvation, kingdom of God, and the gospel by means of contextualization which allows for a re-imagining of the message and church. Oh,ok. I prefer the honesty of the higher critics; “Jesus didn’t really say…”


  3. Wow, our missionaries are OK on $3.80? Hyuk hyuk hyuk.

    Seriously though, with great power comes great responsibility. Chortles, you are right to call it the Gospel-industrial-complex, or however your rightly coined it. Kudos!

    Hart quoting Trueman:

    That accountability question has always been the Achilles’ Heel of the evangelical parachurch movement. Now that there are huge sums of money involved, that question is far more pressing and yet far more complicated than ever before.


  4. sean (and chortles), the OPC will be here, if you’ve ever had too much of it, over there. Rest in that (insert emoticon).

    The problem, however, is this: what do we do when the OPC eventually jumps the shark as well?

    Pray that day never comes in our lifetimes. May we get only smaller, more unnatractive, and less consequential, as time goes on. And long live Hart.


  5. Dear AB,

    I think it is really odd to pray that we (the OPC) become smaller and less consequential. Our goal should be faithfulness even though that means being small and inconsequential – but it would be great if the LORD sent genuine Reformation and the OPC became 100 times its current size.

    Treating smaller as intrinsically better can begin to seem like sour grapes.



  6. David, I know. But it’s like the approach I finally took with my own personal web presence. Darryl calls it “less is more.”

    But yes, I actually pray for our church to grow, as I desire all true churches to bring more people into her doors. Maybe I was just bored, waiting to see who would be the one to address me and reveal my inappropriate snark.

    I’ll work on it. Take care.


  7. Well, there is an entire book in the NT which applies the principles of Matthew 5 to the largest, wealthiest Greek church of the day: I Corinthians. DA Carson gets it, in my opinion, in his little book: “The Cross and Christian Ministry.” So, all you are asking Keller to do is apply those principles to Redeemer, and himself.

    I think he is very thoughtful about the way he approaches these things, given the influence he has gained. For instance, 1) he started out in a small, rural church and repeatedly says that everything he learned about ministry, he learned there; 2) he did not start really publishing until a couple of decades of successful pastoring; 3) he does not advertise which campus he is preaching to, so as to avoid the crowds following; 4) he plans for Redeemer to split into several churches with several pastors after his retirement (hopefully they will all particularize instead of being a presbytery unto themselves as they are now, imo); 5) he is always dispassionate and respectful in responding to his critics, displaying an admirable moderation and sobriety.

    Does he do it all perfectly? Nope. But he is hardly the vainglorious figure you paint here, imo. And he, unlike so many of his disciples, does not conflate the actual gospel with social transformation. The PCA has a lot of problems, and I think a constant desire to transform culture and “be a player,” etc., lends itself to pride, which is a hindrance to true gospel work. But I am fairly sure Keller has thought through how to apply the issues of I Corinthians. Perhaps he could do more, but he is clearly aware of the issues that his own fame and influence cause him and Redeemer.


  8. DGH-In fact, my jaw dropped when I recently saw that Redeemer NYC’s expenses for 2012 were over $21 million

    Me- And that is not even where the real money is. In 2009, a new imprint was established in joint venture with the publisher Dutton, called Redeemer Books, to publish Keller’s books. If there has been any disclosure of how the equity ownership is split up or what happens to the revenues, I have not been able to find it.


  9. Chris, I’ll grant most of your points, but what troubles me is his ecclesiology and all of the MiniTims redeeming at random wherever there’s a coffee shop and a Whole Foods. And there is a definite hubris about The Brand and its devotees in that they really seem to think they’ve figured out a better way to do church and ministry.


  10. CW,

    I am hoping to get some study leave this summer, and if so, one of the articles I intend to write is: “Gentrification is not the Gospel.” So, yeah; I hope to take that on.


  11. Chris, none of what you say in points 1 through 5 has anything to do with how much his reputation is built on the power, wealth and status of NYC — and then draws lots of attention to CITIES!!!! — and thereby to himself. Has he ever refused to let the PCA make him a poster boy for home missions? Has he ever admitted how expensive the work in NYC is and how resources from the denomination and from contributors might just be used to plant 20 other churches in less expensive areas?


  12. I saw the financials for our local Redeemer plant and they received massive amounts of outside cash for the first several years. You can’t expect those architects and designer-baristas to give from day one. Too bad Paul didn’t get the memo that every startup needs a large, well-paid staff.


  13. Chris,

    That was way too reasonable of a defense. Have you learned nothing from Old Life critics here?

    Dave – “Treating smaller as intrinsically better can begin to seem like sour grapes.”

    I think that you pointing that out is sourer grapes.


  14. Here’s the test or any church that reeks of hipness and wealth:

    When you peel back the veneer and look at the average guy in the pew who has been in the church for awhile, is he clearly becoming a more mature Christian whose knowledge of the Bible and Christian theology has grown? Is he a better father, husband, and employee than he used to be? Are people in the church caring for each other?

    You have to get past this veneer in any church and look at the fruit in the life of the average long-time member.


  15. When are we going to have the Elephant Room equivalent for Nels and DG? Maybe we could even get Driscoll to moderate!

    I still say we need some kind of a word for every time NDK drops another bomb in DGH and R2K’s direction. I’m thinking something like ‘a Kloosterbleep’ should be pretty good. And Darryl has certainly been Kloosterbleepedd a few times!


  16. Yes, TKNY already IS a poster boy for home missions, by default and much to our detriment. I have often wondered if his acolytes have drifted further from the Biblical gospel than he, in fact, has, but hearing TKNY from secondary sources has horrified me so much I haven’t had the courage to investigate the primary.

    Down here in the boondocks we get our TKNY from “all the MiniTims redeeming at random.” [How one can redeem a cow pasture, the flea market or the stock car racetrack is beyond me]. Still, recasting the presentation of the gospel through the lens of TKNY’s Prodigal God, with a dash of Sonship Theology thrown in, has resulted in another gospel here on the ground in PCA land.


  17. MSL, excellent stuff from you as usual. No doubt Keller should retire to Charlotte and work on the racin’ bidness. As for animals, per a link I’ve already shared twice, one of TK’s boys recently said that your dog will definitely be redeemed and with you in the new heavens/earth. No word on cows, valued chiefly by urbanites as that which makes lattes possible. Except for the soy crowd.


  18. Imagine that. When Spurgeon saw that marketers were using him, he was concerned:

    But there’s more to Spurgeon’s story. And what often gets left out is the conclusion that Spurgeon came to later on in life.

    After Spurgeon’s pronouncement of his “smoking to the glory of God,” English businessmen began to market the cigars that Spurgeon smoked. Spurgeon once entered a store and saw a sign that said, “Spurgeon smokes!” He also heard complaints from parents who were encouraging their children not to drink alcohol or smoke, only to receive the reply, “But Spurgeon does…”

    By the 1880′s, Spurgeon’s health was failing, and so the preacher who had once justified his cigar-smoking by claiming a doctor had prescribed it as a relaxant, realized that smoking was doing more harm than good to his body. So, he gave it up.



  19. What’s the beef? Is Redeemer not doing godly things in a very hostile environment?

    Of course, they sometimes fall into syncretism–as do we all, whether the paganism with which we syncretize is small-town traditionalism, or whatever. Should we point this out to one another? Should we receive the criticism with gratitude? Certainly. But that’s not a reason to retreat to a monastery.

    I think the most serious criticism–and it is very serious–is that the Redeemer ideology romanticizes “the City.” Paul wanted to go to Rome, but he had no illusions about it. I don’t know about Mr. Keller himself, but there certainly are people who think of themselves as his disciples, who do think they are closer to God, the bigger the city they live and work in is. There are people who want to think that urban attitudes ad lifestyles are somehow more “redeemable” than others. Interestingly, the urban lifestyles they have in mind are Yuppie lifestyles rather than, say, those of the inner city, or even those of the immigrant inner city as it was a century ago (think Tammany Hall or H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N).


  20. Dan, a presbyterian churchman’s main problem with TKNY is his effect on church order. He’s too big to fail, or err. He’s making the reformed world safe for all sorts of innovations and mutations. And his proteges, wannabes, and mini-mes are running amok.


  21. Among the many things wrong with TKNY, the biggest issue is the rebranding of an entire denomination in his image. He willingly franchises, for money, his particular re-imagined church for mass consumption in a one-size fits all, Warrenish styled-lump it or leave it, autocratic church planting scheme. Purposely stripped of all historic and reformed language(insider talk), not unwittingly embarrassed of it’s presbyterian, reformed, confessionalism and diminishes all opposition as ‘against the gospel’. Taking a page straight from the realtor’s maxim of ‘put them with their own’, they market the church as for the city on the coattails of the white, urban renewal of downtown areas and seek to justify their purposeful pursuit of moneyed white folks as the bedrock of a new church and era built on the back of philanthropy, which is just another way of saying; ‘we’re in pursuit of money and power.’ Once they’ve established their foothold, if they haven’t already, they generally brow beat the presbytery into submission through their aforementioned acquisition of people and money. Do they see themselves this way? Of course not. Does the stip club owner think he’s just a heady businessman? Of course he does. I can damn near talk myself into anything too.


  22. Syncretism was considered no big deal in the OT, right? Or not. Remember the smoking holes in the ground left more than once by Israeli syncretism. “Doing godly things” — good. Worshiping biblically and ordering the church properly (for the good of the sheep, after all) — much better.


  23. Sean, he’s just as happy to help plant a baptist church as a PCA church though. The message — standards, schmandards. What counts is the Redeemer way — The City.


  24. Because of the doctrine of election, Reformed theology and pragmatism make very strange bedfellows. If God is the one saving people, not us and our innovative methods, why do we think we need to use innovative methods?


  25. How many adjustments would need to be made to what Keller says about the meaning of the gospel to make a good “synagogue sermon”? Or “mosque sermon”? Nothing about the imputation by God of the sins of the elect to Christ so that Christ’s death satisfied God’s penalty. Isn’t the synagogue doing religious things in a very hostile environment?

    Truly religious and humble people win through losing, achieve power through weakness and service, and come to fame and wealth via giving all away. The good guys are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the non-religious with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand the divine covenantal love and grace , we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal which waits for pay-offs in the age to come liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. Being religious, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of not being really religious,,,,

    What would Nietzsche say? The religious folks, they always want to get paid, even if they have to wait 20 years for it to happen….


  26. Mark, you brought to mind my copy of Trueman’s Minority Report which has a profile of the german philologist, as well as this, which deserves a re-read by yours truly.

    Hadn’t heard that quote by him before. Muchas gracias.


  27. DGH: “Has he ever refused to let the PCA make him a poster boy for home missions? Has he ever admitted how expensive the work in NYC is and how resources from the denomination and from contributors might just be used to plant 20 other churches in less expensive areas?”

    1) I don’t know how many things he has said “no” to. I am one of those who would like to see him and a couple of others preach less at our G.A., to make room for lesser known preachers. In the past 20 years the PCA has become less and less grassroots as Atlanta has consolidated power in the name of quality control of G.A., and I think that is unfortunate and is against the principles of I Corinthians 3-4.

    2) I am not sure. One of the principles Paul keeps calling the Corinthians to is to conform to the wider church (i.e. smaller churches) and not think they are something special (e.g. I Cor 4:6-7). I do think Redeemer errs in this, i.e. the way they handle women deacons, and their multi-site model, and in saying that influencing centers of culture is more important than rural souls. But almost all big churches in the PCA do this — they need presbytery less than the rest of us, it seems. It has more to do with PCA culture than just Redeemer I think.

    I basically like what Dan Reuer said above. And to say it again, all of this can be summed up by the simple phrase, gentrification is not the gospel. It’s almost like folks can’t read the NT straight up, how it is about the saving of souls and planting of churches. To gather and perfect the saints. Like they are bored with this and have to become experts on all things, as the Church.


  28. If you insist on attaching to a rock star/celebrity pastor, you are going to be held responsible for all the shifts and changes he makes over the next few years. It takes a lot of energy and so much time is wasted having to convince yourself that this new change is for the best.

    And eventually he will do something that is disgraceful and you’ll have to reevaluate your faith all over again.

    Then you learn that the local church, where the pastor knows your name and can ask a useful question about your personal life when you meet, is a better alternative.


  29. Mike, nothing wrong with raggin’ the urbanites about this. It’s just high-brow version of biker Sundays, motorcycle ministries, wild game evangelistic dinners, and preachers in costumes who zoom into the pulpit on wire that the unwashed babdists and evanjellyfish have been plying for years.


  30. This post makes me sad. It appears you listened to a Keller sermon on politics trying to find something wrong that you could highlight on a post. What did you learn from the sermon that was good or edifying? Or were you just listening to pull out a soundbite.
    It also appears the post is based on a large amount of conjecture, assumption and portrayal of ill intent. Would Keller be as popular in Alabama as in NYC? Who knows? Its based on conjecture. But it looks that you are assuming Keller moved to NYC with the ill intent of seeking celebrity wealth and power. Is that what you really want to assert about another minister of the gospel?
    It also is filled with logical fallacies. Beyond the apparent “appeal to probability, emotion, and fear” there is a snobbery about the budget of Redeemer. Of course that is a lot of money, which is why it is easy to appeal to, but have you seen the budget breakdown. Do you know where it goes? I would imagine your making assumptions and coyly working in a reference of the federal government for the added guilt by association.
    As one who has enjoyed your books, articles and posts in the past this article makes me sad. It seems desperate. It doesn’t give Keller the benefit of the doubt or think more highly of others.


  31. al, my latest golf score made me sad, also. Whaddaya gonna do? Cheer up, fellow anonymous internet interlocutor. And keep expressing those emotions, just no emoticons (insert emoticon), yo.


  32. I agree with al and Chris, your post engages in innuendo and falsely impugns Tim Keller’s motives. If he is guilty of your accusations then you have not shown how.


  33. DJK, who’s questioning motives? You?

    What the post points out is the disparity between the gospel as Keller rightly understands it and the hype surrounding his promotion of big, hip, cities. Smart people might notice that inherent tension.


  34. You imply that he is “using NYC’s power and wealth to enhance ministerial reputation” which I think is unsubstantiated. I think you are falsely ascribing to him fame-seeking motives. Like Spurgeon, Keller has had great success in proclaiming the gospel in a major city very much contrary to our expectations of such places. The mere fact that powerful gospel preaching has borne great fruit should not be used as a sign of fame-seeking on the part of the preacher so used by the Lord. I think of New York City as very much an “Istanbul” full of the “ruins” of massive churches that once preached the gospel. When Keller first went there who would have predicted that sons of Abraham could be raised from such stones. His fame is not from him seeking it but from others praising the good work that has been done through his preaching, his writing, and the church he has pastored. Redeemer is far and away the least flashy, trendy, and media oriented large congregation in the city. Like Spurgeon, Keller’s “fame” is well-deserved because of his faithfulness to the Word and his gifting as a teacher and preacher. If you find fault with him then you need to make a better case.


  35. DJK, I have not said that Keller sought this. I will say that he has not avoided it. What I am saying is that most of us are so enamored of big cities — and has Keller promoted big cities, I believe it’s the theme of his pastorate — and if Keller had been working in Detroit, he would not be attracting this kind of attention. Harry Reeder is a big deal in Birmingham. Who knows him?

    “The mere fact that powerful gospel preaching has borne great fruit” — that is precisely the issue.


  36. That measure of success certainly leads to various temptations. You’re undoubtedly right that the fact that he has succeeded in New York is key to his reputation. However, I don’t think that’s inappropriate. With all respect for Harry Reeder and Briarwood, Birmingham is in the Bible belt. When Keller went to New York there was hardly a good church on the island of Manhattan. In so far as Keller has made it his mission to build ministry in secular cities he is reaching a previously barely reached mission field.

    I would add that his written work plays a distinct role in reaching a younger secular audience that is not the case for any other current writer. Just the other week a young, secular, worldly individual I know came to accept Christian sexual morality, including on homosexuality, from reading Keller’s work. I don’t see that kind of regular fruit to such a great extent from other writers.

    I would disagree with you and say I think Keller has taken many steps to avoid a cult of celebrity. He’s done a better job than Piper, who’s gotten in trouble on twitter, and is lightyears better than Driscoll. It is always a concern when one individual gains such a position of prominence. When I first questioned Keller’s fame I ultimately came to view it as acceptable by analogy to Spurgeon. That Keller has used his position to build up church planting in secular urban contexts is something for which I’m profoundly thankful. I can only hope that he keeps himself from temptation and is successful in his efforts to establish the Redeemer campuses as congregations independent of his own celebrity.


  37. DJK, I’m not sure tweeting or not is the best measure of someone’s disclaiming celebrity. From what I hear from PCAers, Keller firmly let himself be inserted into church-planting strategy and assessment of church planters by PCA officials. Why not say, you guys are charged with doing this. What I have done in NYC stems from a variety of circumstances that may or may not be repeatable. So go ahead, I’ll pray for your efforts but let me continue with my work here. No Keller didn’t do that. Instead, he let his church become the model and himself the poster boy for church planting in the PCA. That’s a much better measure of celebrity than a random twit.

    As for bring the gospel to a secular culture, I know of Reformed churches in New York City that were there well before Keller and have seen Redeemer set up shop like a Walmart disregarding mom and pop stores. Plus, who is going to Redeemer? Secular elites, or evangelicals in grad school and new to professions?

    For one thing, Keller focused his church plant on the city’s urban professionals, a class of people who, by definition, don’t necessarily mesh well with either the city’s dwindling stock of middle-class earners, or its increasing number of people of even lowlier social standing. If de Blasio is going to start playing class warfare, Redeemer’s target demographic may tire of being perceived as an economic liability.

    For another, ministry in urban markets already struggles with the intense impermanence of career-chasing members who transition into and out of cities at the behest of job opportunities. Should de Blasio give New York’s corporate citizens a cold shoulder, there’s little keeping many companies in the city other than the recruiting edge they get from Gotham’s hedonistic urban allure. Such intangibles could become prohibitive quickly if companies are forced to re-evaluate their balance sheets.

    Plus, socially liberal urban politicians are not known for embracing quality-of-life issues as much as their suburban counterparts are, or for their crime-fighting discipline, or their concern for traditional, proven educational practices in public schools. As it is, private schools in New York can cost more than $40,000 per year per pupil, demand is so great. . . .

    It’s an inequity that could also validate the suspicions that New York’s native poor have towards interloping rich whites, the type of people attending Keller’s various congregations throughout Manhattan. It’s also an inequity that banks on charity not as an opportunity for advancement, but as simply another enabler for attitudes and lifestyles that perpetuate poverty cycles instead of break them.


  38. DJK – Like Spurgeon, Keller has had great success in proclaiming the gospel in a major city very much contrary to our expectations of such places.

    Erik – In a city of 7 million people could you not get several hundred or even several thousand people to rally around pretty much any flag you plant, provided you throw enough money at it? If I started a nudist church devoted to communicating with extraterrestrials and had someone to bankroll it I could probably get a following.


  39. And as far as being amazed that X could happen in NYC goes, people move to NYC from all over the country, even people who were raised in Buffalo Breath Bible Church out in the sticks. Most Americans still come from some kind of church background.


  40. DJK – I would add that his written work plays a distinct role in reaching a younger secular audience that is not the case for any other current writer. Just the other week a young, secular, worldly individual I know came to accept Christian sexual morality, including on homosexuality, from reading Keller’s work. I don’t see that kind of regular fruit to such a great extent from other writers.

    Erik – God forbid we should ever expect people to just read the Bible on their own to learn about the Law of God and the gospel.


  41. The biggest problem I have with all this is the degree in which it involves kowtowing to wealth, privilege, education, and vocation. When we lead with things like “The gospel has something to say about the fashion industry” or “Jesus informs the arts”, we change the message of the gospel from “You’re a sinner in serious trouble who needs to repent” to “Jesus is here to support you in what you already find interesting”. I may be an accountant, have a fair bit of money, and like to collect books, but none of that is doing jack squat for me on judgment day. If anything, I need to beware of them becoming idols and hindering my Christian faith. People who gravitate to NYC already have a propensity to think they are a big deal and have a lot of love for all the shiny things this world has to offer. They need to be disabused of those illusions, not reinforced in them. Scripture warns us of the love of money and tells us that this world is passing away. If we care about people we give them a clear Scriptural message, realizing that most will reject it, as Scripture tells us will happen. Darryl makes the point that there have been faithful, small P&R churches in NYC bringing this message. Lord willing they will continue to do so. Time will tell if the Redeemers of the world will join them or just prove to be a passing fad.


  42. On the topic of things that pass away, I continued my frequently eyebrow-raising Sunday reading of “Christian Renewal” today. In the April 16, 2014 issue Rev. Doug Barnes, pastor of Covenant Reformed in Pella (the consistory that is bringing the “1976 Psalter/Belgic 36” overture in Synod Visalia next month) has a piece “The World and the Christian as Citizen – Review of ‘The World Our Home’ by Dr. C. Van der Waal; Inheritance Publications, Neelandia AB”.

    Summary – 2K is peeing on the Cheerios of a lot of Reformed people who are excited about Kuyper’s vision and they continue to seek out sources to fight back.

    Now let me say first that Rev. Barnes is a good man, as is elder Van Der Molen, as is Nelson Kloosterman. I have nothing personal against any of these guys. It is remarkable to me as someone who didn’t grow up in Reformed Circles and came to the Three Forms of Unity “clean” how entrenched so many of these men are in Kuyperianism — a “worldview” developed by Kupyer that Van Drunen makes the case (compellingly, I believe) involves a lot of novelty and departure from Reformed thinkers that preceded him.

    Barnes begins by asking the question, “What is the nature of our work in the world in which we inhabit? We all must at some point confront the question: what’s the value of my blood, sweat and tears? The circuits I wire, the equipment I design, the goods I sell, the chickens I raise, the cargo I haul – what’s the significance of all that work, against the backdrop of eternity?”

    He goes on to briefly contrast the Kuyperian and 2K answers to those questions before saying, “What’s been missing is a careful, Biblical systematic evaluation of the nature of our life ‘in the world’ This has been done in Van der Waal’s ‘The World Our Home.'” (originally published in the 1970s but only recently translated into English).

    He says the book “challenges (2K) at every point”, including:

    * Challenging New Testament “motifs” that would seem to limit the import of our “worldly” work.

    * Challenging the ideas that we are “strangers” and “aliens” on this earth

    * Challenging the idea that we are sojourners dwelling temporarily in the wilderness

    * Challenging the idea that we live in the midst of Babylon.

    “Each of these motifs Van der Waal carefully examines, skillfully separating the Biblical wheat from the baseless chaff.”

    Van der Waal also goes on to “examine the degree of continuity which the Bible draws between the present age and the New Heavens and Earth. To what degree will this world be destroyed – and to what degree merely purified and perfected?”

    “Not Curtailment of life is asked of us, but reformation of life!” Van der Waal declares.

    “The Powers of the Kingdom cannot be confined inside the walls of the church building. Neither Christ nor the apostles advocated a lifestyle of fleeing from the world.”

    Barnes found “Van der Waal to be spot-on-correct 10 times for every one conclusion that was doubtful.”

    One bit of irony here, Van der Waal pastored in apartheid era South Africa.

    Now I haven’t read the book, but I think this recent overture and reviews like this show how bugged these guys are by 2K and how fervently they are scrambling for intellectual ammunition with which to fight it. The problem I think they have, though, is that Kuyperianism is for the most part a modern (late 19th century) idea formulated by one largely idiosyncratic figure who worked in a narrow cultural context. There is a huge problem that the undisputed repository of Kuyperianism has been the CRC and the URC, in which most of these guys are located, have been cut off from the CRC (by definition) for going on 20 years now. As the URC expands outside of Dutch enclaves and the context of Dutch Reformed Christian schools more “outsiders” come in to whom Kuyperianism is a hard sell.

    Why is it a hard sell? I would say it’s because it is tied to a man from a particular time and place (Kuyper), and it is largely extraconfessional and extrabiblical. Indeed, these “motifs” that Van der Waal is attempting to dismiss are core biblical ideas that conflict with Kuyperianism. They can’t be explained away without harming the biblical message.

    What is that message? That creation and our own selves are stained with sin, are headed for destruction, and have as their only hope resurrection as new creation in the age to come. Many of the things I deal with in my day-to-day existence, while sustaining my earthly life, are things I do not hope to see in the world to come. I love my wife, but she won’t be my wife any more in heaven. If I don’t have her, why do I think I’ll still have a perfected version of my house, my car, and my office? If anything, those notions are depressing, not inspiring.

    Jesus called those who wanted to follow him to die to themselves. He told stories that clearly indicated that his kingdom had little to do with the kingdoms of this world. Heidelberg 95 tells us that “Idolatry is to conceive or have something else in which to place our trust instead of, or besides, the one true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.”

    We need to be ever on guard against idolatry. Pious sounding idolatry is the most dangerous kind.


  43. The incredibly refreshing thing to me coming into the URC is how thoroughly biblical the pastor’s teaching was. Every sermon, every study of the Three Forms was grounded in Scripture, not in any kind of Dutch tradition that I was not yet up to speed with. Confessions were only as valuable as they were biblical.

    As Reformed people and as Presbyterians we need to be careful as we deal with outsiders not to assume they are familiar with our own cultural peculiarities. Anything that is in our Confessions that we can not explain biblically we had better study up on.

    As Evangelicalism gets more and more banal there will be some people who break free of its spell and come seeking something more robust, more biblical. People won’t care that “we’re Calvinists” or “We hold to the Westminster Standards”. What will be of value to them is that we can make sense of the biblical books, passages, and themes in a way that they have not encountered before.

    It becomes easy to get bogged down in our traditions and our distinctive Presbyterian & Reformed “ways” and lose sight of how biblical it all is when viewed rightly. It’s all infinitely relevant to the big questions of life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.