We have heard of cultural Roman Catholics or cultural Judaism, now we have “culturalist” Presbyterians. The former are generally religious adherents who aren’t all that serious in their commitment to the church or synagogue. Here’s one description of a cultural Roman Catholic:
The majority of Catholics in the world probably fit into the category of cultural Catholics. This group is unlike any other type we have considered above. Their identification as “Catholic” is simply more cultural and social than religious. They might rightly be called “womb to tomb Catholics.” They often are born in a Hispanic, Irish, Polish, French, or Italian families — and are therefore baptized, married, and buried in the Catholic church — but have little or no concern about spiritual matters. Cultural Catholics do not understand Catholicism, nor do they seriously follow its ethical teaching. But they nevertheless have an emotional commitment to the Catholic church. When they attend Mass, it is out of habit or family obligation, not religious conviction. Being Catholic to them is essentially a cultural identity (they may even be secular or humanistic [or postmodernist] in their thinking). This is not unlike how some Jews are merely ethnically or culturally Jewish, rather than adherents to Judaism. It is also like the person who is Lutheran only because he happens to be born into a German family, or the Anglican who is only Anglican because she was born into a British family.
But a culturalist Presbyterian is a different breed of religious adherent. He may be Dutch at heart since he seems to have great affinity for Abraham Kuyper. He may also be most at home in New York City since Tim Keller seems to be the embodiment of culturalist Presbyterianism. Or he may simply be above it all (except for gender since a culturalist Presbyterian is going to be either male or female and overwhelmingly heterosexual). He is also a member of the PCA, though he values “cross-denominational unity” (we used to call that federalism applied to the churches, as in Federal Council of Churches).
A CP seeks the redemption of every sphere of life for Christ. A common complaint among culturalists is that evangelicals often reduce the biblical story to two chapters: fall and redemption. In reality, the biblical story begins with creation and ends with new creation. Just as the whole created order manifests God’s grace, so it cries out for redemption from the corrupting effects of sin (Rom. 8:19-21). In contrast to the doctrine of the “two kingdoms” or “spirituality of the church,” CPs desire to faithfully serve in God’s mission to bring all of creation under the redemptive lordship of Christ. We see no division between sacred and secular. We build upon the work of Abraham Kuyper, who famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” We value social justice and creation care, and seek to continue the mission of the Servant of Isaiah: “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isa. 42:4).
The odd thing about the culturalist Presbyterian is that if you see no division between the sacred and the secular, you don’t need to go to church on Sunday since all of life is sacred or secular depending on which breakfast cereal you eat that day, I guess. At least cultural Roman Catholics go to church on the high holy days, as do cultural Jews go to synagogue for the big events in Jewish history.
Now, I don’t really think that culturalist Presbyterians avoid church to redeem the subways. When else are they going to hear TKNY? But the logic of their position is one that makes church just one mere stop on the superhighway to cultural engagement even though it winds up recognizing complications rather than providing evidence of Christ’s every-square inch rule. You want answers to life’s complicated questions? Adopt the pose of Rodin’s most famous creation:
. . . we are wary of the knee-jerk political conservatism that is so widespread among evangelicals today. We desire to have our political views informed more by Scripture than by temperament. For example, when it comes to the matter of immigration, should our priority be protecting our borders and keeping jobs for our own citizens, or should it be “loving the sojourner among us” (Deut. 10:18-19)?7 These are complex issues, but in general CPs desire a more nuanced approach that doesn’t always conform to any particular partisan platform.
Kuyper had answers. Those he inspires understand questions.