Having Your Organism and Organizing It Too

Tim Keller devotes several chapters to cultural engagement in his book Center Church. In it he shows that he may have as much time as Fr. Dwight does for reading and reflection beyond sermon prep. Keller sees problems in both the transformational model and 2k, and in his ever constant search for a “third” way, one that adheres to the — wait for it — center rather than to margins or extremes, he winds up in solidarity with Abraham Kuyper:

Kuyper taught that the church institutional was the gathered church, organized under its officers and ministers. It is called to do “Word and sacrament,” to preach the gospel, baptize, and make disciples. (240)

There you have conceivably the 2k aspect of Kuyper, one that preserves the church’s task of evangelism and discipleship.

But Kuyper also thought of the church as organic, and here comes the camel’s nose:

[This refers] to all Christians living in the world who have been discipled and equipped to bring the gospel to bear on all of life. . . . As Christians in the world, they are still to think and work together, banding together in creative forms being the church organic that the church institutional has discipled them to be. (241)

Notice how the church organic doesn’t result in parachurch agencies that have their own non-ecclesiastical oversight. (Notice too that Redeemer PCA has lots of non-Word-&-sacrament activities in its budget lines, the finances overseen by officers called to minister Word and sacrament.) No, the model here is church officers teaching and equipping believers how to engage the culture. (Maybe a bakery and vintner ministry at least for the Lord’s Supper?) Part of discipleship is applying the gospel to culture. The church organized becomes the same thing as the church organic.

Yet to be factored into this selective appeal to Kuyper — apart from sphere sovereignty which might give parents rather than church officers lots of room for engaging the culture — is whether the Bible actually allows Christians to engage the culture in the name of the gospel. It sounds nice, but if you take Christian liberty seriously, one church organicist’s gospel engagement is another believer’s abuse of Scripture. And there goes all that organic unity in the body of Christ except for spiritual earnestness.

The other problem is the Confession of Faith’s, the one that Keller subscribed, assertion that synods and councils are not to speak to non-ecclesiastical matters (31.4). If a synod or council shouldn’t address non-spiritual matters, why should a session or Reformed pastor?

Rather than making a coherent case for why Christians must — even should — engage the culture, Keller reads like he is looking for a rationale for what Redeemer NYC already does.

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21 thoughts on “Having Your Organism and Organizing It Too

  1. I really doubt Kuyper would recognize much of what goes on in his name today.

    Even today’s culture worshipers had the ol boy right. Do none of them see that His Amsterdam sure didn’t last very long?

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  2. Greg The Terrible
    Posted August 29, 2015 at 1:11 am | Permalink
    I really doubt Kuyper would recognize much of what goes on in his name today.

    Even today’s culture worshipers had the ol boy right. Do none of them see that His Amsterdam sure didn’t last very long?

    Exc observation, Mr. Turrible. The question would be whether Kuyper’s Last Stand was a last stand. Amsterdam is starting to ban whores and drugs, you could look it up. And the decline of Christendom has left the door open for Islamism to slip in. Nature–natural law–abhors a vacuum.

    All yours, Dr. Calvinism: A History.

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  3. It’s been a long day. This is supposed to read like this.
    ———————————————————————————
    I really doubt Kuyper would recognize much of what goes on in his name today.

    Even if today’s culture worshipers had the ol boy right. Do none of them see that His Amsterdam sure didn’t last very long?

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  4. Greg The Terrible
    Posted August 29, 2015 at 1:54 am | Permalink
    It’s been a long day. This is supposed to read like this.
    ———————————————————————————
    I really doubt Kuyper would recognize much of what goes on in his name today.

    Even if today’s culture worshipers had the ol boy right. Do none of them see that His Amsterdam sure didn’t last very long?

    And this is supposed to read like this. Hope you’re not bigtiming, Greg. It was a good post.

    —Exc observation, Mr. Turrible. The question would be whether Kuyper’s Last Stand was a last stand. Amsterdam is starting to ban whores and drugs, you could look it up. And the decline of Christendom has left the door open for Islamism to slip in. Nature–natural law–abhors a vacuum.

    All yours, Dr. Calvinism: A History.

    ———————————————————————————

    Dr. Calvinism: A History is bigtiming Tim Keller, Greg. Let’s acknowledge that, then see where it goes.

    And if you want to do 20th c. Kuyper vs. 21st c. Amsterdam, so much the better, Greg. Dr. Calvinism is a historian, not a theologian, after all. Mebbe he’ll bigtime us all. 😉

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  5. “…the model here is church officers teaching and equipping believers how to engage the culture. (Maybe a bakery and vintner ministry at least for the Lord’s Supper?) Part of discipleship is applying the gospel to culture. The church organized becomes the same thing as the church organic.”

    GW: Seems to me the issue here is what is meant by “applying the gospel to culture.” Defining our terms is essential. If that is simply spiritual-sounding code language for living out the implications of our confession of Christ’s Lordship within the context our daily lives and in society (for example, be an honest, hard-working employee, be faithful to your spouse, being a responsible, law-abiding citizen; in brief love your neighbor as yourself), then not even us 2kers would argue with that. But if it means “Christianizing” the realm of common grace, whatever that might mean, then we are dealing with an over-realized eschatology and a confusion of the common and the holy.

    “Yet to be factored into this selective appeal to Kuyper…is whether the Bible actually allows Christians to engage the culture in the name of the gospel. It sounds nice, but if you take Christian liberty seriously, one church organicist’s gospel engagement is another believer’s abuse of Scripture.”

    GW: In my mind, one example of abusing Scripture with this emphasis on “engaging the culture with the gospel” is the “Jesus Film” put out by the parachurch Campus Crusade organization. This is an example of a cultural tool (filmmaking) being used by well-intentioned Christians to reach unbelievers with the gospel. This evangelistic film has been shown all over the world, to (I believe) millions of people, and many so-called “decisions for Christ” have resulted. The problem is that the film breaks the second commandment (by using a human actor to depict Jesus), and is administered by a parachurch organization which cannot offer the film’s “converts” the spiritual nurture of a local visible church. Plus, I see nowhere in Scripture where God’s people are free to invent “new measures” to replace the preaching of the Word as an evangelistic tool, and one suspects that many of these “converts” are shallow soil converts who will soon wither up into quick apostasy. So much for “applying the gospel to culture.”

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  6. I think the Christian liberty argument is more than just a bit of a stretch. It is more less an apologetic for the evangelism approach that waits for the sinner to approach the Christan. Paul certainly engaged culture and used it to evangelize though he did it in a different way than Keller is. Here, we should remember that while principles may be absolute, implementation can be relative because the times do change. And Heaven forbid that we engage in “non-Word-&-sacraments” activities such as helping those in need. Here, we should think of the group who most opposed Jesus’ showing compassion during His ministry and what “gospel” they were promoting.

    I think of Keller’s cultural engagement and his book Center Church in the same way in that they both have merits and problems. I think Keller’s book is the best book he has written. It’s an excellent reference book and calls on us to recognize the weaknesses of the Christian group we belong to and the strengths exhibited by groups other than our own. The problem is that Keller’s description of the other groups is understandably controlled by the perspectives of his own group’s model of thought. Here, I wish that he had reached out to leaders from the other groups so that they could write what they think about their own group. That would especially be pertinent for him to do that when providing a description of 2KT. He should have let 2Kers describe the strengths and weakness of their own theology.

    In the end, I fail to understand the 2Ker fuss over Keller. For despite the different model of thought he uses to engage culture, his proposals for how he implements that engagement is not significantly different from how many 2Kers engage culture. Outside of challenging the systemic racism that still persists in our society, Keller refrains from preaching against particular corporate sins and thus, for the most part, waits for nonChristians to approach Christians to hear the Gospel.

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  7. “banding together in creative forms being the church organic…”

    Gotham is shining the BS signal in the sky as Commissioner Gordon anxiously awaits the arrival of Karl Pilkington as BS man.

    That joke will never reach more than 2% of its readers.

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  8. …………but man does it sell and get you paid. I’m gonna go to seminary just so I can start hawking this stuff and make six figures and have urrbody love me for it.

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  9. I go to a Redeemer church plant.

    Eeeeh.

    For the pastors that take it seriously, I see more talk about having churches everywhere in the city instead of, ya know, pastoring their own church.

    For those that don’t, you get practical 2K-ism.

    Let me tell you, it’s awkward being a confessional Presbyterian in an ECO church 😛

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  10. Well the worship is mixed, but.

    A lot of the younger lay persons are more conservative than the Session. A lot of YEC folk (though I’d consider myself OEC). The Biblically literate younger women don’t wanna be in the Session, because they think they’d be sinning.

    The worship leader our congregation has, though he’s following orders from Mother Church (we are a Redeemer plant after all) is slowly turning his head towards Psalm singing and hymnody after hearing me explain to him while pop Christian music cannot work in a congregational setting.

    Not only that, the youth minister and other young staffer seem to respect me and are open the Westminster Standards.

    The way I see it, it is very possible that if the younger folk take positions of “power” in 10 to 20 years, we could join the OPC.

    I don’t see this as very likely, of course.

    And why am I in ECO?

    Because the PCA Redeemer church plant didn’t wanna pay for my seminary education because it’s not in the budget , even though they have money for fancy lights and starting their own un-accredited church planting incubator thing.

    Saying that, I love the people in the ECO congregation I serve, I respect the pastor and Session (even the women), and I’m happy they’re funding me to be cranky.

    But as someone who’s been in the Redeemer system for a while, and is considering getting married early to move to Kansas City MO with his fiancee, Redeemer churches don’t do pastoral work. They either do therapy or social justice, and if they do pastoral work, it’s because they do things that the Old School agitate for.

    Don’t know what I’ll do after seminary though. There’s no place for an Old School Pres. Church in SoFL, at least, I don’t see myself “planting a church”.

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  11. SJG – What’s your connection to KCMO (the aforementioned fiancee, perhaps?) If you ever do get here, there are a couple of good places to land, including at least a couple of PCA congregations and one OPC.

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  12. I wonder if this neo-Calvinist ecclesiology applies to TKNY:

    Herman Dooyeweerd (one might call him the father of Neo-Calvinist philosophy) helpfully distinguishes between institutional communities and voluntary associations. The former category has a binding and normative character that supersedes the consent of its individual members. The church should be seen in this light, contrary to the prevailing liberal (in the classical sense of that term) tendencies of many American evangelicals. The church is less like a country club and more like a marriage; one might choose to separate oneself from it, but not without causing serious moral and spiritual damage.

    Does PCA church polity have this kind of binding address on Tim Keller?

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