The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Two

This is part two of the interview David Strain conducted with mmmmeeeeeEEEEE:

Here’s the second installment. There’s more to come. Enjoy…..

1. Is there a connection between 19th century revival/revivalism and the kind of socio-political agendas often advocated by both the Christian Right and Left today?

Definitely. Many evangelicals and Reformed do not understand that the kind of evangelical activism they now promote or perform was first part of the Second Great Awakening – the bad one. Not only was Finney interested in converting people, but he also wanted a righteous and just society. Evangelicals responded by forming a ton of voluntary societies that did in many respects transform American society (if you were not a member of the Whig or Republican parties, you may not have appreciated all of these reforms.)

So the Second no-so-great Awakening drove a wedge between Protestants, those with a high view of the church (Episcopalians, Lutherans, and some Old School Presbyterians) and those with a low view of the church and a high view of America. The ethno-cultural school of political historians has produced a body of literature on these ecclesial differences, and this work has actually informed my own writing on confessional Protestantism. The term “confessional” itself comes from political history and it stands for high church Protestants who are less concerned about social and political matters compared to the eternal realities of the gospel.

One other historical reference worthy of comment here is that the Second not-so-great Awakening was really the soil from which the Social Gospel sprung. I sometimes wonder why today’s “conservative” evangelicals are so willing to repeat the efforts and arguments that “liberal” Protestants were making a hundred years ago. Also, if you look at the books written by leaders of the religious right, people like Falwell and Ralph Reed, you see the Second not-so-great Awakening cited as a model or inspiration for contemporary political activism.

As the kids used to say, “What’s up with that?”

2. Should the church tell people how to vote for specific candidates, based on issues like abortion or gay marriage?

Definitely not. The church may and should speak to all the laws of the Decalogue, including the sixth and the seventh. Why the first four don’t receive more attention is anyone’s guess – could it be that social activism makes matters like worship and the Sabbath less important? But beyond explaining what God’s word requires, the church needs to let members apply them in their lives according to the callings and consciences. I mean, would anyone want the church to tell members never to eat meat offered to idols? It looks to me that if Christian liberty applies to the affects of idolatry, it also applies to electoral politics and the legislators voted into office.

3. Does the church have a prophetic voice, challenging sin wherever it finds it, even in politics and culture?

It depends what you mean. Expounding and teaching God’s word does involve challenging sin, obviously. But what people often mean is they want the church to apply the truths of the word to specific circumstances. I actually think this stems from a desire for the church to be relevant, to be doing something important. If the church is the place where the kingdom of grace is advancing, I don’t see why cleaning up pockets of cultural crime in the United States is more relevant than that. So people need to see how amazing the work of the church is, and how trivial, ephemeral, and fading the affairs of politics and culture are in comparison. But even so, the church has a prophetic voice simply by proclaiming the whole counsel of God. I wonder if people who say the church needs to be a prophetic voice actually appreciate that a minister standing in the pulpit each Sunday is representing the prophetic office of Christ.

4. Is there a place for para-church agencies and what are the boundaries of legitimate para-church work?

There has to be a place for the parachurch because the church can’t run everything. So everything that is not the church is parachurch.

The real question is parachurch agencies that engage in religious work. I don’t think a hard rule exists here except in those areas of evangelism and missions, work that the church is to oversee directly. But when it comes to educational endeavors, publishing, flexibility is in order

5. How do you respond to those who believe that the work of the church is to ‘transform society’ or to ‘bring in the Kingdom’?

First, I say that the coming of the kingdom is not evident in transforming society. As I’ve said, the church through word, sacrament, and discipline, is advancing the kingdom of grace, which is hastening the kingdom of glory (I’m using the language of the Shorter Catechism here). And because the church is not called to transform society – she already has enough on her plate – then she is not called to transform society. Individual Christians in their vocations are called to a host of tasks that do, I guess, contribute to social transformation. (I don’t like that language because it has a progressive political valence that I oppose for political and cultural reasons – both libertarian and localist and at times agrarian.) But the church doesn’t transform society nor should she as an institution (in distinction from her members’ callings).

This doesn’t mean that some of the aspects of social transformation, such as government, policy, and legislation are unimportant or “worldly.” They are worldly but in the good sense of the created order and the way that God superintends this world. Society is a good thing and Christians as citizens or in other capacities should be dutiful in their obligations to neighbors and magistrates. But social transformation is not where the kingdom of Christ happens.

6. If cultural transformation isn’t the church’s work, what is?

The work of the church is word, sacrament, prayer, discipline, catechesis, diaconal care and fellowship. It is not sexy and it does not generally attract headlines. But these are God’s ordained means for building his kingdom.

21 thoughts on “The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Two

  1. Please address this, o thou Kuperians, every-square-inchers, world changers, and Wilberforcers.

    “Why the first four don’t receive more attention is anyone’s guess – could it be that social activism makes matters like worship and the Sabbath less important?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DG Hart But beyond explaining what God’s word requires, the church needs to let members apply them in their lives according to the callings and consciences.

    The church needs to let .. and to help members apply them Jesus: make disciples

    DG Hart says The work of the church is word, sacrament, prayer, discipline, catechesis, diaconal care and fellowship.

    And: Jesus: make disciples
    -Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
    -1 Corinthians 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 17b you together are God’s temple.
    -Hebrews 3: 6Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house; Ephesians 2;21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.


  3. Martin Niemoller was the son of a Lutheran pastor and a submarine commander in World War I. By the time World War II came, Martin spoke positively of his country—“When this great nation was formed, God gave it Christianity for its soul, and from these Christian roots it has grown.” Martin joined the German army with his two sons. Martin’s allegiance should have to be Christ’s kingdom, NOT to the Nazi nation

    Martin Luther–“When Christians went to war, they struck right and left and killed, and there was no difference between Christians and the heathen. But they did nothing contrary to Matthew 5;38-39 because they did it not as Christians. but as obedient subjects, under obligation to a secular authority.”

    high church, superior baptism, but we can’t do anything for most people because most people already have some inferior baptism

    David Scaer–Faith finds God in baptism where He has bound Himself.

    “To reject baptism is to repudiate Christ”. Large Catechism 4:5

    “In Baptism there is the blood and the Spirit. If you are baptized with water, the blood is sprinkled through the Word.” 40LW 30:316

    David Scaer–“Baptism not only gave entrance into the covenant, baptism was itself the covenant. Being in baptism is equivalent to being in Christ (p 261). For Calvin, reality and symbol are joined by divine command, but with Luther there is an actual perichoresis, so that one is in and with the other in an organic unity. God is really in the water and no place else and without the sign there is no salvation (p 262)

    “In the church we must judge and teach, in accordance with God’s ordered power, that without that outward baptism no one is saved.” “‘LW 3:274.

    Click to access scaersanctificationinlutherantheology.pdf


  4. ‘morning cw 🙂

    In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.


  5. D. G. Hart says: January 24, 2017 at 9:59 am
    Ali, whatever.

    ha ha.
    whatever? You mean to making disciples or to trolling.

    Ironically, in your own flawed way, I am thinking making disciples is what you really want to do. 🙂


  6. isn’t the word “reform” by definition an attempt to “take back” some square feet which used to belong to “us”?

    if we attempt to remain loyal to a second kingdom, without totally abdicating and withdrawing from Satan’s kingdoms, should we not expect to be content to be negotiating what remains in Christ’s kingdom? Agreed that the earth belongs to the Lord, and the fullness thereof, but isn’t what belongs to which kingdom an open question depending on the situation and the evolution of cultures?

    Matthew 22: 18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Jesus a denarius. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” Jesus asked them.
    21 “Caesar’s,” they said to Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

    Luther–” For think what disaster would ensue if children were not baptized. What would be the final outcome but a thoroughly heathenish existence? The stiffnecked recalcitrants are to be punished as sedition-mongers. … When it is a case of upholding some spiritual tenet, such as infant baptism and unnecessary separation, then, because these articles areimportant. . . we conclude that in these cases also the stubborn sectaries must be put to death.”


  7. cw l’unificateur says: DG, that may be the nicest thing Ali has ever said to you. I pronounce this thread unificated. She didn’t even include a Matthew 23:15 scripture reference!

    Ha ha, yeah, see how I resisted myself cw, but thanks for the verse. 🙂

    D. G. Hart says: cw, however.

    ..however…. what I said wasn’t really saying much, since anyone with a blog is trying to make ‘disciples’ of some kind or another somehow and bottomline there are only two kinds of disciples (Christian worldview alert) – those who follow Jesus and those opposed (in some way) to Jesus.


  8. D. G. Hart says: Ali, whenever.

    and so.. whenever… a blog’s “aim is to point the way back to health and vigor of our historic faith” – that – is what it must do, healthily and vigorously 🙂


  9. DGH,

    What’s your take on Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity? Seems to fit pretty neatly with your assessment of the First and Second ***** Awakenings.


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