Missionaries tell us no. Convincing indigenous peoples that they don’t need to become western or American in order to trust Christ has been a chief insight of modern missions at least since 1900. But for some of the younger Calvinistically inclined folks, the push back against liberalism also now includes a defense of cultural Christianity.
Picking your spots for such a faith surely requires discretion since the riots in Philadelphia between nativist Protestants and Irish Roman Catholics had all the earmarks of cultural Christianity. Protestants expected the public schools to use the Bible to reinforce republican norms but Roman Catholics objected that the Protestant Bible was not neutral — it was not even the right one — the Douay version. Those riots were far more about politics and culture, but defenses of cultural Christianity tread gingerly around such episodes.
What is especially perplexing about Stephen Wolfe’s defense of cultural Christianity is not simply how he might make sense of its darker moments in the past, but even how it measures up to the New Testament. For instance, he starts with this assumption:
We should first acknowledge that the civil recognition, establishment, and privileging of Christianity was the received and standard view for most of Christian history, amongst most major Christian traditions, including many Protestants, and only recently has it been rejected by a majority of western Christians.
That may be true after 350 AD, but imagine Peter and Paul thinking the privileging of Christianity was the air they breathed when they were receiving inspired and infallible revelations from the Holy Spirit.
Wolfe later asserts in a way that would have left Paul scratching his head:
Put differently, the civil and ecclesiastical are the twin species of the same genus, Christian communion. The people of God submit to these mutually supporting, separate and independent administrations because Christ is both the Creator and Ruler of creation and the Mediator of eternal life. The Christian communion is not coterminous with ecclesiastical membership, but is rather the same people submitted to both the civil and ecclesiastical.
Again, that might describe Christendom at some point, but how does it make sense of the apostle’s warning to Corinthians against going to court:
If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. (1 Cor. 6)
If the civil and ecclesiastical are mutually supporting, why is Paul so incensed with the Corinthians for going to court? Might it be that Paul and the early church had no idea about the state reinforcing Christian norms? That’s what persecution means, I believe.
Calvin’s commentary on this epistle also suggests that he, even though living at a time before 1789 when expectations for Christendom were still in place for all Christians except the Anabaptists, was not as convinced of the easy harmony between church and state. The reason is that the magistrate is an avenger and the church is an instrument of God’s love and mercy:
Those who aim at greater clearness in their statements tell us that we must distinguish between public and private revenge; for while the magistrate’s vengeance is appointed by God, those who have recourse to it do not rashly take vengeance at their own hand, but have recourse to God as an Avenger. This, it is true, is said judiciously and appropriately; but we must go a step farther; for if it be not allowable even to desire vengeance from God, then, on the same principle, it were not allowable to have recourse to the magistrate for vengeance.
I acknowledge, then, that a Christian man is altogether prohibited from revenge, so that he must not exercise it, either by himself, or by means of the magistrate, nor even desire it. If, therefore, a Christian man wishes to prosecute his rights at law, so as not to offend God, he must, above all things, take heed that he does not bring into court any desire of revenge, any corrupt affection of the mind, or anger, or, in fine, any other poison. In this matter love will be the best regulator.
Of course, Calvin is no Anabaptist. He knows the legitimacy of the magistrate and even the competency of unbelieving civil authorities. But he also senses in ways that critics of modern secular liberalism do not seem to that the purposes of church and state are distinct. One implication is that they are not necessarily harmonious. Especially if upholding the Christian ideal of love.
Perhaps cultural Christianity aspires to such an ideal. But chances are what Christian societies produce when the church is established is more on the order of manners or politeness than the spiritual fruit that comes with sanctification.
14 thoughts on “Does Cultural Christianity Advance the Gospel?”
Cultural Roman Catholicism did not pan out:
Cultural biblical religion did not work out so well:
Stan Hauerwas—In the tradition in which I was educated, it was assumed that democratic politics was normative for Christians. Because I do not share that presumption, some think I have no politics I have no objection to calling theology “Christian,” but that description does not insure that theology that bears the name will be free of ideological perversion. “Christian” is no guarantee that theology can be safeguarded against being put at the service of political loyalties and practices that betray the Gospel. To ask, “What is the relationship between Christianity and politics?” – is to have failed to account for the political reality of the church.
Hauerwas—The very way Niebuhr posed the problem of the relation of Christ to culture failed to be properly Christological, just to the extent that the Christ who is Lord is separated from Jesus of Nazareth. Niebuhr’s account of Christ as the exemplification of radical monotheism failed to give adequate expression to the full and genuine human existence of the man Jesus of Nazareth. That Christological mistake shaped the problematic character of Niebuhr’s typology because recognition of Jesus’s full humanity is necessary to recognize that Jesus himself is a “cultural reality.” As a result, the Christ of Christ and Culture was assumed to be alien to culture, thus creating the problematic that shaped Niebuhr’s book.
Hauerwas–It was sin that determined Niebuhr’s fundamental perspective on the necessity of politics. Because we are sinners justice can be achieved only by degrees of coercion, as well as resistance to coercion. The alternative – anarchy or tyranny – was the kind of dualism Niebuhr often confidently declared were our only choices if we did not strive to sustain democratic life and institution For Niebuhr, Christians have a stake in democratic societies because, given the realism that the Christian understanding of sin requires, Christians know “that a healthy society must seek to achieve the greatest possible equilibrium of power, the greatest possible centers of power, the greatest possible social checks of the administration of power, and the greatest possible inner moral check on human ambition,
D. G. Hart says: Cultural biblical religion did not work out so well:
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Pet 1)
wow, thanks for the reminders this am…..
17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.
22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
-Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
-The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person..
-The sum of Your word is truth and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting
-now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
mcmark, Hauerwas is pretty good for a Methodist.
Stan does not trust the one time only penal substitution of Christ. He needs the sacramental presence mediated by the clergy of Christendom—he’s an Anglican now.
Hauerwas—What I mean by the ‘secular’ is that many, including many who count themselves ‘religious’, are quite capable of living lives of practical atheism”, Secularization in that sense does not only take place outside the church.
Hauerwas–There is no question that love between the persons of the Trinity is at the very heart of the Christian faith, but I think nothing is more destructive to the Christian faith than the current identification of Christianity with love. God in such a view becomes that great OK who tells us that we are OK and therefore, we are taught that we should tell one another we are OK.
Click to access zdth2013.pdf
“But for some of the younger Calvinistically inclined folks, the push back against liberalism also now includes a defense of cultural Christianity.”
If you asked those younger Calvinst, who’s had the most cogent solid arguments (i.e. who the best defender of the faith against modernism affronting the church) they would most likely with pride say Machen. It’s a shame they don’t realise that Machen was defending against that silliness as well. Cultural Christianity is a wholly different religion from true Christainty.
The way back to Reformation starts with the removal of this statue of Woodrow Wilson from my hometown.
Sixteenth-century Geneva witnessed one of the most devastating waves of religious image-breaking in history. Incited by a group of charismatic theologians, mobs raged against objects associated with miracles, magic and the supernatural, destroying some of the city’s most precious pieces of Christian art.
Invoking the Second Commandment, they denounced these works as idols, and as remnants of a rural, feudal and superstitious world.
In the fall of 1913, civil-rights leaders met with Wilson to express dismay over Jim Crow. Federal offices had begun separating workers by race. Wilson sent them off with vague assurances. In the next year, segregation did not improve; it worsened. By this time, numerous instances of workplace separation became well publicized. Among them, separate toilets in the U.S. Treasury and the Interior Department, a practice that Wilson’s Treasury secretary, William G. McAdoo, defended: “I am not going to argue the justification of the separate toilets orders, beyond saying that it is difficult to disregard certain feelings and sentiments of white people in a matter of this sort.”
And then we go after James Buchanan, from Lancaster- Pa –that a-hole should have been deported, he was on the wrong side against Abraham Lincoln.
Hauerwas—The very way of life Niebuhr posed the trouble of the relation back of Christ to polish failed to be properly Christological, just to the extent that the Christ who is Lord is detached from Jesus of Nazareth.
If. 1 a Christian can be loyal to two kingdoms at one time
and 2. the spiritual kingdom is not on earth but comes in heaven (when you die)
then what do we do with inside information about the soon coming of Jesus (to earth)?
Do we say 1. that we need to get busy now if we are going to fix the earth
or do we say, 2, the earth can’t be fixed, and what would it matter anyway?
Not only Peter and Paul but also the prophet Samuel and king David knew that the purposes of church and state were distinct, but that distinction of “levels and offices” does not mean that any of them were “anabaptist retreatists and parasites”. Being loyal to two kingdoms means both kingdoms are doing different things and therefore any conflict or contradiction is unlikely. Give everything to Caesar, because everything on earth does belongs to Caesar, with some possible exceptions (among individuals and sects with private legalistic scruples)
Calvin teaches us that harmony and order are more important than anything else (especially after resistance in France has been defeated) , and therefore the church must defer to the Constantinian state when it comes to discipline. While the church must be chaplain to the state when it comes to defending the state’s wars, this does not mean that those chaplains can’t do “natural law rants” comparing what America used to be with what America is now just before Jesus comes
How bad would a nation-state need to be for that nation-state to be no better than the nation-state arranged without the loyalty and law-preaching of the Christian church?
Godfrey—The early Reformers such as John Calvin did not identify discipline as a mark of the church. Perhaps he felt that discipline was too subjective to function well as a mark. How faithful must a church be in discipline to qualify as a true church?
mcmark, earth can’t be fixed, but we try to do our best for future generations of covenant children and their children.
Who’s the we? And which is the covenant?
I was not born at home in the new covenant. And my children are also immigrants. .
Genesis 15:13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions. 15 But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. 16 In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Circumcision pointing ahead to Christ does not turn the Abrahamic covenant into the new covenant any more than circumcision pointing ahead to Christ turns the Mosaic covenant into the new covenant. The administration of the Mosaic covenant is not God’s covenant of grace by Christ’s death for the elect alone. The administration of the Abrahamic covenant is not God’s covenant of grace by Christ’s death for the elect alone. The administration of the Noahic covenant is not God’s covenant of grace mediated by Christ’s death for the elect alone.
Those who believe the gospel are all children of Abraham.
The children of Christians are not all children of Abraham.
None of the children of Christians are children of Abraham because they are children of Christians.
The Abrahamic covenant is not the new covenant
Brandon Adams–When you’re using a Christ-centered hermeneutic, you don’t start with Genesis 17 and look at the promise God made to Abraham and then insist that that reading of the promise overrides everything that comes subsequent to that. So for example the offspring promise in Genesis 17 – and it’s repeated throughout 12, 15, 22, on and on and on – paedobaptists say “See, that must mean offspring means offspring and that God included physical offspring in the church and never took them out.” Whereas I would look at that and say, “How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the offspring promise? How do Jesus and the Apostles look at the Abrahamic Covenant?