The Sweet Spot of Reformedish Kingdom Theology (or why 2k looks R)

At World Magazine, Scott Allen knows that the Social Gospel and contemporary Social Justice Gospel are problems:

Advocates of the social gospel believed the church should be engaged in the culture, fighting against injustice and working to uplift the impoverished and downtrodden—all admirable goals. The problem was they unwittingly allowed secular assumptions to inform their theology of cultural engagement. Their profoundly un-Biblical mindset is nicely captured in this quote from social gospel advocate, journalist Horace Greeley:

“The heart of man is not depraved … his passions do not prompt to wrong doing, and do not therefore by their actions, produce evil. Evil flows only from social [inequality]. Give [people] full scope, free play, a perfect and complete development, and universal happiness must be the result. … Create a new form of Society in which this shall be possible … then you will have the perfect Society; then you will have the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Similar problems bedevil today’s social justice warriors.

Today, evangelical advocates of social justice similarly want to fight against injustice and engage in the culture. But like the earlier social gospel advocates, they too have unwittingly allowed their theology of justice to be contaminated, this time by un-Biblical postmodern and neo-Marxist ideas, leading a group of evangelicals to come together in opposition to this view.

The conflict has been simmering for some time but is now out in the open with the release of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel supported by John MacArthur, Douglas Wilson, Voddie Baucham, and others.

The statement’s authors are concerned that the social justice movement in the broader culture has crept into the church. Social justice is the preferred descriptor of a movement on the far left that even left-leaning culture watchers such as Jonathan Haidt, Camille Paglia, and Jordan Peterson now identify as a pseudo-religion. This false religion now dominates the humanities departments of universities in the United States, as well as the entertainment and media industries, and increasingly the board rooms of major corporations like Google and Nike. It works hand in glove with the sexual revolution, as it shares the same ideological roots in Romanticism, postmodernism, and Marxism. It has no place for such essential Biblical virtues as grace, mercy, and forgiveness, replacing these with grievance, offense, incivility, and retribution. Its branches are political correctness, identity politics, multiculturalism, and intersectionality. It is incompatible with the United States’ constitutional, republican form of government, and such fundamental goods as due process. Its bitter fruit is the breakdown of civil society.

So what about letting the church be the church or looking to the spirituality of the church as an alternative? Not gonna happen.

Rather than calling the church back to an orthodox Biblical approach to justice and cultural engagement, Johnson and others like him appear to be making the same mistakes as the earlier fundamentalists. They are calling into question the importance of cultural engagement and justice ministry as a distraction and a second-tier activity. The problem with social justice is not its passion to engage the culture and fight for justice. The problem is all the un-Biblical ideology that comes packed in the social justice Trojan horse.

We should not repeat this tragic mistake again. The crying need today, as it was in the early 20th century, is to recover a Biblical, orthodox approach to justice and cultural engagement championed by Wilberforce, Carey, and Carmichael. Un-Biblical ideas have to be exposed and rejected, replaced by a uniquely Christian and Biblical approach to social and cultural transformation that is gospel-centered, and known for its grace, forgiveness, and civility. One that treats all people as unique individuals, not mouthpieces of identity groups. One that understands that evil is rooted in fallen human hearts, and not in capitalism, white supremacy, or the patriarchy. One that sees people as free, responsible, accountable moral agents and not as victims or oppressors.

Nowhere does Allen actually make a biblical case for cultural engagement, apparently the key notion for maintaining the church’s influence. Of course, the best way to read and study the Bible is not by going to a Bible-on-line website and doing a word search. But this is our world. And a quick search for “engage” at the ESV website (I know, awfully close to Gospel Allies’ bunkers) yields only three results, one of which includes the end of Philippians 1:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For cit has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

What if being culturally engaged was not about being on the right side of social and political reforms, with the banner of Christ held high, but about suffering through and enduring an evil age (Gal 1:4). I understand that when Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19), he sounded a tad fundamentalist. But if Jesus can sound that way, why can’t those who profess to follow him?


19 thoughts on “The Sweet Spot of Reformedish Kingdom Theology (or why 2k looks R)

  1. When a blogger engages various cultures against cultural engagement, is the Holy Spirit ironically leading that blogger down the TRAIL of cultural engagement? With or against the status quo? With voluntary associations of individuals against the church visible?

    Crawford Gribben, “Samuel Rutherford and Freedom of Conscience,” Westminster Theological Journal, 2009, 372) However we understand the text and context of the Westminster Confession, therefore, we must recognize that the Confession is not committed to the separation of church and state in any modern understanding of that idea. The doctrine of the “two kingdoms,” where church and state operated independently but with mutual reliance on
    the law of God, did not at all favor a religiously neutral state. Thus the Confession charged the state with the highest of responsibilities: “The Civil Magistrate. . . hath Authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that Unity and Peace be preserved in THE CHURCH, that the Truth of God be kept pure, and intire; that all Blasphemies and Heresies be
    suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in Worship and Discipline prevented, or reformed; and all the Ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed” (WCF 23.3).


  2. “… You won’t have to go after it; it will come after you….”
    This sounds like Harry Angstrom’s big fear – something out there is trying to find him (and not in a good way!).
    Has Joel O. been reading Updike?


  3. Before actually reading from authors who hold to it and then moving to the Two-Kingdom position, I took for granted the slanderous claim from transformationalists that it was neoanabaptistic, but I know now that is radically ignorant of both the historic Reformed Two-Kingdoms theology as well as Anabaptist theology.

    The former makes no demands upon Christians to be engaged in politics or the culture.
    The latter demands that no Christians may be engaged in politics or the culture.

    The distinction is hilariously obvious.



    To: Mark McCulley
    Re: recent updates to Westminster Confession

    Dear Mark,
    Please be advised that the Confession was recently updated on 1788.05.28. Previous versions are deprecated and may be ignored if quoted.


  5. Please be advised. Whatever discontinuities are to be found between the promise of land (and long life in that land) to Abraham and the promise of the new covenant mediated by Christ’s death, never forget that these differences are merely administrative (accidental not of the essence) and not about the “substance”.

    And also whatever standard used by Calvin and Zwingli to defend the magistrate (who is or could be Christian), that standard was not the Levitical or Mosaic covenant, therefore any revision to the Reformed Confessions can never change the “substance” of the Reformed tradition.

    end of beginning sarcasm

    we are informed—“The two kingdoms view” makes no demands upon Christians to be engaged in politics or the culture.”

    1. There is no one “the two kingdoms view” to move to. If there were, Hart would not need to continue his political demand that those who do politics not do politics as church (or as Christians) or as if Jesus had anything to say about creation (ie, the culture not the redemption) . if there were only one 2k worldview, Hart would not have to keep engaging against those who engage the culture.

    Hart: “I cannot give a thumb up the way Scott Clark did to Kevin DeYoung’s post about the spirituality of the church… Hodge’s understanding of the spirituality of the church, keeps church and state distinct but allows ministers to pontificate when they read the Bible a certain way..”
    Hart then argues against Hodge with something that sounds like “Scripture alone is enough” or even “biblicism”

    What is the “Reformed tradition” is contested. What is the “Anabaptist tradition” is contested. In my view , the Reformed tradition takes for granted that “engaging the culutre” means “approve the idea some killing is not only needed but just” Moreover, the Reformed tradtiion takes for granted that there in one monolithic “the culture” such that Mennonite ladies quilting or Adventist school students playing music are “not engaging the culture”. So, on the one hand, these “sectarians” are accused of ” withdrawing from the culture”. On the other hand, these same artists or musicians or writers are accused of being “parasites” for not properly being thankful for “the culture” which makes possible their activities.

    Hart—“if you think pacifism is required by Scripture then you need to find a pacifist island and move there. This is not love it or leave it.”

    In summary, in my view, the Reformed tradition takes for granted that “without killing there could be no culture”

    Before actually reading Kuyper or David VanDrunen or Matthew Tuininga, you might want to go back and read Mouw and Yoder back up a little further then Richard Niebuhr.

    John H. Yoder, “Reformed Versus Anabaptist Social Strategies: An Inadequate Typology,” Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin 8.5 (May-June 1985): 2-7.
    Richard J. Mouw, “Abandoning the Typology: A Reformed Assist,” Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin 8.5 (May-June 1985): 7-10.

    When you read Hart, you have to ientify the object of his polemics.
    When he’s writing in Touchstone, the problem is the individuals who think they can read the Bible for themselves without first agreeing with the magistrates about the true church
    But when he’s writing about the spirituality of our racism, Hart sounds as if Scripture alone was enough without natural law

    Hart– “Protestants may disagree about what the Bible means, but Protestants still regard the Bible (the ones who believe the Bible ) to be true.”

    Surely that makes it all clear and simple. Who are the Protestants? The ones who agree with Haart about what the Bible says about the gospel, and about politiccs, and about science…And those who disagree, maybe they are sectarians or maybe they are Romanists, but they are not Protestants, because Hart is Protestaant. . And the evanelicals who don’t agree with Hart are not really Protestant either.

    Hart makes the demand that pacifists agree that we need other Christians to kill for us. Maybe quilting is as much a part of “the culture” as writing history. But history demands that we all agree that we couldn’t do anything good without some killing and therefore some killing is good.


  6. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture — “Culture is that total process of human activity and that total result of such activity, therefore we cannot escape culture any more readily that we can escape nature.”

    Glen Stassen: “The farther Niebuhrs book goes, the less specific it gets about the ethics of the New Testament Jesus. . .Nowhere does the chapter on transformationism indicate Christ’s practices. The result is that readers may be convinced to call themselves transformationists without committing themselves to any specific ethics. Niebuhr is working with a liberal Protestant notion of Christ, a Christ who provides little more than the ideal of self-sacrificial love (expressed as an intention), along with the concept of theocentrism.

    mcmark–Even the Protestants who don’t believe in the second coming of Jesus believe in “original sn” and that we all are sinners. Many Reformed conclue that this makes even liberals like Niebuhr Protestant, even though he did not believe in the new birth. Because even if you do happen to believe in the new birth, very likely you confuse new birth with some revival experience (not the means of grace found in the true church ), and who know for certain if you are born again, but one thing we do know for sure is that sinners have to kill sinners or no Christendom or even “the culture” will remain. WHAT WE DO NOW IS SECULAR. Therefore incomplete, therefore we do it as sinners, without distraction from any “perfectionism” about what Jesus commande.

    Richard Mouw— “Bavinck is one of the few people in our Neo-Calvinistic tradition who actually talks about the imitation of Christ. Christ fulfilled the law and we can’t fulfill it by keeping it, but to be like Christ is to obey Christ’s commands.”


  7. McMark, how can you read the Bible and think that taking human life is inherently evil?

    8 The king took the two sons of fRizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab1 the daughter of Saul, whom gshe bore to hAdriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; 9 and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the LORD, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, iat the beginning of barley harvest.


  8. How can you read my comments so long and think that I ever say that human killing humans is “inherently evil”. I have been writing for a long time now about the difference between the new covenant standard and the Noahic or Abrahamic or Mosaic economy. In the interest of not accusing you of putting words in my mouth (translating what I wrote into something you think makes sense by implication given your caricatures of biblicism or individualism or “anabaptism”), I am going to assume you don’t read all that much of what I write.

    Why should you read any of it? As you already know, all non-Reformed people deny the just and sovereign nature and extent of Christ’s death. All of us teach free will, “common grace”, and “God’s desire to save the non-elect by means of the gospel offer”.

    Keep it simple. All pacifists are liberals. Niebuhr is not a pacifist. Therefore Niebuhr is not a liberal.

    If God ever commanded something, then it is consistent with God’s character to command it, and therefore God continues to command that the death penalty be enforced for the same crimes given in the Mosaic covenant, and for the same reason given in the Noahic covenant, which is the worship of the specific God revealed in those covenants. So this is why you are a theonomist. In “substance” (not the details)

    Except when you are not a theonomist. Then you have to inform the theonomists that they and “anabaptists” are really the same, just like the “federal visionists” and the “we don’t do infants”.people are in “substance” the same.

    God predestines what is evil. God never commands what is evil. God predestines the sin of those who will not obey what God commanded in the Sermon on the Mount. There is a difference between the imperative to overcoming evil with good, and God’s purpose that we ourselves will not in this age overcome evil (with evil or good) . It’s one difference between law and gospel.

    I might could say that I am not like the last paciifist with whom you had a conversation, but I am none too sure that you ever talked to any pacifist. I am not trying to do an analogy to your “a Protestant like me who really believes the Bible.” But I do know many pacifists who would agree with me that it was sin for King Saul not to kill everyone God commanded Saul to kill. Maybe that makes us ‘dispensationalists”, because as you know—if you are not as theonomic as Bahnsen was, then you are a dispensationalist (like Meredith Kline)

    I Samuel 15: 7 Then Saul struck down the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is next to Egypt. 8 He captured Agag king of Amalek alive, but he completely destroyed all the rest of the people with the sword. 9 Saul and the troops spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, cattle, and choice animals, as well as the young rams and the best of everything else. They were not willing to destroy them, but they did destroy all the worthless and unwanted things.

    10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, 11 “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not carried out My instructions.” So Samuel became angry and cried out to the Lord all night. 12 Early in the morning Samuel got up to confront Saul, but it was reported to Samuel, “Saul went to Carmel where he set up a monument for himself. Then he turned around and went down to Gilgal.” 13 When Samuel came to him, Saul said, “May the Lord bless you. I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

    14 Samuel replied, “Then what is this sound of sheep and cattle I hear?” 15 Saul answered, “The troops brought them from the Amalekites and spared the best sheep and cattle in order to offer a sacrifice to the Lord your God, but the rest we destroyed.” 16 “Stop!” exclaimed Samuel. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

    18 Samuel — The Lord anointed you king over Israel 18 and then sent you on a mission and said: ‘Go and completely destroy the sinful Amalekites. Fight against them until you have annihilated them.’ 19 So why didn’t you obey the Lord? Why did you rush on the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”

    20 “But I did obey the Lord!” Saul answered.“I went on the mission the Lord gave me: I brought back Agag, king of Amalek, and I completely destroyed the Amalekites. 21 The troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder—the best of what was set apart for destruction—to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

    22 Then Samuel —Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord has rejected you as king.
    24 Saul answered Samuel, “I have sinned. I have transgressed the Lord’s command and your words. Because I was afraid of the people, I obeyed them. 25 Now therefore, please forgive my sin and return with me so I can worship the Lord.”

    29 Samuel—The Lsting One of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for the Lord is not man who changes his mind.” 30 Saul said, “I have sinned. Please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel. Come back with me so I can bow in worship to the Lord your God.” 31 Then Samuel went back, following Saul, and Saul bowed down to the Lord.

    32 Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of Amalek.” Samuel declared: ‘As your sword has made women childless,
    so your mother will be childless among women.”
    Then Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.

    Luke 9: 32 Peter and those with Peter were in a deep sleep, and when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who were standing with Him. 33 As the two men were departing from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
    34 While Peter was saying this, a cloud appeared and overshadowed them. They became afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came from the cloud, saying:
    This is My Son, the Chosen One;
    listen to Him!


  9. “ I am going to assume you don’t read all that much of what I write.”
    Another possibility you should consider is that your writing is unclear.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This instance is not my being unclear. It’s a deliberate “mis-translation”.

    Yes, I did use sarcasm: I wrote: “If God ever commanded something, then it is consistent with God’s character to command it, and THEREFORE GOD CONTINUES TO therefore God continues to command that the death penalty be enforced for the same crimes given in the Mosaic covenant.”

    The “therefore” does not follow. Good and evil are determined by what God commands. I don’t believe that God continues to command the death penalty for all the Mosaic crimes. And you also don’t believe that God continues to command the death penalty for all the Mosaic crimes. So I think we actually agree that this is not about God’s character or about “inherent good or evil” .

    Thus my sarcasm above– “So this is why you are a theonomist.”:

    And then my point about your wanting to oppose two types “generalizations” and then put yourself in the SWEET SPOT (depending on the situation polemic) —” Except when you are not a theonomist” .

    This way of caricaturing two sides in order to then position yourself in the middle between the either-or is the kind of “astute” analysis done by guys like Gary North or James Jordan. ( you–“Protestant hierarchy good. Romaniar hierarchy bad”…)

    I do think that you understood my point. Not to say that you agreed with it, but to say that your blogging is pretty much caricature. Unless you truly don’t know the difference between what God commands and what God predestines, then you were clear about my thesis.

    To repeat myself: “God predestines what is evil. God never commands what is evil. God predestines the sin of those who disobey God’s command .We will not in this age overcome evil (with evil or good) . It’s one difference between law and gospel.”

    Levering — “After giving a variety of biblical examples of God willing evil deeds so as to punish the wicked and bring about salvation, Calvin notes that by contrast the doctrine of permission makes God aloof from salvation history. The God construed by the doctrine of permission cannot truly be the active Lord of history. For Calvin, those who rely upon the doctrine of permission depict God ‘as if God sat in a watch-tower waiting for fortuitous events, his judgments meanwhile depending on the will of man.’ This aloof, detached, passive God is not the God of the Bible. The true God , Calvin observes, acts within the minds of human beings not only to enlighten them, but also to blind them and to intoxicate them. God thereby compels the wicked to serve him”

    Levering — “The danger with the doctrine of permission is that it seems to question the goodness of the omnipotent God’s decree. In observing that predestination means ‘that God etermined within himself whatever God wished to happen with regard to every man,’ God’s permission of rebellion cannot be disjoined from God’s will. God fully knows and freely wills this order,. Since God is free and all-powerful,God is not constrained to create this kind of order. Calvin senses that the doctrine of permission originates in doubts about the justice of reprobation ‘by the just but inscrutable judgment of God, to show forth his glory by their condemnation.’ Discussing Paul’s interpretation of Malachi 1:2–3 (see Rom. 9:13), Calvin urges that the doctrine of double predestination in fact elucidates the scriptural doctrine of undeserved grace, God’s bounty rather than harshness” The notion of permission is a way of opening a gap between the ultimate outcome of history and God Himself, the Lord of history. Calvin on the contrary insists on the goodness of God’s plan,which is a plan that includes the destruction of the non-elect

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “With all due respect” usually is not a phrase that comes just before gratitude or with respect, and it may very well be true that those who find enough things obvious would not find my quotation from Matthew Levering illuminating. Either you already knew what Levering argued before reading it, or his argument to you is obviously wrong

    “Sweet spot” might mean “the correct answer”, but it seems a relative enough term to suggest that what “works for you” is matter of “evolving” taste.

    Gary North—-The humanists want Christians to stay out of politics as Christians. The pietists agree. The humanists deny that there are valid biblical imperatives that apply to this world. The pietists agree. The humanists say that the civil government should be run in terms of religiously neutral laws. The pietists agree. The humanists deny that the God of the Bible brings predictable sanctions in history against societies that do not obey His law. The pietists agree.

    “here are some Reformed guys who, when they find out that the evangelical bus is going the wrong direction, stay on the evangelical bus but walk toward the 2k section of the bus…They no longer hope to gradually reform “evangelicals”, but then again to get off the bus would be sectarian and leave them open to the accusation of prematurely anticipating the eschaton.


  12. MM: “This instance is not my being unclear.”

    Yet here we are.

    I’ll explain what I find unclear in your writing, and you can do with it as you will.

    * The quotes without context or argument are just baffling.

    For one thing, you freely intermix quotes that you agree with by people of whom you generally approve (Is Levering one of those? Brandon Adams seems to be), with quotes that you agree with by people of whom you generally do not approve (Gary North), with “sarcastic” quotes that you don’t agree with by people of whom you generally do not approve. When you do that, your trajectory is left entirely enigmatic. What are you trying to say when you quote Gary North?! We already know that you don’t trust his general judgment (being theonomic and all) — yet he is now the sage diagnostician of the problems of Protestantism? Head-scratching.

    For another, you pastiche quotes from various authors who identify as “Reformed” without any seeming awareness of (a) where those folk fit on the Reformed landscape, and (b) how those folk square with the Reformed standards. You almost seem to have a reckless disregard for those two critical pieces of information.

    * I don’t understand your project, the reason for your interactions here.

    It is possible that you see yourself as providing needed corrective to a defective (Reformed) theology who misunderstands a critical piece of the gospel.

    It is also possible that you are trying to gather a following (Tianqi, John Yeazel) by playing Absolom at the gate.

    Or something else could be going on. You’ve been very coy about some basic questions: What denomination do you affiliate with? What is your understanding of the visible church? Of the covenants? Of Christian liberty?

    Without that context, it is hard to see where your individual comments are going.

    * You frequently misstate basic Reformed doctrines, often under the umbrella of “sarcasm.”

    So then, am I supposed to understand that you really *do* understand Reformed doctrine, and you’re just exaggerating? Or do you simply not know? Or do you simply not care? Very confusing.

    * I don’t understand how your pacifism fits with your general (and quite appropriate) allergy to legalism.

    For the essence of pacifism is not, “But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear that name.” All Christian doctrine agrees with that.

    The essence of pacifism is to impose on all Christians the general obligation to suffer and to permit the suffering of others. It is not merely the Christian’s obligation to turn one’s own cheek, but also to fail to take up arms to protect his family’s and neighbors’ cheeks.

    It has seemed to me watching you argue that you are unselfaware that you’re adding to the law — or at least running that risk.

    What would help me, and I think others, would be more direct argument, fewer quotes, less sarcasm.


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