Apparently Calvin Did Not Receive the Neo-Calvinist Memo

Calls for a transformational, wholistic, and cosmic redemption do not die. In fact, whenever sin is readily apparent in the news, the need for a solution (or at least a response) from Christians generally involves an appeal to the gospel. What else do believers have? (Short answer: as created beings, they have a lot more — just think of all the subjects in a university or college course catalog and imagine saying after reading all that “the gospel is always the only answer to human hardship.”)

Here’s one way of talking about Cosmic Redemptive Christianity:

CRC is a redemptive-historical view of the gospel. Tim Keller’s definition of the gospel is a great example. He defines it this way: “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.” The difference is subtle but overwhelming in its implication for the black experience in America.

The key phrase here is “restores the creation.” [Great Commission Christianity] sadly does not include creation, the kingdom, or redemption as a necessary part of the gospel. Leaving out “creation” explains why GCC struggled to encourage Christian involvement in social issues.

I’d define the gospel by saying it is the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin, death, and judgment are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the glorification of the whole cosmos.

Here’s another:

As such, this Gospel message is indeed anemic as it does not properly answer to the nature of mankind, nor the restoration of all that is the image of God in man. If man as the image of God includes not only soul, righteousness, and immortality, but also his physical nature, his social relations, and even his proper habitation, then the message of redemption—i.e., renewal “after the image of him that created him”—must of necessity be, in Bradley’s words, “the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin, death, and judgment are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the glorification of the whole cosmos”; that is, something like “Cosmic Redemption Christianity.”

If the message of redemption includes anything less, then man is not being restored by the Gospel; but if we take seriously all that it means to be made in the image and likeness of the Triune God, then we must likewise take seriously all that is included in man’s redemption, and craft our mission and message accordingly.

Talk about setting expectations high.

That’s not exactly what Paul told the church in Corinth (who had a fair amount of troubles — wealth gap, incest, imperial injustice):

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5)

That’s a tad dualistic for some inclined to a cosmic gospel. But Calvin lays it on thick in his commentary on this passage:

The body, such as we now have it, he calls a house of tabernacle For as tabernacles [512] are constructed, for a temporary purpose, of slight materials, and without any firm foundation, and then shortly afterwards are thrown down, or fall of their own accord, so the mortal body is given to men as a frail hut, [513] to be inhabited by them for a few days. The same metaphor is made use of, also, by Peter in his Second Epistle, (2 Peter 1:13, 14,) and by Job, (Job 4:19,) when he calls it a house of clay. He places in contrast with this a building of perpetual duration. It is not certain, whether he means by this term a state of blessed immortality, which awaits believers after death, or the incorruptible and glorious body, such as it will be after the resurrection. In whichever of these senses it is taken, it will not be unsuitable; though I prefer to understand it as meaning, that the blessed condition of the soul after death is the commencement of this building, and the glory of the final resurrection is the consummation of it. . . .

As, however, it is natural for all animals to desire existence, how can it be, that believers are willing to cease to exist? The Apostle solves this question, when he says, that believers do not desire death for the sake of losing any thing, but as having regard to a better life. At the same time, the words express more than this. For he admits, that we have naturally an aversion to the quitting of this life, considered in itself, as no one willingly allows himself to be striped of his garments. Afterwards, however, he adds, that the natural horror of death is overcome by confidence; [515] as an individual will, without any reluctance, throw away a coarse, dirty, threadbare, and, in one word, tattered garment, with the view of his being arrayed in an elegant, handsome, new, and durable one.

Farther, he explains the metaphor by saying — that what is mortal may be destroyed [516] by life. For as flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, (1 Corinthians 15:50,) it is necessary, that what is corruptible in our nature should perish, in order that we may be thoroughly renewed, and restored to a state of perfection. On this account, our body is called a prison, in which we are confined.

Calvin could be wrong, though saying that about holy writ may take a little more chutzpah. Maybe Reformed Protestants misunderstood the gospel until Tim Keller started planting a church in New York City.

Or maybe, people who think about Great Commission Christianity are not shocked by sin and its consequences in this life because they look for a time and place when suffering will completely end. Meanwhile, the Cosmic Redemptive Christianity advocates are the ones who expect heaven to come down to earth and are endlessly frustrated if not enraged when it doesn’t happen.

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Apparently Calvin Did Not Receive the Neo-Calvinist Memo

  1. Ya know Darryl, no matter how many ways I tried to explain it, you guys used to always accuse me of being one these here “immanentize the eschaton” “cosmic” guys. That was never the case. I agree with this post There was a guy here a few years ago who wrote an utterly brilliant comment that set forth my view far better than I could myself. I have tried several times since and haven’t been able to find it again. The gospel is not about changing the world. Though for a season here and there it might. It has.

    On another note, as much as I love Calvin, one could be forgiven for accusing him of saying one thing in his writings like this commentary passage, and practicing another in Geneva.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If Bradley’s thesis were correct one might expect the CRC or other socially active mainline denominations to be more integrated. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. its all exhausting. were supposed to try to help people as we share the gospel. but the world’s not our home, and we won’t revolutionize it. the end. no matter how boring preachers and academics find the gospel. Catholics tried all this wt Vatican II. Epic disaster.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Was just reading the latest CT article on how evangelicals should steward oil resources. I’ve never found the use of the creation narrative as a justification for environmental stewardship or the “holiness” of work convincing.

    1. Scripture seems pretty clear that this creation is going to burn and then be replaced by a new created order. I don’t see much evidence that the creation as we know it is going to be transformed.

    2. The people who push this transformation narrative are also less likely to be YECs and embrace some form of theistic evolution. I agree – I find the evidence for an ancient universe, origin of the species from a common ancestor, etc… very compelling. It really does look like the earth went through several mass extinction events prior to the existence of humans. In other words, the “fallenness” of creation (death, destruction, and suffering) appears to predate the fall. Now I understand that some use this realization to argue for special creation. What I don’t understand is how one can simultaneously hold to some form of theistic evolution *and* a transformationalist reading of scripture. I see how one could be a consistent creationist and transformationalist, but I gather that is not where most of these folks really are.

    3. The gospel certainly seems like good news for believers. It doesn’t appear to have any implications in the NT for professions, government, farming, eating, or “creation care”. One wonders why activities like clear cutting/burning forests for farmland aren’t prohibited in the law given how awful they are for the environment.

    4. I’m left with feeling that all this talk about transformaitonalism is a kind of virtue signaling (i.e., “We aren’t like those backwards fundies!”). The desire to be liked and popular has always been a major weakness of evangelicalism and this is just one more manifestation of it. If environmentalism or intersectionality fell out of favor with the cultural elites, I doubt that evangelicals would be so eager to take up the mantle. Maybe I’m just cynical.

    Like

  5. CRC sounds almost like a different religion.It’s redemption is not that which Machen had in view:

    “The great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.”

    Like

  6. SDB,

    The gospel certainly seems like good news for believers. It doesn’t appear to have any implications in the NT for professions, government, farming, eating, or “creation care”. One wonders why activities like clear cutting/burning forests for farmland aren’t prohibited in the law given how awful they are for the environment.

    I think this goes a bit too far. There are tons of ethical exhortations in the NT that have bearing on how one does his or her job, for example. Work as unto the Lord. Don’t do things grudgingly. Go the extra mile. etc. Shouldn’t Christians be the best employees, not in terms of possessing more intelligence than others (i.e., being a Christian doesn’t make you a better mathematician), but in terms of their willingness to do their job and the attention to which they give it?

    As for the latter point, perhaps that isn’t forbidden in the law because no one in the ancient world did that. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but there are admonitions in the law about not cutting down trees when one goes to war. I think it applies only to fruit trees, however. But in any case, I think the point is better addressed under the heading of natural revelation.

    I’m left with feeling that all this talk about transformaitonalism is a kind of virtue signaling (i.e., “We aren’t like those backwards fundies!”). The desire to be liked and popular has always been a major weakness of evangelicalism and this is just one more manifestation of it. If environmentalism or intersectionality fell out of favor with the cultural elites, I doubt that evangelicals would be so eager to take up the mantle. Maybe I’m just cynical.

    Not cynical but insightful. Ding, ding, ding!

    Like

  7. @Robert
    That is fair. My target is those who think by pursuing our jobs informed by Christian morality, we are somehow transforming the industry. I disagree. Whatever temporal good we do will all ultimately be for naught. No matter how conscientious one is as a tentmaker, tent making will still just be tent making.

    “no one in the ancient world did that.”
    There is pretty strong evidence that we are living through a mass extinction event that started ~8k yrs ago with the start of agriculture. Many large animals were driven to extinction by agricultural practices and the earth was radically transformed. If we have some duty to “care” for creation, I would expect a clearer statement in scripture about that rather than a tendentious reading of the creation narrative.

    Like

  8. “That is fair. My target is those who think by pursuing our jobs informed by Christian morality, we are somehow transforming the industry. I disagree.
    So do I.
    However, Christians are commanded to honor and glorify God in all that we do. Those naming the name of the spotlessly holy Son of God should be upright and above reproach in all their words and deeds and quick to humbly repent when we fall short.
    Including and maybe even especially when among the lost.

    If they can’t tell that there’s any difference us and them then there isn’t and we are still in our sins.

    I hasten to clarify that by this I do not intend an obnoxious, superficial, holier than thou, bible thumping demeanor. What I do intend is a walk and talk born out of the new life given to the elect in Christ. I hasten to further clarify that how they see us handle ourselves ,and others when we do fall short can be the most powerful testimony of all.

    One fulfills the command of God in his occupation by being the best he can be in that occupation according to the gifts God has given him. Not necessarily THE best, but the best HE can be.

    Like

  9. But in any case, I think the point is better addressed under the heading of natural revelation.

    Jesus and Paul certainly argue from Creation and the light of nature. As near as I can tell, the Reformed no longer have a natural theology, though both the WCF and WLC affirm one.

    Like

  10. I’m left with feeling that all this talk about transformaitonalism is a kind of virtue signaling (i.e., “We aren’t like those backwards fundies!”). The desire to be liked and popular has always been a major weakness of evangelicalism and this is just one more manifestation of it. If environmentalism or intersectionality fell out of favor with the cultural elites, I doubt that evangelicals would be so eager to take up the mantle. Maybe I’m just cynical.

    I think you’re being realistic. They’re also from a bygone era: positive world and neutral world. Our worldviews are somewhat frozen in amber from our youth

    Like

  11. Matthew 6:10 – a prayer for transformation even now?- a plea for the rule of our Lord to encompass every life and corner of the globe, so that every knee is bent in submission to his Lordship.

    C H Spurgeon’s: “Oh, that thou mayest reign over all hearts and lands! Men have thrown off their allegiance to our Father, God; and we pray with all our might that he may, by his almighty grace, subdue them to loyal obedience. We long for the coming of King Jesus; but meanwhile we cry to our Father, “Thy kingdom come.” We desire for the supreme will to be done in earth, with a cheerful, constant, universal obedience like that of “heaven.”…Our heart’s highest wish is for God’s honor, dominion, and glory..”

    Like

  12. @ali the claim by the transformationalists is that by creating great art, political reform, doing one’s job as “unto the Lord” we are expanding Christ’s kingdom. While producing great works of art or working for political reform are fine as far as they go, and believers should do their work with integrity – doing so does not expand Christ’s kingdom. Rather Christ’s kingdom is expanded by the lost coming to faith and the saints being sanctified.

    Believers may produce great art, more just political systems, or be better employees. But then again, spending time with their kids, keeping the Sabbath day holy, etc… may put them at a disadvantage relative to their non-believing colleagues. That’s ok though because that stuff is temporal and right worship and raising up new believers is eternal.

    Like

  13. “ b, sd, but if we leave fossil fuels in the ground the earth will burn much faster“
    I think you just found the slogan to get the fundies cooperating with green peace!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.