Eschatology Matters

Neo-Calvinists share with theonomists a post-millennial outlook. David Koyzis illustrates:

Yet the call to holiness and to living for the kingdom is as extensive as creation itself. Farmers, manufacturers, labour union stewards, musicians, artists, journalists, electricians and sewage line workers are not obviously preaching the gospel or attempting social reform. Yet if they are in Christ, they are agents of his kingdom in every walk of life.

It is telling that the authors of the statement neglect the eschatological dimension of the faith. Eschatology, or the doctrine of the last things, is not a mere add-on to our Christian walk. Rather, it gives us direction for the future. At the end of the present age are we to be removed from this world to spend eternity in a blissful ethereal realm of floating spirits? Or will the whole creation be renewed when Christ returns? Perhaps the authors are not in agreement on this, which could account for their silence. Nevertheless, the Bible itself is not so reticent: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-24). “For in him [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). “And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new'” (Revelation 21:5, emphases mine).

We live in the hope of the resurrection of the dead in a renewed creation, which awaits its final fulfilment at Christ’s return. In the meantime we are heirs of this promise in everything we do in God’s world.

That quotation has the classic marks of neo-Calvinism, a view of the kingdom of God that blurs distinctions between holy and ordinary vocations, between church and secular matters, regards growth in holiness as something that applies to non-Christian affairs. Above all, the classic way of seeing continuity between this world and the world to come.

Neo-Calvinism is especially defective about the nature of the saeculum, which is the age between the advents of Christ. Greenbaggins invoked Vos to explain the peculiar character of the period when the ministry of word and sacrament defines the church, in the words of the Confession of Faith, as “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God” (which means the kingdom of Jesus is not Hollywood, New York City, Grand Rapids, or the Department of Health and Human Services:

Here is Vos (a Dutch Calvinist, mind you):

The significance of the unique organization of Israel can be rightly measured only by remembering that the theocracy typified nothing short of the perfected kingdom of god, the consummate state of Heaven. In this ideal state there will be no longer any place for the distinction between church and state. The former will have absorbed the latter.

Greenbaggins explains:

In other words, the present state of distinction between church and state is a parenthesis. One day in the future, a perfect theocracy (with no possibility of the people’s apostasy) will come into being in its fully ineradicable, eschatologically perfect state.

That parenthesis, the interadvental period, is the age of the secular. It is the time when church and state are distinct, when Christ’s reign as king is divided between ruling creation and reigning over the redeemed.

Those who deny that distinction, those who see a progression from Israel (good), to church (better), to glory (best) fail to acknowledge the difference that the interadvental period makes. It is a time when all efforts to immanentize the eschaton, either by bringing the past (Israel) into the present, or bringing the future (new heavens and new earth) into the now, are flawed because Jesus’ spiritual kingdom is not of this world.

Advertisements

I’ll See Your Year and Raise You an Age

Bill Smith makes a weak (sorry) case for the church calendar:

There is small minority of Presbyterians who observe no Church Year as a matter of principle. They believe it would be sin so to do. Then there is the broader evangelicalism in the U.S. which has no scruples against the Church Year, but flies by the seat of its pants, guided by no more than preferences, feelings, and whims. These evangelicals in matters of the church year, as in so many matters, do what they please.

Then there is catholic Christianity which from ancient times spends the time from Advent to Trinity rehearsing, reliving, learning about, and celebrating who Jesus Christ is, what he has done for our salvation, and the fulness of the revelation of God that is found in him.

Most of Christianity in the world follows such such an annual and orderly calendar. Roman Catholicism. Orthodoxy. Anglicanism. Lutheranism. Methodism. Many of the continental Reformed. Not a few Presbyterians with British roots. Then there are the evangelicals of the sort Mr. Wax experienced in Romania who sort of follow such a calendar.

The most strict of the Presbyterians who roll out the canons and lay down a barrage of warning and condemnation at Christmas and Easter and most especially at the beginning of Lent can only conclude that the overwhelming majority of Christians are at best disobedient and unfaithful and at worst apostate and no Christians at all.

For my part I increasingly had the sense that Christianity must be more historically grounded and more connected with worldwide Christianity than I previously thought.

Forget the regulative principle. Say hello to Geerhardus Vos.

What does the Bible teach about time? Well, the six days of creation point to the importance of the week, a bedrock of the lunar calendar (that ladies know only too well).

Then you have the church calendar of the Israelites with all the holy days and sacrifices that took place year after year.

And then came Jesus by whom the apostles understood the difference between this age and the age to come. For that reason, when Peter writes about time to New Testament Christians, he doesn’t recommend a church calendar. He explains that we live in the end times:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:8-13 ESV)

I for one cannot fathom how thinking of myself at different points in the life of Christ or in the time before the first advent helps me think about the last days. I also don’t see how a year-round system encourages Christians to think about this saeculum as the one between Christ’s advents. It’s also striking that Peter thinks eschatological (as opposed to annual) thinking nurtures holiness and godliness. (Can I get an “amen” from the obedience boys?)

So the objection to Bill isn’t that he’s no longer a good regulative principle Presbyterian. It’s that he’s substituted an inferior way of thinking about our place in history with the cosmic one taught by Peter and Paul.

The liturgical calendar is your mind on the solar year. The interadvental age is your mind on Christ.

Will We Have Bibles in Heaven?

Another version of the 1k critique of 2k, this time a review of a book about John Frame’s theology:

Frame implicitly rejects a separation of the world into sacred and secular realms. If theology is the application of Scripture by persons to every area of life, then it follows that no area of life is exempt from Scripture’s authoritative claims. In other words, nothing is “secular.” Barber ties this to Frame’s non-traditional understanding of RPW, which rests on the distinction between the elements of worship (those things explicitly commanded in Scripture, such as prayers and sacraments) and the circumstances of worship (those things left up to personal discretion, such as the time of the worship service; cf. WCF 1.6). Although many Reformed traditionalists have understood this distinction as justification for a division between sacred and secular realms of life, Frame argues that even the circumstances of worship are holy and spiritual (143). This has a twofold effect in Frame’s theology: it allows for greater Christian freedom inside the church, and it gives greater voice to Scripture outside the church. For the Christian, all of life is sacred, and thus all of life is to be guided by the light of Scripture, but not regulated beyond what Scripture itself requires. Or as Frame states, “The regulative principle for worship is no different from the regulative principle for the rest of life” (144).

I sure wish the critics of 2k would for once do justice to the word, “secular.” It does not mean profane or the denial of God or unbelief or something apart from God. It means temporal, of an age, a period of time. That is, in the West “secular” is impossible to understand apart from Christian eschatology and a distinction between what is eternal and abiding and what is temporary and impermanent. And with that sort of distinction in mind, we can say that the Bible itself is secular. In the new heavens and new earth, the permanent time to come as opposed to the period (saeculum) between Christ’s advents or between the fall and consummation, believers will not need prophets, apostles or sacred books because they will be in the presence of Christ. The need for the Bible is a provisional arrangement. I guess that even means the church is secular.

To say that all of life is sacred sounds uplifting. But to think that my book, A Secular Faith, is sacred is not only ironic but also wrongheaded. Some things will indeed pass away, as Paul wrote:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)

In other words, the things that are secular are transient. Those include our bodies, marriages, vocations, magistrates, favorite composer. To sacralize these things is to immanentize the eschaton, like identifying Jerusalem, Rome, Amsterdam or Wittenberg with the heavenly Jerusalem.

Which is why I would have expected more Vossians to be 2k.

Could Christ Have Preached Christ and Him Crucified?

Rick Phillips introduces a tension — though that was not his intention — between Jesus’ preaching and Paul’s. We have the old was-Paul-the-second-founder-of-Christianity problem.

Here‘s is what Christ preached according to Phillips:

I noted 4 main types of ministry emphases highlighted by Jesus in Mark:

1. Jesus declaring his deity as Messiah, together with his teaching about God and salvation (i.e. theology and redemptive history).

2. Jesus preaching the gospel: pointing out his hearers’ need to be forgiven and God’s wonderful remedy through his saving work. Included here would be calls to prospective disciples to believe and follow Jesus.

3. Jesus training and reproving his disciples, including ethical and spiritual instruction and his call to evangelistic labor.

4. Jesus exposing false teachers and religious opposition. This includes the confronting and correcting of false doctrine.

And here is how Paul described his preaching:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)

Again, I don’t think Phillips is trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul, but the way he frames the question does lead in that direction — one that contrasts the way Jesus preached with the way his disciples did (think of Peter in Acts 2). Why isn’t it the case that Jesus is NOT a model for post-ascension preaching — nor is John the Baptist. Until the main event of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the preaching of biblical prophets is going to be types and shadows. Think Geerhardus Vos.

And also think Marilyn Robinson. This is what can happen if you use Jesus as your model for preaching and leave out Paul:

Since these folk claim to be defenders of embattled Christianity (under siege by liberalism, as they would have it), they might be struck by the passage in Matthew 25 in which Jesus says, identifying himself with the poorest, “I was hungry, and ye fed me not.” This is the parable in hallowed be your name which Jesus portrays himself as eschatological judge and in which he separates “the nations.” It should surely be noted that he does not apply any standard of creed – of purity or of orthodoxy – in deciding whom to save and whom to damn. This seems to me a valuable insight into what Jesus himself might consider fundamental. To those who have not recognized him in the hungry and the naked, he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.” Neofundamentalists seem to crave this sort of language – more than they might if they were to consider its context here. It is the teaching of the Bible passim that God has confided us very largely to one another’s care, but that in doing so he has in no degree detached himself from us. Indeed, in this parable Jesus would seem to push beyond the image of God as final judge to describe an immanence of God in humankind that makes judgment present and continuous, and that in effect makes our victim our judge. Neither here nor anywhere else in the Bible is there the slightest suggestion that our judge/victim would find a plea of economic rationalism extenuating. This supposed new Awakening is to the first two Awakenings, and this neofundamentalism is to the first fundamentalism, as the New Right is to the New Deal, or as matter is to antimatter’.

Hiding Behind Kilts

The release of the new book Merit and Moses, a critique of the republication doctrine (that the Mosaic covenant was “in some sense” a republication typologically of the covenant of works) got me thinking about a certain anomaly in contemporary Reformed circles regarding a certain Mr. Murray (his given name was John and he did not have the extra one of Courtney). The endorsements of this book show an arresting feature of the Westminster Seminary tradition and reception of Geerhardus Vos.

After Vos, his successors broke into two camps, one represented by Murray, the other by Meredith Kline, who took markedly different views of covenant theology. After Murray and Kline, came Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, and Bob Strimple. They pretty much all sided with Murray against Kline on matters of moment. And then came VanDrunen, Horton, and Fesko. They followed Kline and have been taking their lumps ever since.

Generally speaking, the anti-republicationists are anti-Kline and pro-Murray. Here’s a sampling:

For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido. Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline, who taught at Westminster Escondido (WSCal) for more than 20 years. Many of Kline’s colleagues, former students (several now teaching in Escondido) and admirers (Mark Karlberg, T. David Gordon, etc.) have canonized his novel reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant—it is “not of faith”, but of works and meritorious works at that, albeit ‘typological’. What may now be labeled the “Escondido Hermeneutic” or “Kline Works-Merit Paradigm” has succeeded in cornering an increasing share of the Reformed covenant market in spite of its revisionism and heterodoxy. This newfangled paradigm has managed to fly beneath the radar of most Reformed observers, in part because of the aggressively militant demeanor and rhetoric of its advocates and defenders. Especially vitriolic have been attacks by the Kline acolytes upon Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin. . . . (1)

While it is certainly true that Murray clearly and self-consciously broke with the majority of the Reformed tradition on several points of doctrine, his teaching on the nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant was not one of them. In fact, a strong case can be made that his position on the essential nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant represented the mainstream consensus of Reformed theologians. Furthermore, some of Murray’s key exegetical observations (which, incidentally, these authors simply pass over rather than critically engage) lend his thesis strong support. (63)

Now the endorsements for the anti-republicationist book:

“The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
—Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

“I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
—Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

“In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

“This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

Let the reader decide.

But also consider this. Mr. Murray was a strong proponent of exclusive psalmody, arguably the lone holdout of prominence in the OPC. And yet those who follow Murray on covenant theology are willing to argue quite decidedly against singing psalms only or even singing the imprecatory psalms (about which Murray had no qualms). Dick Gaffin recently wrote:

Among my continuing reservations about the Psalter-Hymnal project (March issue), here I’m only able to raise one concern about its commitment to total psalmody. The imprecations in Psalm 137, among others, have in view the Old Testament situation, when God’s covenant people were one nation, a single geopolitical entity (Israel), and their enemies were likewise ethnically and geopolitically defined (Babylon and Edom here). But now, after Christ’s finished work, that spiritual enmity, inseparably national, has ceased. Now the realization of God’s eternal saving purpose, anticipated throughout the Old Testament, is universal. His elect are no longer found only within Israel, but within every nation. Under the new covenant, the church is “in Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) in a way it was not under the old: no longer are Jews in holy hostility towards non-Jews; now, in Christ, they are reconciled to each other (Eph. 2:11–22).

I recognize that the ethnic references like those in Psalm 137 are not only literal but also typological. Akin to the symbolic references to Babylon in Revelation, they point forward to the final destruction of the enemies of God’s people. Still, singing explicitly genocidal curses in public worship, without a whole lot of preparatory explanation (and perhaps even with that), risks leaving the impression that the congregation is calling on God for the large-scale destruction of people with Gentile ethnicity like most of us in the New Testament church. (20-21)

(Could there be some kind of ambivalence at work here with typological readings of the OT?)

So what I am wondering is what would happen to this argument against total psalmody if Orthodoxy Presbyterians knew it departed from Mr. Murray. I mean, if it is fair game to raise concerns about views that do not follow Murray’s reading of creation or the Mosaic covenant, why is that okay when it comes to Murray’s singing of David? Maybe the OPC needs to kick away the crutches, prepare for sacred cows to be wounded, and through delegated assemblies let word and Spirit do their work.

Queen of the Sciences?

That’s the old phrase reserved for systematic theology when people regarded it as the culmination of human thought about special and general revelation. Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield and the Old Princeton faculty more generally regarded systematic theology as the telos of biblical and theological investigation.

Warfield worried, however, that biblical theology would displace systematics:

Systematic Theology may look on with an amused tolerance and a certain older-sister’s pleased recognition of powers just now perhaps a little too conscious of themselves, when the new discipline of Biblical Theology, for example, tosses her fine young head and announces of her more settled sister that her day is over. But these words have a more ominous ring in them when the lips that frame them speak no longer as a sister’s but as an enemy’s, and the meaning injected into them threatens not merely dethronement but destruction.

In that new environment, the queenly status of systematics might have more to do with sexual orientation and the politics of identity rather than with a hierarchy of knowledge.

After reading the exchange between Dick Gaffin and Clair Davis regarding recent faculty developments at Westminster Theological Seminary, I am still convinced that an important difference between Old Princeton and contemporary Westminster is the status accorded systematic theology. Gaffin and Davis both debate how best to interpret Geerhardus Vos and the proper hermeneutic associated with redemptive historical exegesis, but systematic theology is distant from their concerns.

Of course, faculty at the Reformed seminaries are supposed to subscribe the “system of doctrine” taught in the Westminster Standards and/or the Three Forms of Unity. But whether all faculty are equally willing to teach and defend that system of doctrine — say in Sunday school or even in their own non-ST classes — is another question altogether. I mean, are the advocates of a Christotelic or Christocentric reading of the OT prepared to teach and defend limited atonement or the eternal decree? And if all seminary faculty were willing to contend for those doctrines, would the disputes among the Vossians have taken on such magnitude?

I am well aware that it is easy and a bit of a cliche to quote Machen the way that political conservatives quote the American founders. (Here goes Machen boy again.) But I wonder how many seminary faculty would agree with this assertion from Machen’s first address about WTS?

. . . biblical theology is not all the theology that will be taught at Westminster Seminary, for systematic theology will be at the very center of the seminary’s course. At this point an error should be avoided: it must not be thought that systematic theology is one whit less biblical than biblical theology is. But it differs from biblical theology in that, standing on the foundation or biblical theology, it seeks to set forth, no longer in the order of the time when it was revealed, but in the order of logical relationships, the grand sum of what God has told us in his Word. There are those who think that systematic theology on the basis of the Bible is impossible; there are those who think that the Bible contains a mere record of human seeking after God and that its teachings are a mass of contradiction which can never be resolved. But to the number of those persons we do not belong. We believe for our part that God has spoken to us in his Word, and that he has given us not merely theology, but a system of theology, a great logically consistent body of truth.

That system of theology, that body of truth, which we find in the Bible is the Reformed faith, the faith commonly called Calvinistic, which is set forth so gloriously in the Confession and catechisms of the Presbyterian church. It is sometimes referred to as a “man-made creed.” But we do not regard it as such. We regard it, in accordance with our ordination pledge as ministers in the Presbyterian church, as the creed which God has taught us in his Word. If it is contrary to the Bible, it is false. But we hold that it is not contrary to the Bible, but in accordance with the Bible, and true. We rejoice in the approximations to that body of truth which other systems of theology contain; we rejoice in our Christian fellowship with other evangelical churches; we hope that members of other churches, despite our Calvinism, may be willing to enter into Westminster Seminary as students and to listen to what we may have to say. But we cannot consent to impoverish our message by setting forth less than what we find the Scripture to contain; and we believe that we shall best serve our fellow Christians, from whatever church they may come, if we set forth not some vague greatest common measure among various creeds, but that great historic faith that has come through Augustine and Calvin to our own Presbyterian church. (“Westminster Theological Seminary,” 1929)

Of course, Machen could be wrong about systematic theology. If so, a biblical theologian might want to step up and say so and explain why. Machen’s not the pope.

But if he is right about systematic theology being as biblical as biblical theology, if he’s right about it forming the center of the theological curriculum, and if he’s right about Calvinism (as the WTS affirmations and denials — see pp. 9 and 10 — suggest), then the debates about Vos and the proper way to read the Old Testament look less important than they have become. The real test is not whether you get Isaiah or Vos right, but whether or not your teaching and writing supports the system of doctrine taught in the church’s standards. If that were the criterion for appointment and promotion, the debate between Gaffin and Davis might be better left for the attendees at the Evangelical Theological Society.

Why Not Reformed Anabaptists?

One of the inexplicable aspects of contemporary Reformed Protestantism is the indifference if not ridicule that some Vossians show for two-kingdom theology. This is odd because if any of the current options for living in this world capture the Vossian eschatology than 2k — with a sharp rejection of any immanentization of the eschaton — I have yet to see it. Neo-Calvinists don’t (even if Geerhardus Vos himself leaned neo-Cal). Theonomists? Are you kidding me? Transformationalists of whatever stripe abuse Christianity all the time to add a holy and spiritual lift to any number of earthly and temporal activities.

Nevertheless, 2k continues to fall well short of Vossianism’s stringent standards. Hence, the recent review of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and Two Kingdoms by William Dennison in the current issue of the Westminster Theological Journal (75: 349-70). I will leave readers to find the rhetoric that surely pushes the plausibility envelope. But Dennison’s conclusion is downright odd:

. . . a number of Reformed and evangelical Christians will champion VanDrunen’s thesis since they continue to loiter in a consciousness shaped by the Holy Roman Empire when the institutions of church and state defined the core of Western human existence as one of the most persistent problems. For them, such a paradigm provides justification for their daily captivation with politico-cultural issues without acknowledging how they may be jeopardizing or compromising their Christian identity. Sadly, in this condition they refuse to deal honestly with the full-orbed eschatological fabric of biblical revelation that has now reached the “fullness of time” . . . . Instead, these believers are paralyzed as they hold on to the “flesh” (in this case, a fixation upon the political nature of a State outside the doman of Christ as mediator of redemption) while trying to live out of the “Spirit.” In other words, VanDrunen’s NL2K model gives a rationale for having one foot solidly in place in the civil culture, and the ohter foot solidly in place in the kingdom of heaven. . . . (369)

Unless I am mistaken, the Augustinian construction of the heavenly and earthly cities is about the only option for Christians who want to avoid the Federal Vision error of imitating Eusebius’ man crush on Constantine, the Benedictine option of leaving civil society for the monastery, or the Anabaptist path of renouncing the magistrate, the sword, and self-defense even as worthy of Christians. As long as the Lord tarries, human beings (saved and unsaved) will live on planet earth and need the magistrate to supply a modicum of social order — that’s why Paul wrote about magistrates being ordained by God. If Dennison wants us to live in the full-orbed eschatology of Scripture, where exactly should we tell the movers to put our stuff or where should we cook our meals? Apparently, behind the pearly gates.

VanDrunen has essentially removed the weapons of spiritual warfare out of the hands of the church with a passion upon the temporal order of two governments and, thus, constructed for believers a provisional model as the dominant paradigm to transport them as a pilgrim people. After all, it is no small task to call the Reformed and broader Christian world to face up to the essential character of biblical eschatology, to ask that all ministers and person in the pew, surrender, think, and live in the christocentric eschatological nature of biblical revelation. So instead of living out the full-orbed conditions of biblical eschatology seated with Christ in the heavenly places, VanDrunen’s NL2K paradigm has surrendered the essential eternal character of the progressive post-fall revelation of God — the seed of the woman versus the seed of the serpent — to focus the believer’s attention upon living in the realm of “commonality” that exists in the civitas permixta. Following such a path, however will only mean that the obsessions with politics which has crippled much of the history of the church will never find resolution, and, even more impoprtant, that believers will ignore their true eschatological freedom from bondage in the present and eternal reign of Christ.

Reading this makes me think we need to talk less about Reformed Baptists and more about Reformed Anabaptists since Dennison sure sounds a lot like the peasants who interpreted the gospel freedom declared by Luther (via Paul) to mean they should be liberated from their social rank as serfs. Would Dennison tell a Christian civil magistrate he is being worldly to think about local laws or policy proposals, that he should as a follower of Christ leave his day job? Does he even suggest that Christian parents are guilty of fleshly concerns to think about sending their children to a Christian college? (The New Testament does seem to have some instruction about life in this world, but maybe I too force a 2k reading on Scripture.)

Still, when Dennison faults VanDrunen for constructing “believers a provisional model as the dominant paradigm to transport them as a pilgrim people” because it is “no small task” to call Christians to live in the light of biblical eschatology, can’t Dennison see that 2k does better than any other option — aside from Reformed Anabaptist — to encourage Christians to live as pilgrim people who know that the affairs of the state are inconsequential compared to those of the kingdom of Christ. My favorite example of this rearrangement of priorities is to try to convince Orthodox Presbyterians that the news in New Horizons is really way more important than what the New York Times’ reporters cover. Most people chuckle because the notion seems absurd. But it is true and that is one of the major points of 2k — the church matters more than politics. Dennison, however, refuses to give credit to 2kers. He only sees threat.

So to show the advantages of 2k and that 2kers themselves may be doing more along the lines of the eschatology that Dennison promotes, here is one example of the two-kingdom doctrine applied to St. Abe, that is, Abraham Lincoln, the president whom most U.S. Protestants regard as the embodiment of Christian and American ideals:

In 1967, sociologist Robert Bellah launched the modern career of “civil religion” as a concept, a way to examine how, on the one hand, the state adopts religious language, ritual, holidays, and symbolism to bind a nation together and how, on the other hand, it elevates its own values and ideas to the status of holy doctrine. Regarding the first type, University of Toronto political theorist Ronald Beiner recently defined civil religion as “the appropriation of religion by politics for its purposes.” Lincoln had been doing this to the Bible since at least 1838. He ended his Lyceum Address by applying Matthew 16:18 to American liberty: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” More famously, in 1858 he quoted Matthew 12:25 to characterize the precarious state of the Union: “A house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Such an appropriation of Christianity for politics dominates the Gettysburg Address, from its opening “four score” to its closing “shall not perish.” In the 1970s, literary scholar M.E. Bradford, in his essay, “The Rhetoric for Continuing Revolution,” identified the Gettysburg Address’s “biblical language” as the speech’s “most important formal property.” That is undoubtedly so. Lincoln drew from the King James Version’s archaic words and cadences, as he opened with the biblical-sounding “four score,” an echo of the Psalmist’s “three score and ten” years allotted to man on this earth. He continued with “brought forth,” the words in the Gospel of Luke that describe Mary’s delivery of Jesus—the first instance of what turns out to be a repeated image of conception, birth, life, death, and new birth, culminating in the promise of eternal life in the words “shall not perish”—a startling echo of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:16 (“whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”).

Lincoln’s speech also engages the other side of civil religion—not the appropriation of the sacred for the purposes of the state but the elevation of the secular into a political religion. Early in his career, Lincoln had explicitly promoted this kind of civil religion. Again in his 1838 Lyceum address, he called for fidelity to “the blood of the Revolution” and the Declaration, the Constitution, and the laws to serve as America’s sustaining “political religion” now that the founding generation was passing away. In 1863, Lincoln filled the Gettysburg Address with the words “dedicated,” “consecrated,” and “hallow.” The cumulative effect of this sacred language was to set the American Founding, the suffering of the Civil War, and the national mission apart from the mundane world and transport the war dead and their task into a transcendent realm.

Almost All Old Princeton All the Time

The new issue of Credo Magazine is out and it is dedicated almost entirely to the bi-centennial of Princeton Theological Seminary. Here’s an excerpt from Christopher Cooper:

While the Princeton theologians did not oppose the possibility of revival and welcomed them on occasion, they believed that it was neither the common, best, nor desirable mode available for the advancement of the Christian religion. Princeton’s Charles Hodge, for instance, pointed out several problems with revival. First, revivals tend to produce pastors and lay people who envision conversion as always sudden and sensible. Such revivalists take it for granted that children grow up unconverted and in need of the drama of a revival experience in order to enter the Christian fold. According to Hodge, such a scheme does not allow for the more regular, scriptural, and desirable method of Christian nurture. Under this system, parents immerse their children in prayers, catechesis, and Christian encouragement, so that they may be quietly, although no less supernaturally, converted without the pomp and circumstance of revival.

Second, Hodge argued that revivals generate an unscriptural form of piety that makes the exercise of strong emotions essential to true religion and worship. Such an opinion produces unstable Christians whose religious stability is gauged by their emotional state. This approach also demeans the ordinary means of grace that are given by God not to foster great emotional highs that are inevitably followed by lows, but to serve as a more constant encouragement to Christian pilgrims.

Hodge pointed out that revivals are, by their very nature, extraordinary occasions and are not meant to be relied upon by pastors and laypersons to whom God has given the task of parental nurture and pastoral ministry. Likewise, pastors today ought not to rely upon revival or the vestiges of revivalism, but would do well to instill within themselves confidence in the ordinary means of pastoral ministry and into their congregants a sense of responsibility for the nurture and edification of their children.

And in case readers are wondering, Old Lifers do make an appearance in this issue.

Keeping it Eschatologically Real

Some time back I wondered about the lack of support for 2k among Vossians. Recently over at Reformed Forum Jared Oliphint seemed to give some eschatological encouragement to 2kers when he wondered about the possibility of redeeming the stuff of creation:

What about the rest of creation? Is it being redeemed? Did Christ accomplish redemption for the rest of creation when he died and was raised?

For those who believe that all of creation is currently being “redeemed” in the eschatological sense, there’s a very simple test to see whether that is in fact the case. As a friend of mine puts it, you are tasked to find a single atom, molecule, object, anything that has the permanence of the everlasting, eternal new heavens and new earth. Such a thing would be indestructible, and would most likely exhibit characteristics that literally indicate an other-world. That would be quite a find.

Or take the language we sometimes find within evangelical circles of “redeeming the city”, for example. Is this appropriate language given what we know of the biblical use of redemption? That depends. People are redeemed by the Holy Spirit regenerating their hearts, having faith in Christ, repenting of their sins, and receiving Christ and his saving and renovating benefits from his accomplished work in history. Christ did not directly accomplish redemption for buildings, neighborhoods, cities, towns, or any other particular group or entity whatsoever. Christ’s benefits do not apply to a local diner or run-down gym. They do not apply to capitalism, to philosophy, to Wal-Mart, to the Icelandic courts of law, or any other non-human not made in the image of God.

Oliphint backs away from some of the implications of this point, but his assertion is one that should prompt the critics of 2k (it is dispensationalist, it is Lutheran, it is defeatist, it doesn’t lead to rallies in the nation’s capital) to pause and reflect. The powers that redemption and its means opposes are not poor working conditions, undrinkable water, economic inequality, or unimaginative artworks. The powers of this age that Christ continues to subdue are those of Satan and his kingdom.

Luther himself deflates any hope for transformationalism in a sermon from 1544:

For [the devil] seeks at all times to take possession of the Kingdom of God and to become lord of Christendom. He will to be seated and to rule, in the pure and holy Temple of God.

What, then, shall we do to him? This we, and especially those who preach the Word of God, should joyfully consider, that we must hope for no peace here, but should recollect that we are Christ’s warriors, in the field, always equipped and ready, for when one war ends another immediately begins.

For we are called by christ and already enroldled (in Baptism) in the army which shall fight under Christ against the devil. For He is the God who is a Prince of war and a true Duke who leads His regiment in battle, not in heaven above among the holy spirits where there is no need of battle, but here on earth in His Church. Yes (even though He is seated at the right hand of the Father) He is Himself with His warriors leading them against the enemy, whom no human power and weapons can withstand, resisting and restraining him with His Word, which He has given to His men.

If culture warriors (i.e., neo-Calvinists, theonomists, and social conservatives) think that reforming society or teaching a biblical w-w of botany are a part of the kingdom coming, then they have forgotten how powerful the enemy is that they battle and they have lost sight of who is responsible for winning the battle.

Vossians and Neo-Calvinists Together?

I have puzzled often about the lack of support in Vossian circles for two-kingdom theology. Many Vossians I know — and I consider myself to be one — find the spirituality of the church agreeable but balk at 2k. Why 2k is distinguished from the spirituality of the church is anyone’s guess, or why Geerhardus Vos’ distinction between this age and the age to come do not put a kabosh on tranformationalism is another of those brain-teasers you see in the back pages of World magazine (NOT!).

With this perplexity in mind, Jim Cassidy’s post about Vos, Van Til, and Kline and their implicit rejection of 2k’s dualism is instructive.

On the one hand:

I want to once again reiterate my deep appreciation for the work done by 2K theologians. I believe their insights are important and essential for the church to hear today. In particular, in so far as they desire to highlight the spiritual nature of the church’s ministry, I am all on board. Furthermore, I am in general agreement and in sympathy with their critique of social transformationalism. I am also deeply indebted to their redemptive-historical hermeneutic for understanding the difference between what parts of God’s Word are applicable to the church or state today, and which are not.

On the other hand:

. . . where I disagree is on a fundamental, deep-structural level with regard to their covenant theology. And I disagree with them because of Geerhardus Vos, Cornelius Van Til, and above all M.G. Kline. . . .

That brings us to Kline. Kline dedicated his great work The Structure of Biblical Authority to his professor, Cornelius Van Til. That was appropriate as the work was thoroughly Vosian and Van Tilian. But while he hints at how God’s Word and creation relate in that book (thinking here of chapter 2), the full development of his thought would have to await his Kingdom Prologue. In that book, very early on (i.e., pp. 14-41 of the W&S edition), Kline introduces the concept of God’s “covenantal fiat” in the act of creation. This means, in short, that God’s act of creation IS covenantal. . . . this means that there is no place for Thomas’s nature/grace dualism, nor is there any place for German idealism’s dualisms as well. The very Word which God spoke at creation, testifies to God who spoke it through the things that have been made. At no place and at no time is creation silent. It always and everywhere speaks. This eliminates any and all notions of natural theology as understood by the Thomistic tradition, or as modernized by German idealism. Creation does not need to be perfected by grace. It is quite adequate for the knowledge of God, thank you very much.

Whether Jim believes 2kers disagree with this point is not entirely clear. But he should be aware of how important covenant theology is to both David VanDrunen (see his piece in the Strimple festschrift) and Mike Horton (see his dogmatics) at least in part because they studied with Kline. In other words, 2k is not opposed to Jim’s point about the covenantal context of creation. I suspect that most 2kers affirm it, especially of those who studied with Kline.

Where 2kers get off the Vos-Van Til-Kline-Cassidy bus is with Jim’s application:

. . . our call as Christians is to point the unbeliever to that reality and call him to repentance. Indeed, God’s common grace allows the unbeliever to function and even thrive in cultural endeavors, and we praise God for that fact. But such grace is only a restrainer. It is never to be confused with common ground. There is no safe territory upon which the unbeliever can stand and do right by one kingdom, but not right by another. In every kingdom he is wrong. Even his own cultural endeavors testify against him. And if we, as Christians, do not (lovingly!) point that out to him, who will? I am afraid that the 2KT may in fact cause Christians to lose their greatest apologetic and witnessing opportunities.

First, where does the Bible require believers when interacting in the public square to engage in apologetics? When Joseph, Daniel, Jesus, and Paul engaged pagan rulers, did they first explain the covenantal context of creation before carrying out orders or answering questions?

Second, the public square may presume a covenantal context, but do we need to go to first principles for everything we do with unbelievers in our neighborhoods and communities? Do we need to explain the covenant or creation before we explain to city council the need for a new stop light at a busy intersection? Do we need to appeal to the creator of the universe before opposing a pay raise for public school teachers? Do we even need to give a covenantal account of the universe before declaring war on Iraq?

I don’t mean to make light of Jim’s point. But I do sometimes wonder how folks who live and breathe the antithesis live side by side in this age with unbelievers upon whom Reformed Protestants depend to stay in their lane, keep up their yards, and cheer for the home team.