One Thing She Overlooked

11. Neo-Calvinists are slimey.

If Corrie Mitchell had to account for Nelson Kloosterman in her brief for Calvinism’s better, kinder, gentler side, what would she say? Of if she read Dr. K’s latest post, would she continue to say this about Calvinism?

Often, Calvinists are accused of being cocky, arrogant, abrasive — usually toward those who don’t share the Reformed theology they believe to be exclusively accurate. The danger comes in elevating the theology, the doctrine above Christ. In the end, Reformed theology doesn’t perfectly answer or satisfy every question we have, for God is bigger and beyond any system or framework that we contrive.

I like the way pastor Art Azurdia reorients us to Jesus by saying, “The evidence of God’s mercy in your life isn’t determined by how much theology you know, by how many books you read, but by your active goodness to people in misery and in need.”

The difficulty for Ms. Mitchell is that she may engage in a bit of the shell-game in which Dr. K excels — accent the positive, ignore the negative. Another name for it is cherry picking, and Dr. K is particularly adept at making his opponents look bad and scaring his readers about his opponents. I know first hand since his series on 2k for Canadian Calvinists hammered away at attempting to connect my own views about Christian involvement in politics to Misty Irons thoughts’ about gays. It took Dr. K almost 5 years to recognize that he might have erred and to apologize (in the banter at his blog somewhere, I’m not going to search now).

Now Dr. K tries to make Brian Lee look like a man who doesn’t give a large rodent’s behind for Chinese Christians (even though Dr. K comes across as not particularly caring for a minister in his former communion). When Lee writes:

. . . neither the Church nor her preachers can say unambiguously that such laws must be enacted. She lacks the authority, and the wisdom, to do so. Perhaps such a law will backfire; perhaps it will lead to more abortions, to more deadly abortions. Perhaps it is politically unwise, though being morally just. If she bases her actions on what God’s word teaches, the church must remain agnostic on such questions.

he really means, according to Dr. K:

There you have it: Chinese Pastor Wang is detained on the streets of Chengdu, along with his parishioners, for opposing China’s one-child abortion policy, while URC Pastor Lee blogs from his desk at Starbucks in Washington, DC, that such pastors lack the wisdom to preach unambiguously that such forced abortions must stop.

I’m guessing that Pastor Wang didn’t get the Washington, DC, URC memo: Sit down and be quiet, Pastor! As a result, he’s in clear and obvious violation of the URC pastor’s virulent policy of religious disengagement.

(As if Dr. K blogging from his bunker in Illinois is showing the courage of Pastor Wang. I guess Pastor Lee didn’t receive Dr. K’s memo about where to blog.)

The thing is, Dr. K cherry picks in both directions. He selectively uses Pastor Wang to show up Pastor Lee (what if Brian were an Asian-American? Would Dr. K write as he did?). And he selectively uses Pastor Wang to prove the transformational effects of Christianity:

Some Chinese also discern in Christianity the roots of Western strength. They see it as the force behind the development of social justice, civil society and rule of law, all things they hope to see in China. Many new NGOs are run by Christians or Buddhists. There are growing numbers of Christian doctors and academics. More than 2,000 Christian schools are also dotted around China, many of them small and all, as yet, illegal.

One civil-rights activist says that, of the 50 most-senior civil-rights lawyers in China, probably half are Christians. Some of them have set up the Association of Human Rights Attorneys for Chinese Christians. Groups of well-paid urban Christian lawyers join together to defend Christians—and others—in court. Missionaries have begun to go out from China to the developing world.

So why exactly would he credit Christianity with civil rights efforts if half the civil rights advocates in China are not Christian? Does he ever consider that maybe the diagram here is not a Venn arrangement but a circle (Christians) within a larger circle (civil rights advocates) — let’s call it a Subset Diagram? That is, could it be that civil rights is a product as much of the Enlightenment that Christians eventually embraced as it is somehow an outgrowth of Christian faith? It sure would be possible to find plenty of liberal Christians who support civil rights and don’t give a fig about limited atonement or Calvinistic epistemology.

But such analysis rarely gets in the way of Dr. K’s execution of w-w.

When Ms. Mitchell encounters the Dr. K’s of the world, will she issue a retraction?

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The Neo-Calvinist Bible

Thomas Jefferson, like Marcion, is legendary for taking out the parts of Scripture that were not agreeable with his outlook. After reading Nelson Kloosterman on the cultural mandate, I wonder what he does with Paul.

First Dr. Kloosterman:

It’s not worship or witness, cult or culture. The crux of this entire discussion lies precisely in the word and. The word and is a word of integration. This conjunction proclaims not merely the intersection of worship and witness, but also the integration of worship and witness. Moreover, in order that both worship and witness conjoin effectively for the salting and illuminating benefit of the church for and among the nations, this worship and witness are corporate rather than individual, not at the expense of the private and personal, but for the enriching and deepening of them. This worship and witness are open to creation and its integration with redemption, refusing every dualism that segregates and isolates from the gospel’s grace and power any life experience within creation, but seeing every life experience as expressing one’s religious heart response. Stated clearly: to segregate cult from culture is suicidal, for both.

Now Paul:

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:4-11 ESV)

Is it just me or do I detect a lot more or in Paul than Dr. Kloosterman’s and? What exactly about “rubbish” (or dung) does Dr. Kloosterman not understand (assuming that Phillipians is still in his Bible)?

John Calvin helps out by having us understand that the gospel does not require us to live as if culture is rubbish:

As to riches and honors, when we have divested ourselves of attachment to them, we will be prepared, also, to renounce the things themselves, whenever the Lord will require this from us, and so it ought to be. It is not expressly necessary that you be a poor man, in order that you may be Christian; but if it please the Lord that it should be so, you ought to be prepared to endure poverty. In fine, it is not lawful for Christians to have anything apart from Christ. I consider as apart from Christ everything that is a hinderance in the way of Christ alone being our ground of glorying, and having an entire sway over us.

I assume that we can include in Calvin’s notion of riches, neo-Calvinist notions of culture — math, science, Shakespeare, and Hegelian philosophy. In which case, believers should be willing to divest of our attachment to culture. We really do have to decide whether we are loyal to cult or to culture. Transforming culture won’t turn it into the equivalent of Christ. As Calvin says, we need to look at cultural goods the way that sailors look at cargo when trying to save the ship during a storm:

For those who cast their merchandise and other things into the sea, that they may escape in safety, do not, therefore, despise riches, but act as persons prepared rather to live in misery and want, than to be drowned along with their riches. They part with them, indeed, but it is with regret and with a sigh; and when they have escaped, they bewail the loss of them. Paul, however, declares, on the other hand, that he had not merely abandoned everything that he formerly reckoned precious, but that they were like dung, offensive to him, or were disesteemed like things that are thrown away in contempt.

In other words, cultural goods may be good, even pretty good, but not great or redemptive. In fact, trying to integrate them may be as suicidal to the gospel as Dr. Kloosterman thinks segregation is. Calvin himself warns:

Paul renounced everything that he had, that he might recover them in Christ; and this corresponds better with the word gain, for it means that it was no trivial or ordinary gain, inasmuch as Christ contains everything in himself. And, unquestionably, we lose nothing when we come to Christ naked and stript of everything, for those things which we previously imagined, on false grounds, that we possessed, we then begin really to acquire. He, accordingly, shews more fully, how great the riches of Christ, because we obtain and find all things in him. . . .

He thus, in a general way, places man’s merit in opposition to Christ’s grace; for while the law brings works, faith presents man before God as naked, that he may be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. When, therefore, he declares that the righteousness of faith is from God, it is not simply because faith is the gift of God, but because God justifies us by his goodness, or because we receive by faith the righteousness which he has conferred upon us.

Of course, clothing is a good thing and is part of culture. Just watch The Devil Wears Prada to see one of the great speeches on behalf of the fashion industry, not all that far removed from the brief for Pinot Noir in Sideways. But when it comes to the righteousness that God requires, Bill Blass and Robert Mondavi have nothing on Christ and the clothing and drink he provides through the means of grace.

To try to integrate human cultural goods and the work of Christ does not upgrade culture but trivializes the gospel. If Dr. Kloosterman wants to render a service to the church, instead of warning God’s people about the dangers of 2k, perhaps he could address how neo-Calvinists reconcile Paul’s notion of human accomplishments as rubbish with the Kuyperians’ promotion of the cultural mandate.

Lumpers, Splitters, and Historical Honesty

I could not help but think of a recent post at CTC while preparing for class on Turkey and the United States today. In his chapter from Islam and the West, “Other People’s History,” Bernard Lewis takes aim at those who accuse Orientalists (those who study the Middle East, China and India for starters) of intellectual imperialism, as if the study of non-western civilizations arises from a “predatory” or “larcenous” interest in “other people’s cultural possessions.” He goes on to say that scholarship should be competent, fair, honest, and not distorted by “loyalties and purposes.” But these considerations “are of no importance to those who believe that all scholarship or, rather, all scholarly discourse is ideological and that their ideology, and therefore their scholarly discourse is better or stronger because it is openly avowed and, more especially, because it is theirs.” He goes on to describe this disregard for even-handed scholarship in the following way:

“You want to study in my archives, read my literature, talk to my people, work on my history? Then you must pay your respects to my point of view, you must promote my national aspirations as I may from time to tie define or redefine them.” To comply with this requirement, the historian must choose for himself and demand of others a presentation of history that includes only what in the present climate of opinion is seen as positive and excludes, and if called upon denies, anything that in the present climate of opinion is seen as negative. (122)

This description of biased history resembles Ken Howell’s description of the “Classic” Roman Catholic approach, in “Three Frameworks for Interpreting the Church Fathers,” for examining the early church (and arguably for the rest of Roman Catholic history). What Howell describes is not necessarily cynical about “objective” historical frameworks. But he does affirm that “true” historical account has to conform to a certain bias in favor of “the home team.”

An honest historian working within the Classic Catholic Framework (CCF) will face all the diverse and varied expressions of Christian belief brought forth from the relevant texts. He will, however, ask different questions about those texts from those who work in the CPF (Classic Protestant) or the MCF (Modern Critical). Central to inquiry in the CCF is the notion of witness. Witnesses point to something greater and more enduring than themselves. In the CCF, the goal is to study the relevant witnesses in order to discover the deposit of faith which is the doctrinal content of the Christian faith. This approach assumes continuity across space and time. That continuity may not be total or exhaustive but it has essential qualities and characteristics which are transmitted over time.

Howell’s goes on to contrast this with how Protestants approach the early church:

The problem posed by the Protestant interpretation of early church history was as follows: how do you know what in the Fathers should be taken as binding and what should not? The Protestant answer was clear if not always easy to apply in practice: measure the Fathers against Scripture. Of course, the learned Roman Catholics believed this was an insufficient answer. How does one know if one’s interpretation of Scripture, which is being used as the criterion of judging the Fathers, is correct? The criterion of “the unanimous consent of the fathers” turned the Reformation’s answer on its head. It said that the way we know what interpretations of the Scriptures are legitimate is by the universality, antiquity, and consensus of the fathers. In this view, what was unanimous among the fathers, such as the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, was binding on the church. What was not unanimous, such as how the creation narratives of Genesis were to be interpreted, was not binding.

I know that in Reformed circles some historians have argued, following the Dutch Calvinist w-v notion, that “objective” history is impossible and that the bias of faith in understanding the past adds value — it sees the hand of God at work or the importance of religious “values” where a non-believing historian miss them. Howell not only seems to follow this rejection of academic neutrality, but he adds criteria for studying the past that in my view rig the game before it even starts. He says that a historian needs to find continuity and unanimity among the church fathers.

This is sometimes what historians call lumping. That is, they take all positions and force them into a kind of consensus so that difficulties, tensions, even contradictions are ironed out of history. On the other side are splitters who recognize disagreements, discrepancies, rivalries, and discontinuities. I myself prefer the splitting model if only because the vacuous term “evangelical” is supposed somehow to make sense of the Assemblies of God and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or Calvinism is supposed to make sense of Scott Clark and Nelson Kloosterman.

If you pushed most historians, even though they complain about lumpers in their ranks, most would concede that the craft of history errs on the side of splitting because humans rarely agree, ideas are contested, and free societies (at least) inherently nurture disagreements (though the history of the human race is littered with intellectual combat). This is why Howell’s use of the word “honest” is curious. A Roman Catholic historian who must find consensus and unanimity may be honest. But people who see differences where others see the same thing can well ask whether the lumpers are truly being fair to the past. Funny, not even the Bible approaches salvation history as a lumper does it is hard to imagine a time in the sagas of the Israelites or the really early church (REC) when everyone agreed.

If Critics of 2K Have So Much Time To Criticize 2K, the Culture Must Be Fine

Recent interactions with Dr. K. and his followers have confirmed at least to (all about) me that no end (or substance) is in sight for the fine tooth comb applied to two kingdom theology. In an earlier exchange, potential clarification of views went essentially nowhere. Dr. K. did admit finally that Misty Irons may not be the best evidence of 2k’s problems, though he continues to make gay marriage a test case for cultural engagement (when he is not banging the drum for Christian schools). Why blasphemy laws are not also not on the table for culture warriors is still up for grabs (at one point Dr. K. said that gay marriage and blasphemy were apples and oranges).

So too some clarification came in the realm of biblicism. Dr. K. went out of his way to say that the Bible is not sufficient for all of life. But then with the other hand he insisted that the Bible must provide the lens with which to interpret everything. I don’t know about you, but if a book is silent on plumbing and then I am told the book in question needs to be used to interpret plumbing, the drip in my mental faucet quickens.

Arguably, the only glove that landed on 2kers was our failure to be as outraged as neo-Calvinists were about the incident of a transgender man exposing himself (herself?) to co-eds at a Washington State college.

Now (okay, a little while ago) comes another assessment of Matt Tuininga’s effort to find a middle way between 2k and neo-Calvinism. Part of the annoyance of this post is the mind-numbing numbering of paragraphs the way that European academic books do (arguably nothing makes scholarship look more arcane than numbering and sub-numbering paragraphs in the manner of a automobile manual). After three articles of trying to explain 2k to people unfamiliar with it and a tad frightened, Tuininga receives a barely passing grade from Dr. K.:

This essay written by Matthew Tuininga is the third in a series seeking to explain the heart of the new movement known as “natural law and two kingdoms” (NL2K, R2K, or simply 2K). It remains to be seen, however, whether his numerous qualifications designed to safeguard his position and to effect rapprochement with worldview Calvinism will offer genuine clarity or generate more confusion.

With the culture in such bad shape as neo-Calvinists have it, you might think Dr. K. would see 2k as a rather minor concern. Do anti-2kers really think that a few book writers, who are by no means celebrities at the Gospel Coalition’s registrants count celebrity, are derailing the project to return the United States to biblical standards? If only Old Life were that popular.

Meanwhile, not to be missed is a good statement of 2k convictions on Tuininga’s part:

Perhaps the most obvious expression of this reality is Ephesians 4, the passage Calvin used to link his two kingdoms doctrine with its institutional implications for church government. Paul explains that the fruits of Christ’s ascension, in which he was made Lord of all things, is expressed in his pouring out of the gifts of the church’s ministry. It is as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers equip the saints for ministry and build up the body into Christ that the saints “grow up in every way into him who is the head” (Ephesians 4:7-16). This is Paul’s presupposition when he declares in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

Thus, the church is the only corporate expression of the kingdom in this age. It is only as we join ourselves to the body of Christ, the body of those who hold fast to Jesus, that we participate in the kingdom that is coming. And although we witness to our citizenship in this kingdom in every single thing that we do in this age, doing everything “as unto the Lord,” the primary form this witness to Christ’s lordship takes is that of submission, service, and sacrifice in an often hostile and oppressive world. Only after believers, like Jesus and in conformity to his example, set aside the glory that they have been promised, take up the form of a servant, and humble themselves to the point of death, can they be confident that God will exalt them above every knee “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:5-11). Only by following in the way of the Lamb that was slain, to the point of martyrdom if necessary, do the witnesses of the Lamb conquer with him (Revelation 12:11; 14:4).

My lone quibble with Matt is the sign of lingering neo-Calvinism (which I attribute to his Covenant College education, in part, and which he denies). For instance, he still believes that Christians will look or be different and noticeable when they apply the Bible to their daily lives:

The call of the Christian life is therefore not to establish the Lordship of Christ through conquest or external cultural transformation but to witness to Jesus’s lordship by imitating him in his sacrificial service. When we conform to Christ’s example faithfully the effect on our various vocations and communities will indeed be profound. Those in government will recognize the Lordship of Christ (Psalm 2) and seek to use their power to secure peace and justice for those under their charge, rather than self-aggrandizement, and to protect the church in order that it might fulfill its task (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Those in positions of economic power will serve those placed under them rather than dominate them (Ephesians 6:9). Husbands will sacrifice themselves for their wives in imitation of Christ, recognizing their equality together in him (Ephesians 5:25-33). Those who have been given gifts, talents, or riches will use those resources to provide for those who are in need (Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 6:18). About all of these cultural affairs, in which believers engage in common with unbelievers, Scripture has much to say.

I know Matt thinks I am less than moderate at times in my expression of 2k and part of my provocation stems from an unwillingness to grant culturally distinct ways to Christians based on biblical teaching. But I also know and I am sure Matt knows, plenty of non-Christians who believe government officials should serve the public, that businessmen should not ruthlessly pursue profits, that husbands should be considerate and loving toward their wives, and that those with resources will share them with those in need. In other words, I see nothing inherently distinctive or biblical in the Christian pursuit of these social and cultural goods. Do different motives exist for Christian businessmen compared to their unbelieving peers? Sure. Can I see those motives? No. And that is the point. The best stuff that Christians produce in public or cultural life is hardly distinct from non-Christian products. Where you do literally see Christianity at work is on Sunday.

Oh no, there goes 24/7 Christianity.

Was Paul In League with Wormwood?

Readers may be encouraged to learn that Dr. K. has recanted somewhat of his repeated attempts to associate the defenders of 2k with the views of Misty Irons on gay marriage. The exacts words are:

Having re-read both my original blog post and the ensuing relevant comments, I publicly regret insinuating that some advocates of 2K theology defend homosexual marriage. As the interaction made clear (I hope), I should have claimed only that the hermeneutical argument employed by one defender of homosexual marriage is identical to the hermeneutical argument employed by some current 2K advocates. Simply stated, that hermeneutic is this: the Bible governs the spiritual kingdom/church, unaided reason and natural law alone govern the civil kingdom.

But this welcome news only goes so far because Dr. K.’s website if filled with other inaccuracies and wrongheaded notions. For instance, in his long (boy was it long) series on w-w for Christian Renewal, he took several detours, one of which included a C.S. Lewis-styled epistle from Screwtape, written by David Naugle for BreakPoint. The letter included this paragraph:

But our crowning achievement has been in the churches. Under the well-intended influence of their hoodwinked leaders, they actually believe our lies are the truth! They think they came out of the Bible. The silly little Christians have confused creation with sin, and now they can hardly wait to evacuate the planet and head off to heaven where they think they really belong! How joyfully they sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” They promote heaven over earth, the spiritual over the physical, grace over nature, the soul over the body, the eternal over the temporal, faith over reason and so on. They see everything as essentially sacred or secular. They think that Christianity is its own distinct realm of life rather than a way of life for every realm. They separate their faith from the bulk of their lives, and set Christ in opposition to their cultures. How proud they are of their resulting super-spirituality, nicely ensconced in their cozy, well-fortified Christian ghettos. They have bought into our vision of disintegration. They are compartmentalists, par excellence.

Lo and behold, an hour of so later during family worship (TMI), I came across this passage from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5 ESV)

What is striking about this passage is that Paul seems to do the very things that are supposed by the neo-Screwtape to be devilish — distinction between the body and spirit, between the church and the world, between body and soul, and between the rules applying to Christians and non-Christians. Even more curious is what Calvin does with verse five, the one about delivering the evil doer over to Satan:

For delivering over to Satan is an appropriate expression for denoting excommunication; for as Christ reigns in the Church, so Satan reigns out of the Church, as Augustine, too, has remarked, in his sixty-eighth sermon on the words of the Apostle, where he explains this passage. As, then, we are received into the communion of the Church, and remain in it on this condition, that we are under the protection and guardianship of Christ, I say, that he who is cast out of the Church is in a manner delivered over to the power of Satan, for he becomes an alien, and is cast out of Christ’s kingdom.

I understand that neo-Calvinism inspires believers to take the world by storm. But the way they get there and the folks they throw under the bus in the process are — dare I say — unbecoming. This is all the more the case when the New Testament is littered with the very distinctions that neo–Calvinists denounce as dualistic and of the devil. Do ways exist to interpret these texts so that you avoid the errors of monasticism and fundamentalism? Of course. Calvin and Luther come to mind. But do you need to avoid texts like 1 Corinthians 5 to bolster your gospel of w-w? Apparently.

Calling All Neo-Calvinists and Kuyperians!!

I need serious help. I have been conversing (yes, snarkly) with the good Dr. K. about 2k after all that Rodney King mojo that descended like a dove on Lookout Mountain last week when Mike Horton ascended the same. He keeps faulting 2kers for many faults — basically giving away the faith — and then in comments he does a great impersonation of Muhammad Ali, dodging and weaving against any untoward construction, at once sounding biblicist, then bobbing like a Dutch Calvinist, and then ducking like a 2ker. It’s enough to give you vertigo.

Here are some samples from the comments and exchanges. On the one hand he wants the Bible to be the norm for all of life:

Declaring the Bible to be authoritative over all of human living, and acting accordingly, are confessional matters. Nevertheless, all of us continue to wrestle with how the Bible is authoritative (for example, more directly / less directly; by way of norm, orientation, or example; and the like). The concretization of the principle, however, need not be a confessional matter. . . .

The neo-Calvinist vison is that together Christians cultivate their witness and walk in the various spheres of cultural activity. Insofar as they seek to apply the principles of God’s Word in the particular area of politics, the neo-Calvinist vision aims to pursue biblical justice for all members of society according to the divine norms relevant to various kinds of human activity.

One of those norms involves protecting unborn life. Another involves protecting the divine institution of marriage, which, as we know even from Scripture, by divine permission allows divorce for the hardness of the human heart. Another norm involves truth-telling, such that biblical teaching requires fidelity to one’s oath, the enforcement of contracts, punishing perjury, anti-libel laws, etc. I know of no neo-Calvinist who would argue that politicians must advocate to ban heresy or false religion. Some might advocate punishing blasphemy. Most would seek to do everything politically feasible to limit non-marital sex.

On the other hand, Dr. K. strives (why, I don’t know) to distance himself from advocating a Christian state or the state’s enforcement of Christian norms:

The prohibition of polygamy is most certainly entailed in the Seventh Commandment. As WLC 139 puts it, among the sins forbidden in the Seventh Commandment is “having more wives or husbands than one at the same time.” (Though the WLC list of sins prohibited also includes “allowing, tolerating, keeping stews.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that; I’ll look in the fridg.) You compare polygamy with divorce, with respect to how Christians should respond to this in the public square. If it were possible for me as a Christian legislator to introduce now, in 2012, a law that upholds monogamy over against polygamy, should I do so, or would I be forcing my morality on the public? By the way, in none of my comments, questions, or observations, have I called for the state to enforce any commandment—Seventh, Third, Ninth, or any. Rather, I have simply pointed to specific duties or obligations, whose wording I have borrowed conveniently from the WLC, which we have as Christians, we who presumably who adhere to the WLC. That as a Christian living in a democratic republic I should want the state legislatively to promote and preserve unborn human life, monogamous heterosexual marriage, and truthful contracts is not at all to desire that the state somehow become Christian, or that the state enforce what are merely Christian values. These values are universally binding moral values. (emphasis mine)

I emphasize this line because in the previous quote (all in the same discussion thread) Dr. K. did speak about Christian politics and the application of biblical norms of justice to all members of society.

What is also worthy of emphasis (hence the bold) is Dr. K.’s assertion that pro-life, heterosexual marriage, and honest contracts are matters that we recognize as true universally, in other words, apart from the Bible. Here he adopts the 2k logic of natural law.

Finally, the kicker is that Dr. K. believes 2k is in fundamental opposition to Reformed Protestantism:

For my part, our disagreement begins with the Bible—with the exegesis of the entire biblical story from Genesis through Revelation. It continues with the Confessions—both the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. It moves from there to the application of the truths and principles harvested from these sources to all of Christian living in the world. None of this denigrates the institutional church, the office of minister of the Word, the pivotal, crucial role of the means of grace, the essential ecclesiastical activities of catechesis, family visiting, discipling, and service. It is simply saying: the gospel is for more than these.

I’d like to say I understand where Dr. K. is coming from but I cannot. Perhaps my neo-Calvinist friends, few though they may be, can help me translate. Is this a function of not understanding Dutch?

Do Neo-Calvinists Actually Think Before They Speak (or sit)?

As noted a few days ago, the fallout from the recent discussion of two-kingdom theology at Covenant College (with Mike Horton) has touched off several lively discussions. The one at Dr. K.’s blog led the good doctor to use a phrase in connection with the virtues of neo-Calvinism that I had never heard before: “a public Christian theology of cultural obedience.”

If you perform a Google search for the phrase you find variations on cultural obedience or public theology but nothing with the whole enchilada of Kuyperian grandeur.

A public theology of cultural obedience would be one thing. It must be a way to distinguish a public from a private or personal theology of cultural obedience. But to add Christian to the phrase would apparently distinguish this from Muslim and Jewish public theologies of cultural obedience (though it does not address differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants or confessional differences among the latter).

Even odder is the phrase cultural obedience (more below). Public theology would seem to be one way of describing a Christian’s engagement with social, political, and cultural affairs. So cultural obedience seems to be redundant. But I suspect it is a form of overstatement for emphasis. Like Isaiah’s utterance of “holy, holy, holy” to describe the gulf separating him and God, this phrase indicates that we really, really, really need to be engaged with human existence outside the church.

Fine. Culture is important. But it is also one of the least useful categories for assessing problems in political, economic, and social life.

Still, what is cultural obedience and how does it square with Christian liberty? If Christians do not have a culture the way Israelites did (food, language, politics, land) because Christians now find themselves living in all the nations of the world, and if a hallmark of Reformed conviction has been the notion that Christians are free in those activities not prescribed by Scripture (like meat offered to idols or whether to speak Dutch or English), what possibly could the phrase cultural obedience mean? I get it. It’s supposed to indicate that Christians are supposed to live their lives before the face of God and not treat areas of life as if independent from Christ’s Lordship.

But here is where some serious theological reflection needs to go on because the ideals of Christian liberty (which allows for Christian smoking) and the Lordship of Christ for all areas of life are in tension. If I have liberty in those areas where the Bible is silent but now find out that I need to submit to Christ in everything I do, my brain cramps. Either I have liberty or I must show submission the next time I reach into the humidor. Neo-Calvinists really could provide some assistance if they would wrestle with these contrasting theological notions rather than simply trotting out pious and inspirational bumper stickers.

They might also benefit from some serious cultural reflection, such as the kind that comes in books like Witold Rybczinski’s Home: The History of An Idea. (I am on a Rybczinski kick since I am teaching a seminar on place and home and have assigned his book which is — truth be told — brilliant in its ability to instill a sense of wonder about things we regard as ordinary.) What neo-Calvinists could learn from books like Home is that culture is never as self-conscious or intentional as the ideas-have-consequences model alleges. Like history, culture is accidental, and it comes to us without a rule book or manual. We inherit the choices (ironic and unwitting) of previous generations and accept them as part of the cultural norm. And when those norms prove unacceptable, we change them but often the changes are as much functional as based on ideals. Perhaps the greatest example of how common and unthinking culture is is the chair (a piece of furniture that absorbs architects’ attention almost as much as the exterior of buildings). Here are a few excerpts from Rybczinski that might give users of the phrase cultural obedience the willies:

Differences in posture, like differences in eating utensils (knife and fork, chopsticks or fingers, for example), divide the world as profoundly as political boundaries. Regarding posture there are two camps: the sitters-up (the so-called western world) and the squatters (everyone else). Although there is not Iron Curtain separating the two sides, neither feels comfortable in the position of the other. (78)

If this is true, and it surely has the ring of it, what does cultural obedience mean for posture. Do I submit to the Lord by sitting in a chair or squatting on the floor? And if one of these is more obedient, do Christians have an obligation to transform squatters into sitters (or vice versa, though sitting would be better for the furniture makers in Grand Rapids)?

Rybczinski goes on to try to answer how sitting developed in the western world and does so by suggesting how little inevitability accompanied those pieces of furniture that would never imaginably produce calls for a Christian public theology of cultural obedience:

A little reflection shows that all human culture is artificial, cooking no less than music, furniture no less than painting. Why prepare time-consuming sauces when a raw fruit would suffice? Why bother with musical instruments when the voice is pleasant enough? Why paint pictures when looking at nature is satisfying? Why sit up when you can squat?

The answer is that it makes life richer, more interesting, and more pleasurable. Of course furniture is unnatural; it is an artifact. Sitting is artificial, and like other artificial activities, although less obvioulsy than cooking, instrumental music, or painting, it introduces art into life. We eat pasta or play the piano — or sit upright — out of choice, not out of need. . . .

Here is an explanation of why the world came to be divided into sitters and squatters. The coincidence of all the factors necessary to comfortable sitting is so unlikely, the probability of awkwardness and discomfort is so great, that it is not hard to imagine that many cultures, having had a try at it, would abandon the effort and wisely resort to sitting on the ground. This choice, in turn, would have affected the development of furniture in general, for without chairs, there would be no need for tables and desks, and little likelihood that a floor-sitting society would want to surround itself with other upright furniture such as cupboards, commodes, and bookcases. (80, 96)

Bottom line: culture and its development (or transformation) are far more complicated and independent of human control or manipulation than phrases such as a Christian public theology of cultural obedience would suggest. The Lordship of Christ? Of course. The Lordship of Christ involves neo-Calvinists’ lordship of culture? Hardly.

Why Neo-Calvinism Sounds Novel

I understand Dr. K. is trying to give 2k theology another try and for this Matthew Tuininga deserves much of the credit. I would have thought this an instance of “if you’re not Dutch you’re not much.” But since VanDrunen is a Dutch name — at least — and since Dr. K. has not begun to take back his 13-part take down of Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, factors other than ethnicity are at play.

But before anti-2k aggreessors lie down with 2k innocents, we need to keep our wits and check the fine print. In a recent post Dr. K., again in a mood of generosity toward Tuininga’s 2k, wondered if 2kers and neo-Calvinists might have more in common than he thought. The occasion for the piece was the recent decision of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Colorado Springs not to serve communion to Vice President Biden because of the latter’s support for abortion rights. This controversy led to considerations about when Roman Catholic politicians violate church teaching and are guilty of sin, as well as whether Roman Catholic church members are also guilty of sin for voting for candidates that don’t follow church teaching. Since Tuininga applauded Rome’s consistent opposition to an “evil so grave,” Dr. K. thought he saw an opening for further 2k and neo-Calvinist agreement.

This encouragement should be applauded because eliminating this evil is also required by “the principle of moral obedience binding on a disciple of Christ that simply cannot be compromised.” We would be troubled if our applause for the church-as-institute were permitted by our NL2K friends to be one-sided—applauding the church’s opposition toward intolerable evil, but not the church’s promotion of the good over against that evil.

Dr. K.’s point about the church as institute supporting opposition to evil seems to break down in Tuininga’s case since he is hardly the church as institute — he was merely one Christian opining about the Roman Catholic Church.

My concern is not with the Kuyperian distinction between church as institute or as organism but with the Calvinistic notion of evil. Dr. K. used the phrase “eliminating evil” or “eliminate evil” at least three times in his piece.

Eliminate? Really?

Can any good Calvinist, who takes Total Depravity seriously, ever entertain the idea that evil will be eradicated this side of the new heavens and new earth? Is not the notion of eradicating evil utopian and radical, sort of like the breathless idealism of Charles Finney’s perfectionism? For instance, in strictly legal terms, we have laws against murder. Have those laws stopped murder? So does Dr. K. actually believe that the criminalization of abortion will actually eliminate this evil?

But outside the ephemeral and fleeting world of law and the courts, does Dr. K. actually think that people who don’t murder are not guilty of murder? Has he not heard what Christ said about hate being an instance of murder? The reason evil cannot be eliminated this side of glory is that wickedness pervades the human heart — even the hearts of the regenerate.

And if Dr. K. followed the teachings of historic Calvinism (not to mention if he were a political conservative) he would never use the words “eliminate” and “evil” together. Of course, his word choice could be simply a slip of the word processor. But my suspicion is that Dr. K.’s mistake is actually an expression of the postmillennial tranformationalism that generally follows from taking “every square” inch captive. And this difference — whether the kingdom comes here and now in affairs outside the church or whether the renewal of all things awaits the return of Christ — is what keeps 2k lambs on the watch for anti-2k lions.

What is Special about Neo-Calvinism?

One of the things you hear from neo-Calvinist critics of 2k is that a view that strongly distinguishes between the church and civil magistrate, or between Christ’s redemptive and creational offices, or between religion and culture (as 2k does) winds up limiting faith or piety to one day out of seven. Or it denies the Lordship of Christ over all areas of life. The breakthrough of neo-Calvinism, apparently, is to overcome the dualism of fundamentalism or pietism and show how Christianity pervades all things.

And yet, this insight is hardly the sole possession of neo-Calvinists. In fact, you see it come in all shapes and sizes from believers who want to see Christianity have a wider scope of influence. Even Michelle Obama,editors at Sojourners, and missional Christians agree with neo-Calvinists (thanks to John Fea):

Last week, the First Lady spoke to the quadrennial General Conference of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church. While the speech was a get-out-the-vote plug, it also shed an interesting light on both her personal faith and the theological tradition of the nation’s oldest independent, predominantly African-American congregations.

In reading the First Lady’s speech, I was intrigued to see a strong emphasis on some concepts I often associate with “missional” churches.

Within the church world, especially among those who are planting them, the term missional has become ubiquitous. It critiques existing church models that focus on creating programs, services, and marketing campaigns intended to draw people to the church instead of encouraging members to go out and serve—to be on “mission.”

Here’s a good example of the type of thing my pastor says all the time when he talks about being missional from the mouth of the First Lady:

“Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well — especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight’s not on us, and we’re making those daily choices about how to live our lives.”

One of the signs of a missional church is a de-emphasis on the Sunday-morning worship service put on by professionals. Instead of focusing on a 60-90 minute performance in which most people are passive attendees, increased time and attention are given to the active work believers are doing to further the mission of the church throughout the week. Some churches have abandoned what would be thought of as traditional services all together.

Mind you, Mrs. Obama and this writer at Sojourners don’t have the philosophical apparatus to support this view. Still, how fundamental an insight is neo-Calvinism’s cultural engagement when so many other Christians pursue cultural engagement in such similar language?

If Dr. K. is now receptive to taking a less antagonistic attitude toward 2k, if he believes that radical (as opposed to representative) neo-Calvinists need to hear important criticisms from 2kers, then perhaps he can point the way by showing where so many of the 24/7 Christians go wrong. I have a suggestion: start with Scripture and the confessions of the Reformed churches; second, leave the activism to believers’ consciences and vocations; and finally, resist all efforts to turn cultural engagement into a program or even a paradigm.

Who's Afraid of the Means of Grace?

Well, Dr. K. has done it. His interminable review of VanDrunen’s Natural Law and Two Kingdoms has terminated and is now available as a booklet, free to anyone who cares to download it (even if you don’t have a w-w). I have heard of review essays, not review books.

Of late the good doctor seems to be backing away from some of his fear mongering. He wants to promote a “reasoned” discussion of 2k. He even tries to credit 2kers with some positive contributions. The latter is evident in the following quotation from this book:

Numerous fears can lead us to a fear of engagement with today’s culture. Fear of worldliness, fear of losing our very souls, fear of accommodation, fear of losing our children. Our NL2K friends are rightly trying to warn us against triumphalism—thinking and acting as though we are bringing in the kingdom of God. They seek properly to warn us against biblicism—throwing Bible verses at people, at issues, at opponents without regard for careful interpretation and proper use of Scripture. They seek passionately to warn us against devaluing the institutional church—minimizing worship, denigrating the means of grace, and falling for the religious gimmickry used for marketing today’s religious associations that go by the name “church.”

But fear can never be the source of power. Only faith can provide power.

Here Dr. K. misidentifies the fear associated with 2k. The 2kers I know are not afraid of engaging the culture. We do so daily in the variety of callings God has granted. The fears that lurk around 2k are those of its critics who seem to be afraid that the kingdom will not come without the culture wars or the redemption of “all things.” Surely, neo-Calvinists of Dr. K.’s stripe would have us believe, Christians can do more to contend against the forces of evil than by simply going to church, worshiping God, attending the means of grace.

In point of fact, the gates of hell will not prevail against word, sacraments, prayer, discipline, and offerings. Saddam Husseins come and J. S. Bachs go. 2kers are confident (though doubts afflict us all) that God’s word will abide. It is 2k’s critics who can’t seem to fathom that God is prevailing even when his people do not appear to be, as if they have not read or reflected on that Word.