Regular readers of Oldlife know about the imbroglio between the Brothers Bayly and those who hold two-kingdoms and the spirituality of the church. The major objection apparently is that these doctrines wonâ€™t let the church do what activists on certain moral issues want the church to do in the public square (you know, bad ju ju versus do do). In which case, the spirituality of the church is offensive because it restrains the spiritual and moral dynamic necessary for fighting the culture wars over sex and its illegitimate consequences.
But the Baylys are not alone in wanting the church to be a culture-shaping institution. Tim Keller has recently written (thanks to oldlife reader Zeke Zekowski for the link) at his blog about the need for the church to be engaged in culture making. He writes:
Most of the young evangelicals interested in integrating their faith with film-making, journalism, corporate finance, etc, are getting their support and mentoring from informal networks or para-church groups. Michael Lindsay’s book Faith in the Halls of Power shows that many Christians in places of influence in the culture are alienated from the church, because they get, at best, no church support for living their faith out in the public spheres, and, at worst, opposition.
(A minor quibble here is that Iâ€™m not sure Lindsay shows any such thing in a work of sociology that shakes the pom-poms for evangelicals rising in elite sectors without the slightest sense of ambivalence about the theology of glory deeply embedded in [and should be haunting] the evangelical quest for greatness.)
A major kvetch is this: why do Christians pursuing communications and the arts need the church to have their hand held more than plumbers, bakers, farmers, Home Depot check-out clerks, and subway train engineers? How much does the church support the work of the average Mary or Joe? And do these modest workers complain about the church not affirming them? One would think that the perks that come with putting your name on a piece of art or a newspaper column might make up for the lack of gratification that comes with changing the filters in the boiler room of the twelve-floor apartment building.
At the theological level, the church needs to gain more consensus on how the church and Christian faith relate to culture. There is still a lot of conflict between those who want to disciple Christians for public life, and those who think all “engagement of culture” ultimately leads to compromise and distraction from the preaching of the gospel. What makes this debate difficult is that both sides make good points and have good arguments.
I remain baffled why cultural engagement is a pressing need for the church. I would think it pretty important to shepherd members of Christâ€™s body in the notion that they are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, whose identity in Christ far transcends the work they do no matter how creative or dull. The church, it seems, has plenty of work to do to confirm Christians in the truth that even when they cease being culture makers or low-level grunts, they are still priests and citizens of a heavenly kingdom with all the affirmation that comes with belonging to Christ, in body and soul, in life and in death. Instead of taking on the task writing a confession for cultural engagement or policy prescription, better is the work of catechizing the faithful in the truths of God, man, sin, salvation, and the church. Those teachings are more important and lasting, even if they do not produce great art or Christian manuals of plumbing.
But without such a consensus on the spirituality of the church and the Christianâ€™s otherworldly identity, communions like the PCA are in danger of becoming balkanized into either the arts-and-culture congregations, or the culture-war churches. Not only are the arts and the politics of nation-states not taught in the PCAâ€™s confessional standards, but very difficult is the task of finding a â€œthus, sayeth the Lordâ€ for such cultural ambitions.
So irony of ironies, the Baylys and Keller are on the same page in rejecting the spirituality of the church for the culturality of the church. And in so conceiving the church, pastors in the same communion end up driving each other bonkers. Keller doesnâ€™t want the Baylysâ€™ crusading activism and the Baylys donâ€™t want Kellerâ€™s urban-chic programming. Wouldnâ€™t the spirituality of the church put an end to these squabbles and make the PCA even more effective than it apparently already is?
Postscript: a good question related to this post is why the OPC does not appear to suffer from the culturality of the church, at least not in the same degree. Maybe it is because the OPC is so small we have enough sense not to beat our breasts about being change agents in the culture. We have enough trouble paying the bills of our standing committees, presbytery committees, and struggling congregations to take on the planetâ€™s policies and art. But it could also be that the spirituality of the church that Machen taught the first generation of the OPC, leavened with the potent supplement of amillennialism taught by Vos, Murray, and Kline, has made Orthodox Presbyterians less impressed with the good, but ultimately fading, culture of this world.