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Archive for the ‘Christian Education’ Category

Drew soccer

Grandson Andrew Hans Kloosterman moving the ball downfield.
Photo © Nelson D. Kloosterman

With this very helpful post, the discussion of “two kingdom theology” is surely being advanced!

Three notes for further reflection:

1. The term eschatology is not simply a “time word”—as in: something we wait for until after we die. As strange as it sounds, the Bible teaches us that the future is now already. For the Christian, the future drives and shapes the present. In the Bible, eschatology is always for ethics!

2. Based on this post, there seems to be a very close resemblance, if not identity, between this description of “two kingdoms theology” and the “already/not yet” distinction long employed within Reformed biblical studies—as in: “the kingdom of God is already present but not yet complete.” That’s been the diet for decades of students of Geerhardus Vos and  Herman Ridderbos and Richard Gaffin and George Eldon Ladd and Graeme Goldsworthy and . . . the list could go on and on. So then, what’s new?

3. Please munch on this sentence from the post: “Temporal actions are spiritual for Christians both because they point to the justice of the coming kingdom and because they carry with them eternal rewards.” The eternal rewards of faithfulness-in-history—now that deserves a book!

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Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 3.00.35 PMIf you hurry, you can get this wonderful primer on classic Calvinism before Christmas. In fact, get a copy for each of your children . . . or elders . . . or pastor!

Chapter 2, “The Place of the Bible” (pages 24-28), features an important section on the relationship between the book of nature and the Bible.

A number of adjectives come to mind to describe this material: sober . . . clear . . . confessional . . . motivational.

See for yourself!

But God also has another book, the Bible. Originally there was only one book, one revelation of God, namely, nature. And in the next world there will again be only one book, the new nature, in which man will see God and his revealed will. Adam saw, and redeemed man in eternity will see, God’s will clearly revealed in his heart and in nature round about him, and will, therefore, have no need of a special revelation in a Bible.
That fact accounts for the existence of the second book, the Bible, or the special revelation as we have it today. This book became necessary because of sin. When man fell, both he and nature changed. Man’s mind became darkened so that he could not see things as they are; and nature was distorted, as the statement in Genesis about “thorns and thistles” suggests. Nature today still is a mirror in which the virtues of God are reflected, but because of sin it has become a decidedly curved mirror. Manifestly, a curved mirror makes things look grotesque, very different from what they actually are. How now is man with his beclouded mind and distorted nature to know God and the universe aright, or to know his true nature and the purpose of his existence? These are three fundamental questions at the basis of his whole outlook upon the world.
How is man to obtain the proper insight into ultimate issues under such conditions? The only solution is that God give him another book, the Bible, in which he clearly and unerringly reveals the truth about these matters to man, and then enlighten man’s darkened mind by his Holy Spirit, so that he will be able to understand this biblical truth.
Thus we see the relation in which the Bible stands to the book of nature. The Bible is not on a level with nature as a revelation of God, but it is rather a corrective of false impressions made by nature in its distorted condition. It presents to us views about God and the universe which nature today does not teach properly. As Calvin states, we must look at nature through the spectacles of the Bible. So then, while God has indeed two revelations which he calls upon his creature to study, the Bible after all becomes the ultimate basis for the whole view of life for the Christian, since he needs the biblical outlook to properly interpret nature and life round about him.

Dr. Meeter next reminds us that the Bible does more than interpret the book of nature, since it also discloses the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. “Yet,” he hastens to add, “the salvation of man is in fact the central theme of the Bible and is inseparably bound up with the view which it presents of the universe and of human life.”
And then comes this significant and relevant paragraph:

Do not mistake the purpose of the Bible as if it were intended to be a textbook for the various sciences. It is not intended as such. One gathers the facts for the various sciences from the fields which he is investigating—nature, history, psychology, and related studies. However, when the student proceeds to interpret and correlate these facts, relating the truths of any particular science to the whole body of knowledge, then he needs the unifying interpretation of Scripture. We cannot have a proper view of God, the universe, man, or history without the Bible.

Okay, since it’s Christmas season, let’s unwrap the present that Dr. Meeter himself has crafted for us. Here it is:

This book [of Scripture], therefore, besides teaching us the way of salvation, provides us with the principles which must govern the whole of our life, including our thinking as well as our moral conduct. Not only science and art, but our homelife, our business, and our social and political problems must be viewed and solved in the light of scriptural truth and fall under its direction.

This, dear reader, is classic Calvinism. Its claim is very clear, and comprehensive: The Bible’s principles must govern the whole of Christian living in the world.

And this hermeneutic (method of reading and using the Bible), dear reader, constitutes the fundamental problem within current radical “two kingdom theology” and its associated religious secularism that has raised its head among Reformed and Presbyterian folk today.

Next up: H. Henry Meeter gives three answers to the question: Must or can the state be a Christian state? No . . . yes . . . and no. Stay tuned to learn how Meeter managed to merge a Calvinian two kingdom theology with whole life Bible-normed cultural obedience.

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H.H. Meeter ImageBy now, those following carefully our presentation of material from Dr. H. Henry Meeter on “The Bible and Politics” will realize that, given the “sides” often portrayed in contemporary discussions of “natural law” and “two kingdoms,” Dr. Meeter was not what some call a “theonomist” or a “Christian Reconstructionist.” Neither was he a “religious secularist,” like those who insist that the Bible belongs in the church, while unaided reason and natural law govern everything else. But as a classic Calvinist, he firmly believed the Bible is related to politics . . . and education, and more.

How the Bible relates to these areas of Christian cultural activity can initially be expressed this way: the Bible supplies principles that guide and govern Christian cultural activity in the world.

So that’s where we pick up his discussion.

Where in the Bible are these principles to be found? Some think these principles are only to be found in isolated texts of the Bible. And if they are not very successful in finding suitable texts, they soon come to the conclusion that the Bible must not have much to say about politics. The Calvinist believes that the biblical basis for his political or his theological or his social views is not to be found in mere isolated texts. He rather discovers these principles in the rule of faith that runs through the whole of Scripture and manifests itself in a variety of ways, also at times in special texts, such as, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,” or “By me kings reign” (Rom. 13:1; Prov. 8:15). But these principles are not at all confined to such special texts.
These principles deal not only with such very general matters like the sovereignty of God and the duty of obedience to governments, but also with many other political problems, such as the relation of the individual to the group, the relation of churches and other ogranizations in society to the state, the limits of governmental power, and the rights of individuals. Calvin in developing his political views made much of such biblical principles as justice, equity, and the well being of the people.
The Calvinist insists that the principles of God’s Word are valid not only for himself but for all citizens. Since God is to be owned as Sovereign by everyone, whether he so wishes or not, so also the Bible should be the determining rule for all. But especially for himself, the Christian, according to the Calvinist, must in politics live by these principles. He declares that not only with his soul for eternity, but as well in matters that concern his body in time, he belongs to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Him, therefore, he must obey in all walks of life.
The great value of adopting the Bible as his unconditional positive rule of faith and life, also for political matters, will become increasingly clear as we study the various aspects of Calvinistic political theory.

This ends our extensive citation of Dr. Meeter’s thoughts on this matter of “The Bible and Politics.”

Notice carefully what Meeter has not said. Several who defend modern religious secularism (religion, the Bible, and Christianity belong in the church) mistakenly allege that their critics must surely hold to the underlined words in bold in the following statement: “The Bible alone is the source of every principle for Christian political activity.” Neither Dr. Meeter, nor Abraham Kuyper, nor John Calvin, nor modern defenders of whole life Calvinism have defended that position.

Rather, one of the most fundamental disagreements lies in the two claims being defended by some modern religious secularists, that: (1) the principles of the Bible are authoritative only for Christians, and (2) the Bible says nothing authoritative for Christian communal cultural obedience in the world today.

One feature of this disagreement involves the following binary thinking: either the Bible alone is the guide for Christian communal obedience beyond the church, or the Bible says nothing for Christian communal obedience beyond the church. The error of this binary thinking is this: if we disagree with the second clause, it is alleged that we must agree with the first clause. If we disagree with the first clause, we must necessarily agree with the second clause. The truth, however, is this: as Dr. Meeter has explained it, neither the first clause nor the second clause is valid. Classic whole life Calvinism has always championed a third way!

But there’s more meat in Meeter! Next time we’ll look at the relationship between the Bible and “the book of nature.”

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Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 3.00.35 PMFrom the previous blog post, you will learn that we are reproducing here a significant orientation penned by Dr. H. Henry Meeter back in 1939 on the matter of “The Bible and Politics,” a section comprising pages 74-76 in his renowned work, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (6th edition; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990).

It must be kept in mind that before setting forth his ideas about “The Bible and Politics,” Meeter had already presented, in Part 1 of his book, the cardinal tenets of Calvinism regarding its fundamental principle, the place of the Bible in Calvinism, the role of faith, common grace, and human culture. These preceding seven chapters, then, contain his concise presentation of the integrated system known as Calvinism.

Part 2 contains eighteen chapters (three of them added by reviser Paul Marshall) that discuss the “Political Ideas of Calvinism.” The first of these is Chapter 8, from which these citations are drawn.

Again, listen to Dr. Meeter, and see what you think.

In adopting the Bible as his foundation in political science, the Calvinist takes a position which is rather unique. Most other systems do not attempt to base their views on the Bible. As their authority in affairs of state they will appeal, not to the Bible, but to some such ground as the will of the masses, or the individual sentiment of justice, or natural rights; or they will make of the state an autonomous body, which can decide what it will—always some human ground. This does not imply that adherents of such political systems will always object to your having religious views. Some who are atheists will object to it as the Soviet government is doing. Others are quite willing to allow religious opinions, but they maintain that these religious views should be private matters and should not be injected into politics. Others will go even further and allow religion to color certain political activities, such as the opening of political gatherings with prayer or occasional reference to God in speeches. But when it comes to the drafting of political views, they maintain that the Bible may not be the criterion. In politics, human opinions and human theories must decide. The Calvinist goes back to God. The will of God is determinative for the views which he must hold concerning the state.
How are we to understand the statement that the Bible is the Calvinist’s foundation in politics? Does the Calvinist expect the Bible to provide him with a political platform? It would be folly to expect such a thing. A political party in the United States changes its platform every four years. Despite such frequent changes it is a difficult matter to draft a platform which will satisfy all sections of the country. How then could anyone reasonably expect the Bible to supply a platform which would hold good for all ages and all classes? In fact, the Bible does not even offer us any organized political system which we can use. It does not even offer us a unified theological system. There is a more or less developed political plan presented in the Bible, the so-called Mosaic theocracy, that civil-ceremonial system found in the first five books of the Bible. But that system, according to the very words of Calvin, was made for other times and other conditions and does not hold good for today. In fact, the Calvinist does not believe that there is one hard and fast system of government which the Bible advocates. The Bible does not declare that the government must be a monarchy, or an aristocracy, or a demoncracy. The Bible offers eternal principles which should underlie and control all political systems. These principles never grow old, but like all principles they are eternal, changeless, and pertinent for all times and all conditions. When once one has mastered these principles, then one can build systems and construct platforms to meet existing conditions, and can critically analyze them to judge whether or not they are sound.

Next time: Where are these principles to be found? and Are these principles valid only for Christians?

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H.H. Meeter Image

From 1927 to 1957, Dr. H. Henry Meeter (1886-1963) taught in the Bible (now Religion and Theology) Department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He had graduated from both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, and obtained a B.D. degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. While at Princeton, he was offered two fellowships for scholarly achievement, one by B. B. Warfield in systematic theology, and the other by William Park Armstrong and J. Gresham Machen in New Testament theology. He accepted the former, and went on to study at the Free University in Amsterdam, receiving his doctorate in 1916 cum laude.

His internationally acclaimed book on Calvinism, now entitled The Basic Ideas of Calvinism, has been republished by Baker Book House (available here). The foreward to the second edition was written by Meeter’s colleague, Louis Berkhof, who wrote: “We know of no other work in the English language which offers us such a concise, and yet complete and thoroughly reliable resumé of the teachings of Calvinism.” Beyond the Dutch Reformed community, Meeter’s book received praise from American Lutherans, London evangelicals, and others. His “interpretation of the theology of Calvin is sane and true,” one reviewer observed. The book is now in its sixth edition and has been translated into five languages: Dutch, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, and Russian.

In this and subsequent blog posts, we will reproduce in full that section of Meeter’s book that is entitled, “The Bible and Politics,” found on pages 74-76. This section appears in Chapter 8, “Politics and the Bible,” comprising pages 71-76.

Before turning to Meeter’s material, it should be noted that the purpose of publishing these and subsequent citations is very narrow, very targeted, very specific. It involves one of the fundamental claims being issued today among some advocates of a particular construal of “natural law” and “two kingdoms.” It is the claim that Christians cannot properly use the Bible to guide and govern their non-ecclesiastical communal cultural obedience in the world. An essential part of that claim is the conviction that there is really no such entity as a Christian family, no such thing as Christian education, no such reality as Christian politics or Christian economics, and yes, the notion of Christian plumbing is a joke. Rather, we are told, there are Christian individuals who happen to be married, to be educators, politicians, economists, and plumbers. The only institution or group that may legitimately be called Christian, it is claimed, is the church.

It should be obvious to anyone with discernment that the relevance of Scripture, directly or indirectly, to such disparate endeavors as child rearing, education, politics, and plumbing will vary considerably. Although each activity will be shaped in some way by the worldview of the practitioner, that “some way” will differ according to a number of factors. It would indeed be silly to suppose that shaping a child’s mind is in every respect equivalent to wielding a pipewrench. That’s not the issue, despite the rhetoric and ridicule. The issue lies embedded in the claim that the Bible says nothing normative about all Christian cultural obedience, or to put the claim in its most stark form: the Bible norms Christian living in the institutional church alone, whereas unaided reason and natural law direct Christian communal cultural obedience in the world.

Listen to Dr. Meeter, and see what you think.

First in order of discussion is the relation of the Bible to politics. The Bible is the Calvinist’s rule of faith and practice in everything; therefore it is also his rule in the realm of politics. This is easy to comprehend. According to the Calvinist, God is Sovereign everywhere. Therefore, his Word is also law for the political world. Since the Bible is, as God’s Word, his rule of faith and conduct, the Calvinist consults it for guidance in his political activities.
Do not make the mistake of supposing that the Calvinist claims to derive all his ideas from the Bible. This is not the case. As we saw when investigating the place of the Bible in the Calvinistic system, God has two books in which he has revealed himself, the book of nature (i.e., natural objects, history, the lives of men) and the book of Scripture. From nature and from history, therefore, we can learn many facts which the Christian gratefully uses in his political theory. He will trace the political history of empires. He will peruse what students of jurisprudence have thought and taught about the state. But since this book of nature can give us only imperfect views of God and of truth, we need a corrective, and this corrective the Calvinist finds in his Bible. This book of Scripture, besides being the corrective of the book of nature, also contains eternal principles which are to guide the conduct of human society. Therefore, the Bible becomes the book of last appeal and in a special sense the basis for the Calvinist’s view on politics.

That’s enough for now. More to come!

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To that long line of classical Reformed theologians belongs Louis Berkhof (1853-1957), professor for almost forty years at Calvin Theological Seminary. His internationally renowned Systematic Theology is valued as a highly useful single-volume theology textbook. It has become a standard work both for training and for examining ministerial candidates among Reformed and Presbyterian denominations throughout the world.

Some today are saying publicly (and privately), wherever such a narrative may be useful, that “Louis Berkhof taught Two Kingdoms theology, too.”

Well, if what you read below defines that theology accurately, then there really exists no genuine debate. And the churches need not have been agitated by what has been presented as a “recovery” of something allegedly lost.

See what you think.

Since the Roman Catholics insist indiscriminately on the identification of the Kingdom of God and the Church, their Church claims power and jurisdiction over every domain of life, such as science and art, commerce and industry, as well as social and political organizations. This is an altogether mistaken conception. It is also a mistake to maintain, as some Reformed Christians do, in virtue of an erroneous conception of the Church as an organism, that Christian school societies, voluntary organizations of younger or older people for the study of Christian principles and their application in life, Christian labor unions, and Christian political organizations, are manifestations of the Church as an organism, for this again brings them under the domain of the visible Church and under the direct control of its officers. Naturally, this does not mean that the Church has no responsibility with respect to such organizations. It does mean, however, that they are manifestations of the Kingdom of God, in which groups of Christians seek to apply the principles of the Kingdom to every domain of life. The visible Church and the Kingdom, too, may be identified to a certain extent. The visible Church may certainly be said to belong to the Kingdom, to be a part of the Kingdom, and even to be the most important visible embodiment of the forces of the Kingdom. . . . In so far as the visible Church is instrumental in the establishment and extension of the Kingdom, it is, of course, subordinate to this as a means to an end. The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less that the complete control of all the manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor.

From Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1941), pp. 569-570.

Berkhof’s point about the activity of the church as organism necessarily coming under the domain of the visible church is debatable.

Nevertheless, if this is what people mean when they claim that Louis Berkhof taught “Two Kingdoms theology,” then all could rejoice and be glad.

For the unwary reader, were the preceding sentence written in Greek, it would be a “contrary to fact condition,” of the sort: “If pigs had wings, then they could fly.”

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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.

After describing ways in which the Christian witness to Christ’s lordship will affect our vocations, communities, and presumably our culture, Tuininga summarizes his point this way: “About all of these cultural affairs, in which believers engage in common with unbelievers, Scripture has much to say.”

In light of that summary statement, then, read carefully the following paragraph:

This point, of course, clashes with the rhetoric of some two kingdoms advocates who want to emphasize how little Scripture says about political or cultural engagement. And to be sure, there is distinct danger at both extremes here. On the one extreme are those Christians who find the need to seek explicit Scriptural justification for every little thing that they do, an approach that creates the enormous temptation to read into Scripture things that simply aren’t there, or to apply passages in ways they were never meant to be applied. But it is just as problematic to overreact to that mistake by pretending that Scripture has nothing to say about Christians’ vocations, social life, or political engagement, or by requiring pastors to refrain from teaching what Scripture clearly teaches (italics added).

I draw your attention to the italicized phrases, and offer the following observations.

1. It is clear that the author seeks to be even-handed in criticizing the extremes of the positions in question, almost to a fault. However, I have yet to meet any Christian participating in this debate who “find[s] the need to seek explicit Scriptural justification for every little thing that they do.” This statement constructs a straw man, and has the regrettable effect of diminishing the force of his correct observation that some users of Scripture misapply passages of Scripture.

2. The author appears to present a forceful repudiation of the position that tends to reduce what both Scripture and pulpit teach regarding the Christian’s cultural engagement. I hasten to remind readers, however, that we’re not out of the woods just yet. For by adding to the last sentence the phrase, “what Scripture clearly teaches,” the author has simply carved out for himself a refuge, an oasis, a safe place—since the debate currently raging involves precisely the scope of what Scripture clearly teaches about political or cultural engagement. As the author notes, some NL2K advocates insist that Scripture’s explicit teaching about these matters consists of very little. Others of us insist that in various ways (guide, guard, compass, and example) all of Scripture furnishes the child of God for every good work—including cultural obedience (2 Tim. 3.16-17; Ps. 119.105).

3. By the end of the paragraph, then, it is not at all clear that the author’s point “clashes with the rhetoric” of the extreme NL2K advocates he has tried to identify! In fact, his final sentence seems to echo rather clearly exactly what these advocates have been telling us on this blog.

This is why the author’s next paragraph is essential reading:

Far better is to determine (and preach!) the principles revealed in Scripture, some of which I have outlined above, while maintaining humility consistent with our call to be servants (and therefore refraining from preaching) about the way in which those principles might apply to concrete circumstances, organizations, or policies. All of the major Reformed confessions contain rigorous affirmations of general revelation or natural law, in part relying on the broad Christian consensus about the meaning of Romans 2:14-15. And while Christians should never seek to interpret natural law without using the lens of Scripture, they should also be careful not to confuse the lens with what we see through that lens. It is one thing to humbly seek to articulate a worldview based on Scripture. It is another thing arrogantly to assume that the worldview we have articulated is the teaching of Scripture itself. Most of what we know about mathematics, science, or history is not derived from Scripture, although Scripture shapes how we interpret it. We should expect the same when it comes to our understanding of culture, economics, or politics (italics and bold added).

Again, several observations.

1. Finally, someone has “picked up” on the difference between preaching and applying the Scriptures directly to our current culture, and preaching and applying the principles of Scripture to our current culture. This difference is crucial and essential to this part of the debate. Thank you!

2. It is not very clear, however, what is meant by “refraining from preaching about the way in which those principles might apply to concrete circumstances, organizations, or policies.” Does this mean that the church should never preach about the concrete application of those biblical principles? That claim requires far more nuance to be helpful.

Consider this example. In 1936, as German tanks were rumbling across Europe, the synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands declared that membership in the National Socialist Movement or in the Pacifist Movement was incompatible with membership in Christ’s church. From what this author has written, it would appear that such a decision, and preaching consistent with it, would be illegitimate. Similar examples could be cited, examples of the church speaking concretely to specific circumstances, organizations, and policies.

This very matter is becoming a pressing issue, in view of the current political restrictions of religious liberty in connection with nationalized health care.

All of which is to say: this qualification doesn’t supply the needed clarity.

3. We come next to the author’s comments on general revelation and natural law.

3.1 Surprisingly, the author identifies and equates these two, when he insists that the Reformed confessions rigorously affirm “general revelation or natural law.” This imprecision is unhelpful because it renders the issue unclear. For in identifying these two, what is being overlooked is that “natural law” is somebody’s formulation of the moral requirements embedded in creation. To follow the author’s own advice (this is tongue in cheek), we really should not identify the product of human reflection (natural law) with the object of that reflection (general revelation).

3.2 Finally, attention is being given, in this debate, to the role of Scripture as the spectacles through which creation revelation is interpreted. Thank you!

3.3 Unfortunately, however, what is given with the right hand is then retracted with the left hand. This exhortation not to identify what is seen through the spectacles (worldview) with the spectacles themselves (Scripture) is, well . . . a nasty boomerang! This is the very argument that has been used to disconnect the church’s dogma from Scripture, in order to denigrate the authority of “human formulations” (can you say Confessions?). To illustrate the point, substitute the word “confession” for the word “worldview” in the following sentences—”It is one thing to humbly seek to articulate a worldview based on Scripture. It is another thing arrogantly to assume that the worldview we have articulated is the teaching of Scripture itself.”

Would it be “arrogant” to assume that the confession we have articulated is the teaching of Scripture itself? If not, why is it “arrogant” to assume that the worldview articulated from Scripture is the teaching of Scripture itself?

Now, before anyone gets agitated, I understand the complaint about giving the so-called “Christian worldview” confessional status. I’m neither pleading for that, nor defending that. I am simply issuing the caution that the distinction being employed here, warning us not to identify what-we -describe-as-being-seen with the spectacles-through-which-we-see, is a knife that cuts more than one way.

3.4 Regrettably, like so many others advocating today’s version of NL2K, the author has chosen to ignore, while speaking enthusiastically about “general revelation or natural law,” the biblical and confessional teaching about the intellectual, moral, and spiritual extent of human depravity with respect to rightly apprehending and employing both general revelation and natural law. Amid all the strident huffing and puffing about this criticism of the NL2K position, perhaps people will settle down enough to examine rationally where the Confessions end up in their treatment of things “natural.” A good place to begin is with Canons of Dort 3/4.4—all of it.

*  *  *

Postscript: Lest you imagine that the NL2K/R2K/2K debate is a tempest in the North American Reformed/Presbyterian teacup, think again. This insightful interview from Australia will help you do that careful thinking.

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On 14 September 2012, Dr. Richard C. Gamble gave a public lecture with the above title, which was rebroadcast as part of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (RPTS) webinar series.

Since 2005, Dr. Gamble has served as Professor of Systematic Theology at RPTS, located in Pittsburgh, PA.

You can find the online video broadcast of Dr. Gamble’s lecture here.

If you have been following the discussion surrounding this contemporary movement, you will find Dr. Gamble’s lecture to be important and helpful. It is academic, structured, measured, and responsible. This lecture, together with the recently released publication, Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdom Perspective, clearly establishes the need for the churches to sit up and take notice of the implications of this movement for preaching, pastoring, and Christian living—all of these involving the gospel’s cosmic claim and relevance. One of the distinctive features of both resources is their detailed interaction with the published sources that set forth the ideas of this movement and its theology.

From my perspective, among the crucial differences that have arisen in this discussion, the following are most vital: the use of the Bible (a different hermeneutic); the understanding of particular teachings of the Confessions; and the view of Christian living in the world.

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The work of peacemakers is never finished, surely not on this side of glory! In fact, genuine peacemaking is a foretaste of glory, isn’t it?

In addition to multiple efforts on this blog to engender an atmosphere of constructive engagement in the NL2K discussion (see here and here and here and here), we gratefully receive this report of a recent panel discussion on the campus of Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. The reporter is an alumnus of both schools, whose representatives were engaging in this dialogue concerning a dispute that lies so near to the heart of the educational vision of these respective schools. What a relief it must be, then, when a graduate hears representatives of his most formative educational institutions agreeing at so many important points!

It’s best that you read that report before continuing to read this post, since most of my observations depend on the background offered there.

The comments that follow are not intended to detract from the progress in understanding, but merely to focus the discussion for the sake of clarity among the churches.

That last italicized phrase is, for me, perhaps the most important element in this entire discussion. This controversy has been going on for more than three years now, and has drawn international attention and commentary. Some are calling it an intramural dispute, just one more tempest in the Reformed teapot, descriptions often accompanied with a hopeful sigh that “this, too, shall pass.” Most of the public participants are office-bearers in Christ’s church, a fact that invests this discussion with more than ordinary weight. Ministers, elders, and theologians are advocating positions, ideas, and conclusions designed and intended to lead the church. And so it is with that “target audience” in view, that we’d like to press further in our pursuit of clarity and coherence.

Let me reiterate: the following comments are born neither of cynicism nor disbelief regarding the intentions of participants, but rather seek to help foster ongoing integrity in the cause of intellectual, moral, and ecclesiastical leadership.

So here goes.

1. That troublesome definite article

Imagine a conference or panel that was meeting somewhere—let’s say, Grand Rapids, Michigan—to discuss a matter central to Reformed and Presbyterian identity. The outcome gets reported in the local paper under this headline: “The Covenant in Grand Rapids: Healthy and Well.”

Those exhausted by a conflict about “the covenant” that some might dismiss as merely intramural would heave a sigh of relief. Those schooled in Reformed theology would be immediately suspicious, and inclined to ask: Which covenant? For in Grand Rapids you’ve got a number of versions of “the” covenant represented by a panoply of denominations—so what are we talking about, specifically, please?

So too here. We are assured in some quarters that there’s no real disagreement about “the two kingdoms doctrine”—prompting anyone informed about this discussion to ask rightly: Which two kingdoms doctrine, please? The one advocated by Martin Luther? Or by John Calvin? Or by contemporary innovators? By all of of them?

The problem continues to be the persistent, unqualified use of the definite article as if there exists a single, univocal referrent behind that article. In point of fact, there does not. Just as “the” doctrine of the covenant does not exist, so “the” two kingdoms doctrine does not exist. The time has come to stop writing and speaking as if there exists “the two kingdoms doctrine.”

2. Kuperian neo-Calvinism and “the two kingdoms doctrine”

This problem-of-the-definite-article can be clarified further when we evaluate the claims offered about the compatibility between Kuyperian neo-Calvinism and “the two kingdoms doctrine.”

Again, we are being assured that the differences between moderate—let us say: representative—neo-Calvinism and “the two kingdoms doctrine” are, after all is said and done, not that great. No fewer than nine elements of agreement are identified in the report of the recent panel discussion.

I deeply appreciate this attempt at rapprochement.

With a view to continuing the conversation, then, let me identify four questions raised by the reported attempt.

Are representative neo-Calvinism and the contemporary version of “the two kingdoms doctrine” genuinely compatible when advocates of the latter . . .

2.1 . . . publicly question whether there is really such a thing as “Christian education”? (For background to this question, see here and here and here.)

2.2 . . . [clearly share an approach to interpreting the Bible that is being used to {altered 11/8/2012}] defend the legitimacy of homosexual marriage? (For background to this question, see here.)

2.3 . . . publicly claim that the thought of Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper regarding the relation between the Christian faith and public life is incoherent? (For background to this question, see here and here.)

2.4 . . . publicly ridicule serious attempts to integrate Christian faith and science, faith and learning, faith and politics, faith and farming, faith and plumbing, and so forth?

Please don’t receive or interpret these questions as impertinent or dismissive.

Some “two kingdom” advocates seem to be saying now, at least three years into this discussion, that there is no one, single, univocal “two kingdoms doctrine.” Evidence: one NL2K advocate seems unwilling now to be identified with the views of another NL2K advocate.

Such unwillingness would be quite understandable—and also reminiscent of other recent debates that stirred the Reformed/Presbyterian teapot. Perhaps we will be seeing advocates of “the two kingdoms doctrine” taking a page from the playbook of “the Federal Vision movement” to remind us that theirs is not a monolithic movement, nor even a movement. Just classic Reformed theology. (My point, lest it be unclear, is that I am a bit sympathetic to—now, as then—the attempted disassociation within the ranks, from the more radical positions being advocated in both debates. If, however, no disassociation is attempted or made, all sympathy, and credibility, evaporate.)

So then it behooves anyone presenting his or her claims as “the” implication of “the two kingdoms doctrine” to specify which version of “the two kingdoms doctrine” underlies that implication, and which version(s) do(es) not.

The church is not being helped, it seems to me, by the lack of definitional clarity in arguing as if representative neo-Calvinism and “the two kingdom doctrine” are compatible.

3. “Rightly” dividing . . .

The report of the recent panel discussion repeatedly observes that various respondents “rightly noted,” or “rightly point[ed] out,” or “rightly questioned” certain emphases or claims. Each of these reportedly correct observations constitutes a change in position or emphasis among advocates of “the two kingdoms doctrine.” Needless to say, this must be a cause for true and genuine joy!

(Parenthetically, however, it must be noted that with these changes in position, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to write/speak about “the” two kingdoms doctrine.)

More astonishing still is that all the panel participants reportedly agreed with one speaker’s claim “that Scripture is necessary not just to the Christian doctrine of salvation but to the proper interpretation of natural law for the purposes of cultural and political engagement” (italics added).

Read that statement again.

This is a crucial change in position, given earlier formulations of this issue!

In light of this remarkable change in position, I think it’s fair to ask: Will we be reading a formal printed retraction of the public claim by advocates of “the two kingdom doctrine” that natural unbelieving human beings can construct a valid public ethics solely on the basis of natural law? Or will we instead be invited to continue the conversation as if everyone now agrees with the claim about the necessity of Scripture for the proper interpretation of natural law for cultural engagement?

In light of this remarkable change in position, I think it’s fair to ask: How long will the church need to wait before advocates of “the two kingdom doctrine” repudiate the claims identified in the four questions above, all of them being made by advocates of various versions of “the two kingdoms doctrine”? Or will we instead be expected to continue the conversation as if these claims were not made, or not seriously intended, or not necessary implications of “the two kingdom doctrine”?

What, then, is our point in this post?

Simply this: To avoid any possible disingenuousness in the reported rapprochement, we need to remove any possible as if quality from our terminology, from our comparisons, and from our advocacy of the truth.

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Given this and similar recent blog posts, it appears that inch by inch, real progress is being made in reaching clarity in the contemporary discussion of how Christ(ianity) and culture relate. We may take comfort in knowing that this is neither a new discussion nor an easy one, given the wide-ranging positions and literature on this subject throughout church history. But we’ve not been orphaned—we are the beneficiaries of a rich legacy of Reformed and Reformational thought devoted to this discussion.

1. Charity served by logic

For example, several have responded favorably to my recent post about applauding the institutional church for both opposing the intolerable evil of abortion and encouraging the elimination of the intolerable evil of abortion. They recognize and appreciate the importance for this discussion of carefully employing logic in service to charity.

Universal rules of logic stipulate, for example, that encouraging the state to eliminate this particular evil of abortion is not at all equivalent to encouraging the state to eliminate all-evil-in-general. So be at peace: the former is no contradiction of the biblical teaching about total human depravity.

Universal rules of logic also stipulate that a distinction is not yet a separation, so that one can happily (and validly) distinguish spheres, kingdoms, church and state, religion and politics, without thereby separating them. Again, be at peace: to distinguish the ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ rules within and beyond the institutional church is not at all to separate these ways of rule. Nor is distinguishing among spheres of human cultural activity the same as separating them into autonomous, hermetically sealed domains.

Logic, then, can help us spot the false dilemma requiring us to choose between either a form of theocratic Christendom or a kind of religious secularism.

But you may be asking: What’s the payoff of making these logically valid points?

Such logic fosters clarity, demonstrates fairness, and enhances conversation. In other words, logic serves charity, and is therefore a moral commodity.

2. Preaching . . . principles . . . practices

It appears that a consensus is being reached among most responsible participants in the NL2K conversation. This consensus acknowledges that through the activity of preaching, the institutional church may—indeed: must—teach and inculcate among God’s people the principles of living as Christians in a Christian manner in today’s world. The concluding paragraph of the recent blog post mentioned above contains this helpful exhortation:

If the church wants to maintain its prophetic edge it needs to focus on what Scripture actually teaches, encouraging Christians to work out these principles in citizenship and vocation and in a spirit of service to their neighbors (think Kuyper’s distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism).

During the past few years, we have been seeking to make this helpful claim explicit, by way of legitimately unpacking the term vocation. It seems fair and valid to expand this claim as follows: the institutional church should focus on those principles that Scripture actually teaches in relation to the spheres of  . . . education . . . labor . . . art . . . and everything else that Christians do by way of cultural activity. The church should then encourage Christians to work out these principles as their calling to cultural obedience. Moreover, it may be helpful to add to the above claim this customary expansion: the church needs to focus on what Scripture teaches, including what Scripture teaches by good and necessary consequence.

So the connection between preaching and principles of Christian cultural obedience in today’s world is becoming recognized and acknowledged.

It seems but a small step, then, to recognize and acknowledge the legitimacy of the church’s preaching against specific intolerable evils and encouraging God’s people to endeavor (in unspecified, to-be-discovered ways that are legal, appropriate, and effective) to eliminate specific intolerable evils in society. Like slavery. Or abortion. Or the marriage of homosexuals.

With this small step, we have joined preaching, principles, and practices. A union that must surely be bathed in pastoral wisdom, saturated with exegetical insight, and respectful of believers’ (note the plural) moral maturity.

3. What, really, is a “prophetic” church?

All of this, it is suggested, is required if the church wishes to maintain “its prophetic edge.”

At this point, I’d like to echo and clarify a very important caution that has been sounded passionately and properly by NL2K advocates, regarding the competence and authority of the institutional church in terms of its administration of the means of grace. To do this is not to contradict anything said above. For one of the clear strengths of the neo-Calvinist, biblical assessment of varied spheres of activity is its ability to recognize and describe the limits and the competence of these spheres, including the institutional church, without separating any of them from the Word of God and its principles.

This question, “What is a ‘prophetic’ church?” is far too profound and complex to be answered adequately in this blog entry. But I’d like to register a couple of observations.

In the Bible, prophecy has less to do with prediction than with proclamation. Yes, there are futuristic elements within biblical prophecy, but these frequently form the conclusion or the “so what” of a prophetic sermon, whereby God announces what he will or will not be doing in response to the “answer” given by his hearers to the message being proclaimed.

So, being a “prophetic” church has less to do with foretelling the imminent constellation of nations in the Mideast resulting from the upcoming national election, for example, than with forthtelling what the Sovereign God of heaven will be doing on earth as we all await Christ’s return.

More importantly, in the Bible, prophecy is usually addressed to the church, that is, to the “old” Israel and the “new” Israel as the people of God. On the one hand, prophecy is addressed to the world-in-the-church, in terms of rebuke, warning, and summons to repentance. On the other hand, prophecy is also addressed to this church-with-the-world-among-her, in terms of comfort, encouragement, and summons to endurance.

Our point, for now, is that being a “prophetic” church, in line with how prophecy functions in the Bible, has less to do with the church telling the world-outside-the-church how to behave, than with confronting the world-inside-the-church with the covenant threats awaiting those who spurn God’s Word, and comforting the church-that-is-faithful with the covenant promises designed for those called to endure to the end.

To state the matter somewhat colloquially: far too much preaching goes “over the heads” of church people—to swat at people “out there,” people “in the world,” “those” people who advocate evolution, or defend one or another aberrant lifestyle, or hate God. Since generally speaking, I’m guilty of none of those “sins,” as a pewsitter, such “prophetic” preaching never lays a glove on me!

Truth be told, the first and principal (not exclusive) target of biblically “prophetic” preaching of repentance, conversion, and holiness is . . . the church, the world-in-the-church, as well as the faithful who are being oppressed by this world-in-the-church.

Belonging to such “prophetic” preaching, then, is the summons to repentance and the communication of comfort with respect to the church’s pilgrim-style, communal, cultural obedience in today’s world.

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