Archive for February, 2011

Once again, by way of anticipation, enjoy these paragraphs taken from Herman Bavinck’s essay, The Kingdom of God as the Highest Good. To which we humbly append two comments about their contemporary relevance.

This is not to say, however, that we need to labor for that Kingdom of God apart from any earthly calling. To be sure, the Kingdom of God is not of the world, but it is nevertheless in the world. The Kingdom does not exist within the narrow confines of the inner closet, restricted to church and monastery. The Kingdom is not entirely “other worldly,” but has been established by Christ upon earth, and stands in a most intimate, yet for us in many respects inexplicable, relationship with this earthly life, and is prepared by this life. Nevertheless, it is just as true that the Kingdom is not exhaustively present in this life, it is not merely “this worldly.” The Kingdom is and becomes.

The eternal Sabbath is not yet here, and yet we have a foretaste of it already now. At this point, however, Sunday and the rest of the week exist alongside each other. Our heavenly calling is not swallowed up in our earthly calling.

We must be on guard against both errors. On the one hand, our earthly calling may not be misunderstood on account of various ascetic, pietistic, and methodistic emphases, while on the other hand, our heavenly calling may not be denied on account of theoretical or practical materialism. Our ideal continues to be that we exalt the other days of the week to the loftiness of the Sabbath, and that we continually exercise our heavenly calling more and more in and amid our earthly calling. Our earthly calling is, after all, the temporal form of our heavenly calling. It is marked somewhat by the sentiment that “in order to be an angel, you must first be a fit human being.” Our earthly calling has been given to us, says Calvin (Institutes 3.10.6), so that we may have a firm foundation and not be cast about hither and thither for our entire lives. By means of our earthly calling we form ourselves, therefore, with a view to developing our personality and preparing a pure instrument for it in our body and in all things earthly.

It is a distinguishing feature of Christianity that it does not condemn any earthly calling in itself nor does it consider any earthly calling in itself to be in conflict with our heavenly calling. The Greeks viewed manual labor as something embarrassing, and assigned it to their slaves. But Christianity recognizes no dualism of spirit and matter, and views nothing as unclean in itself. A person who does not labor, who has no occupation, also has no calling, becoming deadweight for society, thereby disgracing his human nature. For only in an occupation can we demonstrate and develop what lives within us. Only in an occupation can we manifest ourselves, not only to others but also to ourselves. Only in this way do we learn to know ourselves, our strengths, our capacities, and thus obtain awareness of the content of our own personality. Only in this way can we become a full personality, fully human. Otherwise not only our physical powers, but also our spiritual and moral powers suffocate and corrode within us.

We must devote every effort, however, to choosing that earthly occupation in which the exercise of our heavenly calling is not hindered for us, for our individuality, and for our powers. For this demand abides, namely, to bring this life, its calling and its labor, into relationship with the eternal, to view all that is temporal and earthly sub specie aeternitatis. Otherwise, to echo Calvin once more, the components of our living will always lack symmetry.

Everything earthly must thus remain subordinated to the Kingdom of Heaven. We must possess everything as though not possessing (1 Cor. 7:30), such that we are willing to surrender it if it comes into conflict with the demand of the Kingdom of God.

In other words, everything may be our domain such that we possess it and rule over it, so that it functions as the instrument of our personality. Every pursuit of more than we can rule over, more than we can actually make our domain, is immoral and conflicts with the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.

As soon as what is earthly, whether goods or kindred, art or science, possesses us and rules over us, the demand must be repeated that Jesus gave to the rich young man: Go, sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven (Matt. 19:21). For everything earthly has been given to us in order with it to cultivate our personality, in order to make it an instrument of God’s Kingdom.

Indeed, everything comes down finally not to what we accomplish through our earthly work, for often the work we accomplish is broken to pieces before our eyes by God himself. But the essential feature of all our labor that we perform under the sun is what we become through our work, what our personality acquires by way of the consciousness, spirit, power, richness, and fullness of living. That is what abides. That is never lost. That does not disappear like so many insignificant works of our hands. That is what we carry with us out of this world into the future world. That constitutes the works that follow us.

We are, finally, the totality of what we have ever willed, thought, felt, and done. The profit that we yield in this way for ourselves is profit for the Kingdom of God. Even a cup of cold water given to a disciple of Jesus receives a reward. God calls us to work in such a way that amid all that we do, we should envision the eternal work that God desires to bring about through people, knowing that we cannot be lord and master of ourselves and of the earth in any other way than in subjection to him. And in that consciousness, working with all our powers as long as it is day, God calls us to subject all that is visible and temporal to ourselves, in order then to consecrate it along with ourselves as a perfect sacrifice to God—even if our work space be ever so small and our occupation ever so nondescript—this is truly and essentially working for the Kingdom of God.

Only these two thoughts.

  1. Notice from these paragraphs how Bavinck’s eschatology leavens his view of the kingdom of God and our daily work, much like (as we shall see) Bavinck understands the kingdom of God to leaven all of life.
  2. Notice as well how Bavinck’s view of God-directed earthly vocation as the development of human personality lies at the heart of his understanding of the kingdom of God, both for time and for eternity.

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To whet the appetite for the upcoming publication of this Bavinck essay, consider these thoughts excerpted from the essay’s first major section, which deals with “The Essence of the Kingdom of God.” These paragraphs don’t say everything, of course, but what they say is worth munching on. Especially the last paragraph!

Just as within a human being, the personality is the highest, and the body must be its instrument, so too in the Kingdom of God everything earthly, temporal, and visible is subject to the spiritual and eternal. Since the spiritual and eternal, in order to exist in reality and not just in the mind or in the imagination, must always be personal, so too the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of free personalities. There the personality of each is fully developed and answers to its purpose.

For the righteousness of the Kingdom of God consists in this, that a person may be fully a person, such that everything within a person may be subject to the person’s spiritual, eternal essence. At the moment everything within a person is torn apart, and what should be together has been torn asunder. Understanding and heart, consciousness and will, inclination and power, feeling and imagination, flesh and spirit, these are all opposed to each other at the moment, and they compete with each other for primacy.

But in the Kingdom of God all of those are once again pure instruments of the personality, arranged in perfect order around the personality as its center. There the darkened natural life no longer exists, nor any unwitting impulse. Everything moves outward from the center of the personality and returns there. All powers exist in the full light of consciousness and are fully included in the will. All impulsiveness is excluded, since it is a kingdom of the spirit and thus of freedom. In this kingdom the natural and the visible are placed completely under the perspective of the spiritual and eternal; the physical is a pure instrument of the ethical. Even as everything, including our own body, which belongs to our persons and yet is not identical to our persons, stands completely in the service of our personality and is glorified precisely as an instrument of the dominion of the spirit.

So the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of free personalities, where each personality has reached its full development. But it is a kingdom of free personalities who do not live separated from each other, like individuals, but who together constitute a kingdom and are bound to each other in the most complete and purest community. The Kingdom of God is not an aggregate of disparate components, nor even an entity bound together accidentally by a communal interest. It is not simply a société, a club, an association like those we see established everywhere nowadays. All those contemporary associations of men and women, boys and girls, or young people, formed as they are around various interests and for various purposes, owe their existence mostly, or at least partially, to the reigning individualism of our day.

But the Kingdom of God is a kingdom, the social kingdom par excellence where communal life obtains its highest development and its purest manifestation. It is the most original kingdom that exists, and earthly kingdoms, including the natural kingdom, are but a faint image and a weak likeness. It is an entity where the individual parts are built for each other and fit each other, bound together by the most intimate fellowship, dwelling together under one higher authority, which forms the law of this entity. So it is an organism whose totality not only precedes and transcends the individual parts, but simultaneously forms the basis, the condition, and the constitutive power of the parts. For, once again, it is no Platonic State where the rights of the individual are sacrificed to those of the group. The opposite is far rather the case. The Kingdom of God in fact maintains each one’s personality and secures its full-orbed development.

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Over on his informative blog, The Politics of the Cross Resurrected, Craig Carter alerts us to a tale worth tracking.

Kudos to Krygsman — Dr. Hubert R. Krygsman, president of Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario! And to Dr. Justin Cooper, Executive Director of Christian Higher Education Canada!

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Today (Saturday) we are preparing for Sunday. In an earlier post today, we commented in another context about Leviticus 19.35-37:

You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.

As we get ready for the Lord’s Day tomorrow, let’s meditate together on this passage for a few moments.

(Incidentally, among the books that have become so valuable to me because of their formative influence is The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, by Vern Sheridan Poythress [Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991]. Though he doesn’t discuss Leviticus 19.35-37 directly, we highly recommend his approach, one we would describe as a gospel-driven, Christ-centered understanding and use of the Torah.)

Briefly, then, as we study the gospel of grace in the law of honesty, we observe that God’s redeemed people are

  1. Taught the principle of honesty in terms of public life (v.35);
  2. Motivated for honesty in terms of personal redemption (v.36); and
  3. Called to extend honesty in terms of whole-life piety (v.37).

When Israel came to live in Canaan, and did business with both fellow Israelite and pagan neighbors, she was called to demonstrate her identity as the people of the LORD in her commercial transactions. Her deliverance from the Egypt’s bondage was her national birthday, the day she received new life, literally and figuratively. Living with her covenant LORD had always been the purpose and destination of that deliverance, of her wilderness training, of Mount Sinai’s thunder and smoke, and of the dry crossing through the Jordan.

But death stalked Israel from the moment of her birth. It was as though a mighty dragon was always nearby, waiting to devour and destroy Israel by seducing her to live in Canaan’s ways (think Rev. 12.1-6). As the people of life, she was always tempted by death. As the people of freedom, she was always lured by the chains of idolatry.

Honesty in commercial transactions — using fair and honest weights and measures — was (and is!) both symbolic and symptomatic.

Economic honesty is symbolic because it corresponds to reality. Today’s acronym for this is WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get. Honesty in economics and commerce operates in terms of reality, real-ness, integrity. The openness and transparency that economic honesty permits and fosters enhance life and freedom. This is true personally and publicly.

Honesty is symptomatic because it discloses underlying fundamental, systemic integrity. Honesty in commerce is related to honesty in marriage, and honesty in speech.

Of all people, God’s people are best equipped by grace to live honest lives. Their deliverance by God shows them why they need not be afraid — and fraud is rooted in fear! The God who delivers will not abandon those he has set free. Relying on him liberates us from the need to manipulate, to cheat, to defraud, and to take advantage of others.

In other words, commercial and economic honesty is the embodiment (enfleshed form) of gospel grace in personal dealings and public life.

This Lord’s Day, give thanks for the LORD’s gracious provision in Jesus Christ, which permits and enables us to practice economic integrity, confident that the LORD will bless such obedience, despite its temporary costs, with lasting joy and inner peace.

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This time, the cryptic formula in the title means: “Not all Biblical Principle-ists are Theonomists.”

First, let’s define terms.

Nowadays the word “theonomist” usually refers to someone who teaches that the laws of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, ought to be used directly as the primary basis and source for modern political, social, and economic policies and legislation. If you’d like to read more about this, check here and here.

We said that the term “theonomist” usually refers to using the Old Testament prescriptions for modern legislation. But recently the term is coming to be applied to anyone who appeals to Scripture in evaluating public policies and laws. For example, someone who objects to legalizing euthanasia by appealing to, among other things, the Christian Scriptures is allegedly a “theonomist.” Appealing to the Bible’s teaching about marriage between a man and a woman as one of several arguments against legalizing the marrying of homosexuals is considered illegitimate because such an appeal is supposedly “theonomist.”

It is helpful, however, to distinguish between theonomy described in the first sense, and what can be termed “biblical principle-ism.” This latter phrase describes the following three-step process:

  1. Identify within Bible passages that contain moral instruction the principle(s) being applied.
  2. Identify features of contemporary life where the specific moral principle may be relevant.
  3. Formulate a contemporary application of the biblical principle.

Here is an example. In Leviticus 19.35-37, we read:

You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all my statutes and all my rules, and do them: I am the LORD.

Step 1: One of several biblical principles taught here is the requirement of absolute honesty in all commercial transactions. In ancient societies, primitive measures and scales were used in trading transactions, and were easily put in the service of deceit and trickery. Behind this principle is another: Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19.18).

Step 2: Here is merely one area of relevance: monetary policy. Today, in most Western countries, weights and measures are regulated by the state. Included among these weights and measures is the printing and circulation of money. Debasing currency by state-regulated policies and practices is a form of deceit and theft.

Step 3: It would be helpful and appropriate to warn people, on the basis of Leviticus 19.35-36, about the evil results of covetousness, of unnecessary indebtedness, and of a credit-based economy. This warning should expose the modern consequences of inflation as a form of state-sponsored larceny through practices that permit the manipulation of monetary value.

This is a brief example. Much, much more could and should be said regarding our modern context for applying the biblical principle of honesty, in this case, honest money. Proper contextualizing of the biblical principle requires a thorough analysis of the Bible’s teaching about indebtedness, both personal and public, as one prominent reason underlying monetary deceit. We also need a clear economic theory that properly arranges variables and values involved in economic transactions. Although the Bible does not in the first place supply us with a theory of economics, the Bible does provide necessary building materials for constructing a valid, that is, true-to-creational-reality, theory of economic activity.

One of the highest enjoyments for Christians studying the Old Testament is discovering the gospel of Jesus Christ in passages like Leviticus 19.35-37. Sadly it happens too often that our quest for moral guidance from passages like this blinds us to the gospel of Jesus Christ being taught and illustrated here. Israel’s laws were laced with appeals to her LORD’s identity and activity: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Because of who God is and because of what he had done, Israel was to live in Canaan, among the world, as free . . . chaste . . . honest . . . respectful . . . stewardly people. Redemption accomplished receives incarnation as redemption applied!

Sometimes people fear that Christians who use, among other arguments, the Bible’s principles for matters in the public square will separate the “law” from its “gospel” context. After all, just look at how much of Leviticus 19.35-37 appeals to God’s special relationship to his people Israel as the basis for their honesty in commercial transactions.

This is a very legitimate concern. So in our next installment in this thread, we need to consider this question: If the principle being applied in the public square can be learned, illustrated, and argued without reference to the Bible, shouldn’t Christians avoid appealing to the Bible at that point?

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Unpacked, the title intends to say: “Not all Critics of some natural law theories are thereby Deniers of natural law.”

Simple, yes?

Well, then, shout it abroad, and spread this logic like peanut butter or confetti or something.

Q: Does the Reformed theological tradition pay attention, in some form or other, to natural law?

A: Yes!

Q: Really?

A: Again, yes . . . si . . . oui . . . jawohl . . . yup.

Q: Names, please?

A: Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, Philipp Melanchthon, and innumerable others.

Q: Could you give me a definition of natural law?

A: Sure. But first, without getting too wordy, we need to distinguish a number of versions of natural law. There’s naturalistic natural law: what is natural is what is good. Biology is king, and genes rule! Next, consider the Stoic version of natural law, teaching that the fundamental moral values are inborn, like “seeds of virtue” that function in human beings as a light of nature, or the voice of conscience. And then let’s not ignore the version taught by Thomas Aquinas: a person possesses knowledge of the good (to be found in God) because access to natural law grants access to eternal law. Such knowledge is granted and governed by reason. So the Decalogue and the Love Command flow from and accord with right reason. Finally, consider the Enlightenment version of natural law, where the good and the right are grounded not in divine character or revelation, but in autonomous human thought or experience.

Q: So . . . what’s the definition of natural law?

A: Try this one: Natural law refers to a body of immutable, universally valid moral and judicial norms that can allegedly be derived from nature solely with the assistance of reason.

Q: What “problem” is being solved by appeal to natural law?

A: Among others, this one: Everyone must acknowledge that there is some understanding and practice of morality and justice among all people. Also among people who don’t know or respect the Bible. Many of these people intervene on behalf of the oppressed, sacrifice themselves on behalf of high ideals, and pursue peace and civility. Christian morality did not arise as a creatio ex nihilo, but shares many similarities to that of non-Christians. This similarity makes possible cooperation and collaboration between Christians and non-Christians.

Q: Okay, then, where’s the beef? As in: What’s the concern?

A: Well, there are at least three, actually. Here are some canaries for your trek down into the coal mine of this discussion.

  1. Are knowing the Bible and believing in God through Jesus Christ absolutely necessary for correctly interpreting, understanding, and applying natural law (or “remnants of natural light”)? Yes, say numerous Reformed confessions and theologians.
  2. Are there different versions of the real content of natural law? Yes, and a careful study of these versions will show this content to be quite unstable, to boot.
  3. According to Scripture, especially Romans 1 and 2, what is the clear purpose of the divine moral testimony in creation? To render people inexcusable in their active suppression of all truth about God.

Q: Should we insist that the Bible furnishes everything we need for politics, statecraft, and jurisprudence — or plumbing, farming, and education?

A: Never. Foundational principles? Yes. Policy implementation details? Whoever said that?

Next installment of this thread: Not all BPs are Ts.

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On January 27, 2011, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published its report entitled “The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010-2030” (available here).

In this report you’ll find charts and graphs, tables and lists, all explaining and illustrating something we’ve known for a long time: the burqa will become more prominent in Western cultures as the Muslim population grows and immigrates westward.

Which creates for our generation a new worldview opportunity.

The world’s Muslim population is expected to grow during the next 20 years by about 35%. This growth rate represents an annual increase of 1.5%, compared to a rate of 0.7% for non-Muslims. Projections for the United States show the number of Muslims more than doubling, while in Europe the next twenty years will see a growth in the Muslim population of nearly one-third.

Factors that account for this projected growth include fertility, life expectancy, migration, urbanization, and age demographics.

But here’s what the burqa represents. Cultures, like industries (think of the automobile industry), need leaders discerning enough to plan for retooling in order to meet future demand. Ideas need retooling, which is simply a way of saying that we need to get ready now in order to meet the future demand for addressing the Muslim population with the Christian worldview twenty years from now. As most people know, “Christian worldview” is merely shorthand for the Christian gospel applied to life.

Tools for this redesigned application of the gospel include at least the following:

  1. Up-to-date Christian schooling that nurtures students in the truths of applied gospel living as part of a cultural approach to Islam.
  2. Proactive discipleship training that equips believers for compassionate relationships with their Muslim neighbors, customers, and community leaders.
  3. Clear formulations of the Bible’s teaching, in terms that relate to Islamic doctrine and ethics, about creation, sin, humanity, redemption, holiness, and eschatology, all centering on and rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Pew projections need not alarm Christians interested in watching how this development will serve the gospel. Rather, these forecasts should motivate us to be prepared, ready for cultivating the kind of gospel-saturated relationships with our Muslim neighbors that will genuinely serve them.

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