Archive for January, 2013

all-cashIn some ways, the blog “Christian in America” is often interesting, occasionally helpful, but sometimes unclear.

Take this post, for example.

In a day when Tim Keller has become the target du jour of many Reformed and Presbyterian TR militants, I genuinely appreciate this refreshingly positive appeal to his book, Generous Justice. I deeply doubt the claim that ignoring Calvin, natural law, and common grace accounts for diminished trust undergirding today’s so-called culture war. And I heartily endorse the call to—note the adjective— Christian love, compassion, and civility as essential conditions for effective Christian participation in the public square, though I remain dubious about any call for Christians to “win public trust” in the public square.

There you have the heart, the thrust, the meat of the post.

A throw-away line?

My concern, however, involves a single sentence that, in the context of current discussions among Reformed and Presbyterians about Christian participation in the public square, without further explanation and concretization, may become nothing more than a throw-away line.

The precise function of this sentence in the author’s argument is quite unclear. In the essay, and in the concluding paragraphs, there is so very, very much with which to agree. But then the fog comes rolling in.

The point is not that we should avoid disagreements or that we should compromise our fundamental commitments. Heaven forbid. The point, rather, is that we need to work hard to conduct our disagreements, to wage our political campaigns, and to convert our cultural opponents with a spirit of love and respect – to allure them rather than to defeat them. Such love and respect involves the recognition of truth wherever it appears alongside the sort of honesty that allows us to communicate our deepest concerns. It also requires, I believe, the acceptance of the particular political virtues on which our governmental system depends – equal regard, commitment to deliberative processes, and a willingness to compromise within the constraints of basic justice and morality.

Who among “us” could disagree? Who among “us” would disagree? Does anyone among “us” disagree with this?

The immediately following paragraph begins with a contrastive statement:

There are certainly lines we will not be able to cross. We cannot support the state’s refusal to protect innocent life nor can we endorse its moral affirmation of same-sex marriage.

It’s almost as if the author had written: “But even though we must be loving and respectful, there are certainly lines we will not be able to cross.” “We” can go only so far, and no further.

Then follow two examples: “we” cannot support abortion and same-sex marriage. (I surmise the author meant: “We should not support” the state’s permitting these activities.)

Without any further explanation of this claim, however, we are immediately led back to the essay’s main thesis:

But even in a society in which the state stubbornly pursues such policies, we can maintain the sort of social and political commitment to our fellow citizens that makes trust possible, whether by helping to carry the enormous burdens faced by single mothers or by seeking to alleviate the fears of tyranny among those committed to the sexual revolution, whether by supporting legal recognition (and its consequent privileges and benefits) of non-marital relationships or by demonstrating to gays and lesbians our unshakeable and sincere commitment to their equality under the law.

Again, let me state my hearty agreement with this call to compassionate justice as the essential Christian witness in the public square.

However, for several years now, advocates of Christian participation in public life have been criticized loudly and aggressively, even derisively, by some proponents of modern versions of “two kingdom” theology for seeking to explain and concretize the cash value of precisely that conviction being expressed in the underlined sentence. Election year 2012 provided ample opportunity for such concretizing. But as soon as someone began to concretize that assertion underlined above—as in: recommend that Christians find alluring, loving, respectful, and viable ways to oppose abortion or same-sex marriage, at the ballot box, in political campaigns, etc.—that’s when simple believers were shut down, loudly, aggressively, and derisively with rhetoric about “you may not bind the believer’s conscience” or “don’t confuse the kingdoms” or “quit blurring the spiritual and the temporal.”

An invitation

Without concretizing that underlined sentence—consider this an invitation—that sentence functions, in the paragraph cited and in the essay as a whole, as nothing more than a throw-away line. The sentence is nestled in that paragraph just firmly enough to be able to claim, if necessary: look, we’ve been saying all along that “we” cannot support legalized abortion or same-sex marriage. In other words, the sentence provides just enough “cover.”

But DO something as Christians to incarnate that Christian conviction?

Well, many of us would like to see the cash value. Do those underlined words really mean anything? May pastors and Christian citizens put legs and feet under those words, from the pulpit and beyond the church parking lot? Should they?

Oh, I know . . . there is a plethora of political options (“the Bible doesn’t tell us about policy details”) . . . and Christians will disagree among themselves (“you may not bind my conscience, so you’d better not proclaim anything concrete from the pulpit”). “We”—Joe and Jane Christian—need to hear what this “cannot support” looks like. Does it look at all like:

— participating as a Christian citizen in the March for Life in Washington?
— organizing a Christian foundation to fund and maintain shepherding homes for unwed mothers?
— self-identifying as a Christian citizen with a political party and a political candidate that defends the life of the unborn?
— volunteering as a Christian citizen at a crisis pregnancy center?
— supporting counseling services that compassionately assist people in “coming out” of their homosexual lifestyle?
— organizing as Christians to promote a referendum in defense of marriage?

Some versions of Christian liberty refuse to permit preachers to say anything concrete about what Christians should DO to show that “we” “cannot support the state’s refusal to protect innocent life.” And it sounds noble to thump loudly that we cannot “endorse the state’s moral affirmation of same-sex marriage.” But just try to insist, against some modern “two kingdom” advocates, that Christians should oppose the state’s moral affirmation of same-sex marriage, and you’ll be left . . . without legs and feet under that noble conviction.

Convictions without cash value?

Sounds just a tad like . . . faith without works. Visible good works. The kind that others may see and give glory to our Father in heaven.

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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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