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fruit-of-the-spiritWith the help of an analysis of the relevance of modern “two kingdom theology” to the issue of guns (available here), we are given further opportunity for reflecting on implications for whole life Christian obedience in the world.

As one of the essay’s conclusions, we are told that more artists and chefs, and fewer police officers and soldiers, are not necessarily indications of Christ’s kingdom having arrived.

Agreed!

Rather, it is claimed, “the signs of Christ’s kingdom are more ministers, more church members, more congregations . . ., and more fruit of the Spirit.”

Doubly agreed!

So then, let’s take a moment to review those “fruit of the Spirit.”

Set in opposition

The fruit of the Spirit are mentioned in Galatians 5.22-23, and set in direct opposition to the works of the flesh identified immediately before, in Galatians 5.19-21:

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (ESV).

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (ESV).

Notice:

1. In the original, each of the two phrases, “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit,” involves a kind of (Greek, grammatical) genitival relationship. Daniel Wallace opts for a Genitive of Production/Producer (in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 106), which means that the flesh produces these works, whereas the Spirit produces this fruit.

2. The “works” (plural) of the flesh are set over against the “fruit” (singular) of the Spirit. The fact that the flesh produces a disparate plurality of something, whereas the Spirit produces an integrated unity of something, is instructive regarding the nature of sin and of grace. Sin disperses and dissolves, whereas grace integrates and unifies.

3. The Spirit-as-source of this fruit guarantees the uniqueness of these characteristic Christian moral responses. Precisely what constitutes that uniqueness need not occupy us here, since it can be argued that several of these “fruit” are identified with words common to moral discourse in the ancient world. Suffice to say, for the moment, that part of that Christian uniqueness can be described helpfully with the use of an analogy: as a magnet organizes and arranges iron filings in a certain way, so too the gospel organizes and arranges the “fruit”-responses of Christian living in a way uniquely suited to the gospel.

4. Those responses identified as “the fruit of the Spirit” are essentially and inherently public and social responses. In other words, there is no such thing as private, individualistic love, joy, peace, etc. No one denies this, I think.

The necessary implication

Now, it is true that (1) “the fruit of the Spirit” are among the signs of Christ’s kingdom. It is also true that (2) these fruit of the Spirit are characteristically Christian public and social responses to the gospel, responses belonging to Christian living in the world. It is also true that (3) such characteristically Christian responses bear witness in the world to the reality and power of Christ’s kingdom. Therefore, although the kingdom of Christ can be associated with and rooted in the institutional church, the reality and power of Christ’s kingdom cannot be restricted or limited to that expression known as the institutional church. This claim is the legitimate conclusion from the preceding argument involving the public and social nature of the fruit of the Spirit, which are among the signs of Christ’s kingdom.

So then, given both Galatians 5 and the rest of New Testament teaching about these “fruit of the Spirit,” it seems both impossible and implausible to restrict this sign of the kingdom to the institutional church and its activities of administering the means of grace.

More agreement and analysis

Perhaps these implications and their valid conclusion are so self-evident and agreeable that they need not have been explained. Perhaps.

That would be great, were that the case. Nonetheless, the essay linked above concludes with some sentences, quoted below, that provide a good opportunity for still more pointed reflection. We’ve added a number to each sentence for ease of reference:

[1] The church doesn’t need guns. [2] It enforces God’s law and proclaims the good news through spiritual means. [3] But until Christ’s return and the ultimate sorting out of the wheat and the tares, society will need guns. [4] Rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come not from God’s word (which is silent about such matters) but the shifting sands of human reflection.

To each of these sentences, given the preceding context and discussion of the entire essay, we’d have to reply with a “yes, but.”

Regarding [1]: yes, guns are not the church’s instrument of persuasion, but might be the church’s instrument of protection. For example, if today’s circumstances of endangered public gatherings might warrant guns as a precautionary safety measure, perhaps the elders may wish to ask someone patrolling the narthex or the parking lot to be unobtrusively armed.

Regarding [2]: yes, this is absolutely true. BUT God’s law-enforced-by-spiritual-means addresses issues like peace, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control with regard to activities done by Christians beyond the institutional church. Here is the repeated, simple, clear challenge to contemporary “two kingdom theology”: Is the preceding sentence true or false? Yes or no? Granting that Christians have messed up in enforcing God’s law, perhaps in a hundred different ways, the question remains: Does God’s law-enforced-by-spiritual-means address activities done by Christians beyond the institutional church?

Regarding [3]: yes, the claim is absolutely true that “until Christ returns, society will need guns.” BUT: even if you remove the name “Christ,” this is not merely a descriptive claim, but is a specifically biblical eschatological and moral claim. You cannot know this statement to be true apart from special revelation. The truthfulness of this claim cannot be argued validly from natural law. Of course, there are plenty of non-Christian philosophers and political theorists who make a similar claim. But that fact does not contradict the biblical origin or quality of the claim. Therefore, there exists a “biblical viewpoint” regarding “gun control.” See below.

Regarding [4]: yes, this is absolutely true. BUT: the claim that “until Christ returns, society will need guns” is necessarily a faith claim, available only via Scripture, and is therefore part of a Christian biblically-derived analysis of and response to arguments pertaining to “gun control.” How that gets implemented in terms of rules for owning, manufacturing, and selling guns will come from “the shifting sands” of historical development as well as human reflection.

Simply stated, the Bible teaches that (in one sense) the church doesn’t need guns, and that until Christ returns, society will need guns. And the Bible does not teach that the Glock 30SF ought to be outlawed. This example illustrates precisely how Scripture can “speak to all of life” without determining every precise detail of life.

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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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This book is a collection of sermons preached and published by the author, suitable for reading in public worship and for personal devotions. The sermons cover the Old Testament book of Jonah.

For information on purchasing this newly published ebook, go here.

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