Thursday, January 07, 2010

Christ and Culture: My Conclusion

Last semester the ACG I lead considered how Christians and the Church should engage our culture. We looked at Neihbur's five models, considering the pro's and con's of each (for this summary, check out the Nov. 20th posting on the poiemablog).

Most of us landed in one of two camps - the "transformationalist" or the "two-kingdom" camp. The "transformationalists" camp would include, likely, men like Edwards, Wesley, maybe even Calvin and Augustine (though these last two are also claimed by the 'two kingdom' folk). Certainly Schaeffer and Kuyper, along with most at Calvin College would fall into this camp. They would argue that there is distinctly Christian ways of doing things (governing, teaching, etc.). Christians are to bring everything under the sovereignty of Christ, transforming the world more and more into the Kingdom of God. Many in this camp were post-millennial, though not all. They would emphasize that the kingdom of God is not merely spiritual in character, but also physical – Christ is Lord of all things and is redeeming all things. Sounds good. For a long time, I was in this camp - now, I'm a little more suspicious.

The 'two kingdom' camp boasts Martin Luther, Calvin (arguable), and Augustine as models. To this we could add Micheal Horton and most of the Westminster Seminary California crowd. Proponents argue that we are dual citizens. Our primary allegiance is the heavenly kingdom that is mediated to us through the church (it’s preaching, discipline, and administration of the sacraments). In addition, we all participate in the earthly kingdom through our various vocations – serving our neighbors, loving our children, etc. We recognize the sinfulness not only of our culture, but of us as individuals, even redeemed individuals. The kingdom of heaven doesn’t advance through the efforts of the church, but is received through the ministry of the church. Individual go out and work in the world, but don’t try to Christianize it.

My approach is more of a hybrid. I agree with the transformationalists that Christians as individuals should be transforming culture. I think we should remember, however, that most of this work will be done on a micro scale - homes, neighborhoods, schools, work places, etc. I believe we are called to be salt and light in these places and that so doing will transform them. Christians transform their worlds by 1) loving their neighbor, 2) fulfilling their vocations well, not by Christianizing law or medicine or carpentry. In other words, I don't think there are particular Christian ways of engaging in these callings. Certainly Christians will do so differently, but the difference will be almost entirely internal - differences in motivations (love and the glory of God), not in policies or methods. Of course a Christian lawyer should be an honest one and a Christian doctor should value life. Yet these values/virtues come to us not only through the specific revelation (the Bible), but also through general revelation and natural law.

I do not follow the transformationalist when it comes to the churches role in the conversion of culture. I am incredibly uneasy with the churches 'cultural agenda' - whether it's the Religious Rights or the Emergent Left. Do you see the problem? Both are claiming to be the Christian agenda, baptizing their platform with the Bible. If the church is to engage in transforming the culture, who's cultural vision will we be shaping culture into? As I said in class, I don't think we, as Christians and as the church, are transformed enough to know how we ought to transform our culture. That doesn't mean that pastors should stop preaching about culture sins; however, the church as the church shouldn't involve itself in promoting specific agendas, policies, etc.

For example, the church should preach on the value of human life and the sanctity of marriage. However, I believe it is misguided for the church to move from proclaiming what the bible clearly teaches to promoting certain political agendas, parties, legislation, etc. Christians who believe in the sanctity of life and marriage can disagree on who best to guard them. Will legislation do it? Maybe, but I doubt people want abortion on demand because it's legal. More likely, abortion on demand is legal because people demanded it. Should we forget the legal side and work towards providing better alternatives to abortion? Yes and no. My point is that for the Christian, any and all of these may be legitimate, but for the church none are! I believe it is perfectly appropriate for Christians to lobby for legislation limiting access to abortion or making it outright illegal. I think it's important for Christians to be involved in supporting crisis pregnancy centers, adopting, etc. I don't think the church should push any of these, especially not as 'the Christian' response to abortion (it would be easy to use the issue of marriage also).

Does this mean that Christ isn't the Lord over every area of life? NO, NOT AT ALL. Listen to How R. Scott Clark puts it:


"In seminary I was taught that there is a distinctively Christian way of viewing everything. In a sense I suppose that’s true but here’s how my mind has changed on this issue. There is no question whether Christ is Lord of everything. The Apostle John teaches that nothing came into being except that which came into being through the Word. Jesus is the Word. As Creator he is Lord of all. The question that remains, however, is how he is Lord of all…We often assume that he exercises his Lordship in precisely the same way in every sphere of life. This is an assumption that should be challenged. There is good biblical evidence to suggest that we are to understand that Christ administers his sovereign Lordship in distinct ways in different spheres or kingdoms. For example, he has made promises to the visible, institutional church that he has not made to the civil kingdom. He has not promised “Lo I will be with you always” to any visible political entity, but he has made that promise to the visible church." ("Christ is Lord of all, But...", on the Heidleblog)


Or Michael Horton:

"Christians were to be salt and light in the arts by actually becoming artists, not by the church issuing edicts and pronouncements. Those engaged in business and trade were to glorify God by producing or offering quality goods at a reasonable price. This is an essential point. When one asks, "So the Reformation wanted the church to be involved in every aspect of life?", we must reply, "Not on your life!" In fact, the lordship of Christ over every sphere was not the lordship of the church. God rules his world through institutions he created before and after the fall which have to do with culture, not redemption. It is not the place of the church to issue political pronouncements, but the place of Christians who have been called to that arena; it is not the place of the church to create great works of art and music, but the place of Christians who have been given an artistic vocation. In medieval theory, the City of God (Christendom: church and culture as one) was ruled by the church; in Reformation theory, the City of God was spiritual and redemptive, not cultural. Therefore, the involvement of Christians in these spheres to the glory of God took preeminence, breaking the centuries of ecclesiastical rule." ("
My Father's World", Modern Reformation, March/April 1992)


My understanding of the church (institutional) is that it should be a 'refueling station' (or a 're-salianation station')where people who serve the world day in and day out come to be confronted with the law of God and driven to the grace of God revealed in the gospel. Too many churches preach only law. Some do it from the right - opposing abortion, homosexual marriage, etc from the pulpit. Some do it from the left - preaching the need to be active in promoting social justice, serving as Christ served, etc. The church is institution called into existence to proclaim the gospel of God's grace. If we fail to do that week in and week out, we have failed to fulfill our calling. Our calling is the Great Commission, not the building of a Great Society.

Let me close this off with a very long quote from David VanDrunen (taken from OldLife Blog on the Westminster hermeneutic, originally appearing the Kerux Online Journal):

"This brief look at biblical theology should teach us a number of things about this battle. Most important of all, it teaches us that the culture war rages in Babylon, not in the Promised Land. A number of other important considerations arise from this. For one thing, it reminds us that in any of our cultural struggles we are not to set as a goal the annihilation or even the radical transformation of society. The existence of Babylon is completely legitimate. This is a particularly relevant message for Americans especially to heed. America is portrayed as the Promised Land so often—it is the hope of the world, the shining city on the hill, with liberty and justice for all. It is the refuge for the teeming masses of distant shores yearning to be free. It is a land of never before attained prosperity and military strength. America certainly is a great land, and patriotic affections are good and healthy. But it is not paradise, and never was. And neither is any other place on earth. To view any earthly land as the Promised Land is to set our sights both too high and too low at the same time: too high for our nation’s prospects and too low for what the Promised Land really is. People wage culture wars in Babylon, and to whatever extent they win or lose, Babylon continues to be just that—Babylon! It will not be annihilated, and it will not be transformed into something else.


To understand this is to put things into perspective. If the America of 50 or 100 or 200 years ago was Babylon, and if the America of the next generation, apart from the outcome of this culture war, will still be Babylon, should we not conclude that culture wars really are not won or lost, at least not absolutely? Living in Babylon by definition implies living outside of Paradise in a land which does not in any special way belong to the church, and as such is more or less filled with injustice, immorality, and any number of other depravities which motivate the culture warriors. As long as the church has lived in Babylon, it has been involved in cultures with marks of degeneracy. And as long as it continues to live here, it will face the same thing. It is only at Christ’s return that wicked culture and its supporters will be abolished completely: “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thess. 1:6-7). The culture war has been raging for ages and it will not end until Christ returns. Why do we so often act as if the 1960’s, with the corresponding rise of the drug culture and sexual promiscuity, marked the beginning of this war? Perhaps the battle rages more fiercely and more visibly now, but even Christians living in Norman Rockwell America should have realized the existence of the culture war—the same culture war which rages around us now. As a wise man long ago observed, there is nothing new under the sun."


Does this mean that fighting the culture wars is wrong? VanDrunen says, “of course not.” But if Christians do fight in those battles they ne
ed to do so with a proper understanding of the stakes involved:

"God commanded the people in Jeremiah 29 to seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which they lived, and this applies to us as well. We know that a nation with increasing numbers of cocaine-addicts, abortions, thefts, child-abuse cases, illiterates, etc., etc., will not retain desirable levels of peace and prosperity for long. Therefore we do have an obligation to do things which will, if not eliminate such things, at least substantially reduce their rate of occurrence. The peace and prosperity of our society, not to mention our personal peace and prosperity, depend on it. And the political sphere certainly is one of the institutions of culture which will make its indelible stamp on the peace and prosperity of the society. Christians therefore should have an interest in the political process when their form of government allows it, as ours does. To turn our backs on politics would mean to turn our backs in part to the command of God to seek the peace and prosperity of our nation. We may debate amongst ourselves which political positions to promote and how much emphasis should be given to the political process, but the interest and involvement in politics which we see among the “religious right” is in itself a good thing. But, it must always be accompanied by the realization that we are participating in the politics of Babylon. What should we hope to gain by our cultural, including political, activity? Only a relatively better life for society, ourselves, and our children in the years to come than what we would otherwise face. We seek not the destruction of our enemies, but simply a modestly better society which in the future will face exactly the same kinds of threats and require the same sort of opposition. Perhaps we can turn America back to the culture of the 1950’s. But the 1960’s will always follow.


Our first hope naturally is for the peace and prosperity of our nation. But perhaps we should be secretly pleased when these turn into disorder and depression. We have noted how many Christians today yearn for the days of public virtue present years ago in our nation’s history. It seems that there is little doubt that as far as public virtue goes America has seen better days. But when we see how such memories distort the biblical understanding that we live in Babylon, when we see how they cause our hopes to seek fulfillment not in the next world, but in this, when we see how they paint a falsely idyllic picture in our minds which we ignorantly project into the future, does it not make us at least wonder how much good such relatively peaceful and prosperous days really do. If God answered our prayers and blessed our cultural efforts by bringing us days of unparalleled peace and prosperity, would that not in itself be a tremendous temptation to set our sights no higher than Babylon? Are not days such as ours good reminders of what Babylon really is—a pagan, depraved, and hopeless place over which an angel from heaven will one day shout: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great” (Rev. 18:2)? The Israelites were apparently satisfied with the peace and prosperity of Babylon— only a tiny fraction of them returned to the Promised Land when the opportunity came. Will we as a church do any better?


Yes, let us pray for the peace and prosperity of our land for the sake of the physical well-being of ourselves and our children. But let us also be thankful for God’s often disappointing answers for the sake of the spiritual well-being of his church."

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