Monday, May 17, 2010

Is there a reset button somewhere?

Have you ever wished you could unlearn or unthink something. I'm there now. A train of thought and study that began over a year ago has left me incredibly uncomfortable in my evangelical skin. It started with one question that led to another, and another, etc. I wish, honestly, there was a reset button, that I'd taken the Blue Pill or that I could be plugged back into the Matrix as if I didn't know there was anything else.

For a several years the question of how the church should engage culture has bothered me. It's a hot topic and has been for a while. On one side you see those who advocate a total withdrawal from culture; on the other side you see those radical theonomists who argue the church should seek to totally transform the culture into a Christian culture, implementing OT laws and the whole nine yards. My tentative conclusion is that the church should not seek the transformation of culture (as the sermon yesterday probably made clear). The kingdom of this world will always be the kingdom of this world - never the kingdom of God. The church is tasked with preaching the good news of the kingdom and should not allow itself to be distracted by vain attempts to Christianize the world. In addition, it really does seem to beg the question "In which direction should we try to transform the culture?" Calvin was willing to admit that while Scripture spoke clearly about the means of salvation, the person and work of Christ, etc, it was remarkably silent on many other things. For example, Scripture isn't clear how society should be governed. A case can be made from Scripture that democracy is the best form of government. However, a good case can be made for a limited monarchy or a more socialist state. Scripture isn't clear. I don't know that there is a particularly Christian form of government or even a particularly Christian way of governing/ordering society. (By particularly Christian I mean way of doing things that is accessible only to Christians through particular revelation as opposed to accessible to all men through general revelation).

That question led to the second - should Christianity effect everything I do? Is there a particularly Christian way of mowing my lawn, or of cooking chili, or of maintaining my truck (it sounds absurd to even ask those questions - but some would argue there is)? Another way to get at it is to ask if everything is really sacred or is there a distinction between sacred and secular (or common). I've come to embrace three domains (as did the Reformers): sacred, secular (or common) and profane. Certainly, Scripture rules out the profane - so it does govern what I watch on TV (Playboy channel is out), what vocations I can choose (pimp is no longer an option), and similar questions. But in the area of secular vocations like law, medicine, magistrate, carpenter, mechanic, teacher, etc., there isn't a particularly Christian way of performing the task. At the ultimate level there is a difference in motivation. As the Catechism states, our chief end is to glorify God. But at the penultimate level, in the details, a house built by a Christian or a non-Christian won't look any different.

So, I have come to question one of the central tenants of pietistic Christianity - that faith makes demands in all areas of life. I agree with DG Hart on this, that such an "application of religion to practical affairs sacralizes things that are common (e.g. exercise, eating and politics) and trivializes things that are sacred (e.g. creed, sacraments and pastoral ministry)" (pg. xxi in The Lost Soul of American Protestanism).

So, having provisionally rejected a transformationalist approach to the church and culture and it's kissing cousin pietism, I wonder where that leaves me in terms of my evangelicalism. Hart and other have argued convincingly that evangelicalism is really just conservative Protestantism mixed with revivalistic pietism. They argue that there is a branch of conservative Protestantism not warmed over by this pietism, calling it Confessional Protestantism and represented in historic denominations like Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian (OPC especially), etc. Do I fit there? In my mind I do, but my heart just isn't there. For now, I am just resolved to be an uncomfortable evangelical. This uncomfortability is honestly sapping a lot of intellectual and emotional energy and I pray that God will allow me to get past my need to neat answers and tidy systems and embrace living in the tension I'm in.

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