Monday, September 28, 2009

Four Views on Christianity and Culture

I came across an excellent discussion by Ray Pennings on four contemporary views of how Christians are to interact with the world. Here are some excerpts:

..... In my mind, there are at least four distinct approaches evident in Reformed circles today, each of which brings some perspective to the tension that this symposium seeks to address.

Neocalvinism focuses on the comprehensiveness of the gospel claim. "Every square inch" belongs to Christ, and the full effects of the cross—as fully conquering sin, including its effects in the groaning creation—are emphasized. .... That means challenging the presuppositions of secular reasoning and working carefully with both the books of creation and revelation.

The "two kingdom perspective" .. brings at least two valuable insights to the conversation. Negatively, it warns against the hubris that sometimes can accompany an attempt to define "the" Christian position on various contemporary issues. ... Positively, it brings a very strong ecclesiology into the conversation, emphasizing the calling of believers to focus on their place in the church and the bride of Christ, and to emphasize the transcendence of the gospel.

Neopuritans (which I prefer as a term to describe that group which Time magazine described as New Calvinists) focus on the sovereignty of God and the glory of God.... this perspective results in an approach that is more individualistic than corporate, focuses more extensively on responding to the needs of our neighbours through the diaconal ministry of the church, and relies on being an example, resisting cultural trends and intentionally working towards a Christian counter-culture.

"Old Calvinism".... One example of this approach is John MacArthur, who has essentially come to the conclusion that engaging the city inevitably leads the church to worldliness and that when the church attempts to engage the culture, the culture is usually more effective at influencing the church.... Promoting godly living and the fruits of the Spirit is a mission "far more good and profitable to men than any amount of social and political activism . . . [Christians] are content very much to let the worldly people deal with the worldly things of this world."

So to summarize the discussion within Reformed circles today: The neocalvinist says the fundamental presuppositions underlying the debate need to be changed if we are to have meaningful engagement. The two kingdom perspective responds that it won't happen; when we try to engage in discussion, we end up calling things Christian that really aren't, resulting in pride and a misrepresentation of the gospel. The neopuritans say that that is why we should avoid a systemic approach; we should focus more on the individual needs of our neighbors and show them, both in ministries of mercy as well as by positive examples, that faith makes a difference. The Old Calvinists say that in all of this activity, we are losing our focus and getting dirty as we dig around in the garbage cans of culture to retrieve a penny or two of value from the bottom. We and our culture need heart-surgery, not band-aids.

Framing the camps in this way can emphasize the gaps and overlook the significant overlap that in practice one finds as people seek to balance their response to the practical tension that can emerge between gospel proclamation and seeking the peace of the city. I think more work needs to be done in developing a coherent public theology. I believe such a theology needs to be rooted in orthodox doctrine (truth matters, and cultural engagement that focuses on activity without core content inevitably leads astray); have a robust worldview that answers the questions our neighbours are asking (in other words, is less concerned about an agenda than responding to the needs and questions of those around us); has an ethic of integrity (our example is an important part of our witness and the institutional church with her offices must be as a bright light and example); and is lived with a pilgrimage spirit (which probably means more emphasis on the doctrines of providence and eschatology as everyday realities in the life of the believer.)

You can check out the whole discussion here.

HT: Kevin DeYoung

CJ Mahaney Sermons on Video

Check out this excellent resource - CJ Mahaney Sermons on video from Vimeo.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughts on Two Kingdom Theology vs. Neo-Kuyperism

I have been reading a biography of Abraham Kuyper and digging deeper into his theology and philosophy. The more I read the more I like what he has to say and what he did.

Recently, Kevin DeYoung and some of the guys at the White Horse Inn debated the appeal of the Two Kingdom world view versus the Neo-Kuperian world view. Both views have value and biblical merit. See Justin Taylor's discussion for a good exchange among commentators.

I can't promise to add anything to their discussion. But, with the hope of helping us think a little more through these important thoughts.

While I like aspects of the Two Kingdom approach I believe it has some serious drawbacks. Here are some thoughts on the advantages and drawbacks of the Two Kingdom view:

  1. It is a good understanding in wrestling with the reality that the elect are also exiles living in a world largely opposed to the reign of God.
  2. It helps protect the church from forgetting its chief priority of proclaiming Christ and displaying the fruit of the gospel first and foremost.
  3. It allows for participation in the realm of the world, where we often see the work of common grace that is distinct from true kingdom work (it lacks true acknowledgment of Christ as King ie. good government, friendly neighbors, public charities etc.).
  4. It keeps a healthy tension between the already and the not yet in our eschatology.

  1. It can lend itself to a neo-Gnosticism where our spirituality can be disconnected with the nitty-gritty of life lived in a body that dwells in a world that has cultural, economic, social, civic and relational realities that are intimately related to the spiritual.
  2. It can lend itself to an apathetic view of the world and the isolation of the Church from society. Christianity is a comprehensive worldview that is centered on Christ but finds application in every nook and cranny of life, both in a fallen world and in the future re-created world.
  3. It can seem to excuse Christians and Christian leaders from thinking through the particulars of how a Christian is to live in the world because of the inherent difficulty in applying gospel truth to the complexities of life and culture. While there are inherent dangers with any church advocating how to shop or how to invest in stocks or which political party to support or what art forms to promote, this is no reason for separating the realm of the church and the world in this way. We do not wash our hands of the application of the reign of Christ to the nitty-gritty because the issues can become too complicated. We must think biblically about every arena of life. Certainly we must be humble and admit we are culturally biased in our applications, but this is no reason for neglect. "There is a lion in the streets" is the excuse of the sluggard. The reign of Christ extends to all things. We must humbly and diligently seek to apply His truth in all arenas of life even if it means coming up with some messy answers at times.
  4. It seems where it has been embraced it has evidenced, to some degree, the negative effects of the previous three tendencies (ie. Lutheran & Mennonite vs. much of English, Dutch and American evangelicalism). Certainly Neo-Kuyperism has its drawbacks (a subject of a future post) but humble truthful comprehensive Gospel-centered activism, even with its misapplications and messiness seems to have a healthier legacy than the Two Kingdoms approach.

I am eager to think more through this more and hear your perspectives. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Guaranteed by God - Romans 8:18-39

I have been studying Romans 8:18-39 in preparation for Sunday. Check out this wordle of this passage from the ESV.

Go to Wordle to see more.

The Sluggard

Check out this poem by Isaac Watts entitled "The Sluggard" drawn from the book of Proverbs. God grant us wisdom to avoid the way of the sluggard!

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,"
This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading.

by Isaac Watts

HT: Josh Harris

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Parenting Resources

I recently heard a message by Dave Harvey that I would put on my list of the top 25 messages I've ever heard. It was entitled, "Parenting in Weakness" and it was an analysis and application of 2 Cor. 12 to parenting. You don't want to miss this one.

Go to Monergism to download an MP3: "Parenting in Weakness", 2 Cor 11:30-12:10, Dave Harvey.

You might want to check out some of the other excellent teaching on parenting on Monergism. Go to Monergism's Section on Parenting here.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Shack II

Two recommendations for alternatives to The Shack:

  1. Trusting God by Jerry Bridges

  2. How Long, O Lord by D.A. Carson.


The Shack

Sorry for the summer respite from blogging.....

Something I've wanted to do for a while is write a review of The Shack by William Young. I read it this summer and enjoyed many aspects of it.
  1. It is a gripping story that forces us to address some heart-wrenching issues that are very real for many folks.
  2. It warmly portrays the compassion and tenderness of God.
  3. It communicates the nearness of God to us amidst our struggles.
  4. It does a good job of making us wrestle with the mystery of evil.
  5. It attempts to show how God might resolve our questions in a way that is partially faithful to scripture.
But there are some significant problems...
  1. It neglects to adequately portray the unfathomable glory and wisdom of God that is the ultimate answer for our questions about evil and suffering (see the book of Job).
  2. It downplays or even eliminates God's sovereignty over all of creation, even evil. (It is a scary thing if God is not in control - there are no guarantees in such a world.)
  3. It messes a bit too much with clear scriptural revelations of God for a 21st century version of God. (God as a woman, God as a cool older dude etc.)
  4. It does not emphasize the awesome holiness of God and our obvious and complete unworthiness before him. (see Is. 6 for a biblical encounter between God and a man.)
  5. It does not sufficiently highlight the ultimate resolution of evil in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Hope that helps. Read it if you are able to sift the good from the bad, otherwise, stay away from it's ultimately unhelpful portrayal of God and the problem of evil. Also, Check out Trevin Waxes review for a fuller analysis.