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

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