Sunday, September 15, 2013

Transformed and Transforming?

Transformed and Transforming?

Bill Evans head shot
Dr, William B. Evans
The Eunice Witherspoon Bell Younts and Willie Camp Younts
 Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College

Dr. William B. Evans in his most recent posting at the Ecclessial Calvinist, What’s Wrong with 2K?, refers to me as “one of my more ardent 2K Facebook friends.” I suppose I’m both pleased and disappointed, indifferent and chagrined. 

I’m pleased he describes me as a friend; I’m disappointed I'm no more than a “Facebook friend.” I'm indifferent about being described as one of his “more ardent” 2K friends; I'm chagrined he uses me as one who can vouch for the accuracy of his definition of 2K. 

I did say, as he quotes me, that a description he offered on Facebook is "a good, concise explanation.” But, I am in no way qualified to approve or disapprove. I came to 2K not by reading any of the 2K theologians but through my own amateur reflections. Long before all the 2K dust up, I listed on Facebook my “political views” non-technically as “Two Kingdoms.” I do not know to what extent I agree or disagree with that the apologists for and expositors of the 2K position. 

As I have said before I believe with the Westminster Confession that the church is “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (XXV:2), a limitation of the kingdom with which Dr. Evans explicitly disagrees. There came a time when I became convinced that what I had taught students and others - that there is, at least in principle a distinctly Christian (or Biblical) world-and-life view of everything - was wrong. I concluded that the goal of finding the Christian view of everything is impossible to attain, not Biblically mandated, and has (as Dr.Evans thinks 2K has the potential of doing) divided the Reformed community (think 1K theonomy.)

I want to call attention to a concern of Dr. Evans that he expressed in his Transformationalism Again: Mr. McWilliams Glosses the Text and to which he returns with What’s Wrong with 2K?. His concern has to do with a connection he sees between a denial that Christians are called to transform culture and society with denial that grace and the gospel transform individuals. There is, as Dr. Evans sees it, a (necessary?) relationship between individual transformation and societal transformation. Or to put it more bluntly, those who do not want to seek the sanctification of culture may not be very concerned about the sanctification of themselves. Limiting societal transformation to the life of the church rather than extending it (at least potentially) to all corporate life may be the result of giving precedence to justification (forensic, external, objective, imputed righteousness) over regeneration and sanctification (personal, internal, subjective, infused righteousness).

Here Dr. Evans is giving one of two answers to his question (the validity of which I will not now challenge), “Why has the careful and nuanced Reformed transformationalism that was common currency of the previous generation become so controversial?”:
First, as people on both sides of the transformationalist question are increasingly aware, there is a connection between personal transformation, or individual soteriology, and corporate transformation, and battle lines on the question of individual soteriology have been sharply drawn more recently.  I’ve noticed that some who are deeply concerned to safeguard the extrinsic and forensic alien righteousness of justification are reticent to speak of any real, intrinsic change in us.  Positive changes in our behavior are explained in terms of direct divine activity on us, a divine occasionalism that nevertheless leaves us unchanged as to our being.  That is, to use the language of the older Reformed tradition, they will speak of immediate divine grace, but not of “created graces” in us.  Historically, this denial of created graces was a hallmark of antinomianism (as W. K. B. Stoever has shown in his splendid A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven: Covenant Theology and Antinomianism in Early New England [Wesleyan UP, 1978]), and if you want to see where this sort of thinking can lead, read this . . . and grieve!  (Note: The link to “this” is to a column by Steve Brown.) To cut to the chase, it makes little sense to speak of corporate or societal transformation when we are embarrassed to say much about individual transformation.
He picks up on this again in his more recent posting:
... there seems to be at work in 2K a real skepticism about any sort of intrinsic transformation—personal or corporate... Related to this, there is in 2K a persistently disjunctive impulse—separating sanctification and justification, Law and Gospel (another Lutheran distinctive), the transformatory and the forensic, the kingdom of the world and the institutional Church.
Thus Mike Horton... rejects the older Reformed scholastic notion of the infusion of gracious habits in regeneration found in the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession (Dordt III/IV, Arts. 11, 12, Rej. Par. 6; WCF 13.1), which denominated a real and lasting change intrinsic to the Christian, and he challenges the distinction between regeneration and effectual calling (see his Covenant and Salvation, 230-242).  Horton’s reasoning here is clear in that he thinks the older infusionism subverts forensic justification: “Infusionism has never created a forensic space in its ontology” (Covenant and Salvation, 215).  He also rejects the traditional participationist option—another historic way of articulating real change in the Christian—as too Platonic...Consistent with his prioritizing of the forensic, Horton argues that the forensic decree of justification results in sanctification via what he calls a “covenantal ontology,” and he tries to flesh this out using speech-act theory...  At the end of the day, despite Horton’s intriguing and significant effort to recast Reformed soteriology in a contemporary idiom and his clear desire to affirm that a change in the Christian’s behavior takes place, his explanations of how this works never get much beyond the extrinsic and the evocative.  It seems that he simply does not have conceptual apparatus at his disposal to say much of anything about a real change or transformation intrinsic to the Christian.

Frankly much of this is way over my head, but I do get what he is saying about personal and individual transformation and cultural and corporate transformation. But I have two questions.

(1) If we grant all that Dr. Evans believes and says about personal transformation, what is the necessary connection between personal and societal transformation? If regeneration and sanctification transform the character and conduct of the individual Christian, why must that transformation extend to the broader (otherwise secular) society?

What do we find in the Apostolic letters about societies? First there is the society of the church where, at least in principle, there is transformation of the way people live together (e.g. Galatians 5:13 - 6:10; Ephesians 4:25-32). There is a distinction between the way the people of the world treat each other and the way the saints in the church are called to treat one another. An interesting question would be to what extent this transformation was realized in the New Testament churches, where, despite the exhortations of Jesus and the Apostles, people could bite and devour one another. It doesn’t take much reflection on contemporary church life to be reminded there is not a little bickering, backbiting, and bitterness among the saints today.

There is also the transformation of home life. Husbands love their wives, and wives submit to their husbands. Parents do not provoke or discourage their children but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Children honor and obey their parents. Masters are not harsh but fair and just in their treatment of slaves. Slaves respect and obey their masters.

But, then what? Where is the teaching about the transformation of governments? Christians are told how to behave as citizens, primarily by recognizing that God has established government for societal order and by obeying governmental authority. We know that citizens of the Empire and its provinces did not have the freedoms and rights that obtain in the Western democracies to elect, change, and influence government. But where are there even the most rudimentary directions to Christians to transform government and how to go about it? What would a transformed government look like? A government that in its constitution recognizes the “crown rights of King Jesus”? A government that takes the Old Testament civil code as its model for the enactment of laws? A government that convenes ecclesiastical assemblies and enforces true doctrine? A government that feeds and provides medical care for the poor? A monetarist or gold standard economy? Free trade or tariffs? Women voting or men only? What would be the platform of a Christian political party?  

Go on from there. What is Christian pedagogy? Abeka or CSI?  Phonics or see and say or both? What is Christian economics? Shall Gary North tell us? Christian art? Will Rookmaker and Schaeffer show us? Christian astronomy? Christian physics? Christian math? Christian history? Christian grammar? Christian cooking? Christian journalism? Christian business? A Christian labor organization? I understand that there are plenty of Christians who have answers to these questions. But they disagree and not infrequently contradict one another. And sometimes it is these world-and-life view issues that lead to the most ardent condemnations of one another. Who decides?

I just don’t know how personal transformation works out in societal transformation beyond the societies of church and family.

(2) Regarding personal transformation, it shows how ignorant I am of the academic literature and discussions to say that I am not familiar with the “created graces” and “occasional immediate grace” distinction. I do know the justification/sanctification distinction, the imputation/infusion distinction, the positional/progressive sanctification distinction, the already/not yet distinction.

But I think my question does not depend on my familiarity with the literature and discussions. My question is practical and based on observation and experience. It is very simple. 

What do we make of a lack of personal transformation? I do not question that there are people whose faith came to conscious and distinct expression and who are very different from the way they were before (some having remarkable almost instantaneous changes and others experiencing change of a more progressive nature). 

But there are many who don’t. The same sins beset them. And not just the same sins, internal and external, but the same doubts, the same fears, the same defeats, the same relational issues. Their Christian lives are marked by fits and starts.  Some are open about themselves. I would guess that for every one who transparently admits the reality, there are at least several who don’t.

What about those who cannot sing, “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart”? If regeneration infuses a new nature and if sanctification transforms character and behavior, how do we explain this?

For some the answer is clear, if not easy. Such folks as I describe are not true Christian believers. It does not matter that they have asked for change or profess to trust in Christ. The realities of their lives testify that they do not possess true faith, for, if they did, they would be different. For some who give this answer it is evidence that true conversion is rare and that there are relatively few real Christians.  What is there for these souls  to do? Keep reading the Bible and praying, keep going to church and being around Christians. Perhaps God will be merciful yet and sincere faith will be granted and the true new life of transformation  will begin.

The regeneration-justification-sanctification connection is difficult to explicate - at least as I see it. If regeneration infuses a new nature, does change precede justification? If justification is proved by sanctification, do both then become necessary to be right with God? Are we saved by what Christ has outside of us for us alone or by that and what Christ does to us and in us? The cases and situations that the Apostles had to address in their letters and the realities observed in pastoral situations suggest that these are questions that may be worthy of further exploration.

People such as D.G. Hart and the “crypto-Lutheran” 2Kers at Westminster West can address the whole of Dr. Evans’ responses to the Dr. Trueman’s blog. But I have these two questions. As I find more true in old age than in youth, I’ve got more questions than answers.

1 comment:

Curt Day said...

Maybe the real issue here is not on the justification-regeneration continuum, maybe the real issue has to do with the conjunction of the responsibilities the Church has once the Gospel has not just been spread throughout the world, but Christianity has become a dominant religion along with the emergence of both democratic societies and advancing communications technologies.

If we combine all of the above with the efforts of nonChristians to bring justice in the world, we have to ask how the Gospel is not harmed if we too aren't loving our neighbor by seeking justice. How are people to think of the Gospel when nonChristians are not just concerned about social justice, but they make personal sacrifices to achieve it while Christians circle the wagons and are only concerned about personal righteousness?

Personally, I want 2Kers and transformationalists to understand what I have understood since becoming a Christian who is also a leftist activist. That the biggest pitfall for any one working for a moral cause is to have the self-righteousness of the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying. Thus, Transformationalists should see that the strength of 2K theology is that it is LESS likely to push Christians to try to dominate society. While 2Kers should see that Transformationalists are at least trying to protect the reputation of the Gospel by using God's Word to address social problems rather than teaching Christians to be reformed Amish about the world.