Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Got My Fig Leaf On

I Got My Fig Leaf On

Fig Leaf.jpg

      Headed out from world-and-life view
      No more transformation for me
      I got my fig leaf on
I guess I never was meant to fight the culture wars
                                                              (apologies to Jimmy Buffet)

Bill Evans believes in  transformation - of individuals and of the world. He is concerned about what he sees as Lutheran and antinomian tendencies among some in the Reformed camp. This concern applies to individual ministers such as Steve Brown and Tullian Tchividjian and to institutions, particularly Westminster Seminary in California, the home of what John Frame terms “the Escondido theology.”

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Bill believes the Gospel includes not just how we get right with God (justification) but with how God makes us right (sanctification). God’s grace is transformative in that it renews, renovates, and reforms lives that formerly were captives to Satan and sin. I count him among the “obedience boys” (my term, I think) who are deeply concerned about the “grace boys” (Richard Phillips’ term). I share some of those concerns, but I am not comfortable in either group.

But, it is not individual transformation that Bill is concerned about in his latest blog The Two-Kingdoms Theology and Christians Today. It is societal transformation. The equivalent of antinomianism in the realm of sanctification is two-kingdom theology in the realm of cultural engagement. Bill believes the historical mainstream view of American evangelicalism, which brings together the rather disparate elements of thoecratic-ism, revivalism, and neo-Calvinism is societal transformationalism.  

The conventional view in American evangelical circles has been what we may term “transformational,” in that it was shaped by the Puritan goal of society as a Christian covenanted community, the Awakening impulse that spawned many efforts to redeem the broader culture, and the neo-Calvinist perspective of Abraham Kuyper (and successors such as Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer) emphasizing a Christian world-and-life view as foundational to the transformation of culture.  While these influences were not overtly theocratic, they did see a positive role for Christians as Christians in society.

He also believes that societal transformationalism is most consistent with Calvin:

... while Calvin deployed two-kingdoms language, he generally did so with somewhat different aims and his practical stance was more activistic.  He sought to protect the church from the encroachments of the state, and to emphasize that Christians have a spiritual obligation to the state, but the temporal realm does not have the independence that it has in Luther.[6]   Despite similarities in language, this difference helps to account for the profound contrast between the passivity of the Lutheran tradition toward the state and the historic pattern of social and political activism evident among Reformed Christians.  Calvin’s role in Geneva underscores his conviction that distinctively Christian concerns have an important role in the public square,
and that magistrates are obligated to further Christian virtues.

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There are others who can much better address Dr. Evans’ views regarding Augustine, Luther, Calvin and the Kingdom(s) and to address his analysis and and criticisms of 2-K theology. What particularly interests me is his insights into the motivation of those who propagate and those who are attracted to 2-K Theology:

That something like 2K theology would be attractive in the current context should not surprise.  American culture is increasingly secular.  Hostility to biblical Christianity increases, and the end of “Constantinianism” (the synthesis of Western culture and Christianity that began with the Roman emperor Constantine) is widely announced.  Efforts by the Religious Right to transform America are seen as a failure, and the Christian Reconstructionist or Theonomist movement has faded.  In addition, some are convinced that transformational efforts have distracted the church from its spiritual calling of preparing souls for heaven through the ministry of Word and sacrament.  Thus, 2K theology seems tailor-made for a post-Constantinian context where many are concerned for the integrity of the church and its ministry, and it also seems to provide a theological fig leaf for culture-war fatigue.


We will cheerfully admit that 2K advocates have some legitimate concerns, particularly that the mission and witness of the church not be hijacked by political and cultural agendas.  But in this instance the cure is worse than the disease.  While 2K theology may well scratch the itch of Christians who need a theological excuse to remain silent in current cultural conflicts, it is both less than biblical and less than faithful to the decided weight of the Reformed tradition.

2-K Theology can serve as a fig leaf for those who want to withdraw from the battlefields of the culture wars and as an excuse for those who want to remain silent rather than engage with cultural issues. It is not that Biblical exegesis or theological reflection leads some to teach and others to accept 2-K Theology. Rather these people want out of cultural conflict. They want to retreat into the safe camp of the church where Word and sacrament ministry will prepare them for heaven. They would rather keep giving away cultural Czechoslovakias to get peace in our time than go to war with the secularist Hitlers who will never be satisfied with anything less than total victory.

It is impossible (for me) to know the reasons people are attracted to 2-K Theology. Perhaps some are suffering from culture war fatigue and can cover their shame with the 2-K fig leaf. They can use the 2-K excuse to avoid the dangers of speaking out on the issues. But it is impossible for me to attribute such a motive to those who teach and advocate 2-K views. Does anyone think of Scott Clark or Darryl Hart as the sort who are unwilling to go to war? Who are suffering from battle fatigue? Who won’t speak up and be heard and counted? These guys, at least as I read them, are ready to take names and kick butts.

And, while I am not a teacher or much of an advocate of 2-K, nor even much of a reader or 2-K Theology, I do find I like better sitting around the campfire with the 2-K guys than the transformationalist guys. I am seldom accused of not being to enter a fray. I’ve lost a lot of battles, but I have not let fear of defeat keep from drawing my sword. I am more likely to let my views all hang out than to wear fig leaves. I might make a bad argument sometimes, but  I don’t look for excuses to avoid making one.

Here’s how I got where I am. I went to seminary, had Dutch professors, read Kuyper, took classes (I even wrote a paper on Calvinism and Birth Control), engaged in bull sessions, and went out convinced that there is a Christian world-and-life view of everything and that our calling as Christians is “to take every thought captive”, to assert Christ’s Lordship (which is not the same as his divine sovereignty) over every sphere  of life, to concede “not one square inch” but to plant of flag of Christ’s (messianic/redemptive) kingdom everywhere. As a  pastor, but especially for seven years as a campus minister, I taught  and inculcated this transformationalist outlook.

But, seeds of doubt were sown by experiencing such as Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Falwell, and Kennedy. And then there came questions such as: What is this Christian view of economics? What is the distinctive Christian view of math or handwriting or teaching reading? Where in the New Testament is there the slightest hint that Christians were supposed to transform society, or form political parties, or promote a form of government?  Is the kingdom really bigger than the church? What are the message, the mission, the means, and the methods of the church? The fatigue that overcame me was the fatigue of trying to maintain a way of making sense of life that no longer made Biblical or theological sense to me. I experienced credo-dissonance, a contradiction between what I had believed and what I now believed to be true. I did not, nor do I, have all the answers, but I can better live with some questions without answers than with answers that don’t resolve the questions.

There’s not a fig leaf big enough to cover the gaping holes in the transfomational view and not an adequate excuse to keep me from pointing out that the world-and-life view emperor is naked.

I think Bill Evans is a person of principle, integrity, and moral courage. I wish he believed the same about 2-Kers. I mean, Can’t we all just disagree?


mozart said...

This type of name-calling and motive-guessing especially by transformationalist types is pretty distressing. When one PCA pastor has to write a book on antinomianism in order to name call another PCA pastor, I start to think maybe I should be joining the Reformed Episcopals myself.

Curt Day said...

Speaking from the transformational left, at least that is how I think I am categorized by my views, it is time to do what Martin Luther King Jr did with Communism and Capitalism. Recognizing a major flaw in each, he sought to synthesize the two by combining the truths that each side brought while filtering out the flaws. For example, King saw Captialism's flaw as forgetting that life is social and thus there is a collective side to society. Communism's flaw is that it forgot that life is individual and society should make room for individual freedom. And rather than absolutizing the collectivism of Communism and the individualism of Capitalism, he sought to join the two so that there was a mix of both life as social and life as individual.

We should recognize that the flaw in transformational theology is that it drafts, or at least tries to, society into becoming a supplemental arm of church discipline. So that instead of being a place of rest for those who could not be in good standing in the church due to belief or behavior, they are punished, this usually includes a physical punishment, by society for being convicted as guilty for wrongdoing or wrong believing in the church. Luther's call for Germans to punish the Jews, Calvin's Geneva and its persecution of heretics and witches, and the Puritans persecution of the Quakers are tragic examples of the Church using society as a supplemental disciplinary arm.

At the same time, 2K theology inhibits the Church from speaking out against social sins. Anthony Bradley made this point in a White Horse Inn blog discussion with Michael Horton and I think it was about slavery in the South. There are social sins from which the Church needs to call society to repent. After all, society is merely a group made up of people and so if a group sins, the individual in the group is not innocent because they stayed within the confines of the group. We think of the complicity of the German citizens during the Nazi years as an example of collective guilt as well as the complicity or even participation in slavery in America from its founding to the Civil War. And we can add Americans complicity or participation in the subsequent Jim Crow years as another social ill which individuals were guilty of participating in by being compliant members of society.