Category Archives: Culture

Paul and the Slave Girl: Racism and the Great Gospel Narrative

My article, Paul and the Slave Girl: Racism and the Great Gospel Narrative (posted earlier this week, and up for about a mere hour) was picked up by Mere Orthodoxy. Please take a look.

Advertisements

Our Call to Engaged Alienation

One thing I’ve long admired about Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) is his winsome example of what a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated Christian looks like when they enter the public square. In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, defining our calling to one of engaged alienated.

Our call is to an engaged alienation, a Christianity that preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel while not retreating from our callings as neighbors, friends, and citizens.

This means our priority is a theological vision of what it means to be the church in the world, of what it means to be human in the cosmos. We must put priority where Jesus put it, on the kingdom of God. But while we are a citizens Kingdom First people, we are not a Kingdom Only people. Jesus told us to seek both the kingdom of God “and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). We pursue justice and mercy and well being for those around us, including the social and political arenas. This means that we will be considered “culture warriors.” Maybe so, but let’s be Christ-shaped culture warriors. Let’s be those who contend for culture, but not those who are at war with the culture. We will see ourselves in a much deeper, much more intractable, much more ancient war not against flesh and blood or even against cultural forces, but against unseen principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

We will recognize the necessity of engagement in social and political action, even as we see the limits of such action, this side of the New but Jerusalem. But we will engage not with the end goal of winning with the end goal of reconciliation. This means that morality and social justice, while good, are not enough. We witness to a gospel that seeks nor only to reconcile people to one another but to God, by doing away with the obstacle to such communion: our sin and our guilt. hat comes not by voter blocs or by policy papers but by a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

Over the past century or so, the “culture wars” could be categorized as disputes over human dignity (the pro-life movement, for example), family stability (the sexual and marriage and child-rearing debates, for example) and religious liberty. The intuitions of American Christians on these fronts have often been right, I believe, even if too often unanchored from a larger gospel vision and from a larger framework of justice. We should learn from the best impulses of such engagement, and use our articulation of our views at these points as part of an even bigger argument. These should point us back to a vision of kingdom, of culture, and of mission, rooted in the gospel and in church, even as we work with those who disagree with us in the many ways toward an approximation of justice in the public arena. As we do this, we shouldn’t be ashamed of Jesus, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be out of step with America. We are marching onward, toward a different kind of reign.

In our present cultural moment, Moore’s presentation is exciting and needs to find a wide hearing.

Gospel Inclusivity and Same-Sex Attraction

I am incredibly thankful for people and ministries that devote themselves to minister to people who experience same-sex attraction. In fact, I’m glad whenever anyone establishes a ministry geared toward the “LGBT” community in general. After all, everyone needs the gospel! But here a crucial distinction that needs to be made and I believe is often overlook by those who embrace “homosexual Christianity.”

Here’s the distinction: Identifying as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction (SSA) is not the same as being a “gay Christian.” The latter denotes someone who identifies as a Christ follower and nevertheless openly embraces homosexuality and sees no moral problem with it (often knowingly or unknowingly reinterpreting Scripture in order to support a lifestyle it clearly does not.

On the other hand, being a Christian who admits to experiencing SSA is quite different. A Christian who experiences SSA is someone who recognizes two things:

  • First, that regardless of their desires, they find themselves romantically attracted to people of the same gender. For these people, it probably matters little whether this attraction developed through nature or nurture—the attraction is there and is real. But, the second realization is key.
  • Second, they also embrace Scripture as God’s word and agree with Scripture’s diagnosis of homosexuality as contrary to God’s creative purposes for human sexuality, and they seek to obey God even though it hurts to do so.

To my mind, this is incredibly commendable.

In the spirit of sympathy, we should recognize a distinctive challenge for Christians with SSA. The heterosexual Christian can pursue romantic relationships before marriage (as long as in doing so they follow the other moral commandments of Scripture). The Christian with SSA cannot “date” (insert whatever term you think appropriate here) whoever they wish. This is rough. They may want something at one level (their SSA), that at another level they know that cannot do without displeasing the God they love. We need to be willing to love, support, lose sleep over, and stand with those valuable image bearers as they struggle, fight, and claw their way to mortify their flesh as an expression of their treasuring Christ.

And yet, in another sense the call to sexual mortification is perfectly normal in the Christian life. Whether we are same-sex attracted or opposite sex attracted, all people everywhere are called to submit to the lordship of Christ through their sexuality. Our sexuality is given to us as something that comes with an instruction manual (Scripture). The Creator knows how best it functions and shares this information with us for maximum earthly fulfillment and flourishing. So heterosexual desires have only one proper channel through which will bring God’s approval (heterosexual monogamous marriage), and the person with SSA has the same channel. The standard is the same. The Bible does not teach that heterosexuals can do whatever they’d like with their sexuality with homosexuals oppressed with an unfair restriction.

In response to the struggles same-sex attracted Christian experience, our churches need to be places of inclusivity. But I am not advocating the kind of postmodern inclusivity that ultimately denies the reality of moral rebellion against God. What needed is gospel inclusivity. This is the kind of inclusivity that’s affirmed throughout the Bible itself. Biblical inclusivity affirms that each human being is valued and dignified by their Creator because we are fashioned in his image (Gen. 1:26). But it also includes every human being as equally fallen, in moral rebellion to their Creator apart from his grace (Rom. 3:23), and all subject to the effects of the fall (Rom. 8:20). Lastly, gospel inclusivity affirms that in Christ there is neither male or female, Jew nor Gentile, but we all have equal access to our Heavenly Father, and no one has any standing before God except the sole merits of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

Gospel inclusivity looks like a bunch of broken sinners clinging to the cross together.

This is an inclusivity that is pleasing to God, and though humbles us to the dust is ultimately what—through God’s redeeming grace—will exalt us to the heavens.

Reaction To The Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

What John Piper has to say to Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg, the three-time New York City mayor, is starting a gun advocacy group with a jump-start of $50 million dollars of his own money.  His hope is that his investment will make the US a safer place, getting guns out of the hands of the ‘wrong’ people. What’s most telling is this well-reported comment he made about the merits of his contribution:

I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.

Seems like full-on Pelagianism is still alive and well. What would John Piper say to the former New York City mayor? I think this extended quote tells us exactly the approach he would take:

“What a folly it is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons.

First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don’t honor God in the way we do them. Do we do our good deeds in joyful dependence on God with a view to making known his supreme worth? Do we fulfill the overarching command to serve people “by the strength that God supplies— in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11)?

What then shall we say in response to God’s word, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23)? I think we shall say nothing. “Whatever the law says it speaks . . . so that every mouth may be stopped” (Romans 3:19). We will say nothing. It is folly to think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds before God.

Without Christ-exalting faith, our deeds will signify nothing but rebellion.

The second reason it is folly to hope in good deeds is that this is not the way God saves. If we are saved from the consequences of our bad deeds, it will not be because they weighed less than our good deeds. It will be because the “record of [our] debt” in heaven has been nailed to the cross of Christ. God has a totally different way of saving sinners than by weighing their deeds. There is no hope in our deeds. There is only hope in the suffering and death of Christ.

There is no salvation by balancing the records. There is only salvation by canceling records. The record of our bad deeds (including our defective good deeds), along with the just penalties that each deserves, must be blotted out—not balanced. This is what Christ suffered and died to accomplish.

The cancellation happened when the record of our deeds was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:13). How was this damning record nailed to the cross? Parchment was not nailed to the cross. Christ was. So Christ became my damning record of bad (and good) deeds. He endured my damnation. He put my salvation on a totally different footing. He is my only hope. And faith in him is my only way to God.”

-John Piper, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, 52-53

Review: Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen

In 2010 Crossway released David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. VanDrunen is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, CA. In this work, VanDrunen aims to unpack what’s come to be known as Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology (R2K hereafter). Living in God’s Two Kingdoms offers an alternative to the view that’s become quite popular among young Reformed thinkers: Christ is king over all creation and therefore Christians are to influence their cultures for the cause of the gospel. This means, according to what I will refer to as the Kuyperian (or neo-Calvinist) view, that Christians are to aim for distinctively Christian approaches to economics, politics, law. Vandrunen fears this approach to the Christ and culture question will lead to a misapplication of Scripture and a triumphalistic attitude toward non-Christians.

Content. VanDrunen affirms the Lordship of Christ, though R2K theology teaches that God rules over his creation in two distinct, yet complimentary ways. Each of these ways represents a sphere, a kingdom, of God’s providential agency. Early on VanDrunen clearly develops what each kingdom entails and how God has chosen to rule through it. Whether one agrees or disagrees with VanDrunen’s proposal, we should certainly appreciate his clear exposition of a doctrine that hasn’t always been (to my mind, at least) the easiest to pin down.

The Two Kingdoms. The two kingdoms are the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom, respectively. The redemptive kingdom, VanDrunen explains, was established with the call of Abram in Genesis 15. Its distinguishing characteristics are the establishment of a chosen people who are provided the means through which they can inherit eternal life. Likewise, as God’s people called out of the world, citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintains a spiritual antithesis with the world. The Israel of God is in union with God in Christ, while unbelievers are under the dominion of Satan. In contrast, the common kingdom was established back in Genesis 9 in God’s covenant with Noah. According to R2K theology, cultural development, the family, and the cause of justice mark the common kingdom. This means at least two things: First, the spheres of the family, economics, civil government, and cultural institutions fall under the rubric of the common kingdom. Second, as a part of this kingdom, they will pass away at Christ’s second coming.  Third, while the citizens of the redemptive kingdom maintain a spiritual antithesis with unbelievers, they nonetheless share a cultural commonality with them via the common kingdom.

The Cultural Mandate. One of the most central disputes between Kuyperians and proponents of R2K theology is the application of the cultural mandate found in Gen. 1:28 (“Be fruitful and multiply…”). Was this a uniquely Adamic task? Is this something that applies to humanity more generally? According to VanDrunen Adam served as both a king and priest before God. The Fall was the result of Adam’s infidelity to protecting Yahweh’s sacred sanctuary (the Garden) from the intrusion of the (morally and ceremonially) unclean serpent. If Adam had obeyed he and his seed would have been rewarded with the age-to-come and (and this is the hotly debated point) all cultural activity would have ceased. In contradistinction from Adam, Christ in his perfect obedience as king and priest fulfills Adam’s original task on behalf of his people, thus winning the age-to-come for them. Because of Christ’s victory, the cultural mandate does not directly apply to Christians. As VanDrunen puts it:

Redemption does not consist in restoring people to fulfill Adam’s original task, but consists in the Lord Jesus Christ himself fulfilling Adam’s original task once and for all, on our behalf. Thus redemption is not “creation regained” but “re-creation gained.”

Implications. Several implications follow from VanDrunen’s exposition. First, the redemptive kingdom is to be found in the church and in no other cultural institution. ‘Kingdom work” is accomplished in the church and in the church only. From this starting point Vandrunen emphasizes both the spirituality and ministerial authority of the church. The spirituality of the church is specifically anti-nationalistic. Since the redemptive kingdom is comprised of believers from the Church Catholic, no nation can claim to be the “hub.” We aren’t to confuse the common good of our respective countries for the advance of the kingdom of God. Likewise, since the minister of the gospel is not called to be a statesmen, politician, poet, or social activist, his authority is linked solely to the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. This is merely an application of the regulative principle. The minister’s authority lies in expounding God’s word. If it does not carry the authority of “thus says The Lord” it should not be spoken from the pulpit.

Commendation. As I noted earlier, VanDrunen is an excellent communicator of his position. He not only provides you with his theological conclusions, but also presents you with the scriptural passages that he is persuaded get you there. For Reformed thinkers who are interested in the kind of biblical theology and thinking found in the works of the late Meredith Kline this book certainly speaks your language. And this is a good thing, considering just how much Kline has contributed to Reformed redemptive-historical thinking over the last 50 years.

Likewise, Vandrunen has an excellent discussion of the role of kingly and priestly work of Adam in the Garden of Eden (somewhat building from the thought of G. K. Beale).  I don’t agree with all of it (even all of what I wrote above) but he’s provided excellent food for thought. But the thing I appreciate most is his love for the local church and his concern for its purity. This comes out clearly on nearly every page. Again, this is a very good thing. VanDrunen is not leveling a strawman when he warns of the dangers of neo-Calvinism. Often Kuyperians do (functionally, at least) downplay the importance of the local church, along with the ministry of the word and sacrament.  This breaks my heart, as I’m sure it does his, though I do not believe this error is inherent in the Kuyperian view. Far from it. All that to say, VanDrunen is right to remind us that whatever position we hold, we must keep the local church front and center in the advance of God’s kingdom work.

Concerns. There are a number of things that concern me about the book’s proposal. I’ll summarize them as 1) misrepresentation, 2) the “new-new creation” view, 3) sources of authority, and 4) a lack of interaction with alternative positions.

Misrepresentation. One thing that aids a reader ‘s comprehension is knowing an author’s audience. Living in God’s Two Kingdom’s is published by Crossway, an evangelical publishing house. While Crossway publishes broadly evangelical works of theology (along with works of devotion and Christian living), over the last 10 years or so it has discernably shifted it gears in catering to what I will call the TGC (The Gospel Coalition) demographic. This point is almost indisputable. This means a large percentage of Crossway readers are Reformed males ranging from the ages of 25-45. I state all of this for this reason: early on Vandrunen links his concerns for Kuyperian/neo-Calvinist theology (what he refers to as ‘transformationalism’) along with his concerns regarding the Emergent Church and the New Perspective on Paul (by which the discerning reader understands as N.T. Wright). But, in truth, there is almost nothing to link these groups other than the shared conviction that there is continuity between this present creation and the New Creation and that our Christian worldview should inform all of life. Outside of these points, linking Kuyperianism with the New Perspective and the Emergent Church (theologies largely perceived as rivals to the TGC demographic) borders on guilt by association. This is unfortunate considering that in the early sections of the book VanDrunen is quite fair in his presentations of neo-Calvinism. But that too is short-lived.

My primary concern with his misrepresentation is in his discussions of the doctrine of justification by faith (central to the thought of the apostle Paul and the theology of the Reformation). VanDrunen rightly links justification to the obedience of Christ as the second Adam (obeying and trusting God where Adam did not trust and disobeyed God). The problem is found when he repeatedly (either directly or by implication) says that the ‘transformationalist’ position that he opposes affirms a kind of salvation/justification by cultural engagement. If this charge seems a bit harsh, I urge my reader to see his comments on pages 28, 46 (twice), 47, 50, 51 (twice), 56-57, 62, 71, 139, 165, and 204-205. This is no mere slip of the pen. Yet it simply cannot be demonstrated that any bona fide neo-Calvinist has ever taught that we achieve our forgiveness and acceptance with God by means of our obedience to the cultural mandate. This is positively inflammatory.

The ‘New-new’ creation. VanDrunen also advocates the view that upon the return of Christ and his exercise of final judgment God will create a new heavens and earth. But before you think to yourself, “Isn’t that what Scripture itself teaches?” you should know that within the Reformed tradition it has been affirmed that the new creation spoken of in Scripture is in fact this present creation liberated from it’s “bondage to decay.” Herman Bavinck—a fountainhead of Reformed theology— says as much (here as well). I will not spend much time dealing with what I think is the biblical alternative to VanDrunen’s position because I’ve address it elsewhere. The position put forward in the book strikes me as confusing the metaphysical and the ethical (a danger Cornelius Van Til frequently warned us about). VanDrunen teaches that if Adam obeyed in the Garden and crushed the head of the serpent upon its challenge to the authority of the word of God, God would have ushered in the new creation. Traditionally it has been affirmed that if Adam obeyed his probation would have ended and his nature would have been fixed or made permanently obedient to the will of God (as redeemed saints will be in the New Creation). But there will not be a “swapping out” of this material world for another ex nihilo creation.

The New Creation will be a renewed creation, purged of the presence of sin and under the righteous and godly rule of God’s redeemed vice-regents.

Sources of authority. While not addressed directly in this work, VanDrunen has defended the R2K view that there are 2 sources of authority, each related to it’s specific kingdom. Natural law governs the common kingdom, while special revelation (specifically Scripture) governs the redemptive kingdom. John Frame has helpfully addressed this subject in his piece Is Natural Revelation Sufficient To Govern Culture?

 A lack of interaction with alternative positions. Other than his brief summary of neo-Calvinism early on, there is hardly any critical interaction with neo-Calvinists.  Thinkers like Cornelius Plantinga, Albert Wolters, Tim Keller, or Nancy Pearcey are absent from the discussion in VanDrunen’s work. Also, VanDrunen doesn’t interact with alternative exegesis of the passages he references to support R2K theology. This makes his exegesis feel forced when there are perfectly plausible alternative interpretations than the ones he sets forth.

Conclusion. As I’ve noted earlier, David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms is to be commended as a clear and accessible introduction to Reformed Two Kingdoms Theology. He pulls from Reformed resources and helpfully explains Adams’ role in the Garden and rightly defends justification by faith alone. Finally, he has a passion for the local church and his love is crystal clear. All these things are wonderful and we need more of it.

Sadly I cannot recommend this work as a helpful proposal for the development and implementation of a biblical worldview. It unfairly misrepresents neo-calvinists as advocating a kind of salvation by works, doesn’t engage with rival exegesis or thinkers, and defends a view that teaches that God will replace this present fallen creation with another. It presents a religious version of the sacred/secular split that I reject and can—though to be charitable, it need not necessarily— lead to a theology of cultural disengagement and Christian ghetto-ism.

Christ and Culture; Sin and Glory

“Christians cannot long think about Christ and culture without reflecting on the fact that this is God’s world, but that this side of the fall this world is simultaneously resplendent with glory and awash in shame, and that every expression of human culture simultaneously discloses that we were made in God’s image and shows itself to be mis-shaped and corroded by human rebellion against God.”

D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited

The ‘Wisdom’ of this World

9781596389380-300x450Christianity is much more than a “religion’ in the standard, narrowly-defined sense. It’s a philosophy of life, a worldview. And since it’s a worldview, it can and should be compared with the worldview of contemporary culture. In Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, John M. Frame paints a portrait of the destructive natural of our culture that’s as true today as when he originally wrote in 1994:

One of the most unfortunate repercussions of America’s distorted view of ‘the separation of church and state’ is that public school children are able to hear advocacy of every system of thought except those that are arbitrarily labeled “religious.” Who is to say that the truth might not be found in, or even limited to, one of these religious positions? Is it even remotely fair, in terms of freedom of thought and speech, to restrict public education to allegedly secular viewpoints? Is this not brainwashing of the worst kind?

Further, the extreme separationists often seem to be opposed to the public expression of Christianity particular than religion in general. Too often, they have no objection to presentations favoring Eastern mysticism or modern witchcraft – only to Christianity. Inconsistent as it may appear, however, this specifically anti-Christian behavior makes some sense for… it is Christianity, not Eastern mysticism or wichcraft or Native American chanting, that really stands against the natural drift of the unregenerate mind. Christianity is excluded from the schools although (or perhaps because) it is the only genuine alternative to the conventional wisdom of the modern establishment.

But that “conventional wisdom” has given us enormous increases in divorce, abortion, single-parent families, latchkey children, drugs, gangs, drug rates, AIDS (and related health concerns such as the resurgence of tuberculosis), homelessness, hunger, government deficits, taxation, political corruption, degeneracy of the arts, mediocrity in education, non-competitive industry, interest groups demanding “rights” of all sorts (rights without corresponding responsibilities and at the expense of everyone else), and pollution of the environment. It is given us the messianic state, which claims all authority and seeks to solve all problems (secular “salvation”), but which generally makes things worse. It has brought about the appalling movement toward “political correctness” on university campuses, which once claimed plausibility to be bastions of intellectual freedom. It has allowed the language of polite society to degenerate into the language of blasphemy and mutual contempt. It is created an atmosphere in which popular music (“rap”) urges people to kill police.

Under the circumstances shouldn’t we consider some alternatives that are opposed to the conventional wisdom? Or is there indeed, perhaps only one such alternative? If so…surely we ought to take that alternative very seriously.

-John M. Frame, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, 32-33

Homosexual Marriage and Christian Love

As the internet is still abuzz with discussions of  Biblical view of homosexuality I thought sharing a few comments might serve to help clarify things. These thoughts aren’t original by any means, but they are especially apropos in light of the present culture war.

A legitimate concern. Many Christians are concerned that the latest round in the debate over the legal status of homosexuality (especially as it applies to the issue of homosexual marriage) is merely a power tactic of the Republican party to rally support from evangelical and otherwise Christian voters. Now, I don’t doubt that some in the GOP are willing to use whatever cultural conduit is found useful to bolster their voting base. It’s also worthy of noting that some Christians assume that politics is the crucial key to transforming culture in a godly and righteous direction. This is simply mistaken. This faction of Christianity must beware of the leaven of playing the world’s power game.

Another perspective. So, I’ll admit that opposition to homosexual marriage can indeed be used as a Trojan horse for a covert GOP agenda. But that’s not the only explanation.  Such opposition can also be the result of individuals who do not believe the State has the authority to define (or in this case, redefine) marriage. That’s why the issue of gay marriage isn’t about homosexuality at all: It’s about the definition of marriage.  The State does have the authority to grant civil unions, tax breaks, etc. to whomever it chooses. That is perfectly within their preview. What it cannot do is redefine an institution it did not create. That largely comes from other spheres (the family, the church, and behind that, ultimately the creation ordinance of God).

Read the rest of this entry

“I Disagree” ≠ “I Hate You”

Remember:

(HT: fransicschaefferstudies.org)

 

Marriage = (A Response)

Perhaps you’ve seen the poster pictured above in your journeys across the interwebs. It’s a quasi-comical statement about the “foolishness” of Biblical marriage. The point is clear, while many (or most) Christians strongly advocate a definition of marriage that sees it as a lifetime covenantal union between one man and one woman, there is a “clear” discrepancy between their “traditional” position and the Book from which they’re supposedly basing that view. My friend Ra McLaughlin, webmaster and Vice President of Curriculum and Web Delivery at Third Millennium Ministries, has given me permission to repost his response to this poster on Facebook. His thoughts are clear, detailed, and yet concise:

Biblical law doesn’t require women to marry their rapists (cf. Ex. 22:17). The bride price to be paid by rapists was a sort of reverse dowry, not payment for “property.” It was owed whether or not the woman married the man. In the only example of rape and subsequent attempted marriage that I can think of at the moment, the woman’s family chose to murder the rapist and his people rather than give her as a bride (Gen. 34).

The Bible also doesn’t require the stoning of women that couldn’t prove their virginity (unless otherwise stated, legal penalties are maximum not mandatory; cf. Joseph’s treatment of Mary in Matt. 1:19). Similarly, levirate marriage was not a requirement; it was assumed that the women would want an heir, but it wasn’t a necessary arrangement (cf. Deut. 25:7).

Read the rest of this entry

Render Unto Caesar…But…

In his helpful work Christ and Culture Revisited, D. A. Carson, clarifies the holistic claims of Christ in a familiar passage often thought to teach a sacred/secular split. In Luke we read:

[Wanting to catch Jesus in a trap, the scribes and the chief priests asked him] Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. (Luke 20:22-26 ESV)

Does Jesus here teach a sacred/secular division? Dr. Carson’s comments are insightful:

Yet we must not think that Jesus’ utterance warrants an absolute dichotomy between God and Cesar, or between church and state, or between Christ and culture. That brings up the second detail in the text that must be observed. When Jesus asks the question, “whose image is this? And whose inscription?” Biblically informed people will remember that all human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Moreover, his people have the “inscription” of God’s law written on them (cf. Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:3; Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 31:33). If we give back to God what has his image on it, we must all give ourselves to him. Far from privatizing God’s claim, that is, the claim of religion, Jesus’ famous utterance means that God always trumps Caesar. We may be obligated to pay taxes to Cesar, but we owe everything, our very being, to God. [Here Carson quoted from David T. Ball] “Whatever civil obligations Jesus followers might have, they must be understood within the context of their responsibilities to God, for their duty to God to claims their whole selves.”

For more, see:

Adam, Christ, and Culture

In his influential work, The Unfolding Mystery, Edmund Clowney clearly presents the relationship between Adam’s task in the Garden of Eden and Christ’s redemptive work:

The command to Adam and Eve was to rule over the earth. Adam’s rule is now exercised by Christ. As so often in the work of salvation, the fulfillment far outstrips the expectations that are aroused by the promise. Christ exercises a dominion far greater than that given to Adam. He is the Lord, not only of this planet, but of the cosmos…Jesus also accomplishes the command to Adam that he fill the earth. Paul uses the term filling as well as dominion to describe the present Lordship of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:20-23; 4:10). Jesus does not simply come to rescue man from the depths of his loss. He comes to accomplish for us the calling of our humanity. His is the perfect and final dominion of man over the cosmos. Christ, the second Adam, can say, “Here I am, and the children God has given me” (Heb. 2:13; Is. 8:17f). A great multitude that no man can number are gathered from every tribe and people in the name of Jesus. He who fill all things with his power assembles the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the nations in the day of his glory (Rom. 11:12, 25, Rev. 7:9). His accomplishment of Adam’s calling does not make our service vain. To the contrary only because he has fulfilled man’s calling can all work be made in meaningful, for our fellowship is with him. His victory is our hope. In humility, not arrogance, we receive from the victorious Lord a renewed calling to do his will to this world.

For more see:

Are We Really Smarter?

One day, my oldest son and I were having a conversation about writing.  As a freshman in high school he is learning the joy of writing.  His first assignment was to write a 500 word short story.  He struggled with it; not because of any lack of creative ideas, but due to a problem that he comes by naturally – he wants the words to be perfect when they hit the paper.  No rough drafts, that can be handled in his mind.  The words of the story must be in perfect order and meaning before they leave his brain.  I say he comes about this problem naturally because his father (that would be me) does the same thing.  So, when Joe asked me to be a contributor I figured it would help me work through this issue by forcing me to write a post or two every month.  Well, close to a year and 2 or 3 posts later, I’m still dealing with the block of perfectionism.

What does this have to do with viewing our life through the Kingdom, you ask.  Let’s see where we go.  For the last several weeks an idea has been rattling around in my head.  Actually, this is a thought that I have had for several years, but up until recently I didn’t have the context to coherently determine why this thought bugged me when I hear it.  The thought is this:  Primitive man was less intelligent than we are.  Of course, this sentence needs some clarification.  Contemporary anthropological thought tells us that religion developed because humanity needed a way to explain things that they couldn’t explain.  In their evolutionary infantile state they could not comprehend the ‘way things are’ so they developed religion to help them deal with the unexplainable.  However, mankind has evolved to the point where we can now understand the unexplainable so we no longer need religion to help us out.  We are no longer infantile in our evolutionary state so religion can be put away like a baby releasing its pacifier.

Every time I have heard humanity described in this way it has ruffled my feathers; are we really smarter than Aristotle or Plato or Shakespeare or Newton?  I could tell that the tools we use are more advanced than those of ancient man, but are we really smarter or more advanced as collective humanity?

Enter Andrew Kern.  Kern’s focus is on education, yet in speaking on education, Kern has focused his talks on the nature – not nature as in the environment but as in the ‘nature of a thing.’  In one of his talks, A Contemplation of Nature, Kern discusses the nature of humans and two opposing views of that nature.  One view finds its foundation in Genesis 1, the creation story.  Mankind is made in God’s image; this gives man dignity, purpose, and propriety.  More importantly, being made in God’s image gives the nature of humanity CONSISTENCY or CONSTANCY; apart from the effects of the fall, human nature is the same today as it was when Adam was created.  Humanity is still made in the image of God.

The second view removes the idea of human nature from the equation.  In this view, mankind is basically nothing more than an advanced animal.  This idea was made highly popular by Darwin and his book, The Origin of the Species, although it was nothing new; Aristotle proposed this very same idea several thousand years ago.  Mankind has evolved from the rest of the animal kingdom, and we are no different than any other animal.  So, as humanity spends more time on the earth, we are supposedly getting better.

So why does the idea of primitive man’s lack of intelligence bother me?  It bothers me because I believe that man was created in God’s image, and that belief has become a presupposition for me.  Anything that disagreed with that presupposition created dissonance in my heart even though I might not have been able to explain it.  Being created in the image of God, humanity was just as intellectually capable thousands of years ago as we are today.  Those who embrace a humanistic evolutionary view of humanity have to deny that we stand on the shoulders of giants; we simply stand on our own because those who came before us were less capable than us intellectually.

This realization, facilitated by Kern, was like a light bulb going off in my head.  It was nice to have an answer to the dissonance.  Mankind is made in God’s image, and that fact gives us a nature which is complete.  Mankind 3,000 years ago is fundamentally the same as we are today; we have just advanced the tools which we use in this world.

I will admit that technology is far more advanced than it was for those generations that preceded us; they didn’t have computers or mp3 players or cars or steel.  Technological advances do not prove increased intelligence or evolved humanity; these advances only prove that we have learned to apply that intelligence in an increasingly efficient or technological way.

So, my son and I suffer from the same affliction when it comes to writing: perfectionism.  What hope does my son have to overcome this problem?  He has the same hope that I do; he does not have to hope to rely on some chance evolutionary change in his intelligence or that of his children in order for this problem to leave our family.  He has to learn that he is made in the image of God and that the thoughts that he has image God’s thoughts.  But the thoughts and the expression of those thoughts have been marred by the Fall.  His hope is in the Holy Spirit sanctifying him (and me) through discipline and growth in Christ.

To Change the World

 

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Christopher Benson interviews James Davison Hunter, author of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. In both the article and the book Hunter critiques the common understanding of cultural engagement. Here is one excerpt from the CT interview:

Benson: Why are the principal strategies for cultural change failing?

Hunter: Evangelism, political action, and social reform are worthy undertakings, but they aren’t decisively important if the goal is world changing.  These strategies don’t attend to the institutional dynamics of cultural formation and cultural change; in fact, the move in exactly the opposite direction of the ways in which cultures do change.

How is it that American public life is so profoundly secular when 85 percent of the population professes to be Christian? If a culture were simply the sum total of beliefs, values, and ideas that ordinary individuals hold, then the United States would be a far more religious society. Looking at out entertainment, politics, media, and education, we are forced to conclude that the cultural influence of Christians is negligible . By contrast, Jews, who compose 3 percent of the population, exert significant cultural influence disproportionate to their numbers, notably in literature, art, science, medicine, and technology. Gays offer another example. Minorities would have no effect if culture were solely about ideas, but that’s clearly not the case.

Hunter’s answer to the previous question is insightful:

Benson: What’s wrong with viewing culture as ideas or as artifacts?

Hunter: Both perspectives fail to recognize that culture is also infrastructure. Culture is constituted by very powerful institutions that operate on their own dynamics independent of individual will. Ideas do move history, and objects do have their place, but only under certain social conditions. When ideas do move history, it’s not because those ideas are inherently truthful or obviously correct, but rather because of the way they’re embedded within institutions and structures of power. Both perspectives are looking at the tip of the iceberg, overlooking the mass of ice beneath the water.

For those interested:

A chapter by chapter abstract of Hunter’s book.

Andy Crouch’ helpful review and critique of To Change the World