Saturday, May 24, 2008

TRANSFORM THE CULTURE???

The following is something I wrote to a friend of mine which gives a brief sketch as to why I am disallusioned with Kuyper's "transform the culture" approach. (I think even Kuyper recognized the error in this approach before he died.)
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I am disallusioned with "transform the culture" b/c I think it has led to numerous errors; although one cannot say "such-and-such leads to such-and-such," I have seen some of my friends who dabbled in theonomy end up in the Federal Vision camp; I have seen some of them embrace Eastern Orthodoxy; one of them has embraced Anglicanism and last I heard he was dabbling in Eastern Orthodoxy; I have gone to some of these guys' conferences and came away under the impression that all that was taking place was the social gospel, and I could go on.

To bring it to the point, the "transform the culture" approach seems to me to never deal with the heart. So we strive to make Christ Lord over every area of life and thought--but do we bind the consciences of unbelievers when we tell them to do this? God is interested in conquering people's hearts, not just their heads. If, by implementing biblical law, or whatever, someone changes a pagan homosexual to a pagan heterosexual, that may be good for society, but all we've done is just created another Pharisee. He may be hetero now, but he's still an unbeliever.

I've seen the "church" talk about outreach by building houses for orphans in Mexico; but that's all they did--they never preached them the gospel or anything. Now we have some comfortable, unbelieving orphans.

What is the greatest problem people have? It is that their hearts need to be changed. I think that the church today is not doing its job of being the church.What is the job of the church? To be the home of weary Christian pilgrims, and to strengthen them and protect them through Word, Sacrament, and prayer and preaching. The Church is like a nurturing mother, or should be. When we go to church, we should come away feeling refreshed, and not come away learning who to vote for or how to come down on the next moral issue in politics. The Church is other-worldly, not this-worldly.

It seems to me that, when one takes a "transform the culture" type approach, it will always inevitably lead to a kind of moralism. I don't think it's a surprise at all that evangelicalism is moralistic to the core. It's rare to find the gospel preached in evangelicalism. Most of the time it becomes a list of do's and don'ts that Scripture never prescribes. It becomes man-made rules.

Likewise, I don't think it's a coincidence that the Reformed folks who have dabbled in theonomy and Kuyperianism started getting away from the simplicity of the gospel and started getting into the social gospel. For example, I was at a conference a couple of years ago at one of Bahnsen's flagships. In this conference, it talked about showing movies from a Christian perspective to "take back the culture." It showed a brief clip of a movie by Tony Campolo (yes, Tonly Campolo of all people) in which the plot was that a young Christian threw a birthday party for a prostitute. Then they prayed for her at the end. After the movie, the audience and speakers discussed the movie and they called what the young man did for the prostitute "the gospel." They said he was practicing "the gospel"! One of my friends raised his hand and challenged this and he got his head chewed off. Afterwards, I came away from that conference feeling like I had just attended an evangelical (not a Reformed) conference. Furthermore, my friend's wife made an excellent point. If what that Christian young man did was "the gospel", how is that not any different than Angelina Jolee and Brad Pitt adopting orphans? Are Jolee and Pitt practicing "the gospel"?? Well, they may be practicing the social gospel, but not the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

That, in a nutshell, is why I am so disallusioned with Kuyperianism. It is not the Church's job to transform the culture. Furthermore, this seems to have a low view of common grace. In fact, R.J. Rushdoony said that common grace needed to be abandoned as a "bastard system." I don't think that's a coincidence either. His "transform the culture by biblical law" approach made him a moralist. He had no appreciation for common grace.

In the real world, we live with unbelievers all around us. This is why I appreciate the two kingdoms approach (although I'm still studying it), which says that God rules the kingdom of the left hand, or the civil kingdom, through natural law, and He rules the kingdom of the right hand, or the Church, through Word, Sacrament, and discipline. I find this approach to be Scriptural for numerous reasons, at least prima facie. I plan on doing a post or posts on this in the future.

Sorry to ramble on, but that is a sketch of where I am.

7 comments:

Gospel.or.Death said...

Rom 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.

Paul, for one, says that an unbeliever cannot obey the law of God at all. Why?

Rom 14:23b For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

If the unbeliever has no faith, then they cannot act in faith, and thus they cannot even begin to obey the law of God, no matter what their outward actions look like. Their actions always proceed from unbelief, from a heart hostile to God.

Why did Jesus forgive the paralytic's sins before healing his body in Luke 5:17-26? What is Jesus saying was the man's greatest need?

Why does Paul say, "we preach Christ and him crucified"? Or, "I resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified"? Or, "may I never boast except in the cross of Christ"? "Him we proclaim..."? Or, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for IT is the power of God for salvation"?

Rom 4:5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

This is what people need to hear. We all know the law, because it is written on our hearts.

Do you want to promote good works? Promote Christ and him crucified, because it is at the cross that we see how much God loves us, and our hearts are conquered, and we learn to love him in return, and this love spills out of us, flowing out all around us. This is exactly why John says, "His commandments are not burdensome." When we fall in love with God because of the great display of his love for us in the cross, obeying his commandments, which are summarized by loving our brother (who is made in the image of God), is no burden, but a joy, because when we love God, we necessarily also love our brother, who is made in his image.

This is why preaching the gospel, not the law, produces sanctification leading to greater obedience.

Those who would demand that unbelievers conform to the law of God completely misunderstand the nature of unbelief and how that interacts with the law. They misunderstand how the gospel works, and probably what it even is.

E

Standing Solus Christus said...

Good assessment on the flaws of this movement.

I thought you were describing my old Church for a second.

S2C

Josh Brisby said...

S2C,

Good to have you here--welcome to The Reformed Oasis!

Yes, praise God for the beauty of the gospel! I was so beaten down by Kuyperianism, and it turned me into a Pharisee. The Law only rouses sin.

Praise God for this glorious gospel that the world calls foolishness. The Lord Our Righteousness and His power to save be exalted!

Gospel.or.Death said...

the power of sin is the law.

ruberad said...

Amen, Josh!

A culture is defined by its members; if we capture the members of our culture for Christ, their justification and sanctification will result in a transformed culture. Beyond that (as you describe), "transforming culture" boils down to a doomed attempt to sanctify the unjustified.

Anonymous said...

Josh,
Thanks for your lengthy response. I would have to agree with you that focusing on external obedience rather than addressing the heart is a waste of time. If that is what you're disallusioned about then I agree. When I think of transforming the culture it always begins with the gospel. What should we expect if Christians are diligent and faithful in raising their children in the fear and admonition in the Lord, faithful in discipling other brothers and sisters in Christ, and sharing the gospel faithfully with those around them? It would definitely transform the society we live in.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17
14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. ESV

As for our baptism update: Hannah and Marshall will be at the font this coming Lord's day. Hailey has already been baptized. Thanks for asking.

Dax

Josh Brisby said...

Brother Dax,

Praise the Lord for His covenant mercies on our covenant children! That is great news!

As far as transforming the culture, I agree with what you said: gospel first. However, I think Kuyper's emphasis on transforming the culture very quickly can turn into a kind of Pharisaism. I am a testimony to this fact. And I think many evangelicals and Reformed folks are as well.

On the surface, Kuyper's idea of "there is not one single square inch of creation where the Lord Jesus does not say 'it is Mine'" sounds good. But the way it comes off I think is incorrect. It sees the natural order or the civil kingdom as essentially redemptive, instead of ruled by common grace/natural law. Natural law is quite akin to the covenant of works, so I think it is no surprise that many who deny the two kingdoms view end up with a social gospel and a kind of moralism. They conflate the covenants of works and grace, and they conflate justification by faith alone with justification by faithfulNESS alone.

I am truly beaten down by the Law. Indeed, we are told to strive, but this is the standard. The Law is a guide for sanctification, but only a guide. Only the gospel can truly sanctify. The Law will only rouse sin.

I found myself confessing sins to God and to Angela only so I could feel better about myself, and not because "against You and You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight." It was not a true love of neighbor, and it was not a true love of God. I was a Pharisee (and of course we all are in many ways).

I think the normal Christian life is one that keeps our sinfulness always at the forefront. The normal Christian life is Romans 7. Paul calls it the law of sin, and he says that when he wants to do good, evil is right there with him. A law is a norm. In Romans 8, he discusses our sufferings with Christ, which in context are our struggles with sin. And he dares to say that if you struggle with sin, ***that's because you are saved!*** Hallelujah!

This glorious gospel is foolishness to the world. You mean we are completely passive in our justification? You mean we do nothing? It is sovereign, free grace? Free? Amen! Yes, and Amen!

Kuyperianism, I think, is dangerous because it leads to a works-righteousness and does not see just how sinful we really are.

I am worn out by the Law. Give me the gospel! Give me more of Christ!