The Irony of the Siren Song

Terry Eastland at The Weekly Standard recently reviewed both David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms and James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World, two books I am myself slowing eating. Eastland is equally impressed with the insight of both authors to their respective tasks. First Hunter:

Hunter’s critique of what may be called transformationalism begins with a look at what its advocates in America have achieved. And he is not impressed. He finds their record “mixed,” and provides reason to think it might not improve. Culture changing, he writes, assumes that if you can change the hearts and minds of enough ordinary people, the culture itself will change. But this idea of cultural change is “almost wholly mistaken. . . . [C]ultural change at its most profound level occurs through dense networks of elites operating in common purpose within institutions at the high prestige centers of cultural production.” But believers wanting to change the culture most often have been found working the “social periphery” and not the “cultural center” where those dense networks exist. Their influence has proved strongest where it counts least: “in tastes that run to the lower middle and middle brow rather than the high brow.” Thus, writes Hunter, “for all the talk of world changing . . . the Christian community is not, on the whole, remotely close to a position where it could actually change the world in any significant way.” And if it were close, “the results would likely be disastrous.” World changing entails the use of power, he says, and transformationalists, regardless of where they reside on our political spectrum, “cannot imagine power in any other way than toward what finally leads to political domination.” For them, changing the culture means electing a candidate, passing a law, and altering a policy. To be sure, this being a free country, they may pursue those activities; but too often their efforts seethe with “resentment, anger, and bitterness” for the wrongs they believe they have suffered. As a result, they “undermine the message of the very gospel they cherish and desire to advance. 

Then VanDrunen:

The two kingdoms, VanDrunen emphasizes, “exist for different purposes, have different functions, and operate according to different rules,” and Christian engagement with the civil kingdom (or culture or world) must take those differences into account. In particular, as citizens of the spiritual kingdom, believers submit to “the redemptive ethic of Scripture.” But as citizens of the civil kingdom they “can engage in genuine moral conversation with those of other faiths . . . without making adherence to Scripture a test for participating in cultural affairs.” Likewise, as citizens of the spiritual kingdom, they “can view the state and other institutions as temporal and destined to pass away.” Yet as citizens of the civil kingdom they “can have keen interest in promoting the welfare of human society here and now.

Eastland then also offers an insight himself about Hunter that is well worth considering:

Oddly, To Change the World has little to say about two kingdoms, notwithstanding its rooting in a millennium and a half of Christian reflection. And what the book does say is a caricature: According to Hunter, the doctrine leads its adherents “to increasingly withdraw into their own communities with less and less interest in any engagement with the larger world.” Hunter fails to consider such evidence as VanDrunen has weighed and which supports the proposition that two-kingdoms doctrine encompasses the idea of promoting the welfare of society, or as Hunter himself might say, its “overall flourishing.

That James Davison Hunter has no affinity for two kingdoms would seem surprising, since it is a doctrine that offers no support to the world changers he challenges at every turn. On the other hand, there is an ambiguity in To Change the World that makes one wonder whether Hunter’s dismissal of two kingdoms is a product of his sympathy for, yes, world changing. The ambiguity arises in his discussion of faithful presence, and it concerns the critical issue of redemption. For while Hunter emphasizes that “culture-making . . . is not, strictly speaking, redemptive or salvific in character,” and that “world building” is not to be confused with “building the Kingdom of God,” he also says that the church should “offer an alternative vision and direction” for prevailing cultural institutions and seek “to retrieve the good to which modern institutions and ideas implicitly or explicitly aspire.” Putting aside whether the church is even capable of offering such vision and direction, or of retrieving such goods, it would seem without authority to do so—unless it is now being charged with (to borrow a phrase) “redeeming the culture.”

Such is the allure of transformationalism that one of its most vigorous critics seems unable to abandon it.

Indeed. It would seem that the siren song of Christian transformationism as being an inherent and unquestionable aim of Christianity is hard to resist for even one of its most trenchant and insightful critics.

For my own part as a long time two kingdom adherent, I have to admit I have found this read on two kingdoms over the years, namely that the doctrine engenders some sort of withdrawal, very puzzling and even ironic. Out of broad secularism, I cut my spiritual teeth in broad evangelicalism which is all about transformationism, soft and hard. And, among other things of course, it was precisely the world-flight piety of withdrawal that forced me to seek the older patterns of Christian expression which seemed, well, more worldly. Raised in broad secularism where worldly engagement was obviously no problem, I found the transformer-evangelical world to be characterized by being turned in on itself, a ghetto with its own weird culture. If one was so inclined there would be no need to even leave the biosphere of schools, magazines, music, books, and general network of sanctified personal relationships. And it seemed the only legitimate way to touch earth was to don the evangelism spacesuit, then rush back into the capsule. Or, in its harder moments, throw rocks from inside the cave. Two kingdom theology was actually the gateway to being able to guiltlessly touch the earth once again with no proverbial strings attached. As I recollect, this trading in of world-flight for world-affirmation was enough to earn the whispered personal title of “carnal” or “worldly” amongst the evangelical transformers.

So from where I sit, it is actually the opposite of what Hunter suggests of two kingdom theology. Ironically, it is in fact transformationism that begets world-flight. And this is because it thinks there are redemptive ways to go about creative tasks, which is a perfect formula for creating a Christian sub-culture and ghetto to inhabit. It is actually when we abandon the idea that Christianity implicitly has a direct and obvious bearing on the plethora of worldly cares, and embrace the understanding that creation is just fine as-is and needs no redeeming, that we step out of our man-made spiritual enclaves and dig into the good earth God created.

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49 Responses to The Irony of the Siren Song

  1. Paul says:

    Yeah, the (er, one) problem here Zrim is that I have quoted DVD many times advocating involvement in culture and you have told me that you disagree with him and that 2kers are allowed to disagree. That’s fine; but don’t try and snow us into thinking that you have agreed with me this whole time and have not actually critiqued any engagement or involvement with culture in whatever form it has taken. Shall I dig up the quotes t Green Baggins where you disagree with DVD on this matter. Now, people can be wrong, as I often am, but it seems you should at least admit it. Moreover, you are wrong to act as if you can touch the earth in some neutral way, or a way that does not take into account any biblical view such that it excludes other ways of touching. DVD refutes this in many places, and you should know it. Lastly, transformationalism does not think there are redemptive ways to go about creative tasks. Sure, some transformers have said so, but your critique is only a model-specific objection rather than a project one. Carson, among others, have pointed this out. So, to end by pointing out an irony: you claimed that 2k was misprepresented, but you went about mispresenting others. You also pretended as if a critique against DVD and 2k didn’t land, but your defense of that critique is not at all what DVD means, as evidenced by your public disagreement with my quoting him to this very effect over at Green Baggins.

  2. Zrim says:

    Paul,

    I’ll freely admit to not being the best communicator in the whole wide world, and that I may not speak with absolute perfection every moment of every day. I’m actually pretty lame in almost every way, if you want the truth.

    But, keeping that in mind, let me try to clarify what I see as a difference. All 2kers agree that cultural engagement is a very good thing. But they don’t all agree on the best way to culturally engage. For example, some 2kers put more stock in what certain political and cultural actions and endeavors can actually afford than what other 2kers are comfortable with. I’m of the latter persuasion, the one that wants to lower the stakes of political answers while still maintaining the dignity of political effort. I’m the one who agrees that believers can work shoulder-to-shoulder with unbelievers in the common sphere but who prefers to line himself up with those of a more sober and ordinary outlook and are not so giddy and enthusiastic about being on the right side of righteousness and laying low those who are on the wrong side; if they’re fellow believers, great, but I don’t really care if they are. In other words, the beauty and genius of 2k, to my admittedly small and dim mind, is that believers can disagree with believers and/or agree with unbelievers in the common sphere (and vice versa). If I have critiqued a fellow 2ker about how he chooses to engage or what he thinks is important or how he concludes on a matter of indifference it is only because I simply disagree. In my secular employment I work with plenty of Christians. We have plenty of disagreements as well as agreements about how to get our common tasks done and why. I see this micro-vocational experience of mine to be no different from how we should be able to live in the wider macro-common sphere. And it should be uncontroversial since we all live like this every day, we all live like radical 2kers.

    Now, if you want to dig up comments from the blogosphere to show what a snowy lout I am, feel free. I’d be happy to try and engage it. But I’m honestly not sure what drives this sort of antagonism of yours. I could speculate, but I think that would devolve into something more unbecoming.

    P.S. I don’t think I have ever claimed that “one can touch the earth in some neutral way.” If I have conveyed that in some way or another then I was wrong. But I refuse the idea that to contend for the natural law is to contend for neutrality. That is plain fubar and seems to me to be the sort of thing someone not fully convinced of or who doesn’t fully understand the claims natural law charges.

  3. Paul M. says:

    Zrim, antagonism? Should we always hold hands and agree? You have surely disagreed with me on many occassions, should I ponder about what drives your antagonism and then refrain because it would devolve into something more unbecoming?

    Anyway, do you agree that cultural engagement is a good thing? I have not seen you endorse ONE cultural engager or engagement ever. Every single example that has ever come up has been nay-sayed by you. Maybe it’s because all you do is criticize and never lay out points of agreement. When you do that, it sure looks like you’re against any engagement.

    Maybe this will help me and my small and dnim mind:

    So, when a 2Kers takes some view of approach to culture that you disagree with him on, you “just disagree.” But when you disagree with me on a similar point, it is because I am confusing law and gospel, trying to redeem society, trying to pull heaven down, and thinking ethics says something about religion. I mean, I am 2k, but I just differ with you on the entailments of both natural law and Scripture. To me it seems more about friendship than positions.

    Do you agree with this DVD quote:

    However, this is not to say that we as Christians should not participate in the culture war, and it does not mean that all the methods or goals of those on the frontlines of the culture war are wrong. Not at all. God commanded the people in Jeremiah 29 to seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which they lived, and this applies to us as well. We know that a nation with increasing numbers of cocaine-addicts, abortions, thefts, child-abuse cases, illiterates, etc., etc., will not retain desirable levels of peace and prosperity for long. Therefore we do have an obligation to do things which will, if not eliminate such things, at least substantially reduce their rate of occurrence. The peace and prosperity of our society, not to mention our personal peace and prosperity, depend on it. And the political sphere certainly is one of the institutions of culture which will make its indelible stamp on the peace and prosperity of the society. Christians therefore should have an interest in the political process when their form of government allows it, as ours does. To turn our backs on politics would mean to turn our backs in part to the command of God to seek the peace and prosperity of our nation. We may debate amongst ourselves which political positions to promote and how much emphasis should be given to the political process, but the interest and involvement in politics which we see among the “religious right” is in itself a good thing. But, it must always be accompanied by the realization that we are participating in the politics of Babylon. What should we hope to gain by our cultural, including political, activity? Only a relatively better life for society, ourselves, and our children in the years to come than what we would otherwise face. We seek not the destruction of our enemies, but simply a modestly better society which in the future will face exactly the same kinds of threats and require the same sort of opposition. Perhaps we can turn America back to the culture of the 1950′s. But the 1960′s will always follow.

  4. "Michael Mann" says:

    Zrim, you mention “redemptive ways to go about creative tasks, which is a perfect formula for creating a Christian sub-culture…”
    I take “culture” to indicate a fair amount of uniformity among Christians from Monday through Saturday. What would a Christian sub-culture look like? What guiding principles and common practices make it “Christian?”

  5. Zrim says:

    Paul, I am familiar with the quote and agree with it’s spirit, but I think some of the language is unfortunate. I do not see as much value in so-called “culture war.” I take exception to the implication that warring is helpful to the cultivation of society; in fact, I think find there to be even amongst good fellow 2kers less than aequate consideration of the fact that warring has a detrimental effect on society. I know, that makes me some sort of pacifist. So be it, but I think there is something ironic about pilgrims warring. Again, this isn’t to pass judgment on those who choose to war, rather an explanation for why I pass on it. I, too, want to seek the peace of the city, but I just think there are better ways to do it. To wit…

    I have not seen you endorse ONE cultural engager or engagement ever. Every single example that has ever come up has been nay-sayed by you.

    Here are some examples of which I highly approve: get a job, marry someone, raise a family, go to school, play a part in civic theatre, chaperone a third grade field trip, go see a movie, have a barbeque with neighbors, collect baseball cards, go to the US Open, join a book club, go a concert, be in a concert, write a book, read a book, give a friend a ride, meet a friend for lunch, vote. There are just too many to name, but you get me.

  6. Zrim says:

    MM, culture and sub- are hard things to define, but for starters on how a Xian subculture looks try a Xian bookstore. For how one sounds listen to Xian radio.

    And if you want a good laugh about Christian sub-culture try this.

  7. John Yeazel says:

    And if you want a good laugh about Christian sub-culture try this.

    That was funny- I almost fell out of my chair I was laughing so hard. That reminds me of the early Wittenberg Door (late 70’s and early 80’s) magazine and their shots at the Christian sub-culture.

  8. "Michael Mann" says:

    Yeah, Zrim, I’ve seen that kind of culture. So I guess you are really into angel calendars, books by Osteen & Warren, plastic bookmarks and CCM, right?

    It appeared from the above quote that you actually think there is a desirable “Christian culture” towards which we ought to strive. It was a serious question with some possibly interesting clarifications of 2k and worldview, but if you’d rather do another round with Paul, I’ll filter back into the audience.

    I’ve seen the stuff at the link before. There’s some amusing stuff there, but I also think “Stephy” has more actual antagonism (rather than bemusement) than she wants to own up to.

  9. Paul says:

    “Paul, I am familiar with the quote and agree with it’s spirit, but I think some of the language is unfortunate.”

    Thanks.

    “Here are some examples of which I highly approve:” [Snip]

    Is that “engaging” culture?

    So basically you don’t approve of any of the things DVD mentions? Or do those things count?

    And, when DVD mentions those things, he’s doing it in the context of his take on seeking the peace and prosperity of the city.

    Lastly, this was your answer in response to my question about your claim that 2Kers all agree that we should engage culture, they just disagree as to how. But, do you really think there are any 2kers who disagree with those things you listed (movies, getting married, etc)? If not, does that mean you answered the wrong question, or dodged the right one?

  10. RubeRad says:

    Perhaps we can turn America back to the culture of the 1950′s. But the 1960′s will always follow.

    That is absolutely brilliant! The way I read that DVD quote is to put “culture war” in scare quotes. After all, if “We seek not the destruction of our enemies”, it’s not much of a war, is it? Which I take as DVD’s point.

    Here’s another quote I came across lately: “But as John Newton said, ‘Do your business (with the world) as in the rain.'” I disagree with the statement, as it is very non-2K, but it is a lovely expression of transformational ghettoism.

  11. Zrim says:

    It appeared from the above quote that you actually think there is a desirable “Christian culture” towards which we ought to strive.

    MM,

    What I said was, “Ironically, it is in fact transformationism that begets world-flight. And this is because it thinks there are redemptive ways to go about creative tasks, which is a perfect formula for creating a Christian sub-culture and ghetto to inhabit.” This was to be critical of transformationism for how it creates a ghetto from the premise , so no, I don’t think there is a desirable “Christian culture” towards which we ought to strive. Instead, I think there is a Christian church to which we ought to cleave. Those seem to me to be very different things.

    There’s some amusing stuff there, but I also think “Stephy” has more actual antagonism (rather than bemusement) than she wants to own up to.

    I agree. Mocking is actually a form of serious criticism, so the claim that it’s “just a way for us to laugh at ourselves” only goes so far. Plus, for those of us serious enough to deliberately and ecclesiastically distance ourselves from broad evangelicalism, who’s “us”? That said, her mockery is just plain hysterical and witty and nobody can say otherwise.

  12. Zrim says:

    Is that “engaging” culture [being employed and married, etc]? So basically you don’t approve of any of the things DVD mentions? Or do those things count?

    Paul, are you saying those aren’t ways to engage the culture? But I think there are various ways to engage culture. One way is to fight and that’s fine as far as it goes I suppose, but I think there are better ways.

    …when DVD mentions those things, he’s doing it in the context of his take on seeking the peace and prosperity of the city.

    Yes, I know. And if I recall his example was the neighbor contemplating an abortion. His suggestion was to try and talk her out of it. That’s fine, but my own take is that this is a way to make a subtle anti-abortion (read: moral and political) point. I think in real life, if I am that intimate with my neighbor, she’ll know my moral and political views already, so she’ll probably need less of my acts of persuasion and more of my friendship. So, one person may think he is seeking the peace and prosperity of the city by talking his neighbor out of an abortion, but my idea is to lay off the persuasion and dial up the neighborly presence.

    Lastly, this was your answer in response to my question about your claim that 2Kers all agree that we should engage culture, they just disagree as to how. But, do you really think there are any 2kers who disagree with those things you listed (movies, getting married, etc)? If not, does that mean you answered the wrong question, or dodged the right one?

    I’ll leave it to you to decide if I answered the wrong question or dodged the right one. But no, I do not think there are 2kers who disagree with those things I listed. What I think is that some show a tendency to think the institutions of law are at least as powerful to the cultivating of society as the institution of the family (even as a tip of the hat is given to the family as being the cornerstone of society). I happen to think that the home is prior to the courthouse and that making human beings is way more powerful than legislating them. That isn’t at all to say that legislating them is unimportant, but rather to make a point about which institution is prior.

  13. RubeRad says:

    I happen to think that the home is prior to the courthouse and that making human beings is way more powerful than legislating them.

    Isn’t that exactly falling into the trap Hunter describes…?

    Culture changing, he writes, assumes that if you can change the hearts and minds of enough ordinary people, the culture itself will change. But this idea of cultural change is “almost wholly mistaken.”

  14. Paul M. says:

    Paul, are you saying those aren’t ways to engage the culture? But I think there are various ways to engage culture. One way is to fight and that’s fine as far as it goes I suppose, but I think there are better ways.

    At least not in the sense relevant to the way most seem to be using it.

    But no, I do not think there are 2kers who disagree with those things I listed.

    Right. So my initial question is that all of the “paradigmatic” ways people speak of engaging culture are things you have never, once, ever publicly approved of. But those are the relevant ways people are understanding “engage culture” and those are what they are wondering of 2K shuns. They are wondering, like Hunter, if you’re really quietists. But then you come along and say, “No,” but then you give examples of “engaging culture” that are not the way people are thinking about the term, not even Van Drunen. Zrim, quietists and non-engagers go to movies and have babies and get married. It does seem disingenuous for you to claim you’re not subject to Hunter’s (and others) criticisms of 2K and then cite DVD in your defense. It seems clear, even here, that you don’t mean things in the way DVD does. It does seem that you advocate some sort of withdrawal. I think it’s word games to claim that getting married and going to the movies shows that you’re not a withdrawaler. When people, like Hunter, speak of withdrawing, they don’t seem to mention movies and marriage as one of the forms of withdrawal. Can you at least see when people might be confused by at least your portrayal of things?

  15. "Michael Mann" says:

    Sorry, Zrim, my omission of the first part of the sentence was inadvertent.

    Certainly my observations of and experiences in American Evangelical culture make me want to agree with you. It really is impoverished and silly (let’s talk about fouls in “Christian basketball” someday), while failure to participate makes one an outcast in some circles.

    Having said that, one could argue that the faults of evangelical culture flow from the faulty premises of evangelicalism. In a hypothetical world in which there was, say, more pervasive, widespread confessionalism, would a distinct and “better” culture emanate? I think so, and yet one could not be dogmatic about the propriety of those cultural expressions.

    As a matter of history, haven’t Christians in all ages tended to produce culture that distinguished them from the larger culture? Is there a historian that can help us out on this one?

    So, Zrim, is it your position that Christians have nearly everything in common on Sundays but nothing in common Monday through Saturday? Or what do they have in common the other six days?

    As an aside, I see a common fault in a lot of these 2K discussions that tends to confuse matters. It is the rhetoric that speaks of “the” 2k position. In fact, most people who engage in these conversations are 2K’s, at least in the broadest sense. At some point it will be helpful to have few labels to differentiate the various positions.

  16. Zrim says:

    Isn’t that exactly falling into the trap Hunter describes…?

    I don’t think so, Rube, because when I say that making people is way more powerful than legislating them that’s a statement about creating hearts and minds, not changing them.

  17. Zrim says:

    Paul, I suppose as long as some get to define “engage culture” to be something more apologetic than participatory, I understand your point. But what I am saying is that “engaging culture” may include both, and I happen to put more credence into the participatory than the apologetic (which also makes confusing how it could be construed as withdrawal—what part of participate implies withdrawal?). I get that that seems to confuse, even frustrate, those who presume that “engage culture” only means something apologetic. But in the real life that I live there is a time and a place for all things, and what I think is misguided is thinking that one way of engaging fits all situations, as well as saying that those who point this out are calling for cultural withdrawal.

    But like I have admitted in other places, if the option is between “activist” and “quietist” I’ll begrudgingly take the latter and leave the former to others, thanks. But the option is a poor one because I think that just as there is a difference between being moral and being a moralist, there is a difference between being active and being an activist, just like there is a difference between being quiet and being a quietist. So, when I make a moral point about something to someone and am called a moralist I think I am being just as misconstrued as when I talk about living a quiet and peaceable life and being construed as a quietist advocating withdrawal. (Personally, it’s also annoying when I seek out solitude and am construed as a hermit. But solitude isn’t anymore opposed to company than Calvinism is to evangelism.)

  18. Zrim says:

    In a hypothetical world in which there was, say, more pervasive, widespread confessionalism, would a distinct and “better” culture emanate? I think so, and yet one could not be dogmatic about the propriety of those cultural expressions.

    I don’t think so, MM. I think to suggest an affirmative answer here could be a function of Reformed narcissism, as in the more of our kind the better effect it will have on the world. But even the church is filled with us and she’s not really any better for it, so how could the world begin to benefit from ore of us? Maybe more of you, sure, but more of me would be adding tragedy on top of disaster. So, again, I say better to call for sinners to cleave to the church than to fantasize about how the world would fare with more of us in it.

    …is it your position that Christians have nearly everything in common on Sundays but nothing in common Monday through Saturday? Or what do they have in common the other six days?

    I’m not sure I follow. But it seems to me that Christians have absolutely everything eternal in common with each other on Sunday and nothing with unbelievers, even as their temporal similarities or differences are subsumed beneath their eternal fraternity—that’s the point of Sunday, to prepare for that final Day when we are both radically distinguished from unbelief and lose our earthly identities to become eternally one in the Lord.

    In the other six days, Christians find themselves in the common sphere, with similarities or differences with other believers and unbelievers.

  19. "Michael Mann" says:

    Zrim, you said:
    “I don’t think so, MM. I think to suggest an affirmative answer here could be a function of Reformed narcissism, as in the more of our kind the better effect it will have on the world. But even the church is filled with us and she’s not really any better for it, so how could the world begin to benefit from ore of us? Maybe more of you, sure, but more of me would be adding tragedy on top of disaster. So, again, I say better to call for sinners to cleave to the church than to fantasize about how the world would fare with more of us in it.”

    There was a bit of a disonnect here. It is not my assumption that culture would be somewhat better because of the virtue of confessionalists, much less because of my alleged virtue. I think there is simply a relationship between beliefs and culture. I also think this would be hard to deny, at least on a macro-level (there is a belief-producing difference between Hindu culture with evangelical culture, for example.)

    Also, I wasn’t thinking that the goal of such culture would be to transform the world. I simply take it as a given that there will be culture. Perhaps that culture could be somewhat conducive to our spiritual life during our sojourn. Perhaps it would give us some lawful comforts. Perhaps it would assist in raising our convenant children, etc. We will be immersed in culture and it will affect us; it seems wisest to recognize this rather than fly away from it on the wings of a 2K theory.

    You said:
    “In the other six days, Christians find themselves in the common sphere, with similarities or differences with other believers and unbelievers.”

    So, Monday through Saturday, I have no more in common with my fellow pew-sitter than I do with the unchurched guy in the next cubicle?

  20. RubeRad says:

    As a matter of history, haven’t Christians in all ages tended to produce culture that distinguished them from the larger culture? Is there a historian that can help us out on this one?

    “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.”

    Letter to Diognetus, 2nd century

  21. Paul M. says:

    So Zrim, when you say, “All 2kers agree that cultural engagement is a very good thing,” you don’t mean that in the way it seems everyone else, DVD and Hunter included, mean the phrase? Only by redefining the term into a way where you get to fit, but which is a way no one else seems to mean, can you say that you’re not subject to Hunter’s, and the others you speak of, critique of 2K? I say this because I’m sure you know that no one means by “engaging the culture” the things you mention, viz. going to the movies, giving friends a car ride, or meeting them for lunch. Thus you really haven’t answered Hunter’s critique (as he meant it), and you’ve proven Eastland wrong.

    Indeed, since I am assuming Eastland didn’t mean going to lunch with a friend, then your citing of Eastland is really not a defense of Zrim’s spin on 2K, right? Here’s how Eastland seems to use the relevant terms:

    “But as citizens of the civil kingdom they “can engage in genuine moral conversation with those of other faiths . . . without making adherence to Scripture a test for participating in cultural affairs.” Likewise, as citizens of the spiritual kingdom, they “can view the state and other institutions as temporal and destined to pass away.” Yet as citizens of the civil kingdom they “can have keen interest in promoting the welfare of human society here and now.

    And,

    “Hunter fails to consider such evidence as VanDrunen has weighed and which supports the proposition that two-kingdoms doctrine encompasses the idea of promoting the welfare of society, or as Hunter himself might say, its “overall flourishing

    And if there be doubt as to what DVD meant by those things Eastland says rebut Hunter, DVD tells us:

    ” God commanded the people in Jeremiah 29 to seek the peace and prosperity of the city in which they lived, and this applies to us as well. We know that a nation with increasing numbers of cocaine-addicts, abortions, thefts, child-abuse cases, illiterates, etc., etc., will not retain desirable levels of peace and prosperity for long. Therefore we do have an obligation to do things which will, if not eliminate such things, at least substantially reduce their rate of occurrence. The peace and prosperity of our society, not to mention our personal peace and prosperity, depend on it.”

    So, while I can see Eastland as an apologist for DVD’s brand of 2K, and I can see in DVD how Huinter’s critiques don’t land, what I can’t see is how either defend Zrim’s brand of 2K. I fail to see how any of this served to support the things you have said which have drawn criticism. Can you see where I’m coming from and why I have long said that your view of 2K is at odds with DVD’s and other sophisticated expositors of the view?

  22. "Michael Mann" says:

    Eloquent, Rube, but if a second century letter is sufficient evidence I will soon have you admitting the existence of the Phoenix along with its amazing resurrection. I can comment more tonight.

  23. RubeRad says:

    Yes, arguments from history are often more problematic than conclusive. And there’s also the whole question of descriptive vs. prescriptive. Supposing you are able to demonstrate historically that “Christians in all ages tended to produce culture that distinguished them from the larger culture,” to assert that Christian sub-culture is a good and biblical thing is to beg the question. That’s another problem with historical arguments in general.

  24. Zrim says:

    Also, I wasn’t thinking that the goal of such culture would be to transform the world. I simply take it as a given that there will be culture. Perhaps that culture could be somewhat conducive to our spiritual life during our sojourn. Perhaps it would give us some lawful comforts. Perhaps it would assist in raising our convenant children, etc. We will be immersed in culture and it will affect us; it seems wisest to recognize this rather than fly away from it on the wings of a 2K theory.

    Here is where I make a distinction between “influence” and “making.” I agree that we are immersed in culture and that it does influence and affect us. But I disagree that it actually makes us the way our homes make us. I think the failure to make this distinction is at least part of what lies behind so-called culture wars, sacred or secular, namely the idea that aspects of wider culture have as much bearing on people making as mom and dad. Why do folks go ape about what’s on TV or what is being taught in schools or what laws are being passed? Because they fundamentally think that to influence is to make.

    So, I don’t look to culture to assist me in raising covenant children, I look to the church. The home creates people, the church redeems them. Culture does neither.

    So, Monday through Saturday, I have no more in common with my fellow pew-sitter than I do with the unchurched guy in the next cubicle?

    I’d rather say that Monday through Saturday I have more in common with the unbeliever than most believers believe.

  25. Zrim says:

    Paul, it seems to me you fail to see how what I am saying is feasible because you insist on saying that “engaging culture” or contribute to “the welfare of society” only ever means something legislative or political. I’m actually expanding the definition to say that it can certainly include that but also includes the relational and the human. True, I’m putting the accent on the latter, but that doesn’t mean I’m excluding the former. So, one wants to talk a neighbor out of an abortion, fine, but I see way more value in raising a daughter in such a way that she doesn’t find herself in such a situation. I understand that those who choose to “engage culture” by the former way also do so in the latter way, but what I am saying is that that same person is doing way more for the welfare of society in his latter labor than in his former.

    Frankly, I find the insistence to define the term “engage culture” only in legislative or political terms to be pretty arrogant. It excludes the larger balance of individuals in society who are doing more to make and nurture actual human beings and privileges those few who legislate or study them.

  26. Paul M. says:

    Zrim, quite the contrary, I totally get what you’re saying. And I also grant you that on your definition or way of looking at things, you’re a big time cultural engager. What you’re failing to see is that your use of the term isn’t how anyone else in the debate uses the term, and it’s not how it was used in Hunter’s book or Eastland’s response, or by DVD for that matter. So your use of those guys to defend against criticisms that have been leveled against you is improper. My claim still stands, I have never seen you once, ever, defend or speak for or support the relevant “engaging” the above authors are talking about. Instead, I have often, quite often, seen you critique those very forms as being somehow against 2K. I’m just sayin.

  27. Zrim says:

    Paul, what I have spoken in support for is liberty, which I think is pretty important to 2k. Others have liberty to lawfully engage the way they see fit, and still others have liberty to refrain from those forms for principled reasons.

    But maybe you’ve missed my skepticism about certain forms of cultural engagament being called “dangerous, immoral and evil” by the likes of CVD? Or maybe you’ve also missed how others have characterized the refusal to engage by way of picketing as “unfaithful”? I understand your point here is to carefully construct things in such a way that you can show me to be outside the pale, but you’re also missing some pretty significant hyperventilating against liberty by others in the process.

    Anyway, I can admit that I never got the memo you did about what “cultural enagagment” means and doesn’t mean from the two authors. But when I read “cultural engagement” I have a more expansive and inclusive interpretation of it. There goes that liberty thing again.

  28. Paul M. says:

    Zrim, gottcha. So, you’re outside the pale. I’ll focus on the hyperventilators laters. In the meantime, tell them to breath into a paper bag.

  29. "Michael Mann" says:

    Zrim & Paul: consider a concrete situation. I’ll use a situation with the standard disclaimer “any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

    In particular church, there is a member whose vocation is to manage the campaign of a political candidate. He does so out of a mix of convictions which come from both his religious and political sources. His counsel from the church – at his request – is basically “that’s your job, do your job well and lawfully.” The church itself says nothing political in its sermons or teachings, and uses none of its facilities or resources to promote politics, referenda, etc. Other members of the church who tend to agree with the convictions of the campaign manager are across the spectrum regarding the involvement in politics and culture wars – some active, some passive.There is a sprinkling of people with opposing political/social convictions in the church – they have never asked for the counsel of the church on such matters and the church has not sought them out to give them advice.

    Paul, should this church (qua church) take a greater role in politics and activism? Zrim, should we be telling the campaign worker that he should not be engaging in politics out of his Christian convictions?

  30. Paul says:

    Michael,

    No.

  31. "Michael Mann" says:

    Rube, you said:
    “Supposing you are able to demonstrate historically that “Christians in all ages tended to produce culture that distinguished them from the larger culture,” to assert that Christian sub-culture is a good and biblical thing is to beg the question.”

    My point is pretty simple if it can be separated from the noise of the standard 2K debate. We all live in a culture. It is not an option. And, then, culture has a significant influence on our thoughts and behavior. Given its mandatory nature and significance, some attention should be given as to how to cultivate a culture that is conducive to our total well-being, including but not limited to our “spiritual” well being. I am not proposing a cultural strait-jacket or being dogmatic about particular cultural manifestations. Unless you are more intent on implementing a logically pristine version of 2k than on this simple observation, I think my point is pretty easy to grasp.

    I do think that, absent persecution, Christian culture (in its broadest sense) has developed more often than not. That is because, while it may not tell us how to play basketball (let’s leave plumbing to another blog), it does say a lot about how we are to act, how we are to think, etc.

    I don’t think that this implies antipathy towards 2K or disproves it. It may set a limit on, as I say, a logically pristine version of it.

  32. Zrim says:

    MM, not at all. That would be a violation of his liberty. Speaking of which, you might ask Paul what the church should do with a member who casts a certain vote in a one-issue ballot over reproductive law.

    BTW, Paul, let’s get specific about what it is I have opposed. Protesting abortion clinics? Yes, I oppose that form of cultural engagement. “Engaging in genuine moral conversation with those of other faiths” about abortion? No, I do not oppose that, I affirm it. I esteem conversation over activating.

  33. Paul M. says:

    Yes, MM, ask me that. :-)

    Zrim, you’ve opposed more, but while we’re at it, why would you *oppose* protesting an abortion clinic. That doesn’t seem consistent with your quietism.

  34. Anonymous says:

    MM, while you’re at it, you should ask Zrim how he can be a Confessionalist while denying what the Larger Catechism says regarding the 6th commandment as authoritative in the lives of professing Christians.

  35. "Michael Mann" says:

    Zrim, isn’t protesting an abortion clinic simply not your preferred way of interacting with culture? Or are you saying others “ought not” do such a thing? Are you saying it is not your gig, it is unwise, or it is sinful?
    This is important. If it is simply your personal preference not to do that, then I’m not sure anyone here has a problem with that and there is less urgency in spilling pixels over it. If you are telling others what they ought not do, that takes it to a different level and I would wonder if you do have an inconsistent view of liberty. Are you an anti-anti-abortion activist?

  36. RubeRad says:

    I’d say he’s more like an anti-anti-abortion INactivist…

  37. Paul M. says:

    But he’s very active about his inactivism. He spends much ink critiquing pro-lifers. I remember once he linked to an atrocious piece of reasoning by a pro-choicer that tried to critique the claim by many black pro-lifers that abortion clinics have targeted black people.

  38. Zrim says:

    Paul and MM, maybe “oppose” is too strong a word and misleading. But when I say I oppose protesting abortion clinics I don’t mean that others “ought not” do it. I mean that I find it, in a word, an extremely poor and unbecoming way to interact and engage our neighbors. Others may certainly do it if their conscience is so persuaded, but mine is persuaded in a very different direction. And I think it’s one thing to suggest that to participate in it is poor cultural engagement, quite another (ahem, Tim Bayly & Co.) to suggest that to choose to refrain is to be “unfaithful.”

    I trust some will squeal here, but I think this sort of activism is the political version of religious revivalism. Whatever else is involved, what animates both is a disdain and impatience for institutional workings and a moralistic quest for exact justice (instead of enduring the imperfections of proximate justice).

    P.S. Rube, cute, but that might be a mouthful. I’d simply characterize my moral and political views as anti-abortion (versus “pro-life”). It’s my inner paleo-conservative that also opposes unbecoming behavior to show it. I think symapthy for activism is the relative victory of esteeming the virtue of self-expression over self-comportment. I guess that’s a mouthful as well.

  39. "Michael Mann" says:

    So then you are not saying your opposition to anti-abortion activism is “the” 2K position, and you are not setting forth your personal conviction as a command. I would hope that would put an end to the hyperventilation over this issue. To the extent that others call your faithfulness into question for such a position, I think they presume to bind where the Lord does not.

  40. Paul M. says:

    And another thing that goes with this is that Zrim must stop his own “hyperventilating” when others endorse or engage in this sort of thing by calling them not 2K and (meant pejoratively) tranformationalists and worldviewists.

  41. Paul M. says:

    “I mean that I find it, in a word, an extremely poor and unbecoming way to interact and engage our neighbors.”

    Well, leaving aside that murdering babies is also a poor and unbecoming wat to interact with the least of our neighbors, I grant that many times said picketing is poor in form and content; however, I have seen it done well, civilly, and tastefully. I have seen women walk away. That definitely wouldn’t have happened (assuming normal providential governing here) if everyone sat in their houses.

  42. Zrim says:

    So then you are not saying your opposition to anti-abortion activism is “the” 2K position, and you are not setting forth your personal conviction as a command.

    Correct. I have a strong view on a matter indifferent that is at odds with others who have an equally strong view. It’s all about liberty.

    Well, leaving aside that murdering babies is also a poor and unbecoming wat to interact with the least of our neighbors, I grant that many times said picketing is poor in form and content; however, I have seen it done well, civilly, and tastefully. I have seen women walk away. That definitely wouldn’t have happened (assuming normal providential governing here) if everyone sat in their houses.

    Paul, fair enough. But my point is more principled than pragmatic. I’m saying that certain forms of activism has at least as much to do with moral and political self-expression (versus self-comportment) as it does with genuinely helping someone. I’m sure lots of people have been genuinely helped, but the way of going about it is simply unbecoming. I just think there are more becoming ways to actually help. So, your point sounds to me like saying, “Hey, there are tasteful ways to be unbecoming, and helping people justifies the incivility.” Sorry, I think we can do better.

  43. Paul M. says:

    “Paul, fair enough. But my point is more principled than pragmatic. I’m saying that certain forms of activism has at least as much to do with moral and political self-expression (versus self-comportment) as it does with genuinely helping someone.

    Zrim, I’m sure this is true of “certain forms of activism.” You may want to keep those qualifications in mind when you write on the topic, because you often seem to transform “some forms” into “all forms.” At least that’s how you come off.

    “I’m sure lots of people have been genuinely helped, but the way of going about it is simply unbecoming.”

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. However, at the end of the day, the moral worth of a life saved is of more value than the demerit of some oversealous and misguided cultural snafus.

    “I just think there are more becoming ways to actually help.”

    Maybe, maybe not. Right now you have the advantage of no one being able to test your “method,” maybe it’s more becoming but entirely unhelpful. I wouldn’t know, though. You’re firing from afar.

    “So, your point sounds to me like saying, “Hey, there are tasteful ways to be unbecoming, and helping people justifies the incivility.” Sorry, I think we can do better.

    Of course that assumes that all the examples I’m referring to are unbecoming and incivil (did you already forget your helpful qualification above?). Pray tell, how did you come across such magical and omniscient knowledge? Surely you should guard your intellectual life more closely, for you see, the “examples” you and society see are going to be, largely, the extremes who are picked up by the media. Why, that would be like me judging DVD by the extreme 2K folks he mentions:

    “Many writers today seem to associate a two-kingdoms doctrine with unwarranted dualisms, secularism, moral neutrality in social life, or even the denial of Christ’s universal kingship. Perhaps some versions of the two-kingdoms doctrine have fit such stereotypes. — From the intro to his new book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms.

    Now, if you didn’t mean “all,” then I’m at a loss as to how my point “sounds like” that to you. You see, maybe you can be civil, effective, and active. Indeed, that what those like Os Guinness suggests.

  44. Zrim says:

    However, at the end of the day, the moral worth of a life saved is of more value than the demerit of some oversealous and misguided cultural snafus.

    So the ends justify the means? But, still sorry, the human condition is just way more complex than this statement seems to suggest.

  45. Paul M. says:

    “So the ends justify the means?”

    Yes, sometimes they do, Steve. The end of saving the elect justified the means of God planning and decreeing the *murder* of an innocent man, Christ Jesus. I could multiply examples easily. Are you a Kantian in your ethical view or something :-)

    But, aside from that, I never approved of or commended those means, I simply rated the moral worth.

    “But, still sorry, the human condition is just way more complex than this statement seems to suggest.”

    Of course the statement didn’t “suggest” that, but if you’d like to derive the inference from the statement, justifying the derivation by rules of logic rather than, say, hocus pocus, I’m all ears.

  46. Zrim says:

    Paul, are you a fundamentalist or something, implying that questions about picketing abortion clinics has anything whatever to do with religious belief?

    And I understand you simply tallied merit points and rated the moral worth. But what you are missing is that life is simply more complicated than tallying up merit points. I suppose that would easier, but…

    More missing human forests for logical trees.

  47. Paul says:

    Steve, you implied ends do not justify means. I defeated that assumption. Therefore you can’t use it anymore.

    I’m not missing that life is more complicated. Didn’t you just say that? Didn’t I ask you how I suggested life wasn’t complicated? Repeating yourself and then making some witty-but-irrelevant point about missing humans forests for logical trees may win score you debate points, but it’s simply insufficient as a serious reply to my calling you out on your naked assertion.

    I guess since all you’re doing now is repeating yourself, we’ve reached the end of moving the discussion forward.

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