Fully Involved Detachment

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. has recently made available a chapter called “Theonomy and Postmillenialiam.”

There is a lot of good stuff in here (I could do without his out-of-place “transformative” language toward the end; but I would rather give the benefit of the doubt by employing the tried and true analogia fidei, interpreting this piece via the whole and conclude that Gaffin doesn’t mean what someone like Keller does). But I particularly like Gaffin’s phrase “fully involved detachment” in describing what seems more conducive to a genuinely Amillenial Reformed piety when it comes to our approach to the world in a two-kingdom model. I think it is a nice complement to Hart’s “Tracking with the Liturgicals.” It seems especially helpful in light of some recent discussions over at DRD in which there seemed quite a bit of sympathy for terms such as “activism” (and the tributaries which run through it) by those who otherwise espouse good two-kingdom Reformed confessionalism.

Whenever I try to articulate just how I understand the way we negotiate our world as Reformed Christians over against every other tradition, I have managed to be accused amongst my own with fairly mild charges (“ho-hum”), to more animated ones (“apathetic,” or “Dispensational-polish-stower”) to much more strident and not a little loaded ones (“Liberal,” or even “antinomian”). My guess is that this is similar to many miscommunications in human exchange, a problem of either not speaking correctly, not hearing accurately or, realistically, both.

Such interpretations remind me of another current discussion about Mormonism when I make the point that the nomenclature of “cult” to describe it is completely unhelpful; it is a supremely sloppy, outdated term that only serves to both obscure and promote religious bigotry. Hunter S. Thompson may have dubbed it a sustained effort at “fear and loathing on the Washington 2008 trail.” At best it is simply lazy, and at worst, it is a thinly veiled effort to carelessly allow slander to unfettered falsity in order to make a point about that falsity—an old Fundamentalist trick. Doing so seems to say more about the slanderer than the victim. But it sure does seem curious to me that those of us who stand in a historical and truly evangelical, Protestant tradition that makes such a phenomenal fuss over the word “alone” in five poignant places—to the point of still enduring Trent’s anathema—can exercise such sloppiness as to suggest there is no significant difference between Jim Jones and LDS President Gordon B. Hinkley (insert a plug here for PBS’s documentary Jonestown); the failure to make no appreciable distinction between Jonestown (cult) and Sault Lake City (false religion) is similar to the failure to distinguish between “fully involved detachment” and “ho-hum, apathetic antinomianism.” I quite feel Mitt’s pain.

Nevertheless, here’s to Dr. Gaffn having better luck than me in trying to make the point that true Christianity is nothing if not cognizant of the balance and nuance necessary to at once fully embrace a thorough-going high view of creation and a world-affirming piety (fully involved) and fully reject that such implies, contra Calvin, that we are to be just attached enough to this world that we think ours is a project to do what is God’s alone to finally effect (detachment). Granted—like Forrest said—it can be hard to know where the earth stops and heaven begins. But that seems to be exactly the point.

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20 Responses to Fully Involved Detachment

  1. jstellman says:

    I gotta tell, Zrim my lad, that the argument that any concern about being “active” in the kingdom of man is a denial of the two kingdoms is itself a compromise of those two kingdoms.

    As I pointed out to Hart, when someone makes no claim whatsoever that his social ethics are spiritually determined, then to label him “postmill” or “transformationist” is just the last gasp of the person who has no argument.

    And I’m sure you noticed that it took until about 50 comments in before Darryl actually bothered to engage the position espoused. Before that, it was just name-calling and labeling for effect.

  2. jstellman says:

    Hey, where’d my avatar go?

  3. Zrim says:


    Like an old Baptist ST prof said during a doctrine of God lecture, “There is a difference between simple and simplistic.” I think there is a difference between being active and being an activist and it seems just as crucial as the point the old Baptist made. I am not sure why I can’t even get that much acknowledgment…

    Denial is a strong term, Rev. I have always maintained to you that certain things “don’t comport” or “are not very consistent” within the broader understanding of confessional piety. That is the sort of language I choose to employ.

    That said, yeah, I feel you on the Hart exchange…as you can tell from the post proper, while I myself can be guilty of it at times, I am not much for labels until they fit the bill.

  4. jstellman says:

    Well, I did use the word “compromise” to describe what I thought you were doing, not “denial.”

    I was only trying to point out that deducing a social ethic of non-activism from one’s spiritual views seems to call into question (better?) the idea that the two kingdoms are to be kept distinct.

    Either way, I apologize if I came on too strongly.

  5. Zrim says:

    “I gotta tell, Zrim my lad, that the argument that any concern about being “active” in the kingdom of man is a denial of the two kingdoms is itself a compromise of those two kingdoms.”

    Let me try again. You seem to perhaps be equating active-ness with activism, as if to say if one is not activist he is also not active. I have never quite understood this notion that one implies the other. “Good works” tend very much to get translated into one form of social/moral/cultural/political activism or another (reading the Bible to prisoners, crusading to get certain books banned at school, campaigning for national debt relief or against murdering babies, making sure people can’t drink alcohol or equal pay for equal work, etc.)

    How about going to work, raising kids, mowing the lawn, reading books, voting on election day, keeping up with world events, going to the theatre…you know, all that unsexy stuff that real people actually do.

    I know you have a sort of penchant for “underdogism,” but I suppose my confessionalism breeds more sympathy for common and ordinariness than any expression–cultic or cultural–that “lifts and champions the real or perceived cause of the poor and weak.” Your distinction seems to lean toward weak/strong, where mine is between extra/ordinary. Frankly, I think, this seems to allow me to see both sides of social/moral/cultural/political issues, while drawing the lines when either side starts invoking “activistic” language that seems to intend on setting up ig/noble sentimentalities.

  6. Your comment caused me to remember this line, let’s see if you can identify it:

    “[So-and-so] is a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless.”

    Name that reference….

  7. Zrim says:

    I do believe that same young crusader graduated somewhere in the 80’s from his T-Bird and took up his lifeguard buoy sometime in the 90’s.

    …it takes a special kind fo hero, bro. See, activism is really frickin’ annoying, ain’t it? Especially when it’s packaged in a kick-ass car during the 80’s and pops up in 2007 on some insipid, summertime programming talent show (all bare-hairy chested).

    Wait, is this your way of changing the topic? I’d have gone with Timothy Hutton’s performance in “Ordinary People.”

  8. Echo_ohcE says:


    Is there a difference between being against, say, abortion, and thinking it’s important enough to be influenced by the issue in your voting, on the one hand, and giving money to anti-abortion organizations and participating in picket lines at abortion clinics on the other? Which activity or activities can a confessionally reformed person participate in, in your estimation?

    What is the relationship, if any, between Christianity and abortion? If there is no relationship between the two, what is the relationship between natural law and abortion? What is the relationship between natural law and the Christian?


  9. Zrim says:

    Hi Echo,

    Yes, I think there is a difference. I know we have trod this ground before.

    IF, you want to have the standard-issue conversation about abortion (may/mayn’t she?) contra the one I would prefer (who gets to decide?), I am “conventionally conservative.” However, even though we may agree on certain conclusions, I have no sympathies for anti-abortion activists/activism…because I am more confessional than activistic.

    That is to say, “I am against abortion” but even more against activism.

    Moreover, even though I am “against abortion,” it does not steer my voting for various reasons (remember, it’s irrelevant). I am not an actvistic voter who demands certain things from his candidates, who says these particular things are non-negotiable, no matter how irrelevant to more viable events or issues, and you will never get my vote if you see these things differently. (In 2004, I saw my vote as being more “against Bush” than for Kerry; the war, etc. was simply more important and relevant than some figure-head stance on “life issues” than neither man would have much sway over.)

    You should know by now that I am loathe to say what a person “may/not participate in.” Jason may show up at anti-war rallies, and you may show up outside a clinic if you want to; I just think neither is very consistent with the best of confessionally Reformed piety because activism of any stripe is impatient, self-important, narrow-minded, under-tutored, moralistic and, frankly, quite obnoxious. It fits better with PREF piety.

    There is no relationship between Christianity and abortion. If you tell me faith implies a certain, “conservative” view I will then ask you what to make of the fact that I had such views pre-conversion. I have no idea what the sola’s have to do with Roe (or Iraq or this or that, etc. and so forth). I know many see clear lines leading from one to the other, but I don’t. I find it not a little telling that those who see such lines usually have a very, very narrow band of cultural issues tied to the heel of Christianity, but when it comes to the other guy they either play dumb or pull anti-arguments out of a hat that are as un-obvious as theirs are. Moreover, if Christianity has “anything to do” with one or two or three issues then it has something to do with every issue (which only serves to obscure the simple and clear project of the Gospel and can only break the back of the Church). Those who see direct lines often fail to admit that because it means their opponents might be right as well, and then what? It’s a problem only well solved by W2K.

    We have everything we need in natural law to fight out these issues. Which means we could be wrong and those who disagree with us may be right (gasp!); it means we may lose the day (gasp!). But I lose the day almost every day over things on which the Bible is silent. Opening the Bible to invent an argument to win the day at the expense of obscuring the Gospel is not even close to worth it to me. Someone else thinks Jane has certain rights. Oh well. Even more seem to think it is less about who gets to decide and more about may/mayn’t she. Oh well. My insurance company screwed me into paying certain bills I think are unjust. Oh well. Very often the world just doesn’t shake out the way I think it should. Just pass the bread and wine and I think I can take it another day.

  10. Echo_ohcE says:


    Thanks for your response, but I don’t think you answered my questions.

    “What is the relationship, if any, between Christianity and abortion? If there is no relationship between the two, what is the relationship between natural law and abortion? What is the relationship between natural law and the Christian?”

    I am asking these specific questions in order to continue the conversation without simply rehashing the same things over and over again. So if you would indulge me and answer these questions specifically, I think I will then be better able to understand your views and then either be won over by them or make a better critique of them. Thanks.


  11. Zrim says:

    If nothing I said helped to answer whatever it is you are getting to I think it might help for you to ask this in another way or something…because I guess I am unclear as to your meaning.

  12. Echo_ohcE says:

    I guess that’s because you’re trying to figure out where I’m going, and you don’t know what that might be, so you’re not interacting with the very simple questions I asked.

  13. Zrim says:


    You asked a series of questions. I answered best I could. What I said, evidently, didn’t help you. So you asked the questions exactly the same way again. (This feels like someone simply raising his voice to a non-English speaker.) Despite what you seem to assume, all I am asking is that you try another angle. Yes, I am trying to figure out where you are going, so what? Frankly, your questions seem to be so broad and sweeping I seem to need smaller bites; they don’t seem very simple to me.

  14. RubeRad says:

    I think there is a difference between being active and being an activist

    How’s this for a trial definition: the right hand of someone who is active doesn’t know what the left hand is doing; but for an activist, it’s more about getting everybody else on board than what they themselves are doing.

    Thus it is possible for an activist to not actually be active (i.e. hypocrites), but Zrim is arguing that Christians (individually? corporately as the Church in the Kingdom of Men?) should be active, but not activists? Or if they do want to be activists, they should not do so in the name of the church (and to be “active in the name of the Church” is a non sequitur, because activity is by (trial) definition anonymous).

    Does that strike any chords with you? I’m not sure whether I agree with that statement or not, I’m just wondering whether this gets at what you’re trying to get at (that nobody ever seems to get)

  15. Zrim says:


    Yes, like I said, it can be hard to define nebulous terms like activism. I like what you say, active but not activists.

    By the way, I am not so sure anything I am saying is all that complicated, etc. These issues simply require honest reflection and inquiry. Very often we can miss each other, etc. I just don’t think the nature of activism, marked by impatience and forms of moralism, are very conducive to confessional piety.

  16. Echo_ohcE says:


    Here are the questions again, with an explanation for each.

    1. What is the relationship, if any, between Christianity and abortion?

    This question means, does Christianity mean that you should think abortion is wrong? Can a Christian be pro-abortion and be consistent with his religion? Or perhaps his religion has nothing to say about abortion at all? Is a Christian who is pro-abortion necessarily a liberal? Why? How?

    2. What is the relationship between natural law and abortion?

    This question means, does natural law have anything to say about abortion? Does natural law prohibit or allow for abortion?

    3. What is the relationship between natural law and the Christian?

    This question means, is the Christian BOUND by natural law? Should the Christian want to obey natural law, or should the Christian not care? Is natural law somehow different from the law of God to which the Christian is bound?

    That ought to clear things up. I’m not sure I would be able to make these questions much clearer.


  17. Zrim says:


    Thanks for clarifying, etc.

    1. I did answer that one (“There is no relationship between Christianity and abortion.”) Anyway, yes, I think one can “be pro-choice and be consistent with his religion.” The standard for religious consistency should be his cultic confession, not his cultural conclusion. In other words, I couldn’t care any less what one thinks about any social/cultural/political/economic policy…I want to know if he confesses what the historic forms confess, etc.

    2. Yes, I think natural law has something to say about abortion (just to clarify, I am assuming we are talking about the standard issues when we use the a-word; Jane has a right to terminate her pregnancy, etc.). Some who appeal to NL say it is lawful, others do not (I am of the latter group). Some, with Liberal-moralist convictions, say it is a federal issue and that the federal gov’t should decide how to legislate morality. Some say the fed should legislate for the unborn, some say for Jane. I, also appealing to NL, am of neither group and believe it is a state’s rights issue.

    3. Yes, the Xian is in some sense bound by NL because it is God’s Law, so, no, I don’t see that NL and God’s Law are really any different. It falls under the purview of the CoW.

    The Xian should not so much “want” to pursue the Law so much as see himself as bound to it and strive for it regardless of whether he “wants” to or “feels like it.” He should do this only out of gratitude for the Gospel, not because he thinks he is still under the Law and bound to graduate himself from the CoW (like the unbeliever). Of course, ours is a mixed bag: we are always doing things out of mixed and compromised motivation. We are still more sinful than saint and pursue the Law in sinful ways, thinking we are gaining reward of one kind or another, etc. But that is why we need to hear the Gospel over and over and over.

  18. Echo_ohcE says:

    Re: 1, specifically your comments on the distinction between a stance on abortion and a religious confession.

    Wow. Amazing. My disagreement with you is absolute.

    Well, the Westminster divines disagree with you. They make the law a matter of religious confession, as evidenced here in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

    Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

    Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

    Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
    A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

    Re: 2 It seems to me that you are saying that abortion should be up to states, not up to the federal government. I don’t think our federal government would be doing its job of upholding justice if it allowed states to make abortion legal.

    Re: 3 I don’t understand why you want to restrict the law of God to the covenant of works, when the New Testament is so replete with its imperatives to obey the law.

    I highly commend your statement that we need to hear the gospel over and over, and that we should want to obey the law out of gratitude. I highly commend it.

    Nonetheless, the law is still the law. The law has not been done away with. We still, as Christians in the covenant of grace, MUST obey the law. We are still COMMANDED to obey the law. We obey those commands because we WANT to, to be sure, not to earn heaven, but that doesn’t change the fact that we MUST do it.

    I think we are closing in on the precise articulation of how you and I might view the law differently, but I’m not sure if I’ve quite nailed it down just yet.

  19. Zrim says:


    1. There is a difference between what one believes and what one does. You cite the 6th commandment, which seems concerned with behavior, not one’s stance on a particular social policy. Telling Jane what she may or may not do with that unwanted lump in her belly is one thing (church discipline, etc.), but telling her how she should think politically is quite another.

    2. It seems that way because, yes, that is what I am saying; pre-1973 that is exactly what the fed did. You seem to be saying that justice is not being done unless the fed has its thumb on everything. The difference here is that you are more a moral-federalist than I am: you think the conventional debate has the right assumptions, I don’t. And round and round we go.

    3. I see that the law is the law is the law, whether in the OT and the NT. You seem to suggest that there is a different (as opposed to new) law in the NT than from the OT. I am not saying the law has been done away with.

  20. Echo_ohcE says:


    You said: “You seem to suggest that there is a different (as opposed to new) law in the NT than from the OT.”

    Echo: I have absolutely no idea what causes you to reach this conclusion. How did I suggest this? I am re-reading what I wrote, and this conclusion totally dumbfounds me.

    You said: “You cite the 6th commandment, which seems concerned with behavior, not one’s stance on a particular social policy.”

    Echo: I don’t understand the distinction you’re making here. If the “social policy” legalizes murder, why can’t I cite the 6th commandment as a reason why anyone who affirms the normativity of the 6th commandment should be against this policy? In other words, I have no idea how it could even be possible for someone to give their agreement to the 6th commandment and say that anyone can or should make murder legal. Because, far from being a “lump” in a woman’s belly, it is a person we’re talking about.

    You said: “Telling Jane what she may or may not do with that unwanted lump in her belly is one thing (church discipline, etc.), but telling her how she should think politically is quite another.”

    Echo: You’ll notice that I have never said that it makes no sense to me that someone might be pro-abortion. I am not talking to everyone in the world, I’m talking to you, a professed Christian. I’m saying to you that it makes no sense to me to say that abortion is a purely political issue, and that a Christian can in good conscience vote for a pro-abortion candidate for example. I’m not interested in getting control of the government and forcing Jane to not have an abortion. But that doesn’t mean I cannot believe that abortion is absolutely wrong, according to both general and special revelation.

    Furthermore, when I express shock and dismay and extreme disagreement when you agree with Irons that abortion doesn’t matter, it does not imply that I personally wish to take over the world in the name of Christianity, or that I want to vote for only Christians, or whatever. What I am saying is that abortion is objectively, according to any and all standards of morality, wrong. There is no such thing as a consistent morality that involves the validity of abortion.

    There is no room for abortion in natural law. There is no room for abortion in Kantian ethics, Virtue/Aristotelian ethics, or in Christian ethics. One might be able to argue in favor of abortion along utilitarian lines, and there are many who hold to such ethics, but surely you and I and any reasonable thinking adults don’t fall into that category. So then, there is no reasonable way to include abortion as being morally permissible without being inconsistent.

    Therefore, I have no idea how you can say that this is merely a political issue, as if politics somehow has nothing to do with morality, as if politics are morally neutral somehow, as if we can or should lay aside morality when considering political issues, about which indifference can be the only stance we take.

    I just don’t understand how you take this position at all. It totally dumbfounds me, and it has nothing at all to do with my supposed transformationist or evangelical leanings. My professors would all express similar amazement at your indifferent stance.

    The bottom line is, I just don’t understand at all how you are justifying an indifferent stance toward abortion in concert with your claim to be a confessional reformed Christian. I have no idea how you are reconciling the two. That’s what I need help understanding.

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