Ed And Me

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Our church has a monthly publication called the Courier. Mainly it’s a medium by which various bits and pieces concerning the church are passed. From time to time members who are ordained, have written books, or hold faculty positions one place or another take up topics of a theological interest.

There is a fairly new column in the Courier called “The Q and A Page.” It is penned by a gentleman named Edwin Walhout. Ed has written several books and taught at Kuyper College (formerly Reformed Bible College).

In the latest “Q and A” Ed was asked to sketch out the difference between the so-called “Reformed worldview” and that which is called “Fundamentalism.” His response begins by locating the term fundamentalism in a “series of pamphlets written a hundred years ago entitled The Fundamentals.” The project of these pamphlets was to combat the subjectivism and moralism that was infiltrating the churches in the nineteenth century. According to Ed, while this was a laudable effort, over time Fundamentalism became something that had more to do with denying scientific discovery and the book of general revelation, something those in the broader Reformed tradition simply don’t tolerate. It is also usually associated specifically with a pre-millennial eschatology and a Dispensational theology generally. So far, so good. But then:

On the contrary, the Reformed view is that God created this world, that he loves it so much he gave his only-begotten son to save it, and that we humans are called to image God in the way we replenish the earth and subdue it. That is what Christianity is for, and we have the gospel and the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey his command.

That is what Christianity is for? I thought it had to do with reconciling sinners to God.

Truth be told, Ed and I have more or less had this conversation before. I once contributed something for our Courier around Christmas time reflecting on Mary’s Maginificat. Along the way I tried to delineate my own understanding of certain Reformed nuances when it comes to the interplay between this-worldliness and otherworldliness in order to show that there are both good and bad kinds of each. Essentially I tried to make the point that one of the beauties of the Reformed tradition is that it allows us at once to respond to this world appropriately without being too tied to it. We are allowed to rejoice in good times, lament in bad ones as well as be genuinely bored in times of mediocrity. And yet, the range of legitimate human experience all comports under an age which is passing away and will eventually yield to the coming age. Thus, challenging as it may be, we ought not get too caught up in our injuries or joys or whatever. And not only may we have hope in the midst of trials, something we naturally look for, but we may also have hope in the midst of favor, something to which we’re not so naturally inclined. This is how I understand the implications of Vos’s “eschatological ache.” It is altogether common for us to look for better things when present things are not going our way. But how often do we stop to consider that even when they do go our way there is yet the sense that it still doesn’t cut it?  With the coming age always in mind, the best of Reformed orthodoxy knows how to set our experiences in this age into proper perspective.

This apparently hit Ed as quite odd, and he took the time to respond in writing to me. What I thought seemed a fairly standard issue expression easily located in the Reformed tradition when it comes to this world and the next he took to mean something more akin to science fiction, what with “all this talk of this world and another one.” He seemed rather convinced that anyone who would suggest that there is actually a good kind of otherworldliness must also be some sort of pre-millennial, Dispensational polish stower. Beyond the fact that Calvin himself issued in his formulated prayers that we be “not too tied to this world,” this struck me just as odd. Me, a Pre-millennial Dispensationalist? Since having admitted years ago that along with the general intuition that none of it was on the up-and-up with what a truer Christianity was about, I also never even understood the whole Dispensational scheme of the environs I inhabited.. Indeed, I have yet to decide what bothered me most in my credo-baptistic circles: the Arminian theology and practice, the deep-seated culturalism, or the blatantly Gnostic world-flight piety. For the sake of this post, let’s say it was that last one. Whatever else broad evangelicalism gets wrong, I could never-ever bring myself to equivocate on creation the way it did. One had various options when it came to engaging creation: evangelize it, stone it, Trojan horse it—but never engage it on its terms. That’s just carnal. The only comfort was that most evangelicals didn’t actually behave the way the system demands.

Anyway, in the course of our conversations it became clear that Ed is from the neo-Kuyperian school of thought where I am from the two-kingdoms camp. Unlike modern evangelicalism, his school begins with a high view of creation. To my mind, classic Reformed orthodoxy still has more in common with any form of Kuyperianism than it ever will with any form of evangelicalism for this very reason. It affirms the inherent “very goodness” of creation and the material world. One will simply not find that in evangelicalism where creation is looked upon with suspicion from the very start. However, as thankful as we should be that our transformational friends start with an orthodox view of creation, things go quite south after that. When America, health care and light bulbs prove that the cross kicked off a creation slowly on the up-tick, it becomes just as unclear that they engage creation on its own terms any better than Gnostic evangelicals.

The answer to world-flight isn’t so much world-affirmation as it seems to be material transformation. Necessary to this effort is a categorical confusion of creation with redemption and out pops that the intent of Christianity is, to quote Ed further

…to replenish the earth and subdue it….in the Reformed worldview we take our daily tasks in this world seriously, seeing them as the arena within which we are called to demonstrate our faith. We are concerned for the things God is concerned about: justice, truth, love, honesty, reliability, diligent work, integrity, concern for the welfare of the poor and elderly and sick, and so forth. We do accept this world as our home. God made it; he placed us on it; and he expects us to live faithfully and honestly in it.

It is here that my own inner unbeliever and Calvinist conspire and render the transformationalist view another example of how we believers can come up with some of the most perplexing conclusions, references to sobriety and honesty notwithstanding. My unbeliever wants to know just what makes the believer think that every other created being doesn’t also have a concern for the litany of goodies like honesty, integrity and justice. This claim is as odd as saying believers want water when they are thirsty as if that distinguishes us from unbelievers. And my Calvinist wants to know just what sort of view of human ability owes to this religious fantasy. If something like revivalism relies on an optimistic view of human ability and will, transfornmationalism seems to have an equally sunny hunch about it as well. After all, only those whose nature is radically absent sin can pull off just what the transformers seem to be about as they apply the principles of redemption to creation. I know of only one such human being who possessed that kind of nature. And instead of compelling his cohorts to vanquish disease from every square inch he said the poor we’d always have with us.

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6 Responses to Ed And Me

  1. Chris Donato says:

    “That is what Christianity is for? I thought it had to do with reconciling sinners to God.”

    While I certainly do follow you here, at least in your gearing up to recoil from something like “Christianity is for improving society” or some such thing, there is some biblical warrant for seeing that people are called by God not out of the world but, in some sense, for the world: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works….”

    Now, I wouldn’t use the same words that Ed used to define “good works” (“image God in the way we replenish the earth and subdue it”). But I do think the “good works” that have been prepared for us beforehand are those that are done in the world too (not just the church, even if priority is given to the latter in this context). Spot on, thought, about the assumptions lying behind the litany of goodies.

    “Otherworldliness,” incidentally, ought not connote “other” in the sense of another earth, for example. It’s this one that will be renewed into the other. Hence the interplay between dis/continuity seen throughtout Paul and in the Reformed tradition. Ed might be guilty of seeing too much continuity, while premil dispys might be guilty of seeing too little. I think you, folllowing Vos, got it right.

  2. Phil Baiden says:

    This is a great post, Zrim.

  3. Zrim says:

    While I certainly do follow you here, at least in your gearing up to recoil from something like “Christianity is for improving society” or some such thing, there is some biblical warrant for seeing that people are called by God not out of the world but, in some sense, for the world: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works….”

    Chris,

    Quite agreed.

    But my point is that there are two ways to be called “out of the world,” one good and one bad. The good kind helps us gain a balanced perspective that doesn’t undermine the very goodness (don’t forget the “very”) of creation yet helps us look appropriately for the age to come. The bad kind, well, does the opposite: it undermines the dignity of creation and fosters a kind of escapism.

    For my part, I know the latter part of the phrase “be in the world but not of it” tends to get emphasized. And it probably should. But I don’t know why we can’t also say that the former part is just as important. Same for the fourth commandment: keeping the Sabbath holy seems to depend on equally valuing our six days. The way we tend to read these is to undermine creation in order to prop up redemption. But I think this is a bad way to do antithesis.

    Phil, thanks. I’m hoping someone appreciates the associated image as well.

  4. RubeRad says:

    Yer a desert flar, y’are

  5. Zrim says:

    “Turn to the right!”

    “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.”

  6. Pingback: It’s Funny Because It’s True | The Confessional Outhouse

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