To Ninja, With Love

 
ninja
 

The Outhouse has a visitor who seems to think that in order for one to be a true two-kingdomite one must also agree with everything fellow two-kingdomites think, say or imply. This, apparently, is especially true if said two-kingdomites have written monographs or have their own radio show.

This is odd to me, for at least a couple of reasons. First, two kingdom theology is Protestant. And the genius of Protestantism is that it straddles that painfully fine line and wide distinction between a high view of the tradition and an infallible one. Protestants are not beholden to men and are free to dissent, even as they contend earnestly for the superiority confessional tradition in both informal formulations (e.g. the ordo salutis) and formal formulations (e.g. the three forms of unity, WCF). It is the good Catholic and radical who must give sway to the traditions of men and their opinions.

Second, two kingdom theology, the best of it anyway, is Calvinistic and brutally Presbyterian. This means we have a high view of sin, not just a high opinion. Ours is the tradition that speaks of liberty of conscience, the spirituality of the church, a theology of the Cross (over against glory) and the errors of legalism. Whatever else all this seems to imply, it is certain that while we look up to our fathers and doctors in ways that make evangelicals ill, we do not crane our necks so far back as to imagine they are beyond being sinful mortals just.like.us. in ways that make Catholics balk.

But folks like our visitor would have us believe that they have it on good authority that to point out what one thinks is disagreeable, or even (gasp!) inconsistent with two kingdom theology amongst the heroes of today’s two kingdom theology is anathema. Well, “intellectually inconsistent” anyway. And to that end, I would like to re-post a dissenting post entitled “Voila, Transformed!” It’s not because I want to ride a hobby horse against those 2Kers who seem to be making the world just a touch safer for transformationalism (this will make sense once you read the post), but rather to stick it to the Ninja who says lame things like, “I’m more in line with Mike Horton than you.” 

In the most recent installment of the White Horse Inn Mike Horton interviewed Dr. Craig Carter, author of Re-thinking Christ & Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective. Amongst other salient points, Carter makes what I think is a helpful distinction between Christendom and Constantinianism. (I am inclined to think he overstates things to deem the latter as “heretical,” nevertheless, his distinction bears consideration.)

Yet not everything was as helpful. While I agree, for example, that Catholicism does much better at fending off the tide of modernity against the so-called “culture of death,” I am not convinced that the assumptions which underlie a censure of the “culture of death,” are those that confessional Protestants have much stake in at all. We do better to distance ourselves from that which begets the natural conclusions of one form of moralism or another. Other comments made also seem to reveal how Constantinianism can tend to be evaluated with more ideological than theological measures. Where some discern conservatism others think they hear a progressivism; thus eschewing the transformative nature of Constantinianism, both can be less cognizant of what really ails: confused theological understandings of nature and grace, creation and redemption (about mid-way down, under Q.6).

But the segment of the interview which really knit my brow came in two parts. At one point in the interview (about 20:18 minutes in, to be exact) Carter claims approvingly that, between Acts and 300 A.D. the early church fathers did indeed transform culture. Horton then asks a rather leading follow up question:

“Do you think the difference is that they didn’t set out to transform the culture, but they set out to defend the Christian faith and pursue their common callings, and the culture ended up being transformed; whereas, when we set out to transform culture it tends to happen in the other direction?”

Carter responds in the affirmative, characterizing it as “the great irony in history.” The early church created a “Christian culture” that rushed in to fill the void when a pagan culture, for whatever reasons, crumbled, and then the “Christian culture” became dominant (insert implied glee). And I guess that’s when all the good stuff took root. And “if we do the same thing they did” maybe modernity will take a hit. (Of course, Carter takes pains to point out that he doesn’t see modernity going away like paganism did back then. It’s not clear why he thinks this, but my hunch is that this vague and convenient caveat reveals that deep down he may not be buying his own argument. His inner two-kingdomite may understand that there really is nothing new under the sun and that any notion of transformation is religious fantasy.) Later, toward the end in the roundtable discussion, this notion is picked up again and tossed around approvingly.

I have heard this perspective before. Apparently, the transformation of culture is the goal. What it turns on is the modus operandi. We’re not supposed to work at it, but just let it happen as we go about our creational tasks. I picture a man walking backwards, at once insisting he is not trying to get from A to B while periodically peaking over his shoulder to see how close he is getting to B. My grandfather had a term for the beast-of-burden sense of such cardinal direction, and it was never meant as a compliment to he who thought backing into a thing was the right way to do it.

To the extent that there is an eye toward cultural transformation, I can’t help but think this is a bit of finger crossing. The early church is referenced. (This always makes me nervous as it almost always ends up being one form of Golden-Ageism or another.) Ideals about what sort of ideational and behavioral posture Christians are to have are linked up with what is deemed cultural cache. Here is the formula: Pick whatever is universally thought of as good for your particular cultural place and time (literacy, abolition/civil rights, education, art). Explain that the only way any of these things came about was “fill-in-the-blank.” If you’re a theocrat, fill in the blank with Constantine; if you’re a transformationalist, Kuyper; if you’re an anti-Constantinian two-kingdomite who still might nurse a need to have a seat at the table, well, it might be hard, but just go with someone somewhere in the dawn of western culture and the early church. Fast forward to the present, and this is how whatever is deemed as ailing culture will be rectified. And if you are in the last group, this means you are to go about your sacred and secular vocations without much fanfare, and voila, things will look up (whatever that really means).

But here is my awful dilemma. I was reared to be quite conscientious about my vocations, even as it was an upbringing in unbelief. We paid our bills, brushed our teeth and did our homework, took out the trash, were loyal to friends and family, sought the general welfare of our neighbors. And, to be quite frank, not much of that changed after I converted to true religion. Of course, perspective changed in terms of impetus, allegiance and wherewithal. Even so, in all my years now as a believer, I can’t say that putting my nose to the proverbial grindstone and doing what ought to be done, even in grateful response to the gospel, has yielded much of any “transformation” of my immediate circumference, to say nothing of that which lies well outside its reach. I am a loyal spouse and father, a good employee, a tax-paying and courteous neighbor, an active and faithful church member. I pay my bills and (mostly) obey traffic laws. I help with homework, PTA and benevolence committees, do dishes, fold laundry and wait my turn in DMV lines. Yet, I can’t say with any measure of confidence that I have made my own little corner in the kingdom of man “better” (in fact, just as often it seems like I make things worse). If the early church forebears backed into glory, I haven’t done the inconsequential man’s equivalent of overhauling philosophy, medicine, law, statecraft, art or education. It sure seems like I do way more maintaining than transforming. I can’t even get my drive-through orders to not return to me void. What gives?

At the risk of flirting with prosperity gospel, maybe I don’t try hard enough? But, beyond the fact that I feel fairly well exerted by the end of each day, that can’t be it. After all, the suggestion here is that being deliberate is exactly not what one should be. I understand this follows the counter-intuitive formulation of those of us who would a theology of the Cross, in an anti-Bull Durhamish sort of way (“don’t build and they will come”). But, being an insufferable contrarian who also thought his grandfather was onto something, I am quite suspicious that their coming is the point in the first place. Besides, counter-intuition doesn’t always work and common sense is actually what is needed. Getting something done, like transforming culture in ways Carter suggests, really does require deliberation. Call me kooky, but something tells me my wife won’t buy the plea that my conscientious effort at minding my own business reading a book will get the dinner dishes clean or the homework done. So if the question is going to be framed this way, where effecting change really is the goal however tangential, then the outside-in theocrats and inside-out transformers easily win. Maybe I am just a sore loser, but I’m not ready to cry uncle just yet.

 

 

 

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24 Responses to To Ninja, With Love

  1. Chris Donato says:

    (Of course, Carter takes pains to point out that he doesn’t see modernity going away like paganism did back then. It’s not clear why he thinks this…

    Well, it seems clear to me that “culture” then had not become inoculated by the immanentization of the gospel, or, broadly speaking, “Christian truth.”

    Still, I don’t think there’s much wrong with finger-crossing here. As Horton stated: “…the difference is that they didn’t set out to transform the culture, but they set out to defend the Christian faith and pursue their common callings….” On the one hand, we don’t suffer under the delusion that even our best efforts will produce much transformation (understood christocentrically, biblically—not evangelical-ly, or Catholic-ly or?), not least globally; but on the other hand, the possibility exists (precisely because God through Christ put it out there).

  2. Chris Donato says:

    Oh, and don’t “try harder.” There is no “try”; there is only “do” or “do not.”

    Or perhaps more pastorally, Just do better next time, and may God’s Spirit grant you the ability so to do.

  3. Todd says:

    Zrim,

    Amen to all. And I never understood why the Holy Roman Empire is looked upon as such a success in transforming culture. If that’s the best we can do, I’ll take modern pluralistic America any day.

  4. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    Again, though, how does it follow that not setting out to transform things resulted in transforming things (which is what Carter and Horton are suggesting)? How do you overhaul law, medicine, statecraft, art and education 1) without even trying and 2) by doing things unrelated to it (like going to church on Sunday or making a good pair of shoes Monday-Saturday)?

    And if “we don’t suffer under the delusion that even our best efforts will produce much transformation” (which I am thinking of as socially culturally) then why would we entertain notions of it being “possible”? This is what I mean when I suggest that we seem to traffic in a fair amount of religious fantasy: “it’s not true, but it could be.”

  5. Zrim says:

    Todd,

    Yes, the west has accomplished lots of good stuff. But we sure seem to forget that the 20th century was bloodier than the rest combined (or something like that). If that is the end of western Constantianism it sure raises lots of questions in my mind.

    I’ll take whatever time and place God gives me, even as I sometimes wonder if anytime in Scotland wouldn’t have been a bad call…or America circa the 1940s and 50s.

  6. Joe Brancaleone says:

    my jumbled thoughts …

    I don’t see any finger crossing in the NT, but maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. It seems the woeful cycles of life and vanity in Ecclesiastes are still indicative of life in the here and now, and nothing has been promised otherwise for this age even in light of the advent of Christ. Not that I can find.

    Our deliberate or non-deliberate labors are susceptible to the same futility of not seeing the fruit of such labors, at least not fruit that lasts, at least not in the here and now of transformed culture. But it is still the common temptation to hope that what we do will have lasting transformative benefits, and that we will live to see and identify those lasting transformative benefits. Or the next generation will see it. But that sort of hope, in what we can see or our children will see, is not the hope of faith is it? Jesus taught that we must do our good deeds in secret so that we receive the praise of God rather than the praise of men. It doesn’t seem as though he was much concerned about empirical results. And THAT is the final answer to the vanity of labor in Ecclesiastes, we walk by faith.

    In the book of Hebrews we even learn that all things have already been subjected to Christ, but we cannot see that now, in fact not until the age to come. (Heb. 2:5-9)

    And Hebrews is instructive on this whole issue. I take that letter to give a sufficient explanation of the state of affairs for the Christian – our circumstance, our calling, our modus operandi, and our end goal. Our circumstance is that we are partakers of the age to come even as we live in this age. Our calling is a heavenly calling since Christ has passed through the heavens on our behalf. Our modus operandi is to endure and persevere by holding fast our confession. And our end goal is entering into his rest, a better country, a heavenly city. The hope of culture transformation as a by-product of our existence and duties is, dare I say it, antithetical to faith as the author to Hebrews conceives of it (11:1ff).

    Having said all that, there is an aspect of the faith community being salt and light by virtue of Christ being in our midst. Our witness to the powers of the age to come, proclaiming the justice of God and the grace of the gospel, will grate the conscience of unbelievers in earshot. We may even function as a preserving agent (salt), exposing the guilty conscience of unbelief (light). Certainly the faith community being a reservoir of mercy extended not just to those of the faith but to the outcasts and lowlifes of our social surroundings will be taken notice in certain contexts. (Not often does the broader culture dignify every human being to the extent the church has been called – though not often does the church herself either) But having some eventual lasting transformative benefits in the here and now of culture guaranteed to come out of a properly functioning faith community . . . where in scripture is this hashed out?

    j

  7. Zrim says:

    Joe,

    I don’t see any finger crossing in the NT either. I see it amongst us though, which is my point.

    I don’t know where that is “hashed out” in Scripture. But Carter and Horton seem to suggest that there was a time when Christianity somehow affected what we western moderns look back upon and prize. And it happened by not trying. I still don’t get that. It still seems like what is being said is that cultural transformation was the ends (2K alert), but the means by which it is accomplished are osmosis-like (common sense alert). But when my daughter needs to go from not understanding math to understanding it (transformation) I study with her–I don’t put the math book under her pillow.

  8. Chris Donato says:

    Finger-crossing and whatever was affected leading up to the time of Constantine must be kept separated.

    “Finger-crossing,” understood appropriately, is indeed hashed out in Scripture, precisely because of the very nature of prophetic utterances themselves. That is, they’re open to intervening historical contingencies. This inevitably produces finger-crossing—the holy kind, I hope.

    Instead of going into a full-scale exegesis here, maybe I’ll post something about the nature of prophecy and how to read it sometime soon. Suffice to say that if you “get” or agree with the notion that the nature of prophetic utterances entails contingency, then you’ll be hard-pressed not condone something akin to finger-crossing (understood more as “good luck” and not “to nullify a promise”).

  9. Chris Donato says:

    Maybe instead of “finger-crossing,” we can use what you coined in an above post, Zrim: “relgious fantasy.” I do think Scripture gives us warrant for religious fantasy.

  10. Chris Sherman says:

    To the defense of Horton, I believe there are evidences in history of cultures/societies which have been transformed as by-product of faith in Christ. The Auca Indians of Ecuador come to mind as an example.

    However, we must also say that Islam has an even greater transformative influence on culture. Mormonism do a good job as well, so does Baha’i etc.

    So maybe moralism is what transforms culture.

  11. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    I see plenty of warrant for hope but nothing that nurtures fantasy.

  12. Zrim says:

    Chris,

    Corinth comes to mind. If it’s a bettered society one wants Corinth seems to suggest that Mormonism is vastly superior to Christianity.

  13. Chris Sherman says:

    There ya go

  14. The Ninja says:

    Of course, it’s not my position that all 2Kers must agree with each other. But to be called names and linked with Dobson and people who plater their car with fishes because I agree with DVD and Horton, just makes 2K seem to be a shadowy vapor, a term to throw around yet having hardly any substance.

    I, in fact, I condemned “locksteppedness.” But you keep painting with that broad brush. The point about consistency is that when it’s in your favor you pretend like you’re presenting “the” 2K answer on this blog. But if you want to admit that 2K isn’t what you’ve pretended for it, and that it’s not the monolithic answer to “transformationalism” or “theonomy” that you pretend for it, I think we can have some agreement.

    So Zrim, let me know if you post something that actually deals with my position. Don’t be a sore loser because the perspon who knows more about 2K than you differs with you. If we were to get Baysian, I’d say that the odds that DVD is right are higher than what some guy named “Zrim” says on his everyman theologian blog.

    Now, I’m going to go play some chess with my atheist and politically liberal friends, so I’ll leave you here to call names and intimate that I’m really going to play chess with them so I can call them “baby killers.”

  15. Zrim says:

    Ninja,

    What the heck are you talking about? I’ve never said I present “the 2K answer” on this blog. I think you disagree with some things I’ve said (and some others) and have blown it way out of proportion.

    I might suggest you peruse the “About” tag for this blog, which includes this disclaimer:

    “Contrary to the assumptions of wider religious blogdom, it is not a place for forms of evangelism or apologetics or admonishment or accusation or impunity or anything else one might find in the proper confines of the Church. Neither is it a place to build community or nurture relationships or perpetuate the public square, etc. So if you take yourself so seriously that you either feel compelled to thump someone’s chest or whimper because you think yours was, the Outhouse may not be good for you… the Outhouse desires to be painfully realistic about the fact that nothing is getting eternally solved or temporally created here. In other words, it doesn’t take itself very seriously.”

    This isn’t an “everyman theologian blog,” it’s an everyman blog. Since I’ve never made any pretense about doing any of it here, if you want proper theology, apologetics, exegesis, systematic or biblical theology go somewhere else, or at least ignore my entries. I head up the diarist department. I’m just a yahoo of no consequence reflecting out loud on a few things I’m convinced of. Feel free to disagree, but don’t go apebleep.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Okay, okay. Words do mean something after all. Scratch “fantasy,” and let’s go with “hope.” The possibility of transformation exists; therefore, I hope it goes that way. I’m not counting on it (track record and all); but I can’t rule it out biblically, either.

  17. Zrim says:

    Anon (Chris, I think),

    I’m counting on personal sanctification giving way to personal glorification and an old heaven and earth giving way to a new heaven and earth, all authored by the hand of God alone. (I am never sure what is to be gained by the language of “transformation” when the lion’s share of our confessional language is that of “sanctification,” “vivication,” and “mortification.” The former seems like a lot of glory lingo, the latter pilgrim speech.)

    I don’t fantasize about any of it, and I rule it biblically quite in. It seems to me that holding out for any measure of “transformation” either personally or socially is to invite an odd equivocation that finally gives us no real asurance at all.

  18. RubeRad says:

    makes 2K seem to be a shadowy vapor

    That’s why I call Zrim’s position “Z2K” — a few steps beyond W2K

  19. Zrim says:

    While Rube’s rendering still gives me a laugh, I think the award goes to those who call it “R2Kt,” which means “radical two kingdom type.”

    Boo.

  20. Chris Sherman says:

    Are you sure its not H2K? Hyper two kingdom?

  21. Zrim says:

    Good one, Chris.

    But my 2K is as hyper as my Calvinism…and that’s not much (total depravity, not utter depravity). Your suggestion seems a lot like when my evangelicals suggest my doctrine of grace is “too radical, almost antinomian.” Is yours the evangelical version of 2K?

  22. Chris Sherman says:

    I don’t know what mine is, I’m still figuring it out. That’s why I come to the Outhouse. Probably not E2K (Evangelical two kingdom) as I find myself being drawn more into the confessional house. Maybe I’m more of an NW2K
    (NeoW2k) on my way to a becoming a W2K (If I can pass the test)

    I wasn’t serious about yours being a H2K. If I can recognize anything, it is hyper this or hyper that.

  23. Chris Donato says:

    Mine’s pretty much FUBAR2K.

  24. Chris Sherman says:

    “(total depravity, not utter depravity)”

    We had a goat once with udder depravity.

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