Are You Talking to Me?


Affirmation is based on the recognition that culture and culture-making have their own validity before God that is not nullified by the fall. It isn’t just that the social order is preserved because the rule of sin is restrained, in the old Calvinist formulation, but that goodness, beauty, and truth remain in this fallen creation. Even in the context of late modernity, suffused as it is by failed ideologies, false idolatries, and distorted ideas of community, joy, and love, one can still find much good. Life still has significance and worth.

What is more, people of every creed and no creed have talents and abilities, possess knowledge, wisdom, and inventiveness, and hold standards of goodness, truth, justice, morality, and beauty that are, in relative degree, in harmony with God’s will and purposes. These are gifts of grace that are lavished on people whether Christian or not. To be sure, there is a paradox here that perplexes many Christians. On the one hand, nonbelievers oftentimes possess more of these gifts than believers. On the other hand, because of the universality of the fall, believers often prove to be unwise, unloving, ungracious, ignorant, foolish, and craven. Indeed, more than any Christian would like to admit, believers themselves are often found indifferent to and even derisive of expressions of truth, demonstrations of justice, acts of nobility, and manifestations of beauty outside the church…The qualities nonbelievers possess as well as the accomplishments they achieve may not be righteous in an eschatological sense, but they should be celebrated all the same because they are gifts of God’s grace.

…In sum, there is a world that God created that is shared in common by believers and unbelievers alike. In the classical Christian view, the goodness of creation is fundamentally and ubiquitously marred by sin but it is not negated by sin. It may be fractured, incomplete, and corrupted, but his goodness remains in it. The gifts of God’s grace are spread abundantly among the just and the unjust in ways that support and enhance the lives of all. As it is the world that God has given, so it is in the world that his creatures fashion. This work is also typically pursued in common with those outside the community of faith. The task of world-making has validity of its own because it is work that God ordained to humankind at creation. Since all are created in his image, world-making is an expression of our divine nature.

…It is also important to underscore that while the activity of culture-making has validity before God, this work is not, strictly speaking, redemptive or salvific in character. Where Christians participate in the work of world-building they are not, in any precise sense of the phrase, “building the kingdom of God.” This side of heaven, the culture cannot become the kingdom of God, nor will all the work of Christians in the culture evolve into or bring about his kingdom. The establishment of his kingdom in eternity is an act of divine sovereignty alone and it will only be set in place at the final consummation at the end of time.

…For Christians to regard the work of culture in any literal sense as “kingdom-building” this side of heaven is to begin with an assumption that tends to lead to one version or another of the Constantinian project, in which the objective is for Christians to “take over” the culture, fashioning all of the world in the image of the church or at least in accord with its values. Typically, this assumption leads to the dualism in which the culture either declares Jesus as Lord or it doesn’t. Christians are either “winning” the culture or “losing” it, “advancing the kingdom” or “retreating,” which is why all versions of the Constantinian approach to culture tend to lean toward triumphalism or despair, depending on the relative success or failure of Christians in these spheres.

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World (pgs. 231-234)

This is as good as anything any good paleo-Reformed two kingdom adherent might  say (maybe even better in some cases). That said, is Hunter sure he wants to maintain his assessment of the two kingdoms doctrine, which, evidently on page 218, is a “…view of the church and the world that also moves them [the ‘truly-Reformed’ in the Presbyterian Church in America or Orthodox Presbyterian Church] to increasingly withdraw into their own communities with less and less interest in any engagement with the larger world”?

After all, it’s the paleo-Reformed (a better term than “truly-Reformed,” by the way) who, out of a doctrine of simplicity, also eschew the programmatic nature of the modern church in order to get the faithful out into their Father’s world and serving their neighbors. It’s the paleo-2Kers who wants to revive the older categories of vocation and the priesthood of all believers. As one is known for saying, following Luther, God doesn’t need your service, your neighbor does. And when they speak like this, it’s hard to understand where Hunter might be getting the notion that the two kingdoms doctrine fosters a cloistered world-flight instead of a robust doctrine of world-affirmation:

One can observe the effects of a shift from a basically human-centered and church-centered approach to a Christ-centered theology in the daily lives of the simple and the great. Liberating Christians from the tyranny of monastic spirituality to engage in worldly affairs as the truly godly and worthwhile activity was one of many theological reforms which had enormous sociological implications. We must urge our brothers and sisters again in our day to discover their callings, not by probing heaven’s secret files, but by pursuing their particular interests, doing what is necessary to equip them for distinguished service in that field, and then using that vocation as a vehicle for bringing glory to God by serving the community.

Modern Reformation, March/April 1992 Vol: 1 Num: 2 – My Father’s World by Michael S. Horton

The corollary to the doctrine of vocation is that of the priesthood of all believers. Ordinary Christians, in the reformational scheme, now behave as priests before God in their daily vocations. This involves the spiritual service they render to God because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. When Paul writes in Romans 12 that believers are to offer themselves as “living sacrifices to God,” he is simply reinforcing what he says to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:4, 5) about the way both the Word of God and prayer consecrate those affairs in which Christians are engaged throughout their lives. The reformers taught that as priests, and by the practices of prayer and studying God’s Word, believers actually offer fragrant sacrifices to God in the daily and ordinary tasks he gives them to perform.

Ironically, contemporary Protestants have often taken the reformational doctrines of vocation and the priesthood of all believers almost contrarily to what the reformers intended. For contemporary Protestants, the priesthood of all believers usually means that each Christian is called to be an evangelist, not that the ordinary and nonreligious work of nonordained believers has religious significance before God. The result is that many of us are still as uncomfortable with worldly and secular affairs as was the medieval church; we have missed the Reformation understanding of vocation that was supposed to make us content with the common work to which God calls us, showing that even in the feeding of children or the cleaning of toilets Christians, as living sacrifices, actually give God glory. Instead, we often think we must be soul-winners to justify our day jobs.

The true reformational doctrine of vocation not only clarifies the nature of full-time Christian service by teaching that all Christians, whether ordained or not, are engaged in such service. This view also has important implications for piety and sanctification. When the Apostle Paul tells Christians to put on the new man, to abound in works of righteousness, and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Eph. 4 and Gal. 5:16-26), his point is that believers are to say “No” to self and “Yes” to holiness. These are the two components of sanctification, what theologians call mortification (dying) and vivification (living). As much as religious practices such as prayer and worship contribute to our sanctification, we sometimes miss the part that work plays. The reformational doctrine of vocation implies that work is a means of sanctification since it cultivates virtues such as moderation and self-control that are part of godliness (Titus 2). It may not be entirely clear how washing a floor, hauling garbage, or planting tulip bulbs glorifies God and sanctifies us. But when believers work with a sense of reverence and gratitude, they do.

With this perspective on work, Christians may think they do not need to seek the conversion of non-Christian co-workers. This understanding is wrong, especially since the Apostle Peter urges us always to be ready “to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Yet if adopting this perspective means that believers start to take delight in serving God in the very tasks to which he has called them rather than having to supplement work with religious interludes at the water cooler, then the doctrine of vocation does exactly what it is supposed to do. For work itself has significance in God’s sight, even to the point of sanctifying believers. Had Bob known this, he might have been able to sell industrial lubricants to the big kahuna with a clear conscience, recognizing that this work was ordained for his own holiness and blessed in God’s sight.

Modern Reformation , July/August 2002 Vol: 11 Num: 4 – Work as (Spiritual) Discipline by D. G. Hart

All that said, one still wonder who Hunter is talking to on page 218.

This entry was posted in DG Hart, James Davison Hunter, Mike Horton, Quotes, Reformed piety. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Are You Talking to Me?

  1. RubeRad says:

    the ordinary and nonreligious work of nonordained believers has religious significance before God

    Wow, what happened to Hart and his Secular Faith? I thought the point was that ordinary, nonreligious, common Goodness is a category that we get to use instead of pietistically drumming up some kind of religious significance for our ordinary and nonreligious work?

  2. Zrim says:

    Rube, you might give ASF another scan: “As a Protestant who firmly believes in the importance of wordly vocations as yielding genuinely spiritual rewards…”

    But I think the point is that we don’t need to baptize our common vocations in order for them to have spiritual significance. My work today has had implicit spiritual significance without having explicitly witnessed to a single soul, something the pietsist would doubt. And that’s because it was work done in faith, which is all we need to glorify God (just like faith is all he needs to justfy us).

  3. Richard says:

    Recommend you read the book by Gustaf Wingren, “Luther on Vocation.” It’s an excellent piece of writing. Guys like Luther and Calvin had vocation nailed. It’s we who have screwed this up with some version of neo-monasticism.

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