Of Prepositions and Objects

In the paleo-Calvinist and neo-Calvinist debate there arises from the ranks of the latter the notion that “the Bible speaks to all of life.”  It has a certain appeal, especially to those who spent any amount of time in broad evangelicalism where world-flight piety was king over against a Reformation piety that is much more world affirming. It seems to suggest that all of life matters. It does, of course, from the trivial to the enduring. Jesus is indeed sovereign Lord of all of life. Unfortunately for the neo-Calvinist, the more he speaks the more the implication tends to be that all of life is really only the more enduring aspects. It doesn’t cover diapers or that boring public school PTC meeting that finally broke at 10:48 PM with little success at hammering out the young fives dilemmas. No, it’s more about art and medicine and statecraft and ethics. Shiver.

Some might be tempted to counter the neo-Calvinist “all of life” dogma by saying that Scripture doesn’t speak about common tasks but it does speak to them. But the problem still is that the Bible doesn’t really speak either about common tasks or to common tasks. It actually speaks to God’s covenant people who do common tasks. To say that the Bible speaks to a common task seems to be the first step to saying that there really are redemptive versions of whatever creational task. Thus we get Christian this and Christian that. But if Jesus lived and died for his people and not their institutions then it remains a mystery how there can be anything other than only Christian people. This seems to be the natural conclusion of a covenantal theology. To that end, David VanDrunen offers up this brief suggestion which seems well worth considering:

But there are also certain senses in which Scripture cannot be taken in a simplistic manner as the moral standard of the common kingdom. For one thing, Scripture has always been delivered to God’s special covenant people, the Old Testament to Israel and the New Testament to the church. When Scripture gives its moral commands, it speaks to God’s covenant people and does not give them bare commands, but instructs them how to live as his redeemed covenant people. Even the 10 commandments begin with the introduction, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt….” Thus I think we need to be careful that we don’t simply take the commands meant as a response to God’s redemptive love and try to enforce them as such upon the world at large. This doesn’t mean that most of the commands of Scripture aren’t relevant for unbelievers too. But they’re relevant for different reasons. Unbelievers in the public square shouldn’t kill, commit adultery, or steal, but it’s because these things are prohibited in the natural law which binds all people as human beings, not because they’re in the 10 commandments which come to God’s special people he redeemed out of Egypt. Hence one of my concerns is that we be careful to make arguments and appeals in the common kingdom that are appropriate to the mixed crowds that populate the common kingdom, and not drop biblical proof-texts out of context.

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4 Responses to Of Prepositions and Objects

  1. John Harutunian says:

    Some good insights here. I’d add one caveat. In general, God’s commandments aren’t just rules which He made up for His covenant people -and which He could have made otherwise. They flow out of His nature. E.g., God is a God of faithfulness; He keeps His promises. Therefore, do not commit adultery. Something like this would surely be binding on unbelievers as well. The point is: it’s not up to believers -as such- to enforce them.
    Not sure now this would apply to Sabbath-keeping, though!

  2. Rick says:

    Yes, John, VanDrunen points this out above. The difference is the bareness and simplicity of law in the common kingdom.

  3. Rob H says:

    This stuff kinks my theological neck bones. I read it and sort of get the arguments, but soon as I try to digest it all for a personal viewpoint, it fades into nonsense. God’s commandments are particularly for His people but encompass His creation. Sure, but what do we do with that?

    On the secular side, it’s a proclamation: “You’re not doing what you’re supposed to.” It’s clear and unavoidable, so much so that at some point one must make a decision, just as clear, to continue down that path of rebellion.

    On the Christian side, it’s more, but it grows more integral according to our maturity. I can’t see how we bind Scripture in toto per saltum to someone (I had to look that up cause it sounded neat to use). Isn’t that like making a dinner entree that’s appetizer, main course, dessert and drink all in one pot?

    In the new heaven and earth, all the stuff Scripture describes is going to be understood properly, right?

    So if I missed the whole point here, no worries, edumakate me.

    Here’s something I found this week that your post made me think of (mildly related?):

    A Weltanschauung that rejects the metaphysical and confines itself entirely to the physical or material (i.e., one that trusts wholly in the presuppositions, methods, and findings of naturalistic science) has thereby forfeited the grounds from which to make any meaningful statements concerning the existence or nature of the metaphysical. Metaphysical claims simply do not fall within the ambit of science. The converse cannot be said of a Weltanschauung that embraces the metaphysical along with the physical or material. Religion may speak concerning science, while science must necessarily be mute concerning all things religious. (from
    Relocating To Elfland)

  4. Bill says:

    Van Drunen’s quote is exactly what Lee Irons got kicked out of the OPC for saying. I mean it. Exactly. Naturally, I agree with the quote completely. (Or is “naturally” not the right word there? Maybe I should say that I agree with it as a matter of covenantal obligaton and redeemed gratitude.)

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