The Only Christian Culture is the Church: Part 2

Reformed theologian David VanDrunen:

God created Christianity as a religion of pilgrimage, and to turn it into a religion of holistic culture-building is to sail into dangerous waters. A straightforward reading of the New Testament quite simply does not present Christianity as a religion of cultural influence and power. What a person can do – and what I believe neo-Calvinists have done about as creatively and compellingly as possible – is extend, apply, and extrapolate from principles found in the New Testament and develop “Christian” views on almost any subject imaginable. Is this procedure valid? Well, it is in a sense, but it can quickly derail. All Christians are obligated to function within the world’s cultural institutions and to act consistently with their Christian convictions when doing so. Whatever extension, application, and extrapolation of biblical teaching are necessary to accomplish this, they are ultimately a matter of personal opinion and judgement. There is nothing wrong with making such judgments – Scripture after all calls us to exercise wisdom in our daily affairs – but these opinions and judgments can never be foisted upon another person as the Christian view of things. At the heart of biblical and historic Reformed Christianity is the principle of Christian liberty. As Calvin insisted, Christians may only bind one another’s consciences in regard to matters set forth in Scripture. Scripture says some important things about our cultural activities, but they are very general (and in most cases these things are already made known in natural revelation, and hence are binding upon all people and are not distinctively Christian obligations). We are all answerable before God for the prudential judgments we make, but we are not conscientiously bound before one another in such matters. I may have convictions about the international regulation of financial markets that I believe are consistent with my Christian faith and immensely wise, practical, fair, and oozing with common sense, but no other Christian has an obligation to agree with me. Any other Christian is free to develop a compelling theory – which I in turn am also free to reject. A major difficulty in developing a “Christian worldview” necessary for culture-transformative Christianity is that it either sticks to what Scripture says and is so general and vague as to be of limited concrete use for transforming culture or it engages in large-scale extrapolation of biblical principles and ends up as merely the theory of an individual or school of thought. Such a theory might be brilliant and insightful, but to call it a (or the) “Christian worldview” threatens to usurp other believers’ liberty to make their own applications and exercise their own wisdom. Such a theory might better be called a worldview arguably consistent with Christian conviction.

Christians, we pray, will have wholesome influence in the various cultures within which they live and move, but the purpose of Christianity is not to transform cultures and to build enduring civilizations. “Christian culture” is ecclesiastical culture. The church’s way of life is the New Testament’s concern. Scripture sets forth specific and distinctive instructions for the church that are different and even strange in the sight of this world. With various degrees of enthusiasm I am a proponent of democratic government, free-market economics, judicial systems that enforce justice, and self-defense. Most of my fellow Americans agree, more or less, and we get along reasonably well, but not so with the church. By Christ’s appointment the church is not governed by democratic elections or market forces. It does not punish evil-doers or fight back against those who do her wrong. Instead it submits to elders, encourages its poor to give generously, interrupts the disciplinary process as soon as a sinner repents, and turns the other cheek rather than retaliating in kind. It refuses to work and to do all sorts of fun things on one day of the week in order to sing, listen to a monologue, eat little pieces of bread, drink sips of wine, and get water poured on the head. All very odd, but this is the culture that Christ and his apostles seemed intent on building, even as empires, civilizations, and economic systems come and go. When a government falls, the church does not. When an ethnic-social-economic culture falters, the church should not. Learning and passing along the church’s Christian culture is hard enough. We can hardly afford to get too distracted by our own attempts to build a holistic, extrapolated Christian culture that will one day fail, probably sooner than later (151-153).

– Calvin, Kuyper, and “Christian Culture” in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey, edited by R. Scott Clark & Joel E. Kim. See Part 1.

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2 thoughts on “The Only Christian Culture is the Church: Part 2

  1. Pingback: The Only Christian Culture Is the Church: Part 1 | Bensonian

  2. Pingback: On Matthew Lee Anderson and the New Radicals | Bensonian

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