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When Plausibility Structures Collapse

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Adapted from my upcoming book Are Christian Sexual Ethics Outmoded?

In confronting the routinization of same-sex marriage (SSM) we are witnessing the collapse of a massive “plausibility structure.” By “plausibility structure,” I mean what Peter Berger has described as a humanly constructed coercive objectivity that has gained the “power to constitute and to impose itself as a reality.”[1] For thousands of years of human history what marriage is was taken for granted. Throughout its history it has been assaulted, injured, and diluted — but never redefined. The fact that the West in recent years is the first civilization in human history to redefine marriage verifies our apostasy. Our civilization was shaped by both Christian culture and the Greco-Roman world. Christianity has been unwaveringly opposed to homosexuality. The sophisticated paganism of Greece and Rome, unlike Christianity, was lax about homosexuality — but not about the definition of marriage: “[E]ven in cultures very favorable to homoerotic relationships (as in ancient Greece), something akin to the conjugal [“traditional”] view has prevailed — nothing like same-sex marriage was even imagined.”[2] In creating SSM, our civilization is overthrowing an entire history of the definition of marriage. Our depravity isn’t merely substantive; it’s also structural. We’re not merely evil; we’re creating principles and institutions for the purpose of enshrining our evil. SSM is becoming a new plausibility structure.

When plausibility structures collapse, an entire way of thinking and, therefore, of acting in a culture changes. The transition between the collapse of the old and the adoption of the new creates, for a time, at least, a deep cultural unsettledness springing from conceptual conflicts to which humans are simply not accustomed. In the case of SSM, the conflict isn’t hard to demonstrate. Quick: what’s marriage? The fact that you fumbled mentally at a definition you could articulate (as opposed to merely intuitively assume) doesn’t prove that there is no workable definition for marriage or that it’s a hard concept to understand. It only proves that marriage has been a plausibility structure for so long that nobody thought about defining it. Is it a legal contract between any man and woman? No, because such contracts occur every day and nobody would call them a marriage. Is marriage a long-term sexually committed relationship between a man and woman? Nobody would call that a marriage either. What about commitment to fidelity (however defined) before witnesses secured by a state-sanctioned marriage license? This would disqualify most of what were considered marriages in human history. The reason we’re obliged to re-think these definitions (or think about them in the first place) is that nobody before recent times would have even considered that people of the same sex could marry. SSM wouldn’t have been deemed so much immoral as implausible; we would have lacked the conceptual formulations with which to conceive of such a scenario.

Another example in the last century was the (re-)definition of personhood in the Third Reich. A chief objective of the Nazi propaganda machine under the undisputed direction of Joseph Goebbels was to dehumanize (literally) the Jewish population so that the rest of society would accept their enslavement and eventual liquidation. In time, that objective worked. This transformation required a deep unsettledness, overturning as it did centuries of the Western plausibility structure of personhood defined as man created in God’s image and entitled to basic humane [!] treatment. To be biologically human was ipso facto to be entitled to spiritual personhood. The Nazis changed that formulation for the Jews, and that change, while successful, wasn’t easy. It’s unsettledness is captured in an exchange in the classic movie Schindler’s List, about German entrepreneur and war profiteer Oscar Schindler, who over time became horrified at the Nazi extermination machine and used his war-labor factories to shield Jews from it. In one scene, Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish assistant played by Ben Kingsley, quibbles with Schindler on the most effective words to use on Schindler’s list of names scheduled to be submitted to the Nazis to assure his Jewish workers would be considered worthy of not being exterminated.

In exasperation, Schindler retorts, “Must we invent a whole new language?”

“I think so, yes,” Stern responds quietly.

Collapsing plausibility structures demand replacement plausibility structures, and since all such structures presuppose concepts and language for converting those concepts, no collapse survives without conceptual and linguistic unsettledness.

Today we speak of “traditional marriage” and “same-sex marriage.” A century ago this language would have been as incomprehensible as if we today spoke of “traditional wars” versus “non-violent wars,” or “traditional widowers” versus “married widowers.” Some plausibility structures are so inflexible and deep-seated and their meaning so self-evident that defining them seems tautological. The fact that we today can speak of “traditional marriage” and “same-sex marriage” testifies to the nearly unprecedented success of the radical homosexual agenda in unseating a millennia-long marital plausibility structure that has never had a single competitor in any culture anywhere.

Whatever we may say of SSM, it transports us into uncharted territory. We have no idea what a non-heterosexual marital plausibility structure would — or even could — look like.


[1] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (New York; Anchor, 1967, 1969), 12.

[2] Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What is Marriage?  (New York and London: Encounter, 2012), 11.

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Liberalism 3.0

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Theological liberalism narrowly considered is identified with a movement in Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but its theological impulse — to conform the Faith to the spirit of the age — has been around since the Garden of Eden. (In this sense, the ancient Jews, when they syncretized their faith with the surrounding pagan nations, were notorious liberals.) Liberalism’s chief tenet is accommodating Christianity to the reigning spirit of the age.

In the first half of the 19th century in Europe, this reigning spirit was Romanticism, the enthronement of emotion and feelings to counter the acidic effects of Enlightenment, which judged all things by universal human reason or objective human experience. The liberalism of that time did not want to give up the gains of the Enlightenment, but it also did not want to give up Christianity, as the Enlightenment seemed to be forcing people to do if they were to judge everything by universal human (as opposed to God’s) standards. In this way, liberalism could protect Christianity from Enlightenment. The problem is that the Christianity it protected had nothing to do with the Christianity of the Bible. Christian beliefs — atonement, resurrection, Second Coming, Biblical inspiration — are simply (in the original liberal view) a reflection on the internal Christian experience, which is the essence of religion. They are not true in any objective sense. Real religion is a particular kind of feeling. Whether the redemptive facts of the Bible are true is irrelevant.

Liberalism 2.0

Early in the 20th century, Enlightenment in the form of naturalistic science made a huge comeback from Romanticism (without negating the gains of the latter). Only what we can verify by our senses was worthy of belief. Anyway, science was granting society great new discoveries like Einsteinian relativism, quantum physics, atomic energy, and technology like the automobile, the airplane, labor-saving homes devices, and so on. The miracles Christianity is built on had little obvious relevance to this science and technology, and they didn’t fit into its worldview. Therefore, liberalism and its spirit of accommodation shifted from a religion of feeling to one of reason. Liberals, keeping up with the times (again), questioned or abandoned God’s direct creation of the world, Jesus’ virgin birth and bodily resurrection, his Second Coming, and so on, so Christianity could be culturally acceptable. It was this denial within the major Protestant denominations that spurred the reaction known as fundamentalism, which affirmed those very “fundamentals” that the liberals were denying. To be liberal was to deny the fundamentals of the Faith.

Today we live in different times still. This shift can be detected in the observation that while early 20th century liberal theological views were changing, their ethical views were not. There was almost no dispute between liberals and fundamentalists at that time on what we today term ethics, particularly sexual ethics. In short, the liberals weren’t parading for illicit sex or elective abortion or legalized porn any more than the fundamentalists were. This history of ethical unity and theological disunity is what caught many Bible-believing Christians off guard after the 1960’s Sexual Revolution infested the churches — including their own churches. Fundamentalism hadn’t especially prepared them to address professed Christians who weren’t interested in denying the “fundamentals of the Faith,” only the fundamentals of Biblical ethics, especially sexual ethics. If theological orthodoxy is limited to affirmation of the fundamentals, then liberalism has no necessary bearing on ethics. Bible-believing Christians were soon forced to come to terms with what theological liberalism must look like in a sexual chaotic culture.

It is now painfully clear, in fact, that the reigning spirit of our time is not naturalistic science, but libertarian sexual ethics. Just as 19th century romantic liberalism morphed into 20th century rationalist liberalism, so the latter has morphed into 21st century (un)ethical liberalism. Unlike orthodoxy, liberalism is unstable by its very nature, and its creed today is ethical (especially sexual) autonomy. David Mills writes:

Unlike the modernists of old, our liberals are quite happy to let us believe in the Virgin Birth or the Bodily Resurrection, or for that matter praying in tongues, presumably on the assumption that it keeps us occupied and out of their way. They only object when we dare to argue for moral limitations and ideals they have long ago abandoned. They will tolerate the most extravagant supernaturalism, as long as it is not assumed that the supernatural makes binding statements about human sexual behavior.[1]

Not that today’s liberals have recovered the great Biblical redemptive truths. It’s just that they’re not relevant anymore as orthodoxies to be rebelling against. Liberalism is all about rebellion against God, and its rebellion can’t be limited to theology. God’s latest great bastion that still exercised a degree of cultural hegemony in the 1960’s was not theology but sexual ethics: “Aha, we’ve identified the latest, greatest oppressor to overthrow.” The cultural milieu that today’s liberalism must, therefore, accommodate is the Sexual Revolution.

This also means that we don’t rightly identify liberals today by simply checking who won’t affirm creedal orthodoxy — for the simple reason that creedal heterodoxy isn’t the spirit of the age. The actual liberals are the Christians who are willing to throw overboard Christian sexual ethics — people like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Jim Wallis. By their adherence to the guiding spirit of liberalism — accommodation to the spirit of the age — they are no less liberal than were Friedrich Schleiermacher, Adolf von Harnack, and Rudolf Bultmann — and no less dangerous.

Welcome to liberalism 3.0


[1] David Mills, “The Bible Tells Me So: Everything You Need to Know About Morality & the Bible,” in Creed & Culture, James M. Kushiner, ed. (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2003), 140.

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Same-Sex Marriage and Cultural Routinization

mexico_city_gay_marriage-9631The U. S. Supreme Court has paved the way for wholesale cultural routinization of same-sex “marriage.” By “routinization” I mean the blithe acceptance of homosexuality as no more odd than relatively rare human phenomena like red-headedness or left-handedness. We wouldn’t say redheaded or left-handed people shouldn’t marry, would we? This is routinization. It has been a pressing goal of the radical homosexual agenda for a long time. That agenda is winning.

Its next agenda item, cultural hegemony, is to marginalize and oppress anyone who either vocally opposes or, in time, refuses to support homosexuality. When sexual liberty collides with religious liberty in our present climate, religious liberty will always lose, as Benjamin Domenech writes. This is because for decades, and particularly since the Sixties, our nation has marginalized religion (read: orthodox Christianity) and mainstreamed sex (read: illicit intercourse). In this climate, Christianity is vague and ethereal and, at best, a very private matter. Sex, on the other hand, is immediate, visible and pervasive. The need to protect religious liberty seems trifling; the need to protect sexual liberty, on the other hand, is (dare I say it?) orgasmic. This is how religious liberty will erode — is eroding — in the West unless the sexualization program is arrested by godly revival and reformation.

Revival and reformation are more urgently needed now than at any time since possibly the Protestant Reformation. At that time a Christian culture had gone theologically astray. Today a de-Christianized culture has gone ethically astray. Absent reformation, judgment awaits. Or, rather ….

In “The Judgment of Continuity” my colleague Brian Mattson (at his always illuminating blog), writes:

But when we keep on running, keep on sinning, and make it all the way to the doors of the den of iniquity, and in, and past the scary-looking bouncers, and all the way to the bar, and to the back room brothel, and then out again unscathed, we think we’re getting away with it. We’ve avoided judgment. Ha! So there! That wasn’t so harmful now, was it?

But we are deceived, Mattson notes. According to Romans 1, God’s judgment on apostasy (notably idolatry and homosexuality) is often calm continuity, not cataclysmic discontinuity: he lets apostates keep sinning. He allows man to habituate his depravity. This means that wholesale approval of homosexuality (see Rom. 1:32) is itself God’s judgment. The decisions of the Supremes are God’s judgment.

Hellfire comes later.

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A DISTINCTIVELY NEO-REFORMATIONAL PARADIGM FOR CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT

Commencement address delivered Friday, June 14, 2013 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Pharr, Texas, Edinburg Theological Seminary 

Introduction

I congratulate you graduates on your accomplishment. Seminary isn’t easy, but nothing in life worth having is easy. What you have learned at ETS will shape your entire life and ministry.

I am grateful to President Vallencia and to Dr. Roberts and others of the administration for their gracious invitation. I am proud to be identified with ETS.

I feel especially privileged to be addressing you at Dr. Roberts’ valedictory. It is a bittersweet occasion. Humanly speaking, there would be no ETS apart from Dr. Roberts. His godliness, his theology, his vision, his vigor, his intellect, his perseverance, his grace, his patience, and his kindness — all these virtues have shaped ETS. We colleagues and you graduates can most exhibit gratitude to Dr. Roberts by collectively perpetuating his virtues.

I want to talk specifically about the theological and philosophical virtue of ETS this evening. This is a proudly Reformed seminary. But it is more. It is a self-consciously Reformed seminary with special affinity for the neo-Reformational Dutch theological and philosophical tradition. By this, I mean the heritage in the Netherlands of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Herman Dooyeweerd. I denote its counterpart in North America with theologians like Cornelius Van Til, Henry Meeter, and Even Runner. This theological tradition is unique. The Reformed tradition has numerous streams (Swiss, German, French, English, Scottish). Each makes its own contribution to the richness of our heritage. I am convinced, however, that the Dutch neo-Reformational tradition is the highest form of that tradition to date. Van Til once said, “Calvinism is ‘Christianity come to its own.’“ I’d like to say that the neo-Reformational tradition is Calvinism come to its own. The form of Calvinism espoused by ETS is the highest form of Calvinism there is.

I maintain a special interest in Christian culture, and perhaps the most unique feature of the neo-Reformational tradition is its view of culture. Tonight, I’d like to highlight three unique aspects of our tradition that pertain to culture. I’d like to point out how they propel us to cultural engagement in our days of great cultural apostasy.

The Antithesis

First, the neo-Reformational tradition champions the Antithesis. To understand the Antithesis, we must know what a worldview is. North American evangelicals have now found “Christian worldview” fashionable. Long before this, Abraham Kuyper understood that Christianity is an entire way of thinking and acting. The reason that earlier Calvinists didn’t talk as much is this way is that they didn’t need to. They were living in a Christian culture. The very air they breathed was suffused with a Christian perspective. To think in any other way simply wasn’t an option — or even a viable possibility. But the European Enlightenment shattered that unity. It put biblical Christianity on the defensive. It offered the world a new and powerful alternative to Christian culture. That alternative was life based on human reason and experience and no longer on the Bible and great creeds. Man would no longer bow to God’s special revelation. The Enlightenment crushed Christian culture. In time, this way of thinking got rid of God altogether — the West became secular.

Kuyper understood what was at stake. He was one of the first to argue that Christians cannot simply assume that we can share with unbelievers a basic way of thinking, and only afterward find our way to Christianity. No, Kuyper argued, we must begin with Christian convictions (presuppositions), and only if we begin with them will we end with the right kind of Christianity. Kuyper taught that when God saves us, he gives us a “regenerated consciousness” — a new way of thinking and living, not just a new home in heaven. This is a Christian worldview. There is, therefore, an antithesis between the Christian worldview and all non-Christian worldviews. Our Faith presupposes a distinctive way of thinking: this is antithetical to all non-Christian views.

Our “regenerated consciousness” shapes every aspect of thought and life. It means that we must approach science and technology and history and math and music and literature and politics and culture in a distinctively Christian way. We must think and act as Christians everywhere, not just in church or the family. We do not share with unbelievers our basic presuppositions about thought and life. There are no neutral zones of thinking. A Christian will look at science and politics (for example) different from an unbeliever. In the modern world, most unbelievers look at science from a naturalistic, Darwinian perspective: there is no God, or at least no active God, and we must investigate the universe without accounting for him. Obviously, at many main points, unbelieving scientists will arrive at different conclusions from neo-Reformational Christians. They will likely say that humanity evolved from lower forms of life amid a long process of chaos and chance. We arrive at different conclusions from them because we start with different presuppositions.

Likewise, unbelieving views of politics will be radically different from consistently Christian views. We believe that politics must be founded in God’s moral law in the Bible. Unbelievers deny this law, so they find their source of law in experience or tradition or the majority of the populace or elites or the “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Obviously a political system based on this presupposition is very different from one based on the Bible. In the West today, this unbelieving presupposition almost everywhere necessities an expanded role for the state, or politics. When we deny the power of God, we must enlist the power of an ever-growing state to enforce our views of the ideal society. And so on. Our politics isn’t like their politics, because we start with different presuppositions. Thinking “Christianly” means thinking as a Christian about everything — and this in turn means thinking differently from unbelievers.

Of course, unbelievers don’t always think in a distinctively unbelieving way, just as believers don’t always think in a distinctively believing way. We are all inconsistent. This is a good thing, in the case of unbelievers. God restrains unbelievers from being entirely consistent in their thinking — this is called “common grace,” another vital contribution of the neo-Reformational tradition. This means that at critical points, Christians can work together with unbelievers precisely because unbelievers are inconsistently unbelieving. But to the degree that unbelievers become consistent with their presuppositions, their thought and actions go radically contrary to Christianity, and they wreak havoc on a culture. This is where we get abortion, same-sex marriage, socialized medicine, female egg harvesting, pornography, and the drug culture. Unbelieving worldviews lead to unbelieving cultures — and unbelieving cultures are not pleasant places to live in. A Christian worldview tends to produce a Christian culture. But should we even work for a Christian culture? This brings us to the second unique aspect of the Neo-Reformational tradition.

The Cultural Mandate

The neo-Reformational tradition sees man’s earthly calling as the cultural mandate. In Genesis 1 we read that God created man and woman in order to steward the rest of God’s creation for his glory. Man was to be God’s vicegerent — his holy deputy — cultivating creation for God’s glory. Creation wasn’t to be left as it is. Creation from the hand of God was very good, but God wanted more. He wanted man, his crowning creation, to bring it to even greater levels for his glory. This work assumes the differences between creation (or nature) and culture. Nature is what God makes; culture is what we make. An apple is nature; an apple pie is culture. The musical note “C” is nature; Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is culture. God calls us to interact creatively with nature according to his standards in the Bible to bring glory to him in all of creation. God desires to see man use his full potential to bring creation to the highest possible man-cultivated levels. Man’s highest potential is achieved when he submits to God and cultivates creation in God’s prescribed way in the Bible.

The language used in Genesis 1 is “dominion.” Man is called to rule the earth for God’s glory. This is the opposite of what modern environmentalism teaches. Environmentalists often say that nature should be protected from man. God says that man should cultivate nature for his glory. Environmentalists look at how man sometimes harms nature and says, “Man must not exercise dominion.” God says, “The solution to warped dominion by man is not to quit taking dominion; it is to take dominion in the right way.”

Warped dominion is a fact of life, and it brings up a critical truth. When man sinned in the Garden, he didn’t lose his impulse (or his calling) for dominion: he simply distorted it. Just as unbelievers espouse an unbelieving worldview, so unbelievers practice an unbelieving dominion. This fact accounts for the greatest conflicts in human history — two kinds of people with two kinds of consciousnesses and two worldviews both competing for dominion in the same world. It’s easy to offer examples of how this conflict is played out. Self-consciously Christian musicians like Bach and Handel write music that glorifies God. Anti-Christian musicians like Wagner and Lady Gaga write music that glorifies man — and eventually debases him. Professional Christian athletes like Orel Herschiser give God the glory for the great feats they accomplish. Muhammad Ali brags about his own talents and glorifies himself. Heinrich Hofmann painted to depict the glories of Jesus Christ. Picasso’s pornographic modernism exhibited a man-centered crudeness that shows what creativity in rebellion against God looks like. All of them are dominionists: some are God-honoring dominionists and some are God-defying dominionists. This conflict is the great earthly conflict of the ages.

Kuyper understood that we haven’t properly glorified God until we have glorified him in subduing all of creation to his glory.

For the last few generations, however, Christians in the West have been in hasty retreat from the cultural mandate. They have retreated to the interior — thinking that the only important thing is their internal and vertical relationship with God. They have reduced Christianity to a “personal worship hobby.” They have come to believe that when we exercise dominion, we’re diverting ourselves from the really important tasks like Bible study and church and personal evangelism and prayer and holiness. But the Bible makes no such distinctions. In the Garden of Eden, God communed with man (vertical), but God also had commanded man to take dominion over creation (horizontal). Jesus told his apostles that the greatest command is to love God with all their being, but he also instructed them to disciple all nations in all things he had commanded. We are called to both internal and external tasks in glorifying God. God wants everything of us — not just some of us. But too often Christians have limited their obligations only to the internal or non-cultural tasks.

Or they have revived (although unintentionally) ancient heresies that devalued creation. They have considered the material world to be evil. They have seen salvation as salvation from the world, not from sin. They have not understood that matter isn’t the problem; sin is the problem. They have looked at the evils of Hollywood and abandoned movie making. They have considered the depravity of Washington, D.C. and retreated from politics. They have observed the perversity of Darwinism and given up on science. These are precisely the wrong tactics. We don’t need irresponsible abandonment but active engagement — we need distinctively Christian movie making, politics, and science.

Or else Christians have given up the life of the mind. They have observed how secular universities (and seminaries!) have destroyed people’s faith, and they’ve tuned their back on reason and learning and the intellect. They have abandoned higher education, and then they wonder why higher education is so anti-Christian. Kuyper knew better. Because the intellect is crucial in the cultural mandate, neo-Reformational Christianity has always stressed the cultivation of the mind. Kuyper launched the Free University of Amsterdam, not simply to get more Christians educated, but to get them educated to think and act in distinctively Christian ways. He knew that the correct solution to the rationalism of the Enlightenment wasn’t to give up the intellect and embrace an emotional anti-intellectualism. The solution to godless intellect is a godly intellect. In the language of Herman Bavinck, “[T]he internal principle [of theology] is not in faith as such but in believing reflection.” We employ our God-given reason to “think God’s thoughts after him,” and when we give up on reason and reflection, we give up on one of God’s most glorious gifts to man without which he simply cannot exercise dominion in the earth.

Finally, Christians have embraced defeatist eschatology — they have come to believe that God has predestined the world to get worse and worse, so the cultural mandate is abandoned to defeat. Sometimes this twist becomes perverse. I once had an evangelical pastor tell me that the rising abortion and pornography and homosexuality in our culture may seem like bad news but really they are good news, since they mean Jesus is coming soon. If that idea sounds perverted, that’s because it is. Flourishing sin is never good news; and whatever your eschatology is, you may never use it as an excuse to quit the cultural mandate.

Neo-Reformational Christians know that the cultural mandate is their marching order. They do not limit their work to family and church and personal devotion. They work, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to subdue all of creation to God’s glory.

Sphere Sovereignty

Finally, neo-Reformational Christians espouse sphere sovereignty. This is Kuyper’s language. He means that God established separate but interrelated spheres of human life by which he mediates his authority in human culture. There are many spheres; each operates according to God’s law unique to its sphere. The institutional examples of those spheres include family, church, and state. Each has its distinct calling, and each is comparatively independent under God’s authority. These spheres may not arrogate to themselves the unique tasks of the others. For example, the family is called to propagate the human race and cultivate children and provide for its members. The church is called to declare the Word and administer the ordinances or sacraments and protect Christian orthodoxy. The state is called (in the language of the Declaration of Independence) to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These spheres (and others) all have separate but critical tasks. The problem arises when a single sphere lords it over all others, and when one arrogates to itself tasks that belong to the others.

A prime example today is over-politicization, or statism. The state has commandeered the tasks of health, welfare, medicine, education and others that God designed mostly for the family. The state has become a monstrosity. It has developed messianic aspirations. Whenever a crisis or calamity erupts, people clamor, “What will the government do about it?” They almost never say, “What will families and church do about it?” This response, by the way, shows that we must be careful not to lay all the blame on politicians. The fact is that most moderns are irresponsible, and they prefer a large and burdensome state, and they will surrender their political liberty, if it means they don’t have to be responsible for health care, elderly care, education, and guns. We have met the enemy, and he is us.

But the church can fail also. Many Christians are church-centered rather than kingdom-centered. The kingdom of God is his reign in the earth. It encompasses all spheres. Of course, the church is indispensable in God’s plan. But the church is not identical to the kingdom; it’s a part of that kingdom. Some Christians seem to believe that God is concerned only about the state of his church. This is wrong. As anyone reading the Old Testament prophets knows, God is intimately concerned with society as a whole — the culture. We cannot obsess about the church and forget about the family and state and music and science and education and so on.

Still other Christians are family-centered. This trend is understandable in our world. The family is under severe assault by pornography, feminism, machismo, statism, abortion, free sex, homosexuality, egg harvesting, androgyny, and much more. But the solution to this assault isn’t to make the family the be-all and end-all. The family needs the church to protect it against the depredations of the culture. The church is a great holy haven for the family. If you pit the family against the church, you are cutting off the very lifeblood by which God preserves the family.

No single sphere can lord it over the others. God does not (for example) use his church to mediate all of his blessings to the other spheres: that was the medieval view, and it was wrong. God certainly does not elevate the state to such a status that it commandeers all of life. We sometimes use the term “government” today to denote the state. But in the Bible, the idea of government is diverse: each sphere has its own government — family government, church government, school government, and, perhaps most important of all, self-government under God’s authority. One government among many, and perhaps the least important of all, is state (or political) government. If people could govern themselves under God’s Word, there would be much less demand for the state. Politics is so large today because men’s personal responsibility is so small. When the godly men and woman and the family and church and the state recover their biblical obligations, the state will soon shrink to its biblical limits.

A genius of neo-Reformational Christianity is its commitment to the application of the Faith in all of life, de-consolidated in different spheres. Neo-Reformational Christianity isn’t just concerned with the afterlife; it’s also concerned with this world.

Conclusion

At ETS, you’ve been brought face to face with the highest form of Christianity: the antithesis, the cultural mandate, and sphere sovereignty. That Christianity is not content with fostering families and building churches. It moves outward in God’s world to claim all of creation for his glory.

Our goal is take godly dominion in our culture according to God’s Word.

This is our heritage. This is our calling. This is our destiny.

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