A Case Study in Liturgics, Theology, and Politics—The Life of the Book of Common Prayer

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Review of Alan Jacobs, The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton UP, 2014)

Baylor University’s Alan Jacobs has written an elegant history of an extraordinary book—the Anglican Book of Common Prayer–in the Princeton University Press “Lives of Great Religious Books” series.  The subtitle “A Biography” is apropos in that the BCP over the centuries has taken on a remarkable life of its own and exercised influence that goes well beyond the confines of the Anglican tradition.

The most compelling character in this story is Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, whose liturgical scholarship, political acumen, and literary genius decisively shaped the first editions of the BCP. Cranmer intended that England should have a standardized form of worship for the realm, a common worship that would be enshrined in a single book and enforced politically. He also intended that this common form of worship would reflect and express a distinctly Protestant theology. Thus even in Cranmer we see two sets of relationships—the connection of liturgy and politics, and the relation of liturgy and theology—that Jacobs then seeks to unpack throughout the book.

The relation of liturgy and politics emerges repeatedly in Jacob’s narrative, as the BCP was imposed on Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and as Puritans responded by banning the BCP when they came to power during the English Interregnum. Even well into the nineteenth century legal sanctions were imposed against those who sought to interpret certain “rubrics” in the BCP regarding liturgical practice in too “Catholic” a manner.

Likewise with the relationship of liturgy and theology. Of course the Puritans, with their Reformed regulative principle of worship, had principled objections to set forms, the celebration of holy days, and anything that smacked of Catholicism—in short, to the whole concept of the BCP. But for a considerable period of time both low-church Evangelicals and the traditional Anglican high-church party found that the BCP was a common denominator they could live with. But this not-entirely-comfortable arrangement was decisively upset in the nineteenth century by the Oxford movement’s theological challenge to the Protestant character of the BCP and by the catholicizing liturgical practices they sought to implement, and also by the three-way split of the Anglican Communion between broad-church liberals, low-church evangelicals, and Anglo-Catholics.   The diversity had become too great, and thus a single book could no longer provide liturgical expression consonant with the various theologies represented in the Anglican church.

All this brings us to the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century that were driven not only by an increasing sense that the venerable 1662 BCP was getting long in the tooth but also by the influential liturgical scholarship of Gregory Dix, whose The Shape of the Liturgy shifted attention from the wording of liturgy to the moments or stages of liturgical celebration. This latter development, Jacobs argues, decisively opened the door to liturgical developments that were not tied to the specific language of the BCP.

The end result of all this—especially the political impossibility of enforcing conformity and the ever-increasing theological diversity—was, as Jacobs argues, that the notion of a common book of worship has been replaced by a wide variety of liturgical books and resources.

Jacob’s book is engaging, well written, and quite accessible to non-specialists. His treatment of the Oxford Movement’s response to the Gorham case in the nineteenth century is stimulating and insightful, as is his explanation of Gregory Dix’s remarkable impact on liturgical scholarship.

One niggle has to do with Jacob’s presentation of Cranmer as a Zwinglian memorialist with regard to the Eucharist, where he follows the thesis of Gregory Dix that Cranmer moved directly from Roman Catholic transubstantiation to Zwinglianism. To be sure, this is a vexed question. Jacobs cites Diarmaid MacCulloch’s significant study of Cranmer in support of this position, but MacCulloch’s conclusions are both more nuanced and more complicated than Jacobs allows. In fact, MacCulloch contends that the earlier Cranmer held to “what is quite recognizable Lutheranism,” and he utilizes Brian Gerrish’s distinction between “symbolic memorialism” (Zwingli), “symbolic instrumentalism” (Calvin), and “symbolic parallelism” (Bullinger), presenting Cranmer as “closest to the symbolic parallelism of Bullinger” (see MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life [Yale UP, 1996], pp. 614-17). All this is to say that Jacobs is a bit less sure-footed when it comes to some finer theological distinctions.

Such minor criticism does not, however, detract from Jacob’s achievement here. While The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography is not the definitive word on the subject, it is nevertheless a splendid first word and a wonderful introduction to the history of a most remarkable liturgical document.

Hobby Lobby, George Marsden, and the Challenges of Religious Diversity in America

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Review of George Marsden, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment (Basic Books, 2014), 219 pp.

New books by George Marsden, a senior statesman of the church-history guild and now retired from the University of Notre Dame, are always welcome events.  His latest, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, is an engaging book, and yes, it is much shorter than his massive 2003 biography of Jonathan Edwards, which I read a number of years back during a vacation week in the mountains. Both in terms of length and intended audience (the general reader) this book makes fewer demands on the reader than some of Marsden’s more technical works, and this is a good thing in that the issues he engages are important and the volume deserves broad circulation.

Marsden examines the increasingly prickly issues of religious tolerance and diversity in America, and he argues that both the mainstream liberalism of the 1950s and the more recent Religious Right have gotten it wrong, with serious negative consequences for the nation. The focus here, however, is primarily on that earlier liberal consensus.

What were the characteristics of this mainstream liberal consensus? First, it sought to be a consensus, and the existence of broad consensus as a foundation for a stable society was deemed important. Second, it emphasized individual autonomy, and thus traditional religious communities as well as the older transcendent foundations of civil society in Scripture or natural law were undercut. In place of such traditional authorities, pragmatism in various forms was adopted. Finally, it placed great stock in science, which was viewed as an objective endeavor.

But there were internal tensions and problems. The commitment to individual autonomy and the pragmatism that accompanied it were unable to arrive at stable first principles. As Marsden puts it, the “problem with pragmatism is that, although it can work admirably when it can draw on shared moral capital, it does not provide much basis for establishing first principles or deciding among contending moral claims” (p. 130). In addition, the commitment to science seemed to threaten the commitment to individual autonomy (e.g., the determinism implied by B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist psychology), and the intellectual resources at hand were unable to resolve this tension. Existentialism was working the individual autonomy side of the fence but fell into irrationalism, while analytic philosophy worked the scientific side but had little to offer regarding larger issues.

The 1950s were also a time of great interest in religion, and even religious revival. But even as religion was in the news it was being privatized, and the public face of this was more often than not “an undefined common theism” shorn of the angular particularities of dogma. Instead, moralism prevailed, and this lowest-common-denominator “consensus” in fact left out many groups such as evangelicals and Pentecostals. Thus the underlying belief system of many Americans was “secular and humanistic,” but this approach “left unanswered the question of why enlightened progressive Christianity should be privileged over any other teaching” (p. 124).

Thus Marsden argues that the “American enlightenment ideal of a consensus based on rationally derived, shared humanistic principles congenial to a broadly theistic Protestant heritage was falling apart” (p. 127). After this approach imploded in the 1960s and 1970s, the Religious Right emerged in the late 1970s attempting to fill the gap.

But the Religious Right was itself the heir of conflicting influences. On the one hand, there was the legacy of militant, biblicistic fundamentalism, with its tendency toward “simple dichotomies” of Christian vs. non-Christian (which were inevitably perceived by others as divisive and sectarian). On the other hand, there was the heritage of nineteenth-century evangelicalism with its concern for broader Protestant consensus. In fact, the Religious Right’s practice was often better than its divisive rhetoric in that most of them really did believe in religious liberty. Nevertheless, the Religious Right did not provide a larger framework in which minority viewpoints would be represented and protected.

Thus neither consensus mainstream liberalism nor the aspiring-to-consensus Religious Right could provide a basis for true religious pluralism in which minority views were given their due. Here Marsden makes a particular point of noting how the wall-of-separation church-state jurisprudence was not working because it assumed the privatization of religion. He writes,

The great problem with the “wall of separation” metaphor was, as the courts came to recognize, that it proved to be impossible to draw any consistent line between the secular public sphere and the religion of the private sphere. A sizable minority of Americans was seriously religious, and their religious beliefs had inevitable influences on their activities in the public domain, where in politics, business, or education. It is one thing to try to draw a line between “church and state,” two sorts of institutions. But no consistent line of separation can even be imagined between the far larger entities of “religion and society.” Religion is seldom a strictly spiritual matter; rather, it involves moral prescriptions as to how to act in everyday secular affairs. Although religious people may reasonable be expected to act with a degree of civility in the public domain, it is not reasonable or practical to expect them to act in the public realm without reference to their deeply held, religiously based moral convictions. So, even if privatization has proven valuable as a way of encouraging social harmony up to a point, it is a principle that cannot address the question of equity in the public sphere in dealing with inevitable differences based on religious conviction (p. 158).

Although the book was obviously written before the recent spate of litigation involving Hobby Lobby and other corporations and institutions regarding the contraceptive mandate of Obamacare, it provides useful commentary on the cultural and historical background of such cases.

Thankfully, the book is not all diagnosis with no prescription, and Marsden presents the ideas of Dutch politician and theologian Abraham Kuyper as a corrective to American patterns that have run their course. Because of his recognition that science and reason are not neutral, but rather are conditioned by a host of faith commitments about the nature of reality and human life, Kuyper was able to take these differences seriously without seeking to collapse them into an artificial consensus. In addition, with his emphasis on “common grace”—the recognition that God has given all kinds of people intellectual capacity—Kuyper allows “for shared rationality in holding things together” (p. 168). Finally, Kuyper’s doctrine of “sphere sovereignty” allows room for the mediating structures that provide buffers between the individual and government and thus strengthen democracy.   Thus far Marsden’s argument.

As we would expect from Marsden, the book is quite readable and engaging, and it seems to be well edited (I found one spelling mistake on p. 120). Especially enjoyable are the more extended treatments of important thinkers such as Erich Fromm, David Riesman, Walter Lippmann, B. F. Skinner, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Francis Schaeffer. The explication of Niebuhr in particular can be taken as an apposite response to Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion and its celebration of the 1950s as a sort of golden age of American Christianity. Marsden demonstrates that Niebuhr’s version of Christianity was seriously attenuated (in good Enlightenment fashion Niebuhr had little place for the miraculous) and that it was all too common for people to separate his anthropological insights from his theology (the “atheists for Niebuhr” phenomenon). Finally, Marsden demonstrates that the problems of religious diversity and liberty in America remain unresolved.

I do have some minor reservations. Marsden’s definition of “civil religion” as “popular piety that treats the nation itself as an object of worship” lacks nuance, and I would have liked to see more interaction with the twentieth-century Roman Catholic social theorist John Courtney Murray, whose extensive writings on the issue of pluralism parallel many of Marsden’s concerns. This in turn points to what is probably the greatest weakness of the book—Marsden’s insistent focus on Protestantism misses some important aspects of the broader story, especially the way that in the wake of Vatican II Roman Catholics became significant players in the struggle for religious liberty. Finally, Marsden’s suggestion that contemporary academia can serve as a model for fruitful pluralism (p. 176) may seem odd to those who have the misfortune of having to sit through faculty meetings on a regular basis. But none of these niggles should keep one from reading this important book.

The Mozilla Brouhaha and the World Vision Reversal—Clear Parallel, or Not?

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One of the biggest stories this week has been Mozilla’s “firing” of newly named CEO Brendan Eich because of his modest financial support of California’s Proposition 8 (which sought to ban same-sex marriage) some years back. To be sure, the episode is a clear demonstration of the clout of the homosexual lobby, and cultural conservatives have understandably reacted with outrage. They rightly sense that it is now open season on cultural conservatives and that depriving such of their livelihood is a goal of many on the Left. Over at First Things, Princeton University social ethicist Robert George has framed the implications of this well:

You can bet it’s not just Mozilla. Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on their wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer. They will pressure them to refuse employment to those who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy. And you can also bet that it won’t end with same-sex marriage. Next, it will be support for the pro-life cause that will be treated as moral turpitude in the same way that support for marriage is treated. Do you believe in protecting unborn babies from being slain in the womb? Why, then: “You are a misogynist. You are a hater of women. You are a bigot. We can’t have a person like you working for our company.” And there will be other political and moral issues, too, that will be treated as litmus tests for eligibility for employment. The defenestration of Eich by people at Mozilla for dissenting from the new orthodoxy on marriage is just the beginning.

Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, observant Jews, Muslims, and others had better stand together and face down the bullies, and they had better do it now, or else they will be resigning themselves and their families to a very unhappy status in this society. A very unhappy status indeed. When tactics of intimidation succeed, their success ensures that they will be used more and more often in more and more contexts to serve more and more causes. And standing up to intimidation will become more and more difficult. And more and more costly. And more and more dangerous.

Even some on the other side of the homosexual question responded with outrage at Mozilla’s decision. For example, Andrew Sullivan, no friend of traditional views on sexuality, posted a number of blog installments on “the hounding of a heretic” (here and here and here).

On the face of it, Brendan Eich seems to be a thoroughly competent, indeed brilliant, computer expert who has done great things for the company that just dumped him.  As software developer and hip-hop artist Yitz Jordan notes, he’s the guy who invented JavaScript. Furthermore, he helped to shape Mozilla’s “open-source” philosophy of software development. But all that professional expertise and commitment to institutional mission is apparently for naught since Eich holds a politically incorrect viewpoint on same-sex marriage. It now seems that Eich’s benighted views, which were more or less the law of the land until the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year, must be extirpated and their proponents hounded out of town.

Of course there have been defenses by the Left of Mozilla’s removal of Eich—some arguing, for example, that Eich’s social views are totally out of step with the pervasive social liberalism of Silicon Valley, or that LGBTQ employees of Mozilla should not be saddled with the anguish of knowing that that their boss just might have some private reservations about their lifestyle choices.   Such arguments should be seen as what they are—as rationalizations of intolerance and psychobabble.

Quite different, but in some ways even more curious, is the argument of Carl Trueman on the Reformation21 website. Trueman contends that there is a parallel between Mozilla case and World Vision’s backtracking on their decision to hire Christians in same-sex-marriages. If conservative Christians rejoice that World Vision backed down in response to lobbying and economic pressure, they should not complain when their cultural opponents use similar tactics successfully. And so, Trueman maintains, the “Mozilla situation is similar.”

But is it? To be sure, there is a bit more to Trueman’s argument. World Vision, he says, is a “parachurch” organization that took a stand on “something not directly germane to its self-appointed task” of humanitarian aid, and Trueman takes this as similar to Mozilla’s removal of Eich for personal views that likewise were not central to Mozilla’s mission. But this is not quite the case, for World Vision is an explicitly Christian organization that requires a Christian profession of faith and some minimal creedal affirmation as a condition of employment. That is, they are seeking to do good things in an explicitly Christian way and from a distinctively Christian perspective. Thus Christian identity and Christian standards of behavior are indeed “germane to its self-appointed task,” and Trueman’s attempt to put World Vision on the same level as Mozilla is misguided.

Of course, long-time British Lib-Dem Trueman has been tut-tutting about those colonial evangelicals with their parachurch organizations and their conservative economics and politics for some time now, and we are not entirely surprised when Trueman (or a Tom Wright) takes it upon himself to lecture American evangelicals on social issues. And we will not comment further on the irony that Trueman’s main gig is working for a parachurch organization, and, incidentally, one that recently filed suit on religious-liberty grounds against the Department of Health and Human Services over the contraception mandate of Obamacare.

The deeper question is why Trueman seems to think that Christians in America should just suck it up when it comes to overt discrimination against cultural conservatives and people of faith. Informing his position may be the so-called Two Kingdoms (2K) doctrine for which Trueman has expressed some sympathy in the past. According to this point of view, there are two kingdoms—the church and the world. The church’s mission is exclusively spiritual in nature, while the kingdom of the world, or the common realm, operates in accordance with generally accessible rational criteria. Thus there is no distinctive Christian worldview, and efforts to influence the world for the better with a distinctively Christian program are both misguided and certain to fail.

While the parallel Trueman draws between World Vision and Mozilla probably makes sense from a 2K perspective, such thinking is dangerous in a number of ways. First, it meshes well with the pervasive privatization of religion in this country. But whether Trueman likes it or not, religion is also about how we live our daily lives and organize ourselves in seeking to help others, and not just about the ministry of word and sacrament on Sunday, and the “first freedom” that many Americans hold dear has to do with both. Second, such thinking can undercut the distinctive role of religiously based organizations that work for the common good. Such “mediating structures” have long been crucially important, as Tocqueville noted long ago, to the success and persistence of American democracy. Finally, such thinking can work to silence Christians at precisely the time they need to be speaking out against an increasingly intolerant Progressive establishment that grows more and more hostile to religious freedom.

The Challenge of Ecclesiology: Some Advice for Seminarians

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[Editor’s Note: This post is a modified version of an address I gave to a group of Presbyterian seminary students back in 2005.  A bit of updating has been done in the interests of timeliness and relevance to a broader audience.]

It is almost a truism among thinking Christians today that the doctrine of the church, known among theologians as “ecclesiology,” has fallen on hard times.  When I was a student at a reasonably well-known conservative Reformed seminary it seemed that students would much rather argue about apologetics or eschatology or predestination than the doctrine of the church.  And though that situation has changed somewhat in the intervening years as many in our culture sense the loss of community, and some in the church have sought out theological responses to it, an ecclesiological crisis remains.

Interestingly, this eclipse of ecclesiology is common to both the liberal-leaning mainline churches and the more conservative evangelical churches.  We are going to explore both some of the reasons for this decline in various church circles, and some ways that we can recover and strengthen a vibrant doctrine of the church.  This should, I would think, be a matter of existential concern for seminary students such as yourselves.  After all, many of you are planning to become ministers or other church workers.  Some of you may sense a call to the mission field, and the job of the missionary is ultimately to plant and strengthen the church.  So, ecclesiology matters.

We are going to look first at the situation in mainline church circles, and then at the situation among Evangelicals.  Reasons for the decline of ecclesiology in many mainline churches are not difficult to discern.  Much of this can ultimately be traced to the fact that many in these churches bought wholesale into the optimistic Enlightenment notion of the autonomous individual human being.  People are basically pretty good, it is thought, and any tendency toward dysfunctional behavior (i.e., what used to be called “sin”) is attributed to the environment.  Moreover, these human beings are not answerable to any authority, such as Holy Scripture, higher than themselves.  Needless to say, this quickly resulted in the erosion of the Scriptural basis and confessional moorings for church life.

Since human beings are basically OK, the great need is not salvation in the life to come (whatever that may be), but the amelioration of social ills in this present life and the maximizing of individual freedom in every sphere of life, whether or not expressions of that freedom conflict with biblical morality.  Historically the church had sought to maintain biblical moral standards for its members, but now there is widespread disagreement as to what even constitutes moral or immoral behavior—hence the current front-page controversies among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians over homosexuality.

Further erosion of the traditional foundations for church life has resulted from the trendy religious pluralism so common even in church circles today.  If people are basically good and there is no such thing as divine wrath against sinners, then they don’t need Jesus to save them from the penalty of sin.  On this way of thinking, Jesus is certainly not the only way to God. Thus it makes little sense to view the church as the mystical “body of Christ” and the covenant community of those united by faith and baptism with Him.  Certainly Cyprian’s dictum, extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the church), as echoed in Westminster Confession of Faith 25:2 makes little sense either.

As we know, ideas have consequences, and the consequences of these ideas have been particularly deadly.  With the loss of biblical truth and the confessional explication of that truth, all that was left was power (i.e., church polity), and increasingly disputes had to be settled on the arid basis of technical rules of church law rather than the great and abiding principles of the faith.  Some other reason for the church’s existence had to be found, and many found it in social action.

The ecclesiological crisis in the mainline churches is illustrated by an incident at a major university divinity school some years back.  Near the end of the semester in a “Theology of the Church” course, a perplexed student asked a noted feminist theologian, “Given what you’ve said during this semester, why do we need the church?”  After pondering the question for a moment, the theologian replied, “Well, the church has resources that we need in the struggle against racism, sexism, and homophobia.”  But there is more to the story—apparently none of the theologians at the school really wanted to teach the ecclesiology course, and so it was passed along to each in turn as a sort of distraction from what were deemed the more important tasks of theology.  You can imagine the impact that such thinking has had on many students preparing for ministry!  And that has been the story across a wide range of denominations, as money, property, and resources originally given by sincere Christians for the support of their beloved Bible-believing churches have been diverted to very different purposes.   The late Presbyterian theologian John Leith made quite a few enemies a number of years back when he insistently pointed out this breach of faith in his 1997 book Crisis in the Church.

All of this has inspired neither confidence in nor a love for the church in mainline circles, and massive membership hemorrhaging has been the inevitable result.  Studies show that some of these departures have gone in the direction of more conservative churches, but many more have moved from mainline churches to a thoroughly secular “none of the above.”  This should not surprise us—if the major task of the church is deemed to be advancing the feminist agenda or environmental activism, it makes more sense to become active in the National Organization of Women or the Sierra Club than to waste one’s time in church.

So, we might summarize the problem thus:  The loss of the Scriptural basis and confessional moorings for the church has left some denominations and congregations rudderless in the face of the winds of prevailing culture, and that religious pluralism has undercut classic notions of the church as the sphere of salvation.  The result of all this has been cynicism and massive loss of membership.   Now, I’m not saying this to gloat in some unseemly display of conservative triumphalism; in fact, I grieve over this situation, for I myself have deep roots in the mainline.  But we need to be realistic in our assessment of the situation.  And lest we conservatives become too smug, there are problems closer to home as well.

While the broader situation is somewhat better in evangelical churches, there is an ecclesiological crisis there as well.  To be sure, many American Evangelicals have retained a high view of the Bible’s authority, and of the saving uniqueness of Jesus Christ.  For that we must give thanks!  But the news is not all good, for various factors have conspired to undercut a vibrant doctrine of the church.  A major problem here is that many American Evangelicals have bought into aspects of the broader culture that corrode a biblical doctrine of the church.

Much of this has to do with the reflexive individualism and voluntarism of North American culture generally.  Our national consciousness was historically shaped by the frontier experience and by the keen desire to be free from the external constraint of king and Pope.  Individual rights are of paramount importance.  We begin our thinking with individual rights rather than our responsibilities to the community, an impulse given a great boost by the Enlightenment.  All this is no great secret, and was extensively explored by sociologist Robert Bellah and his colleagues in their book Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985).

If the individual is paramount, then the church will inevitably be viewed as a “voluntary society,” as the sum total of individuals who have chosen to identify with it.  For many, the “church” is simply the aggregate of those who have voluntarily decided to accept Jesus as their personal Savior.  All this stands in some tension with the prevailing New Testament images of the church as the “body of Christ,” the “family of God,” the “new Israel,” and the “people of God”—themes that emphasize the corporate body and the way that people becomes Christians by being united with a glorious corporate reality greater than themselves.

This individualism also informs the way many Evangelicals view the grace of God and process of salvation.  It is thought that we come to God directly as individuals, and that the ministry of the church with its means of grace is perhaps helpful for some but not really necessary.  Of paramount importance is the individual’s conversion experience, and for many the ongoing life of faith and the Christian nurture through Word and sacrament that take place in the church fade into insignificance.

It is not difficult to see how these ways of thinking have undermined the rich ecclesiology affirmed by earlier generations.  Although many more examples could be cited, let’s briefly examine the impact on the church’s worship and organization.  If the individual is supreme, then the worship of the church will almost inevitably be judged in terms of what the individual gets out of it.  Rather than a profound corporate act of doxology to the triune God and Lord of all creation, worship now becomes a pragmatic and contextual exercise designed to evoke certain responses from us.

Likewise, if the church is but a voluntary society of those who share similar experiences or concerns, then there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about the structure and work of the church.  And so the trend has been to offload many of the traditional functions of the church onto so-called “parachurch” organizations.  In the evangelical world, the tasks of evangelism, missions, relief, and Christian education on the primary, secondary, collegiate, and seminary levels have been largely outsourced to these other organizations.  Thus, American Evangelicalism has been better known for its “para-ecclesiology” (views of parachurch ministry) than for its ecclesiology.  Little wonder, then, that many are uncertain about the nature, purpose and mission of the church!

While it is true that not all churches calling themselves “evangelical” have fallen headlong into these patterns, and some Reformed groups have been rather resistant to them, I would like to suggest four areas where we can draw on the best of our Reformed and Evangelical heritage in order to strengthen our understanding of the church.

First, we must work to recover a healthy Reformational sense of the church as “catholic” or universal.  The church of Jesus Christ is not just the local congregation or a particular denomination.  It is a glorious “body of Christ” that unites believers from all places on earth and throughout all time.  This view of the church comes to pointed expression in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the Apostle tells us that Christ has been “made the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23, RSV).  Such a recognition of the true catholicity of the church serves as an antidote to clannishness and to the natural tendency to identify the “church” with a particular culture or group’s way of doing things.  This insight is exceedingly helpful in churches that tend toward the traditional in worship and organization.  In some Reformed churches, the inertia of traditionalism is strong indeed.  We often do things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always been done . . . since dirt was young.  Perhaps that is why we like to sing those lines in the “Gloria Patri”: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”  But the catholicity of the church reminds us that there are other options, and that is tremendously liberating.

Second, we must recognize anew the importance of the means of grace.  In Scripture we see that God works among his people through appointed means—the preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, the ministry of prayer and praise, and so forth.  This truth helps us to keep both our congregational lives and our personal spiritual walks on track.   Here we recognize that the primary task of the church is to minister in God’s appointed ways to His people.  Here we also recognize that we as individual Christians are to find our spiritual food at the banquet table of the church rather than at the spiritual fast-food vendors of religious television or worse.

Third, we must strengthen our appreciation of the church’s act of corporate worship in service to God.  What a solemn and yet splendid and joyous privilege it is to come into the presence of a holy and righteous God in worship!  As we come to realize that the character of our worship must be shaped by the object of that worship (namely God Himself), we have the antidote to all those persistent temptations to trivialize worship by making worship about us instead.   The purpose and goal of worship is not to provide us with a positive experience (although that often happens).  The purpose of worship is not to evangelize (though we rejoice when sinners come to faith in the context of a worship service).  Rather, the purpose of worship is to “glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Finally, we must enhance our understanding of the mission to which the church is called.  Particularly in times like today when the church is rightly concerned about its own integrity, there is the temptation to turn inward and to lose sight of the church’s mission.  When Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, he gave them a task to accomplish: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, RSV).

How can you as seminary student take the doctrine of the church seriously?  Well, here are some suggestions:

First, be seriously involved in a local congregation.  Remember to be charitable and keep in mind that no congregation is perfect.  Our ecclesiology, no matter how well considered, is only an abstraction without ongoing involvement in the church.

Second, take your studies seriously, especially your church history and systematics courses.  If you love the church, you will want to learn her history and her system of belief.  The current lack of interest in church history and systematics that so many display is evidence of an ecclesiological problem.

Third, take the catholicity and connectionalism of the church seriously.  If you are under care or licensed to preach, attend your presbytery’s meetings.  Become familiar with the work of the agencies of the church.  Be aware of what is going on in sister denominations.

And finally, strive for balance.  A friend in ministry likes to say that if the devil can’t make us heretics, he tries to make us weird, and such quirkiness generally manifests itself as a lack of balance.  When Presbyterian ministers are ordained, they vow to uphold the peace, the purity, and the prosperity of the church.  Without balance these three can stand in tension with each other.  For example, for those who value the peace of the church above all, any effort to preserve purity is divisive.  Some are so focused on purity that they forget about peace.  The church today desperately needs as leaders balanced and centered individuals who have a clear sense of what is important and vital, and who passionately love the church.

A Brief Response to Darryl Hart

With his usual mix of vinegar and vigor, 2K advocate Darryl G. Hart has responded to my recent post on the “The Two-Kingdoms Theology and Christians Today.”  I want to thank him for initiating a spirited discussion of my post, though I might wish he were a bit less predictable.  For example, I’ve pretty much found that I can set my watch by the regularity of the gratuitous swipes at Darryl’s bête noire—a certain PCA minister in New York.

Here are just a few comments on some issues raised.  First, on the matter of the relationship between church and kingdom the real issue is not whether the church is the kingdom but whether the visible church and the kingdom are coextensive (as 2K proponents maintain).  The recent NT scholarship I referenced maintains, rightly I think, that the church is an aspect of the kingdom of God, but that the kingdom is a reality greater in scope than the church.  Hart’s protestations notwithstanding, as far as I can tell none of the major Reformed confessions have definitively pronounced on this key question.  But this question is crucial to the present debate, for if the 2K advocates are wrong on this point their program falls apart.  Certainly the church stands at the center of God’s plan for the cosmos, but the 2K restriction of the kingdom to the visible church is difficult to square with, for example, Ephesians 1:21-23 where we read that with the ascension Christ has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (ESV).  That’s kingdom language, and it is a comprehensive kingdom!

Second, while it is good to see the document finally getting the scholarly scrutiny it deserves, I don’t think that the Gnesio-Lutheran Magdeburg Confession of 1550, written as it was at the height of the Interim crisis, should be taken as the last word on the Lutheran approach to church and state relations.   As recent scholarship has demonstrated, there was a flurry of Lutheran resistance thinking between 1530 and 1555 in response to Roman Catholic pressure, and the Reformed were involved in similar discussions as well (Calvin articulates the lesser-magistrate argument as early as the 1536 Institutes!).   A more interesting question is why the later stance of Lutheran passivity vis-à-vis the state emerged after the Catholic threat subsided with the Peace of Augsburg, and the extent to which Lutheran two-kingdoms thinking is implicated in this development.  In addition, one practical reason that resistance theory continued to develop under Reformed auspices is perhaps that Lutherans often could choose to live under a Lutheran prince by moving to a neighboring principality, while many Reformed did not have that luxury.

Third, I want to thank commenter Chris Hutchinson for his pushback on the issue of Lutheran third use of the law, and commenter Steve Martin for his expression of an alternative Lutheran viewpoint.  While I disagree with Martin on the details, he has in my judgment articulated where a good deal of Lutheranism tends to end up.  I still think my statement about the Lutheran approach to Law and Gospel is defensible as a broad-brush treatment in a 2000-word post, but obviously there is more to be said.

While he certainly places much more emphasis on the condemning function of the Law, Luther does at points speak of it as relevant to the life of the Christian.  The Formula of Concord affirms the Law as guide for the life of the Christian; some Lutheran scholastics even spoke of four uses of the Law, and the Ten Commandments are a prominent element of Lutheran catechesis.  But, as Luther scholar Paul Althaus rightly points out, Luther also insists that the Law has been abrogated for the “new” or “inner man” (i.e., the justified Christian) because Christ has fulfilled the Law (see, e.g., Luther’s “On the Freedom of the Christian”), and the Law is in a sense unnecessary in that the Holy Spirit inscribes God’s desires upon the heart and enables the Christ to fulfill them.  But the “old man” remains in that the Christian is both “sinner and saint” (Luther’s famous simul iustus et peccator) and thus the preaching of the Law serves to drive even the Christian to Christ and to underscore God’s expectations.   The practical difficulties involved in this dialectical anthropology (e.g., how can we be sure that we are not addressing the law as law to the “new man” and thus inculcating works righteousness?) have, I think, contributed to the marked ambivalence in Lutheranism toward the third use of the law.

The Two-Kingdoms Theology and Christians Today

Bill Evans head shot

These are perplexing times for evangelical Christians who seek to be faithful to Christ in the midst of a contrary culture.   The conventional view in American evangelical circles has been what we may term “transformational,” in that it was shaped by the Puritan goal of society as a Christian covenanted community, the Awakening impulse that spawned many efforts to redeem the broader culture, and the neo-Calvinist perspective of Abraham Kuyper (and successors such as Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer) emphasizing a Christian world-and-life view as foundational to the transformation of culture.  While these influences were not overtly theocratic, they did see a positive role for Christians as Christians in society.

More recently, an outspoken group has rejected all of this, contending that Christians should view themselves as citizens of two distinct kingdoms (the church and the world), and that efforts to transform society on the basis of Christian principles are wrongheaded.  This perspective has been labeled “2K” (Two Kingdoms) “R2K” (“Reformed” or “Radical Two Kingdoms”), “NL2K” (Natural Law Two Kingdoms) theology, and the “common-kingdom model,” and it is particularly associated with present and former faculty members at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California—ethicist David VanDrunen, theologian Michael Horton, historian Darryl Hart, and their students.[1]  Not surprisingly, it has recently been dubbed by theologian John Frame the “Escondido Theology.”[2]  While the major participants are affiliated with conservative Reformed denominations, their influence goes well beyond those confessional groups, and so this is a phenomenon well worth exploring in more detail.

That something like 2K theology would be attractive in the current context should not surprise.  American culture is increasingly secular.  Hostility to biblical Christianity increases, and the end of “Constantinianism” (the synthesis of Western culture and Christianity that began with the Roman emperor Constantine) is widely announced.  Efforts by the Religious Right to transform America are seen as a failure, and the Christian Reconstructionist or Theonomist movement has faded.  In addition, some are convinced that transformational efforts have distracted the church from its spiritual calling of preparing souls for heaven through the ministry of Word and sacrament.  Thus, 2K theology seems tailor-made for a post-Constantinian context where many are concerned for the integrity of the church and its ministry, and it also seems to provide a theological fig leaf for culture-war fatigue.

What are the basics of 2K theology?  First, there are two realms or kingdoms—the world, which is governed by creational wisdom or natural law accessible to all, and the church, which is shaped and governed by the Gospel.  Christians are citizens of both realms and are answerable to the claims of both.  Second, because the world is normed by natural law, there is no distinctively “Christian” worldview that can be applied to all of life.   There is no Christian-world-and-life perspective on politics, or economics, or psychology, etc.  Finally, Christian efforts to transform or redeem society are wrongheaded and involve a confusion of the two kingdoms.  Thus, the ministry of the church is exclusively spiritual in nature.

According to 2K advocates, such thinking is firmly rooted in the Christian tradition, and four key sources are often cited.  St. Augustine of Hippo’s magnum opus, The City of God, was written in the wake of the fall of Rome in AD 410 to the barbarians.  In it, Augustine assures Christians that their hopes rest not in earthly society or empire but in heaven, and he schematizes human history in terms of two cities—the city of the world shaped by love of self and made up of those who “live by human standards” and are predestined to hell, and the city of God shaped by love for God and made up of those “who live according to God’s will” and are predestined for heaven.  Thus Christians are simultaneously citizens of heaven and pilgrims on earth.[3]  Here Augustine sought to express the biblical distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil.  But Augustine was no Manichaean dualist—he recognized that the inhabitants of the earthly city can accomplish relative goods, and he also believed that the efforts of Christians to better society can achieve real, if limited, results.  Moreover, Augustine encouraged a public role for distinctively Christian virtues, even arguing that temporal rulers should suppress idolatry.[4]  Thus, Augustine’s two cities are not the same thing as the recent Two Kingdoms.

More promising for recent 2K advocates is the distinction between two kingdoms found in the writings of Martin Luther.   Luther modified the Augustinian framework by means of programmatic distinctions between Law and Gospel, the spiritual and the temporal, the inner and outer man, and so on.  Thus there is a twofold rule of God—the kingdom of the world is governed by God through Law, while the church is governed by the Gospel.  The implications of this move are profound.  With Luther, the kingdom of the world achieves what Bernhard Lohse has termed a new “independence” over against Christianity, and a more positive view of the kingdom of the world emerges (in this sense, I would even argue that the Lutheran Two-Kingdoms doctrine was a factor in the emergence of the modern notion of the secular).  In addition, the state, as an expression of the kingdom of the world, has its own integrity apart from Christianity, and Christians as citizens of both kingdoms must submit to the state.  Thus there is in Luther little room for rebellion against civil government.  Finally, the church has an exclusively spiritual role and is not to try to improve society.[5]

Reformed Two-Kingdoms advocates have spent a good deal of time trying to portray Calvin as a keen disciple on Luther on this issue.  But while Calvin deployed two-kingdoms language, he generally did so with somewhat different aims and his practical stance was more activistic.  He sought to protect the church from the encroachments of the state, and to emphasize that Christians have a spiritual obligation to the state, but the temporal realm does not have the independence that it has in Luther.[6]   Despite similarities in language, this difference helps to account for the profound contrast between the passivity of the Lutheran tradition toward the state and the historic pattern of social and political activism evident among Reformed Christians.  Calvin’s role in Geneva underscores his conviction that distinctively Christian concerns have an important role in the public square, and that magistrates are obligated to further Christian virtues.

These differing conceptions of the Two Kingdoms are rooted to some degree in different understandings of Law and Gospel.  For Lutherans, the law always condemns, while the gospel is understood primarily as freedom from condemnation.  The Reformed understanding of both differs.  Here the notion of Law is conditioned by the doctrine of the covenant, and the Gospel is understood as both freedom from condemnation of sin and the power of sin.  Thus, in the Westminster Confession of Faith the condemning aspects of the law are assigned to the covenant of works, while the law as a “rule of life” does “sweetly comply” with the “grace of the Gospel” (WCF 19.6-7).  For these reasons, Lutherans are able to “distinguish Law and Gospel” in ways that the Reformed generally do not, and simply citing formal similarities in Lutheran and Reformed language on the Two Kingdoms and Law/Gospel will not do.  One must dig deeper to discern what is really meant and what is entailed.

Given that the Reformed tradition has historically been decidedly more activistic and transformational than Lutheranism with its two-kingdoms focus, where are contemporary Reformed 2K advocates to find antecedents for their position?  The answer lies in Southern Presbyterianism and its doctrine of the “spirituality of the church” that emerged with vigor in the post-Civil War period.   As historian Jack Maddex argued in a seminal 1976 article, southern Presbyterians shifted from an activistic and even theocratic stance to a rigid separation of the sacred and the secular: “Smarting under northern accusations that they had formed a ‘political alliance’ with slavery, Southern Presbyterians assumed an apolitical stance.  Turning from social and political concerns, they concentrated on personal piety and church organization.”[7]

Enough has been said to demonstrate that 2K claims are revisionist, particularly their Lutheranized version of the Reformed tradition.  But are there theological and pastoral problems here?  I think there are.  First, the kingdom of God and the institutional church are wrongly equated by 2K advocates.  There is a rough consensus among New Testament scholars that the kingdom of God is a much more comprehensive reality than the institutional church, and this misidentification of the church and the kingdom has all sorts of unfortunate results, such as confusion over the nature of “kingdom work” and the silencing of Christians from speaking to societal issues.[8]

Second, this 2K theology evinces a radical creation-redemption dualism that distorts the Scriptural witness at certain key points.  It denies the continuity of the old creation with the new,[9] and this brings with it a suspicion of real transformation (whether personal or social) in this life.  In other words, according to 2K our efforts to apply creational wisdom or natural law are not bad things, but our experience of salvation today is entirely a spiritual matter, and efforts to change this world have no lasting or eternal significance for the world to come.  Moreover, this present world will be destroyed and replaced by a new creation.  But while there are passages in Scripture that speak of the relationship between the old and new in terms of discontinuity (e.g., 2 Peter 3:11-13), others depict restoration rather than annihilation.  Perhaps most telling is Paul’s argument in Romans 8:18-25, in which the Apostle speaks of creation as currently “subject to futility” that “will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glory of the children of God” (ESV).  At very least, this suggests that 2K advocates have missed the careful dialectic of eschatological continuity and discontinuity in Scripture.

We will cheerfully admit that 2K advocates have some legitimate concerns, particularly that the mission and witness of the church not be hijacked by political and cultural agendas.  But in this instance the cure is worse than the disease.  While 2K theology may well scratch the itch of Christians who need a theological excuse to remain silent in current cultural conflicts, it is both less than biblical and less than faithful to the decided weight of the Reformed tradition.


[1] See, e.g., David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms (2010); Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (2010); D. G. Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (2006).

[2] See John Frame, The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology (2011); Other critiques include Ryan C. McIlhenny, ed., Kingdoms Apart: Engaging the Two Kingdoms Perspective (2012); William D. Dennison, “Review of VanDrunen’s Natural Law,” Westminster Theological Journal 75 (2013): 349-370; and  Dan Strange, “Not Ashamed! The Sufficiency of Scripture for Public Theology,” Themelios 36/2 (2011).

[3] Augustine, City of God (Bettenson trans., 1984), 593-596 (XIV.28—XV.1).

[4] For a subtle analysis of this, see Eugene TeSelle, Augustine the Theologian (1970), 268-278.

[5] On these issues, see Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work (1986), 186-193.  See also Paul Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther (1972), 43-82; Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms in the Context of His Theology, trans. James W. Leitsch (1963).

[6] See Calvin, Institutes, IIII.19.15; IV.20.1-32.

[7] Jack P. Maddex, “From Theocracy to Spirituality: The Southern Presbyterian Reversal on Church and State,” Journal of Presbyterian History 54/4 (1976): 448.  Maddex points to Stuart Robinson as the crucial figure in this development, and Robinson’s ideas have recently been championed by VanDrunen.

[8] See, e.g., Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (1962), 354; G. E. Ladd, Theology of the New Testament (1974), 111-119.

[9] See, e.g., VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 66-67.

United with the Risen Jesus

davis

[Editor's Note: This is a guest post by my good friend and former seminary teacher Dr. Clair Davis.  Dr. Davis studied under John Murray at Westminster Theological Seminary before completing his Dr.theol. under Otto Weber at the University of Göttingen in Germany.  He then taught at Wheaton College, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Redeemer Seminary in Dallas.]

John Murray taught me so much.  He especially taught me how to say the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I used to pause after saying ‘death’ (was I meditating?) and then go on to ‘resurrection.’  Murray taught me to say, ‘death-and-resurrection,’ since those sides of Jesus’ blessing to us fit together, and have to fit together. How important is his Cross? Learn to look at it the way his Father and our Father did, it’s so enormous a commitment of Jesus’ heart and life that the Father exalted him and gave him to us as supremely worthy of our worship—and he did that by raising him from the dead! If you ask, how big is the resurrection, then the answer would have to be, as big as the salvation of the lost and dying world, you and me included!

Now here’s the next step. After you master death-and-resurrection, try out saying justification-and-sanctification, forgiveness-and-change.  I think that’s about the most important thing we need to do, right now. When we get that right, then we can tell the good news of Jesus so much better to ourselves, to each other and to the world—and biggest and best of all, to our Father. Something is very wrong right now. I’m not hearing passion and joy in our worship. I’m not hearing brothers and sisters in the Lord saying much to each other about Jesus. Outsiders are scoffing at our meaningless words, and I believe that’s about what those words deserve.

Think about those pieces isolated from each other. Justification is the biggest one for us Protestants. Medieval theology sounded like this: if you do your best, then God may give you grace, and maybe not. That kept on just looking at you and whether you’re trying hard enough. What a breath of fresh air the Reformation was: it’s not about you and whether your effort is enough, it’s about Jesus and what he did. Trust him, don’t trust how hard you’re trusting him (the most beautiful and joyful of all our technical terms: extraspective). If it’s not because we’re working as hard as we can at trusting Jesus, then why O why does God give us that saving trust anyway? There’s the biggest question ever, with its answer is so unexpected and fulfilling. Why? Because God loves us, that’s why. Wait a minute, we have a communication problem, just tell me, why does God love us? You still don’t get it, he loves us because he loves us! You can stretch that out forever, but that’s where it’s going to come out.

We have to say it that way to be faithful to God’s Word, that our salvation is not by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. But is that going to sound this way: Jesus did it all, so chill out? Enjoy life, tell each other sweet things about Jesus, get used to losing the battle with Satan? That’s called Antinomianism, it’s believing that following Jesus and obeying him, taking up your cross daily, are all just figures of speech.  Did anyone ever really believe that, I’ve never heard it? But there are people who talk nonstop about grace and hardly ever about battling sin. They just assume that if you really understood what Jesus has done for you, then you’d easily turn to what that has to mean in your challenged life. I understand that, but it’s not right—it says, if you understand part of the Bible you can ignore the rest, and that’s just foolish. Joy without the battle, that’s not the gospel, that’s not the Jesus of reality.

Or you can go just the opposite way: you think you already know enough about Jesus and grace, let’s take that part for granted, let’s work on the issues. That Neonomianism (following Jesus is a new law), is that exactly what we need to hear in this rebellious age today?  Maybe.  But I’ve heard too many sermons without any Jesus. That deep and moving Clowney biblical theology I learned in seminary was this: the Bible is from beginning to end about Jesus—so your life should be too! That has to be right.

There’s more misunderstanding and conflict over this than anything else I know. Should we baptize babies, drink wine with alcohol in it, vote Democrat—all those we can live with and love each other with, but not this one. What is it that we’re not getting, what’s the gospel truth that we need to live by? Sometimes in feels like we’re not going to get a clear answer but only more and more confusion. There have been quick and clear answers all divisive and unhelpful. Some have told us, we can explain law and grace with helpful charts—that was dispensationalism and it sounded very good but chopped up our Bible and moved toward antinomianism.  I loved Jack Miller and Paul Kooistra and their Sonship and Living in Grace, but somehow many couldn’t put that together with the how-tos of life.

So saying justification-and-sanctification together seems impossible, and we’ve almost stopped trying.  That’s why that all we can say now is vague and no-account.  There are so many things that the church of Jesus Christ needs, Bible knowledge, Christian conversations, finding the right place for women, etc. But I think this is at the top of the list, putting God’s grace in Jesus Christ and our hard battle together.

I just read again Bill Evans’s Imputation and Impartation, the best record of all those failed attempts.  He ends with an attention-getting word: bipolar. I think he’s right, we’re getting too good at schizophrenia. We can do one or the other, do justification in our evangelism, do battling Satan the rest of the time—but not together.  Never Jesus with battling, never joyful worship with seeing clearly our sinful hearts, but bipolar. Back then I was at Westminster Seminary when we tried for over seven years to figure this out, was Norman Shepherd right when he said justification was by our ‘obedient faith’? We were godly people committed to God’s Word, trying hard to understand each other—and we failed.  Should that have been in Bill’s book too?

This is not one of those things that a handful of people make a living at.  This bipolar thing is very big and we must all pray and work at it. Right now the story we tell to the nations can be fuzzy and trivial.

Bill tries to show us the way. There was John Calvin who saw it very clearly and told us that if you want to see how justification and sanctification work together, you need to see that they both flow from ‘union with Christ.’  Try saying this: from-our-union-with-Christ-we-receive-both-justification-and-sanctification. Calvin must have been right, it’s a mistake to try to put together two kinds of a grace thing without seeing everything coming from the love of our Savior who brings us to himself. But it doesn’t look like anyone got that much from Calvin. I learned the same thing from John Murray, union is usually at the ‘end’ of what we say about the ordo salutis, the way of salvation—but it really belongs at the beginning.  But none of us have been very good at putting feet on that.

Just what is it to be united with Jesus Christ?  That seems to me to be the most pressing question before us.  Probably in the past that was a question so ultimate that it hardly seemed reasonable to consider it now.  Of course we’ll experience that as we worship him in heaven forever.  Of course then we will grasp everything much more clearly than we do now.  But if our holiness is not just perfect then, but has a true beginning now, and if for everyone of God’s good gifts to his people the same could be said—then why should we not ask right now what is the reality of our union with him, now and forever?

We know that the end times began two thousand years ago. Everything in our experience right now is ‘eschatological.’  We will experience more in heaven, but we are sure that what we experience of Jesus is definitive forever.  We must not let the not-yet blur the reality of the already. Right now is the time for us to feast upon our union with him and for our hearts to overflow in worship, because being united with him is the heart and soul of our lives.

Specifically, we must worship the Lord right now because of the union we enjoy with the resurrected Jesus, just as much as with the one who has crucified for us.  Newness of life, resurrection, is what we now possess. The Wesley/Whitefield Awakening with its emphasis on the need for us to be born again was not at all one-sided but effectively comprehensive, more I believe than those later concentrating solely on deliverance from the wrath of God.  Isn’t it time to look more deeply at the resurrection of our Savior Jesus, and how we are united with our risen Lord?

My colleague Dick Gaffin has put that at the heart of his life of scholarly work, and speaks to us now of resurrection-justification!  While that focus points to Jesus, could that also be our way to union-with-Jesus-justification?  Could that be the fruitful beginning of a fresh and integrated, trans-bipolar way to trust, and obey, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Are we now united with the exalted Jesus, exalted because of how he did his Father’s will for us, even unto death? Can we now live our lives of whole-hearted obedience from his exalted place at the right hand of the Father, exalted because of his whole-hearted obedience?

I need to put that all in the shape of questions, because while so far we can see the way ahead we have a long way to go.  As you look again at Bill Evans, after centuries of feeble one-sided appreciations of our salvation, are we now much closer than we ever have been to a whole-hearted singing faith for ourselves and for the nations? I believe so. I’m even starting to think that the Western side of our faith may well be helped by looking again at the Eastern side, with its deep appreciation of union through the incarnation—isn’t it time to remember Christmas with angel choirs reminding us of that amazing beginning of the Father’s love?

What can we see in Philippians 3?  That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.   There is the heart’s desire of Paul the veteran, but it fits us too, and it fits the unfulfilled hope of those who are still without God, doesn’t it?  Yes, God’s plan for us is fulfilled as we know Jesus Christ, as he is now exalted, the ruler of the world and one so worthy of our worship.  We desire to know him as the Father knows him, why he has exalted him.  We desire to know him as the fulfillment of all of God’s kind promises, of our deliverance from unbelief and slowness to obey.  We are ready to share his sufferings too, his path to exaltation.  As the myth of Christian America fades and the reality of Satan’s America becomes sharper, we are aware that the gospel is the ultimate hate crime and that we who express it must take the consequences, with our Jesus who was there first.  That path of worthy glory, for us and the Jesus we worship and adore, must go through the desolate valley first and we ready ourselves for that.  In all things Jesus shares his life and his way with us, and we joyfully glorify him as we go ahead.