Over the last week I’ve been trying to figure why some of my Young, Restless, and Reformed heroes can’t get along when it comes to defining and discussing the church’s mission. Indeed, the discussion has been, for the most part, charitable. It seems that The Gospel Coalition, 9Marks, Acts 29, and Together 4 the Gospel will advertise for one another at conferences and link to the other’s blog.
Still, I want to know why Ed Stetzer and Kevin DeYoung can’t agree on what seems to be a simple matter. Why do Greg Gilbert and Trevin Wax not see eye to eye on this issue? How come one group liked Deep Church and the other didn’t? What are the truly Young and Reformed to think in this restless debate?
I don’t propose a full-orbed or even sufficient answer, but I may have a potential insight. Perhaps the difference lies in one’s view of the “Christ and Culture” debate. Along with missiology, the Christ and Culture debate has elicited a number of books and articles over the last few decades. While Presbyterians and Baptists find agreement within their ranks on polity and baptist, the debate surrounding Christ and Culture goes across denominational lines since no particular tradition has a monopoly on the question.
In my skim reading session of What is the Mission of the Church? and various blogs covering the book’s discussion, it seems clear that DeYoung and Gilbert are largely sympathetic to the perspective of Michael Horton and David VanDrunen which espouses a particular form of the Two Kingdoms perspective on Christ and Culture. In addition, DeYoung and Gilbert seem sympathetic to Horton’s ecclesiology where the church has a very limited role in terms of proclamation, discipleship, and the “ordinary means of grace.”
However, when we see Stetzer, Wax, Belcher, and Keller discussing the church’s mission, there is a more ‘culturalist’ tone that betrays at least some affinity for the ‘transformationalist’ perspective of Niebuhrian fame. Indeed, the men listed would be similar in practice to Horton and co. concerning the pitfalls of the Religious Right movement and the lack of wisdom in having a politically partisan pulpit, but we might, to use George Marsden’s (and Keller’s) formulation, call Horton and co. ‘pietists’ and/or ‘doctrinalists’ and Keller and friends the ‘culturalists.’
Yet, even this debate goes back to another theological issue. John Frame in his Doctrine of the Christian Life notes how Meredith Kline’s cult/culture dichotomy has framed this debate within the broad Reformed community. This Klinean distinctive has perhaps been responsible for divisions over corporate worship as it now may be over the mission of the church. On the other hand, those who favor a more Van Tilian-Kuyperian approach (as mediated through American evangelical theology) in its various neo-calvinistic forms probably see problems with DeYoung and Gilbert’s work. (Not surprisingly, VanDrunen has heavily criticized almost all forms of neo-calvinism in his chapter “Calvin, Kuyper, and Christian Culture” in Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey)
If there is any insight at all to my suggestion, then maybe casting away our ignorance on discerning the real disagreement between DeYoung/Gilbert and their detractors might assist in the discussions going forward. Such theological clarity is enlightening when one realize’s how indebted they are to a particular theological paradigm or proposition.