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.
Yes, the argument has to move beyond the proof texts to the presuppositions involved.
I’d suspect that Keller’s transformationalism is quite different from Stetzer’s though. Our confessional standards (ARP, PCA…) should influence how we view this. The church should not speak to issues that Christians should speak to. Keller is not stressing the organized church in his transformationalism, while the SBC (Stetzer’s tribe) does.
I often struggle with the 2 kingdom model, as expressed by the Westminster West crowd, because they focus on the church. If they talked more about what Christians can/should do, I might find I agree with them. The aforementioned book is in my WTS Bookstore want list, so I’m interested to see how they flesh it out (though isn’t Gilbert a 9 Marks/SBC guy?). I was very disappointed in how Stetzer has presented his criticisms, mostly ad hominem and w/out substance.
Daniel Wells said:
Good thoughts, Steve. Couple of responses.
As I stated in my post, denominational lines are fuzzy when it comes to the Christ & Culture debate since various streams invade various denominations. The PCA is a great example with doctrinalist, pietiest, culturalist streams. The SBC is similar in that the 9Marks crowd (which is largely SBC) is more pietist and doctrinalist, though not culturalist. Stetzer, obviously, represents a culturalist stream, though his perspective is markedly different from a rural SBC church that preaches partisan politics and plays patriotic hymns on a semi regular basis.
Your comparison of Keller and Stetzer on transformationalism is interesting is not something I’ve given a ton of thought to. I’m sure there are differences, even though both men helped put together the 2010 Missional Manifesto. The continuity between Keller and Stetzer (from my reading) is that they see the church’s mission as perhaps including the notion of ‘blessing the city’ and promoting its welfare. This notion is heavily critiqued by DeYoung & Gilbert. Indeed, Stetzer and Keller may differ on what may be wise for the organized church to do (since Keller is well-read in the Dutch tradition, he may have this in common with Horton and co.).
Regarding how our confessional heritage should influence our thinking, I think that is part of the problem. In my reading of the Standards, there is no explicit teaching on this matter. This is probably because the time period of the Standards was during the latter part of Christendom (i.e. pre-Enlightenment). The Christ & Culture debate really takes shape in the post-Enlightenment West once we discovered that Nietzsche was right. Yet, even the Old School Souther Presbyterian notion of the ‘spirituality of the church’ is a post-confessional doctrine. Of course, a Reformed person could say that there is a specific Reformed ‘piety & practice’ that should govern our thinking on this issue and leads us to X conclusion. The problem is that this may not be a faithful application of our Standards. One solution is to add a chapter on culture/kingdom, but this may not resolve the predicament either.
Stetzer’s critique was perhaps too negative. Yet, this is in response to what he felt was an overtly negative book by DeYoung and Gilbert. In my brief reading of the book, I see sections where DeYoung and Gilbert are less than charitable (especially in their critique of Christopher Wright, which lacks an accurate interpretation, imo). In addition, Stetzer probably felt ‘attacked’ in the book since he is seen by many as the captain of the Missional SSR.
It will be interesting to see where this goes. I am still encouraged, though, that a Keller-run TGC allows Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung to be the two main bloggers. Then, throw in Tullian Tchividjian who is a ‘Kellerite’ yet also has an affinity for Horton’s soteriology. Yet, DeYoung would disagree with Horton’s soteriology yet agree with his view on Christ and Culture. Fascinating!
I suggest you look at WCF, XXXI, IV. We are not to meddle in civil affairs except for advice or humble petition. The SBC, though in some ways pietistic, has historically been more involved in politics and prone to boycott companies. Since Stetzer works for the non-denominational denomination…. I perhaps don’t view him accurately in some ways.
Keller, if I understand him correctly, is talking about Christians doing things in the city to bless it, not so much church programs doing things in the city. He does cloud it by saying at times that if the church were to disappear would the city notice. I don’t think he’s referring to particular congregations but Christians. Could be wrong.
I can’t comment on DeYoung & Gilbert’s criticisms of Wright since I haven’t seen them. I see a big difference between disagreeing with someone and attacking them personally- which Stetzer resorted to at times. He didn’t question their views, but their ‘credentials’. It wasn’t like they wrote a book on astrophysics or something.
It is all a very strange sort of thing, this is. Historically Dutch denominations departing from Kuyper for Luther, 2 guys from the same tribe disagreeing so strongly…. great theater.
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