Thursday, 5 November 2009

redeeming people or cultures?

I'm looking just now at the church and culture question - a perennial one. This quote from D A Carson, found here is as usual wise and helpful.

'Redemption terminology in the NT is so bound up with Christ's work for and in the church that to extend it to whatever good we do in the broader world risks a shift in focus. Not for a moment do I want to deny that we are to serve as salt and light, that exiles may be called to do good in the pagan cities where Providence has appointed them to live (Jer 29), that every square foot of this world is under Christ's universal reign (even though that reign is still being contested), that the nations of the world will bring their "goods" into the Jerusalem that comes down from above. But many of those who speak easily and fluently of redeeming the culture soon focus all their energy shaping fiscal and political policies and the like, and merely assume the gospel. A gospel that is merely assumed, that does no more than perk away in the background while the focus of our attention is on the "redemption" of the culture in which we find ourselves, is lost within a generation or two. At the same time, I worry about Christians who focus their attention so narrowly on getting people "saved" that they care little about doing good to all people, even if especially to the household of God. Getting this right is not easy, and inevitably priorities will shift a little in various parts of the world, under various regimes. Part of the complexity of the discussion, I think, is bound up with what the church as church is responsible for, and what Christians as Christians are responsible for: I have argued that failure to make this distinction tends to lead toward sad conclusions.'


Donald Ferguson said...

Carson, as ever, delivers a balanced comment on a complex issue. It is through the gospel that culture is transformed. In other words, it is the cumulative effect of the impact of Christ on individual lives. It is the Christian working as ‘salt’ in an unsavoury world and ‘light’ in a dark culture that makes the difference. Christian teachers, politicians, novelists, businessmen and woman, mechanics, physicists and plumbers change the world. The Church helps make them better Christians. Historically, it is revival that changes cultures not Church committees.

However, if Christians are to act as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ it is vital that the Church does not create a dichotomy between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’. The Reformers reclaimed the world of work for Christ and sometimes I fear we are handing it back to the devil today! We are in danger of thinking that only church work or ‘spiritual’ endeavour is ‘done for Christ’ and will ‘last’. We need to encourage Christians to take the fight to the enemy and bring Christ to the darkness of the media and the stock market. The danger of giving the impression that ‘church’ work is more important is that it enables the Christian to compartmentalise life and to have one mind set for church and another for work.

John Thomson said...


I would make two distinctions. The first is between the church as an 'institution' for want of a better word and the church as individual Christians. To my mind, the former must steer clear of politics etc and the latter in their vocational involvement will influence culture as salt and light. The first must preach the gospel and the latter seek to live that gospel out for the 'peace of the city'.

Secondly, and here I disagree with you Donald, I do think we must make some kind of difference between the sacred and secular or nature/grace or creation/new creation or two realms, however we name them.

These two spheres or realms or Kingdoms are both under the Lordship of Christ but function as different spheres.

The creational aspects of life are for this life only (food, marriage, work, relaxation etc). They belong to the realm of common grace. Christians use them carefully (using and not abusing) to God's glory and their own material blessing.

The new creational aspects are these things specifically connected to the Kingdom of God. They are those 'gospel matters' of the word,prayer, fellowship, evangelizing etc that in themselves enable us to draw near to God, that is, are means of grace in our lives. Paul was referring to commitment to these when he said, 'let those who are married live as unmarried'. Jesus was referring to these when he said, 'some are eunochs for the kingdom of heaven's sake'.

Discernement means that we don't allow what is intrinsically good get in the way of what is best.

Incidentally, this 'two-kingdom' view is the view of the reformers - Luther and Calvin.

I shall await the blast.

John Thomson said...


Despite disagreeing on the nature/grace distinction I do agree with the points you make. I simply think the distinction is biblical and without it common grace and special grace get confused. We end up with the spirituality of a drum solo or a jazz concert. Or with the idea that a sunset brings people near to God.

I agree that the issues are complex and I think we need to think a great deal about them. If we don't aesthetics soon become confused with biblical spiritual experience.

Nick Mackison said...

I'm with John in that I believe a sacred/secular distinction is necessary and vital to the purity of the gospel.

The sacred/secular distinction is necessary, but it is also essential that those who hold to it do not do so in such a way as to imply a holy/sinful distinction or a pleasing to God/displeasing to God distinction.

The secular realm is Christ's too and true good can be cone in that realm by those with a secular vocation. In true Reformed style, I think Donald is expressing his hearty approval of the sanctity of 'secular' work. We are not called to monk-like lifestyles.

Nevertheless, the ministry of the church is to build the spiritual kingdom and nourish those within this kingdom. Doing good in the secular realm is only possible for someone who has his focus on and has been born into this heavenly kingdom.

The church builds up those of the kingdom on the Lord's Day. The rest of the week, the kingdom people shine their light in world by performing their secular vocations well.

Donald Ferguson said...

Blast 1

I assume that you agree with me on the first paragraph as you say the same thing in different words! However, I think you misunderstand some of the second paragraph.

Firstly, my primary fear is that an unbiblical dichotomy is encouraged. It is one thing to distinguish between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ and another to separate them so that only the sacred is, in practice, treated as being under the lordship of Christ. Whatever we do for Christ is ‘sacred’ and brings him glory; in whatever context we are serving Him. That we must serve Christ faithfully in both spheres was what Luther and Calvin taught. I did not say we could not distinguish them – but we must not separate them so as to imply that the only worthwhile service to God has to do with ‘gospel matters’.

1Corinthians 10
31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Secondly, Paul saw ‘gospel work’ as rather wider that your definition.

1 Peter 2
13Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

Although we can distinguish these two kingdoms conceptually, as far as the Christian is concerned, he lives in them as under the one Lord following His will in order to bring him glory.

What is ‘best’ is – always and everywhere - following God’s will. There is nothing better! If you are following His will, living under His Lordship and doing all for His glory – at home or work or even leisure – tell me, what could be better? If God has placed me in certain employment [say teaching] and it is his will that I be in school at 9.00Am to teach and I do my job conscious of His Lordship ‘not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved’ – what could I be doing that is ‘better’? Would I be better praying or reading my bible? What would be best?

My point is that, for me, in that context, teaching is the best thing I can do. It is not second best or a means to an end. It is what God wants me to do. That is what the Reformers understood and so taught that we should treat work as a vocation and as no less worthy than the work of the ‘clergy’.

What this has to do with finding God in a sunset beats me!