Sanctifying The Common

distinctively Christian cultural activity contra the neotwokingdoms view

The earlier (or paleo-) "two kingdoms" view held by Reformation thinkers (Lutheran and Calvinist) is, in brief, that God rules people both immediately or directly by His Spirit (in the regenerate), and mediately or indirectly by authority delegated to human offices.  At least among the Reformed (Calvinists) who held this view, it was affirmed that Christians' activities in whatever area of cultural vocation can and should be done in a genuinely Christian manner, for the only alternative would be to do such things in a way at odds with the Christian faith.  This conviction is shared by neocalvinism.

The contemporary (or neo-) two kingdoms view of the relationship between Christianity and culture takes the distinction of kingdoms to be between the institutional church (conceived as the holy spiritual kingdom) and the state with all other non-ecclesial societal institutions (conceived as the common civil kingdom).  Creation or the providential order is correlated exclusively with the latter; and Redemption is correlated exclusively with the former.  This position holds that activities in non-ecclesial areas can in no way be holy; a Christian's cultural activity, while good, can never be done in a redemptive or Christian way.

Despite a shared commitment to the confessionally Reformed faith and covenantal redemptive-historical hermeneutic of Scripture, there are several significant points of disagreement between neotwokingdomism and neocalvinism regarding the relation of Christianity to culture.  It seems to me that the question of whether a Christian's cultural activity can be properly Christian is at the root of the disagreement.  I'm not interested in defending every view that has gone by the name neocalvinism or that has invoked a quotation of Kuyper for support. And not every so-called "transformationalist" view of culture is neocalvinist.  But it is my hope that fellow confessionally Reformed believers will be persuaded of a genuine neocalvinist position.  Perhaps the following considerations will be helpful.

To my knowledge the first expression in print of neotwokingdomism was Michael Horton's 1995 book Where In The World Is The Church? Horton writes:
Because God has created this world and upholds it by His gracious providence, there is no secular activity that is barred from Christians, unless that activity is specifically forbidden by God in Scripture. It does not have to be “Christianized” or “spiritualized.” For instance, we do not need to write Christian philosophy or Christian music, Christian poetry or Christian fiction, although we do need Christian theology, worship, evangelism, and ethics.
All of life is not sacred, but that which is simply common (ie, “secular”) is nevertheless valuable and honorable because it is part of God's creation. He is as much the Lord of the secular as He is of the sacred. Political activity is not “kingdom work,” but the advance of earthly cities was the original task given to Adam and his posterity in the cultural mandate... These are secular callings that have God's blessing by virtue of creation, not “kingdom activities” that have God's blessing by virtue of redemption.

More recently, in his 2010 book Living In God's Two Kingdoms, David VanDrunen writes that he hopes the neotwokingdoms vision will liberate his readers "from well-meaning but nonbiblical pressure... to find uniquely "Christian" ways of doing ordinary tasks" (p.27).  Most interestingly, VanDrunen affirms that Christians "should take up cultural tasks with joy and express their Christian faith through them.... [T]he effects of sin penetrate all aspects of life. Christians must therefore be vigilant in their cultural pursuits, perceiving and rejecting the sinful patterns in cultural life and striving after obedience to God’s will in everything.... Christians should seek to live out the implications of their faith in their daily vocations" (p.13-15).  And yet VanDrunen maintains that a Christian "does not have to adopt a redemptive vision of culture" to do so.

One might wonder how, given the ubiquity of sin and its effects in all areas of life, Christians can perceive and reject sinful patterns in their cultural activities and, moreover, express and live out the implications of their faith in and through such cultural activities entirely apart from any effect of redemption on their view of or actual participation in cultural tasks.  Neotwokingdomism may seem equivocal in holding that Christians should somehow express their faith through cultural activities, and maintaining, nevertheless, that faith makes no difference at all in how one does such activities.  VanDrunen even affirms "that Christians should transform culture in the sense that they seek to have a beneficial influence on this world as they perform cultural activities with excellence and interpret them rightly" (p.13 fn)  But, according to the neotwokingdoms view, it must always be kept in mind that the benefit, excellence, and right interpretation wrought by Christians in cultural activities has no distinct Christian character, and is not in any way a result of redemption.

Contrary to neotwokingdomism, Calvin's comments on 1 Timothy 4:3-5 may shed some light on the redemptive view taken up by neocalvinism.
vs.3 "by believers"
What then? Does not God make his sun to rise daily on the good and the bad? (Mat 5:45) Does not the earth, by his command, yield bread to the wicked? Are not the very worst of men fed by his blessing? When David says, “He causeth the herb to grow for the service of men, that he may bring forth food out of the earth,” (Ps 104:14) the kindness which he describes is universal. I reply, Paul speaks here of the lawful use, of which we are assured before God. Wicked men are in no degree partakers of it, on account of their impure conscience, which, as is said, “defileth all things.” (Titus 1:15)

And indeed, properly speaking, God has appointed to his children alone the whole world and all that is in the world. For this reason, they are also called the heirs of the world; for at the beginning Adam was appointed to be lord of all, on this condition, that he should continue in obedience to God. Accordingly, his rebellion against God deprived of the right, which had been bestowed on him, not only himself but his posterity. And since all things are subject to Christ, we are fully restored by His mediation, and that through faith; and therefore all that unbelievers enjoy may be regarded as the property of others, which they rob or steal....

vs.4 "every creature of God is good"
The use of food must be judged, partly from its substance, and partly from the person of him who eats it. The Apostle therefore avails himself of both arguments. So far as relates to food, he asserts that it is pure, because God has created it; and that the use of it is consecrated to us by faith and prayer. The goodness of the creatures, which he mentions, has relation to men, and that not with regard to the body or to health, but to the consciences. I make this remark, that none may enter into curious speculations unconnected with the scope of the passage; for, in a single word, Paul means, that those things which come from the hand of God, and are intended for our use, are not unclean or polluted before God, but that we may freely eat them with regard to conscience.

If it be objected, that many animals were formerly pronounced to be unclean under the Law, and that fruit, which was yielded by the tree of knowledge of good and evil, was destructive to man; the answer is, that creatures are not called pure, merely because they are the works of God, but because, through his kindness, they have been given to us; for we must always look at the appointment of God, both what he commands and what he forbids.

vs.5 "it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer"
This is the confirmation of the preceding clause, "if it be received with thanksgiving." And it is an argument drawn from contrast; for “holy” and “profane” are things contrary to each other. Let us now see what is the sanctification of all good things, which belong to the sustenance of the present life. Paul testifies that it consists of “the word of God and prayer.” But it ought to be observed, that this word must be embraced by faith, in order that it may be advantageous; for, although God himself sanctifies all things by the Spirit of his mouth, yet we do not obtain that benefit but by faith. To this is added “prayer;” for, on the one hand, we ask from God our daily bread, according to the commandment of Christ (Mat 6:11) and, on the other hand we offer thanksgiving to Him for His goodness.

Now Paul’s doctrine proceeds on this principle, that there is no good thing, the possession of which is lawful, unless conscience testify that it is lawfully our own. And which of us would venture to claim for himself a single grain of wheat, if he were not taught by the word of God that he is the heir of the world? Common sense, indeed, pronounces, that the wealth of the world is naturally intended for our use; but, since dominion over the world was taken from us in Adam, everything that we touch of the gifts of God is defiled by our pollution; and, on the other hand, it is unclean to us, till God graciously come to our aid, and by ingrafting us into his Son, constitutes us anew to be lords of the world, that we may lawfully use as our own all the wealth with which he supplies us.

Justly, therefore, does Paul connect lawful enjoyment with “the word”, by which alone we regain what was lost in Adam; for we must acknowledge God as our Father, that we may be his heirs, and Christ as our Head, that those things which are his may become ours. Hence it ought to be inferred that the use of all the gifts of God is unclean, unless it be accompanied by true knowledge and calling on the name of God; and that it is a beastly way of eating, when we sit down at table without any prayer; and, when we have eaten to the full, depart in utter forgetfulness of God.

And if such sanctification is demanded in regard to common food, which, together with the belly, is subject to corruption, what must we think about spiritual sacraments? If “the word,” and calling on God through faith, be not there, what remains that is not profane? Here we must attend to the distinction between the blessing of the sacramental table and the blessing of a common table; for, as to the food which we eat for the nourishment of our body, we bless it for this purpose, that we may receive it in a pure and lawful manner; but we consecrate, in a more solemn manner, the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, that they may be pledges to us of the body and blood of Christ.

So, just as neocalvinism holds, and contrary to neotwokingdomism, while the things of this life are common to believers and unbelievers, the lawful use of them is distinctively Christian.  Although good in themselves, by sin all cultural activities have been defiled, polluted and become unclean, profane. Yet through redemption by Christ and the Spirit's gift of true knowledge of God, in faith and prayer, a Christian's cultural activities may be sanctified, made holy and Christian.

This does not eradicate the distinction between holy and common, but we will have to leave further elaboration to a future post.  We will also address the distinction between "structure" and "direction" that is key to understanding what neocalvinism means in holding to a redemptive view of culture; that a Christian's cultural activities may be done Christianly, in a distinctively Christian way.