Sanctifying The Common (2)

the structure/direction distinction and Christian cultural activity

In my last post, almost a year & a half ago, I explained that neotwokingdomism erroneously rejects the possibility of doing culture in a distinctively Christian way. The neotwokingdom position significantly depends on the view that since the institutional church and its activity are holy, cultural activity cannot be holy, or done Christianly, since culture is common. Michael Horton writes that “when God chose His people and instituted a form of worship, a clear distinction was made between “holy” and “common.” As Israel was “holy” and the nations were “common,” so God drew a line all the way down to pots and pans. Vessels used in the temple were holy; those used at home were common.”
Michael S. Horton, Where in the World is the Church?: A Christian View of Culture and Your Role in It (1995; rep., Phillipsburg, 2002), 85.

According to neotwokingdomism, the upshot for Christians today is that only the institutional church and its activities can be done Christianly. Advocates of this view hold that while a Christian's cultural activity can be good, it simply can't be holy in any way.

I pointed out how neotwokingdomism is contrary to the Reformers' (particularly Calvin's) views despite many of its adherents being fellow Reformed confessionalists, and how Calvin's view is in line with the view of neocalvinism. Here I elaborate further on this and what we mean in holding to a redemptive view of culture; that a Christian's cultural activities may be done Christianly, in a distinctively Christian way.

Cultural Activity
It’s important to keep in mind what we mean by “cultural activity.” We understand culture to be the secondary environment of human production within our natural environment. Being made in God’s image, designed to exercise dominion, humanity cannot help but act purposely, labor, and cultivate the creation (including ourselves) in some fashion and to some extent or other.
Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (1959; rep., Grand Rapids, 2001), xvii.

Our cultivative labor can be understood in terms of various layers. On the surface, as it were, we manifest observable behaviors, some of which we call customs, and we produce material artifacts of all kinds. At a deeper layer we develop communities and institutions for numerous ends, and these often reflect, at a deeper layer still, the numerous values according to which we discern what concrete activities to do and how to go about them. And at a base layer we embrace what may be called worldviews; basic understandings of what the world is and our different purposes within it. And these various layers exist in a dynamic of reciprocal influence. Our technologies and practices effect our beliefs and orientations, and vice versa.
G.Linwood Barney, “The Supracultural and the Cultural: Implications for Frontier Missions,” in The Gospel and Frontier Peoples: a report of a consultation, December 1972 , ed. Robert Pierce Beaver (South Pasadena, 1973), 48-55.

The activities within all these layers are all cultural activity. Both Christians and non-Christians participate in all these sorts of activities. By them we form the histories of our individual lives and of civilizations alike.

We might seem to beg the question if we admit that religion directs culture at the deepest layer. For, this very point, it seems, is at issue in the differences between neocalvinism and neotwokingdomism. While neotwokingdom'ers are sometimes loath to say they affirm the religious neutrality of culture, VanDrunen (for example) has spoken of rejecting “moral neutrality or autonomy,” which is not an identical matter.

Finer Distinctions
In distinction from the church and its sphere of activity, not only is there a civil or political sphere, but there are also other distinct sorts of common spheres, or kingdoms, if you will. For example, there are media, family, commerce, arts, school, medicine, social clubs, and various mutual aid societies. These are all distinct kinds of activity. Not only is each a legitimate area of God’s calling, but each area is a calling to something different. Each sphere has its own role to play and operates according to its own kind of rules in God’s design for societal division of labor, as it were. Of course the Lord calls one and the same person to activity in multiple spheres, but the proper character of the various responsibilities, in significant respects, remains distinctive in each case.
See my paper “Dooyeweerd's Conception of Societal Sphere Sovereignty.”

While there are hardly only two kingdoms in this sense, since there are several different common ones, neocalvinism recognizes that the church is distinguished and set apart from other spheres by its own distinct character which indeed has a special holiness. The neocalvinist view of “societal sphere sovereignty,” described in general terms above, should therefore be understood to be in precise harmony with and directly supporting, if not containing, the fundamental ideas of the Presbyterian doctrine of “the spirituality of the church.”

However, it is of crucial importance here to see that holiness has distinguishable senses. John Muether and Darryl Hart write that “sometimes Scripture describes this holiness in an objective or ceremonial sense (such as the tabernacle and the priests, who were holy because they were set apart for the worship of God), and sometimes in a subjective or ethical sense (such as the infusion of holiness through God's work of sanctification).”
D.G. Hart and John Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, 2002), 30.

Louis Berkhof explains of hagios, the primary New Testament word for ‘holy,’ that “the word does not always have the same meaning in the New Testament. (a) It is used to designate an external official relation, a being set aside from ordinary purposes for the service of God, as for instance, when we read of "holy prophets," Luke 1:70, "holy apostles," Eph. 3:5, and "holy men of God" II Pet. 1:21. (b) More often, however, it is employed in an ethical sense to describe the quality that is necessary to stand in close relation to God and to serve Him acceptably, Eph. 1:4; 5:27; Col. 1:22: I Pet. 1:15,16.”
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (1938; rep. Grand Rapids, 1996), 528.

Structure and Direction
These two senses of holiness relate to neocalvinism’s basic distinction between “structure” and “direction.”
Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained (1985; rep., Grand Rapids, 2005), 59, 88, 97.
By the term structure, we refer to God’s creational laws or ordinances that are in force for other created things, constituting such things as the kind of creatures they are. Wolters helpfully clarifies that he reserves the term structure to refer to the law order for creation and cultural activity, rather than also using the term to refer to structures of creation and culture (that is, cultural products themselves).

As there are different kinds of created things, so there are also different kinds of creational laws. Some laws are directly compelling, such as physical laws, for instance the law of gravity. Other laws, while always in force, are appealing. That is to say, they can be disobeyed. These appealing sorts of laws especially apply to cultural activity and are frequently referred to as norms, such as logical norms, for instance the law of non-contradiction or principle of contradiction.

By the term direction, we refer to negative deviation from and positive conformity to the normative ordinances. In the deepest sense, the unregenerate are in a condition of mis-direction away from God in the fallen natures of their hearts through sin, and the regenerate are in a condition of re-direction toward God in the renewed natures of their hearts through Christ. Of course, this is not at all to say that regenerated persons are set back in the position of Adam’s pre-fall probationary condition, but rather that when they are united to Christ in his eschatological blessedness, they are turned from idols unto God. However, as the regenerate still sin, they can also deviate from creational norms; their cultural activity can be done antinormatively. Conversely, the regenerate may also, by their redemption in Christ, discern and act in accordance with the norms God ordained for culture.

The structure/direction distinction relates to the two senses of holiness in that what has been called the objective, ceremonial, or official sense of holiness is a matter of structure, and what has been called the subjective or ethical sense of holiness is a matter of direction. The distinct holiness of the church and its sphere of activity is official or structural. For instance, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is not a common meal. It is a specially set apart sort of meal. It has a holiness, by virtue of Christ’s appointment, that any given meal outside the institutional church does not and cannot posses. However, in the ethical or directional sense there can be holiness, or conformity to God’s norms, in cultural activity. This re-direction toward God that enables the regenerate person to discern and act in accordance with God-ordained norms for cultural activity is accomplished by redemption in Christ.

Noticing a relation between the structure/direction distinction and Meredith G. Kline’s categories concerning the image of God may be of further help in understanding the position that cultural activity can be done Christianly since cultural activity is cultivative labor grounded in humanity’s being made in God’s image. Kline exegetes from Scripture what he calls the official and the ethical dimensions of the image of God.
Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (1980; rep., Eugene, 1999). Kline also writes about an important physical component to the image that he describes as an expression of the official dimension. 

After the fall into sin, humanity retains the official dimension, continuing by God’s common grace to be his image as those who have an office of authority and exercise dominion (epitomized in making judgments). Yet by the fall into sin unregenerate humanity loses the positive ethical dimension of that image, no longer judging rightly. In the regenerate person the image of God is renewed in Christ, in true righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. In a biblical theological fashion, Kline has pointed out the structural (official) and the directional (ethical) in the imago itself. And for regenerate humanity, the renewal of the image in Christ provides for the possibility of holiness in cultural activity in positive accordance with God-ordained cultural norms.

Kline affirms this conclusion when he writes that the sanctification of culture by believers entails that their cultural activity “is done as a service rendered unto God. All their cultural activity... they are to dedicate to the glory of God. This sanctification of culture is subjective... [but] does not result in a change from common to holy status in a culture objectively considered. [emphasis added]”
Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (1993; rep., Eugene, 2000), 201.

So there is a structural distinction between that which is, in an official sense, holy and that which is, in an official sense, common. But there is also a directional distinction between that which is, in a normative sense, holy, and that which is, in a normative (or rather, antinormative) sense, profane. Culture as a sphere of activity is structurally common, and that cultural activity may be done, directionally, either in a holy or profane way.

It should be noted that advocates of neotwokingdomism and neocalvinism alike affirm that while the institutional church as a sphere of activity is structurally holy, that ecclesial activity may be done, directionally, either in a holy or profane way. For example, the Lord’s Supper, though as to its structure, is a holy meal, may be eaten in an unworthy (profane) manner, contrary to the Lord’s prescription.

Calvin's View
In 1 Timothy 4:3-5 Paul writes that some will depart from the faith, forbid marriage, and require abstinence from foods “that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” Calvin's comments on this passage offer insight into how Christians can do their cultural activity in a Christian way.
John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (22 vols., Grand Rapids, 1993), 21: 100-106.

Calvin asks why the passage states that the recipients of created things are those who believe and know the truth. What about common grace to unbelievers and the commonality of creation itself? Among Reformed confessionalists, neocalvinists have developed and articulated a more robust view of common grace than others. But common grace is not in conflict with the fact that, ultimately, the world belongs to Christians. This is the direct teaching of Scripture. See especially 1 Corinthians 3:21-23: “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

Calvin observes that God gave dominion to Adam and his posterity on the condition of obedience, and that unregenerate humanity has lost the right to use the gifts of God and defiles or profanes all things they use. However, Calvin says, the lawful use of created things is, through faith, fully restored to regenerate humanity in Christ.

Calvin highlights the structure/direction distinction in the passage. He distinguishes between the purity and goodness of created things because God created them (structure), and the use of created things (direction) that is consecrated, sanctified, or made holy to us by faith in God's Word and by prayer. Calvin emphasizes that Paul's argument is drawn from the (directional) contrast between holy and profane, and writes that the world “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... the use of all the gifts of God is unclean, unless it be accompanied by true knowledge and calling on the name of God.”

Moreover, Calvin notes that the normative use of food must be judged not only from the person who eats it, but also, he says, “partly from its substance.” This means that a Christian’s discernment of the sanctified use of culture involves discerning from creation or natural revelation, the norms that God ordained for cultural activity. See Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (1976; rep., Phillipsburg, 2003), 55-82., especially Van Til's section concerning the necessity, authority, sufficiency, and perspicuity of natural revelation. See also Hendrik G. Stoker's “special problem” in “Reconnoitering The Theory of Knowledge of Prof. Dr. Cornelius Van Til” in Jerusalem & Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, ed. E.R. Geehan (Phillipsburg, 1993), 25-73., especially page 47.

Neotwokingdomers base their erroneous denial that a Christian can do cultural activity in a Christian way significantly upon the distinction between holy and common. Especially considering their understanding of this distinction, it is apparent how the idea of cultural activity being done Christianly would seem to them both absurd and highly injurious to the distinct character of the institutional church and its mission. In brief, upon neotwokingdom assumptions, to say that cultural activity can be done Christianly is effectively to deny the distinction between holy and common and thus deny the distinctiveness of the institutional church and the church’s mission and to illegitimately extend that mission to include cultural activity.

Regrettably, neotwokingdomers have not raised objections to such injuries out of a mere misconstrual from within their own suppositions. While a more consistent understanding and more rigorous application of societal sphere sovereignty and the structure/direction distinction would prevent it, some who have claimed support from or adherence to neocalvinism have in fact illegitimately promoted an extension of the institutional church’s mission into cultural activity. As certain neocalvinist notions have been variously co-opted by those who do not hold to confessional Reformed faith or practice, these notions have been weakened and distorted. As a more thorough analysis of the history and ideas involved would reveal, the culprit is not neocalvinism, but rather the so-called “Contextualist” missiology to which some have unhappily accommodated neocalvinist ideas.

Roy Clouser presents a more detailed case for how Christians can have a Christian view of culture and the creational/providenital order (also see his various essays, and book The Myth Of Religious Neutrality). Neotwokingdomers, such as Horton, Van Drunen, Hart and others, will have to deal with actual neocalvinist arguments if they want to make objections to something other than distortions and strawmen.