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 affect 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.


Andrew C said...

Very fascinating. Thank you for this post, it is very interesting. I'll need to chew more on this comparison of structure/direction with Kline's official/ethical discussion.

I wonder if you can give me some clarification on a few points.

You say: "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."

Does this speak to natural law/general revelation? I have in mind the fact that some non-believers are better at creation activity than are believers (e.g., music), and wonder why redemption in Christ is not more evident in some of these activities.

Also, is "redemption" as you're using it referring both to God's act of saving his people and to his giving of common grace? Perhaps a better way of asking this - how do common and special grace relate in this scheme? Is special grace just *more of* the same *stuff* (so to speak) as common grace, or do the two have distinguished programs? (My reading of Kuyper on this seems to indicate that he would say the later, but I'm not nearly well enough read in Kuyper.)

I've been wondering lately if too much of this discussion (n2k & ncal) is taking place between more centrist versions of one and more outlying versions of the other. Your comments are very insightful and might help to temper what 2kers are actually trying to argue against.

One final suggestion. I wonder if you could flesh out Calvin's argument more from his institutes. I find that Calvin the expositor of scripture is far less systematic than Calvin the theologian. He speaks much more organically in his commentaries, sometimes even saying things that sound as though they undermine his theological formulations in his more systematic writings. I'm sure much has to do with his respecting of the biblical writers' particular aims and interests, but I can't help but be a little skeptical of your (or anyone's, for that matter) use of his Pastoral Epistles commentary.

Great post! Thanks!

Baus said...

Andrew, glad for your appreciation.

Yes, the norms for cultural activity are a matter of general revelation. See the VanTil & Stoker references after I write:
"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."

This does not mean such discernment is somehow automatic for Christians, nor does it mean Christians will be better, smarter or more talented or successful than non-Christians.

Roy Clouser's essays & books help flesh this out, but it may be put this way (in brief): interpreting general revelation is necessarily misdirected by rejecting God in Christ, and the acceptance of God in Christ can provide a properly redirected basis for understanding.

Now, this redirected understanding is not necessarily theoretical/scientific; it can also be a non-abstract 'everyday' sort of understanding. And the standard of comparison isn't 'this individual believer' to 'that individual unbeliever', but rather, in terms of 'belief' to 'unbelief' (or rather, to false belief).

Clouser particularly demonstrates this through the deifying reductionisms of false belief. One example of Christian redirected understanding relates to conceptions of society and the false alternatives of 'individualism' and 'collectivism'.

Special grace is not "just more" of common grace, no. I don't think any Reformed thinker speaks of it that way. But I don't think the n2k/neocal differences are significantly about common grace. I don't think the mildly different or somewhat differently developed Reformed views of common grace would be determinative for ones view on doing culture Christianly. Although it seems to me that n2k guys are implicitly denying that Christians can live by special grace in all they do.

Because n2k'ers lack an understanding of the structure/direction distinction, they don't see that in addition to a structural holy/common distinction, there is also a directional holy/profane distinction. They cannot see that for the believer in the common structural spheres of common grace culture that special grace can have a positive directional effect.

Personally, I don't have the same suspicions about Calvin in terms of systematician vs. expositer. I think he speaks quite unambiguously on the 1 Timothy passage, anyway. But it is worth looking for some corroboration in the Institutes. He certainly doesn't say anything to contract his 1 Tim teaching in the Institutes, but he may not have addressed it.


Anonymous said...


I've looked over this and it seems helpful in certain respects, particularly your distinction between structure/institutions and the subjective actions of Christians.

However, I don't accept what seems to be a basic presupposition of your piece, and that is that the two kingdoms doctrine "denies that a Christian can do cultural activity in a Christian way." I don't think the two kingdoms doctrine denies that at all. I think it simply questions certain (not all!) neoCalvinist accounts of what that "Christian way" might look like.

NeoCalvinism is a broad tent, and there are more or less radical versions of it. Certainly Calvin says certain things that the NeoCalvinists like, but he says other things they would not like. That's a whole other issue.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the thoughtful commentary as a (neo)twokingdomer - it's getting hard to wade through the multiplicity of 2k labels - I think the biggest issue here is how 2kers would view Christianly activity, and in this sense we may not be in as much substantial disagreement with confessional neo-calvinists as some may suspect.

By this, I mean that the issue at hand is that an activity (assuming it is lawful) in and of itself, outside the church - is neither holy, nor unholy, it is simply an activity. I have less of a problem with a Christian attempting to engage in the oft-used example of plumbing in a Christianly way, but in the end the major differences between his work product and the work product of a non-believing plumber may be negligible, or non existent, both bearing the marks of expert workmanship. Now I do agree that the internal motivations for the Christian plumber will be radically different than the non-Christian, but the work in itself (i.e. the physical output) will pass as do all things on earth. So the work itself isn't redemptive, even if the glory that the Christian plumber renders to God in his efforts persists.

I could extrapolate this out to other neo-cal spheres, demonstrating that what is redemptive is that God is now honored, as opposed to dishonored in the realm of human callings. Certainly this might have some transforming effect on those in the Christian sphere of influence, as they "see his good works and glorify God", or strive for similar excellence in their work. However the goal is not transformation of the common realm, sphere, or kingdom, it is simply the glory of God. Any work that God might do providentially to improve the civil realm, or supernaturally to convince sinners of their need for Christ is properly God's work, not the Christian's. This is why I think 2k has a better view of vocation than the neo-calvinistic articulation, simply because it upholds the Creator-creature distinction with respect to who accomplishes redemption on any scale.

I have more questions related to eschatology and neo-calvinism, but I'll save those for next week hopefully.

Baus said...

Matthew, we agree.

I try to distinguish the Reformers' (or Calvin's) "two kingdoms doctrine" from a prominent "contemporary two kingdoms view" that I have cumbersomely labeled neotwokingdomism.

In your discussion with Littlejohn, I see that there are at least two main versions among the Reformers (neither of which denies the possibility of doing culture Christianly). My impression is of a Cartwright - Hooker divide, and they both claim fidelity to Calvin's view.

I look forward to learning more on this from you both. My own reading of Calvin has been basically the same as what I take Wedgeworth to say here and here.

In any case, the neotwokingdom advocates who deny that a Christian can do cultural activity in any distinctive Christian way are Horton, VanDrunen, and Hart (as I say in the post). I also quote Horton and VanDrunen, showing their explicit denial.

I think I hold to a radical version of neocalvinism, and a radically consistent version. I wonder what you have in mind about things Calvin says that I wouldn't like given my radical neocalvinism.

Baus said...

Jed, my neocalvinist position is that common (structurally non-holy) cultural activity can be done in a holy (directionally normative) way. Do you disagree?

What do you make of Clouser's discussion of "passing the salt" in his Christian View of Everything? This seems to address the "external similarity" objections. The issue isn't about structural affairs, but directional (normative) ones.

To be "redemptive" or "transformational" is to (in Calvin's terms) turn from profane use of the things of the world to a lawful use through our redemption in Christ. Do you deny that the unbelievers use of common things is a profane use? Do you deny that a believers use of common things can be a holy use? If so, on what basis do you differ with Calvin's interpretation of 1 Timothy 4?

The neocalvinist (and Calvin's) view is that culture is transformed by Christians exactly when they do it lawfully (normatively) to God's glory. Transformed from profane to holy use through Christ's redemption. That's it. This isn't a denial of the Creator/creature distinction at all, and such an accusation is just another distortion and strawman.

How does neo2k (Horton, VanDrunen, Hart) have a better view of vocation since they deny that a Christian's vocation is distinctly effected by redemption?

I appreciate your feedback, and hope you'll continue interacting on this.

Anonymous said...


I don't fundamentally have an issue with the neo-Calvinist position that common activity can, and even should be, done in a holy (or directionally normative way). To me this is something that 2k and neo-Cal's can agree on, it's where we go from this point that differs.

I would argue from a 2k perspective that because non-holy activities, aside from those truly profane and unlawful, are basically inert and bound up in a finite and perishing system, these cannot be transformed in any redemptive way. Individuals and their dispositions can be transformed in such a way that their work can be glorifying to God as genuine service rendered to him. However, what God is receiving in a redemptive manner is not the actual work-product or activity, but the honor rendered to him. I do not see how Christ's redemptive work extends to the common this side of the eschaton - and whatever service rendered to God by his redeemed people on this side of the eternal state only prefigures a cosmic order where the distinctions between common and holy are lifted.

So, while culture may in fact be somewhat improved by the collective efforts of redeemed people within a culture, the culture in all of it's spheres and activities are not in the purview of God's redemptive work. The culture is part of this passing order as well, only the people (specifically the elect) in it are objects of redemption.

My view of the profane use of the common extends not only to the unbeliever, but also to the believer. Take for example the Tabernacle in the Exodus narrative, God commissions Israel to build what was to be a holy vessel to be the center of God's manifest presence on earth. However, he proscribes the construction of the priestly amulet reading "Holy to the LORD" to consecrate the holy gifts Israel had given to him (Ex. 28), and the tabernacle, which Israel had constructed in obedience to God had to be sprinkled with blood before it was acceptable. Anything that the human does is profane, and even the believer's work still bears the marks of lingering (though no longer total) depravity, and only through the mediatorial work of Christ are any of our works, or even prayers acceptable to God. So the notion that the believer can engage in transformational work on a redemptive scale seems to me to be lacking in biblical support. And even the redemptive work of God seems to be confined Scripturally to the work he does on behalf of the elect.

Any cultural improvement seems to me to only be the measure of how pervasive the effects of human depravity are abated within a particular culture at a particular time. This isn't to say that Christians shouldn't be very much interested in the betterment of their world, as this does seem to comport well with Christ's command to love one's neighbor. However, I am not sure if any true cultural improvements can be deemed as something distinctly Christian, as historically there have been high points in human culture and justice that have surfaced in both Christian and non-Christian cultures, and this seems to have it's source in Providence and the interests of humans on prevailing current social norms.

But, in actual practice, I see the implications of neo-Calvinists such as you, or Godfrey over at WSCAL, to be far nearer to 2k than those of theonomist leanings, or even those who have co-opted neo-Calvinism and Kuyperian thought in the name of an unfortunate amalgam of social conservatism and Reformed praxis.

Baus said...

Jed, it seems to me that what you give with one hand, you take back with the other.

You say you agree that common cultural activities can be done in a holy way, but then you say such activities are actually "inert" (whatever that means) and cannot be done in a holy way afterall.

Then you say that you don't actually render your cultural activity as service unto Christ (contrary to Col.3:23-24), but you give Him only honor.

How do you suppose you can do cultural activity in a holy way if Christ's redemption does not extend to it?

We are in agreement that believers can sin (they can do common activity in a profane way).
But, on the other hand, you seem to want to separate believers as redeemed people from non-profane things they do. If the person is redeemed, why can't their activity be done in a redeemed way? And you haven't explained on what basis you disagree with Calvin's view of 1 Tim 4 (although you obviously do disagree) when he says this is the teaching of Scripture.

You seem to contradict yourself quite directly in saying:
"only through the mediatorial work of Christ are any of our works, or even prayers acceptable to God. So the notion that the believer can engage in transformational work on a redemptive scale seems to me to be lacking in biblical support"

You just said that our works are acceptable to God through Christ's mediatorial work. Well, that's exactly how believers engage in turning from profane use of things to a holy use of things: through their redemption in Christ! That's the transformation, and it only comes by Christ's Spirit. How is that not distinctively Christian? What is unclear about that?

Help me out here.
I don't understand what you think you are affirming when you deny it in the next sentence.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the response, I certainly didn't aim to confuse. Let me clarify, common activities, are well common, inert, neither holy nor evil, rather good as part of the activities enclosed in God's good creation. Those that engage in the activities can do so from either good, evil, or mixed (which is usually the case) motivations, but all lawful activities and vocations remain as they are regardless of who engages in them.

For example, the activity of plumbing involves a scope of work, an estimate, procurement of materials, installation, testing, finish work, billing, and collection. These activities are common to the discipline, and whether or not someone is elect and cognizant of how he might glorify God in his plumbing activities will not typically end up with a work product that is any different than any non-believing plumber who is intent on rendering quality service (which is essential to sustaining business over the long term). The basis of the Christian's plumber's work being acceptable to God or "redemptive" has nothing to do with something inherent to plumbing, what is "redeemed" is the disposition, the "spiritual service of worship" (cf. Rom. 12) that the plumber renders to God in his work. The physical output will crumble in time, and need repair in order to maintain a functional plumbing system - or it will cease to be one, whether or not the plumbing was conducted with a disposition directed to God, or if it was a disposition directed selfishly. And, even the Christian plumber will always have an element of mixed motivations in his work, for which he is dependent on the mediatorial work of Christ for his service to be acceptable to God.

The only "lasting" or "redemptive" vocation, where the work product itself endures is completed through the ministry of the Church and her duly called officers. The ministry of the Word will remain, because "the word of the Lord endures forever", and even this is again dependent on God, who gives the weight of eternity to this office, working his power through the weakness of the human minister.

I had the sense that you were speaking of common activities in this way, I must have been mistaken here. But to clarify again - it is not the activity, or common thing in itself (art, music, plumbing, teaching) that is redeemed or redemptive, it is the work of Christ, through the agency of the Spirit that empowers his elect to go about their activities in a way that brings glory and honor to God. So, where I get the sense that you are more focused on the common activities themselves being somehow redemptive, I would place the locus of redemption on the disposition of the one who works, as this has been sanctified to serve God.

Does that clarify? If not, feel free to press more, I'd like to get a clearer sense of where we are agreeing and disagreeing here, because in your fist response, I had felt a bit closer to where you stood than maybe we actually do.

Anonymous said...

A couple quick thoughts. First, while it is true that what you call the neo2kers say you can't do culture in a "Christian way", it seems to me that you have to interpret these kinds of statements (and I looked up those you cited from DVD and Horton) in light of what they are critiquing. In other words, Horton and DVD think these activities don't need to be explicitly Christian in the sense that many NeoCalvinists would say. But in another sense, as the DVD quote makes clear, they think all our action should be Christian, in all of life. Perhaps the distinction is simply between actions that are objectively Christian and actions that are subjectively Christian (though such a paradigm doesn't answer all the questions).

Second, I'm surprised to hear you say you agree with Wedgeworth on Calvin. Have you seen the recent posts on my blog in response to Wedgeworth and Littlejohn? Also the one on Calvin and the Lord's Prayer? Also note Henreckson's comment on one of the posts. I don't think there is a single scholar who supports Wedgeworth's position on Calvin.

Baus said...

Matthew, to "interpret these kinds of statements [viz, neo2k'ers denials of the possibility of doing culture Christianly] in the light of what they are critiquing [viz, neocalvinism]" is exactly my aim.

My conclusion is that neo2k'ers do not understand neocalvinist claims (and/or do not represent them accurately) given n2k ignoring the distinction between structure&direction, and that their denial is erroneous.

I hope this much is clear. I've yet to see a good objection to these points. And I hope you can affirm what I'm saying.

It's not clear to me that VanDrunen or other neo2k'ers think that all our actions in all of life should be Christian/redemptive in some sense. In what sense do they hold that cultural activity can be done Christianly? They seem to deny this without qualification.

My own reading of the Institutes 3.19.15 independently lead me to the same conclusion as Wedgeworth/Escalante/Littlejohn, viz, the two kingdoms for Calvin are "internal/conscience & external/conduct".

This is not to say that I don't recognize that Calvin distinguishes institutional church and state along with the powers of ministers and magistrates. Clearly he does. And clearly, this relates to the internal&external distinction in the following way: our consciences are bound by the Word of God, and the church properly ministers the Word. But Calvin seems very concerned to explain how ministerial (and magisterial) authority relates to conscience.

It may be W/E/L have overstated a "non-institutional" case (I'm not sure they have denied its relation to the institutions). But it seems neo2k'ers have treated it as exclusively institutional, and Calvin's view still seems to me to be significantly (if not primarily) non-institutional (that is to say, focused on conscience).

But I'll keep reading & thinking on it. Glad for your contribution.

Baus said...

Their Hookerean hangups about the regulative principle and jure divino church govt/discipline aside, I take this to support my point about Calvin's "internal&external" view of the two kingdoms:

Baus said...

Jed, your use of word 'inert' is still unclear. I take the word in its normal sense to mean "non-active". Clearly, it makes little sense to say activities are non-active.

You seem to be relating the word to the structural goodness of creation, and to directional un-committedness. Yes, created things as such are structurally good and not yet "directioned" when they aren't used. But, I'm talking about activity; using things. Activity or action is always in some direction or other. You seem to recognize this, so I'm not sure what point your trying to make.

The question at hand is whether Christians can do cultural activity in a way that is effected by their redemption. You seem to deny this.

Concerning your example (plumbing), I asked what you thought about Clouser's accounting for surface level similarity in "passing the salt". What do you think?
Cultural activity is structurally common (both in the sense of non-holy, and 'shared alike; pertaining to all'), but directionally either normative or anti-normative (and yes, to varying degrees).

I'm not sure if you agree that plumbers can render their service of plumbing unto Christ. Do you deny it?

Whether an activity "lasts forever" is not the point. All our actions have a temporal quality; they are done in time, in a succession of moments from present to past. The question is whether the work of Christ's redemption can in any way effect the cultural activity of the believer. No one is arguing that it makes Christians' activity non-temporal.

A Christian's cultural activities are "redeemed" or "transformed" from sin and idolatry to service unto Christ, for God's glory, when --as I have particularly argued-- they discern and act in accordance with God-ordained norms for cultural activity.

Is it your position that Christians are not able to discern or act in accordance with God-given cultural norms in any way that is effected by the redemption they have in Christ?

Do you deny what Calvin teaches, viz, that the use of all God's gifts is unclean, unless done in faith?

bdhecker said...


Thanks for sharing this piece. I think I understand what you are saying, and unless I am misunderstanding you, I don't think I take issue with your structure/direction distinction. I am also sorry though because I fail to see how what you have written here is addressing my response to you earlier on Tunninga's blog. If what is meant by a "unique Christian" manner is calling things holy by lifting them up by faith in thanksgiving and prayer, I don't think I disagree with that. I would even go so far as to say that (in the overused analogy I gave earlier) that the plumber who is a Christian does (or at least should) do his work in a way pleasing unto the Lord, which is distinctly Christian. However, that being said, that hardly gives an element to criticize substantially what Horton, et al. have said. They may not be as precise in their language as you like, but in what they are actually referring to, you do not really seem to take issue. I take my father to different doctors and physical therapists. One of them is a Buddist, the other is quite New Age, another is an outright atheist, and another is a Lutheran. I do not feel for a moment that my father is receiving unholy treatment because many of those treating him are not Christians, even though they may have an unholy direction. I don't think you disagree with this. My point is simply that I fail to see the weight in stressing a "distinctly Christian approach" to cultural activities if "approach" is actually more of a direction or label than structure. You may say that a redeemed person acts redeemed. That may be true. But I fail to see how that is distinctly different from a non-redeemed person in their cultural engagements, on any practical visible level at least.


Baus said...

Brian, you inquired about how I "equate “unique Christian” manner of doing things with a “redemptive” manner of doing things."

I've explained that at length.

As part of that explanation I've shown that in the neocalvinist conception of redeeming/transforming culture, we don't claim to turn cultural activity into something else than it is 'onticly' (structurally/objectively). But rather, we are making a 'directional' claim about antinormative use to normative use (directionally/subjectively).

You say that you fail to see the point of talking about doing something in a distinctly Christian way if it isn't about the structural. Well, the point is that redemption is about the directional! The neo2k critics of neocalvinism have based their objections on a significant misunderstanding of what we advocate, and on a significant misconstrual of the actual distinctions involved.

Moreover, Horton and VanDrunen oppose the possibility of this way of doing things. They make the same sort of argument that you have: "It makes no difference if my doctor isn't a Christian."

But that is a very suface-level understanding of medicine and health. It's like Clouser's analogy about "passing the salt." To illustrate the 'practical/visible' differences, you ought to consider what Buddhist and Pagan medicine are apart from the influence of Christianity. Superstition, witchcraft, and idolatry are directional matters and they effect cultural activity in very concrete ways. Christianity is directional and has effected medicine (for one example) in very concrete ways too.

Neocalvinist writing & action has been about working-out the meaning of what glorifying God in cultural cultural looks like (both at the level of 'presuppositions' and concrete action). Consider what Clouser says about the difference it makes in our understanding and explaining natural revelation.

bdhecker said...


I will address the substance of what you said within a few days, but I did not want you leave you hanging concerning Pagan medicine, witchcraft, etc. I did not mean to communicate that I take my father to visit shamans or Buddhist temples, only that some of his (licensed!) medical professionals (e.g. medical doctor, chiropractor, etc.), happen to have those personal beliefs. They could just as easily be Christians. Sorry for the confusion!

Baus said...

Brian, I understand. I was illustrating the practical difference Christian belief makes. Christianity transformed/redeemed medicine. These days, in most of the West, even non-Christians surface-imitate Christian medicine, even while they continue to do it according to a contrary direction.

Baus said...

Below, I re-post a (lengthy) comment I made here: http://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/two-kingdom-myths/

Matt asked " could you please explain how when you say that “faithful Christian activity that is faithful to the wisdom God reveals in creation *is* to be redemptive”, what you are saying is different from what VanDrunen says when he calls Christian cultural activity subjectively redemptive?
Also, could you please point me to some points in Calvin’s writings where he talks in this way?

I couldn’t check out pages 166-172 of VanDrunen's Living In God's Two Kingdoms as Matt recommended, unfortunately. I don’t have a copy here with me in China, so perhaps VanDrunen elaborates on objective and subjective in those pages in a way I would agree with, or in such a way that I could draw the contrast between our views more precisely.

However, on page 31 of LGTK, VanDrunen says “Learning, working, and voting are not uniquely Christian tasks, but common tasks. Christians should always be distinguished from unbelievers subjectively: they do all things by faith in Christ for his glory. But as an objective matter, the standards of morality and excellence in the common kingdom are ordinarily the same for believers and unbelievers.”

I agree with this after a fashion, and it points to the structure/direction distinction. The church is structurally/objectively holy and ecclesial activity can be done directionally/subjectively in a holy or profane way. Culture is structurally/objectively common and cultural activity can be done directionally/subjectively in a holy or profane way.

The issue is what do we mean when we say that cultural activity can be done in a holy way. Neocalvinists mean that this re-direction in faith to God’s glory is possible by redemption in Christ. Thus, it is a way that the unregenerate don’t have access to. The structural norms are the same, but the mis-direction of sin distorts the unregenerate’s ability to recognize them for what they are.
Therefore it is quite helpful to say that Christians can do common cultural activity in a redemptive or transformational way. By Christ’s redemption, through the Spirit, in faith, to God’s glory, Christians can turn from profane antinormativity in cultural action to holy normativity in cultural action. It’s a transformation that comes through redemption.

This isn’t mere preservation of the structure (creation and its norms) in terms of the Noahic covenant, although God certainly does that.
Normative action in this sense (ie, in terms of its direction) is not made possible by the norms being universal creational (structure), because activity (or ‘use’ of things, as Calvin says) is always “direction’ed” (in fall/rebellion or redemption/obedience). It is not automatic or guaranteed in every action for Christians, but redemption makes such obedience possible.

And (in the linked post) I have shown how Calvin speaks that way in his comments on 1 Timothy 4. I wrote: “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.” So, Christian cultural activity is distinct not because the person doing it does it in faith with no concrete differences in the activity, but because, as it is discerned by a Spirit-wrought illumination and insight into God’s natural revelation, that faith can result in re-directed normativity in cultural action.

Baus said...


Unregenerate understanding of natural revelation is always partially falsified in idolatry, and I have pointed to Clouser’s work as elaborating on that. I wrote in the comments to my post: “…the standard of comparison isn’t ‘this individual believer’ to ‘that individual unbeliever’, but rather, in terms of ‘belief’ to ‘unbelief’ (or rather, to false belief).
Clouser particularly demonstrates this through the deifying reductionisms of false belief. One example of Christian redirected understanding relates to conceptions of society and the false alternatives of ‘individualism’ and ‘collectivism’.” These make real concrete difference in everyday life.

I get the impression that VanDrunen wouldn’t see or express this type of difference as a matter of the “implications of ones faith”. Wouldn’t he rather say that since societal norms are universal/creational that Christian faith offers no principle advantage in having a more normative understanding or action?

On the other hand, if VanDrunen, after all, holds that cultural activity is always “direction’ed,” and that Christians’ redemption makes possible a re-directed (transformational) and distinct understanding of general revelation and normative use of culture that can produce concrete differences, then we are on the same page. And I will encourage him to *join us* in exploring and explicating how, after all, the structurally common tasks of learning and working, etc can be understood and done in a uniquely Christian way –a way that makes a concrete difference in our cultural activity beyond superficial (surface) similarities.

Certainly, there are many “common grace insights” (partially falsified by idolatry) in the various unbelieving conceptions of natural law that can be redeemed/transformed and fruitfully resituated in a distinctly Christian framework. There’s plenty of work to be done in holy service to Christ for God’s glory, and it will not be in vain.

Dagobert said...

Hi Baus,
Having seen your comment on Scott Aniol's blog, I'd like to ask you to clarify what, to you, is structural and what is directional in Wolters' sense, at the example of music.

# I would think that sound/timbre etc. is structural. This is all due to, I guess, type laws that enable and determine such things physically.
# What about music, in a general sense? That also seems to be structural, I'd think based on the physical and qualified by the aesthetic.
# But what about a musical style? Is that structural or directional?
# Certainly, a song must be directional, given it is linked to some intent by its author/interpreter?

If a style were directional then it is fixed and cannot be redeemed just by using it with Christian intent (to God's glory) unless it already has such direction. Changing direction would necessarily mean, then, to change the style into something else (another style).

In my understanding, this is where the rubber hits the road in Aniol's argumentation (as I understand it). He claims that all music we make is communication, hence, activity, and hence, morally relevant (i.e. it has direction).

Would you agree with that or if not, why do you think a style is a structure and not directional? You could think of trash metal or hip-hop as examples of styles.

Baus said...

Dear "FR", styles and genre as employed in any concrete piece of music or song have both structural and directional dimensions.

By structure, we refer to God’s creational laws and norms that are in force for [in this case,] music and musical activity (generally, and any give instance of it).

Some of these laws are directly compelling (such as physical, organic, and sensory laws) and cannot be "disobeyed." Other laws (often called norms), while always in force, are appealing. That is to say, they can be violated.

By direction, we refer to negative deviation from and positive conformity to these norms.

Moral norms are only one kind of normitivity. There are other kinds of norms, such as logical, historical, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridical, and fiducial.

Music is typically qualified by the aesthetic modality, but a thorough 'directional' analysis will take into consideration the complex relations between all these in any concrete instance of music.

Certainly, no "style" as such may simply be written off as "immoral." Though, of course, songs can indeed be immoral.

Baus said...

Brian Mattson explains a key flaw with neotwokingdom thinking in terms of its assumptions about cultural homogeneity:

Good stuff.