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Horton, Keller, and Chandler on Christianity and Culture

Reader Comments (29)

did chandler say "Oh my G-d?" I think so, and I hope not. some modern ministers have added this bad habit in their speech - most without knowing they are doing this. Taking the name of the Lord in vain is still a sin even if our culture accepts it. If Chandler did this he should repent.
June 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermike
Keller says he has to be careful about signing statements yet has no trouble signing the BioLogos "Theology of Celebration II" statement, is a clear attack on the perspicuity and unique authority of scripture. Hard to believe a PCA pastor could say, "We affirm without reservation both the authority of the Bible and the integrity of science..." Really? Keller accepts "without reservation" the integrity of science? As if the noetic effect of sin has no impact on the way scientific inquiry is conducted? He is able to affirm the "central truth of the biblical accounts of Adam and Eve," but evidently none of the actual details. Yes, Tim, please be careful what you sign!

Meanwhile, kudos to Michael for a clear, simple, and correct answer regarding the church's role in transforming culture: "none at all."
June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Russell
Dr. Horton does seem to say in the linked video (7:38-8:01) that the church as an organization can (and maybe should) address issues dealing with "life" and "justice" addressed in Scripture.

Questions I have after watching the video:

1) In addition to the proclamation of law & gospel and administration of the means of grace in the sacraments and discipline & shepherding the flock, should the church as an institution/organization address (speak out) directly as a "transforming agent" about issues dealing with "life" and "justice" only as specifically addressed in Scripture? How specifically & directly & clearly & often must Scripture address an issue dealing with "life" and "justice" before the church as an organization can formally speak about it?

2) Perhaps more importantly, what areas fall under the rubric of "LIFE" and "JUSTICE," which many would interpret as including a very wide-ranging spectrum of socioeconomic issues? (Should Luther have been much more vocal in addressing socioeconomic injustices committed by land lords upon serfs in the 16th century? Should the Lutheran church? Should the Reformed churches and other denominations as church institutions?)

3) In the video (granted, it is a very short segment), Dr. Horton gives the impression that individual church members are NEVER to see themselves as mere "pilgrims on the way" but to ALWAYS live out their important duty as individual "tranforming agents" in this temporary age/culture through their individual callings and spheres of influence, and that only the church as an institution is to limit/reserve its role as transforming agent for areas of gospel, ecclesia, "life," and "justice," whatever the extent the latter two spheres entails. Am I misunderstanding the video?

Someone more informed with Professor Horton's position in this area please elucidate me on what his teaching is. Thank you.
June 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterarmk
armk, your point three is interesting and touches on something that caught my own ear. What I got from Horton is that the church as institution isn't called to anything other than the three marks (gospel proclamation, administration of sacraments and exercise of discipline). All agreeable, of course. But then there seemed to be a suggestion that individual members, as you say, are always to be see their vocations in transformative terms.

He made a point about assumptions previously. And the assumption I wonder about is this notion that we are called to transform. This is curious to me, as it illustrates the default setting in modern outllooks, both religous and non-religious, on transforming culture over against cultivating or preserving or maintaining culture. In point of fact, isn't this what most of us actually do? Most of us aren't in the elite category of "world changer." And when I read Reformation doctrine on vocation I really don't pick up anything about transforming anything; I see a lot that suggests we are called to nurture and preserve those vocations to which we are called.

In a word, it almost sems like what is rightly disallowed the church in terms of transforming culture is simply transferred onto the individual members. And I can't help but wonder if the dubious tick for social improvement instead of cultivation (a variant of self-improvement?) simply finds an outlet in the latter part of the institution/organism distinction. I get that we are called to "do earth," but what is it with the idea that "doing earth" is automatically transformative?
June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
As is apparent from this post, Dr. Horton does not subsribe to the kind of quietist, Christian as mere "pilgrim on the way" view of the role of the individual Christian that one finds in, say, DGH. Dr. Hoton has consistently stressed the doctrine of vocation, and has incorporated into vocation a role for individual Christians to be transformative agents of the secular culture. This does distinguish him from those 2K advocates who are more quietist and neo-Mennonite in their view of 2K.

His view is closer to that of Dr. W. Robert Godfrey of WSC, and most of the WSC faculty. Dr. Horton has consistently taught that the individual Christian should be active in his or her calling, active in politics, active in the arts, active in the community.

That said, Dr. Horton does not mean by "transformative" the same thing that a neo-Kuyperian does. I think this is apparent from his lectures, writings, and even this short clip. He does not mean that the individual Christian should seek to change the common/secular realm into the holy, or to impose Chrisitan law upon a secular society. Rather, he sees Christians transformed by the gospel, and that transformed life acts as salt and light in the culture as we pursue our common callings. Accordingly, he clearly rejects the neo-Mennonite view, sometimes called R2k, that Christians should be radically disengaged from active roles that would allow us to faciliate positive change or improvement in those corners of the culture where our callings take us, including our calling as a political person.

I am thankful for his position, which I believe is more true to 2k than the radical, quietist versions that are over-reactions to both Kuyperianism and evangelial confusion of the two kingdoms.
June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke
Except, CVD, the 2k you have in a perpetual headlock isn't actually about Christians being "radically disengaged" from the world. It's more about a sober assessment of what human beings are actually capable of, even redeemed ones, as well as a more proximate expectation of what this world can afford. It would seem they were created to maintain and cultivate more than improve and transform, as in, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." I understand that doesn't comport as well with modern notions of social improvement, but to paint with your Anabaptist brush seems pretty uncharitable. But it is better than your accusations of such views being "immoral and evil," so keep up the good efforts.
June 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Zrim, looks like you took another nasty pill today. For the record, I did not say R2k is "immoral and evil", just unbilbical and unwise. What is "immoral and evil" is the pacifist position you espoused, insisting that the doctrine of 2K holds that individual Christians should not act to defend their rights or the rights of others even where it means that inaction could cause great personal injury and harm. That is what makes your position radical.

What I appreciate about Dr. Horton's position is that he recognizes that individual Christians are citizens of two kingdoms, not just the kingdom of God. He rightly affirms that, as citizens of the city of man, Christians may, and indeed should, take reasonable actions to act to improve the secular realm where opportunity affords. The R2k position fails to accept that until the eschatalogical kingdom is consummated, we remain on earth and participate in the civil realm alongside non-Christians. The Lord calls us to glorify him even in that realm, and not to be be mentally checked out of it.

The rest of your post is so vague and unintelligible I can't frame a response.
July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke
CVD, I don't recall ever saying or suggesting that "Christians should not act to defend their rights," etc. What I do vividly recall suggesting was that it seems some place a little too much emphasis on Paul's appeal in light of more overwhelming NT evidence of laying down rights. So if it's "immoral and evil" to elect for passivity when persecuted or harrassed then what does it mean to turn the other cheek, go two miles instead of one or hand over tunics as well as cloaks? Your position, which seems to have more interest in fighting for rights than laying them down, has never seemed to do justice to biblical teachings on the latter. Is that a nasty thing to say, or vague and unintelligible?

But you keep missing my point. I'm not saying there isn't a place for social improvement. I'm saying there is also a place for approximation and more measured expectations. Why is being a little more realistic about human ability and what this world can afford always tanatmount to "being mentally checked out and radically disengaged" to you?
July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
Zrim, because it's not biblical.

You deal in glittering generalities and vague bromides. I deal in concrete specifics, and when the concrete specifics come up -- e.g. the San Diego pastor who was threatened by a tyrannical bureaocrat in the County with shutting down his Bible study, or Christians' constitutional rights to free exercise of religion being eclipsed by schools and universities -- you consistently criticize the Christian who resists the government intrusion. Of the myriad examples that we've discussed, there is not one instance where you would countenance Christians lifting a finger to defend their rights or the rights of others -- in the name of 2K. While you play lip service to not opposing social improvement, the fact is you do oppose it -- assidously, constently, and at ever point. I respectfully submit you are an extremist who is misguided and misunderstands 2K.

I don't understand your vague rhetoric about "a place for approximation and measured expectation and human ability." This sounds like graduate school trope. The San Diego pastor was perfectly able to get the petty bureacrats to cease and desist from closing his home Bible study by a lawyer's phone calls and letters. Case closed. Yet you said he was wrong to resist and should have suffered the persection. I disagree.

You acknowledged my critique that your position was more Mennonite than Reformed was a valid point. Indeed, you have never been able to cite one point where your view of 2K differs from the Mennonite verison of 2K or the Amish. I'm still waiting for any point of distinction. We'll have to agree to disagree.
July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke
CVD, you keep missing the point of 2k. It not only means that the church is not an agency of social transformation, but also that Christians may have liberty to differ over what counts as transformation. What you think is progress, may actually be regress to me. And Christian involvement in defense of Bible studies to you may be a great cause of liberty, for others it looks like whining.

Plus, where did anyone in the early church lift a finger to defend their "rights"? The Reformed believe you need a biblical warrant for insisting that Christians should do something. So where does the Bible say we must defend our rights? How would you ever produce a martyr?
July 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdgh
CVD, my view differs from Anabaptist views because I hold to Belgic 36, which reads in part:

"Moreover everyone, regardless of status, condition, or rank, must be subject to the government, and pay taxes, and hold its representatives in honor and respect, and obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God's Word, praying for them that the Lord may be willing to lead them in all their ways and that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all piety and decency.

And on this matter we denounce the Anabaptists, other anarchists, and in general all those who want to reject the authorities and civil officers and to subvert justice by introducing common ownership of goods and corrupting the moral order that God has established among human beings."

What this means is that we are to submit to and obey our civil magistrates, even if they aren't Christianized or even governing the way we'd like. It also means that when a man mows down my daughter's classroom I don't confuse law and gospel and ask the judge to suspend punishment as way to "turn the other cheek and love our enemies." I ask for the law to be pressed. Mennonites don't hold to 2k because Anabaptism is actually a version of 1k where redemption swallows up creation. Just like in theonomy, which is Calvinism's version of Methodism or Dispensationalism.
July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
DGH, would you acknowledge that Dr. Horton's view of 2k that individual Christians have a calling to be transformative agents within the secular realm differs from your version of 2K that calls for substantial withdrawal?

If there is liberty for individual Christians to apply 2K differently, doesn't that imply that each view is equally legitimate. Should we not accept with greater eqanimity and charity the 2K views of persons such as Dr. Horton and me without criticism? As I have said repeatedly, I don't begrudge the Christian who wants to be disengaged from or univolved in engaging the poltical or cultural realm or using their common callings to improve the secular realm. I never insist that individual Christians be active in politics or culture. Not everyone has the time or gifts. They are free to live in a Christian ghetto or sit in the backyard growing turnips if they choose. But the Y2k advocates do not return the favor. On the contray, I read harsh criticism of those such as myself who are active, and our philosphy of 2K. If you or Zrim expressed your views as "we're speaking only for ourselves and our personal preferences," I wouldn't have a problem with that. But your criticisms make clear that you do not approve of or view as legitimate the kinds of positions Horton or I espouse and the activities some of us engage in. Your position is expressed in the langauage of categorical imperatives, not personal preference. In other words, you and your acalades write as if your view is the correct one and you believe others are wrong. I wish you really believed your rhetoric of tolerance and liberty.
July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke
CVD, if you can tell me where Horton says that Christians are called to be "transformative agents in the secular realm" I might know better how to respond. But I didn't hear that in this clip, nor have I seen it in other pieces Mike has written.

As to criticism, why can't you see that criticism is actually a form of the engagement for which you call? I don't think your categories of transformative agency are either necessary for Christians or valuable for vocations. If I criticize your position, I am actually engaged in culture. And if I advocate a different approach -- sober restraint -- why is that harsh? I don't think that all positions are equal. Some are better than others, based on general revelation. So just because I advocate a different approach, it doesn't mean I'm forced into a relativism which says they are all legitimate.

I really don't see why raising a question about the appeal of Christians to their "rights" (and raising questions about whether or not they are coming across as holy rollers when they host Bible studies and then go to court when restricted) is harsh or intolerant.
July 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdgh
CVD, the favor you like to think you extend sure seems to come with a tone of suspicious condescension: "Sure, you may take exception to notions of societal improvement and sit your ghetto growing turnips." You sound like the propserity preacher speaking to the Presbyterian and Lutheran who aren't quite convinced that faith makes the lame literally walk: "Sure, you may take exception to notions of personal health and healing and sit in your wheelchair fiddling your thumbs." And that's what I suspect notions of social transformation - religious or not - tend to be, social versions of personal health and wealth. Prosperity isn't confined just to the trailor park; it also seems to be alive and well amongst the social and cultural elites who seem to think that whatever is good in culture is the result of Christian presence.

But if you want to make this about personal preference on how to go about earth then I don't know how often it has been said go ahead and opt for transformation over cultivation if you desire. If you want uber turnips in our shared garden, fine. But I'll settle for ordinary ones. What is that so contemptible, unbiblical, unwise and radical to you?
July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim

Keller (4:51-6:30): "You probably aren't practicing things that much differently but I think I hear Michael saying let's not say the church has any responsibility to transform culture and I hear Matt saying, well, but if you make disciples and you're showing them that being a disciple means not only what you do inside the church but outside, aren't you actually saying, yes, ***it is actually our job to equip people to transform culture***, though, not directly as an institution to be trying to transform culture... I actually hear you saying the same thing but not wanting to say it the same way, I mean I hear you doing the same thing and admitting that, no, it's not the church's job as the church to be trying to change the social structures. It's the job of the church to equip people, make them disciples, assume that when they go out there if they're doing their callings it's going to make a difference. So, you could say, it's not my job as a pastor directly to believe the church is to change culture ***but to create a culture-changing people***. But now, and yet, Michael is probably saying but I hear so much bleed into mission and transformation of the culture being the mission of the church that he's really afraid of that happening and he wants to guard it. So, I don't hear you being on really very separate pages and maybe we still won't really agree on what we actually say publically but I think we're pretty close."

Horton (6:31-6:45): "That's why I think a lot of it turns on the definition of the church whether OK now are you talking about the church as an institution or the Christians out in the world in their calling shaken out of the salt-shaker into the world pursuing their callings."

Notice how Dr. Horton, in response, does not correct Rev. Keller in characterizing the former's position as the "job [of the church] to equip people to transform culture" and the "job as a pastor... to create a culture-changing people." Dr. Horton, instead, reemphasizes the important distinction of commissions/callings between the church as an institution/organization and Christians as organisms out in the world. That response seems to strongly imply Horton believes (without actually employing the vocabulary of "transformation" and "culture-change" which carries the dangers of the social gospel and theonomic impulses) that Christians in their capacity as citizens of the civil kingdom do indeed have a transformational, culture-changing mandate, a mandate for which they are to be in part equipped by the church as an institution in the teaching of law and gospel. Rev. Keller makes a good point (8:00 and following) that pastors have to be especially cautious because their actions as individuals are perhaps impossible to be seen as not being actions of official clergymen representing the institutional church.
July 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterarmk
Horton (0:28-2:31): "First of all, we have to ask what we mean by church and culture. Culture we could probably assume we all agree generally speaking means the myriad callings that we have as husbands, fathers, mothers, daughters, wives, extended family, plumbers, teachers and so forth. All of the myriad callings that we have make up culture which another topic reduce everything to politics. In any case, all those callings that are rooted in creation... It [the church] is an institution and as an institution has a very limited calling, The Great Commission, ***but then*** Christians have a calling, myriads callings in culture... ***But then***, resalinated, you know I think of the church as a resalination plant, resalted, the church as a people is then scattered into the world to pursue its various callings."

Chandler (2:49-2:59): "Part of that disciple-making process is training and releasing those men and women, part of making disciples is empowering them to be a faithful presence within..."
Horton (3:00): "Absolutely."
Chandler (3:00-3:37): "... the domains of society that they are... want to empower them and turn them lose to see their neighborhood, their hobby, their workplace, all those little units that they do life in as growing in their following of Christ by being a faithful presence and a faithful witness in that and then even at times kind of rallying around a certain domain..." [Dr. Horton nodding in agreement]

Speaking of callings, I believe one of our many callings as citizens in the civil kingdom is to be active cultural and political participants in our representative democracy for the health of the society within which I, family, congregation, and neighbors must reside. This is, of course, always secondary to our part in The Great Commission as citizens in Christ's kingdom, but it is nevertheless important because this calling protects the continuing vitality of our other callings.

In ancient biblical times, such a calling would be mostly a windmill-charging pipe-dream (societies were structured in such a way that we lived in exactly the manner the Emperor or King commanded or we faced the furnace). Yet, today, that dream becomes realistic or, at least, worthwhile to pursue (regardless of ultimate results) in representative democracies with checks and balances where our voices (exercise of freedoms to persuade others in our varying circles of influence of what is right and wrong), votes, and other financial and political contributions can make a difference for good and against the encroachment of evil laws and norms.

The potential danger of engagement falls short of its conceivable benefits. More importantly, engagement to me is a matter of obedience in gratitude, self-protection, love and stewardship of fallen creation.
July 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterarmk
armk, agreed. But the point I want to make is that one way for individuals to engage and participate is in terms of cultivation or maintenance or preservation, categories I don't really hear come through in this video discussion. The categories I think are assumed are transformation or improvement or progress, because I think the default setting in American cult and culture is personal and social improvement. This is isn't to say there isn't room for improvement or notions of progress, but rather to suggest that if the Christian life is closer to slow cooking sanctification then maybe our views of society could parallel that?

With some, it seems one may either improve or disengage with no nuanced, alternative. That seems pretty impoverished to me, almost fundamentalist, especially coming from the same who want to make the point about liberty.
July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
armk, Horton says the church has a very limited mandate which comes from the Great Commission. I don't know where he wants to go from there, and I don't know how polite he was being in the presence of transformers. But whatever Mike thinks, the question for him and you is how do you get from the church's task of making disciples to the idea that disciples are "change-agents" in the culture. Where oh where does the Bible have anything to say about Christians as change-agents? Where oh where did Jesus and the apostles try to change the culture? And where oh where does the Bible teach that culture matters as much as you seem to think it does?

The issue here between CVD and me is what counts as culture and cultural transformation. "Impacting" the culture has much more in common with a certain view of society and politics -- once known as Progressivism -- than it does with Scripture. It seems to think that Christianity will be important only to the degree that it makes a big bang in the culture. The way I read Scripture, God always carries out his redemptive purposes by using the small, out of the way, and impoverished to accomplish greatness. As such, the world has an idea of greatness that is distinct from the Christian idea.

For me, this is the big problem with cultural transformers. Not only are they naive about transformation, but they have imbibed a view of the world that makes it safe for people who root for A-Rod and Lebron, that is, people who can't identify with the little guy or gal.

Luther's two-kingdom theology was all about the little guy -- that is why he argued that mothers changing diapers was as important as the decrees of Charles V.
July 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdgh
armk, thanks for the helpful transcript. Dr. Horton was not merely being polite, but expressing a view of the calling of the individual Christian that he has written and spoken about elsewhere for many years. His lectures and writings on vocation place a strong emphasis upon the Christian making a material contibution to the secular realm (politics, culture, art, etc.) and to neighbor through our several vocations. Yet he combines affirming an active role for the individual Christian in culture and politics with affirming that God delights to use the weak things of the world to carry out his redemptive purposes. I agree. And for both Dr. Horton and I, the culture remains non-redemptive, common. Making a big bang in culture is not the church's role at all, but having some impact on culture is the calling of the individual Christian. Christ assumes that we will have an impact on culture when he speaks of individual Christians as salt and light. The impact can't be avoided unless we hide the light under a bushel.

Where dgh errs is in binary, black and white thinking: the individual Christian is either a bystander who whatches the culture go by while trusting God is working out his purposes through the church, or the individual Christian makes of culture an idol. There is no nuance in his playbook. He is fearful of any talk of improving culture because the evangelical world has made it assume an outsized importance. So he over-reacts and wants to imagine the individual Christian passive, quiet, for the most part uninvolved. What I appreciate about Horton's approach is he avoids this false dichotomy. Horton's 2k template is more biblically balanced, in my opinion.

Finally, dgh assumes what he's trying to prove by promiscuously lumping into categories matters that must be distinguished. When Horton speaks about individual Christians being change-agents out of the salt shaker in their common callings he is not calling for "transforming" the culture into a redemptive sphere. He is merely describing the small, incremental improvements that individual Christians make in their callings -- never transforming in the sense that we bring in the kingdom or convert the common sphere to a holy shere -- just small stems here and there: helping this neighbor, alleviating this injustice, upligting the moral climate in this workplace, voting for this law. Never a transformation. Christ's statemment that Christians will be and should be salt and light was never a call to "transform" the common sphere into the holy. It was an observation that the new life imparted by the Sprit will work itself out in our callings and lives and have incremental impacts where we live and work. Further, Christ was not suggesting that the modest improvements we bring will necessarily be permanent or total. The poor we will always have with us, but that does not mean that a Christian doesn't show mercy to the poor neighbor next door. Pessimism about inability to effect permanent, profound changes in the civil realm should never make individual Christians paralyzed into inactivity.
July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke
But, CVD, how is it not binary to suggest that there is either "impacting culture, alleviating injustice and effecting moral uplift" or "mental check out, radical disengagement and paralyzed inactivity"? You're famous for calling for nuance, but that is precisely what this side of the table is actually championing with all the realistic talk of something in between sunny optimism and stoic pessimism: sober restraint on human ability (Calvinism) and a tamped down expectation of this age (amillism). The dignity of this world can remain while also lowering the expectation of what is at stake in certain matters.

And you keep using the salt and light metaphor, which seems a favorite amongst the cultural impactors. But isn't salt a preservative (not a transformative), at least the way the Bible uses the term? And when it comes to hiding light under a bushel, my concern is that when true gospel religion is in any way explicitly or explicitly aligned with any particular social/cultural/moral/political cause is when the unfettered gospel light actually becomes hidden behind the traditions of men.

I think all are quite agreed that the common sphere does not in any way become redemptive by the work of the institutional church or by the activity of her individual members. But it seems to me that you start saying things like "...having some impact on culture is the calling of the individual Christian" or otherwise suggest that believers are actually called to being change-agents (without any biblical substantiation, as requested, ahem), it becomes unclear as to what the difference really is between secular utopianism and redemptive transformationalism. If I’m CALLED to be a change agent and all I do is preserve then am I less pious the same way someone who is CALLED to doctrinal, doxological and moral purity and fail on any count? If most of us aren’t cultural elites, the ones who actually have a shot at being change agents (as Hunter smartly argues against the naïve assumptions of transformers and impactors), then does that mean most of us who languish in conservationville are sinful the way a doctrinal, doxological or moral trespasser is?
July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterZrim

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