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Archive for October 21st, 2009

The gospel of sectarianism

If you’ve been wondering what to make of all the neo-Reformed fascination with the Lutheran “law-gospel” hermeneutic and the “two Kingdoms” theology (which has become all the rage among the theo-profs at Westminster West Seminary and other places), John Frame’s review of Michael Horton’s latest book (Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church) will help you think more clearly about it all.

Professor Frame with his usual clear-headed analysis exposes the confused thinking that supports these positions and the real danger that lies underneath it. Here are a couple of examples:

On the Law-Gospel distinction, Frame writes:

But as a matter of fact, that separation of law and gospel does not have biblical support. One should ask here, is there anything in Scripture that does not reveal God’s saving purposes? Jesus said that all of Scripture testified of him (Luke 24:25-27, John 5:39). And is there anything in the authoritative scriptures that does not impose a requirement upon us, at least the requirement to believe? But if the whole Bible can be considered law, and can also be considered gospel, how can law and gospel be separate?

Further, the gospel as proclaimed by Jesus and the apostles contains a command, the command to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15, Acts 2:38-40). The law, on the other hand, is often based on divine deliverance, as in the case of the Decalogue (Ex. 20:2). The law itself is a gift of God’s grace, according to Ps. 119:29.The gospel is the proclamation of the coming kingdom (Isa. 52:7, Matt. 4:17, 23) in which God’s will shall be done on earth as in heaven (Matt. 6:10). It is the announcement that God’s law will prevail. So the law is good news, gospel. And the gospel is law.

And in regard to Horton’s application of the “two Kingdoms” perspective:

This discussion is sometimes caught up in eschatological debate: is the Kingdom of God only future or is it in some sense present now? Sometimes it is waylaid by debates about the roles of church and state (as Horton’s exposition of the “two kingdoms” view on 206-217). But apart from these debates, isn’t it obvious that when people come to trust in Christ they seek to bring biblical standards to bear in their workplaces? Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) Can we possibly exclude from “whatever” our work in politics, the arts, or finance? And can we possibly forbid the church to give us guidance in our attempts to improve society?

What does it mean to be engaged in politics to the glory of God? That is not always easy to define. I would agree with Horton that Christians often exaggerate their expertise on social issues; sometimes nonbelievers can do a better job of gathering the relevant facts. But if I am charged with the work of planning national health care, I certainly must ask how biblical principles apply to that. When a believer produces a sculpture, it may be difficult for him to see how his faith is relevant to each stroke of his tool; but he certainly doesn’t want critics referring to it as a symptom of modern nihilism.

And here’s part of his conclusion:

So Christless Christianity is essentially an evaluation of the American church, not from the standpoint of a generic Protestant theology, but from what I must regard as a narrow, factional, even sectarian perspective. Readers need to understand this.

Read the entire review here.

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