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Another proof we need a middle way between 2K and Neo-Calvinism

This is another example of why I believe that neither Two Kingdom Theology nor Transformationalism quite gets the biblical picture.

Related: Two-Kingdom vs. Transformationalism: What’s all this fuss about?

On the one hand, I agree with the Neo-Calvinist interpretation of Kuyper that says that (in Bratt’s words) “God can–must–be served anywhere and everywhere.”

On the other hand, I completely disagree with his criticism of the idea that some “sectors of culture or society” could be “inherently wrong.”

Likewise, on the one hand, I agree with Hart’s argument for a distinction between the temporal and eternal or between the sacred and the secular.

On the other hand, I disagree with the 2K rejection of distinctly Christian ways of living.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

10 Responses to Another proof we need a middle way between 2K and Neo-Calvinism

  1. This is cheating a bit, because I’ve stolen this from a mutual friend, but we felt Bavinck captured a good balance on the points you’re mentioning, specifically the distinction between the sacred and the secular. Here’s Jan Veenhof summarizing Bavinck:

    There can be no doubt that Bavinck is far from poking fun, in the well-known manner (whether with supercilious arrogance of sardonic irony, from the vantage point of a real or imagined cultural superiority), at this Pietistic life style, as at an anachronistic curiosity. He is, rather, of the opinion that this Pietism hold up the mirror to ourselves and opens our eyes to the dangers of an unbridled and unbroken cultural optimism—dangers that Bavinck knew only too well were certainly not imaginary in the circles of his occasionally overzealous fellow-Calvinists. It was his conviction that ‘this movement [Pietism] gives evidence of an appreciation and concern for the one thing needful, which is only too often absent from us in the busy rush of contemporary life.’ Against the Pietists, nevertheless, he maintains the significance of the Christian religion may not be restricted to the redemption and salvation of a few souls. ‘The religious life does have its own content and an independent value. It remains the center, the heart, the hearth, out of which all his [i.e., the Christian’s] thought and action proceeds and from which it receives inspiration and warmth. There, in fellowship with God, he is strengthened for his labor and girds himself for the battle. But that hidden life of fellowship with God is not the whole of life. The prayer room is the inner chamber, but not the whole dwelling in which he lives and moves. The spiritual life does not exclude domestic and civic, social and political life, the life of art and scholarship. To be sure, it is distinct from these things. It also transcends them by far in value, but it does not constitute an irreconcilable opposition to them; rather, it is the power that enables us faithfully to fulfill our earthly vocation and makes all of life a serving of God.’ (29-30)

    I think I’m seeing an accredited Transformationalist taking the balanced position you’re looking for, but historical theology isn’t exactly a strength of mine.

  2. Thanks. I need to read some more Bavinck. The thing is, I don’t even think Kyper is a “transformationalist” in the sense that the Neo-Kuyperians articulate. I think his language led to transformationalism (particularly in Dooeyweerd), but I agree with David VanDrunen (Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms) that Kuyper articulated a modified 2K position.

    Interestingly, and I’d love your feedback on this, Dooeyweerd was among the first (if not the first) to articulate a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consumation paradigm as the basis for his transformationalism. Thus, I see such a paradigm as a predicate to transformationalism.

    I’ve noticed that BJU Press roots a lot of their philosophy in that paradigm, which I think is unfortunate. I wish they would rather root Christian worldview education in Scripture’s commands to be holy, think God’s thoughts, etc. rather than something that is inherently Neo-Kuyperian.

    This is exactly where a middle position is needed. Unfortunately most (but, I would argue, not all) 2Kers don’t see a necessity for Christian education because they don’t recognize a singular Christian worldview. So I’m with the transformationalists on the need for a distinctly Christian education. But again, I don’t think we should root it in transformation of culture, but rather in sanctification and discipleship.

    I guess I’m not sure where exactly you personally stand on the issue, but what do you think about that?

  3. Scott, although I scavenged through some of Hart’s posts you list under the other post, I didn’t see what you refer to above, i.e. his argument for a separation of the sacred and the secular. I am presuming this might mean there is such a thing as ‘sacred music’ etc. Can you pinpoint that quickly? I’d be interested in that line of thought.

  4. Well, he terms it in the post above as temporal vs eternal. Transformationalists want to argue that everything is sacred (in which case, nothing is sacred, I would argue), while 2Kers starkly separate the temporal (secular) from eternal (sacred) such that church is sacred, everything else is secular.

  5. Thanks – guess I missed the forest for the trees :-)
    My question is, does a distinction between carnal and spiritual (which is biblical) also mean that there is necessarily ‘Christian’ and ‘unchristian’ art? Maybe there is Dionysian and Apollonian music. Maybe there is high and low culture. Maybe there is deviant and God-honouring art. Yet, it seems impossible to define Christian art as such (let me know if you have found or created a definition). More concretely:
    # A painting cannot be Christian just because it was made by a Christian. Christians can produce art that may be utterly non-Christian, for example by ignorance. Likewise, a non-Christian could produce art resembling or superior to what the Christian artist does.
    # If it is about the ‘message’ (e.g., lyrics or what is depicted) of art, then what about other messaging (e.g., musical form), ambiguity, or irony which may distort the supposedly Christian meaning?
    # If art is Christian because its PURPOSE is a Christian use, we find ourselves in a quagmire of what really IS a Christian, Biblical orthodox use of art (think of icons) and also find the same art being used in Christian and non-Christian contexts.
    # If art is Christian because it is USED in a Christian context, the same limitations as above apply. We would then have art that is Christian only in specific situations but not in others.
    # If art is Christian because it is in line with biblical teaching, we get such a large scope (almost everything is sacred) that the term becomes irrelevant (e.g., entertainment could then be Christian as long as that entertainment serves recreation and recovery, as opposed to laziness and distraction from what really matters).

    So, whereas there is some dualism, I don’t necessarily find it in every area of creation. Sometimes it’s a matter of degrees, like shades of grey. Rather than Christian, I would define art as SUITABLE for Christian use – whether its origins or intent at its creation were really Christian or not (though often they will be).

    In that sense, art is not dualistic in the sense of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ but rather, SOME art can be used in sacred activity, such as corporate worship, if it is objectively suitable for that use. At the same time, it may also be suitable for non-Christian use in a different context (I’m using the strict church/rest-of-the-world distinction – of course, some secular activity is fully compatible with Christianity and one could draw the lines differently). This does not make art neutral but rather, highlights the need for thoughtful selection and use.

    We may then have two kingdoms which use art in different ways, though it may be the same or similar, yet one cannot clearly attribute art to either one or the other per se. Some art may, however, not be suitable at all for specific Christian uses, such as corporate worship, and hence, be virtually restricted to secular use. I’d also go further and say that Christians may want to refrain from its use even in their own secular activity, given they are to live sanctified lives in all areas of their activities.

    Clearly, there must be sectors of society that are inherently wrong – most would agree that e.g. prostitution would be part of that. Immoral activity cannot be ‘redeemed’ or transformed but must be avoided altogether. So I guess you are right to oppose the two views, although I doubt that most of their defenders would follow the transformationalist view to the end, as you defined it above, and promote Christian brothels :-)

    So, God cannot-must-not-be-served whenever immorality is at play in societal or cultural activity. The question remains (and has come up before) whether there are art forms which are inherently immoral. My position is that their use can be immoral if it leads to a distortion of biblical truth.

    The Christian life, then, is distinct from secular society in that it is subjected to the moral framework and spirit of biblical thinking. The difference lies not in the rejection of all ‘secular’ (I just wrote this does not really exist but the word is still useful) art forms but rather, their selective use or rejection, depending on the context. This will likely lead to the rejection of some art forms altogether, at least in the worship context (if I were to select film music, things might be different). While heavily impacted by biblical thinking, I see these choices more in the realm of aesthetic choices than moral choices. Hence, the art of good choice (good taste?) is not exclusive to Christians.

    Does this make any sense?

  6. Yes, I think you make good sense.

    One of the errors I think Kuyper made was to talk about “Christian education,” “Christian business,” “Christian law,” etc. I think what he meant was that a Christian’s values should affect everything he does, whether in the church, or in the public sphere (education, business, law, etc.).

    However, by using the term “Christian,” I think he confused categories that led to some of the errors of transformationalism today.

    Rather, I think only individuals can be Christian. That does not discount Kuyper’s point that our values should affect all we do, but it keeps the categories clearer.

    Rather, I think it is better to talk about “holy education” or “biblical business practice,” which emphasizes the idea that my actions as a Christian should always be affected by biblical values and a pursuit of holiness.

    I think the same thing can be true for art. If I (a Christian) paint a landscape, that is not “Christian art,” per se. Hopefully that painting reflects biblical values and a pursuit of holiness, and if it doesn’t, it should be rejected.

    But I think it is best to reserve the adjective “Christian” for individuals who have been redeemed.

    Then we get to “sacred” and “secular.” In the same way, something is “sacred,” not because a Christian creates it, but because it is specifically created and set apart for sacred use, i.e. use within corporate worship. “Secular” things are not evil in themselves, but rather things created with no intent for sacred use. Thus even “secular” things, if they are created by Christians, should reflect the biblical, holy values of Christians, even if they are not intended for sacred use.

    The problem with the transformationalist positions is that by fusing the sacred and the secular, nothing is really sacred any longer.

  7. Yet I must say I loathe the term ‘sacred’ – maybe because it sounds ancient but also because it seems to attribute some quality to art that sounds like we’d have to show reverence that may not be due to a simple artifact (e.g., like a Greek Orthodox treating an icon with special reverence because it is ‘sacred’).
    My understanding is that we mean to say ‘fit for worship’ (or fit for whatever other purpose compatible with the Christian worldview). So for worship, this would include qualities like ‘high culture’ (if that exists), Apollonian, God-honouring, and spiritual. Spiritual would be a nice term but also has a lot of baggage in today’s use of the term, such that I find it no longer describes anything to do with Christianity.
    So in the worship context – created for corporate worship – we may be looking for a better term still. Returning to the double-use of secular and ‘sacred’ art, we can think of some Bach music that sounds almost the same, whether written for church use or for entertainment (keeping in mind that at his time, popular art was very much in line with the art used for Christian worship – but we could certainly find contemporary examples). So ‘sacred’ does not cut it for me for that reason, too.
    Maybe ‘Apollonian’ is still most fitting, although not everyone will know what it means. Circumscribing what I am looking for, worship music must a) correspond to the Christian worldview and a biblical view of God and b) be congruent with the lyrics it means to enhance. Awe-inspiring would be a good term in many cases but probably we’re really looking for ‘aspiring’ (to higher things) as the key quality of worship music (and probably also other types of art if suitable for worship or even private use). I believe it was Kevin who posted a while ago on art and how it can motivate us to become better people – but there may be no single term to express what is meant.

  8. Re-reading your last sentence I’m wondering if the solution is really to abandon the sacred/secular distinction, as much as that seems to hurt. Given there is some overlap between what could be used for sacred and secular purposes (a good example is probably the hymn, Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken – which is a great Christian hymn but is also used as the tune to Germany’s national anthem, which I understand to be a secular use as per the discussion above). Really, a PART/subset of secular culture/art is also suitable for use in Christian worship, or Christian life (in the sense of bringing about improvement). ALL Christian art is likely to be fit for secular use also (at least music – paintings may be a bit harder to take out of context; I wonder about sculpture, since much of that I would not necessarily accept as fit for Christian worship – but when it comes to architecture, we certainly have seen conversions of churches to museums or other secular uses).
    Or do you see a clear reason that this would be going too far? It would kind of result in the view that although Christians are clearly part of a different kingdom, they make use of SOME OF the same cultural forms as non-Christians, i.e. the dichotomy does not exist to the same degree of clarity as in the ‘moral life’ and ‘biblical thinking’ realms. So no clear split as in 2K but also not a wholesale acceptance as in transformationalism. Would that not be a potential solution to the ‘middle way’ question you brought up in your recent posts?

  9. Again, I completely agree that all of the Christian life should be done to the glory of God and reflective of biblical values. So in that sense, I agree with you.

    But the problem with abandoning any sacred secular distinction, as I’ve said, is not that everything raises to the level of the sacred (it never does), but rather that the sacred degrades tot he level of the secular.

    Plus, I really do believe that there are areas in the civic realm upon which we have no right to impose Christian values. I, as a citizen of the United States, should live out that citizenship controlled by biblical values, but I have no basis upon which to argue that unbelievers should as well, other than common grace and the light of nature. Unbelievers are not subject to Scripture, and neither should I expect them to be until they are regenerated.

    Therefore, my responsibility in the civic realm is not to try to transform things into Christian; rather, my job is to make disciples by preaching the gospel and teaching Scripture, and then those disciples will live their lives controlled by biblical values as well.

  10. (Sounds like Dooyeweerd?)
    Quite right. I still think there is some transformation going on; some 200 years ago, Western society was fairly ‘Christian’ in its outlook and values. Since then, it has been transformed into a thoroughly secular society that is no longer based in Christian values. The opposed process could also take place, for example if there was another Great Awakening (though I don’t see any signs of that).
    But my point was not so much that society should be transformed but that there is no such thing as Christian cultural forms per se. I think there is a Christian worldview, which will dictate which elements of culture we can use without causing detriment to our testimony or holiness (probably resulting in a Christian culture or sub-culture). As such, we need to make informed choices as to which cultural forms to use, develop, and adapt. I don’t quite see that we have a ‘sacred’ set of cultural to choose from. Rather, we need to look at all culture/art, and selectively take that which is compatible with the Christian worldview, rejecting the rest if it is found incompatible with the Christian worldview. Additional conditions will apply when we select artwork for worship.
    I fear we will run into the same problems trying to define ‘sacred’ as the ones I sketched out above if we try to define ‘Christian’ as applied to artifacts (on a sideline, I’d love to have a clear definition of what a Christian is – nominal versus part of God’s kingdom – as well; always grateful for pointers!).
    I did NOT mean to impose Christian values on areas of the civic realm. Rather, there may be civic or ‘non-sacred’ forms we can adopt for ourselves and use them inside ‘our’ Kingdom (in which context, MAYBE, we can then call them sacred – but see my reservations above), notwithstanding they may also be used elsewhere, and then with a different, non-sacred meaning (such as the anthem example above). But if sacred cannot be defined, it does not really exist (maybe the Ark of the Covenant was sacred but I doubt we would have any real equivalent to that today). So then there is no clear delimitation but this does NOT mean what transformationalism says, i.e. that all forms are acceptable, or can be ‘redeemed’ and adapted for Christian uses.
    Or not?

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