Is the Kingdom of God manifested in temporal, geographical, and cultural terms? Through our labours can we make this a reality?
Some argue…yes, but that will be in the future when Christ returns and establishes a temporal, geo-political Kingdom based in Jerusalem which will last for 1000 years. At least the adherents of this Premillennial vision of a physical Kingdom don’t believe it comes about through human endeavours.
Dominionists, Transformationalists, Constantinians, Postmillennialists…all nuances of the same Kingdom-vision, believe more or less this can be done now.
And they’ve tried before, in the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and even in relatively modern times. In the glowing optimism of the late 19th and early 20th century, when Christendom sat atop the world, ruling most of the earth, many of the adherents of Social Gospel believed that if we pushed hard we could finish the task of Christianizing the world and bring in a quasi-utopia. They too had accommodated themselves to a set of cultural norms which were unbiblical and as we know...it all blew up in their faces in 1914.
Sacralist Constantinianism whether Left or Right is built on the same foundation. Contemporary Right-wing Dominionists loathe the Social Gospel and Jim Wallis its most well known modern proponent.
But from my non-Sacralist perspective...they're the same animal. There's not much difference. The spiritual descendants of Kuyper, Schaeffer, and Rushdoony are all in the end...Social Gospellers.
If they are right....that we're supposed to erect some kind of Constantinian structure...how do they get American Republican values from that? Strange that somehow that system becomes the model. I argue it's because they're defending Establishment values. In England the Dissenters from Anglicanism were combating the Establishment and so the Bible believers in the United Kingdom often embrace what Americans would call Leftist positions. And they did this by reading their Bible and trying to apply those values contrary to the Conservative and Establishment protecting Anglican Church and Tory Party.
In the United States, those who were Dissenters in the United Kingdom became the Elite. Rather than apply the Bible, they did what all people in power do…erect systems which protect and advance their own interests. The Dissenters in the United States weren’t Bible believing Protestants, but Unorthodox Christian Miners, Catholic Immigrants, and Unbelievers. So in our country it is these people who adopted positions quite similar to the ideology of Christians in England.
So who's right? Well the whole model is wrong, but if it was right, I find it very strange that a Christian society would reject helping the poor, providing universal healthcare and promote Imperialist wars.
On the surface it sounds crazy to argue with Kuyper. How could a Christian suggest that all of creation isn't supposed to be subjected to Christ? But there's a whole lot behind the statement and when understood the way he meant it, and what’s behind the asking of it...it must be rejected.
What about our call to bring every thought captive?
Our thoughts as believers, or the unbeliever's thoughts? Will forcing the unbeliever to conform his thinking to a Christian worldview glorify God, help the unbeliever, or advance the Kingdom?
It can’t be denied that the attempt to do this will bring about some kind of social change…but to what end? I argue the end result is precisely the opposite of what they’re hoping for. I think the Bible teaches this and history vindicates it.
Now some Postmillennialists think the entire world at some point will become Christian, something like 99% of the world will be Born Again and much of what they do is in preparation for that time. Patently in disaccord with the New Testament, they're largely wasting their time, or worse.
Historically Postmillennialists looked for a Revival-style outpouring of the Spirit. They didn’t worry so much about the details of the effects of the revival on society. They looked for a Golden Age of Christendom, but trusted in the Spirit to work it out.
In the 20th century, with the advent of Theonomy, the Dominionist vision became more comprehensive. They also believe in the coming Christian society, but they started to think about exactly HOW that would look. How could each of the social and cultural spheres be shaped to be specifically Christian?
The New Testament doesn’t answer these questions, and so the Church in seeking to answer them has been largely distracted by questions which really belong to the realm of Speculative Theology. The Church became and continues to be entangled in issues of Systematics, philosophical speculation, politics, and culture war.
But many others who don't necessarily look for the Golden Age still believe they are to construct Christian culture that will also shape the unbeliever. Spiritual Kingdom truths are to be applied to every question and then applied to society.
There are two very serious problems with this.
1. The New Testament teaches we must be Born Again in order to see the Kingdom of God. We must have the Holy Spirit sanctifying us in order to rightly understand the world around us and know how to live as Christian in it. Unbelievers are INCAPABLE of living as Christians. Turn to the Proverbs, their prayers, their worship is not pleasing to God. It's an abomination. At best they can only become like the Samaritans, worshipping what they do not know.
2. Without faith it is impossible to please him, and unbelievers are in a state of enmity with God, they cannot obey his laws and according to Romans do not desire to do so. So even if unbelievers are legally forced to behave in a certain way and engage in certain social rituals it IN NO WAY enhances the Kingdom of God. It's pretty clear, it does not please Him to have unbelievers behaving in this way. It may create a social veneer of what seems like lots of 'nice' people, but from a spiritual perspective, from a gospel perspective, is this helpful? Do we desire a society of Pharisees and nominal Christians? Was the gospel more effective with the Pharisees who said they see, or with the lost who knew they were lost?
Has no culture on earth ever been able to create a reasonably civil society apart from Christianity? They try to argue this way, but history does not support them. Pagan Rome, the setting of the New Testament was a civil and orderly place. Many other civilizations with nothing more than Natural Law have succeeded. Will any model last forever? Of course not. That's not how history works. I'm content with these failed models in a fallen world. I'm not looking for a physical Heaven at this time.
So how are Christian understandings applied to society? They can't be. If they are it's through this method....Christians living their lives being salt and light, not with the expectation of changing the outcome of elections or helping architectural standards to conform to some dreamt up theological model. Rather it's Christians living as Christians being witness in word and deed to the Gospel of Christ.
The Bible doesn't tell me how to do Chemistry. It tells me how to be a Christian and then when I'm doing Chemistry I proceed with a Christian attitude...also understanding that I'm interacting with lost people. My expectations are going to be limited by that. I may sometimes have to walk away because I can't participate in what the unbeliever does. Sometimes that action itself is part of being salt and light. What is denigrated as Retreatism is sometimes the very thing we are called to do.
So there is no specifically Christian way to do Chemistry. You see it's not part of the Holy Realm. It's part of the Common Realm which like all the kingdoms and cultures of the earth will be burned up at the 2nd Coming.
We don't have to flee from the Common Realm like monks or pietists, but we don't have to transform it either. If you're a chemist...be a Christian who is also a chemist. That's all you have to do.
I'm a pilgrim here and this gives me an ethic even when I approach something like Chemistry. This is but one example.
Dominionism teaches that we have to transform Chemistry and make it explicitly Christian if not for now then for the future Christian Culture.
But if the Bible doesn't teach any of this...are these "Christian" "Transformed" models they come up with really Christian or Biblical? And if they're not...I ask again… then what are they doing to the Church? There’s a real danger and I hope to keep visiting it.