Monday, February 15, 2016

We'll Figure This Out Eventually

I appreciate much of what Matthew Tuininga has to write and have read his work on the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms for years. His most recent post for Reformation 21, called "Rightly Defining the Spirituality of the Church," is commendable for what he identifies as what is often an abuse of the two kingdoms doctrine by those who are actually not consistently applying it. However, I believe that Tuininga’s proposed solution is a poor corrective:
Until advocates of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church (not to mention advocates of two kingdoms theology) come to grips with the social implications of the spiritual gospel they will not be able to make the necessary distinction between inappropriate meddling in civil and political affairs (which they rightly criticize) and the church's responsibility to proclaim the full scope of the gospel, with all of its social implications (which duty they avoid).
So Tuininga lays the blame for the abuse of spirituality of the church doctrines at the feet of those who are apparently in denial of what he says are the social implications of the gospel. He doesn’t seem to have a clear definition of “social.” On the one hand he almost seems to use the term to refer to any interpersonal interaction, but no two-kingdom or Spirituality of the church advocate that I know of is going to argue that the Gospel doesn’t change the way people live together. Instead, I take Tuininga, when he uses the word “social” to be “relating also to those outside of the Church.” Assuming that I’m working with a definition of “social” that Tuininga would find amenable, what are the social implications of the gospel? Well, Tuininga gives a few examples:
While Christ refused to take up the work of a lawyer or a civil judge in order to arbitrate a legal dispute over property (Luke 12:13-14), for instance, he had a lot to say about the way his disciples should handle their property (Luke 12:33; Cf. Acts 2:45; 2 Corinthians 9:7), demonstrate hospitality (Luke 14:12-14; Matthew 25), and reach out to various marginalized groups (Luke 5:30-32; 7:37-48; 14:12-14). While he insisted that his disciples may not use violence as do the political kingdoms of this world (John 18:36), he required them to recognize the authority of Caesar by paying taxes (Matthew 22:21), and he called them to exercise a distinctly different model of leadership (Luke 22:25-27). Likewise the Apostle Paul urged believers not to sue one another in the courts (1 Corinthians 6:7), but that did not stop him from requiring integrated worship and fellowship among Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 2) any more than it stopped James from condemning the practice of segregating worship between rich and poor (James 2:1-7). And this is to say nothing about the many things Christ and his apostles taught about social relations ranging from government and labor relations to marriage and parenting, all in light of the transforming impact of the gospel.
For the sake of clarity and simplicity, let me offer bullet-point summaries of the various social implications of the Gospel, according to Tuininga:

  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should handle their personal property.
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should be hospitable.
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should “reach out to various marginalized groups.”
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should submit to the authority of the government.
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should lead one another.
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should treat one another in law-courts.
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should ethnically be brought together in worship.
  • The Gospel speaks to how disciples should treat one another despite economic class.

When one looks at this list, there is one thing that is glaringly absent: there is not one example of the New Testament telling the Church to speak to secular people about how to live or to the government about how to function. Every single one of these things is an instruction for the Church and for Christians, and many of them are predicated on believers’ union with Christ.

Based on the above list, the reader is able to understand what “the social implications of the spiritual gospel” are for the Church, but what are “the social implications of the spiritual gospel” for the person who does not love Jesus or who doesn’t belong to the church? For example, Paul cares a great deal about racial reconciliation within the Church, but is there any sense in which the dividing line between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down if someone isn’t united to Christ?

In the end, Tuininga’s solution leaves more questions than answers. For example:

  • Apart from calling unbelievers to repent and trust in Christ, what does the Gospel have to say to those who are outside of Christ?
  • What, exactly, are the political implications of the Gospel?
  • What particular policies or laws must the Church advocate?
  • Is there any distinction between the function of the Church and the role of an individual believer in society?
  • What, exactly, is meant by “social” and “political”?

For a post called “Rightly Defining the Spirituality of the Church,” I am left scratching my head. The article seems to leave things more nebulous and less defined. If I were to propose my own solution to the social confusion Tuininga observes, it would be fourfold:
a) A clear understanding of what “The Gospel” is.
b) A clear understanding of what “The Church” is.
c) A clear understanding of what is meant by the term “social.”
d) A clear understanding of what the mission of the Church is.
All four of these things are severely lacking in current debates over the Church’s role in society, and as long as they are undefined there will continue to be confusion, a lack of clarity, and a pattern of parties talking past one another.

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