A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: An Introduction

Disclaimer: The present series is a presentation of the thoughts of two Reformed Baptists (Gabriel Williams and William Leonhart) on the relationship between kingdom and culture. This series is to be taken neither as the view of all Reformed Baptists nor as the view of all contributors to CredoCovenant. Reformed Baptists are a diverse group with a wide variety of perspectives on this issue.

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Paying attention to the news, one will have noticed that 2015 has been a year marked by numerous stories that have deeply affected American cultural life in the present and will doubtless have many ramifications in the future. The following list is a quick rundown of just a few major stories that have gained attention in 2015 (so far) throughout social media.

A cursory examination demonstrates that many of the news stories mentioned above involve matters of social justice and politics. This raises a significant question for Christians to consider: What is the proper Biblical approach regarding matters of social justice and politics? This question is one that addresses fundamental aspects of public theology.

Considerations

Before answering it, we’re compelled to acknowledge the complexity of the question. Its answer demands a discussion on the relationship between the Church and State, the relationship between individual Christians and the institutional Church (i.e. a discussion of ecclesiology), and an honest discussion regarding numerous Biblical passages. Moreover, this discussion will also lead to a discussion on economic theory and political theory.

The purpose of this blog series is to present a biblical approach regarding matters of social justice and politics using Reformed and Baptistic presuppositions and to apply this biblical approach to a number of pressing issues within our American context. Our position on this matter can be summarized by the following ten points:

  1. Christians are truly citizens of the Kingdom of God and we owe our affections and our ultimate loyalty to the Heavenly City where righteousness dwells.
  2. Christians live in this present, evil age and our presence in this earthly city is like that of strangers sojourning in a foreign country.
  3. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this present, evil age are competing, conflicting, intermingling loyalties within the same public sphere with antithetical worldviews.
  4. Unbelievers are truly citizens of this earthly city with a nature that is governed by the flesh, rather than the Spirit, and thus have a nature that is antithetical to the Kingdom of God.
  5. Because unbelievers have disordered affections, they cannot have properly ordered penultimate ends (such as peace and justice) and thus, it should not be expected that they will rightly exercise citizenship in the public sphere.
  6. Because this present, evil age is set in opposition to the Kingdom of God, Christians cannot “redeem the culture” or transform the earthly city into the Kingdom of God.
  7. The Kingdom of Grace is already present in the invisible church, while we await the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in glory (William Collins, “The Baptist Catechism,” Q.109).
  8. Christians are called to engage the citizens of the earthly city in the public sphere as those who have been transformed by the Spirit and to serve as a prophetic voice to our culture, forth-telling the truth of God as revealed in the Scripture.
  9. Within our American culture, if we desire to speak prophetically to the ruling class of our day, we must do so by going directly to the people, for they are the ruling class in America.
  10. The separation of Church and state means that the state is not permitted to intrude into matters of conscience nor matters of church government.

The Approach

In this blog series, we will examine the biblical warrant for each of these ten points. We will begin by discussing historical perspectives on this topic. The knowledgeable reader will recognize that our ten points are strongly grounded in Augustine’s insights into public theology. It is our contention that any discussion of how the Church interacts with the culture in the public sphere must start by interacting with Augustine’s classic work The City of God.

We will discuss various perspectives from important historical figures (such as Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd) and from modern voices (such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, David VanDrunen, D.G. Hart, and James K. A. Smith). After conducting a historic survey of Christian thought on this issue, we will also conduct a survey of Scripture to examine biblical theology and biblical precedence on this matter. Finally, we will discuss how our position can be applied to various contemporary issues involving social justice and economic justice.

The Desired Tone

Our goal in this series is not first-and-foremost to critique other views on Christian social theory. While we may respectfully disagree with many of our contemporaries in both the theonomist and the modern Two Kingdoms camps, we will place more emphasis on the respect than on the disagreement. We do recognize that we cannot establish one position without discussing its disagreement with other positions. However, we recognize those with whom we disagree as our brothers in Christ.

As such, our goal is to enter the conversation with a positive argument for our position. It is not our goal to engage in a heated debate with a negative argument against the positions of others. We have respectfully chosen to leave that debate for another time and another place. While we do not mean to discourage debate from those who disagree with us, we do ask that you hear us out in full before responding in the comments section. There are several posts to come.