Southern Presbyterianism and the Culture War

D.G. Hart has long been a whipping boy among postmillennialists and Reconstructionists.  Indeed, it took me about 8 years to warm up to his arguments.  I used to be a hard-core Recon.  I thought the highest goal in my life would be to take back city hall for Christ (okay, maybe it wasn’t really that, but you get the idea). Through various shifts and trials in my life, I have backed away from that rhetoric.  Something else appeared as superior to the culture war:  ecclesiastical statesmanship.  Christ’s promises were specifically made to his church, not to parachurch ministries and quasi-political cell groups.

Both sides in the debate, R2Kers and Kuyperians, have a troubled use with Thornwell, Dabney, and Southern Presbyterianism.  On one hand, Hart and Co. have correctly identified and applied Thornwell’s “Spirituality of the Church” doctrine.  This is a slap in the face to Kuyperians, at least modern-day ones.  On the other hand, I am not sure how thoroughly Hart can fully apply Thornwell.  Thornwell had no problem with society being governed by “right reason” in accord with a general biblical outline.  (Few Van Tillians hold to Common Sense Realism).  Further, Thornwell (and especially Dabney) are not dis-interested in political and economic questions.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the 2Kers have a practical point: whether we ought or ought not to “transform” society for Christ, we have to look at issues on the ground.  I am not going to trumpet the typical R2K objections to Kuyperianism (e.g., the world is evil and transformation is impossible).  I think there is a far more troubling objection:  what if the  transformationalists actually succeed?  The problem is that a lot of transformationalists think they are going to go back to Patrick Henry.   More like, though, and more troubling, is that we won’t get Patrick Henry.  We will get Tim Keller.  Tim Keller is a more likely bet for transformationalism.  He is a gifted speaker, a talented organizer, and has a growing church in a large, important city.   The problem:  Tim Keller isn’t really Reformed.

And such a “reformed” society would end up looking like the broader PCA culture.

But what about the points where the transformationalists seem like they got it right?  Should they just be abandoned?  Maybe not.  This is where simply being a student of the magisterial reformation pans out:  we get the theocratic impulse behind such views but we root it in a robust ecclesiology.

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