04 Aug The Three Things I Still Believe
Those who know me well know that I talk frequently of my gratitude for being “rescued” from the ghetto of what many call “Christian Reconstructionism.” I do not just talk of having changed my beliefs (though I doubt that significant belief changes have taken place), but I do openly and gratefully acknowledge that my paradigm has in some way significantly changed in the last ten years. My departure from that world is primarily sociological and tactical – I believe that world to be primarily a world of losers – of talkers, but not doers – of conspiracy nuts – of patriarchal hypocrites – of tribalistic menaces – of ecclesiastical tyrants – of John Birch type embarrassments – and worst of all – people that do little to accomplish what they say they believe. I did not “leave” Reconstructionism; I just believe it ceased existing. Perhaps Gary North’s laughable Y2K prophecies did it in. Maybe the passing of one of its only credible theologians spelled the end (my late father, Dr. Greg Bahnsen). More than likely, it may have been the repeated rifts and divisions that followed this insidious movement wherever it went – a movement defined by who was no longer talking to whom, and churches that split off from one another like a devil in the high wind. I do not miss that world, and I am grateful beyond words that God led my faith and ideology to where it is now (and that He continues to lead and enlighten me, never allowing me to believe that “I have finished learning”).
But as an active participant in the modern church, and one whose day-to-day work and life overlaps with Reformed folks, evangelicals, Roman Catholics, politically involved believers, politically apathetic believers, intellectual Christians, anti-intellectual pietists, denominational zealots, anti-denominational anarchists, post-Reconstructionists, fervent Reconstructionists, and just about everything in between, I am continually reminded of a few principles that I believe in today more than I ever have. I have never abandoned these principles in my paradigm shift of the last ten years, and God willing, I never will.
(1) The great sin of the modern church is not legalism or phariseeism, but antinomianism. I can understand the desire of many to separate themselves from what has been called “Theonomy”, and if all I knew of “Theonomy” was “theonomists”, I could hardly blame them. But since 99.99% of all believers have never heard of Theonomy, and since the vast majority of evangelicals clearly recognize the need for some expression of the Lordship of Christ in the public square, I don’t see this as a real toxic issue these days. What I do see as toxic is the despicable preaching that fills our pulpits week after week after week, where rank cowards preach a gospel of easy-believism and cheap grace, and where even in professing Reformed churches, either overt or latent antinomianism is the status quo. Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship is a distant memory; evangelicalism’s “come just as you are (and stay there)”, is in. The idea that faith in Christ requires – yes, requires – life changing repentance and obedience has not been merely abandoned – it has been repudiated like a plague. Small churches, big churches, Reformed churches, and non-Reformed churches routinely ignore the gospel message of a faith defined by its obedient works. The gospel message has not been watered down; it has been abandoned.
All of this to say that, while legalism and phariseeism exist and need to be squashed, the underlying sin contaminating the church is one of utter rebellion – a refusal to see God as lawgiver and judge. This is a theological problem, fundamentally. I see few in the church prophetically willing (or able) to work at changing it. Encouragement is hard to find.
(2) Victory was achieved at the cross and resurrection, and this world is God’s domain. One of the few terms I am still willing to use from my past life is “postmillennialist”. It does not carry the baggage some of the other descriptive terms do, and it is unequivocally Biblical. But far beyond the mere eschatological implications, I am continually stunned at the willingness of people to call this world the property of Satan, or act as though it is – as if the cross and resurrection did nothing to squelch his power. My own church sang the glorious hymn today, “This is my Father’s World”, and I could not help but wonder how many Christians today really believe that? How many Christians read and understand the prophet Isaiah? How many sermons were preached today about the rapture or afterlife as the only victory Christians can hope for? Every year I long for the hymn season of Christmas, as it is the only time I feel that we consistently sing the Christian teaching of Christ as KING, of Christ as LORD, and Christ as having dominion over this world. Kuyper was right to say that every inch of this world belongs to Christ, and we are wrong to implicitly or explicitly deny such. Sadly, in a day and age when the idea of Christianity as having significant cultural relevance seems to be coming back, the theological surrenderism of retreat and failure dooms pulpit preaching and Christian conversation. Onward Christian soldiers, goes the famous hymn. This is not a message to lose.
(3) There is no neutrality, and all true Christianity is necessarily “worldview Christianity” I have grown very open to a number of different strategies and tactics in how one defends the faith. Ultimately, I do understand that no one will ever, ever be “argued” into conversion, and I do believe that unbelief is far more an ethical matter than it is a philosophical one. I wince when I see contemporary apologists talk of reason as if it is an “even playing field”, and surrender right out of the gate the “fear of the Lord being the beginning of wisdom”. On the other hand, I also understand that philosophical credibility and rhetorical popularity are very different things, and both have their place. I happen to find the writings of Cornelius Van Til and the presuppositional school of apologetics to be very profound, but even if I didn’t, I am mystified at the modern Christian’s dualism in describing his own faith. Christianity is still something many people are happy to “fit in” with the rest of their mental faculties, and not something by which they wish to define all of their mental faculties. Faith is apologized for, as if its co-existence with reason is something to be ashamed of. Few scholars or pastors are willing to define Christianity as a whole world and life view. It is at most a personal relationship (the pietists), and even then it is usually a relationship of convenience. When it comes to matters of science, law, ideology, and philosophy, it is either to be abandoned altogether, or embraced only to the extent that it can fit in other people’s comfort zone (or our own). We routinely accept the nonsense that our opponents are religiously neutral, but we are constricted by an ancient faith and morality (as if our opponents are not linked tooth and nail to a dogmatic ideology and worldview – the religion of secular humanism). Calvin, Kuyper, Schaeffer, Van Til, and countless others have shouted with a prophetic voice that Christianity is a relationship, a religion, and a worldview (I would also include the popular non-scholarly writer, Chuck Colson, to the list of esteemed men preaching this holistic Christianity).
I am sure there are many other principles that I carry with me from my past life into my present one, but these three stand out as most important, and most vital. I may not feel as strongly about six-day creationism as I used to (though I still hold to it), and I may not be interested in devoting my life to the gold standard, or the Trinity Hymnal, or just war theory, or bashing Roman Catholics, or any other such feeble attempts that have defined many folks’ lives over the years. But when it comes to these essential beliefs I have described above, my friends and my foes can at least know this: I am resolute in my commitment.