Well, let’s dive right in, shall we? As of late, it is like we are caught in a cosmic makeover show in the reformed and evangelical world. Donald J. Trump was the material cause, maybe. But he was not the originating cause. We are dealing with political disagreements that stem from doctrinal disagreements. But we didn’t see the doctrinal differences until the political revealed them. Thus we’re all befuddled and scratching our heads.
Now, there’s this thing called Christian nationalism that’s decided to park itself in our mental garage. Imagine those gospel-loving folks, sipping their cold brew and minding their own business, when someone barges in with the notion that even the posh chambers of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. are part of Christ’s property portfolio. Well, you can bet your last biscuit that those ostensibly devoted Kuyper theology fans are blinking in disbelief. They’re good with Christ claiming every inch, until you mention that one square inch is smack dab in the middle of our political hubbub. That is when they give you the side-eye, worried that you are watering down the salvation message and bringing back the days of poor Obadiah Holmes’ misadventures.
And that’s just the beginning of our troubles. The unity tasted at the conferences so many attended, where all were belting the same gospel tune under the Together for the Gospel banner, has hit some rocky terrain. And this unpleasant terrain can’t be pinned on simple assertions, “Oh, they have sold doctrinal purity for a political end,” from the one side, or “They have chugged the pietism punch” from the other. No, we’re dealing with a whole new flavor of division soup. Sure, there are those who have made shady deals for political clout, and sure, some folks have been sipping pietism like it is the nectar of the gods. But our present division is messier than that.
Some might want to slap a “Made in Politics” label on our current divisions, saying that our fractured nation’s squabbles have infiltrated our Christian camaraderie. So, the fix is to boot the political mess and get back to the basics: systematic theology, gospel preaching, ecclesiology, and whatnot. This, they say, will lead us back to the golden days. Those who advance this sentiment are likely to argue that we should forget that some evangelical bigwigs marched in BLM parades while the world went up in flames. Perhaps the memory of those sulfur-scented COVID times will fade away. Well, no, they won’t.
Let me hasten to say that I am eager for the unity that we once had. But, we cannot slap a Band-Aid on our troubles and heal our wound lightly. We have to get down to the pesky doctrinal blunders that have been lurking around our reformed and evangelical world like uninvited party guests. They have been with us for quite a spell, causing us to trip over our own shoelaces when it comes to things like critical race theory, bizarre Trump infatuations, and bowing down to the CDC during the Corona circus.
We could point to several doctrinal shortcomings that left us in our present pickle. But let me go to the central one. The heart of the matter has been our Christless Christianity. That is a risky statement to make. It is an attempt to move the Overton window which may be a push too far for some. I understand your hesitation. We used to boast that our unity was built on Jesus. But I’m here to put a pin in that balloon.
We were indeed unified in the gospel in a sense. Everyone would have said that the good news involved Jesus dying and rising. Conversion? We had that underfoot. Testimonies about God finding us in the far country and bringing us home? They were our bread and butter. We must say amen to all of that.
But—and this point is like smelling salts to clear away the fog—our unity missed Christ born of the Virgin Mary. Yes, Him. Our unity was not firmly grounded in that little detail. It was near about a disembodied faith as if Charles Taylor himself dropped by and gave it the “excaranated” seal of approval. Sure, we could go on about Christ’s divinity, and every Reformed leader would attest to His humanity. But the telos of that humanity? Well, that was like a whisper in a windstorm—hard to find.
I am not advocating for some doctoral dissertation here. I’m not insisting that the common evangelical must become Bavinck or Aquinas in order to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. I’m just waving my arms and shouting from the rooftops: we have reduced the humanity of Christ to the truth that He went to the cross as our substitute and will come back for an encore. That, of course, is essential. But there is more that has been revealed.
Does our faith really say Jesus popped by Earth just to ferry souls up to the pearly gates? No, not even close. He is more than a celestial Uber driver. He is the Second Adam, dishing out life to us flesh-and-bone creatures. He came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved, the whole kit and caboodle. That includes our present political circus.
We were not ready for the challenges that came upon us in political fashion, which were not merely political challenges. It is not as if we lost the political challenges, but we kept all of the souls of our people clean and ordered. No, the challenges came upon us in a particular manner, under a particular guise. And these challenges ravaged the church of Christ. We were vulnerable to these attacks because we bought into a great dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical, the heavenly and the earthly, the corporate and the individual, the inner and the outer. And here is the kicker; we bought into all of these dichotomies because we had previously bought into a great dichotomy between the divinity of Christ and His humanity. We did not see the implications and applications of the truth that the Son of God took upon Himself human form.
Said another way, many Christians are not sure why Christ did not have to die once for each individual. Our outlook has become so atomized that we are left thinking that this arrangement would fit, even though we shrink back from the notion. But why? Why did one death work for so many individuals? Well, because Christ took upon our nature and stood in our place as our head and representative. He did what the first Adam failed to do. He insists that the telos of the salvation he has provided for us include that original mission, to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and have dominion. But filling the earth with a bunch of physical creatures who will then fill the earth with the rule of God sounds a whole lot like Mere Christendom. And while our fading-in-influence evangelical leaders know we have deadly cracks in our society’s foundation, they still want to warn you about all of those “Christ is Lord” signs that Canon Press keeps putting up across the nation.
But back to this much-needed recovery and renewal of our unity. We need more than a patch-up job. We need to grow up, to embrace the faith of our forefathers. The faith once for all delivered to the saints is not just about flicking the Gospel switch and getting zapped by heavenly electricity. The Gospel isn’t an abstract idea; it’s a person. And that person is not just about a ticket to heaven. He’s about recreating the whole world.
If Kuyper was right, and he was, then the bride of Christ must announce what the Second Adam has said, “Every square inch is mine.” And that includes the land trod by the rich men north of Richmond.