I’m pleased to publish this guest editorial from Stephen Wolfe.

Cultural Christianity is frequently an object of scorn in American evangelical Christianity. Though elsewhere even atheists claim to be culturally Christian (e.g., Richard Dawkins), in the United States the term usually refers to those who identify with the Christian religion yet base their Christian identity solely on their civil and familial heritage. They are Christians only because their family, community, and nation are Christian, and their religious practices are merely social practices.

This damning Christianity has come under fire by many prominent evangelicals, notably Russell Moore, the current president of the ERLC. At first glance, the criticism seems to be directed at the cultural phenomenon itself. That is, its direct purpose is to call cultural Christians to true faith.

But something else is going on. The goal is not to make these social practices spiritual. Rather it is a repudiation of any political theology that could possibly produce such social practices and thereby produce such  “fake” or “pretend” Christians.

Though Moore rarely gives names or points to any particular theological tradition, he often employs the term against any form of Christian dominion over political order and cultural space. In one recording, in which he remarks on the government approval of new mosques, he says that the government privileging of Christianity makes people “pretend Christians, and sends them straight to hell.” He continued: “The answer to Islam is not government power; the answer is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The civil realm is not a proper object of Christian dominion.

The Question of Cultural Power

The key word here is “power.” For Moore, the power of the Christian as a Christian is the power of persuasion, and the Christian doesn’t even possess this power with regard to proclaiming the faith, for only the Holy Spirit can bring one to faith in Christ. Moore would acknowledge the civil use of power, however. But such power is for human ends and not distinctively Christian ones. So Moore endorses a type of secular civil realm, albeit one that tolerates religious motivations in civil action.

The civil realm for the Christian is then a place for religiously motivated action, though the end of this action cannot be the establishment of anything positively Christian. “Positively” refers to something that actively excludes anything non-Christian or to the rejection of neutrality in favor of Christian dominance with toleration for non-Christians. Moore wants the government to merely tolerate anything distinctively Christian, as if Christians are religious conscientious objectors.

Christian civil action is persuading non-Christians to give Christians their own space for worship and to grant tolerance towards limited religiously motivated political action for human ends. The civil realm then is chiefly a modern secular space—a type of a-theistic realm—and Christians are to kindly stake out a claim for toleration.

In addition to cultural dominance and its false assurance of faith, Moore also objects to cultural Christianity’s tendency to obscure the mission field. The evangelists cannot distinguish the saved from the lost when everyone identifies as Christian, and therefore they do not know where to direct their attention. Moore calls for a civil society that outwardly distinguishes the believer from the non-believer and he patently rejects the notion of a Christian civil society or nation.

This approach is almost entirely wrong-headed. There is no conflict between the pursuit of genuine faith in Christ and the presence of cultural Christianity in a place. Indeed, far from undermining the preaching of the Gospel, cultural Christianity helps to advance it.

Political Theology and Christian Culture

Political theology is in part the attempt to provide a theological framework through which a Christian can understand politics and understand the relationship between the civil and the other institutions of human relations. I provide here a brief description of what I take to be a Reformed political theology that provides space for cultural Christianity, a term I will define precisely later in the essay.

We should first acknowledge that the civil recognition, establishment, and privileging of Christianity was the received and standard view for most of Christian history, amongst most major Christian traditions, including many Protestants, and only recently has it been rejected by a majority of western Christians. I’ve never heard Moore and his followers acknowledge this.

Reformed theologians and political theorists insisted that civil magistrates establish and enforce true religion. Though they all recognized the importance of prudence in civil politics, to deny in principle the magistrate’s duty toward true religion was a serious doctrinal error. As a Baptist, Moore naturally rejects this political theology, but he often speaks and is recognized as a leader of evangelicals, not only the Southern Baptists, which tends to conceal the important differences in theological principles between Protestant traditions.  

Indeed, the way Moore dismisses the traditional view of the Christian civil magistrate would be flippant, if he came from many non-baptist Protestant traditions. And I fear that he teaches non-baptists a similar flippancy. Non-baptist admirers of Moore would do well to remember that they are not Baptists. Anyone who takes Reformed theology seriously must take seriously its traditional view of the civil realm in relation to faith. At the very least, we should be open to persuasion.

The theoretical justification for a distinctively Christian civil culture relies on a particular view of the Church as the people of God distinguished from the ecclesiastical or the institutional church. The people of God in any particular place is not solely identified by membership in the institutional church. The institutional church is the place of worship, the place in which the people of God most intensely praise God.

It is not a polis, or a political society, or a civil association. Nor is it the site from which Christians declare to the secular authorities the true principles of civil order, authority, and law. It is not a political deliberative body, nor a weekly podium for prophetic judgment, nor an assembly area for the spiritual resources of social transformation. It is the place where man achieves, as Calvin says,  his “chief object of life”—the heaven-oriented worship of God.

For earthly matters, however, the people of God have the civil realm, which has its own, separate principles of order and is oriented to earthly good. The civil authority derives it principles of order from God the Creator apart from ecclesiastical authority and judgment. That is, the principles of civil order and justice originate from nature, not the ecclesiastical. Neither derive the authority to accomplish their particular ends from the other.

Christians ideally learn their civic morals and principles of order from the civil, not the ecclesiastical institutions. The role of the ecclesial in relation to civic morals is to teach and exhort Christians to do civil deeds spiritually, i.e., according to the proper internal motivation, namely to the glory of God in Christ, and thereby perfect one’s work unto ultimate goodness. The civil teaches what must be done outwardly and the ecclesial teaches what must be done internally. Both have distinct and separate roles and yet both roles are complementary and necessary for good works.

A Christian people in the outward sense submit to both the civil and the ecclesiastical, and they do this not because the latter directs them to submit to the former. Rather, both are independently deserving of one’s submission. For this reason, a “Christian commonwealth” or a “Christian communion” is a people submitted to both the civil and ecclesiastical administrations.

Put differently, the civil and ecclesiastical are the twin species of the same genus, Christian communion. The people of God submit to these mutually supporting, separate and independent administrations because Christ is both the Creator and Ruler of creation and the Mediator of eternal life. The Christian communion is not coterminous with ecclesiastical membership, but is rather the same people submitted to both the civil and ecclesiastical.

Hence, one is a Christ-follower in the civil realm, but not as an ambassador from the ecclesiastical. Christians follow Christ in the civil realm because he is the Creator and Ruler of the civil realm. For this reason, Christians can relate to one another in the civil realm as fellow Christians without reference to their ecclesiastical membership.

The civil realm, which was constituted at creation apart from the ecclesiastical, can itself be Christian independent of the chief work of the ecclesiastical. Put simply, the church as institution is not the assembly area or the chief source for the resources for Christian civil action, nor the place from which Christians derive the ground of their civil relations. Christ does not rule the civil realm through the institutional church, but independent of it.

Christ-followers therefore can relate to one another in the civil sphere according to the terms of that rule in all aspects of civil life, including culture. The positive establishment of cultural Christianity (i.e., cultural dominance) in a particular cultural space is therefore a natural consequence of acknowledging Christ’s present rule over creation.

The civil, as distinct from the individual, the family, and the ecclesiastical is an entity itself, meaning that it is not simply the sum of its parts (viz., not simply a composition of individuals). As such, it takes on social obligations, including the obligation to acknowledge the one who created and sustains it, namely God, and to direct itself towards its ultimate end. This end is usually expressed through constitutions, charters, and government action, but it is also through various cultural practices, social obligations and expectations, symbols, manners, etc.

A Christian people are more than a formally covenanted body; they are a people adorned with Christianity even in everyday public and domestic life. A Christian family, for example, is Christian not only because it calls itself Christian and attends worship together, but because the daily, quotidian aspects of family life are infused with Christian language, manners, expectations, etc. The same is true with the civil realm.

It is important to recognize, however, that while the civil and ecclesiastical are separate and equal institutions, their principal ends are not equal. The civil has authority over the outward man and his outward good. The ecclesiastical, however, speaks to the inward man, calling him to faith and repentance unto eternal life. Eternal life is the ultimate end of man and temporal life only facilitates the accomplishment of that end.

So the civil realm, which concerns the temporal, is penultimate, meaning that its activities are not the ultimate end of man. It serves the ultimate and, for this reason, must be arranged with prudence and in light of circumstances to facilitate and support man’s ultimate end.

It is complicated by the fact that the most ideal civil arrangements often conflict with the attainment of spiritual good, for the attempt to bring about a true Christian civil society might cause so much civil disruption that it undermines the ability for Christian ministers to conduct worship and preach the Gospel. The point here is that the civil obligation to Christianize the civil realm does not permit a few to force it on an unwilling populace. This would undermine spiritual/eternal/ultimate good for earthly/temporal/penultimate good. Prudence and wisdom are indispensable when confronted with a disordered world with competing goods.

Further, the resulting form of christianization is not monolithic. Christians can exercise cultural dominion only to the degree that circumstances allow. Despite these limitations, there is nothing wrong with a Christian commonwealth and a Christian civil culture; and when possible (viz., when spiritual good will not suffer), these ought to be established and conserved due to the present reign of Christ.

Cultural Christianity in these Christian communions is the civil relationship that encourages proper belief and behavior toward man’s ultimate end (eternal life) within the limits of civil (or social) action. It cannot bring about a spiritual effect; it cannot make true believers. It plays one role in the Christian’s walk; it is not a sufficient role for spiritual life, and it was never meant to be sufficient.

But what about the use of power to maintain cultural Christianity? We should first keep in mind that God has granted to the civil realm power over the outward man to secure the best possible conditions conducive to his achieving his spiritual/ultimate end. Any civil society ought to aim at procuring the good of those in the society within the limits of its power and authority. Spiritual good is not only a good but the chief good.

Therefore, civil society ought to aim to procure this spiritual good within limits of its power and authority. Since it lacks any spiritual weapons, its actions are limited to external supports and favorable conditions. Hence, it aims at procuring spiritual good only indirectly. Still, the purpose of civil authorities is not “only to fat up men like hogs and to see that they have their mash,” as Richard Hooker quipped. There is a natural (or creational) command that civil authorities establish and enforce laws and customs aiming at the procurement of people’s spiritual good. This God-ordained civil power with regard to spiritual good is not limited to legal authority but also includes social authority, which comes in the form of various social pressures, customs, and expectation.

Since civil order originated at creation, the principles of civil/social power come from nature, not the Gospel. Whatever falls under these principles is subject to enforcement by the civil “sword.” If nature dictates that cultural space ought to be distinctively and positively shaped and adorned by the true God, then such cultural space is an appropriate object of civil power. And since the Christian God is the true God, the cultural space ought to be Christian. Logically, then, Christian civil culture can be secured and conserved by civil power.

Notice that the ground or underlying principle of this christianization and its enforcement is not the Gospel, though the Gospel, as the full revelation of the true God in Christ and the means of salvation, would necessarily shape and, as I like to say, adorn civil society. That is to say, the civil by becoming Christian is not handed a spiritual sword to make everyone true believers. Rather it retains its natural power to enforce natural principles, which includes the command to shape human society in conformity to the true God as revealed.

In sum, the underlying principle that justifies a christianized civil realm is a natural civil principle and therefore the christianization of civil society is an appropriate object of civil defense. A Christian people can use outward, civil force or coercion (within the limits of nature justice) to conserve their Christian civil culture. (For more on the civil defense of Christianity, see here).

Christian culture can therefore dominate a particular space, be exclusive or privileged in that space, and be an object of civil power for protection and conservation. This theoretical presentation admittedly shows only how cultural Christianity might be possible and consistent in a Protestant political theology. It falls short in proving it, and there is much more to it. But it shows the logical possibility of cultural Christianity and challenges the dismissive condescension against the idea.

Worrying about pretend Christians misses the point.

The pretend Christian argument fails to distinguish the roles of the civil and the ecclesiastical in one’s spiritual life. As I stated above, though the civil realm lacks the power to directly procure spiritual good, it can seek to procure it indirectly within the limits of its power. It can establish and conserve the best possible external conditions for advancing one’s ultimate good, but it lacks the spiritual weapon to strike one internally. The civil realm plays therefore a supportive role in spiritual life, which might include certain laws such as Sabbath laws.

Culture plays an important role as well by normalizing behavior through mutual expectations of conduct, and society usually enforces conformity by compelling softly, meaning that people come to do what they do because that is what one (of that culture) does. In cultural Christianity, the culture normalizes certain Christian practices, driving people to do them willingly, or at least to do them in obedience to the social code.

To be sure, melding into the flow of legal and social custom is certainly not adequate for the true worship of God and the receiving spiritual good. But we must distinguish between principal and supportive roles in motivating one for action. It is true that doing something out of social conformity is not the proper motivation to do anything if it is the principal motivation.

The shame or embarrassment of having to confess sin to an accountability partner, for example, plays a supportive role in preventing one from sinning. The chief motivation ought to be obedience to God, but there is a place for external support as well, and this is confirmed by basic human experience. Denying the legitimacy of supporting motivations undermines all sorts of good practices and behavior.

Furthermore, the fact that any given motivation is not itself sufficient to make any action ultimately good doesn’t mean that the motivation is itself bad or wrong. You may not want to read the Bible or attend worship, but you do both sometimes because you ought to do them. Your assent to the command, however inadequate for proper motivation, is at least initially your primary motivation, and we ought to do what is right even when we lack the proper heart for it. In many areas of life we affirm that while some motivations are not themselves enough to make one’s action ultimately good, they still are enough to necessitate the action.

The social pressure to conform to Christian practices are not therefore sufficient to make one’s actions truly good in the sight of God, but it is a sufficient motivation to do those Christian practices and is not wrong in itself. Given the conclusions of this essay so far, if one role of the civil realm is the indirect procurement of spiritual good by means of outward order and proper cultural practices, then there ought to be social forces conforming people to Christian practices. Cultural Christianity can and ought to play a positive role in a Christian’s walk with God.

But wouldn’t cultural Christianity give many a false assurance of genuine faith? Yes, it could. But this is not the civil realm’s problem. It is a ecclesiastical problem. The church as an institution is the ordinary instrument by which one receives spiritual good. Moore and others have taken a possibility of cultural Christianity (viz., false assurance of saving faith) and forgotten the distinctive and essential role of the ecclesiastical in both correcting such false assurances and providing the message of saving faith. Indeed, the production of “pretend” Christians by the civil realm shows that it is doing its job.

The civil and ecclesiastical have mutually supporting roles that together point to the same ultimate end, but they do not have the same roles. Churches, not civil magistrates or civil society, call people to faith and repentance. Churches call people to stop pretending. Of course the civil realm on its own creates pretend Christians. But this is not a failure of religious civil culture, for it is not its role to make true believers. Indeed, nothing in the civil realm can create true believers, and I’ve never heard or read anyone say that it could. Why condemn something for failing to produce what it cannot produce?

Moore should direct his criticism to the churches that are failing to call people to true faith and repentance and failing to proclaim the indispensability of church membership and worship attendance. Do not attack cultural Christianity. Attack the institutions that actually can have a spiritual effect—the churches.  

Moore’s preference for a perfectly transparent mission field betrays a similar confusion. If cultural Christianity draws people into churches to hear the Gospel, then the false believers will hear the Gospel. The Gospel is still being proclaimed to non-believers, and the effectiveness of the spiritual sword of the Word does not depend on a transparent mission field. Indeed, the need for transparency indicates a reliance on the outward for the effectiveness of the Gospel.

That is, the need for public clarity concerning who is true and who is false suggests that the spiritual sword of the Gospel needs external means to be more effective. There is no reason, however, to believe that God ordinarily regenerates people when there is such outward transparency. There is no difference between having or lacking this transparency, except that cultural Christianity usually assures that more people hear the Gospel because they are more likely to attend worship.

Cultural Christianity also prepares people for the reception of the Gospel both by supporting church attendance and by being a place in which the Gospel is openly discussed. The idea of preparation is not original with me. Christian theologians, including Reformed theologians,  have throughout church history talked of the praeparatio evangelica. Certain beliefs and cultures lend themselves to Christian belief.

Moore seems to affirm the opposite view, namely that Christian cultures hinder reception of the Gospel and non-Christian cultures prepare for its reception. Or perhaps he would say that there is no praeparatio evangelica at all. Baptists in particular should know the praeparatio evangelica very well, however: they train their children in the ways of the Lord to prepare them for belief in the Gospel. If a Christian family prepares children for reception of the Gospel, why not the civil?

Indeed, it seems that most of the criticisms of cultural Christianity would criticize the basic duties of the Christian family.  But just as the Christian family is a place of preparation for the Gospel and yet cannot itself bring about its reception, the civil society is a place of preparation for the Gospel and yet relies on the ecclesiastical to speak to men’s souls.

Conclusion

As someone who has lived in the South for a number years, I can attest to some of the problems one finds in cultural Christianity. But Moore and others typically do not challenge any particular problems but the concept itself. There are good, principled, and theologically consistent reasons to believe in the legitimacy of cultural Christianity, including its civil defense and conservation

The way forward in discussing this and related issues must begin with this important truth: there is no united and coherent evangelical political theology. I say this because when evangelical leaders of different denominations get together to discuss politics and Christian cultural engagement, they rarely discuss distinctives and disagreements between their traditions. The result is a mixture of incoherent ideas.

The Gospel Coalition, for example, is a strange alliance of Calvinistic Baptists, Neo-Calvinists, and Presbyterian traditions, and they talk politics as if they are united on underlying principles. Their unity on soteriology has somehow led to unity on political theology. The crucial differences are obscured in such an approach and we get the illusion of a true evangelical political theology. But that does not and, indeed, cannot exist.

The various evangelical denominations should seek common ground by approaching each other through the lens of their own traditions. Each one has an extensive tradition of political theology. Instead of obscuring differences with fuzzy formulations, providing clarity on differences would help us state the questions properly and work out answers and solutions. After all, different principles can lead to similar conclusions. The obfuscation of denominational differences, however, does not serve the Christian Church well. And I suspect that if we cleared up the confusion, we would discover the many robust ways Christians can relate to, belong, and be in the world.

Stephen Wolfe is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University. His research interests include the American founding, modernity, aesthetics, and politics, and meaningful work. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. You can find more of his work on his personal blog.

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  • Adam Shields

    I think you are misreading the complaints about cultural Christianity. Or at least misreading my complaints about cultural Christianity. (And I think misreading Moore).

    The problem with cultural Christianity isn’t that people are pretending to be Christians. It is that they think that they are Christians, but they have not actually been transformed by the gospel. For instance, those that where there are high rates of Christians, like much of the south and many rural areas in the north, also have high rates of divorce among people that identify as Christian but don’t actually go to church or hold to orthodox concepts of Christianity.

    These are people that think they are Christian because they have adopted a christianity that is cultural, not one that is gospel transforming. Cultural Christianity is primarily based on appearance of rightness, not grace. Appearance of rightness is the opposite of grace. As I watch baptisms in our church (we have a short testimony before each baptism) the reoccurring theme is that people occasionally attended church as a child. They didn’t understand the gospel, they reacted against a rules based church, they went to college (or left home) and stopped going to church. Eventually they hit a crisis or difficulty and a Christian spoke into their lives and showed them that the gospel is about grace not about doing the right thing and looking good.

    I think your point about the declines of cultural assumptions about Christian faith is a good one. But what you seem to be arguing about is not cultural Christianity as a good, but the idea of truth as a good. I do not (and have not) understood Moore to ever suggest that truth is not a good. He is not prescriptive about pluralism, but descriptive. Pluralism exists because the church is not demographically or culturally dominant. So we have an option, force those that are not Christian to give into Christian assumptions for as long as we can. Or try to help build an political and cultural system that accepts pluralism, including religious freedom for those of us that are Christians.

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  • This article is a bit confusing. For on the one hand, it seems to tell us that Christians should strive to exercise as much control over culture as possible. But then we are told that the civil magistrates are not responsible for calling people to repentance. And at the same time, our freedom to worship as Christians seems to hinge on the degree to which our culture is Christian.

    Then the part on Russell Moore was also confusing. On the one hand, Moore is against Christianity from dominating culture. One reason for his objection is that a Christian dominated culture can result in anonymous Christians who believe that their acceptance of such a culture implies they are Christians. At the same time, Moore hangs out with transformationalists at the Gospel Coalition and opposed, if memory serves, the legalization of same-sex marriage.

    What is missing from this article is the perspective of non-Christians about their place in a Christian culture. The relationship that Christians have with non-Christians in the article above is more less a negative one. It seems that Christians are to push for as much Christianity in the culture that non-Christians will bear.

    What would non-Christians say about such a culture and the relationship between Christians and non-Christians in creating culture? Perhaps it would be summarized in the following way: Where is the equality? They might ask Christians if they knew that non-Christians have contributions to make if only Christians would view them as equal partners in society.

    Because we so emphasize the reason for faith in Christi is to escape Hell, to do something solely for ourselves, we have yet to step outside of our own group to see how the rest of the world see both us and the world.

    • gladys1071

      Exactly, this belief that everyone is going to hell by default is most damaging doctrine of Christianity. So most everyone becomes a Christian out of fear of hell, what kind of conversion is that? It is an ineffective witness. That is a fear based relationship

      I am so glad that more and more people are embracing univeral reconcilliaton, because the idea that God is going to send most of humanity to eternal concisous torment is NOT good news, and that is not what Paul preached.

      Remember the gospel is suppose to be good news about Jesus death and resurrection and how he has reconcilled us to God, not if you don’t believe you are “going to burn in hell forever”. That insidious doctrine that made it way thanks to Augustine has caused christians to be fearful and judgemental. I have a wider hope , and my view of God is that ALL will be saved.

      If you read the new testament their are plenty of passages that support the doctrine of the EVENTUAL salvation of all, they are too numerous to quote, but i will mention one:

      1 Timothy 4:10 Jesus Christ the savior of ALL men , especially of those that believe

      • gladys1071,
        You might have misunderstood my last paragraph, I was pointing out that we are told to believe for selfish reasons only that we never escape our selfishness. But with I Timothy 4:10, we have a host of passages that do talk about hell for the unbeliever.

        see http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com/2017/07/is-gospel-me-oriented.html

        • gladys1071

          why would someone not believe for selfish reasons, i mean who wants to burn in hell forever? it is emotional blackmail. I don’t believe that is how God operates, this you must believe or burn? I mean really? if Jesus called us to love our enemies, yet condems millions to burn in hell just for being born?

          I am so glad that this doctrine is being questioned, no i don’t agree that the bible teaches this “turn or you will burn”, that is entirely man made belief.

          • Gladys,
            It’s not that not wanting to burn in hell is not a valid reason to believe. It is whether that is the only reason given to believe and if so, how do the Christian become less selfish when his/her faith revolves solely around a concern for their own welfare.

            You may not believe that God operates that way. But the actual way the Gospel is put is this: either believe or live the perfect life. And if you don’t believe Jesus taught this, consider the parable of the sheep and the goats.

          • gladys1071

            i understand how the gospel is presented and it think it is flawed. The concept of “believe or burn” is not the heart of Jesus, it is man-made religion.

            Do you honestly believe God would blackmail humanity this way? Either God loves his creation or he hates it, to inflict an eternity of everlasting punishment such at eternal conscioius torment is the stuff of tyrants and for haters, not the Jesus i know.

            God’s ways are unsearchable and his mercy is more than we can fathom. The God that i believe in is in the person of Jesus Christ and Jesus i know that commanded us to love or enemies is not the Jesus that is preached that hates humanity and condems most of it to an eternal torture.

          • gladys,
            What does Jesus say about hell? What does he say about who He is in relation to the Father and about what we are doing when we don’t believe?

            The issue isn’t about what we find to be credible, the issue is about what God has established. And I think one of the reasons why some find what you call ‘believe or burn’ not credible is because they don’t understand sin in their lives and they don’t understand the holiness that God demands. Tell me, what do you think of the story about Ananais and Sapohira in Acts 5?

          • gladys1071

            it is not credible because God is being portrayed as a tyrant that hates his own creation. The universal reconcilliation view in consistent with Jesus command to love our enemies. Why would he command us to love our enemies, while he himself would send most of his creation to eternal concious torment for all eternity?

            Why would Jesus hate his enemies and send them to be eternally torment, but yet, command us to LOVE our enemies? so which one is it? does Jesus love his enemies/creation or hate it?

            As far as our sin, Jesus dealt with that on the cross, he dealt with the sins of all of humanity.

            Romans 5:8- But God demonstrates his own love towards us, in that , while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

            Romans 11:32
            For God has consigned ALL men to disobedience, so that He may have mercy on them ALL.

            alludes to God will reconcile and have mercy on all

            Romans 5:18
            Therefore, just as one trespass brought condemnation for ALL men, so also one act of righteousness brought justification and life for ALL men.…

            Ananias and Saphira DOES not make the case for eternal concious torment. It just states they struck dead in this life for lying. It does not state what their eternal fate is, and one cannot exclude the possibility of them being reconciled.

            The question i have, if through if one man (adam’s sin) consigned ALL of us to be born in a sinful/fallen state (without us making a conscious choice), why cannot it be possible for ALL of us be justified though Jesus work on the cross and reverse our status?

            If we don’t choose to be fallen (born in such state), why do we have to choose to saved?

            sorry if i rambled on too long.

          • Gladys,
            I now have time to start to respond. Sorry about the delay. ONe should look at Romans 9. For in there is an interesting passage regarding how relates to HIs some in His creation. Starting with verse 18 and to continue through verse 23, Paul writes the following:


            18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

            19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

            22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—

            Note the parallism in vs 18 and 22-33. God has mercy or hardens in verse 18. On the other hand, God creates ‘objects of His wrath–prepared for destruction’ as opposed to ‘objects of mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory.’ God has mercy tor those who were made for glory and He hardens those prepared for destruction. Is glory eternal? Yes. Is destruction punishment? Yes, He creates objects of wrath. And if glory is eternal, is His punishment? We should note that several times, Paul talks about who will not inherit God’s kingdom (see I Cor 6:6-9 and Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:3-7).

            THus not only do you have a parallelism between God having ‘objects of mercy’ prepared for glory and hardening objects of wrath ‘prepared for destruction,’ you have a finality with those who are forever barred from the Kingdom of Christ.

          • gladys1071

            “it’s not that not wanting to burn in hell is not a valid reason to
            believe. It is whether that is the only reason given to believe and if
            so, how do the Christian become less selfish when his/her faith revolves
            solely around a concern for their own welfare”

            That is what happens when you teach that God is going to roast most of humanity for an eternity in hell , i mean sheer self-preservation would lead many to confess or say anything to avoid such a fate. That is why christians (many) are judgmental and frantically worrying about their sin all the time because when you live with the threat of eternal torment, who wouldn’t?

            If you really think about the gospel being preached of “believe or burn”, you will see how sadistic and evil that is.

            I used to believe that gospel, but when you really analyze it and read the new testatment, you will find that is not what is taught at all. plenty of Paul’s writing talks about God reconcilling the world to himself, Paul does NOT mention “hell” eternal punishment NOT even once. I would think that if most of humanity is going there, Paul would have mentioned it.

            Really examine what you have taught and follow it to its conclusion, you will find that their is nothing loving about it or “good news” in most of humanity being eternally roasted in hell.

          • gladys,
            The question is whether or not the Scriptures reveal God for who He is. If the do, then we need to come to grips with what is written.

            Yes, Paul talks about God reconciling the world to himself, but he also talks about those who are condemtned such as in Galatians 1.

          • gladys1071

            Galatians says nothing about eternal torment or is their anything about “hell”, it is not mentioned anywhere in Paul’s writings. In Galatians their is warning about teaching a different gospel , nothing about being ETERNALLY CONDEMNED IN HELL.

            GALATIANS 8:9- but though we or angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that we have preached on to you, let him be a cursed.

            This just states that such person should be rejected/ outcast , NOTHING about being ETERNALLY CONDEMNED IN HELL

            The teaching of eternal conscious torment in hell is a man-made doctrine, used to instill fear and control.

          • gladys,
            Won’t be able to respond to the other notes until tomorrow evening, but this one is short enough to respond now. What do you think Paul meant by saying ‘Let them be accursed’? It means exactly what you are afraid it means. And what do you think Paul means when he talks about those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God?

          • gladys1071

            ‘let the be accursed” does NOT translate to eternally conscious torment? tell me where you get that they are one in the same? When i read that, i read that such person should be outcast or shunned

            Will not Inherit the kingdom of God, again does NOT mean eternal conscious torment in hell forever. It just means that such persons will NOT be in positions of power or privilege in the kingdom as oppose to being eternally separated from God. Such persons will NOT receive rewards like rulerships and other privileges, has nothing to do with losing salvation or going to hell. Their will be rewards and it will most likely depend on our witness and behavior.

            The only reason you read “eternal torment in hell” from these passages is because you have been TAUGHT to read “HELL into the passage when it does NOT state it at all unequivocally.

            Take the eternal damnation lenses off , and just read the passages for what they say.

          • gladys1071

            please click on this link if you get a chance regarding the belief in eventual universal reconcilliation.

            http://godslovewins.com/blog/how-the-body-supports-the-ultimate-reconciliation-of-all/

          • Gladys,
            Will have to wait til tomorrow evening to respond to this link because of my schedule. But thank you for the link.

          • Love your shot!

      • Vanessa Loy

        What happens to Hitler in the afterlife?

        • gladys1071

          I don’t know i am not God, good question though? Would it bother you if he was saved even after to death? or would you praise God for his unfathomable mercy ?

          • Vanessa Loy

            Would it be merciful to force Hitler to spend eternity with a God he hated?

          • gladys1071

            Would it be merciful for Hitler’s heart to be transformed by the power of God’s love and mercy, and then spend eternity with God?

          • Vanessa Loy

            That would require the abolition of human free will.

          • gladys1071

            God does not have to abolish free will to change hearts, you are mistaken.

  • hoosier_bob

    Interesting piece.

    One of the reasons that Confucianism persists in east Asia is that Confucian fundamentalism has been a rare thing. In that sense, different strains and interpretations of Confucian thought tend to emphasize their commonality over and against their differences.

    Many Christians today mourn the downfall of Western Christendom. The most popular thesis posits the blame for this downfall with secularism. But I wonder if that’s entirely correct. It strikes me that the downfall of Christendom tracks more closely with the rise of fundamentalist strands of Christianity. Fundamentalist Christianity (including evangelicalism) tends to focus on the ways that it is different from the broader Christian tradition in an effort to position itself as the rightful heir of “true Christianity.” I’ve always found it hypocritical that evangelicals pine so longingly for the 1950s. They seem to forget that the Protestant mainline dominated the culture in that era, and that evangelicals generally found themselves on the fringes of polite society. As evangelicals fought to discredit the Protestant mainline in the 1960s and 1970s, they inadvertently discredited Christianity more broadly. Something cannot function as a civilization-shaping force if it is perpetually besieged by infighting and internal rivalry. Secularism succeeds in the place of Christendom precisely because it generally tends to focus on unity and commonality rather than division and difference.

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  • This post seems rather confused. It’s also fairly scattered, making it hard to respond to.

    First, the author appears to be trying to tap into the older reformed/Lutheran two-fold government perspective, which referred to the inward conscience before God and the external civil forum between men – thus his comments about inward vs outward. However, he mistakenly identifies this two-fold government with the institutional church and the civil magistrate. Calvin did not do that. He placed the institutional church in the external civil forum because it functioned externally before men (though it spoke about the internal conscience before God). This confusion results in a bizarre claim that the institutional church can only address in the inward heart, but not external actions (“The civil teaches what must be done outwardly and the ecclesial teaches what must be done internally.”). External actions are for the civil realm/magistrate to teach about. Really? A pastor cannot preach against murder? He can only preach against hate? He can’t preach against adultery – only lust? It seems the author needs to think through this a bit more.

    Second, there appears to be a lot of confusion over the label “Christian.” What does it mean to be a Christian? The author claims that “The people of God in any particular place is not solely identified by membership in the institutional church… The Christian communion is not coterminous with ecclesiastical membership.” So, apparently, one can be considered a Christian without being a member of the church of Christ. There is, apparently, a creational basis for being a “Christian” that is distinct from any gospel basis for being a Christian. “The civil realm, which was constituted at creation apart from the ecclesiastical, can itself be Christian independent of the chief work of the ecclesiastical… Since civil order originated at creation, the principles of civil/social power come from nature, not the Gospel.” This creational basis for being a “Christian” is not related to the Gospel. One can be a Christian without reference to the Gospel or the church of Christ. What on earth does it mean to be a Christian then? The author appears to be confusing a simple image bearer (all mankind) with a Christian (one redeemed by Christ).

    Third, in contradiction to the second point above, the author claims the civil realm has authority from nature to compel people to attend church and hear about the gospel. “Cultural Christianity in these Christian communions is the civil relationship that encourages proper belief and behavior toward man’s ultimate end (eternal life) within the limits of civil (or social) action… In cultural Christianity, the culture normalizes certain Christian practices, driving people to do them willingly, or at least to do them in obedience to the social code… one role of the civil realm is the indirect procurement of spiritual good by means of outward order and proper cultural practices… Cultural Christianity also prepares people for the reception of the Gospel both by supporting church attendance and by being a place in which the Gospel is openly discussed.” So which is it? Is it derived from natural principles apart from the Gospel, or is it derived from natural principles together with the Gospel?

    Fourth, the author’s main point is to defend hypocrisy. “The social pressure to conform to Christian practices are not therefore sufficient to make one’s actions truly good in the sight of God, but it is a sufficient motivation to do those Christian practices and is not wrong in itself… the production of “pretend” Christians by the civil realm shows that it is doing its job… Of course the civil realm on its own creates pretend Christians.” Yes, pressuring people to outwardly conform to Christian practices while their hearts are far from God is a wrong in itself. “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.” (Matt 15:7-8). In the same verse, Isaiah also said “their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” His words were spoken as condemnation, not praise. In Psalm 26, David says “Vindicate me, O Lord, For I have walked in my integrity… I have not sat with idolatrous mortals, Nor will I go in with hypocrites. I have hated the assembly of evildoers, And will not sit with the wicked.” Proverbs 21:27 says “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination.”

    Contrary to the author’s claim, no man has authority to wield the sword to compel outward conformity to Christian practices. No man has the authority to wield the sword to compel outward obedience to the 10 commandments. The author has misunderstood justice and the purpose of the sword and has merely confirmed the problem with “Cultural Christianity.”