Recently, Reformed theologians, Michael Horton, professor of apologetics and theology at Westminster Seminary California, and John Frame, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, have written two differing articles on how Christians should approach the surrounding culture. The first thing that many might think is that these different approaches are related to a Christian view of political activism in our hyper-politicized age. What is really happening is a continuing debate, esecially in the Protestant, Reformed community about how to have an over-arching point of access to the surrounding culture.

First, let me review the main ideas from both. Horton, in his article called How the Kingdom Comes. Frame’s essay is entitled, In Defense of Christian Activisim.

Horton’s first question is essentially, are Christians a separate culture, and his answer is no.

So what is the relationship of Christians to culture in this time between the times? Is Jesus Christ Lord over secular powers and principalities? At least in Reformed theology, the answer is yes, though he is Lord in different ways over the world and the church. God presently rules the world through providence and common grace, while he rules the church through Word, sacrament, and covenantal nurture.

This means that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians with respect to their vocations.

So Christians are not called to make holy apparel, speak an odd dialect of spiritual jargon, or transform their workplace, neighborhood, or nation into the kingdom of Christ.

So according to Horton, what should Christians do, and what does that look like in the early 21st century, especialy in Western nations? Horton believes the church should be countercultural, faithful to its mission in proclaiming the gospel without a need to catch up to the surburban lifestyle or to be pushing its way to the front of every cultural issue.

If ours is to truly be a countercultural community, it must begin with the rejection of any notion of self-founding, either in creation or redemption. It is God’s choice, not ours; God’s “planned community,” not ours; God’s means of grace, not our ambitious programs, plans, or achievements that extend the kingdom. Being “countercultural” today often amounts to superficial moralism about sex and SUVs, or perhaps creating wholesome novels with Christian heroes, removing offensive language from music lyrics, and encouraging positive values. Beyond that, many of the churches with which I am familiar are captivated by the same obsessions as our culture: religion as individual spirituality, therapy, and sentimentalism. It all serves to keep us turned in on ourselves, like a kid at a carnival instead of a pilgrim en route.

So how is Prof. Frame different, how does he defend Christian activism? First he argues for a direct application of the Christian’s faith into every area of his life.

As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God. They hear Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” They obey, imperfectly to be sure. But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society, as we’ve seen above.

So the gospel certainly is a political movement. That is not to say that Christians should seek political power by the sword. But they should never imagine that their faith is politically irrelevant.

Frame then goes on to describe several disagreements with Horton in how Christians should approach the surrounding culture. Essentially, rather than seeing the surrounding world as in a dual way, where a Christian acts most Christian in a Christian environment, he advocates that the believer act as a believer in every part of life.

In the general society as well as in the church, Christians should settle for nothing less than the comprehensive lordship of Jesus Christ. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To say this is not to advocate violent revolution in Jesus’ name. He has forbidden us to take that course. But by his word and Spirit, by his love, and by wise use of the means available to us, we seek to exalt him, not only in the church, but in the whole world.

Both are challenging essasies, but I find Frame’s argument and persuasion more compelling. At times, there is the danger for those that would hold the views of Horton and Frame to ‘speak past each other’ in conversation, while actually doing a mix of Christian counter-culture and Christian activisim in real life, there are real issues at stake. There is certainly a tension that exists for anyone who says that this world is not my ultimate home, and virtually every Christian I’ve ever met has dealt with this issue in some form or another, so its worth thinking about.

Again, the Frame position seems the most persuasive and the best way to demonstrate acts of worship in the world that God gave the believer to live in, while demonstrating to the watching world exactly what being a Christian looks like. The temptation is strong for some to be ‘in your face’ in living with those different. That would seem to be the most imature route, and least productive. But the question remains, how can the believer actively live his faith daily to the watching world, without sequestering what he thinks and believes in into a narrow religious sphere? There is the tension. Frame’s advice seems to be to act boldly with humility, respect and love. Horton would seem to want to set up a separate church existence to run alongside the non-church world.

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