Wednesday 16 July 2014

Carl R. Trueman on a Church for Exiles

Carl Trueman has a long article in First Things on ‘Why Reformed Christianity Provides the Best Basis for Faith Today’. The below quotes are taken from it.

‘We live in a time of exile... The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.’

‘But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile... It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.’

‘It’s not surprising that Reformed Christianity equips us well for exile, because it was itself forged in a time of exile.’

‘We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.’

‘We must also have practical confidence in our own identity and destiny as a Christian people. Paul grounds the imperatives of the Christian life, from domestic duties to social and political engagement, in the reality of our life in Christ. There is a robust confidence at the heart of the New Testament’s description of what it means to be a Christian, and it was vital to Christian flourishing in the world of the first century.’

‘Closely connected to assurance is one of the key theological emphases of the Reformed faith: providence... For those in physical exile, for those suffering for their faith, for those despised and marginalized by the world around them, the knowledge that history is under God’s control provides encouragement. However weak the Church appears to be, however many setbacks it faces, the end of history is already determined in Christ. This knowledge allows believers to taste here and now something of the delights of the end of time. Indeed, combined with the rich New Testament teaching on resurrection and on the fact that death is not the final word for those who live in Christ by faith, a strong doctrine of providence is not only a means of construing the metaphysical connection between God and his creation, but is also a source of personal strength, comfort, assurance, and hope for Reformed Christians.’

‘[I]n the past the Reformed faith has been a dynamic force in the public square. The Reformed faith resists being reduced to a type of private pietism. On the contrary, it has often proved a potent social force, even in situations of marginality and exile... Today’s world is becoming a colder, harder place. Even so, we have ongoing civic responsibilities. Shaped by our faith, we too can speak to those in power. We must remind them of their responsibilities to protect the innocent and to punish the wicked. We must remind them of the fact that they, the magistrates, will ultimately answer to a higher authority... There have certainly been excesses in the history of the Reformed Church’s engagement with the civic sphere, but Reformed theology at its best is no clarion call for a religious war or a theocratic state. It is rather a call for responsible, godly citizenship.’

‘Reformed theology [has] a more realistic understanding of Christian life in the public square and thus of the limits to what we might expect to achieve. People do not call evil good and good evil primarily because they are confused or not thinking clearly. They do so because they are in basic rebellion against God... We do not underestimate the ruthlessness of the opposition. We expect cultural exile.’

‘The question is: How will we survive? The answer is: as Paul did in the first century. First and foremost, we need the simple proclamation of God’s Word in church week by week, reminding us of our identity in Christ. We need liturgies and worship saturated with that Word. We need engagement with the world consistent with the identity formed in us by a clear and confident faith in that Word. In short, we will survive – indeed, we will thrive – through a vibrant commitment to exactly what the historic Reformed faith has emphasised.’

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