sexta-feira, 3 de maio de 2013

The Superiority of Christian Reconstruction in the Mission Field

“So, how does the message of Christian Reconstruction affect your practice in the mission field?”
I have been asked this question many times. Most of those who asked me that question were missionaries hostile in their views to the message of Christian Reconstruction. Some of them were convinced that Christian Reconstruction doesn’t care about the “heart of man,” that it is all about “externals,” but the prevailing pietistic model of missions cares about the heart and therefore will produce more converts. Many of them couldn’t see how unbelievers would pay attention to preaching that speaks to things like law, economics,education, etc.; that is, to what constitutes the total nature of man, not just his inner subjective feelings. Many missionaries, led by their pietistic theologies, are convinced that “the gospel” only concerns the inner man and his personal salvation, but that it doesn’t touch issues like his family, his work, or his society. So when they see a missionary who doesn’t shy from preaching the Biblical message to every area of life, not just man’s personal subjective feelings, they are wondering: How is this guy going to win any converts?
Not that modern pietistic missions are producing many converts. The majority of converts in the modern growth of Christianity are in areas of the world where cultures are so far from the Christian principles, and therefore the societies are so desperate for any cultural guidance, that missionaries willy-nilly bring some new cultural influences, even if they never mean to. Even there, I can safely predict, the growth of the church may begin to subside if the growth in the number of converts is not paralleled by a growth in teaching about the comprehensive cultural demands and application of the Christian faith, and if the cultural idols are not challenged.1 But in places of more advanced cultures where the prevailing pagan ideologies are much more subtle, mission efforts have produced very negligible effect, and active Biblical Christianity has remained a peripheral influence, at best. Witness that “graveyard of missionaries,” Europe. And the reality is, when a missionary’s message is so truncated as to affect only the periphery of a culture, his listeners relegate him and his religion to the periphery of the culture. It is that simple.
The question still remains: How does the message of Christian Reconstruction affect the work of missions? I have been asked that question by well-meaning missionaries as well. Most of them simply can’t see how a mission can work outside the context of converting souls and planting churches. How does one do distinctly theonomic missions today?
The major part of the confusion comes, of course, from the established belief that the mission field is an existential “sharing of the gospel” and “witnessing” to individuals. Within such a box, there isn’t much that a missionary can do. But in a theonomic framework, the work of the missionary changes: Its purpose now is todisciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20), which means, to work to change the whole moral, legal, intellectual, economic, etc., outlook of the culture he is sent to. The conversion of individuals is still important, and contrary to the misunderstanding of some about Christian Reconstruction, there is no compromise about the fact that any change in society starts with change in the heart. But a theonomic missionary recognizes the fact that no heart is really changed unless it is taught to apply its faith to all of life. And therefore, a missionary preaches to all of life, to the individual and to the society that individual lives in, to man’s institutions and his business activities, to his schools and to his scientific rooms and laboratories, to his government structures and to his music halls and art galleries. The message of Christian Reconstruction requires that the same moral and spiritual principles that the Gospel has for the personal life of man be applied to his society and culture also.
A missionary, in short, must be the modern equivalent to an Old Testament prophet: Declare judgment to a nation, and offer the grace of God in repentance, as salvation to that nation. And preach change of heart only in the context of God’s covenantal, comprehensive dealings with the whole culture of man, not just with his individual heart, or just with his local church.
The theonomic missionary, then, will have to take on a new burden on his shoulders. It won’t be enough for him to only study what I call “pure” theology: the “ivory tower” discipline taught in our modern seminaries, entirely divorced from any practical or ideological applications or implications, except may be a few obscure disciplines like “pastoral care” and “counseling.” (Not that pastoral care or counseling are necessarily obscure, but they are certainly so as taught in the modern seminary.) He will have to master a discipline which I call, tongue-in-cheek, “dirty” theology, or theology applied to the real world. R. J. Rushdoony is reported to have given to the question, “What do you think the most important discipline aspiring ministers should study?” the surprising answer, “Economics.” Surprising, that is, only to those who never saw economics as the study of the moral actions of men in the marketplace. And if they are moral actions, then they are regulated by the same spiritual principles that regulate man’s personal life under the Gospel. But economics is not the only such discipline. Civil government is a study of moral actions. Education is a study of moral actions. Every social and ideological discipline is a study of moral actions; and therefore a missionary must be prepared to give an answer to every question in every field of study and action. There is such a things as Biblical economics, for economics is not morally neutral; and a missionary must understand it and preach it to his listeners. Same applies to every other field. Nothing is morally neutral; everything must be under the power and authority of Lord Jesus Christ.
A missionary, then, must also make available to his listeners a body of literature which applies the Gospel to every area of life. I have written in other places about the necessity of building the intellectual foundation of a Christian civilization, as a reference point for future generations of Christians.2 He must become first and foremost a librarian to his listeners and converts, leading them to the richness of available knowledge of how a culture must be rebuilt on the foundation of the Biblical message. The books he makes available must be self-consciously teaching that “dirty” theology I mentioned above; abstract, irrelevant, over-intellectualized or over-spiritualized literature can’t build a civilization. The temptation, of course, even for the most motivated missionary, could be that translating books in the local language is a long-term, tedious enterprise, and could be put off until there are enough willing readers for the books. But such delivery of literature in the language of a nation is an investment in the future. Common sense tells us that we don’t wait until the future is here to start investing in it. If by the time the missionary has the willing readers he doesn’t also have the literature available to them, it will be too late to start working on it, for building an intellectual foundation is not an ad hoc activity that can be done overnight. Investing in the future through building an intellectual foundation should be the priority for any missionary; without that intellectual foundation, a missionary will see his mission remain stagnant or even die out when he leaves the field to go back home. Books are missionaries; and leaving a legacy of literature is the best service a missionary can do to the culture he is sent to.
Admittedly, side to side with the long-term investment in literature, there has to be short-term work in teaching people and their culture the Gospel. After all, the change in the hearts of men is the necessary condition for the change in the culture. (Although, sometimes a culture can change by way of imitation, without a corresponding change of heart. Such cultural changes, though, are shallow, and seldom survive one generation. The Westernization of the Muslim world in the 1950s through the 1990s was a good example of such short-lived attempt at imitation.) And here, in the immediate work on the mission field, Christian Reconstruction is much superior to all other theological movements and doctrines. It not only successfully converts unbelievers (of course, as inferior cause; the superior cause for conversion is always God),3 it alsoconverts the individual entirely, in his inner man, in his understanding of reality, in his understanding of righteousness and justice in the surrounding culture. Man is thus converted as a whole being integrated in a new culture, challenging the old culture; not as an atomistic particle insulated from the world and the culture, helplessly waiting for the world to end.
How to Start Theonomic Mission Work
It starts with the realization, that as far as the work of the missionary is concerned—his preaching, teaching, counseling, declarations of judgment, advice, etc.—there is no area outside a missionary’s “perimeter of action.” Every area is, so to speak, “fair game.” We saw above that the new missionary is supposed to take on a new burden on his shoulders: to master the wide array of applications of his theology to every area of life. This new burden, of course, and this new knowledge is not to remain locked up in him. He must use it extensively in his missionary work. In short, he must speak, to everything and everyone, about everything that happens in the society, from their personal psychological fears and hopes to the economic policies and political practices of the civil government. A missionary is an ambassador of the King, and the King is King over all. Therefore, the ambassador must speak to all.
The superiority of Christian Reconstruction, under such view of missions, is easy to see, and easy to take advantage of. It has both the One and the Many, so to speak. It has a comprehensive, coherent theology of all of life. It has a theological foundation which is not dualistic nor fragmented, that is, it doesn’t allow for different moral principles in the different fields of man’s thought and action. The theology of Christian Reconstruction doesn’t allow for the fragmentation of knowledge insisted upon by the other theologies. (See, for example, the dualistic separation between the “common kingdom” and the “redemptive kingdom” of the Two-Kingdom Theology, or the truncated, limited definition for “gospel” of dispensationalism.) It takes all terms and all meaning back from the prevailing pagan ideologies and redefines them according to the Bible’s view of reality and God. The roots and foundations of all knowledge, including the theory of knowledge itself, are in the Bible, and the theology of Christian Reconstruction is explicitly motivated by the desire to return allknowledge – not just theological knowledge – to its Biblical foundations. And it has the immediate, practical application of that logically consistent theological system to life. Remember, if all of life is religiously motivated, as Van Til taught, then every single action of every man or every institution can be analyzed and evaluated on the basis of the Biblical message. The content of the newspapers, from the section on politics to the section on sports or art, is all open to a missionary to take and dissect, bringing every individual event, thought, idea, or practice under the light of Scripture and exposing the idols of the culture in those practices and ideas.
The rival theologies within Christianity have nothing to compare, and therefore a missionary of a different theology can’t compete against a theonomic missionary. If he wants to be faithful to his truncated, limited theology, he must remain silent on most central issues for a culture. His main concerns will be only peripheral to the majority of his listeners; and therefore he will be relegated to the periphery of their attention. But if he wants to rival the theonomic missionary and actually say something about any practical issue, he will have to do it in contradiction to his theology. Thus his commentaries will be self-contradicting, incoherent, and will leave his readers more confused than before. (That is happening with the attempts of many Two-Kingdom theologians in the US to give relevant opinions on events in the so-called “common grace kingdom.”) As of today, Christian Reconstruction is the only intellectual movement in Christian circles that has a comprehensive body of literature giving solutions to every area of life, explicitly based on Biblical revelation. If you are a theonomic missionary, you have the Biblical answers to everything your listeners may ask you, or at least the principles that can help them find an answer.
In the age of Internet, therefore, our missionary must become a blogger. (Our modern equivalent of newsletter writer in the not-so-distant past.) He must know well the culture he is sent to, know its idols,4 and know how they work in that culture. Every event, every news is an opportunity for him to expose those idols, for he has a comprehensive worldview, and he can detect their influence in everything. Our modern “high places” are everywhere, on the job, in the Parliament, in the kindergarten, on the TV and radio. All these areas are ravaged by idolatrous ideologies and are subject to the Curse. And therefore, all these areas are crying out to God to send His sons to speak His Word to them, tear down the idols, and re-capture them for the Kingdom of God.
A missionary must preach salvation. But too often, in the preaching of modern pietistic missionaries, salvation is a mystical, surrealistic, existentialist notion with very little connection to the life of the person and his culture here and now. In fact, in many cases, trying to make any connection between salvation and the world outside the person’s soul is actively discouraged. The popular phrases of our modern pietism reveal such disconnect between salvation and the practical life of the believer: “The church is constantly mourning by the rivers of Babylon,” “we are royal exiles in this world,” “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through,” “we need to live a pure life in an increasingly unclean world.” Under such view, the dominance of the curse in the practices of a culture is considered normative. A Christian should not expose it, and should not fight the curse in those areas, for it is considered almost an imperative, if we are to have a strong church with strong believers. An increasingly Christian culture is considered by the pietists to be dangerous for the spiritual health of the soul of man. Therefore, even when they comment on current events in the culture, it is only to declare that the Curse is normative, and that Christians should learn to live with it.
But salvation can not be separated from its practical application in the personal and the cultural life of a person. Just as faith without works is a dead faith, salvation without practical applications is a fake salvation. The dichotomy between the cosmos and the soul of a man is not Biblical. Therefore, a Theonomic missionary can and must connect the salvation he preaches to every event, every practice, every policy, every custom, every business transaction in the society. Righteousness can not be separated from justice; the two are the foundation of God’s Throne in a culture (Ps. 89:14).
The local culture, then, with everything that is happening in it, gives the missionary a practically unlimited supply of things to write about, preach about, and teach about. And I am not talking about taking moralistic, teary stories out of it to season his otherwise dry and boring sermons. I mean applying a covenantal, ethical/judicial analysis to everything happening in the culture, and exposing the idolatrous doctrines and beliefs at the foundation of it. This is the advanced equivalent of street preaching where the Word of the King is declared in open, to the crowds of people, and people are made to listen in their everyday context. With modern technology and Internet, street preaching can expand its horizons and truly meet every man in every place and in every aspect of culture that affects him directly. Thus the curse – and therefore salvation as well – is not abstract and surrealistic; it is concrete reality, and it is as close to man and threatening to man as close and comforting is the word of faith that we profess. Like a fish in an aquarium who can’t see the water, the pagan man in his pagan culture can’t see the curse unless it is shown to him in the light of the Law of God, in every little detail of the life of his culture. Once it is shown to him in concrete and real terms, he will be looking for salvation.
And salvation, again, can be preached to him in concrete and real terms, as well as in spiritual terms, because in the message of Christian Reconstruction, there is no dichotomy between spiritual and concrete. A missionary who writes or speaks about the tax policies of the government, compares them to the Law of God in the Bible, and gives his readers or listeners the Biblical solution to the problem, leads them much more solidly and securely up the path of salvation than a missionary who speaks only about their eternal salvation, divorced from justice and righteousness here on earth. A missionary who exposes the evil of the modern prison system in the light of the Bible, and offers the Biblical justice of restitution and redemptive private slavery, is a true witness for Christ and His Kingdom compared to a missionary who completely ignores issues of justice and law as irrelevant to his “gospel.”
And this is where a theonomic mission must begin: (1) Take the pagan man’s concrete, everyday reality, show him the curse in it in concrete, material, visible terms, show him (2) how that curse is caused by the rebellion against the Law of God in his own life and in his society, and that (3) that rebellion is a moral issue, not a technical, or political, or economic, or physical issue. Then show him that (4) the solution to the heart problem is in Christ’s redemption and justification, and then (5) show in concrete terms how that salvation works in concrete terms, in a society dominated by the Law of God, and therefore offers true justice and liberty for all.
Thus, in every little thing the missionary is speaking or writing about, sinners will have the chance to see in concrete terms their bondage, understand the spiritual reason for their bondage, learn about the spiritual solution to their bondage, and see how that solution works out in practice to produce liberty in real, concrete terms. Thus, a comprehensive reality based on the Biblical message will be presented to the sinner, and a comprehensive redemption will be also presented. The sinner will have no excuse.
An article about everything that happens, every day, in every area, in every place. When a day passes without the missionary, in an article, pointing to the bondage to idols expressed in the events of the day, that day is wasted. When a day passes without his readers or listeners learning about the specific solutions God has given in His Law, that day is wasted.5
But that won’t be the end of it. As the missionary progresses in his work, he must work to replicate himself in his listeners. As they grow in knowledge and understanding, they will first, of course, apply what they have learned to their own personal life, families, workplaces, businesses, political and social actions. But more important, they will grow in their ability to convey the same message and apply it to their specific geographic area, or their specific area of professional expertise, or to their specific political and social context. A missionary may live to see a nation fully converted and Reformed through his efforts, or he may not. But at the very least, his vision must be to have hundreds of writers and preachers who read the same books he reads, and are faithful to constantly bombard the pagan intellectual and moral climate of their culture with commentaries on specific events from a theonomic perspective, along the lines I defined above. A Christian blogger or speaker or teacher in every town, every office, every school, every professional guild, who openly challenges the dominant pagan ideas and presents the Biblical solutions: this is the dream of the theonomic missionary. And it can be achieved, because only Christian Reconstruction has a consistent, coherent, and comprehensive message for all of life. Any change in the culture is preceded by change in the intellectual atmosphere of that culture, in the way people think about their everyday reality. When the meaning of words is captured, capturing the culture is only a matter of time. People can respond to irrational fear for a time; the only true lasting change in the heart comes only by destroying the intellectual strongholds of the enemy, and by the renewal of the mind of the listeners (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
Bavinck-science-of-missionsThe local churches will come as a logical and inevitable result. When the local church is the goal of a missionary, it remains insulated, pietistic, and inefficient. When the local church grows naturally as a covenant community of believers6 who are committed to apply the Word of God to every area of life, challenging the surrounding pagan culture and offering an alternative to it,7 it becomes a powerful social force that blows the gates of hell in the culture out of existence, and truly brings Christ’s blessings, far as the curse is found. And the people around the church, when they see the superior knowledge, and understanding, and Law she is bringing to their culture, will acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and will submit to Him (Deut. 4:5-8).
So, if you are a missionary, how will the message of Christian Reconstruction affect your mission work?
Immensely. It will turn you from a salesman into a prophet; from a peddler of spiritual experiences into an ambassador for a King; from an insignificant visitor concerned with peripheral issues to a central, relevant voice in the culture; from a stranger babbling about abstract things into a man of Issachar who understands the times and knows what Israel should do. You will be the only one in a culture who has real answers to real questions.
Just be courageous to ignore the modern pietistic views of missions. Take on the idols of the culture, in their everyday works, in the immediate context of the men in that culture. Write articles, speeches, blogs, about the application of the Law of God to every area of life, from the least to the greatest, and show the bondage to sin in concrete terms in everything around you. And, of course, offer the solutions of the Law of God, the perfect law of liberty.
And God won’t tarry for too long to reward your faithfulness and courage.
1.     See my article, “Missionaries of the Ax.” []
2.     See, for example, “The New Missionary.” []
3.     See Calvin, Institutes, Book 1, ch. 17. []
4.     See Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction. []
5.     And, admittedly, I have wasted many such days in my work as a missionary. []
7.     J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1960), p. 28-29. []

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