Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jonathan, Bill and Melvin

Jonathan Chaplin
William Lane Craig

Melvin Tinker

It is a pity that Jonathan Chaplin,  the Director of KLICE, affiliated to the Tyndale Fellowship, a Christian evangelical research fellowship, should write a ‘Comment’ for KLICE which promotes his own view of Christians and ‘social action,’ as if this transformationalist and generally neo-Calvinist position (an ‘authentically biblical “social gospel"’) are self-evident truths, allowing him to dismiss alternative views. The link is -

He says

I won’t attempt to restate the case that has been compellingly made over many decades by a succession of distinguished evangelical theologians, that a truly biblical faith calls the church to be fully engaged in all aspects of cultural, social and political life – that the ‘Gospel’ actually found on Jesus’ lips (see Luke 4: 18-19), unlike the one still too often found on ours, thrusts us out into the world to be servants of healing, justice and peace. Nor am I going to rehearse the tired old debate over the relative priorities of ‘evangelism’ and ‘social action’, the very framing of which obscures the fundamental point that ‘proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom’ – the only kind of evangelism Jesus engaged in – inescapably includes what we today call ‘social action’ as a constitutive element and not just a ‘consequence’ (still less an optional extra).
This looks remarkably like a call for the church unitedly to participate, as a fundamental matter of the gospel of Christ, in agreed programmes of social action. Its reference to the 'compelling' work by ‘distinguished evangelical theologians’ could be understood as an attempt to pre-empt debate. How crass to go against such a powerful trend! How could this trend possibly be gainsaid? He claims that there is no alternative, and that any discussion is nothing but words.  But of course there is plenty to be discussed, and it should be Jonathan's and KLICE's  task to foster research and scholarly discussion, and not to use the platform of the Fellowship to act as a ginger group for one particular view. 

Even if the case for such 'social action' has been  compellingly made over several decades may it not be the place of KLICE to promote the examination of other views, views that been held by some for centuries. Isn't that part of the role of research as distinct from that of a pressure group?Jonathan's statement entirely avoids mention, for example,  of the tradition of Augustine’s ‘two cities', or of the Reformers’ view of two kingdoms, or of later Dissent, who all stress Christ’s teaching that his kingdom, and gospel of the kingdom which he preached, is not of this world, and that Christians are pilgrims and strangers here.  The Two Kingdom's view draws a principled line between the gospel of saving grace, and the Christian as a citizen of this world. (For the Two Kingdom’s view see David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. (Crossway, 2010)) Christians should in any case strive to be upright members of society. And Christians may, as a matter of Christian liberty,  be socially and politically active, or not, in ways that they see fit. But how they do this is their affair, and not part of the good news of the gospel. Alongside this activity is the truly diaconal service to the people of God  
The Tyndale Fellowship should through its affiliate KLICE and its various study groups, exist in order only to foster research into the biblical and theological roots of various historically-important views of the relation between the Christian, the church, and ‘social action’ and should not allow itself to be held captive to some particular political platform. The inevitable alternative is that the Fellowship or its affiliate would become ‘the SDP at prayer.’
Melvyn Tinker’s new book on Ecclesiastes will be out in March, published by the Evangelical Press. 
William Lane Craig and the blogger at Helm’s Deep had a short exchange of views on Calvinism and Molinism on Premier Radio’s ‘Unbelievable?' slot on 4 January, hosted by Justin Brierley. We did not get very far but you may be interested. Here are some links –