When the Church Loved Gay People

I am currently reading a fascinating and disturbing book by renowned Yale historian John Boswell called Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. It is fascinating in that it not a polemic, but a careful and cautious academic study by one of the leading historians on premodern Christianity (before his untimely death), and his command of the literature is so extensive that it is exhausting and at times overwhelming to read.

It is fascinating also because it documents that the Church – prior to the 12th century – not merely permitted or tolerated same-sex unions, but actively embraced them to the point of developing various rites for their celebration. His book demonstrates that same-sex unions weren’t unknown in the ancient world nor in premodern Europe, and that these unions were described as marriages of lifelong intimacy and love. In order to establish his thesis, he walks us through marriage and family life in the ancient world, beginning in the first century and ending up in the 9th century, which is the earliest that we have such rites written down in liturgical manuals.

The fascinating part is also the disturbing part. If his thesis is correct, then the Church had no problem celebrating rites that formalized unions between same-sex people for the first thousand years of its existence. According to another scholar, Mark Jordan in his book The Invention of Sodomy, homophobia and anti-gay rhetoric didn’t really exist in the Church prior to the 11th century, and only began in earnest in the 14th century.

This would put acceptance of gay marriage (of some kind) as part of “traditional sexual ethics” which conservatives like to talk about so much. The has its critics, as every controversial books do, but as these come generally from within the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, which must oppose same-sex relationships, this disagreement borders on the predictable.

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Defending the Faith: With our Minds or our Lives?

If you’ve spent any time at all studying apologetics, the practice of defending the Christian faith from all comers, you’ve certainly seen 1 Peter 3:15 used to defend the intellectual defense of the faith: “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

I have come to think we’ve seriously misused this verse to justify our intellectual games, and so to get at what Peter is really talking about, we’ve got to look at three areas. Which direction does the passage flow? What is it that these Christians were supposed to be defending? And why would someone have asked them for a reason?

Which Direction does the Passage Flow?

Too often Christian apologetics becomes a kicking, fighting, knock-down, drag-out battle to the death, the goal of which is to leave your opponent an intellectually smoking ruin. But the passage does not speak of any of this at all. It says that Christians in the particular circumstance of this first-century Asian church ought to be prepared to explain the reasons for their hope to any who ask.

This is why I asked which direction the text flows. Because so often, Christian apologists go out looking for opponents and debate any and all comers who challenge the faith. The entire field of apologetics has gotten the central core of this verse backwards. They are answering the reasons brought against the faith by enemies, not giving reasons for those with honest questions. The word for “ask” (aiteo) in the Greek refers to one who begs or craves; thus, those whom Peter says to answer are those who craves an answer with honest sincerity, not those who are militant enemies. I certainly don’t recognize this call in much of what passes for apologetics.

Likewise, the answer given to these genuinely curious is to be given in “humility and trembling” (1 Pet. 3:15), not in arrogance and aggression. Again, I recognize almost nothing of this in what passes for contemporary apologetics.

What was Being Defended?

Peter doesn’t just have any question in mind that these Christians were to respond to. No, the honest questions of the curious were to be answered concerning “the hope that is in you.”

Notice that Peter is not addressing certainties. Hope possesses no guarantees, otherwise it would not be hope, and would instead be certainty. Peter is fundamentally uninterested in syllogisms or the latest archeological discovery that “proves” the Christian faith. Rather, he is interested in the “hope that is in you,” and to discover this hope, we have to let Peter define it. And, in fact, he does define it in the rest of the epistle.

He opens his epistle by speaking about this hope, writing that God has, in His great mercy, “cause us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection,” and “to an inheritance that is imperishable” that is “kept in heaven” until the moment for “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” (1:3, 4, 5). The saints of this church “have been grieved by various trials” by which the “genuineness of your faithfulness” has been “tested” for the “unveiling (apocalypse) of Jesus the Messiah,” (1:7). They are to “set your hope on the grace that will be brought to you at the unveiling (apocalypse) of Jesus Messiah,” (1:13). And the hope of these believers that Jesus would soon appear and deliver them from their enemies, vindicating them as the true people of God, is to be set upon the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Foreknown from the beginning of the world, He was “made manifest in the last days for your sakes, who through Him are vindicated in God, Who raised Him from the dead,” so that “your faithfulness and hope are in God,” (1:20, 21).

So the specific issue at hand that Peter wanted these Christians to be able to respond to were outsiders wondering why the Christian community expected Jesus to come and vindicate them. The resurrection is only part of the answer, and the full answer was the whole scope of the gospel, not merely that Jesus died and was raised, but that He was enthroned in heaven and had departed them, leaving them the promise that He would deliver and rescue His people from their enemies and persecutors, a deliverance that would also vindicate the Church as the people God had allied Himself with and whom He would defend and protect, establishing them above the mountains.

Why Were They Asked for a Reason?

But why would an outsider be spurred to ask such a question anyway? What would make them curious about why the Church believed this? Well, because of the Church’s lifestyle. Already Peter acknowledges that “you have been grieved by various trials,” (1:6). The whole book was written in that light, Peter exhorting them to remain firm in their persecution, because it was the “tested genuineness of your faithfulness,” (1:7), encouraging them, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,” and instead to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” (1:14, 17).

The rest of the epistle is written to justify Peter’s call to persevere in the face of persecution. “Beloved ones, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,” and to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak of you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” (2:11, 12). His call throughout the rest of the epistle is the same. Be subject to all human rulers, so that “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people,” (2:15).

It is here that we encounter Peter’s true apologetic. “This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly,” for “when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God,” (2:19, 20). It is to this suffering that “you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps,” (2:21).

Peter’s interest is in behavior, not intellect. What will raise eyebrows and spur people to curiosity about the Christian community is its commitment to bearing persecution in the present with the hope in the promise that the enthroned Messiah will defend them for their faithful endurance. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, so that you may obtain a blessing,” (3:9). And this brings us immediately to 1 Pet. 3:15. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (3:14-15). The whole matter of the question in the mind of the curious comes by the peaceful and non-violent suffering of the Church for the sake of the gospel. “Why do you not retaliate against those who rob and kill you?”

Peter even gives the answer the Church is to give when they are faced with these questions. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (3:17-18). So remember, when someone uses 1 Peter 3:15 as an excuse for apologetic ballistics, that Peter is speaking of a defense of the faith centered in behavior, and particularly, in a life of suffering for the sake of the gospel. This is a defense of the faith by holistic lifestyle.

Against Patriarchy, Part One: Patriarchy is Heresy

I have been growing more concerned about patriarchy for a few years, having escaped a patriarchal situation of abuse and manipulation myself, but needed to take some time to heal and recover, and repair my relationship with God. That process is nowhere near complete, but it has reached a point where I feel comfortable speaking out against patriarchy in any kind of systematic way. Over the next few weeks, I hope to expand this series of blog posts in various directions.

Many people today throw terms like “heresy” around as a synonym for “people I don’t agree with.” Pretty much any time some scholar challenges a conventional reading of a passage, some traditionalist starts the conversation by throwing out the “heresy” word. I have seen Reformed theologians adhering to what is known as the “Old Perspective on Paul” have complete meltdowns over the teachings of the “New Perspective on Paul” and pronounce it heresy in public, in print, and from the pulpit, despite there being no reason to declare it such.

That’s not what I want to do in this post, and the posts to come.

When I say that patriarchy is “heresy,” I don’t mean that I disagree with it and therefore I am going to angrily pronounce it heresy because I don’t like it. When I call it a heresy, I mean that it meets the criteria of classical heresy, in that 1) it distorts the Trinity, 2) it preaches another gospel that is almost identical to the Judaizers, 3) it erects mediators between women and God beyond Christ, and 4) it oppresses the poor and weak and vulnerable under its care.

For now, let me point in the direction I will take the next few posts, expanding upon each of these points.

Patriarchy Distorts the Trinity. The patriarchal system rests upon the foundation of a heretical Trinitarianism rejected by the universal Church. It finds the source for its mediated gender role distinctions in the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in the Trinitarian life of the Godhead in both power and authority, a view which, as argued by St. Athanasius, results in Arianism when extended to its logical conclusion. Patriarchalists who hold to the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in both power and authority do not qualify as orthodox Trinitarians or as faithful evangelicals, and therefore ought to be rejected out-of-hand.

Patriarchy Distorts the Gospel through Judaizing Teachings. In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul is at great pains to refute the poisonous teachings of the Judiazing Christians, who argued that one could only be saved by faith in Christ in addition to adherence to the Mosaic rites. The contrast here is not between belief and action, but between what constitutes a boundary marker for the covenant community. The Judaizers believed that the Christian would only be saved by keeping themselves unstained from the sinful world by adherence to the purity laws of the Old Covenant, but Paul and the true Christians argued that salvation and justification would come by lifelong faithfulness to the “way of Yahweh,” which was the way of justice-doing and wrong-righting, the way of Jubilee and liberation for the oppressed, poor, widow, and fatherless (Matt. 25). By grounding our faithfulness in adherence to purity laws and boundaries which keep out the lost, weak, and sinner, the patriarchal system for the “victorious family” is little more than a revival of the Pharisaical and Judaizing teaching which Jesus, Paul, and the entire New Testament rejected, the first heresy which the early Church combated.

Patriarchy Denies the Exclusive Mediation of Christ. By teaching that husbands and fathers mediate for their wives and children, patriarchy turns the family into the Church and the father into Jesus. Patriarchy thus offers people a false church for salvation, turning the family into an idol and demanding worship of that idol by all involved. Faithless Israel also claimed that the covenant was theirs by bloodline descent, and they were destroyed for their troubles. Fathers who claim to mediate for their wives and children by serving as “family priests” are committing the sin of Korah, who insisted upon making sacrifice for his clan even after God had appointed Aaron to do this for the whole congregation. Korah and his entire clan was swallowed up by the earth for this blasphemy.

Patriarchy Sides with the Powerful, not the Weak. By favoring men and requiring women to surrender everything to their husbands, patriarchy makes women vulnerable, and creates a system by which they are repeatedly abused, manipulated, and their consciences afflicted for no purpose or reason, and to no Biblical end. In this way, patriarchy manufactures vulnerable people and then abuses them. Patriarchy also lies about the nature and character of God by arguing that He sides with the powerful and oppressor, rather than a God who favors the weak and vulnerable and defends the oppressed from those who would seek to do them harm (Psa. 103:3).

From these four pillars I will argue that patriarchy represents something so far outside the pale of acceptable Christian teaching that it qualifies for the technical moniker heresy. For this reason, I believe the Church must stand up against this Judaizing tendency in formal and informal ways, working to put it out of our churches once and for all. I do not say that they are beyond the mercy of God, especially those who have been led astray by these teachings, merely that patriarchy is a belief which should find itself on the other side of the orthodoxy fence.

Doug Wilson, Patriarchy, and Missing the Point

Doug Wilson is at it again, defending serial sheep-abuser Doug Phillips, who last week resigned from his own homeschooling ministry Vision Forum and then proceeded to close down that ministry after admitting to an extramarital affair involving “romance and affection,” whatever that means.

Now, I haven’t written anything about Phillips yet on this blog, mostly because information seems to still be pouring in, and we will know more in the future. Partly, my reticence to write about Phillips is that he is more or less irrelevant to the wider Christian world, a nutbag way out in left field, playing in the weeds. But as I have pondered the fall of his empire, I have come to realize that his influence is widespread, and that people as mainstream as Mark Driscoll and John Piper are saying essentially similar things. Something more will have to be done, but that is for a later post.

For now, my interest is not in Phillips but in those who have rushed to his defense. Doug Wilson is one of the more “high-profile” folks doing so, and we need to take a second to look at what he is doing.

Doug Wilson is defending wolves and attacking wounded sheep.

Two weeks ago he wrote a brief piece nodding his approval at Phillips’ resignation, which is true. But the second half of his piece turned sour, fast. His second observation is to point out those who display “snark” and “who see such things as an occasion for venting their spleen.” It is not at all clear who he has in mind with this comment, though it is likely he is at least in part referring to the vast and growing network of recovery blogs of those (mostly women) who have escaped the poisoned spring of patriarchy and have made their experiences known.

But if he does have these victims of abuse in mind, his next comments are not only wildly off the mark, they are dangerous and, indeed, evil. Wilson tells us that the reason men like him are so careful is so as not to “by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme . . .” (2 Sam. 12:14).

Ahhh, so victims who have gotten out and shared their stories in the hopes of processing and healing are referred to as (or at least allied with) enemies who blaspheme. This is entirely bizarre and at odds with what Wilson claims he does. He has a saying which he loves to say: “Love of sheep means hatred of wolves. And love of wolves means hatred of the sheep.” Well, Rev. Wilson, you have just sided with the wolves. So what’s with that?

He finishes his first post by writing, “But for those who know how the story goes, this is one of those occasions where the enemies of the Lord can be readily identified. By their glee ye shall know them.” Here’s a bit more information on who he views as enemies of God. Anyone who shows “glee” at the fall of the House of Phillips. But who decides whether someone is displaying glee or not? The comment is certainly open-ended and ambiguous enough to include anyone who points out the fall of Douglas Phillips and thinks this is a good thing.

But given this, we are suddenly not in the realm of light and darkness anymore, gospel and anti-gospel, but instead in the realm of opinion (two realms which Wilson frequently conflates). We’re now in the realm of evaluating the ministry of a man and his views on men, women, gender roles, and the fruits of that man’s life and ministry. On all counts, Doug Phillips was teaching Pharisaical and Judaizing positions while denying justice and mercy to those who had sought to submit to him. The proper response is not to circle the wagons, but public declarations of his errors, as Paul did in the epistles toward the lies of the Judiazing movement.

But yesterday, Wilson expanded his first round of thoughts, continuing to blame sheep and give wolves a free pass.

He begins with a presentation of patriarchy from Scripture, misusing passages we have no time to deal with in this post. Nevertheless, his reading is hardly obvious. He concludes this paragraph by saying, “Father rule. That’s the good part.”

That’s the good part? Not sure I want to see the bad part.

The first bad part is that “many men are fools and idiots.” He then says women shouldn’t marry fools and idiots. Sure, we agree with that for sure. But he then says that a wife married to a fool and idiot shouldn’t make this worse by, you know, expressing herself like a human being and telling him to knock it off, appealing to 1 Pet. 3:1-2, which would seem to tell wives to win over troublesome or unbelieving husbands with quietness and respectful conduct.

This passage from 1 Pet. 3 is routinely abused to blame women when there is trouble in the home. Patriarchal churches routinely throw this passage in the faces of women who seek help with brutes and swine and boarish husbands. Instead of, you know, helping her. They question whether she has adequately practiced what they see this passage teaching, and conclude that if the husband is not being won over, she must not be submitting enough. Such is a nightmarish situation of never being able to prove to the satisfaction of her shepherds that she is actually doing what they insist she do, and that some situations are simply broken and cannot be repaired in this way.

So when Wilson appeals to the example of Abigail in the next paragraph, this appeal is worse than useless. Imitating Abigail is seen as rebellion and high-handed refusal to submit to God’s authorities for the home. It is no help to say that women can “act like Abigail” when, at the very moment they do act like Abigail, they are struck across the face with 1 Pet. 3.

This sort of ill-considered comment just shows to me that Wilson is more or less oblivious to the real situations that are developing right now across the patriarchal/complimentarian churches in this country and around the world. It does no good at all to talk the talk when you refuse to walk the walk. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:14-17).

Wilson’s second “bad part” of patriarchy is that it can be abused like Phillips has done, but this abuse must be overcome with more obedience rather than disobedience (to the teachings of patriarchy, presumably). This must be so, because, according to Wilson, “words of God in Scripture” grant “this position to men.” “Those people chortling over this particular fall were opposed to the Pauline instructions on marriage back when they thought no such sin had occurred.”

Now, here Wilson simply assumes the patriarchal reading is blindingly obvious, the sort of blinding obvious that means anybody who disagrees must therefore be in rebellion against God and His designed order for the world. But this is nothing more than a refusal to acknowledge there is a real and legitimate discussion going on about the words of those Scriptures Wilson trumpets as being so obvious. You know, the kind of obvious that three-year-olds and chimps could figure out.

But those of us who disagree do not disagree because we don’t like what Paul says. We disagree because we don’t see Paul saying those things. This is not a debate about taking the Scriptures seriously or refusing to do so, but a discussion on how we are to read the Scriptures which both sides are taking seriously. Sure, there are some people who solve the problem by throwing up their arms and claiming Paul must not have really written those patriarchal bits, but this is an unacceptable conclusion for an evangelical Christian. There are other, better ways of reading Paul, and this is really the problem. Wilson and the other patriarchalists refuse to admit that they’re cowardly trying to redefine the game to ensure they come out the winners. This is something which Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til was always at pains to point out was a problem, and Wilson at least ought to know better, since he acknowledges an intellectual debt to Van Til.

Next, Wilson reveals his sneering sort of sexism by dismissing critics as “screeching” feminists. Then we get the big whopper: “I said on the air that men were necessarily dominant. The only question before the house was whether or not that dominance was going to be constructive or destructive… The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement.”

This clears matters up quite a bit. Not only does Wilson equate “patriarchy” with “dominance,” he also says male dominance is “crucial” and will be exercised regardless of what men do. Such is the patriarchal system, and because of how it framed gender roles, women will always get the short shrift and the predominance of abuse.

He then also claims that Phillips had trouble with the “abusive” sort of patriarchy, but he once again fails to understand that the problem is not with “abusive forms” of patriarchy. The real problem is with “abusive forms” of gender roles. The problem with patriarchy is not that it can be abused, but that it is, by nature, abusive. These abuses will continue to crop up in patriarchal circles until such a time as they pony up and admit this, and then shut the whole business down. Which is why, by the by, the closing of Vision Forum ministries is necessarily a good thing.

It’s National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day for the LGBT community, and it provides Christians with a tremendous opportunity to serve this community so often feared and maligned by those of us on the Christian side of the “Gays vs. Christians” cultural war.

So I would like to take this opportunity for a time of “coming out” myself, a time of confession and repentance. I am coming out as a former “homophobic conservative Christian.”

I have feared you unjustly. Please, forgive me.

I have maligned you unjustly. Please, forgive me.

I have dehumanized you unjustly. Please, forgive me.

I have believed false witnesses concerning you. Please, forgive me.

I been “weirded out” by you unjustly. Please, forgive me.

I have seen your struggles as the destruction of Western society unjustly. Please, forgive me.

I have viewed you as enemies, but even when I have done so I have disobeyed the commands of my Lord, who said, “Love your enemies.” Please, forgive me.

I have rejoiced over your problems and laughed at your lives unjustly. Please, forgive me.

There are still many Christians who still think and do these things. Please, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Gay Weddings and Public Business

The Christian Post reports that a Christian cake-making business in Oregon was forced to shut down after they denied service to a lesbian couple. Right up front, we need a few comments. Firstly, it is sad and unfortunate that they were forced to close their business (though they are continuing to make cakes through an in-home business). It is also unfortunate that the lesbian couple behaved so poorly and tried to destroy their business after being turned down.

But we also have to think about what it means to operate a business.

Many Christians I know are outraged at this, which they see as flagrant persecution. But is this really what is going on? I don’t think it is.

It is unfortunate it came down to losing their shop over the conflict, but this Christian family business essentially destroyed itself for no particularly compelling reason. Some readers will now understandably bristle, but it remains true that if they had simply made a cake the issue wouldn’t have even arisen.

So the question we now must ask is: is it lawful for Christians who disagree with same-sex activity and civil unions to provide services to the gay couples who want to hire them?

I believe it is lawful. And here’s why.

Homosexuality does not occupy center stage in Christian sexual ethics, and the issue has been so politicized that we can’t even seem to have a sane discussion of the issue any more. Our heightened and intense response to everything having to do with the issue is not really due to Christian sexual teachings, and comes more from the fact that we have elevated the conflict in our own minds and rhetoric. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, and the verses that address it are few and far between and never singled out for attention. This should cue us into the fact that our ethical compass has extremely different emphases than Jesus’s had.

The objection I hear most often is “I don’t want to support what they’re doing,” or “I don’t want to seem like I’m supporting them.” But this raises the question of what a business is. When someone comes to you to contract your business for the provision of certain services for which you will be fairly compensated, can your acceptance of that business constitute “support”? No. Can a Christian mechanic start deciding whether or not to fix the car of the Baptist that came into his shop because he himself supports infant baptism? Should a Christian doctor start deciding not to help patients of other religions? Should Christian airline pilots refuse to transport homosexual passengers? More to the point, should a Christian car mechanic refuse the business of a gay couple that brought their car in for repairs? Can that be taken as “support” for their lifestyle?

So why does the situation magically change when we talk about Christian wedding photographers and cake-makers? How many heterosexual couples do they agree with? How many are addicted to porn? How many have fits of rage? How many are non-Christians? The point is simple: if you’re going to turn away business by people you don’t agree with, then you should turn away everyone you don’t agree with.

This is why Christians will lose this particular argument. Because when you say you are turning away people you don’t agree with but only turn away certain people you don’t agree with, you are behaving like a hypocrite. This form of public hypocrisy is also called discrimination. This is not an issue of “standing up for the truth.” It is not a matter of “religious freedom” or “persecution.” It is, however, a matter of Christians playing the victim card. It is an issue of Christians being upset at losing their privileged status.

These Christians don’t want to be seen supporting same-sex marriage. They don’t want to seem like they’re supporting it. These same Christians probably wouldn’t want to seem to support prostitution by eating and hang out with prostitutes either. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Jesus did. The question “What would Jesus do” looms uncomfortably large over this whole discussion. The Kingdom belongs to the ugly and the broken and the unworthy, not for the powerful and respectable. Over and over Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Paul goes so far as to say that acceptance comes first; acceptance and mercy are designed to lead to repentance, not the other way around (Rom. 2:5).

Getting Radical

Frankly, I’m fed up with Anthony Bradley. Who, you might ask, is Anthony Bradley? Bradley is a professor of ethics and theology from King’s College in Philadelphia and is a research fellow at the right-wing Acton Institute. In the last year, it seems that Bradley has decided to make the “radical” movement his whipping boy in print. He’s written on how caring for the poor and relocating to underprivaleged neighborhoods is the “New Legalism” of the evangelical world, accusing pastors and authors like David Platt of all kinds of unsavory things.

It is, however, readily apparent from what he has written that he has conflated a number of different approaches and movements under a single roof, and that he doesn’t even accurately understand that which he is critiquing. Or, to say it a different way, he is unable to make sense of anything that doesn’t come to him in the pre-packaged categories of the neo-Reformed movement.

Bradley even says this. In his review of Platt’s excellent book Radical, he complains about Platt’s approach and then writes, “Admittedly, I am biased. I’m a Reformed theologian who understands the biblical story in terms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.”

Yes, Bradley, you are biased.

Platt is not a 19th century or 2nd Great Awakening holdover revivalist, as Bradley complains. He writes, “in the end readers are left with nothing more than a ‘compassionate revivalist’ Christianity that fails to radically call Christians to live in harmony with God’s desire to redeem the entire creation.” Bradley is certainly right to say that we’re called to live in harmony with all of creation. The question is how we’re called to do that. How is the creation to be restored? Well, St. Paul tells us: “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” (Rom. 8:19). The creation is waiting for the redemption of all things that will begin with the unveiling of the Church. The “present time” is the former age that was passing away in St. Paul’s day, while the coming revelation of glory is the glory of Yahweh dwelling on earth in the Church. The Church is the principle place where the redemption of the creation takes place, because it is the redeemed community, the spring of New Creation in the world, the living Temple in which the Spirit dwells.

Somehow the Reformed community has gotten to a place where we think that making disciples and focusing on the community of the people of God is somehow retreatist, a charming holdover of pietists and Holy Rollers, fundie-anabaptists bent on fleeing the world. Reclaiming a good teaching (God is redeeming the whole creation) has bent our theology so far out of shape that we now think that this is His primary agenda, or that He will accomplish this miraculous deed outside of the Church. But when Jesus gave instructions for his Church to follow, He did not say, “Work according to your vocation, according to your skills, cooperating with a neo-capitalist society in order to live in harmony with God’s desire to redeem the entire creation.” You can’t find anybody in the NT that says this. What Jesus does say, however, is to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This statement replaces the creation mandate of Genesis 1 in the New Covenant. When did Reformed people stop understanding that this is a call for cosmic restoration? When did we start thinking that Jesus’ commands to us shouldn’t have to stand front and center, at the top of our list of things to do? When did we start pitting Jesus against some supposed doctrine that trumps His Own words?

This “radical” (pun!) restructuring of the priorities of the Christian faith is seen everywhere in Bradley’s review. “Christians are called to be more than disciple-makers.” “Disciple-making is a major part of the cosmic redemptive mission of God, but the work of the Kingdom transforms people, places, and things.”

Yes. That last command of Jesus couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the means by which we transform the whole creation. It’s a part. Maybe even important. But not the thing. Not the central thing. No, the central claim of the gospel is that we ought to adopt a neo-capitalistic work ethic and “do business” for the Kingdom of God.

Part of the problem, of course, is the pervasive confusion about the Church and the Kingdom. Most neo-Calvinists today see the Kingdom as broader than the Church. The Church is one thing, but Kingdom work is what’s really important, and our duties are duly outlined. Do your work, don’t complain, be content, get married, have babies, and work to support the common good. But the Kingdom of God is clearly and repeatedly identified as the Church. The Church is the Kingdom and the Kingdom is the Church. No, this doesn’t mean you should go get a “Church job,” but it might mean rethinking your vocational skills so that they operate within the sphere of the redeemed community. It might be that the only way to accomplish the good ends we say we want to accomplish will mean giving up on the dreams we thought could get us there. It might mean that God’s economy of sharing and vulnerability and risk is better, in the long run, at doing what we say we’re trying to do using Mammon’s economy.

The problem with Bradley’s radical alternative is that it simply isn’t radical enough yet.