The R2K Crucifix Problem

Carl Trueman recently wrote A Church for Exiles for First Things, which you may read here. If you would like, a good response from Joel McDurmon can be found here. But my response to Carl will be a tad shorter than Joel’s — just enough to register a few basic concerns.

First, it is undeniable that exile is a strong biblical motif, and it is one that Christians do need to draw on. But in Scripture, it is always a paired motif — like salt and pepper, or ham and eggs. We find, all through the Bible, the patterns of death and resurrection, exile and return, cliffhanger and helicopter.

There is both a cross and a crown. Triumphalists are those who just want the crown. Defeatists are those who just want the cross. Trueman is a defeatist — for all his Reformed credentials, his faith is a crucifix faith. Note that both the defeatist and the triumphalist are partly right, but in such a way that their partial truths undo the point of the whole thing. “Jesus died” is true, but is not gospel apart from resurrection. And “Jesus rose” is meaningless nonsense if there had been no death.

Carl says this: the Reformed tradition “possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment.” I believe this is quite true. In fact, I agreed with many of the points that he made throughout the article — but he left out one crucial thing. Let me insert that missing element. “The Reformed tradition possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment, while preparing for our inevitable comeback.” Why? It is not just exile. It is exile and return. Nehemiah rhymes with Jeremiah after all.

The second problem is that Carl does want us to engage with culture, and be responsible citizens, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with the possibility of everything going terribly wrong, and we win or something. And he is enough of a church historian to know that things have gone wrong for us in just this way any number of times.

“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.”

Reformer Beards
This statue of the Exiles was commissioned just before they were banished, so that a grateful population could remember them all.

Responsible, godly citizenship therefore has to be impotent by definition. We tell the pagans what we think they ought to do, and hope to God that they refuse to do it. If they listen to us, then the triumphalist doo doo will hit the hermeneutical rotating device. If we take it too far, there could be conflict, and that might lead to religious war. Or worse, we might prevail in the conflict and find ourselves the proud owners of a theocratic state and having to grow our beards out. No, no, not like the ayatollahs. More like the guys pictured at the top of Carl’s article.

Last thing. Carl is giving us his read of our current cultural moment. It is true that prior to the resurrection he believes that the church is in exile all the time, but in our day it kind of looks culturally like what it theologically is. That make sense? When Christians have been in the ascendancy, Carl believes it to present the temptations associated with all such optical illusions. When we are overtly in exile, which is about to happen, he says, we will then have the pleasure of not kidding ourselves anymore. In times of gospel prosperity, we are looking through a glass darkly. In times of exile, we are seeing things as they really are, and yay, finally!

But if this particular exile occurs, it will be with the cooperation of millions of Christians. And that means that this cultural moment is not the result of their theology, but rather the result of ours. We cannot be exiled unless we all show up at the train stations as ordered. But suppose most of us just didn’t? What then? Somebody would have to cancel the exile — but “exiles-are-always-permanent” theology has no category for the prospect of such cancellations.

In order to pull a Christ-honoring no-show, we have to have a theology for it. That theology we so desperately need is the theology of the actual Reformation, but not as it trickles down through the approved filters of North American Reformed seminaries. We need the Calvinism of our fathers, vertebrate Calvinism. We need testosteronic Calvinism, beards and all. Once we have put our foot through the side of R2K crucifix theology, we should go rollicking down the highway of cultural engagement, with boisterous and ready laughter, and our little Reformation reenactor hats set jauntily on the sides of our heads.

All this is because I would rather walk out of exile with a handful of my friends than take a train with millions into it.
We do not need pan-fried fillet of Calvinism, with all the bones gone. Nor do we need Calvinism pâté, suitable as a spread for our two dollar crackers at the faculty soirée.

Like all my French? Calvin was French.

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Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Pre-Calvin Augustinians wear beards too, as do some current Amillenials.

I.e., don’t need to be a postmiller to Amen you on this one.

Giovanni Maresia
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Giovanni Maresia

C’est magnifique!

I just shaved, and after reading this I suddenly wished I hadn’t. So I’ll be preparing for my beard’s inevitable comeback.

Suzannah
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I’ve been reading John Dwyer’s excellent history of the War Between the States this week and it struck me that–in the South at any rate–it was an age of remarkable beards and men who knew how to wear them.

timothy
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timothy

Eyeore Christianity.

Doug Hitzel
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Doug Hitzel

I concur, I read Joel McDurmon’s article and loved it. I remember as I was first learning of the dangers of R2KT, I was so saddened to look around on Sunday and remember all the conversations of my Christian life (born late) and seeing how deeply the virus had penetrated. I cried all through the service…… I now sit and look around and work to fight the good fight, I try to stand in the manner of the early Reformers, the Puritans those who boldly stand today. The Church has given up so much room.. I read a lecture from… Read more »

Ted Turnau
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I appreciate your cross/empty tomb motif, and I do think that R2K is defeatist. I’m not sure whether post-mil triumphalism is the correct antidote, though. I don’t see in the NT the kind of swagger that you invoke at the end of your essay. I see a call to loving service. I see Paul draw upon citizenship when it will expand the Kingdom, but I also see him reflecting on his real citizenship in heaven. And I don’t see in the NT an equivalence between the resurrection and a kick-ass culture-war posture. It’s God who does the mopping up. It… Read more »

Curt Day
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My problem with his article is that the exile analogy needs to be supplemented because, 1) it has significant discontinuities with our current situation; and 2) there are other Biblical stories that, in their own way, also illustrate aspects of how the Church should relate to the world.

dghart
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dghart

Doug, you mean the Calvinism wasn’t exactly on the money regarding race relations? Or the one you advocate that breaks bread with the Eastern Orthodox (Constantine) in defense of the culture built by the papacy (Christendom)? Face it Doug, you’re not exactly the genuine article yourself.

Charles
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Charles

Really enjoyed this article. Although the secondary intent of your response may have been mostly to incite a chuckle-filled read, I found it very encouraging to my soul. Personally, I struggle with a defeatist mentality as I have recently (2 years or so) discovered Reformed theology, and maybe my tendency comes from an overreaction to a very ‘triumphalist’ upbringing. But either way, I appreciate the reminder that the point is not misery in itself, but rather the victory is certain and joyful for all those who love Jesus/God has chosen. Hopefully that’s me. But really, thanks.