Reformed Resolve In A Hostile Culture: Resources For Hope From Our Tradition

With popular culture changing societal norms at a relentless pace, how should Christians in the Reformed tradition respond to these changes?

Postmodernity erodes institutions and society structures, resisting and repudiating all claims to authority and truth. As a result, individuals turn inward for answers to ultimate questions of meaning, morality, and eternal destiny. Francis Schaeffer correctly pointed out, “Modern man has his feet firmly planted in mid air.” In this stormy cultural climate, we should winsomely proclaim the Word of God, trusting the Holy Spirit to touch the lives of men and women living without an anchor amidst the flood of cultural chaos.

 

Cultural winds can change quickly. Sometimes societal trends reflect biblical truth, and other times they demonstrate a rejection of the Triune God and his Word. The latter appears to be occurring today in America.

Accepted ideas on moral and ethical issues are transforming rapidly in the country. A generation ago there was a general consensus that marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman. Few would have celebrated a retired American male athlete becoming a woman. No one questioned which bathroom was appropriate for a man or a woman to use.

Popular culture is changing societal norms at a relentless pace. Consequently, how should Christians in the Reformed tradition respond to these changes? More specifically, what is distinct about the Reformed theological tradition that can help us not merely fight the culture, but flourish for God’s glory?

First, we should rest on the absolute sovereignty of the Triune God. Historically, the Reformed tradition has emphasized God’s power and control over all things. We affirm, as the Psalmist wrote, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115.3). Nothing is too great or too grand for our God; he is not surprised, overwhelmed, or looking for answers to cultural questions.

Yet, we acknowledge that while he controls all things, many times his ways are inscrutable and beyond our understanding. John Murray wrote, “The providence of God is often a dark and impenetrable abyss to us. Clouds and darkness are round about him. His way is in the sea, and his path in the great waters. His footsteps are not known.” God’s path to accomplish his plan of redemption is beyond our human eyes to see and minds to understand. But Scripture affirms that God will accomplish his plan; let our lack of understanding give way to faith in the eternal God who will never fail.

Second, we possess a powerful tradition of Sola Scriptura for a culture crumbling without authority. Postmodernity erodes institutions and society structures, resisting and repudiating all claims to authority and truth. As a result, individuals turn inward for answers to ultimate questions of meaning, morality, and eternal destiny. Francis Schaeffer correctly pointed out, “Modern man has his feet firmly planted in mid air.”

In this stormy cultural climate, we should winsomely proclaim the Word of God, trusting the Holy Spirit to touch the lives of men and women living without an anchor amidst the flood of cultural chaos. The Reformed tradition has trumpeted the absolute authority of Scripture for centuries. We must continue to unabashedly point people to God’s Word where they will find the ultimate story of redemption and be led to understand God’s will for their salvation.

Thirdly, we have a rich tradition of Reformed writings to draw upon today. The writings of Calvin, Owen, Edwards and others can inspire our lives, encourage our hearts, and enlighten our minds to biblical truth. Reformed theologians supplement our biblical readings with insight, wisdom, and clarity that help us think deeply and clearly amidst the pollution of cultural smog. For example, studying Jonathan Edwards’ A History of a Work of Redemption takes readers beyond the pragmatic, self-centered writings of many contemporary writers and brings readers face to face with the greatness of God and the grandeur of his redemptive plan.

Continual confrontation with daily battles over marriage, gender issues, and bathroom ethics can slowly erode our hope. However, Reformed theologians from a previous age lift our perspective above the daily problems of our life and show us the glory of the Triune God who will accomplish his eternal plan.

Finally, there is a legacy of faithful leaders for us to follow. It is tempting to believe the challenges the church of Jesus Christ faces today are unprecedented. They are not. Although Calvin did not have to face lawsuits over refusing to officiate a gay wedding, he did oppose the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church and the death sentence they placed on him as a young man. In Geneva he faced continual opposition, including rifle shots at his front door by opponents. John Bunyan spent years in prison. Many other Reformed pastors who faced cultural opposition could be listed, but the point is clear. All of them shared a grand view of God and would not be deterred from God’s calling on their lives.

Our Reformed predecessors saw cultural conflict and societal skirmishes in light of the sovereign God who redeemed them from sin and death. As a result, they lived with passion to fulfill God’s calling on their lives and left us a legacy of faith and perseverance to follow today.

Benjamin T. Carver is a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) and is pastor of Shem Creek Presbyterian Church Mount Pleasant, SC. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.