In this book Ryan McIlhenny assembles a team of nine scholars to join him in addressing what has become something of an ongoing intramural debate among Reformed Christians. The debate concerns questions regarding the role and status of the church in matters of church and state relations, education, art, and other forms of culture. A number of questions drive the investigation. What voice does the church have in addressing government? Is there such a thing as “Christian” education? What about art? Can art be separated into Christian “God-glorifying” art and secular, useless art? These questions are interesting, but McIlhenny and the contributors to this volume appear to be calling us to see something more. They seem to be voices crying out for the church to take an active role in the wider culture—a role that addresses, interacts with, and actively participates in shaping culture for the purpose of bringing glory to God.
The essays are divided into three sections. Part 1, “Kingdom Reign and Rule,” could just as well be called the “Historical Section.” Cornel Venema and Gene Haas contribute chapters that discuss John Calvin and natural law. Nelson Kloosterman offers a fascinating discussion of the views of Herman Bavinck concerning natural law. People who enjoy history will be drawn particularly to these chapters because they take us back in a lively way in an effort to trace the lineage that reformed thinkers share and from which they may readily draw.
Part 2, “Kingdom Citizenship,” is the “Church and State Section.” Kloosterman translates two addresses by Simon Gerrit de Graaf: “Christ and the Magistrate” and “Church and State.” These two addresses deal with the redeeming role of the church in society. De Graaf argues that “the state faces the grave danger of refusing to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and of Jesus Christ as King, of worshiping its own resplendent power, and of rebelling in self-sufficiency against the Lord” (p. 124). Timothy Scheuers continues with an excellent discussion of the doctrine of common grace. Then John Halsey Wood, Jr. offers a brilliant commentary on Abraham Kuyper and his views concerning church and state. The reader is led to ask the self-defining question, “What is the voice of my church concerning our government?” One day every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus Christ but today governments seek to be free entirely from any religious influence and instead move toward atheism. Pastors, elders, leaders in local congregational, regional, and denominational settings will be forced to deal with such questions.
Finally we come to Part 3, “Kingdom Living.” Scott Swanson deals with the question of now but not yet when it comes to Christ’s kingdom, providing a cogent argument that developed through a sweeping survey of the book of Revelation. Jason Leif presents “Eschatology, Creation, and Practical Reason: A Reformational Interpretation of the Two Kingdoms Perspective.” Then McIlhenny concludes with “Christian Witness As Redeemed Culture.” His is the practical argument that resonates with life and mission: the gospel changes the hearts of those who believe and those with changed hearts change culture. This is the transformational, missional vision.
All Christians live in particular communities along with other members of their congregation. All communities exist within particular cultures. Those cultures are unique just like every culture in every community in any setting. Christians must find ways to engage culture. If they fail to engage then they will fail to accurately communicate the gospel. McIlhenny and the other writers repeatedly force the reader to ask important questions: What am I supposed to be doing here? What does God want me to do? What can I do to bring glory to God? This book helps readers answer these questions. The church continuously proclaims Christ’s good news to people who live in the wider culture in which the church is situated. The proclamation itself glorifies God. And as people respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit and come into Christ’s kingdom, they are transformed. And perhaps most important of all, when they undergo personal transformation they are also used to transform their families, neighborhoods, and communities. Culture is transformed as people are transformed.
Christians in congregations all over the world meet regularly to pray for church and culture. McIlhenny’s book urges them to carry on, to press forward, and to continue seeking the God who transforms hearts, people, and culture. He encourages Christians to continue to ask for personal transformation and Christlikeness. Believers can make an impact—the kind of impact that can change a town and the wider culture.