Christian Activism Should be Built on Biblical Foundation

John Barber
Editor's Note: John Barber has served as an itinerant evangelist, church planter, host of a nationally syndicated radio program and writer for Dr. Bill Bright. He holds degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School. In his new book, "Earth Restored," Barber tackles the polarization between those believers committed to social activism and those given to evangelism and discipleship, arguing for a new "third" way that blends both. The following excerpt, part two of two, is from the book's introduction.

Problematically, many evangelicals are reluctant to build a theory of social activism upon the Bible's teaching. The cause of this unwillingness is not due to any deficiency found within Scripture, but rather is the result of growing resistance within evangelicalism to a theological position called "theonomy" or "reconstructionism."

Defining theonomy is difficult, mostly because a large number of distortions and misconceptions of the teaching do exist and, what is more, leading theonomists represent a diversity of thought. However, the one point all theonomists can agree on, and which has many people up in arms, teaches that the Church is called to "reconstruct" society according to the pattern of biblical law, especially Old Testament law.

The fear is that this program, if implemented, would force all people, Christian or not, to abide by biblical directives. (Note: Anyone that works to apply Christian principles to government and society at large will unavoidably find themselves in agreement with at least some of the underlying principles of theonomy).

The emphasis on biblical law as a means to advance a visible expression of the kingdom of God in the world is to the discredit of theonomy. On the other hand, theonomy's strength is that it offers a systematic theology in support of Christian activism - something that is sadly lacking from most activists of the Religious Right.

Despite this strength, it is the theonomist's misuse of theology that has had the unfortunate result of scaring away scores of evangelicals from seeking to build their cultural activity upon any theology. Many authors that do use the Bible to support some form of Christian activism are therefore hesitant to offer their readers much more than a series of isolated proof texts on the subject for fear they may appear as heretics.

In their effort to distance themselves from reconstructionism, many defenders of Christian activism have adopted an opposite and equally heretical position on God's law - antinomianism. This is the belief that under the dispensation of the gospel, the believer is under no explicit obligation to Old Testament law. The word "antinomian" comes from the root word, antinomy, which refers to antagonism between competing principles - in this case the law and the gospel. Without offering a full critique of antinomianism, suffice it to say that Christian activists that ascribe to this view of the law have played right into the hands of the "spirit of lawlessness" they claim to be fighting.

This brings me to part of the contribution I wish to offer to the debate over the believer's proper role in the culture. I seek to motivate Christians to be active in present-day culture, and to build that activity upon a firmer biblical foundation than what has been laid in the past, while steering clear of extremism. In other words, I want us to seek after the "whole counsel of God" and to do so in the confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. Once we begin down this path, we have taken on a distinctively theological task.

My views do not rely upon the courage of Christian patriots of yesteryear or upon the need for a godly presence in electoral politics, although we shall briefly examine these factors. Rather, my thesis is entirely dependent upon the Bible's teaching on the kingdom of God and its implications for the culture. For those readers that possess understanding into the history of theology, my method is to take the "redemptive historical" approach to theology and apply it to the various subjects that I address.

Restoring the Earth ...

What is my thesis? It is that God's purpose is to restore the earth to His glory, and to use His Church, in obedience to the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission, to achieve His goal. Thus, spirituality is to touch and inform all of life, not just personal morality. Because God is working to restore "all things" the Church must also be working to restore every human institution, including the fine arts, the media, education, politics, journalism, law, and more.

Due to the uniqueness of my perspective, I would be wrong to lead the reader to think that this book is nothing more than a defense of traditional Christian activism. Rather, I want to go further. My belief is that most Christians that are working to reach the world for Christ do not understand that, with the coming of God's kingdom, a new order with the power to redeem all of life has also come. For them, being "salt" and "light" has been limited to restoring family values and civil virtue, when really God's ambassador is called to represent an even greater plan - cosmic redemption.

Therefore, in addition to offering a defense of Christian, social activism against the biblical bankruptcy of religious pietism, to which Weyrich, Thomas, and Dobson now aspire, this book is also critical of the conventional philosophy, methods, and goals of Christian activism. I wish to use my apologetic to introduce a call for a new Christian activism. This is a type of activism that is centered in, and which advocates, the meaning of the kingdom of God for society, rather than the restricted benefits of one political agenda over another.

What is the fundamental problem? It is that both pietists and activists are biblically lopsided. Normally, Christian, social activists are committed to the Cultural Mandate, while typically Christian pietists are dedicated to the Great Commission. Activists stress change at the institutional level, while pietists contend that real change in society is only possible to the extent that human hearts are changed.

A new Christian activism will seek to restore planet earth by combining both the activists' stress upon cultural restoration and the pietists' emphasis upon evangelism and discipleship.

If you weren't with us yesterday, be sure to read Part One.

Barber, John. "Earth Restored: Calling the Church to a New Christian Activism," (c) 2002. Published by Christian Focus Publications.

*This article may not be reprinted or distributed without the author's permission. You may reach John Barber at [email protected]