Joe Thorn is a good guy

See – I put that headline up there to make sure that anyone reading this will not miss the fact that I said, “Joe Thorn is a good guy”. Because this post isn’t about whether or not Joe Thorn is a good guy or a bad guy. This post is about his new blogging endeavor.

See: Joe is a good guy. If you meet him, I promise you will probably like him. And if you ask me, that’s probably a good attribute for any Christian: as Paul would say in proper King James, lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. I think that’s Joe.

And he has opened up a new blog with fellow reformissionary Steve McCoy [note: AFAIK, STeve McCoy is a good guy, so no sleight-by-omission intended] called “sub•text”, about establishing the church in a suburban (American) context – which, you know, the suburbs are full of lost people. Everyone from Steve Camp to Steve Sjogren would agree with that. The suburbs need the Gospel.

I agree that the suburbs need the Gospel.

But then Joe and Steve affirm this:
For many Christians the mission of God is seen as the salvation of individual sinners from hell, sin and self. While this is an important part of God’s mission, it is only part of it.

The whole picture is that God is redeeming a people for himself made up of every tribe, tongue and nation. And his mission does not stop there, but includes the salvation of creation itself. His goal is the establishment of a new creation that will never fall into corruption; one that will reveal and revel in his glory for eternity. In fact, at every point along the way of the history of redemption God’s promise to redeem through the Messiah is never pointed merely at individual salvation. The reformed tradition has made this clear in its dealing with the covenants of God.
I added the underlines, btw. Before we go any farther, I don't know anyone who would deny the first underlined part except for a few hard-core anti-reformational types. People would fall on a spectrum of whether God's glory is in the foreground, the middle-ground, the background, or perhaps God's glory is the overarching metaphysical ground -- but the idea that "God's mission" is to glorify Himself is, frankly, baseline Christian metaphysics.

The second underlined part there, though, is where the dust cloud sorta kicks up. And the problem is not the reformed stress in what it means that God calls a people out to himself: it is what Joe and Steve meanby applying that tradition.

The next part is pretty neutral:
In God’s first promise of redemption after the fall (Gen 3:15), hope is given to the human race. Somehow, through the woman’s offspring, Satan would be defeated and sin would be conquered (See Geerhadus Vos, pg 43). God later promised that through Abraham’s seed all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. This covenant would be made with all of Abraham’s spiritual offspring (Gen. 12, 15, 17; Gal. 3). Ultimately God’s promises of redemption always reveal a communal salvation and a creation-restoration.
Now, again -- that's a pretty reformed idea that Jesus didn't die just to save me (even if I do get saved overall). It's also a pretty reformed idea that God will restore creation. The problem, of course, is that these two things are not completed as parallel work. That is: God calls out the church through the proclamation of the Gospel in the course of time, but the renewal of "the heavens and the earth" isn't a like that.

Joe and Steve, I think, would disagree with that:
Concerning the restoration of the earth George Eldon Ladd said it this way,

The biblical idea of redemption always includes the earth. Hebrew thought saw an essential unity between man and nature. The prophets do not of the earth as merely the indifferent theater on which man carries out his normal task but as the expression of divine glory. The Old Testament nowhere holds forth the hope of a bodiless, nonmaterial, purely “spiritual” redemption as did Greek thought. The earth is the divinely ordained scene of human existence. Furthermore, the earth has been involved in the evils which sin has incurred. There is an interrelation of nature with the moral life of man; therefore the earth must also share in God’s final redemption.
George Ladd, The Presence of the Future
For some of you, a bell just rang, and for others of you, well, you need a tour guides here. George Eldon Ladd was a dispensationalist and a baptist who wrote some interesting -- and, I think, when you read it as he intended it -- useful theology on the meaning of the term "Kingdom of God" and how we are to think about that in this church age. The problem is that Ladd's work has been somewhat co-opted by the "Kingdom Now" guys for the sake of setting up the groundwork of dominion theology and/or theonomistic approaches to the church in the world.

Here is what I am NOT saying: I am NOT saying that Steve and Joe have drunk the dominion theology Kool-Aid. I am sure they are not throwing themselves into the Pat Robertson/Gary North right-wing of dispensational reconstructionism.

Here's what I am saying: they are making the same mistake to the left.

These are two obviously-bright guys who have and obviously-right heart about people and God. They want the Gospel to go out, and for it not to come back void, amen? So Joe and Steve are not bad guys. But in wanting to be faithful, and in not wanting to do what their forefathers in the faith have done, I think they are reacting against superficial problems rather than the root cause of their beef with SBC suit-and-tie types.

The problem is not that the SBC doesn't understand the command in James to not be hearers only of the Law but doers also: the problem is that the SBC has made the Law the Gospel in many ways, and has therefore transformed the communio sanctorum from God's work using God's means into men's work using men's means.

And as a word of advice to Joe and Steve, neither of whom are bad guys, let me suggest that changing the works from Gospel sings and passing laws against Gay marriage to, well, raves and passing laws against unkempt yards ... might as well just pass the resolution against alcohol, too, then. Meet the new boss: same as the old boss.

WORD OF CAUTION: I think it is conceivable that the rebuttal from Joe and Steve looks like this -- "dude, that is our point. The SBC is afraid to make superficial changes which will reach people, and that's wrong."

The problem is that this is not my point. My point is that there are fundamental problems in over-realized eschatology, both on the right and the left. I think we should stop quibbling about things like whether or not Lenexa, KS, has the same cultural environment as Miami, FL, and start worrying about whether or not anyone in either city has even encountered the Gospel. Hearing the Gospel proclaimed is not about putting it in the right fashion catalog. It is about whether or not the church itself has as its main focus a savior who transcends culture whose work is greater than aid.