I’ve read with much interest the recent debate over transformationalism the last couple of weeks. Carl Trueman has sparked some fires over his original post critiquing transformationalism and the importance of Tim Keller. I noted on Facebook that Trueman’s polemical writing style often covers over the need for precision in theological discourse as it is difficult to paint Keller as a transformationalist without qualification (see Center Church, p. 233-34). Keller’s position is close to D.A. Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited.
The always thoughtful and engaging William B. Evans wrote a balanced response to Trueman, which evoked responses from D.G. Hart and Evan McWilliams. In addition, posts from Doug Wilson and Anthony Bradley have come out defending the transformationalist perspective.
Overall, I’m most persuaded by Evans and company in that they seem to diagnose the overreaction that is inherent within 2kism. Evans has also pointed out the revisionist history 2kers engage in when it comes to seminary institutions and the Westminster Assembly (even though Evans is not a ‘transformationalist’ per se).
I feel led to add my own two cents to this debate, especially since I do ministry in a local Presbyterian church, and I am involved with church planting.
It seems that Trueman, Hart, and others need to answer the question, “What is discipleship, and what does it entail?” Now, it’s possible that Trueman and Hart would disdain the use of the term ‘discipleship’ since literature on the topic was scarce until the mid twentieth century. However, it seems this is the sticking point in this debate since Matt 28:18-20 identifies the mission of the church with making disciples, which is connected with ‘going’, ‘baptizing’, and ‘teaching everything’ the Lord Jesus taught. (So, what did Jesus teach his disciples?)
I’ve argued before that part of the disagreement (even among bloggers at The Gospel Coalition) over Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church? was that the term discipleship was never agreed upon by all parties. Thus, some churches can sound more ‘culturally engaging’ since they broaden discipleship to mean something like ‘following Jesus in all of one’s callings/vocations’ while the more ‘culturally escaping’ churches espouse an ordinary (or rather, only) means of grace model that lines up with 2k concerns. This may be summarized best by Michael Horton in his Systematic Theology, “The mission of the church is the marks of the church.”
Besides discipleship, another sticky point is the distinction between the organized church and organic church. This insight from Abraham Kuyper has allowed Keller and Horton to find some common ground on the Christ and culture question. Yet, I question whether the organized-organic distinction solves every issue. What if ‘community groups’ or even ‘missional communities‘ decide to engage their neighborhoods and cities that seem outside the purpose/mission of the organized church? In other words, is the church ‘scattered’ (even under the authority of the church organized) allowed to do the work of the church organic? Is the church budget allowed to support any aspects of calling or culture tied to the church organic? Can churches sponsor faith-work integration seminars/conferences? What are elders and pastors allowed to pursue outside of Lord’s Day worship?
Appealing to Kuyper (for transformationalist or 2k purposes) is fine, but more work needs to be done on this issue. More terms need to defined. We need precision over polemics.