Needed: Whole Christianity
It has been encouraging to see — in the last several years — increased efforts by the Christian community to impact the world for Christ. Yet, in many ways, these efforts have been unsuccessful because they have been fragmented and disjointed. For example at times the impression has been given that while Christ alone can save our souls, moralism can save our society. One of the things that the Christian community needs — if it is to effectively impact our world — is to embrace the whole Biblical life-system.
This life-system encompasses three basic themes — piety, doctrine, and life. Unhappily, as Christians, we have tended to latch on to one of these themes and neglect the other two, and then to polarize over our differing emphases. Several years ago, Robert Metcalf of the Christian Studies Center in Memphis, Tennessee, claimed that the Christian community consists of three basic subgroups. He labeled them "pies, docs, and kuyps."
"Pies," or "pietists," latch on to the theme of piety alone. They emphasize personal devotion to the Lord, personal evangelism, prayer, missions, etc. "Docs," or "doctrinalists," focus on the theme of doctrine to the exclusion of the other two themes. They stress Biblical content, theological accuracy, church purity, etc. Finally, "kuyps," or "Kuyperians,"1isolate the theme of life. They dwell on Christian social and cultural involvement, Christian approaches to philosophy, art, economics, politics, etc.
The most obvious problem with this tendency to stress only one of these themes is that it breaks down the Christian life-system. So, for example, piety without doctrine and life usually lapses into shallow emotionalism and experientialism. Doctrine without piety and life degenerates into traditionalism and dead orthodoxy. Life and cultural involvement without piety and doctrine mutates into humanistic social activism.
This breakdown tends to polarize the Body of Christ. Rather than functioning as a body, believers begin working at cross-purposes with one another. Thus, attempts to win the world for Jesus Christ are less successful than hoped for.
A deeper and more serious problem results when we reduce Christianity to only one of these themes. It's that we fail to fully obey and glorify our Savior and Lord. He has called us to be prophets (doctrine), priests (piety), and kings (life). In other words, every believer is called to true doctrine, sincere devotion, and life-wide dominion. Therefore, if we wish to obey and glorify God, we must try to embrace all three themes — or more accurately, all three aspects of the Biblical life-system.
The historic Reformed faith does embrace all three aspects of the Christian life-system. Consider John Calvin. His motto was, "My heart I give to Thee, O Lord, promptly and sincerely." His model of Christian piety continues to inspire believers to single-minded devotion to our Lord. His articulation of the Biblical system of doctrine was so profound and clear that to this day it is nicknamed "Calvinism." His application of Biblical principles to all areas of life was so effective that economists still speak of "the Calvinist work ethic." His impact on philosophy, education, politics, and culture was no less pronounced.
What we need in our day is a return to the entire life-system of Calvin — the Biblical life-system. We need a new Reformation — a reformation of the whole Christianity that changed the course of Western history. This whole Christianity is three-dimensional, embracing piety, doctrine, and life — or, if you will, devotion, doctrine, and dominion. What we need if the Christian community is to effectively glorify the Lord and impact the whole world for Christ — is vital Reformed faith and practice.