"How Now Shall We Live?" by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey

Gene Edward Veith
Tuesday, June 12th 2007
May/Jun 2001

Those who worried about Charles Colson's diplomacy with Catholics in "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" can at least appreciate the cultural outline and apologetical aid he and Nancy Pearcey here offer. For they have written a book that is clearly influenced by the Reformed tradition of Abraham Kuyper, which is both its strength and its weakness.

Their book offers a critique of contemporary secular thought, coupled with a "cultural apologetic" for Christianity. They argue that the biblical "world- view" corresponds with reality, as individuals and society must actually live in it, in a way that competing worldviews do not. Conversely, the various secular substitutions for Christianity-from Darwinism and Marxism to the New Age and sexual liberation movements-have all been colossal failures.

The book offers a lucid explanation and application of worldview criticism. It shows how secular ideologies are essentially religious in that they set forth some doctrine of creation (the nature of reality and how it came to be), the fall (why we have the problems we have), redemption (how we are to be saved), and restoration (how we should then live).

Colson and Pearcey apply this template in illuminating ways. We see, for example, how Carl Sagan, for all of his naturalism, was reduced to hoping for redemption from extraterrestrial life forms, who, he believed, would give us earthlings information as to how to solve our problems "of food shortages, population growth, energy supplies, dwindling resources, pollution, and war." The sex guru Wilhelm Reich articulated what was, in effect, a gospel of sex, calling the orgasm "man's only salvation, leading to the Kingdom of Heaven on earth." The whole train of social engineers, utopians, and ideologues, which has afflicted the world for the last few centuries, comes across as childishly naive, achieving not an earthly paradise after all, but ruin and misery and despair.

Christianity, in contrast, offers a worldview that human beings can actually live by, and its doctrines of creation, fall, and redemption have enormous cultural implications. The authors give interesting accounts of the new "intelligent design" theories, which bolster the view that the universe is not random after all. Anecdotes from Mr. Colson's prison ministry show that Christ's redemption does transform lives, sometimes in dramatic ways. There are other examples of Christians exerting a positive influence on the secular world.

The book is highly popularized, with lots of semifictional stories to dramatize its arguments. These make it less than academic, but the targeted audience is general churchgoers, who will think they are learning a lot.

But the book itself contains not just a worldview but a theological view. The authors cite Kuyper approvingly when they say that "the dominating principle of Christian truth is not soteriological (i.e., justification by faith) but rather cosmological (i.e., the sovereignty of the triune God over the whole cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible)." Christians, they say, "are to fulfill both the great commission and the cultural commission. We are commanded both to preach the Good News and to bring all things into submission to God's order."

The reformers insisted that justification by faith is the article of Christian doctrine by which the Church stands or falls. If cosmology-or cultural activism or bringing things into submission to God's sovereignty-becomes more dominant, then human works take center stage over Christ's work. We are soon back to a religion of Law rather than one of Gospel, to a this-worldly, cultural, even political religion, as opposed to Christ's Kingdom of Heaven.

If God is truly sovereign, then he reigns already. True, human beings are rebelling against his secular Kingdom, as well as against his spiritual Kingdom; and they are paying the costs, as this book shows. But Christ did not die to effect cultural reform. He died to redeem us for a Kingdom that, unlike the best of earthly cultures, will never pass away.

Kuyper was not only a theologian but a statesman who-as the editor of a political newspaper, head of a national political party, representative to the Dutch parliament, and Dutch Prime Minister-led The Netherlands, about one hundred years ago, into a number of social reforms, all motivated by his Christian worldview. Yet one of my friends who recently returned from The Netherlands told me that the place where Kuyper once lived is now occupied by one of the drug houses that the Dutch have legalized, just as they have legalized prostitution and euthanasia. Even Christian empires pass away.

Certainly Christians are to be active in their cultural vocations-and this book shows what that can look like-but these vocations must never become confused with or exalted over the Good News of their justification by Christ.

This book shows that Mr. Colson is still influenced by a particular Reformed tradition. But if, as Kuyper says, justification is secondary to the cultural mandate, it suddenly becomes clear how Mr. Colson and other evangelicals could make peace with Rome over the doctrine of justification in pursuit of the seemingly more important goal of Christianizing the culture.

Yet the most powerful parts of this book are the accounts of people delivered from legalistic cults, abortionists whose hearts are changed, and-marking the genuine achievements of Mr. Colson's prison ministry-hardened criminals whose lives have been transformed by the forgiveness of Christ. In other words, the most powerful parts of this book have to do precisely with the effects in human lives of emphasizing the truth that sinful human beings are justified by faith.

Tuesday, June 12th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology