“If it is the case that fallen, unregenerate man can attain civil righteousness (worthy of praise among men, even from the regenerate) and if regeneration necessarily effects a radical change in the one regenerated, then the principal effect of regeneration cannot be civil righteousness, political, social, or anything related to the basic elements of civil or domestic life. The principal effect must be something else. It must be, then, the restoration of one’s immediate relationship to God, one’s orientation to the spiritual (yet-to-be-visible) kingdom of God, and true worship of God. In short, the principal effect is the adventitious infusing of heavenly gifts and the outward change in religion. The Gospel then is not essentially political, social, or anything earthly other than the true public worship of God.”
I don’t know Mr. Wolf well at all. He is an acquaintance. I’ve heard he is a student working on a terminal degree. This quote comes from a piece where Mr. Wolf quotes several theologians demonstrating their belief in Natural Law. Many of those quotes spoke about how the heathen could do “good” works of civil righteousness. The quote above seems to form his conclusion if we stipulate that pagans can do “good.”
We need to keep in mind our Augustine here. Augustine called the so-called good works of the heathen, “splendid vices.” Augustine remains notorious for his insistence that the “virtues,” so-called, of pagans, are not genuine virtues at all. Luther echoed and restored this Augustinian sentiment during the Reformation.
In order for any human action in any area inclusive of civic Righteousness to be considered “righteous” that action must be done for the glory of God. If actions are not done for the glory of God those actions are splendid vices because they are being done for the glory of self. We grant that comparatively on a sliding scale, the pagans can do righteous deeds. Pagans can and do build burn hospitals. Pagans can be philanthropic. Yet any “good” action that an unconverted man or woman can do is not good considered absolutely as according to God’s standards.
So, if Augustine is correct about splendid virtues than Mr. Wolfe is incorrect in suggesting that regeneration does not touch “anything related to the basic elements of civil or domestic life.” The “noble” pagan upon regeneration may do the same types of works in his civil or domestic lives but now they are doing their doing on a different axis. Whereas before their “noble” acts were for their own glory, now their noble acts are for the glory of God. Because of regeneration, this is a monumental shift.
There may be a bit of a false dichotomy going on in the opening quote. It is true that the primary impact of regeneration is “the restoration of one’s immediate relationship to God, one’s orientation to the spiritual (yet-to-be-visible) kingdom of God, and true worship of God,” but because one’s orientation is changed in such a fashion the effect is that one’s orientation to everything from domestic life to civic righteousness to all things earthly is changed as well. This results in all things that are performed by regenerated man to be an expression of public worship of God.
So, contra Mr. Wolfe, unregenerate man cannot perform civil righteousness per an absolute standard. All the civil righteousness of the unregenerate are just so many splendid vices.
We would also quibble with Mr. Wolfe’s intimation that the Kingdom of God is completely “yet-to-be-visible.” The Kingdom of God is already visible and according to the will of God goes from visible unto visible until such a time that it becomes visible in all of its splendor.
Mr. Wolfe strikes me, with this quote, to be close to a kind of unfortunate dualism as seen in his willingness to suggest that “the Gospel then is not essentially political, social, or anything earthly other than the true public worship of God.” Now, the key word here is “essentially.” I would be more inclined to say that “the Gospel, in its broadest definition, then is essentially a totalistic claim that calls a man to bring the good news to every area of life including political, social, or anything earthly, especially including public worship.”