Grace & Nature — A small Taxonomy

Those of you following Iron Ink you will have noticed that I am providing a running condensation and commentary on Kuyper’s, “Lectures on Calvinism.” We have been dealing with Kuyper’s case of how the issue of God’s relation to man becomes foundational for the kind of culture that a people build. There have been some interesting comments on that.

I woke up this morning with something going through my head that might be helpful in terms of providing a kind of taxonomy for Kuyper’s analysis.

Paganism — The upper realm of Grace overtakes the lower realm of Nature so that grace and nature are indistinguishable. Animism.

Modernism — The lower realm of Nature overtakes the upper realm of Grace so that nature and grace are indistinguishable. Materialism.

Islam (Neo-orthodoxy) — The Upper realm of Grace and the Lower realm of Nature are completely isolated and divorced from one another. Hyper-transcendence leads to immanentism.

Romanism — The Church serves as the talisman and conduit between the Upper realm of Grace and the lower realm of nature. The Church mediates salvation.

Escondidoism — The Upper realm of Grace can only be found in the Church. The lower realm of Nature is isolated from the Upper realm Grace in what is called the common realm.

Calvinism – The Upper realm of Grace transforms the lower realm of nature without the lower realm being turned into or confused with the Upper realm. Grace and nature remain distinct though never divorced.

Baxter’s Mission Trip w/ Transylvania Global Reformed Mission Board

Entry I

Baxter had always wanted to go on a short term mission trip. Indeed his desire to do so was so intense that when the Mission sending agency he was going with insisted that he had to change his e-mail address, “” due to concerns that such an e-mail might give possible contributors the wrong idea about Baxter’s view on race issues, he willingly complied by creating another e-mail account, “,” for his Mission correspondence. Baxter figured that it was highly unlikely that anybody connected with the Mission agency did enough of either Latin and History to accuse him of sneaky insubordination.

He was right.

By avoiding this one inconvenience Baxter had made it through the first hoop of being accepted to the Mission agencies short term mission program. The next hoop, after filling out the requisite paperwork, was to go for an interview with the Mission representatives.

On the appointed day Baxter, dressed in order to impress, showed up at the Transylvania Reformed Church’s headquarters in Two Floods, Colorado.

Baxter was greeted by a half Mongolian, half Choctaw Indian receptionist. He wouldn’t have known that except that in the interview process the Mission representatives went out of their way to point out the diversity of their staff, including the receptionist. The Mongotaw receptionist pointed him to a machine that spat out a neat little name tag. Baxter went to the waiting area.

Eventually the receptionist called out,

“Baxter Root”

“Here,” Baxter replied.

“Ms. Luse and Dr. Reel-Blanding will now see you.”

Baxter headed into the office space. He noticed a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King and a photograph of Mahatma Ghandi on the walls.

Ms. Luse and Dr. Reel-Blanding greeted Baxter with smiles that looked like they were permanently and artificially affixed on their faces. Baxter, seeing those smiles, remembered the time that somebody glued their eyes open in College so that they could sleep without the professor noticing. He wondered if these smiles were preforming the same kind of con.

Ms. Luse was the first to speak, “I trust you had a good trip into Two Floods Baxter.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” replied Baxter.

Pleasantries and small talk was exchanged for the next 15 minutes before Dr. Reel-Blanding got down to business.

“Baxter, we notice on your application that you grew up in a Christian home — indeed we see that your Father is a Pastor in the Transylvania Reformed Church.”

Baxter replied with an affirmative.

“Well, we feel that we need to let you know immediately that working on the Mission field is very different then living in a Pastor’s home.”

Baxter replied, “Well, I should think that working on the Mission field is very different then living in any number of homes in this country.”

“Yes, Baxter, that is true,” replied Dr. Reel-Blanding, “but the reason that I go out of my way with you to point this out is that we have noticed here at Transylvania Reformed Global Mission that Pastor’s children sometimes are raised to see things more black and white then most of the rest of our candidates and sometimes that can cause problems on the field.”

Baxter began to wonder what he had put on his application that could have raised this red flag.

Vera Luse continued, “Baxter, we want to be careful that our candidates are not too absolute in their convictions.”

She paused to see if Baxter would respond and after a few seconds of silence Baxter decided to probe a little bit.

“So, are you telling me that you’re looking for Christians who are flexible?”

“Precisely,” said Vera.

“I think I see what you’re getting at,” Baxter replied. “What you want is people who are absolutely convinced that absolutes can get in the way on the Mission Field.”

Dr. Reel-Blanding’s countenance brightened immediately. “Yes, that is exactly what we are trying to communicate Baxter.”

Baxter couldn’t believe that his sarcasm had been missed but he had delivered the line with such earnest equanimity that the comment flew right over the ladies heads.

“Well,” Baxter continued, “I think I can guarantee you that if I meet any cannibals that I won’t dare to find fault with their dietary supplements.”

Both the ladies found, what they took to be a disarming comment, to be charming and they offered up the obligatory polite laughter at Baxter’s ‘cute’ comment.

The rest of the interview was dreadfully uneventful, and it ended with the ladies welcoming him aboard.

Baxter left, reminding himself that this was only going to be a 7 week trip and that his purpose was to see if God was calling him to the mission field. He reminded himself at the same time that he didn’t believe God was calling him to save the Transylvania Reformed Global Mission agency.

“As if anybody could” thought Baxter before he slipped into the car to head back home to Charlottesville.

Touring The Blue Ribbon Community Center

The tour guide paused periodically to emphasize the virtue of the community center to the young ministerial graduates. She pointed out how the community center provided free dentistry for pregnant low income women. She beamed with satisfaction as she explained the free counseling opportunities and parenting classes.

The members of the tour group were cooing with compliments for all that the community service was accomplishing with its food and clothes bank, with its free child care, and with its Christian outreach to the community.

Suddenly one of the ministry graduates named Baxter who owned more courage then he did discretion asked,

“Who pays for all of this?”

The tour-guide answered with her irrepressible smile that there were many private donations and that the government gave a great deal of grants.

The intrepid Seminary Graduate asked again,

“Where does the Government get the money in order to give it to this community center?”

With this question the irrepressible smile of the tour-guide suddenly found itself beginning to be repressed. She responded with a voice that was a little more clipped then it previously had been that,

“Why naturally the Government gives us money from the funds they raise to help these inner city people.”

The eyes of the group were now cast suspiciously on the one in their group who was increasingly being seen as an ‘interloper.’

Un-fazed, the interloper summarized the conversation,

“So, you are showing us this beautiful community center with the hopes of impressing us but what you are seemingly trying to avoid is expressly saying that the monies that fund your job and this community center is stolen from other families who, if they had the money that is taken in order to make this community center go, might be able to more adequately provide for their own family and children?”

Finishing with a verbal pirouette the uppity Seminary interloper completed his inquiry by asking the tour-guide; “how, in light of the Scriptural prohibition against theft, can you support such governmental redistribution of wealth?”

Where the irrepressible smile had held sway there was now displayed a barely concealed snarl. With a voice that matched the snarl the tour-guide offered,

“I can see you have no love for the poor and downtrodden.”

Without missing a beat the courageous ministry graduate responded,

“I measure my love for the poor and downtrodden by how I spend my money on their behalf and not by how I spend somebody else’s money on their behalf.”

The tour-guide could see that this was going nowhere and so she hastily dismissed the students so that they could return to their afternoon practicum.

The bold Seminary student had accomplished making an enemy of the director of the community center and had insured that he would find no friends among those who had toured the center with him.

“Par for the course,” he thought as he left for the parking lot.

Patriotic Graduations

Victor mumbled to himself the whole 25 minute drive to the meeting working up a good lather before he walked into the home-school graduation planning meeting.

He just couldn’t get his mind around a group of home-schooling parents who wanted to go all patriotic on the graduation services. First, they wanted to post the colors, and then they wanted to pledge allegiance to the flag and then somebody wanted their daughter to preform a off tune rendition of ‘God Bless America.’ Victor half expected that by the time the meeting started somebody would have recommended that they invite the Army recruiters to set a booth up so the graduates could sign up and enlist after they received their diplomas.

Victor walked into the meeting just before the gavel hit the plate calling the meeting to order. He wanted to make the comment that meetings were the ‘invention of the devil’ but he managed to chew his tongue on that score.

Mrs. Dolby Beckman, the resident Republican apparatchik, who had exactly zero children graduating during the upcoming ceremony started the discussion,

“Well, I couldn’t help but notice that the children left out the patriotic aspect of the ceremony so I thought I would just go ahead and include all of that since I am sure it was just an oversight.”

Jeanie Cheeseman immediately offered her sycophantic gratitude for Mrs. Beckman’s ‘rescue’ of the graduation service. (After all, if one wanted to move up in the “home-school, Republican, I love Jesus” society, one had to do all they could to kiss up to Mrs. Beckman.)

“Oh Dolly, where we would be without your organizational skills,” Jeannie offered, “Dear me, what would have State Congressman Connor have ever thought of us if we had forgotten our good citizenship.”

All the rest of the Mothers nodded in agreement.

Before Victor launched into his observations he first wondered why he was the only Father at this meeting and then he wondered, not for the first time, why he even bothered trying.

Still, Victor was the eternal optimist and regardless of how many times his ideas went down in flames he remained ever hopeful that someday logic would find a way to overcome emotion.

Victor lowered his voice working on keeping it calm and level.

“Ladies given the fact that all of us here have already flunked the good citizenship award I am not sure why we are suddenly concerned about it now.”

Mrs. Beckman in her best ‘affronted Republican I love Jesus’ voice protested, “I don’t have any idea of what you might mean Mr. Nauh.”

“What I mean, Mrs. Beckman is that these parents gathered here, by educating their children at home, have been anti-patriotic by having a loyalty higher then the State, and now that their anti-patriotism has come to a climax in a graduation ceremony that acknowledges their success in keeping their children away from the clutches of the State you want to cover it all in paens to the State. I’m here to register my opposition to pledging an allegiance to a Republic-State that I’ve worked for 13 years to avoid having anything to do with.”

Victor pressed on

“Look ladies, the way I understand the Constitution it should be the Nation that pledges allegiance to the Citizens and not the citizens who should pledge allegiance to the Nation. Second, when it comes to posting the colors I can’t help but think of the holocaust the unborn have suffered under those very colors. I just can’t bring my self to be very respectful to a Nation that continues to offer up its children to Molech and frankly I don’t understand how allegiance to Christ doesn’t trump good citizenship and reciting the allegiance to the flag.” Thirdly …

Mrs. Beckman interrupting Victor’s thought said, almost tearfully, “Mr. Nauh, I don’t know how you can be so Anti-American.”

Victor paused, sighed noticeably and responded, “Dolly, it is because I love America that I have these convictions. I am trying to be an example to my children of what it means to be against America because I am for America. Indeed, I would say that by your entering in to these patriotic frenzies you are the one who is being anti-American if only because by doing so you communicate that you think everything is hunky dory in the ‘land of the free.’ Dolly, everything isn’t hunky dory and there seems to be little sign that it is moving in the direction of hunky doriness.”

Rev. Stan Patrick, who was attending because Dolly figured she might need some heavy artillery to resist Victor spoke up.

“Well, this graduation is happening in my Church and we must at least have a pledge.”

Victor fired back, “Sure let’s have a pledge. I’ll say a pledge to Jesus. I’ll say a pledge to the Church. I’ll say a pledge to my family. Shoot, I’ll even say a pledge to my community. By all means let’s do a pledge but can’t we find a pledge that doesn’t implicitly bind us to the sins of this ‘one nation under God.’ (Victor always wonder just which God the nation was under but he held his fire on this point.)

Trudy Heartshorn, head of the homeschooling organization that lent official sanction to the Diplomas asked, “Victor what was the third point you were going to make before Dolly interrupted you.”

Victor was hoping that the third point would be forgotten but being in for a penny he figured he’d go in for a pound.

“Trudy my third point was going to be an analogy. I was simply going to ask what we would think if we could take a time machine and go back to German Christians in the 1930’s organizing a graduation exercise. I was going to ask what we would think of those German Christians planning a graduation exercise with all the patriotic excesses that we are including. What would we think of German Christians who were going to post the National Socialist Flag and pledge allegiance to the German Nation under one God. What would we think if could go back in a time machine and listen to them going on and on about good citizenship?”

Rev. Patrick and Dolly exploded both at the same time.

“How dare you!”

Victor rejoined, “How dare I what?”

Rev. Patrick answered, “How dare you make a moral equivalence argument between this country and Hitler’s Germany.”

Victor knew he was licked. He slowly got up and collected his things as the hubbub he had created increased in volume as he headed for the door.

Once at the doorway, he turned with this parting observation, “Ladies (and here, in his thinking, he was appropriately including the Pastor in his address) if moral equivalence is in the eye of the beholder we might want to ask the dead unborn if they think there is a moral equivalence between the holocaust today here and the one our imagined German graduation planning committee was living through. If we were to get their answer we might go a little slow on the good citizenship angle.”

Four weeks later they had their graduation ceremony, complete with the posting of the Colors, pledging allegiance and an off tune version of ‘God Bless America.’

Victor and His family were the only ones that remained seated.

Reformed Pastor’s Meeting

Victor entered into the small and sparsely furnitured room where the pastor’s meeting was held every fortnight with the wariness of a mongoose that was entering into a cobra’s nest. It wasn’t that the room was full of enemies. The other pastors were jovial and collegial enough — the kind of guys who would be great company on the golf course or at a ball game. No, it wasn’t the pastor’s themselves who were the enemies but rather it was their respective worldviews that often played the cobra to Victor’s mongoose.

Rev. Shirley saw Victor walk in and loudly said, half in jest and all in earnest,

“Well, if it isn’t our resident Gehngis Khan Reformed Theologian.”

“At your service, and looking for bad ideas in order to rape, pillage and burn” Victor replied going along with the metaphor.

The gathered group seemed to get a charge out of the levity and the meeting was soon started under sustained gales of laughter and rich bonhomie.

The Pastor’s gathering usually started by discussing contemporary issue. In this context Rev. Marcuse piped up by observing that, ‘we Reformed people need to realize that there are lots of Christians in other denominations.’

Rev. Marcuse, having gained the floor warmed up to his subject.

“We Reformed people are such theological elitists. We think that God is going to ask everybody who stands before the pearly gates when they die whether or not they were Reformed. We need to make our churches more acceptable to people who are coming out of non-Reformed traditions.”

Having heard the voice of Nag, Victor went into Riki Tiki Tavi mode.

“Well, certainly Herb, God isn’t going to quiz people on whether or not they were Reformed or not but He does put a high premium on His people trusting Christ alone which is the one doctrine that separates us from all those Christians that you just said that we need to make our Churches more acceptable to.”

Rev. Marcuse, who knew more about the sociology behind putting the meat in Church seats then he did about theology hissed at Victor.

“So, are you saying that the Reformed Church alone has the Gospel?”

Victor, laconically replied, that while he did not doubt that, due to felicitous inconsistency, there were many Christians in other Christian faith traditions that in point of fact he did indeed believe that the Reformed Church articulated the gospel with a clarity to which no other denomination came close.

Herb, quickly responded by asking, “I don’t know how you can say that.”

Victor sighed wondering how another Reformed pastor could imply that different denominational theologies were like so many Ice Cream flavors at the local Baskin Robbins, each flavor being superior to another only by way of individual preference but all being equal in terms of portals through which individuals might think about the God of the Bible.

All this galloped wildly through Victor’s mind but he only responded by saying,

“Herb, the Theologies of Arminians, as one example, are seriously messed up. I don’t think we can encourage them by communicating that their theology is anything but messed up.”

The Pastor from Mirks Bay, Rev. Standstill quickly intejected,

“But Victor, my Theology is seriously messed up also.”

Now Victor knew that Brian was just trying to be humble at this point but the idea that humility should serve as masquerade for confidence almost pushed him over the edge.

Victor clenched his teeth and bit his tongue at the same time working at finding a measured response.

“Brian, I appreciate the humility that recognizes that everybody’s theology must be constantly Reforming but to throw that comment into this conversation in such a way as to equalize Reformed Theology with Arminian Theology does a great disservice.”

Victor pressed on,

“Come on y’all, if we can’t be confident enough to insist that Reformed Theology is superior in comparison to those other non-gracious systems of thought then we really have to ask why we aren’t working for the end of Reformed denominationalism. I mean, why should we be distinct in any way if we can’t go around insisting that our Theology is THE Theology? Why not return to our communities and work on merging all of the local Churches into one big mega-Church? Why bother signing the form of subscription if you merely believe that your strawberry theology is only personally preferable to the Assembly of God guy’s chocolate theology?”

Herb Marcuse sniffed contemptuously. He had built his mega church by means of a leveling theology where the ‘cringe factor’ of the Gospel had been largely eliminated. The people that attended Herb’s Church wouldn’t recognize Reformed Theology from Mormon Theology and he intended to keep it that way. Herb avoided words like ‘discipline’ and ‘repentance’ and worked hard to finesse sin issues in the congregation as opposed to confront them and he reckoned that Victor should treat him with the same courtesy.

“Besides,” thought Rev. Marcuse, “Victor will never be anything but a fringe player playing the part of the loose cannon.”

The rest of the group shifted in their leather chairs uncomfortably until Rev. Shirley told a joke about a Methodist Pastor, a Reformed Pastor and a Eastern Orthodox Pastor together on a fishing trip. The punch line was something about the Reformed Pastor not bothering to put bait on his line because he figured that God predestined him to catch fish.

Everybody laughed including Victor who was at the same time wondering why he bothered attending these meetings.