The Betrayal of the Reformed Tradition by Andrew Sandlin

Note: My friend Daniel Ritchie quoted an extensive portion of an article written by Andrew Sandlin in 2001. The excerpt comes from an article Sandlin wrote for the National Reform Association. It is a strong repudiation of the dangerous ideas espoused by Michael Horton and others in an attempt to revise history and Lutheranize Calvinism.  Sandlin shatters Horton’s two-kingdoms theory and restores the Reformed view that God’s revelation applies to all areas of life.

In repudiating large portions of the Reformed tradition, and advocating a return to the Augustinian idea of “two kingdoms,” Horton is disposing of the entire notion of Christian civilization. He is undoubtedly aware that such a notion, though a prominent feature of the Reformed tradition, is a hard sell in an increasingly pluralistic world. It was, of course, no less a hard sell in the pre-Constantinian world. The unifying principle of that world was the Roman Empire. The unifying principle today is equally the state. This is a frequent combination in history: religious pluralism and statist monism–the state, not religion, is the unifying force in all of life. Or, rather, the state as religion is the unifying force in all of life.

To imply that the state is the sphere of reason while the church is the sphere of grace is to pose a duality of authoritative sources that the Bible and much of the Reformed tradition will never permit. These Lutheranizing Calvinists are, I repeat, abandoning hope in Christian civilization. This swerves not only from Byzantine and medieval Christianity, but also Reformed Christianity, and counters with the Lutheran paradigm. What we are witnessing in Horton’s essay, as well as in other recent Reformed writings, is the Lutheranization of the Reformed church.

Unlike the Reformed tradition, the Lutheran alternative has consistently maintained the “two-kingdoms” theory. The church is the realm of grace, and the state and the wider society is the realm of nature (“natural law”). This theory is ripe for murderous but shrewd tyrants like Adolph Hitler, who take advantage of the church’s withdrawal into the four walls of the institutional church and its willingness to be seduced by a state that can convince the church of the validity of a “natural” regime.

By contrast, few sectors of the church have stood as vigorously and courageously against political tyranny as the Reformed church, because the latter has refused to limit Christ’s authority to the church but has recognized that the magistrate too is bound to submit to the law of God in the Bible. Post-Reformational Calvinists strike fear into the hearts of political tyrants because these Calvinists refuse to limit biblical authority to the church.Two-kingdom advocates, on the other hand, are ripe pickings for these tyrants.

For the Reformed church to embrace the Lutheran “two-kingdom” theory is to surrender a critical distinctive of its faith and to compromise Jesus Christ’s authority in all dimensions of life. To argue that society, including the state, is permissibly non-Christian is necessarily to argue that it is permissibly anti-Christian. The issue is not whether each member of society must be a Christian, and certainly not whether the state should force anyone to become a Christian, ideas and practices which Calvinists abhor. Rather, the issue is whether we will continue to advocate and work for Christian civilization–biblical Christianity as the unifying principle of all of life–individual, family, church, science, arts, media, education, technology, and even the state. The founder of Westminster Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, loyally carried forward this Reformed tradition when he declared: “The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought.”

This is surely not what Horton wants, but to argue for anything less is to deny the sovereignty of God and betray the Reformed tradition.

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2 thoughts on “The Betrayal of the Reformed Tradition by Andrew Sandlin”

  1. I don’t see any scripture being used just a reliance on tradition. I believe in two kingdoms of God and so did Jesus. He said “My kingdom is not of this world” and then tells believers “to be in the world but not of the world”. Yes our influence as the greatest contributors to wisdom and social institutions should be powerful, but to think that men will ever create a utopia here on earth Christian or non denies the doctrine of total depravity which would cause those with a lust for power and prestige to always become the leaders of political forces in this world to the detriment of others sooner or later. Look at history and you will see an ebb and flow. Is that God’s sovereignty failing? Or as your thinking would logically dictate, although you claim a belief in His sovereignty, is it the failing of man? Your eschatological views must be the driving force behind your theology. It should be the other way around. I would be interested in some clear scriptural support for your understanding in case I should repent. I do consider myself thoroughly reformed and am curious how your view fits in with the doctrinal side not the traditional side of the doctrines of grace.

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