Pilgrim politics: recovering the cruciform in our creed

On 21 September 2022, RCSS pastor Rev. Dr. Simon Jooste gave a presentation at Westminster Seminary in California on the proposal for his book, Pilgrim politics: recovering the cruciform in our creed. The book proposal is below.

I. Book topic and rationale for its writing 

The Apostle Paul once wrote to the church at Corinth: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2). Later in the same letter, Paul put this cruciform conviction into one of many creedal forms found in Scripture (1Cor. 15:3-11). 

This book argues for the recovery and refinement of the cruciform in the creedal for the church’s pilgrim polity in the postmodern West, using the South African context as a test case. The creeds in Scripture and the canonical creed that is Scripture center upon the cross of Jesus. The best of the post-Apostolic creeds and confessions do the same. In turn, this Good Friday pattern shapes the governance of Christ’s church. Given that the centrality of the cross has been continuously and variously threatened throughout history, the need for ongoing reform remains constant: semper reformanda. This tale of ferment and reform is poignantly illustrated in the legacy of Christianity and politics in Nelson Mandela’s ‘rainbow nation’, South Africa.

There is perhaps no more important reforming figure in the post-Apostolic church than the sixteenth century reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546). This former Augustinian monk recovered the cross from the captivity of the Roman Catholic church. Luther’s contribution has been reflected in the creeds, confessions, and theological writings of Protestant church ever since. But not without contest. This book argues that contemporary Western Christianity is not only losing her creedal identity, but also the cross she has confessed. This is due to the church’s age-old tendency to exchange Christ hidden in suffering and death for an impressive heart, home, and world transformation. The sinner’s inclination is to bypass the distastefulness of the cross for something conveniently more workable and glorious. This temptation is perhaps most evident within the church today in a sanctified form of postmodern identity politics. Postmodern theory taps into humanity’s natural desire for power through the pursuit of ‘justice’, which invariably goes public in civil politics. Hence, the need for a renewed effort by the church to recover its pilgrim polity rooted in her cruciform confession amid secular politics.

This book looks to Luther’s recovery of the Apostle Paul’s theology of the cross as the catalyst for the recovery of the cruciform in the biblical pattern of creeds. As Luther’s life and writings testify, the revelation of the cross is not limited to justification by faith alone but

informs all doctrines and practices of the church. He conceived of God’s covenant community as regulated by a spiritual government that is cross-centered. The reformer used doctrines of two kingdoms and natural law to help teach and safeguard these truths.

Christians that live in the contemporary postmodern West are faced with complex ethical questions which are intensified by a global village created by modern technology. For example, when California restricts freedom of speech and movement, places like South Africa take note. When Cape Town continues to be divided along racial and gender lines, the allure of applied postmodern grows stronger elsewhere. How is the church to maintain her distinctive authority and mission in a popular culture of egalitarianism and inclusivity? Does the Gospel liberate sinners from all social and biological constraints? In an increasingly secular public square, what does it mean to live by faith and to take up one’s cross in all of life? What difference does the cross make?

In short, this book makes the case for creedal Christianity as cruciform, which shapes the church’s pilgrim politics. Its focus is upon the objective ‘solids’ of the church’s mission amid pressures to conform to either politically liberal or deconstructing civil policies. It contends that the defining mark of the church is the cross: a life through suffering, weakness, and death that casts a shadow over all her teaching and practices. When this mark is lost, the church completely loses her identity. Hence, a thoroughgoing cruciform creed provides the wisdom necessary for the church to remain true to her calling. If Christians know their place in the church, then they can better navigate the rest of life by faith as members of God’s two kingdoms. If the church’s spiritual polity is clearly defined and safeguarded, then Christians can more readily find their feet in broader cultural engagement. 

II.  Kind of book: distinctive contribution, methodology and subdiscipline 

This book is primarily biblical, theological, and historical in nature, with forays into natural law fields of biology, psychology, and philosophy. It is intentionally interdisciplinary because the cross cuts through the entire life of the believer, though not always in the same way. While this volume also serves as an apologetic for the faith, it remains unapologetically pastoral. As a Pastor in full-time ministry for the church, I desire to bring hope to my fellow pilgrims as I write from my own place of exile. 

In keeping with a central concern of this book, church history and Scripture are read in conversation with post-canonical creeds, catechisms, and confessions. The emphasis is on the historical and theological, with a view to the church’s unique calling. Luther is our chief conversational partner because of his appreciation for the historic biblical and catholic creeds, and his influence upon subsequent Protestant and Reformed theological development, confessional and otherwise.

The lens for recovering Luther’s theology of the cross is the South African context in dialog with North America. The former will provide insight into what happens when historically confessional churches transgress the boundaries of good governance by allowing restless spiritual yearnings to go public and political. Instances of this ‘theology of glory’ have included Dutch Reformed colonial aspirations, the Afrikaans Reformed theological endorsement of Apartheid, and a kind of Calvinism that has underwritten the egalitarian policies of a new liberal democratic South Africa. A possible reforming corrective to these problems is found in Luther’s reception in the understated confessional Lutheran tradition in North America, a part of the world also thick with a history of church conflation with secular institutions. This book argues for the promise of recovering Luther’s theology of the cross in refined covenantal form as the church’s confessional response to politicized Western Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic. 

As integral to retrieving Luther’s theology of the cross, this volume also considers the reformer’s mutually supporting doctrines of two kingdoms and natural law, with a view to engaging their later Reformed development along covenantal lines. It will be argued that this paradigm for relating Christ and culture provides critical structure necessary to safeguard the church’s countercultural commission. By clearly distinguishing the kingdom of Christ from earthly governed by God’s natural law institutions, the church avoids entanglement with civil policy making and ideologies. 

Just as Luther developed the theology of St. Augustine (345-430), the doctrines of select medieval divines, and the ancient catholic creeds, there has been refinement within ecclesiastical traditions emerging from Protestant Reformation. (This said, Scripture is always the norming standard, whether for the Apostle’s Creed, Luther’s 1518 Heidelberg Disputation or the Westminster Standards.) In the vein of theological continuity and improvement, this volume engages the development of the two kingdoms and natural law tradition of Martin Luther, John Calvin (1509-1564), and the Reformed orthodox within confessional Reformed circles in the United States. Crucial to this development has been a more thorough grounding of Christ’s dual mediatorial reign over all things through (common and saving) covenants. Furthermore, attention will be given to important reflection done on the ethical outworking of a “Christ and culture in paradox” paradigm in the church and for all of life. This book commends the Reformed two kingdoms and natural law paradigm as a natural complement to and safeguard of the cruciform in the creedal.

Suffice to say, this book’s unique contribution is at least sixfold. First, it seeks to contribute to discourse within confessional Protestant circles calling for the recovery of a creedal Christianity. Yet it goes beyond the historically creedal in general by arguing for the creedal that is fully cruciform. In other words, to be confessional is to be cross centered in both form and content. For the church to confess in the best historical sense is to be “passionate” in content and practice. 

Second, the historical occasion for reassessing the health of the contemporary church’s creedal identity is provided by the sixteenth-century reformer, Luther. The contemporary lens is my perspective as a confessional Reformed Pastor who has served the church in both the North American and South African contexts across denominational lines. This book argues for creedal renewal by reengaging Luther’s theology of the cross in conversation with the Reformed tradition for the confessional Protestant good on both sides of the Atlantic.  

Third, this volume issues a call for Protestant creedal reform back to the Apostolic pattern of the cruciform by paying close attention to Luther’s supporting doctrines of two kingdoms and natural law as refined within the confessional Reformed traditions in North America. By doing so, Lutheran and Calvinist traditions are brought into critical dialogue, given the current Christ and culture debates. 

Fourth, by bringing confessional Protestantism into conversation with the Lutheran and Reformed renditions of two kingdoms and natural law, the church’s cross-centered way of life is more clearly distinguished from the proportional justice ethic of civil institutions. In other words, Luther’s theology of the cross embedded in two regimes can arguably sharpen the defining features of a Reformed conception of God’s two kingdoms and natural law. At the same time, value will be argued in the other direction: the promise of Reformed covenant theology to preserve the cruciform for Christian living across all spheres of life. 

Fifth, the church’s cruciform confession couched in Christ’s two kingdoms and communicated in covenant, provides vital wisdom for the believer’s earthly sojourn. Yet, how this wisdom is worked out in the complexities of everyday life is not always easily articulated or embraced. The two kingdoms vision is often accused of unnecessarily bifurcating the Christian life. In response, and as part of a more refined application of a Reformed vision for Christ and culture, this book values Luther’s doctrine of vocation as that point where God’s two kingdoms – the law of Christ and God’s natural law – intersect: thereby offering a more wholistic vision for cross-bearing in all of life. 

Sixth, and guided by the doctrines of God’s two kingdoms and natural law, this book chooses to test the value of a cruciform understanding of the creedal in the South African context. One reason for choosing this context is to encourage Christians in other parts of the world, like North America, to critically self-reflect at a less threatening distance; to consider how churches elsewhere have revised or abandoned their cruciform calling by adopting a political agenda. Furthermore, South Africa may be the only country on earth that has seen a confessional tradition, namely the continental Reformed, mirror in such poignant ways so many major political theories in the name of ‘gospel’ freedom. From the support of racially segregated Afrikanerdom and the Marxist anti-apartheid movement, to the human rights movement of liberal democracy and postmodern identity politics, Reformed church history in South Africa is perhaps the best example of a Protestant tradition that has for the most part forfeited her creedal identity and its associated pilgrim polity by adopting the provisional freedoms of secular politics. 

In brief, this book seeks to strengthen the church’s understanding of her mission within a two kingdoms and natural law framework rooted in covenant through a recovery of the cruciform in the creedal. It proposes a paradoxical alternative to prevailing Protestant ways of relating Christ and culture, which is at least latently present in the best of the Western church’s creedal past. The challenge is to recover and refine these traditional goods for a more faithful church witness in the future. Luther’s theology of the cross embedded in Christ’s dual mediatorial reign serves not only to motivate this recovery but also as reason to recognize important refining work of the same in contemporary Reformed discourse. The paradoxical vision is surely not limited to Luther and the Lutherans. Its best articulation is arguably found elsewhere, clothed in covenants. 

III. Chapter synopsis

Chapter 1: Christian activism and the Lutheran difference 

Ever since the fall, sinners have been tempted to evade the cross for glory on their terms. Instead of submitting to Christ’s rule through suffering, weakness, and death, the sinner opts for glory and power, especially through politics. Because the church is composed of sinners, she is not immune to such temptations. This chapter traces the emergence of political activism in the church within the South African context. Special attention is given to the evolution of the continental Reformed tradition comingled with civil ambition: from the prospecting Dutch settlers and the theological endorsement of Apartheid to postmodern social justice. In examining the defining contours of these developments, parallels are made to the historic colonial, creedal, and pietist movements in the North American context. While similarities are noted, critical to the thesis of this book is the difference that a side-lined Lutheran tradition has made in the United States. I argue that this understated legacy is a reason for reconsidering the promise of Luther’s theology of the cross as the hermeneutical key to recovering the church’s pilgrim polity set forth in the best of her historic creeds. 

Chapter 2: Luther’s recovery of Christ’s crucified from cultural captivity

Having identified the value of the Lutheran difference for Protestantism’s waning creedal identity in a postmodern Christian West, this chapter charts a historical retrieval of the essence of Luther’s theology of the cross, upon which the best of the Lutheran tradition has been built. After locating important Apostolic, catholic, and medieval precursors to the German Reformer, the fundamentals of his theologia crucis are distilled from his 1518

Heidelberg Disputation, especially theses 19-24, understood in their peculiar medieval NeoPlatonist context. Luther describes the church’s cultural captivity of his time as a ‘theology of glory’: an impressive kind of wisdom that claims an unmediated ‘view’ of God that is in fact the projections of sinful men. Luther’s antidote is the Apostle Paul’s teaching of the cross. In broad terms, this cruciform alternative casts sinners on the receiving end of God’s salvation hidden and revealed in suffering and death. In this dialectic of glory and the cross, two ways of righteousness emerge, namely, the ‘wisdom’ of works and the folly of faith. 

Chapter 3: Luther’s connection between the cross and the church’s calling 

After outlining the general substance of Luther’s theology of the cross at a more individual level in Chapter 2, Chapter 3 makes connections between Christ’s cross and the church’s calling by examining the Heidelberg Disputation and other parts of Luther’s works. Setting the stage for these connections is an understanding of the foundational antithesis between the church and the world. The church’s life is distinct from other cultural institutions and communities in the world, such as the state. Following the pattern of Christ’s earthly ministry, this ethic, this calling, is cruciform. The chief mark of the true church is the preaching of Christ crucified that produces a church ‘hidden behind suffering’. Rooted in the passion of Christ, God conceals his saving power in the church at worship: from the unspectacular Word and sacrament ministry officiated by a weak preacher to the grateful worship of stammering saints, whom the world considers to be the last and the least, even nothing. This chapter ends by juxtaposing the Christian’s peculiar membership in the church with her exercise of earthly citizenship in vocation. This conception of the Christian’s dual citizenship is set forth in terms of Luther’s rubric of the kingdoms of the left and right hands coupled with his doctrine of natural law. 

Chapter 4: Deconstructing interlude – confessing Christ in a ‘queering’ West

Chapter 1 introduces a particular manifestation of a theology of glory in the church’s surrender of her pilgrim polity for a civil agenda, with the South African context used representative of this Western trend. This chapter gives more detailed attention to how contemporary ‘world-changing’ Christian piety has been shaped by the theory and praxis of postmodernism, with southern Africa remaining the test case. First, the defining contours of original and applied postmodernism are distilled with a view to their social justice agenda of identity politics. Second, the allure of postmodernism is framed in terms of the ancient Corinthian enticement toward the pragmatic power plays of media spin and politics. Finally, evidence is given for the Western church’s assimilation of the spirit of the age under the ‘gospel’ credo of equality for all. While attention is primarily given to the South African setting, reference is also made to other parts of the West, like the United States. In short, the church’s co-opting of a postmodern social justice ‘creed’ is arguably the contemporary form of a theology of glory that requires deconstructing by the cross. 

Chapter 5: The regime of the left hand and natural justice 

This chapter begins with a brief reintroduction of Luther’s doctrine of Christ’s dual reign, but now with a focus on the regime of the left hand governed by God’s natural law. This chapter is framed by exposing some shortcomings in Luther, which leaves his theology of the cross vulnerable to revision. Hence, while Luther’s two kingdoms and natural law insights serve as the basis for outlining Christian life in the civil sphere, the substance of this chapter focuses on the Reformed refinement of doctrines of natural law and the civil kingdom through covenant. Special attention is given to how Reformed theologians have framed God’s creation and the Edenic image as covenantal acts, and in turn how the creation covenant informs the universal covenant God made with Noah in Genesis 8-9. According to a Reformed two kingdoms conception of the civil regime, institutions outside of the church – like the state – have their own God-ordained legitimacy according to the terms of the Noahic covenant. Life in this regime or kingdom is governed by natural law, which sets forth God’s standard of justice for civil life. It is this natural law available to every human conscious that is the source of a common moral life, ranging from fitting habitation of the human body and psychological health to equitable civil policies. 

Believers inhabit both spiritual and civil regimes, church and state. To do so effectively requires both cruciform and proverbial wisdom. By affirming the provisional legitimacy of the cultural mandate under the Noahic covenant, the believer has a more holistic account of the life faith. Most importantly, by distinguishing Christ’s pilgrim polity from the civil, the church’s cruciform identity is given sharper relief and an understated potency. Furthermore, the law governing earthly vocation serve as the intersection of Christian life in God’s two kingdoms, where obstacles and failures to love drive the faithful back to the Gospel. In God’s inscrutable wisdom and after the pattern of Christ, cross-bearing is masked by common callings. 

Chapter 6: The regime of the right hand and a pilgrim polity 

This chapter expands upon a refined covenantal outworking of Luther’s two kingdoms paradigm, now with a focus on the pilgrim polity of the church, which is under threat. Fundamentally, the problem facing the Western church today goes back in a serpentine manner to that tree of justice in the Garden of Eden. Ever since the fall, sinners have tried to make a name for themselves, instead of humbly taking up their cross. Such hubris has arguably become more subtly sophisticated as the world has become more culturally advanced. Hence, the greatest temptation for the contemporary church is perhaps the pseudojustice of postmodernism egalitarianism. How should the church respond to the ironic pressures of atheistic nihilism coupled with the virtue signaling of the political left? This chapter argues that the covenantal Reformed paradigm is the best theological framework for safeguarding the church’s cruciform creed. To advance the central thesis of this book, I briefly trace the historic evolution the church’s distinct spiritual polity, especially in its creedal expression. Furthermore, I engage the work of select North American Reformed theologians who have strengthened the church’s pilgrim polity with the doctrine of covenant. This chapter closes with concrete examples from the South African context on how to work out the church’s exile constitution by keeping the cruciform distinct from the civil. 

Conclusion: a cruciform confessional corrective 

Alasdair McIntyre commended the value of using the deeper resources of one’s living tradition for ongoing reform.[1] This is the cry of cultural conservatives as they have sought to recover the best of the political liberalism amid postmodern deconstructions. This book issues the church a similar call: to recover the enduring solids of her distinct spiritual Apostolic, catholic, and Reformed heritage that have been diluted by worldliness. Western Protestantism has within the best of her creedal tradition the goods necessary to reform back to the cruciform polity of the Apostle Paul. Can contemporary Reformed and evangelical traditions reconfigure their conception of the church’s mission by taking heed the ‘Lutheran difference’, which shines light on Paul’s theology of the cross? Might such a cross-centered rendering of the church not already be there in our confessional heritage, but obscured by activist ambitions? Perhaps all Protestant traditions would do well to pay attention to the Reformed refinement of Luther’s theology of the cross lived out in Christ’s two kingdoms and anchored in covenant?


Cape Town, South Africa, is a historic site of diversity and division, freedom, and oppression. This complex character to Africa’s most southern city is the result of words finding their way into creeds, constitutions, and civil policies. In 1652, Dutch seafarers landed at the Cape of Good Hope with the Heidelberg Catechism in hand and the need for refreshment on the way to the East Indies. However, this temporary sojourn turned into something permanent as the prospects of empire building among the vulnerable native people took over. Over time, the Dutch and later the Afrikaans contended with the British for colonial supremacy. Amid this struggle, the Dutch Reformed, the English Anglicans and the Scottish Presbyterians endeavored to make sense of their faith: vacillating between the parochialism of creedal Protestantism and the world transforming potential of Christian imperialism. Increasingly freed from old world political and ecclesiastical restraints, church allegiances to the Three Forms of Unity, The Westminster Standards and the Thirty-Nine Articles would be tested by unprecedented opportunities for mission mixed with racially segregated group interest. Not unlike colonial explorations in other parts of the West, especially the United States, the South African story of Protestantism features a pronounced legacy of spiritual ambition gone political. Like the Puritans in New England, a kind of Calvinism in southern Africa tried to recapture something of the promised land typified in Eden’s paradise and Israel’s Canaan. The Dutch Reformed endorsement of Apartheid is a classic example. 

In 1994 Apartheid was officially dismantled and South Africa joined the world of Western democracy with the result that the voice of the church has become sidelined more than ever. (For some communions, especially confessional Lutherans, this development has been less problematic.) While pale-skinned churches have some sense of complicit guilt for their racially prejudiced past, most churches have struggled with dwindling numbers, growing irrelevance, and an increasingly hostile atheism. How do Christians speak and act amidst the

freedoms of their new political constitution? What should they make of the accompanying tensions introduced by postmodern identity politics that has turned places like Cape Town “pink” (read: queer)? Many contemporary churches unwittingly mirror or openly attempt to transform secular culture as the way forward, a move arguably as old as Constantine, Christendom, and Christian nationalism. Other churches are looking for something in keeping with their historic confession, something more cruciform: wisdom for navigating the sacred and the secular, church and society, without forfeiting the scandal of the cross.


Words are fundamental to human existence. Humans are creatures of divine words spoken. In turn, humans create using words, for better or for worse. Words are also a cry in response to the pain of suffering. When a baby is born in blood, she cries out of vulnerable exposure. Here begins the journey of learning to speak a language that invites intimate attachment.[2] Ideally, the child grows to trust her parents through the increasingly coherent exchange of words. This is especially necessary for human life that began with pain and continues with sorrow. Similarly, husband and wife exchange vows that establish commitment, words that need revisiting when the relationship is threatened. But what does all this have to do with Christian creeds?

Christians learn the language of divine communion by receiving the Word of God. Special revelation teaches believers to speak truth about God and themselves (2Tim. 3:16-17; cf. BC 2). This covenant exchange translates into spiritual intimacy and eternal life. Like human relationships, the Christian confession is drawn out by God most readily through pain. Just as communion with God is possible through the historic suffering, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Word (Matt. 26-27; cf. Is. 53), so is the new life of the Christian an outworking of this enfleshed Word, hidden for now, in suffering and death (Rom. 6:1-11; 8:17; Col. 2:1112). Therefore, the Christian creed is both formative and cruciform for the church: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2; cf. 15:3-11; The Apostles’ Creed; HC 15-17).

It may strike some readers as odd the notion that creeds and confessions should be used to shape the life of the church. Others may find the idea threatening to the authority of

Scripture, evoking negative associations with Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet, God’s people have always been a confessing community. From Noah’s declaration of trust and the Hebraic shema to Peter’s good confession and the creeds of Heidelberg, believers have formulated their faith. In every instance, these summations of trust in God’s saving promises have arisen out of life’s crucible. These places are otherwise an offence to the natural man looking for gain without pain.

From ancient Canaan and first-century Corinth to Cape Town and Cape Cod, the temptation for sinners East of Eden has been to exchange the seemingly weak Word of the cross for signs of political power as the way to glory. Hence, murderous Cain, the Tower of Babel, golden calves, Machiavellian Israelite kings, grandiose Pharisees, Corinthian cult of personality, Christendom, Pietism, Apartheid, and postmodern identity politics. 

Woven into this dark history of hubris has been an ever-thickening thread of a confessing church: a story of faith taught to embrace the saving actions of God through the weakness. Like the prayers given in Scripture, creeds train the church to converse with God; to be the covenantal creatures they are; to respond fittingly in faith and life. Like prayer, and as a kind of prayer, creeds are basic to Christian existence as creatures who bear God’s image in covenant (Matt. 6:5-15; 1Thess. 5:17; cf. HC 45; WCF 7; WSC 98-107).[3]

The creation covenant and political chaos

In the beginning, God created humankind in his image as creedal beings in a covenant relationship.[4] As the enthroned Lord, God created by his Word and presided over his royal sanctuary with the same Word without rebellion (Gen. 1-2; Jn. 1:1-3; Ps. 11:4).[5] He addressed Adam with the conditions of the covenant (Gen. 1:28-31; 2:15-25). In turn, his first creature was to respond with obedience, in word and deed, lest he suffer curse (Gen. 2:1617). This, in a sense, was his creed to live by. This covenant (of works) exchange constituted the foundation of humanity and what it is to be human (Hos. 6:7; cf. WCF 7, 19).

In the establishment of this covenant at creation, it was the sovereign Lord who initiated and led the conversation. Adam and Eve, were to submit to God’s Word and obey, placing them in a receptive position. When Adam did speak by naming Eve, he spoke out of vocational obedience as God’s under-ruler (Gen. 2:23). In this theocratic kingdom, everything was sacred; church and state were unified. As priestly kings and guardians in God’s temple, Adam and Eve were to fulfil their cultural mandate to exercise dominion over creation, and to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28; 2:15).[6] If they kept the conditions of the covenant by building the sanctuary of Eden, they would have received the eternal Sabbath rest signified and sealed in the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:24; cf. Heb 4; Rev 22:1-5). In all things, as humans, creatures distinct and subservient to their covenant Lord, they were to be stewards of creation within limits (BC 12; WCF 4).

In another conversation, Eve acted upon the deceptive words of Satan and in turn Eve persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. As a result of their covenant breaking, Adam and Eve fell from a state of righteousness into judgment (Gen. 3; cf. Gen. 6:5; BC 14; WCF 7). 

As the greatest of all God’s angels, Satan went beyond the boundaries of his heavenly office in a mission to usurp God’s rule (Ezek. 28:12-15; Matt. 4:1-11). When he tempted Eve, he set out to prevent the consummation of the glory of the city of God, for Satan wanted power and dominion for himself. To lure Eve away, the evil one cunningly focused on two aspects of divine image-bearing: judgment and rule. Conspicuously missing was the ethical element, which was to keep Eve within the bounds of God’s covenant. Accordingly, Satan enticed her with the idea that the divine restraints imposed on her were unfairly oppressive. The Devil offered ‘freedom’ that God had apparently withheld (Gen. 3:1-5). By giving in to this temptation, Eve concluded with her newly liberated faculties of reason that God was a liar. Apparently what God had forbidden (the Tree of Knowledge) was to be possessed outside of covenant, for it offered wisdom, was pleasant as food, and a delight to the eyes. She then zealously made a convert of her husband (Gen. 3:6-7). Henceforth, they were both overcome with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1Jn. 2:16).[7] 

By judging in favor of the rival lord Satan and his kingdom ideology, instead of honoring the covenant, Adam and Eve had rebelled against their Lord. They tried to be God-like and transcend their humanity in ways not permitted, thereby conflating the foundational creatorcreature distinction. Our first parents resembled Satan by grabbing for the power of cosmic rule without first being established in holiness and righteousness with a love of God’s truth. In suppressing God’s Word, they gutted the original cultural mandate of the priestly and judicial, thereby turning it into something diabolical. With his success, Satan reduced the sanctuary of Eden to chaotic ruin.[8] 

God created out of nothing with Words. God permitted the Devil to bring the creation covenant to nothing through words. After believing Satan’s proposal, Adam and Eve defended against God’s Word with distorted words of their own. Their toxic shame due to the rupture in relationship was symbolized by distress over their physical “nakedness” (a phonetic wordplay on “Satan-likeness”). They sought to remedy this spiritual nakedness – also symbolically – by covering themselves with fig leaves (Gen. 3:7). It was no coincidence that they covered those sexual organs critical to the fulfillment of Edenic cultural commission. Ever since the fall, humankind has sought to bring heaven down to earth by taking royal dominion to themselves as self-proclaimed deities with illicit potency.[9] 

The cultural mandate gets spiritual ambition

Because Satan’s provisionally successful attack upon God focused on the creed of the creation covenant, it should not surprise that the curses for disobedience center upon a modified version of the creation mandate. According to the early Genesis account, Satan has been consigned to destruction for his kingdom-building ambitions, symbolized by his relegation to the dust, the furthest thing removed from the palatial. His demise would also come through a person – the first woman – he thought would be easiest to deceive (Gen. 3:14-15). What is more, and as co-conspirators in the original quest for utopia, Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden and cursed in their ability to fulfill their God-given vocations. In fact, after laboring on earth among thorns and thistles and the pain of childbearing, they will also be consigned to dust (Gen. 3:16-19). In other words, any notion of attaining a heavenly city on earth is blocked from the start on account of sin.

Into today, a version of the cultural mandate continues at the center of human history east of Eden. Indeed, God has been pleased to continue his creative preservation of humanity through the common endeavors of believers and unbelievers alike, under the terms of the Noahic covenant (Gen. 8:20-9:17). Yet, this common cultural commission is also central to the battle between the seed of the Serpent and the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15; cf. HC 52). Just as Satan sought to destroy God’s rule by attacking marriage, so too has his demise come through the offspring of a singularly unique marriage of Joseph and Mary (Matt. 1). Satan has been dealt that mortal blow at Golgotha, but his fantasy of sovereign rule continues (Matt. 27-28). He still tempts and tries, along with his allies (1Pet. 5:8, Jn. 8:39-47).

This face-off between God and the Devil arguably comes to life in the most pronounced way through the twisting of the Noahic cultural mandate: in man’s perversion and of divinely ordained vocation (Jn. 6:29).[10] More specifically, this deviance is most pronounced where earthly power is most concentrated in man’s exercise of dominion through the politics of city and nation building, which necessitates procreation, the accumulation of wealth and establishment of power. Just as Adam failed to rule in righteousness, so his offspring also reign with innate malevolence. 

The focus of this book is on how such Machiavellianism presents in the most seemingly pious ways, remembering that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2Cor. 11:14). It is concerned with ways the church can be tempted to exchange her pilgrim polity for political power.[11] The Devil has always been intent on mixing God’s two kingdoms on his own terms: the church and the state, the Great Commission and the cultural mandate.[12] He tempts sinners to fill their vacuous souls with the idolatrous worship of the creature, the love of money, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, while erecting their city of Babylon (Rom. 1:25; 1Tim. 6:10; 1Jn. 2:16; Rev. 17; cf. HC 34-37; BC 29)

In further introductory support of the claims in this section, I argue that all fallen men are governed by at least three impulses with respect to their political aspirations that go spiritual. First, and because sin has not completely erased the divine image, all human beings continue to fulfill, relatively well, the moral duties of the cultural mandate within the bounds of civil laws issued by the state (Gen. 4; 8:20-9:17; Rom. 2:14-16; 13; cf. CoD III-IV.4; HC 39).[13] Second, and as a function of this image-bearing, human beings have an intuitive sense of justice and eternity, that reward follows obedience and punishment for failure (Rom. 1:18-23; 2:14-16).[14] Third, sinners naturally responds to these intuitions with self-righteous defenses to cover the shame of spiritual nakedness (Gen. 3; Rom. 1:24-25). As an outworking of this delusion of grandeur, humankind has a history of repeatedly attempting to turn the legitimate city into something that rivals God and his rule: an alternate religion of narcissism (Gen. 11; Rev. 17; cf. HC 2-3; WCF 6). [15] 

More concretely, fallen man’s hard wiring to earn God’s eternal favor by working with an outward show of potency is an insurmountable barrier to the gracious gift of God’s saving kingdom. Like a child trying in vain to recapture a bond with her parents, lost through early abandonment, natural man grasps for his original heavenly destiny on terms no longer available to him. Hence, he acts out unwittingly as an ‘adult-child’ to his own hurt. Sinners either work to impress God or abandon him, to please themselves or impress their neighbors. They do so in and through those creation gifts embedded in the revised cultural mandate, otherwise intended for service to God and neighbor. In so doing, men and women fail to truly love God, themselves, and their fellow man. 

In short, by making sinners spiritually restless, instead of resting in Christ, Satan damages both the church and the common enterprise of vocation. When the moral law or man-made rules become the way of salvation, when the conscience is unsettled, then the cultural mandate can break loose and reach for heaven.[16] Satan does whatever he can to supply the narcissistic projections that inevitably arise from the intergenerational wounding between God and man, man and child. Knowing the sinner’s addiction to healing the trauma of shame in self-destructive ways, Satan is hell-bent on crushing the person, the church, and society (cf. HC 52). Unless, of course, God intervenes. 

One example of this delusional omnipotence is when the descendants of Ham built a tower to the heavens as an attempt to make a name for themselves in competition with God (Gen. 11). Another involves the nation of Israel, who, instead of submitting their political desires to God, repeatedly played the harlot in the form of assimilation to surrounding pagan nations and their respective gods (2 Kgs.; Hos. 2:1-13). During his earthly ministry, Christ contended with the Pharisees who missed the coming kingdom by reverting to the shadows rather than the substance of the covenant of grace. In doing so, not only did they perpetuate the observance of outdated Mosaic laws, but they could only conceive of a Messiah ruling with an outward demonstration of political might (Matt. 23-25). In a similar vein, less the Judaizing element, believers at Corinth tended to equate acceptability and spiritual potency with measurable signs of social strength and oratory prowess (1Cor. 1-2). 

The fractured world that humanity now inhabits is the result of failing to receive and submit to God’s covenant Word. Sinners have a language problem. Having broken fellowship with God, they are by nature unable to receive his Word of promise (Rom. 1:28-32; 3:9-11; cf. HC 3; WCF 9). As a result, they speak lies to themselves and their neighbor (Rom. 3:12-18; HC 43). Because Adam and Eve spoke out of turn, everyone now naturally speaks their own ‘truth’, which is in fact (virtue-signaling covered) hatred for God and neighbor (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:9-20; HC 2). Adam’s fallen offspring all have a creed, the creed of unbridled self-talk, self-expression, and self-deification (Tit. 1:10-16, 2Tim. 3:1-9). Just as Satan defended against the ‘wound’ of banishment from God’s presence for his conceited kingdom dreams, sinners also respond to divine rejection with illusions of everlasting-kingdom-building. They lord it over God and their neighbor with their words and deeds as they construct their own fantasy world with a false sense of self.

It would be cleaner and more comfortable to convince ourselves that the church is immune to the above-described impulse toward utopianism. Sadly, both Scripture and experience dash such hopes. Believers are still sinners. Christians are still prone toward a “god complex”, to selfish omnipotence and narcissistic reverie. These powerful urges invariably affect the health of the church and welfare of its sheep (2Tim. 3:1-9; Ezek 34, BC 28). If the sinful nature is fashioned after the likeness of Satan’s deceitful quest for God-status and universal domination, then it seems reasonable to argue that humanity’s sinful drive is most concentrated around earthly politics. If postmodernists are correct to say that language is used to rig the power plays in political exchange, then the church should watch her words carefully, consider her confession, and contend for the faith (1Tim. 6:12; Jde. 3). Above all, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ must guard the ‘sword’ of the Word preached and the sacraments administered (Rom. 10:5-21; 1Cor. 2:1-5; cf. 2nd Helvetic 18).

This guardianship has been the heartbeat of the Protestant Reformation, where going back to the source of Truth has been paramount. Every church has a creed or confession, explicitly published or not. Yet not all such formulas are created equal. Not all are faithful summations of the Word of God.[17] Hence, the burden of this book is a call to recover creedal Christianity for the governance of Christ’s church. But not creedal ‘Christianity’ in general. Rather, the creedal in a cruciform key. For, only when the creedal is thoroughly cross-centered can the church be sure there is resonance between her confession and God’s saving Word. The litmus test for a pilgrim polity that claims the cross is arguably how she engages the institutions of the world governed by a civil polity under the Noahic covenant. 

Recovery from deconstructing glory-speak requires constant self-correcting conversation with the past, from Adam to Messiah, from the Apostle Paul to Luther and Heidelberg, and into the present.[18] At the center of this dialog is the sanctified fruit of the cultural mandate, which is Jesus Christ crucified, who inaugurated the kingdom of heaven and has ensured the end of Satan’s reign (Rev. 20-21; cf. WCF 33).

[1] See Alasdair C. MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 222.

[2] In contrast to the language of information and motivation, primary language helps us express and develop our human condition; see Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 37-40. 

[3] See Peterson, Answering God

[4] Simply put, a covenant is a relationship between two parties with legal aspects; see Michael G. Brown and Zachary Keele, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored (Middleville: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2012), 5. See also Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview (Overland Park, KS: Two Ages Press, 2000).

[5] See Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 26-30.

[6] See Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 62-90.

[7] See Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 119-127.

[8] See Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 122-127.

[9] See Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 125-131, 137, 188–189,193, 274–276, 299.

[10] See Gustaf Wingren, Luther on Vocation (Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2004), 92, 121.

[11] Luther wrote about the two extremes of a works-based-salvation through vocation: monastic retreat on the one hand and political exhibitionism on the other; see Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, American Edition, 55 vols., ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955-1986), 44 (hereafter LW).

[12] See Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 115.

[13] See VanDrunen, Politics After Christendom, Part 1.

[14] See Ibid, Divine Covenants and Moral Order: A Biblical Theology of Natural Law, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014).

[15] Kline indicates that while some sign of this can be seen in Lamech’s boast (Gen 4:23–24), the abuse of legitimate God-ordained authority rises to a clear prediluvian crisis point in the reign of the Nephilim, whom he argues are self-deified Cainite rulers; see Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 186; cf. 110, 182, 189, 210. 

[16] See Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 14, 102, 110.

[17] See John Fesko, The Need for Creeds Today: Confessional Faith in a Faithless Age (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020); and Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Illinois: Crossway, 2012).

[18] See Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008), Chap. 3-4; and Fesko, The Need for Creeds Today, 10-43.