Scripture and providence in R2K theology: ne'er the twain shall meet...
(David) Few things written by advocates of the radical two-kingdom (R2K) view more clearly demonstrate the disconnect between R2K thought and the life of faith than this 2009 blog post by Scott Clark.
In a post entitled, "Interpreting Providence," Clark takes John Piper to task for interpreting an August 2009 tornado strike on an Evangelical Lutheran church in Minneapolis as divine warning against the ELCA's voting to embrace homosexual practice on the day of the tornado in a convention center next door to the church struck by the tornado.
Clark writes of seeking to draw lessons from such providential acts,
...both as a matter of history and, more fundamentally, as a matter of biblical revelation, we are clearly taught not to try to interpret providence. It is a temptation that we must resist. When God has not revealed himself (either explicitly or by “good and necessary inference” from Scripture) we should be silent.
Clark claims that both history and biblical revelation teach us not to intepret providence. Only what God explicitly says in Scripture can be repeated.
Thus, interpreting providence is speaking what God has not spoken. It exceeds Scripture and presumes upon the hidden things of God. Clark writes,
I know it sounds odd to challenge John Piper on a theme like this, but that’s what is ironic. God’s ways are mysterious. They are far beyond our finding out. We’re not canonical actors.
This is a striking statement by Clark: We're not to interpret God's intentions in providence because doing so is legitimate only for "canonical actors." Because we're not characters in Scripture we should not seek to interpret acts of providence outside the pages of Scripture. We would have to live in the pages of Scripture in order to safely interpret the meaning of providence in our lives....
Yet providence encompasses all earthly matters, including even the clouds in the sky. Thus, Jesus says to the Pharisees,
"When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?"
The Pharisees refuse to discern the spiritual signs of the times despite discerning the weather by looking at the sky. Both are matters of providence and both are to be interpreted by the wise according to Christ.
Does Scott Clark's refusal to interpret providence extend even to the appearance of the sky? Does he refuse a raincoat when dark clouds appear out of his desire never to interpret providence? Does he reject providence as a guide in relationships? Did he resolutely ignore providential occurrences in his pursuit of his wife--her smiles and attractiveness, his internal response to such things? Does he deny his children advice based on God's providence in their lives: their gifts and abilities, their friendships, their God-given opportunities? Does he advise students without regard for providence's bestowal of gifts, circumstances and opportunities?
Or is it that Clark simply shies away from interpreting providence spiritually, that he ignores it only when it comes to spiritual judgments--discerning times and diagnosing sin? Clark can't live as he says we must: refusing to interpret providence is impossible for any sentient human being. Even pagans read providence when it comes to raincoats and umbrellas. What Clark actually seems to reject is not interpretation of providence as a whole but only in light of Scripture. Providence can be interpreted secularly but not religiously.
The tragedy of Clark's position is that far from enhancing respect for Scripture, it denies Scriptural relevance at precisely those points where we most need it. Scripture is a "lamp to our feet and a light to our path." But the paths we travel are providentially arranged, including even the path that leads to eternal life. If we are forbidden to interpret providence, then we are required to reject Scripture as a guide in every one of those paths. Scripture thus becomes a mind game, an intellectual pursuit, a world we enter rather than a lamp and a guide to understanding God's providence in our world.
Finally, despite the R2K aversion to speaking prophetically to the sins of culture, Scripture does not gag the Christian when it comes to interpreting judgment from acts of providence. When Jesus asks His disciples if the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices were worse sinners than other Galileans, the answer is obviously, "No." No, there is no evidence they were worse sinners.
Apply the same question to the victims of AIDS, to churches struck by tornadoes... The answer in many cases will be the same as the answer Jesus expected from His disciples: no, there's no evidence that man was a greater sinner than anyone else; no there's no evidence that church was more heretical and sinful than any other church.
But when the answer is, "Yes, that church is wicked, moreso than most churches in Minneapolis, yes there was great wickedness done in that building on that day," then only the fool refuses to see the hand of judgment in a tornado strike.
This is the folly of the R2K position. At precisely those moments when Biblical understanding and courage demand that the Christian speak--especially, that the shepherd of Christ's flock speak words of warning--these trainers-of-shepherds require their disciples to shut up, to keep silence, to allow God to speak for Himself and not presume to be His messengers.
This is cowardice, plain and simple.