Embracing Evolution: How Understanding Science Can Strengthen Your Christian Life

I just received from InterVarsity Press a copy of Embracing Evolution: How Understanding Science Can Strengthen Your Christian Life (IVP Academic, 2020), by Matthew Nelson Hill.

Matt Hill is a graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College (double major in psychology and in philosophy and religion). He went on to do an MDiv at Asbury Theological Seminary and a PhD in philosophy at Durham University. Matt is ordained in the Free Methodist Church and currently serves as associate professor of philosophy in the theology department of Spring Arbor University.

I have known Matt’s father, Nelson Hill, who was a faculty member and administrator at Roberts, before he retired, and I came to know Matt on his many visits to Rochester over the years.

Embracing Evolution is a beautifully articulate and helpful book that builds on the more technical book Matt wrote for IVP called Evolution and Holiness.

The IVP website says that the official release date for Embracing Evolution is June 16, 2020. I received an advance copy because I wrote the Foreword to the book (I had read Matt’s earlier book and benefited greatly from it).

In the Foreword (which is reproduced below), I recount some of my own journey towards reconciling the Bible and evolutionary science. This version of the Foreword has some extra footnote references (not all of which appear in the published format).


Foreword to Embracing Evolution

Many Christians today are on a journey of understanding, trying to make sense of evolution in light of their faith. This is particularly difficult to do in our polarized cultural climate in North America, where religion and science are often portrayed as opposed to each other.

For that reason I am delighted to be able to write this Foreword to Matt Hill’s Embracing Evolution. Whereas many books on Christian faith and evolution either view the two as antithetical to each other or struggle to make significant connections between them, Embracing Evolution shows that understanding human evolution can be positively helpful for Christians seeking to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

My Journey of Understanding the Bible and Science on Origins

Unlike those Christians who started out as young earth creationists and became convinced of the validity of biological evolution later in life, I have no memory of ever dismissing evolution as fundamentally incompatible with biblical faith. Having become a Christian at a young age, I not only accepted, in my teenage years, that the earth was very old (based on what seemed to be reasonable scientific research), but as a young adult I read widely about the evolution of Homo sapiens and our various hominin relatives.

Thankfully, my home church in Kingston, Jamaica (Grace Missionary Church) never insisted on young earth creationism. And when I began my undergraduate studies at Jamaica Theological Seminary, I took two courses in my first semester that made such a view of creation untenable.

The first was a course on the Pentateuch, where one of the textbooks assigned was Bernard Ramm’s The Christian View of Science and Scripture.[1] Here I found an evangelical theologian outlining multiple views of how the Bible related to a variety of scientific issues. Although Ramm articulated his own opinion on the issues he discussed, he noted that there was no single obvious “biblical” answer for questions such as the age of the earth, the great flood, or even evolution. In each case, this was a matter, not of biblical authority but of scientific evidence.

I also took a course in my first undergraduate semester on hermeneutics or biblical interpretation, where the textbook was A. Berkely Mickelson’s Interpreting the Bible.[2] While this was a bit of a dense read for an eighteen-year-old, I never forgot Mickelson’s point that since there was no human observer at creation and since the eschaton is still future, biblical language describing the beginning and end must be largely figurative; these descriptions inevitably transcended human experience.[3] Therefore, just as it would be inappropriate to read eschatological imagery in the book of Revelation as a journalistic account of what a movie camera might record (which seemed obvious to me), I came to realize that it would likewise be a misreading of Genesis to treat the six days of creation as a scientific account of origins.

These two courses at the start of my theological studies combined to convince me that there was no conflict, in principle, between science and the Bible on the question of origins. More than that, these courses (along the rest of my seminary education) encouraged me to be open to the scientific exploration of God’s world.

During my undergraduate studies I was also developing an interest in a holistic theology that affirmed the goodness of creation (in the beginning) and God’s intent to redeem the cosmos (in the end).[4] By the time I graduated with my bachelor of theology degree, I was on a track to take seriously what the sciences were telling us about how this world, including biological life, came to be.

Cognitive Dissonance about Evolution

Then as a graduate student in philosophy, while working as a campus minister for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Guelph, in Canada, I found myself avidly reading books on hominin evolution—including Lucy, the account of the discovery of Australopithecus afarensis (nicknamed Lucy) by Donald Johanson and Maitland Edy.[5]

Although I had no real doubts about the scientific evidence for evolution, including the evolution of Homo sapiens, I was somewhat troubled that evolution didn’t seem compatible with the biblical notion of the fall, the origin of evil recounted in Genesis 2–3. I had always been taught that this text portrays Adam and Eve (an original couple) forfeiting a primal paradisiacal state through a single act of disobedience, which led to the introduction of death for both humans and the natural world. I couldn’t get my head around how this might fit with what scientists claimed about human evolution, including the obvious fact that animal and plant death preceded the origin of humanity on earth. So I did what many Christians do when confronted with cognitive dissonance—I put it out of my mind and concentrated on other things.

In my case, these other things were my graduate studies, first a master’s degree in philosophy and then course work in Old Testament, followed by a doctoral dissertation on humans as imago Dei in Genesis 1 (published as The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1).[6]

In the years leading up to my dissertation, I taught often on the imago Dei, in both church and academic settings, and I’ve now written some dozen articles and blog posts on the subject.[7] I have also regularly taught on the garden story of Genesis 2–3, both in churches and in a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses.

My teaching on the first three chapters of Genesis was developed without any explicit reference to evolution. Rather, my focus was on how these texts should be read for their theological discernment of God, the world, and the human calling. Instead of referencing the modern scientific context, I was focused on how the theology of ancient Israel, gleaned from the Bible itself, along with the “cognitive environment” of the ancient Near East, contributed to the meaning of these texts for the life of the church.[8]

Evolution and the Fall

But everything changed in 2013, when I was invited by James K. A. Smith to join an interdisciplinary team of scholars (united by a commitment to the classic orthodox creeds of the church) who would connect their scholarly expertise to the subject of human evolution and the fall. The invitation to participate in this project set me on a path to address the very questions that my cognitive dissonance had previously led me to avoid.

As I began working on how the narrative of Genesis 2–3 might relate to the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens, I discovered that paying attention to evolution did not detract from reading the text but actually helped me notice nuances that I had previously overlooked. For example, I had simply assumed that the first humans lived in a paradisaical state of perfection before the entrance of sin. Yet immediately after the creation of the humanity in Genesis 2, we have the account of human disobedience in Genesis 3. Might that lack of narration of a paradisaical state be significant for relating the text to evolutionary history?

In the essay I wrote on Genesis 2–3, published in a volume called Evolution and the Fall, I attempted to hold together an evolutionary account of humanity with a real historical origin of evil (which I believe is a non-negotiable Christian doctrine), yet without claiming that the Bible and science are saying the same thing.[9]

In doing so, I was rejecting the classic idea that we can easily correlate or harmonize the Bible and science. Yet, I also found Stephen Jay Gould’s famous idea of nonoverlapping magisteria (NOMA) inadequate.[10] This view is usually taken to mean that the Bible and science describe different realms of reality—and so cannot, in principle, contradict one another. However, I have now come to formulate the relationship between the Bible and science as two different lenses or perspectives through which we may view the same world.

Of course, the connections between the lenses of the garden story and human evolution aren’t seamless. As Matt Hill himself admits, it isn’t always easy to correlate what the Bible tells us theologically about suffering and death with the history of animal predation and extinctions long before humans came along. And how exactly does a biblical perspective on human sin relate to the development of moral consciousness among Homo sapiens—or even among earlier hominins?[11]

Evolution and the Christian Life

But Embracing Evolution does not focus on the Bible and science generally. Instead, the book addresses how knowledge of evolution can aid us in the quest for holiness and moral transformation in the Christian life.

Matt helpfully builds on his earlier (more technical) book, Evolution and Holiness: Sociobiology, Altruism and the Quest for Wesleyan Perfection, but with a wider purview.[12] Drawing on what we know about our common genetic inheritance as human beings, and even the specific proclivities we may have because of our particular ancestry, Matt gives practical advice on how this knowledge can help us make better moral decisions as we seek to be faithful to the God of the Scriptures.

Having done more and more speaking of late for church groups and conferences on how a biblical approach to questions of human identity and the origin of evil might be related to what the sciences are telling us about human evolution, I’ve found a hunger among Christians (and interested others) to come to a deeper understanding of biblical faith in a way that opens us up to learning from God’s other book, the empirical world that the sciences address.

I am delighted to recommend Matt Hill’s Embracing Evolution as a wonderful addition to the literature on this subject.


[1] Bernard L. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954).

[2] A. Berkely Mickelson, Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963).

[3] Mickelson, Interpreting the Bible, chap. 14: “Descriptive Language of Creation and Climax” (306–322).

[4] This led to a book that I co-authored with Brian J. Walsh, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1984); I later wrote a book specifically on eschatology, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).

[5] Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981).

[6] J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005).

[7] A few of the articles are: “The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context,” Christian Scholar’s Review 24 (1994): 8–25; “The Role of Human Beings in the Cosmic Temple: The Intersection of Worldviews in Psalms 8 and 104.Canadian Theological Review 2.1 (2013): 44–58; “Image of God,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology, vol. 2, ed. by Samuel E. Ballentine et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 516–523; “The Genesis Creation Accounts,” chap. 1 in T & T Clark Handbook of Christian Theology and the Modern Sciences, ed. by John P. Slattery (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2020), 15–31; and “The Image of God in Ecological Perspective,” in The Oxford Handbook of Bible and Ecology, ed. by Hilary Marlow and Mark Harris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020).

[8] For more on the term “cognitive environment,” see John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018). Walton has popularized this idea through his many books in the Lost World series.

[9] Middleton, “Reading Genesis 3 Attentive to Human Evolution: Beyond Concordism and Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” chap. 4 in Evolution and the Fall, ed. by William T. Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 67–97. Along with this, I wrote a more broadly-based article on the garden story, entitled “From Primal Harmony to a Broken World: Distinguishing God’s Intent for Life from the Encroachment of Death in Genesis 2–3,” chap. 7 in Earnest: Interdisciplinary Work Inspired by the Life and Teachings of B. T. Roberts, ed. by Andrew C. Koehl and David Basinger (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2017), 145–173.

[10] Stephen Jay Gould, “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March 1997): 16–22.

[11] A few years ago (2017) I was interviewed at the Faraday Institute (Cambridge University, UK) on the topic of the image of God and evolution (after having given a public lecture on the subject). More recently, I was interviewed by Jim Stump of BioLogos for a podcast on the topic of humanity made in the image of God, which touches on the question of evolution (you can read my blog post about it here).

[12] Matthew Nelson Hill, Evolution and Holiness: Sociobiology, Altruism and the Quest for Wesleyan Perfection, Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).

Reframing Abraham’s Call in Genesis 12—Beyond Supersessionism

For a long time I have understood the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3) as fundamentally missional or instrumental, in the sense that the ultimate purpose for which God calls this ancestor of Israel is to mediate the blessings of salvation to the nations.

I taught the book of Genesis with this orientation for many years. And this understanding of Genesis 12:1–3 has played an integral role in my framing of the canonical narrative of Scripture in books I have written, such as Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (1995) and A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (2014). It can be found also in a variety of essays written in the intervening years.

Three Challenges to My Interpretation of Abraham’s Call

However, my missional/vocational interpretation of Genesis 12:1–3, and thus my instrumental understanding of Israel’s election, was itself called into question—no less than three times.

Initially, I was challenged by two Christian scholars who had participated in Jewish-Christian dialogue—the Canadian Catholic theologian Gregory Baum (who I met through the Canadian Theological Society) and the American Old Testament scholar Werner Lemke (who was my colleague at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School).

Both Baum (who had heard a paper I gave in 1995) and Lemke (who read my book Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be in 1996) challenged me to repent of my implicit Christian supersessionism towards my Jewish brothers and sisters. This was something I had not been conscious of in my thinking.

The third challenge, which helped me positively reframe the call of Abraham, was an email conversation in 2007 with the British Old Testament scholar Walter Moberly, as we discussed a chapter he was writing on the call of Abraham for his book The Theology of the Book of Genesis (2009).

These three challenges led me to take seriously the problematic approach to Judaism that I had inherited from the church, which assumed that once the messiah had come, Judaism had become irrelevant and could be safely discarded.

Of course, I would never have put things in quite so stark a way. But I see how my interpretation of Genesis 12 could be harnessed to support that idea.

The question I now had to grapple with was how I could be faithful to my Christian understanding of redemptive history (I am a Christian, not a Jew—even though my mother was Jewish), while respecting God’s desire to bless, not just the nations through Abraham, but Abraham himself—and his descendants, the people of Israel.

On the Way to a New Reading of Abraham’s Call

This required me to engage in a much more careful reading of Genesis 12 than I had previously done.

The result was that when I was composing my chapter on the plot of the biblical story for A New Heaven and a New Earth, I wrote a lengthy excursus on the call of Abraham that attempted to take into account Moberly’s analysis of the issues, while still maintaining (in the end) a missional reading of Abraham’s call.

Once I had completed the excursus, however, I judged that it was too much of a sidetrack from the flow of the chapter and so I ended up simply summarizing the fruits of my analysis in two brief sections—one about the call of Abraham (pp. 61–62), the other about the place of the exodus from Egypt in the larger biblical story (p. 63). Although I did not abandon a missional reading of the role of Abraham/Israel in the story of salvation, I did affirm God’s purposes for the flourishing of Abraham/Israel—on the way to this larger purpose.

Ever since writing this excursus, I intended to work it up into a published essay on the subject, but never got around to the task. I was, however, recently encouraged to do this by New Testament scholar Andy Johnson, who drew on my unpublished analysis for his chapter on the call of Abraham in Holiness and the Missio Dei (2016).

I was further motivated to work on this material by my participation in an ecumenical Jewish minyan in New York City called the Hadar Institute, through which my respect has been greatly enlarged for Jews seeking to respond in faithfulness to God’s covenant.

My connection to Hadar (formerly called Mechon Hadar) came through one of its founding Rabbis, Shai Held. Having had email correspondence and an initial phone call with Rabbi Held (in 2015), and then reading many of his writings. I have twice participated in the week-long Executive Seminar sponsored by Hadar (in 2016 and 2017). I blogged about my first experience of the Executive Seminar here.

At my request, Walter Moberly, along with other Christian Old Testament scholars, joined me in writing endorsements for Held’s recently published two-volume commentary on the Pentateuch, entitled The Heart of Torah. I then organized and chaired a panel discussion of The Heart of Torah at the Society of Biblical Literature in November 2019. I blogged about this SBL panel here.

Beyond a Supersessionist Reading of Abraham’s Call

Most recently my engagement with Genesis 12 and the question of supersessionism led to an essay called “The Blessing of Abraham and the Missio Dei: Reframing the Purpose of Israel’s Election in Genesis 12:1–3.” In this essay, I tried to be faithful to the text of Genesis 12:1–3 (paying attention to its details), while understanding the role of this text in the larger biblical canon—in a way that honors both the Christian and Jewish traditions. At the end of my analysis, I interacted specifically with Martin Buber’s understanding of Israel’s election and the blessing of the nations.

The essay has now been published as chapter 4 in Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis: Essays in Tribute to Paul Livermore, ed. by Douglas R. Cullum and J. Richard Middleton (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2020), 44–64.

This is a volume of twenty-five essays that I co-edited with Doug Cullum, the Vice President and Dean of Northeastern Seminary. It is a Festschrift in honor of our retired faculty colleague Dr. Paul Livermore, one of the charter faculty members of the Seminary—indeed, the person who first came up with the vision to start Northeastern Seminary.

Although I have been moving towards a new reading of Genesis 12 for a while now, the decisive impetus to work on the essay “The Blessing of Abraham and the Missio Dei” was my participation in this Festschrift. I am delighted to offer the current essay in tribute to Paul Livermore, who has always been interested in how the New Testament and the early Christian tradition (articulated by the Church Fathers) are related to the Jewish context in which they were birthed.

I have written a follow-up blog with more details about the fascinating essays in the book, along with an introduction to the incomparable Paul Livermore, whose life of teaching generated these essays from faculty colleagues, church leaders, and past students.

Our Traditions Are Rooted in Creation’s Possibilities—Reflections on Being a Kuyperian-Wesleyan

The above quote is from a published article by Gideon Strauss (originally from South Africa), who has been appointed to head up the Worldview Studies program at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS), in Toronto. I did my PhD (and some previous Masters coursework) at ICS, and taught a number of courses in the Worldview Studies program when I was working on my doctorate (Brian Walsh was then Worldview program director).

The Kuyperian Tradition and the Institute for Christian Studies

Like me, Gideon has been shaped by the Kuyperian (a.k.a. Neocalvinist) tradition, which gave birth to the ICS and which continues to shape its vision. We have also had the similar experience of being born and raised in one culture, while presently living and working in another culture.

In the article that the quote was taken from, Gideon reflects on the possibilities of a postcolonial re-appropriation of Neocalvinism in Africa, given that apartheid was propagated by Afrikaners, who were (at least, nominally) Neocalvinists. His analysis is very much indebted to the Neocalvinist philosophical tradition, something that didn’t impact me quite as deeply, given that my interests were more theological and especially concerned with biblical interpretation.

I was, however, impacted by the broad Kuyperian vision, which claims that all of life and human culture, indeed all creation, belongs to God. In a previous post I quoted Abraham Kuyper’s famous statement:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

And God’s saving work through Christ is as wide as creation.

These were themes I was beginning to discern in Scripture before my contact with the Kuyperian tradition at ICS; but that tradition gave a helpful focus to these themes.

Of late I have been reflecting on my debt to the various traditions I’ve been part of over the years.

Traditions That Have Shaped Me

First, there is the indelible experience of growing up Jamaican (white in a predominantely black culture), then being thrust into Canadian culture at the age of 22, and how having lived over a third of my life in the United States. For some years now I’ve described my hybrid identity as “Jamericadian.”

But I’ve also been aware that I’ve been formed by many diverse church traditions.

In Jamaica I was a member of the Missionary Church (a Wesleyan/Holiness denomination); in Canada I’ve been Presbyterian (two types), Christian Reformed, and Baptist (two types); and in America I’ve been a member of the American Baptist Church and now the Free Methodist Church (a return to my Wesleyan roots).

As I look at my ecclesial and theological journey, I note that I have returned to the Wesleyan tradition which initially shaped me (however, I wasn’t particularly aware of the depth of that tradition, initially). Along the way, I often connected with the Reformed/ Calvinist/ Presbyterian theological tradition, since this was the tradition that seemed to be aware of worldview issues (which I found important). But just as often, as I moved from city to city (six such moves), I was attracted to the particular local church; my motivation for church involvement was usually guided by the search for a faithful community on my faith journey.

Interestingly, I have found that there is significant overlap between the Kuyperian tradition and the Wesleyan tradition. In particular, Wesley’s interest in creation and the sciences (called “natural philosophy” at the time) and his mature view of the eschatological redemption of all things resonate well with the Kuyperian vision of Christ’s cosmic lordship.

Further Thoughts about the Intersection of the Kuyperian and Weslyan Traditions

For those interested, I’ve been articulating some ideas about the intersection of the Kuyperian and Wesleyan traditions (especially as I have been shaped by them) in response to a blog post by Bob Robinson.

In the post, which first appeared on his blog Regenerate, Bob explained the Kuyperian view of the kingdom of God as God’s claim over the entire created order. In a previous post he had addressed the anabaptist version of the kingdom in the writings of Scot McKnight and John Howard Yoder. And he promised a further post explicitly contrasting the Kuyerian and anabaptist visions of the kingdom.

In the discussion that followed on Bob’s Facebook page (which is copied to my Facebook page), a conversation started (in advance of his promised post) about the differences between the Kuyperian vision of God’s cosmic kingdom and Scot McKnight’s view of the kingdom of God as equivalent to the church.

I joined the discussion at a number of points. Here were some of my comments.

  • A Middleton-McKnight Book on the Kingdom of God

Scot McKnight has asked me to write a book with him (for IVP) on the Kingdom of God, that would include his view (the kingdom as the church) and my own (Kuyperian-Wesleyan) hybrid view (a cosmic kingdom, embodied in the church, both as institution and as scattered people of God). We would also include one or two other positions (so this would be a three or four views book). I’ve agreed to work on this with Scott after my sabbatical (I would be free to work on this sometime after 2017).

  • On Being a Kuyperian-Wesleyan

Someone wondered about my hybrid Kuyperian-Wesleyan identity, since he hadn’t known of the Wesleyan part. This was my reply:

I have found that there is great overlap between Wesley and Kuyper on the cosmic scope of God’s salvation. Perhaps the Wesleyan piece comes out more in the emphasis I place on the church, and the importance of ecclesial witness. There is also a sacramentalism in Wesley, that he got from the Greek Fathers (who influenced him greatly).

In response to a comment about how complex our identities can be, I noted:

Most of us have some sort of hybrid identity. Different contexts might lead me to highlight different aspects of my identity. I have certainly been shaped by the Kuyperian tradition, but I never found myself a perfect fit. I still retained some of my formation in the Wesleyan/ holiness tradition (though I was unaware of the nature of this tradition at the time). The Kuyperian tradition helped me correct some of the problems I perceived in my formation. But as I have become more cognizant with the Wesleyan tradition I have come to see a depth and breadth there that was not always explicit in my formation (and that isn’t always manifest in contemporary expressions of this tradition). But, thankfully, both my seminary and my church are characterized by this depth and breadth. See my post on Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College: https://jrichardmiddleton.wordpress.com/…/northeastern…/

  • How I Came to Discern My Kinship with the Wesleyan Tradition

When asked for further clarification of the Wesleyan piece, I elaborated as follows:

I discovered my kinship with Wesleyans after I began teaching at Roberts Wesleyan College in 2002 and met Wesleyan academics (faculty and students) at the Graduate Students Theological Seminar (held in Indianapolis each fall), sponsored by the Free Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Church. This seminar was started in the 1960s to support students from these two denominations who were working on PhDs in the broad area of theology or religious studies.

Each year doctoral students are invited to present papers arising from their research, with a Wesleyan professor in the same area giving a detailed (critical, yet encouraging) response. The students’ expenses are all covered. A bishop from each denomination also attends, and participates in the discussions, fellowship times, and worship.

Denominational sponsored or affiliated colleges (like Roberts Wesleyan College, Houghton College, Azusa Pacific University, Seattle Pacific University, Greenville College, Spring Arbor College, etc.) all send faculty representatives, who participate with the students in rigorous academic discussions, but also in fellowship and worship.

This annual event sends a strong message that the church values serious academic work. It therefore helps the students who attend remain ecclesially connected, conscious both of the relevance of their work for the church and that they themselves need the church’s support.

  • The Church in Kuyperian and Wesleyan Perspective

I added a final set of comments on what I learned from the Kuyperian and Wesleyan traditions about the significance of the church:

The Kuyperian tradition has been very helpful to me by distinguishing between 1) the church as an institution (denomination, or local body) and 2) the church as the body of Christ or God’s people (who may organize themselves in denominations and gather for worship, teaching, and fellowship; but who are still God’s people when they simply live their lives in the world, as parents, spouses, citizens, politicians, engineers, students, teachers, farmers, workers; and also when they organize themselves into non-ecclesial institutions, such as schools, labor unions, etc.). So the church in the first (narrower) sense is only one manifestation of the church in the second (wider) sense.

Kuyper thus calls on Christians wherever they are and whatever they do (whether individually or collectively) to represent the Lord Christ (and his kingdom) in their lives. It is the mission of the church (in the broader sense as God’s people/ the body of Christ) to conform their lives to the standards and values of the King of all creation.

The Wesleyan tradition isn’t so clear on the above point, though Wesley strongly emphasized the need for the church (and all Christians) to minister to the poor as part of the gospel (which involved both proclamation and deeds of mercy).

But I value the Wesleyan tradition particularly for stressing the crucial role of the gathered (institutional) church for the life of faith; the worship of the gathered church should be spiritually formative, which grounds the life of the people of God for faithful living in the wider world (which is still God’s world).

But I don’t want to give up on the Kuyperian distinction between the two senses of church. In fact, if you read the Pauline epistles with the broader sense of “church” in mind, they have much more far-reaching implications, addressing what Wesleyans have called “social holiness.”

I am grateful to have been profoundly shaped by these differing traditions rooted in God’s creation, which have been unfolded and refolded over time by communities of the faithful, in ways that engender blessing and shalom in God’s world.