It’s a shame that unchecked zealots like Brian Schwertley exist in the Reformed community – and yet, they’re amongst us. Back in 2010, Schwertley preached a series of FOUR sermons on the so-called “Kinist” heresy. Chocked full of arbitrary and ambiguous statements and seasoned with unsubstantiated slurs, Schwertley’s material represents the worst of Evangelical scholarship. That Christians continue to take the man seriously is a sad testimony to the state of contemporary Evangelicalism. (See my brief statements in response to the Choosing Hats guys, who try citing Schwertley’s material.)
I’d like to cut to the heart of Schwertley’s argument that Kinism is “heresy”. We’ll examine it and see if it has merit.
At about 36 min. into sermon 1, Schwertley launches into an irrelevant tantrum about culture. During this meandering side-trail, he gives what amounts to an argument for why Kinism is “heresy”. Before stating it though, it’s important to note that Schwertley assumes a particular definition of “heresy” without argument. We can define it as “…any teaching that denies in some form or other, the truth of the Gospel.”
Granting this view of “heresy”, we can examine his argument. It proceeds as follows:
1. Kinists teach that the normative social order for man is tribal and ethnic.
2. This is a model of “societal sanctification” without appeal to the Gospel.
3. Sanctification is by appeal to the Gospel alone.
Conclusion: Kinists are heretics.
This looks formally valid.
At least, the conclusion seems to follow necessarily from the premises, as well as from the definition of “heretic” we’ve granted. Let’s move on then and consider the soundness of the argument – by that I mean to examine the premises to see if they’re adequate and true.
Premise 1 is fair enough and likely comes from one of the many “statements of Kinist beliefs” on the net.
Premise 2, however, is where we see the problem.
What is “societal sanctification without appeal to the Gospel”?
Presumably, Schwertley is suggesting Kinist teach that societies ordered along tribal and ethnic lines are more “sanctified” than societies which are not. On this view – a society which becomes more and more “sanctified” would, eventually, attain perfection and thereby gain access to the Kingdom for successfully keeping God’s commandments. This sanctification is supposedly accomplished by adherence to a tribal norm rather than any mechanism tied to the Gospel.
1. I don’t know of any Kinist who teaches this sort of “societal sanctification”. Kinists routinely criticize tribal-groups, African tribes or jewish elite ethnocentrism, for instance. There’s no routine teaching in the Kinist community (that I’m aware of) that such societies are more “sanctified” in holiness than other non-tribal societies.
So – Schwertley’s premise 2 fails at this point since it presents a straw-man caricature of Kinist teaching, rather than a fair and accurate statement. His argument may succeed against anyone who holds to some non-Christian ideal of “societal sanctification”, but it doesn’t touch Kinism.
2. To be technically precise, as Reformed thinkers, we might agree that if someone (or by extension: an entire group) is able to keep God’s commandments perfectly, then they would have kept the Covenant of Works and earned their salvation. This is, afterall, the only way to gain eternal life. We do believe in salvation by works. Of course, because of our fallen nature, no one, let alone an entire society, is able to attain this level of perfection, and so we rely on Christ, who was perfect, to impute to us His righteousness and declare us holy on the day of judgment.
For Schwertley’s argument to be relevant to Kinism, he’d have to show that Kinists believe entire societies might be sanctified by their own works somehow…and as pointed out in 1, this is just not something Kinists believe.
3. We must consider if the idea of “societal sanctification” even makes sense from a Reformed perspective.
Traditionally, Reformed systematicians have taught that union with Christ simultaneously brings about both justification and sanctification. But while our justification is immediate, our sanctification takes a lifetime. If entire generations of a particular social group are regenerated at the same time, and they all experience an even rate of sanctification, then it may be possible to determine the total “sanctification” of a given population. Accordingly – if we apply our rubric to the social order in the abstract, it may become possible to measure different societies against each other to see which, if any, are more “sanctified” than the others.
4. So it DOES seem like “societal sanctification” makes sense within a Reformed framework; it doesn’t look possible without tying sanctification to the doctrine of Union-With-Christ, though. Attempts to get sanctification without the doctrine of Union-With-Christ, place us in the “works-righteousness” camp, which denies the Gospel…as Schwertley’s argument suggests; and as we’ve seen in both 1 and 2 – this simply isn’t what Kinists, as Reformed folk, teach.
5. The word “sanctification” is the wrong word to use anyway. When Kinists talk about social order, they’re not usually speaking about it in a soteriological sense. Rather – they’re specifically referring to its adherence to the “normative” pattern of Godly governance.
Schwertley may not understand Christian ethics as clearly as he should at this point.
If we take John Frame’s meta-ethical framework for granted, we would note that there are three “perspectives” to Christian ethics – all three of which must be taken into account when determining if any action, act, or attitude, is “good” in a moral sense. We have the “normative” perspective – this deals with the law in the abstract. We have the “situational” perspective – this deals with the particular situation in which we find ourselves, including possible outcomes of our actions, and how they govern our application of the normative law. And finally we have the “existential” perspective, or an examination of our internal motives for performing any given act.
When Kinists speak about the “normative” order for any society, they’re speaking about what God has ordained in the Framean sense of “normative”. In this way – all sorts of societies can live up to the “norm” of tribalism without being “sanctified” – without the doctrine of Union, they would not have proper motives (existential) nor enact their tribalism in God-honoring ways (situational). Kinists can still speak of these non-Christian and unsanctified societies as “living up to the normative, Godly standard”.
Consider this analogy: we acknowledge that some atheists keep parts of God’s law. They don’t steal or murder. But pointing out that an atheist doesn’t murder is NOT to make any statement whatsoever about his “sanctification”. It’s merely to say that he’s living up to certain normative standards. Imagine someone telling us that we teach “sanctification by works” because we teach that atheists should not murder…that’s ridiculous.
In the same way, we’re not teaching “sanctification by works” because we teach that societies ought to be arranged tribally. Schwertley is confusing sanctification and normative adherence to God’s standards….he needs to understand that commenting on the latter has little to do with the former.
We might quibble with premise 3 in the same way.
Schwertley might be suggesting that “union with Christ” comes only through the sharing of the Gospel, and hence, by extension, one can only be sanctified by first believing in the Gospel … and yet, given how ambiguous his presentation is, he may mean something else entirely.
If we give him the benefit of the doubt here, though, then we can accept premise 3 as is.
Deconstructing premise 2 was enough to defeat the entire argument anyway.
 Schwertley is a pastor in the “Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States”, an organization whose legitimacy is in some doubt. Also, the man himself is known for his over-zealous and inaccurate critiques of opponents. See this article as an example case.
 I’ve linked to a “Christ the Center” episode, featuring Dr. Lane Tipton; Tipton and others at Westminster Theological Seminary have numerous great lectures about Justification / Sanctification / and Union with Christ available for free on the net. They offer general overviews of the standing of the doctrine in the Reformed theological community…which I’ve tried to faithfully re-produce in my brief comments above.
 Roman Catholics or Lutherans might object to my wording here, claiming that their ideals of Union and Sanctification might work as well as the Reformed model, but as this is a debate internal to the Reformed camp, I’m delicately laying aside such issues; I hope my RC and Lutheran friends will forgive me.
 As a theonomist and a presuppositionalist (at least – I suspect Schwertley is a presupper), I expect him to consider Frame an authority on ethics…as did Dr. Bahnsen. Dr. Frame’s “Triperspectival” view of ethics is an outworking of his devotion to Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic methodology, and tries to present ethics as a “reflection” of God’s trinitarian nature. See Frame’s “Doctrine of the Christian Life” for a thorough exposition of this view. Also, see Frame’s lectures on ethics, available free from i-Tunes.