Is the Gospel Sufficient to GOVERN Culture?

John Frame’s book against the so-called Escondido theology (hereafter SCET) contains a chapter, “Is Natural Revelation Sufficient to Govern Culture?” It goes along with his bullet-point summary of the SCET’s political platform, which is as follows (edited by all about me):

POLITICS/ETHICS
• God’s principles for governing society are found, not in Scripture, but in natural law.
• Natural law is to be determined, not by Scripture, but by human reason and conscience.
• Only those who accept these principles can consistently believe in justification by faith alone.
• The Christian has no biblical mandate to seek changes in the social, cultural, or political order.
• To speak of a biblical worldview, or biblical principles for living, is to misuse the Bible.
• Scripture teaches about Christ, his atonement, and our redemption from sin, but not about how to apply that salvation to our current problems.

Just for starters, using the verb, GOVERN, with culture is a bit odd since culture develops in ways that hardly reflect human application of either general or special revelation to it. Think once again of language. Is anyone actually responsible for channeling definitions and grammatical constructions? Maybe the editors of dictionaries. But are they the ones responsible for the differences between Shakespeare’s usage and Updike’s? (Do the cultural transformers ever really think about what they are proposing? BTW, language is pretty basic to anything we meaningfully describe as culture. BTW squared, the Bible not only refuses to give a definition of revival. It also avoids a definition of culture. In which case, anyone trying to base his definition of culture on Scripture is simply offering his opinion of what the Bible teaches.)

Frame’s objections to these points, even if he garbles them, have a lot to do with his conviction that the Bible is a surer foundation for ethical reflection than general revelation. He writes:

. . . arguments actually developed from natural revelation premises . . . are rarely cogent. Roman Catholics, for example, often argue that birth control is forbidden, because of the natural connection between sexual intercourse and reproduction. That connection obviously exists [my comment - if it's obvious, then isn't there some cogency mo jo going on?], but the moral conclusion is not a necessary one. Indeed the argument is a naturalistic fallacy, an attempt to reason from fact to obligation, from “is” to “ought.”

Notice that Frame refuses to notice how the Bible has prevented Presbyterians like himself from rejecting the regulative principle of worship. The Bible of the Puritans is not cogent for Frame. And his observation that natural law argumentation fails a test of logic does not prove that the Bible is sufficient to GOVERN culture.

He continues:

Cogent and persuasive ethical reasoning presupposes a w-w and standards of judgment. [Edited for sensitive Old Life eyes.] It is not easy to argue these from nature alone. For Christians, these standards come from Scripture. So apart from Scripture ethical argument loses its cogency and often its persuasiveness. Nonbelievers, of course, won’t usually accept Scripture as authoritative. But they may at least respect an argument that is self-conscious about its epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions.

I doubt it. Actually, I know such respect won’t be forthcoming since heaps of ridicule have been directed at evangelicals for the last thirty years for trying such w-wish arguments. Maybe Frame thinks a graduate seminar in philosophy is the context for these disputes. If so, he forgets the verb GOVERN. And when unbelievers confront people who want the GOVERNORS to implement religious teaching in politics and cultural standards, they get a little testy.

But Frame recently received support for his argument about the insufficiency of general revelation from Peter Leithart in a column about Rick Santorum (who seems to be the darling these days of more Roman Catholics and evangelicals than Romney has accounts in Swiss banks). Leithart comments specifically on the ridicule that the Roman Catholic Santorum has received for criticizing Obama’s “phony theology.” Leithart admits that he is suspicious of politicians when they talk this way. But he also finds such speech “invigorating.” The reason is that natural revelation, as Frame also says, is insufficient.

For many conservatives, natural law provides the secular grammar we need for debating moral issues in a pluralistic society. . . . I don’t think so. Natural law theory remains too entangled with the particularities of theology to do everything natural lawyers want it to do. That is the thrust of Nicholas Bamforth and David A.J. Richards’ Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality, and Gender (2007). Bamforth and Richards argue that “the new natural lawyers’ arguments about sexuality, gender, and the law are religious.” Natural law theorists “meld” secular and religious motivations and norms and are “unlikely . . . to be able to draw a clean distinction between that which is knowable through revelation and that which is graspable by reason alone.” . . .

On the plus side, the fact that natural lawyers don’t actually put revelation and the gospel to the side is much to their credit. In practice, they resist the pressure to erect a wall between their faith and their public philosophy. On the down side, this “melding” of secular and religious arguments undermines their claim that natural law provides a theologically neutral grammar for a pluralistic society.

Natural law theory has many uses. Using its categories, we explore the contours of creation to uncover the pathways the Creator has laid out for us. Natural law reasoning can demonstrate the “fit” between creation and revelation. The fact that women, not men, bear babies is ethically significant, as is the fact that human beings talk but animals don’t. Natural law is rhetorically useful for advancing arguments and purposes that would be rejected out of hand if stated in overtly religious terms.

But despite all that value, natural law comes up short:

The fundamental Christian political claim is “Jesus is Lord,” a truth that lies beyond natural reason. Christians can’t finally talk about politics without talking about Jesus, and, yes, Satan and the Bible too. We can’t talk politics without sounding like Rick Santorum, and we shouldn’t try to.

This is a very strange conclusion if not for the place of publication, First Things. A Protestant talking about Jesus as Lord would never have endorsed the religious views of a Roman Catholic in submission to a bishop whom Protestants have believed to be in competition with Jesus for the rule over his church. So if we are going to bring the Bible into the public square, poof! there goes Santorum discourse as a model for Protestants.

But, let’s go back to GOVERNANCE and what book of revelation is sufficient for rulers in society. Frame and Leithart claim to take the high ground of explicit Christian affirmation and implicitly (or not so implicitly) criticize advocates of natural law for failures of courage, for not speaking frankly and openly about explicitly Christian convictions. Again, the problem they identify is one of argument. They spot a weakness and conclude that theirs must be better, though I am still waiting for a solid exegetical case that is not theonomic and that does justice to the cultural program of Jesus and the apostles for transformation and establishing Christ’s Lordship. No fair appealing to the Arian sympathizer, Constantine.

But Frame and Leithart are not actually dealing with the real world of a society that admits believers from all faiths as well as unbelievers to citizenship and allows them to run for public office. BTW, that same society includes no provisions about making special revelation the basis for how believers or non-believers will GOVERN the culture. In fact, this society excludes special revelation as the basis for national life. Maybe that’s a bad thing. But that’s where we are in the greatest nation on God’s green earth.

So how sufficient is the Bible to govern a society composed of diverse religious adherents and non-believers? We already know that the Bible has not been sufficient to yield a unified church. Now it’s supposed to give us a platform for cultural and political cogency and coherence in a diverse and religiously free society?

The objections to Frame and Leithart are not simply empirical or based on United States law. They are also theological. Appealing to the Bible as a norm for non-believers places those who don’t believe in an odd situation, at least according to theology that stresses the anti-thesis. How are those hostile to God going to submit to GOVERNMENT based on the Bible? I have asked this many times and I’m still lacking a decent answer, one that actually does justice to the Bible’s prohibitions against idolatry and the United States’ legal toleration of what some of its citizens consider idolatry. Another question is this: doesn’t a proposal for the Bible’s sufficiency as a rule for culture and society mean ultimately that only believers will GOVERN? After all, if fallen human beings cannot understand the Bible aright without the illumination of the Spirit, then only the regenerate may GOVERN because they alone have the discernment to apply Scripture to society and culture.

But maybe Frame and Leithart don’t want to go that far. Maybe they believe that people can appeal to the ethical parts of the Bible without needing to be regenerate. And then they walk over the cliff of liberalism and deny that the Bible is first and foremost not a book of ethics but of redemption. That was the basis for Machen’s opposition to reading the Bible and saying prayers in public schools. The great-grandaddy of children militia wrote:

The reading of selected passages from the Bible, in which Jews and Catholics and Protestants and others can presumably agree, should not be encouraged, and still less should be required by law. The real center of the Bible is redemption; and to create the impression that other things in the Bible contain any hope for humanity apart from that is to contradict the Bible at its root. . . .

If the mere reading of Scripture could lead to such a conclusion, imagine appealing to the Bible for running a society that includes believers and non-believers.

The lesson is that 2k (aka SCET) is really more faithful to Reformed teachings (which are biblical) than are 2k critics’ constant charges of infidelity and deficiency. Those who think the Bible sufficient to GOVERN culture or society must either form a political body comprised only of church members or they must cut and paste biblical teachings to make it fit a religiously mixed society. Either way (Massachusetts Bay or liberal Protestantism), we’ve been there and done that. Time for 2k’s critics to come up with their own proposals for GOVERNING and transforming culture that are not blinded to their own insufficiencies.

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43 Comments

  1. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    John Frame–”Nonbelievers, of course, won’t usually accept Scripture as authoritative. But they may at least respect an argument that is self-conscious about its epistemological and metaphysical
    presuppositions.”

    mcmark: who gives a —– about having their respect? Count even your “worldview” as loss. The sola gain (“merely” this!) is to be found in Christ.

    Galatians 6:13-14– they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been
    crucified to me, and I to the world.

    1 John 3:13 –Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

    Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.

    Luke 6:22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!

    Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

    John 15:18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

    John 17:14–”I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

  2. K H Acton
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I’m not a philosopher; but isn’t Frame’s “naturalistic fallacy” based on Hume’s critique of empiricism? And isn’t that critique the impetus for Reid’s critique of Hume as a sophist? Common sense philosophy was about reclaiming reality and truth. Frame is quick to label any thinking about cause and purpose in the world as a naturalistic fallacy—but how can he do this consistently without bringing the Bible under his censure as well? In the end he seems to deny any revelation in God’s works of creation and providence.

  3. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    How many “cultures” are there? Does each person have a “culture”? Does each person participate in more than one “culture”? To answer these questions, sooner or later you have to either define the word or assume a definition. And for that, your answer is good as mine. As DGH points out, nobody can say how the Bible defines the word “culture”.Because it doesn’t.

    The Bible doesn’t cover everything. But the papist antichrist has some additional answers.

  4. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    But you see, even if you have an Arian “fake theology”, you could miss the gospel but still have a “worldview” which is more Christian than those like Obama who don’t even have “the” objective view. And really, DGH, it would be “fundamentalist” of you to turn down Constantine or the possibility that Santorum in 2012 could turn out to do a better job this time than Constantine did back then. No tyranny over the bank accounts of the rich, but a tyranny that end the sacrifices of abortion, and also sacrifice Iran upon the altar of Zionism….

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/02/27/constantines-birth-cause-for-celebration/

    dgh: Appealing to the Bible as a norm for non-believers places those who don’t believe in an odd situation, at least according to theology that stresses the anti-thesis. How are those hostile to God going to submit to a nation-state based on the Bible?

    dgh: How do YOU deal with the Bible’s prohibitions against idolatry and the United States’ legal toleration of what some of its citizens consider idolatry. Does not a proposal for the Bible’s sufficiency as a rule for culture and society mean ultimately that only Christians will GOVERN? After all, if fallen human beings cannot understand the Bible correctly  without the illumination of the Spirit, then only the regenerate may GOVERN because they alone have the discernment to apply Scripture to society and culture.

    mcmark: It’s either all them or all us. As long as they in the majority, not us. And even though Warfield would disagree, them will always be in the majority, until Jesus Christ comes again.

    Romans 13: 7 Pay to all what is owed to THEM; taxes to whom taxes are owed; revenue to whom revenue is owed; respect to whom respect is owed; honor to whom honor is owed.

  5. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Quotations need commentary. But in this case, notice that I am not putting words in the mouths of the Kuyperians.

    http://journals.ptsem.edu/id/PSB2007281/dmd008?page=2

  6. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Leithart argues that Constantine really subverted the empirebecause he used his great power in the empire to change the empire! How could he have ended the gladiatorial shows, if he had retreated from cultural engagement like the confessionalists? If you can kill for a more civilized culture, then the killing itself becomes civilization!

    If Joseph and Daniel can dream for the emperors, doesn’t it stand to reason that you also must become emperor if you can kill enough people to do so? And shame on Constantine for refusing to wear the purple when he thought he was near death, as if being emperor and being Christian were in competition.

    Leithart informs us that Christians need only to reject “their wars” (that of the Marxists or the Anabaptist sectarians). But when Constantine becomes a Christian, his wars become Christian wars, and thus our wars.

    And of course Constantine’s history Is somewhat messy (especially his family life) but the alternative is the impatience of perfectionism. You can’t just say no when the positive purposes of God are passing you by! Leithart appeals to all us who grew up in dispensationalism and now see ourselves as superior to all that. Surely, “church history is not an empty parenthesis.” (p325) We need to work with that which has come about with the passing of time, and if we resist the destruction of the present in the name of the coming “conservativism”, we will end up conserving modernism, and not get the conservative culture which is about to arrive!

    The great commission tells us what to do. First we say to the culture that it is already Christian, and then you can talk to it like you do to Christians. Act like it now. Do what we Christians tell you to do.

  7. Richard Smith
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    D.G. Hart: BTW squared, the Bible not only refuses to give a definition of revival.

    RS: It gives a defintion of revival in the same way that it gives us a definition of Trinity. It gives the biblical data and then in church history the teaching became clear for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

  8. Richard Smith
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    D.G. Hart: This is a very strange conclusion if not for the place of publication, First Things. A Protestant talking about Jesus as Lord would never have endorsed the religious views of a Roman Catholic in submission to a bishop whom Protestants have believed to be in competition with Jesus for the rule over his church. So if we are going to bring the Bible into the public square, poof! there goes Santorum discourse as a model for Protestants.

    RS: We do have to be careful at this point, however. Roman Catholics have some of the basic teachings of Christianity, not to mention they have a lot more in common with Old-Lifers than you might want to think.

  9. Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Where’s the Machen quote from?

  10. Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    By the way, Darryl, this Baptist agrees completely with the points you make at the end of this post.

    Posting the Decalogue in court rooms and school rooms is a pronouncement of judgement, not a prescription for life.

  11. Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Richard, so now you’re saying I don’t have the eyes or ears to see or hear? Isn’t this what revivals always do? Cause the convinced to question the faith of anyone who disagrees?

  12. Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Richard, there is no reason for care when it comes to the papacy for Reformed and Lutheran Protestants. The Reformers believed, whether rightly or wrongly, that the pope had interposed himself between Christ and his church. Christ is Lord was not a chant to engage in a common political crusade for Protestants and Roman Catholics.

  13. Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Gary, the collection of essays under the title, Education, Christianity, and the State.

  14. Richard Smith
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    D. G. Hart: Richard, so now you’re saying I don’t have the eyes or ears to see or hear? Isn’t this what revivals always do? Cause the convinced to question the faith of anyone who disagrees?

    RS: Context, context, context. I don’t think that you have eyes to see or ears to hear things regarding revival. It is the same thing as saying that you are so opposed to the thought of revival, most likely through the abominable revivalism things, that you simply dismiss anything regarding them. I really wish you would read Buchanan’s chapter on that that I mentioned earlier. He thinks of revival as very church oriented. For what it is worth, for the most part so do I.

  15. Richard Smith
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    D. G. Hart: Richard, there is no reason for care when it comes to the papacy for Reformed and Lutheran Protestants. The Reformers believed, whether rightly or wrongly, that the pope had interposed himself between Christ and his church. Christ is Lord was not a chant to engage in a common political crusade for Protestants and Roman Catholics.

    RS: Here was the part I quoted from you once again: D.G. Hart: This is a very strange conclusion if not for the place of publication, First Things. A Protestant talking about Jesus as Lord would never have endorsed the religious views of a Roman Catholic in submission to a bishop whom Protestants have believed to be in competition with Jesus for the rule over his church. So if we are going to bring the Bible into the public square, poof! there goes Santorum discourse as a model for Protestants.

    RS: A Protestant can endorse some of the Roman Catholic views (at least in a sense), but not all and not even most. That was more of my point.

  16. Lily
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Darryl,

    As you have repeatedly pointed out: The bible is about Christ and redemption in him, not conquering or ruling the world. It seems obvious that Frame/Leithart should recognize that their vision for the world will have to be done by the sword and this has not been given to the church. The bible never calls for the church to make the world into a theocracy, the gospel is not coercive, and the rest of the things that could sung to the choir here.

    If Frame/Leithart want to pursue ruling the world, it seems as though they would at least consider: “…suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” Have they considered their opposition and the weapons God has given them to conquer them and the tools he has given them to rule over these men?

    The link below offers some good examples of why F/L are completely unprepared to confront postmodern governance. According to this article, politics is being sidelined while the rule of technocracy is becoming supreme. Right now, it would be a major victory to move things back to politics and what used to be a more normal governance discussion using natural law and reason.

    Are F/L ready to explain how they propose to defeat the current postmodern style of governance via the bible’s extensive explanations on how to rule the world via economics?

    Delving into The Mind of the Technocrat
    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/12149

    Snip:
    In many ways, economics is the discipline best suited to the technocratic mindset. This has nothing to do with its traditional subject matter. It is not about debating how to produce goods and services or how to distribute them. Instead, it relates to how economics has emerged as an approach that distances itself from democratic politics and provides little room for human agency.

    Snip:

    The technocratic approach to policymaking has become immensely influential and pernicious. Although it is often expressed in terms of economic arguments, it has an impact across the whole range of social life. It is anti-democratic, anti-political and anti-human. To counter the rise of technocracy, it is necessary to delve deep into how its arch-exponents think.

  17. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Lily, Brain surgery is anti-democratic and elitist. It’s not an art form. And I like it that way. I want the best surgeon, as determined by others in that guild. Even if she has a self-conscious Muslim or atheist worldview, I still prefer the most competent doctor to operate on me.

  18. Lily
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Mark – I think you missed the point of the article. If/when the technocrats determine that your life doesn’t pass the cost benefit analysis and refuse your petition for brain surgery or other needed medical care, you may sing a very different tune.

  19. David
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    It’s about time –– bravo!

  20. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I promise to stop singing out for the best technical surgeon after I am dead.

    There are so very many points, Lily, so please don’t blame me for missing a few,. Now shut up and listen to my agendas!

    peace
    mcmark

  21. Lily
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Pray tell, Mark. 1) Where is the fallacy in saying that the church is not called to build a theocratic government to rule the world? 2) Where is the fallacy in saying that Framer/Liethart are not prepared to rule the world’s economy via the sola sciptura? Pray tell where the bible teaches these things.

  22. Dan
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Sweet post! Thanks for the exegesis, Dr. Hart!

  23. mark mcculley
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Lily, I agree with your two points. Really, I do. The church is not called to decide which surgeon is the best. I even agree that economists are more like con-artists than technicians. And that Frame and others sympathetic to theonomists won’t find standards in the Bible to govern a take-over.

    No take-over until Jesus comes. And then Jesus will destroy the enemies. Discontinuity.

    I was trying to make a joke. I shouldn’t.

  24. Lily
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark. Apologies for missing the joke. The fault is mine not yours.

  25. Alexander
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Richard: The Bible does give a definition of the Trinity. To say that the doctrine must be formulated outwith the Bible by those gifted enough is to say the Bible does not reveal God in a saving capacity (I.e. Who He is). So you’ve basically called into question the whole principle of Biblical sufficiency.

  26. Posted February 28, 2012 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    Lily, in Frame’s case, I don’t think he has thought this through, as you observe. My sense is that he is merely reiterating the shibboleths of neo-Calvinism and he finds these convictions more reassuring than 2k and religious diversity. Leithart is more clever and he is willing, I think based on his book on Constantine, to consider the value of coercion.

  27. Tony
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Um, so who exactly is the “warrior-child”? Maybe Frame wrote that essay as an autobiography. Question is, who’s child is he? Obviously not Machen’s. Maybe Rushdoony’s?

  28. Lily
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Darryl.

    I hope that both men will begin to recognize the deception and seduction in their theology of glory and repent. Our current political climate is offering many temptations to forget who we are as the church. Since Leithart blogs on First Things, there may be hope that the better parts of Roman Catholicism may begin to influence him. From what I can see, there is some major self-analysis and identification of where the American RC violated 2k and they are pulling out some of the better works from their vast archives. Human Vitae is one and well worth the attention of protestants, imo.

    Another that looks promising is Pope Benedict XVI’s little known book called Faith and the Future (150 pages) published in 2009 but written some forty years earlier. Things may change for the better since he is their Pope and the American Bishops seem to be getting this act together. I haven’t read his book, but check out this excerpt:

    “The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.”

    “It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

    And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”

  29. Lily
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Apologies for inserting the sentence regarding Human Vitae since it has nothing to do with 2k. I’m still bugged by Driscoll, Young, and other high-profile protestants who have the temerity to teach about marriage without the foundations from ancient understandings. They could learn much from Human Vitae. It inadvertently fell into my lamenting F/L’s lack of foundation in the theology of the cross and two kingdoms. May they return to the ancient paths.

  30. Richard Smith
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Alexander: Richard, The Bible does give a definition of the Trinity. To say that the doctrine must be formulated outwith the Bible by those gifted enough is to say the Bible does not reveal God in a saving capacity (I.e. Who He is). So you’ve basically called into question the whole principle of Biblical sufficiency.

    RS: I have not called the sufficiency of the Bible into question. Instead, the Bible as the Word of God has far more in it than generations will be able to dig out. In His sovereignty God enlightens differing men at differing times. The Spirit of God must give spritual illumination and insight for there to be understanding, and it appears that He does so at different times in history. For example, the Reformation was a time where justification came to the forefront in a way with great clarity that it did not appear to have done in the centuries before. It was certainly in the Bible, but the Spirit brought it out as He was pleased to do so.

  31. Alexander
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes the Reformation was a return to Biblical Christianity. Yes certain doctrines take centre stage from one generation to the next depending on circumstances. That’s a different point though.

    The fact is that those who were saved in the OT, the NT, the early church and on were saved by the same faith. And the substance of that faith has always been Christ alone and that that faith justioes alone. So justification by faith alone was not a belief that developed later: it was always the belief of true believers. The Trinity is either taught in Scripture or not. We cannot say the seeds were sown and it grew by later theologians.

  32. Alexander
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    So to bring the point back to the post: revival, and its expectation, is either laid down in Scripture or it’s not. We cannot, for example, say there was a large harvest during Pentecost therefore we should expect the same again. Pentecost was Pentecost: it was a once and once only event. It is not paradigmatic.

  33. Lily
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Darryl,

    It struck me this morning that it sure seems like Leithart is being contrary to his presbyterianism and short-sighted. As you have repeatedly pointed out, the churches are not in agreement on doctrine. It seems to me that everyone would need to be united into single church body in order for his Constantinian vision to come true. The only church that I know of that has the needed structure for a Constantinain governance would be the Roman Catholics with their single head, the Pope. And unless the cardinals elect a crazy Pope, I can’t see them seeking to convert the world at the point of a sword. It sure seems to me that Leithart’s cleverness unravels when it is tested against the reality of what would be needed for a modern version of Constantine: a world government and a world church. Or am I missing the point in trying to test the logic in his Constantinian bent?

  34. Posted February 29, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Lily, if it’s any comfort, our times may not be worse than previous periods of church history. For instance, don’t forget the Prussian Union Church. The nineteenth century was no picnic for confessional churches.

  35. Posted February 29, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Lily, I don’t mean this as a put down, but Leithart strikes me as far more creative than loyal. I think he is interested in pursuing ideas no matter where they lead, even if outside the Reformed tradition.

  36. Lily
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Darryl,

    Point well taken on the loyalty issue. As far as following his logic to where it would lead, I thought that was what I was addressing. It wouldn’t surprise me if I’m understanding this backwards or failing to communicate well, but isn’t it where Leithart’s ideas in Constinianism leads the point?

    It seems to me that Constantinian thinking should lead to two things: 1) the church not only is not given Caesar’s vocation, but not equipped to govern 2) the church would need to be united in a single church body agreed in doctrine and under the head of one leader – necessarily like the Pope. If this isn’t relevant to where Leithart’s logic leads, where does it lead?

    Regarding the Prussian Union, I’m not sure what the point is since there were those, like the founders of the LCMS, who left Europe for the freedom of religion in the US. I don’t mean to be dense, but at this point in time, since there isn’t the option to disengage and emigrate, I would think other historical examples would be better illustrations? I guess I’m not following your thinking here?

  37. Posted February 29, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Lily,
    I’m only suggesting that today’s difficulties are not necessarily worse than previous periods in the history of the church. We should be discerning, but not fatalists.

  38. Lily
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Well, Darryl, I may be Chicken Little, but discernment and fatalism may be on a collision course: http://tinyurl.com/7lmfm74 Rather wry n’est ce pas?

  39. Posted February 29, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Lily, I hear you.

  40. mark mcculley
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Noah Feldman, Divided by God, p233—”The values evangelicals cannot really explain why they think there should be any distinction between religion and government at all. Surely there are some towns where no one object even if the government started paying the clergy’s salaries.”

    But of course only the clergy with “non-phony” theologies.

  41. Lily
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Sigh, I would have preferred correction that dealt with the fallacies and chaff in my thinking, Darryl.

  42. Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Darryl

    Since I often disagree with you, I wanted to register that on this issue, IMO, you have it right. I appreciate your commments on this topic and learn from them.

  43. Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, John T. Even a bad hitter swings and makes contact sometimes.

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