The cadences coming out of Moscow, Idaho (we will know that Doug Wilson is the victor when the city changes its name to Constantinople — it is available) invariably carry appreciation for Christendom. Peter Leithart has a biography of Constantine in which he defends a Christian empire and a Eusebian political theology. Doug Wilson himself has a series of posts under the tag Mere Christendom. And recently, Steven Wedgeworth reviewed John Frame’s book on the so-called Escondido Theology by also invoking Christendom.
In my estimation, this makes no sense and is borderline loopy. Christendom, as I understand it, was something that developed in the Middle Ages and is largely the intellectual property of Roman Catholics. You can follow Christopher Dawson on the decline of Christendom to find reasons other than the Reformation for Christendom’s decline. But Protestantism was not a welcome development for Christendom — duh. Here’s the take from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Such speculation is, however, as idle as it is fascinating, instead of the reform, of the renewal of the spiritual life of the Church round the old principles of Christian faith and unity, there came the Reformation, and Christian society was broken up beyond the hope of at least proximate reunion. But it was long before this fact was realized even by the Reformers and indeed it must have been more difficult for a subject of Henry VIII to convince himself that the Latin Church was really being torn asunder than for us to conceive the full meaning and all the consequences of a united Christendom. Much of the weakness of ordinary men in the earlier years of the Reformation, much of their attitude towards the papacy, can be explained by their blindness to what was happening. They thought, no doubt, that all would come right in the end. So dangerous is it, particularly in times of revolution, to trust to anything but principle.
The effect of the Reformation was to separate from the Church all the Scandinavian, most of the Teutonic, and a few of the Latin-speaking populations of Europe but the spirit of division once established worked further mischief, and the antagonism between Lutheran and Calvinist was almost as bitter as that between Catholic and Protestant. At the beginning, however, of the seventeenth century, Christendom was weary of religious war and persecution, and for a moment it almost seemed as if the breach were to be closed. The deaths of Philip II and Elizabeth, the conversion and the tolerant policy of Henry IV of France, the accession of the House of Stuart to the English throne, the pacification between and Spain and the Dutch, all these events pointed to the same direction. A like tendency is apparent in the theological speculation of the time: the learning and judgment of Hooker, the first beginning of the High Church movement, the spread of Arminianism in Holland, these were all signs that in the Protestant Churches, thought, study, and piety had begun to moderate the fires of controversy, while in the monumental works of Francisco Suárez and the other Spanish doctors, the Catholic theology seems to be resuming that stately, comprehensive view of its problems which is so impressive in the great Scholastics. It is not surprising that this moment, when the cause of reconciliation seemed in the ascendant, was marked by a scheme of Christian political union. Much importance was at one time attributed to the grand dessein of Henry IV. Recent historians are inclined to assign most of the design to Henry’s Protestant minister, Sully, the king’s share in the plan was probably but small. A coalition war against Austria was first to secure Europe against the domination of the Hapsburgs but an era of peace was to follow. The different Christian States, whether Catholic or Protestant were to preserve their independence, to practise toleration, to be united in a “Christian Republic” under the presidency of the pope, and to find an outlet for their energies in the recovery of the East. These dreams of Christian reunion soon melted away. Religious divisions were too deep-seated to permit the reconstruction of a Christian polity, and the cure for international ills has been sought in other directions. The international law of the seventeenth century jurists was based upon national law, not upon Christian fellowship, the balance of power of the eighteenth century on the elementary instinct of self-defence, and the nationalism of the nineteenth on racial or linguistic distinctions.
In other words, the genie is out of the bottle and blog posts, magazines, conferences, and colleges won’t put it back together, especially if you (as a Protestant) were one of the ones responsible for upending Christendom. But that won’t stop Wilson who recently showed the folly of his own defense of Christendom. The first came when he defended blasphemy laws:
In Scripture, blasphemy is railing, vituperative, incendiary, and inflammatory language. It it not mild disagreement — even if the disagreement is registered on a very important topic. In my book 5 Cities That Ruled the World, there is a sentence that noted at one point in his career Muhammad was a marauder and a pirate (which he was), and this sentiment was treated in Jakarta as if it were blasphemous, and the book was burned. But according to a biblical definition, it was not blasphemous at all.
Also in Scripture, blasphemy is defined by what is going on — the manner or content of speaking — and not defined by whether or not it is directed against divine things. For example, blasphemy is the word that is used for simple slander against others (Col. 3:8). In addition, it would be possible to blaspheme false gods, which Paul’s pagan friends in Ephesus were glad he had not done (Acts 19:37).
So in my ideal Christian republic, would it be legal for someone to say that he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Of course. Would it be legal for a bunch of rowdies to parade outside a Muslim’s home, taunting him with insulting descriptions of Muhammad? Of course not. The reason is that the civil magistrate is charged with keeping the peace, and such fighting words are inconsistent with that. The gospel overthrew the worship of Diana in Ephesus, and not incendiary taunts. In my ideal Christian republic, slander would be against the law — and it would be against the law even if directed against pagans, heathens, antinomians, or congressmen.
But having said this, it is crucial to note again that the prohibition of fighting words is to be defined by the Bible, and not by the hypers. Christians ought to have complete freedom to hand out Christian literature, even if they live in Dearborn. Cartoonists should have the freedom to draw pictures of Muhammad. Robust debate, satire, give and take, parry and thrust . . . all good.
So what we have is an an Americanized Third Commandment. It is, somehow, an affirmation of God’s law and a celebration of freedom of speech. I don’t know about Wilson’s interpretation of biblical teaching on blasphemy (the Baylys who generally approve of all things Moscow weren’t buying), but I have a pretty good idea that even mild denunciations of Yahweh in Israel could get you executed. So what Wilson does, in order to preserve Christendom, is define blasphemy down, which is similar to what the Protestant mainstream did in the United States in the era of the Social Gospel, namely, whittle Christianity down to morality and abandon doctrine. I am not saying that Wilson is abandoning doctrine (though his teaching on justification could be a lot better). I am saying that Wilson is doing something similar to what mainline Protestants did in order to preserve a Christian culture — make biblical norms fit a social agenda.
The second instance Wilson’s questionable invocation of Christendom came when he responded to Old Life about the comparison of the Religious Right to political Islam. His general point, that Christianity is true and Islam is false, works pretty well, though I’m not sure how the assertion of one’s faith as true over against other citizens who don’t believe your faith gets you a society with lots of protections for free speech and freedom of religion. Wilson seems to believe that Christian intolerance will yield civil liberties (and yet he seems to know where that position led in Europe when states balkanized according to their various Christian confessions and thus made Christendom impossible). And he ups the ante when he gets huffy about secular governments.
I know. Let’s worship the bitch goddess of neutrality. That fixes everything. I think.
Maybe his problem is thinking that we can “fix” anything this side of the new heavens and new earth. Two kingdom doesn’t pretend to solve anything. It does attempt to come to terms with a world where Christians live side by side with non-Christians. Mere Christendom won’t fix anything in this time between the comings of Christ. It either forces the removal of non-Christians (a la Christendom, which wasn’t all that great for Jews and Muslims, in case Doug didn’t notice) or it waters down Christianity for the sake of the political order. Two-kingdom theology differentiates the worlds of the church and politics so that the church can remain faithful and so that the state can provide some order for a people of diverse religions.
It sure seems that Wilson would be better off to own up to the end of Christendom and recalculate his cultural program along the biblical lines of pilgrimage and exile instead of trying to make this world and this age home to the eschaton.