Two Kingdom Tuesday: Macadam or Concrete?

Does Christianity involve a conviction about roads and their construction? To hear some critics of 2k, the problem with distinguishing between a spiritual and an earthly kingdom is that it creates a vacuum of neutrality. Something is either sacred/religious or secular/non-religious. By granting a sphere that is not religious is to create a bogey that leaves neo-Calvinists, pietists, and theonomists spooked. Dualism (boo!) is scary enough. But to think of a sphere of human existence that doesn’t have religious meaning! It’s worse than making an appointment with the dentist.

This is why road construction – or at least choosing the surface of roads – is an interesting test case for the 2k critic. If nothing is neutral, if every square inch is Christ’s, if the Bible speaks to all of life, what is God’s will for road surfaces? Should a Christian always use macadam? Or is concrete okay? And if concrete is God’s will, should Christians and their congregations picket alongside roads that are being paved with macadam? Again, the basic premise of the anti-2k critique is that nothing is neutral and everything is religious. So do anti-2kers really want to hang the plausibility of their theory on a matter like road surfaces?

Most 2k critics never really consider road construction. They have their sights set on bigger targets. Politics, economics, art, medicine – those are outlets fitting for a healthy and vigorous worldview. And to suggest that Christianity doesn’t have the answers to these areas of human endeavor is to commit worldview antinomianism. Rabbi Bret is again useful for illustrating the point:

Dr. Darryl’s problem is that he honestly believes that Christianity, as promulgated in the Church, neither asks nor answers the question, “How shall than we live.” Dr. Darryl’s worldview believes that all attempts by the Church to speak God’s mind on this question for the public square is sinful. The consequence of Dr. Darryl’s worldview is that the Gospel’s impact in saving individual lives reaches no further than those individual personal lives. For Dr. Darryl, a medical doctor is saved by the Gospel but after being saved by the Gospel, Christianity, as promulgated by the church, has no word for the medical doctor on how he should speak about medical ethics. For Dr. Darryl, a public square Economist is saved by the Gospel but after being saved by the Gospel, Christianity, as promulgated by the church, has no word for the Economist on whether Keynesianism is consistent with the 7th commandment. For Dr. Darryl, a civil magistrate is saved by the Gospel but after being saved by the Gospel, Christianity, as promulgated by the church, has no answer for the civil magistrate on whether political or cultural Marxism is consistent with the 1st commandment. For Dr. Darryl the third use of the law, as it pertains to the public square, completely disappears. For Dr. Darryl God speaks clearly on how individuals get saved but God speaks only a incredibly contested word (i.e. – Darryl’s appeal to Natural Law) on how Christians as Christians should live.

Dr. Darryl has not escaped the fact that his worldview for the public square antinomianism that he would have the Church embrace, if pursued for the wrong reasons, is as much a form of works righteousness as is adopting a mandate on global warming or as adopting legislation that is pro-life.

So I’ll take Bret’s challenge and raise him one. Is road paving part of a Christian worldview? If not, then isn’t every 2k critic guilty of worldview antinomianism when it comes to paving streets? Doesn’t some level of reality exist that cannot be claimed as black or white, God’s kingdom or Satan’s? And if that’s the case, then why give 2kers such a hard time for worldview antinomianism when every Christian practices it at some level?

Now, the critics of 2k may be willing to concede this point but then counter that some areas of human endeavor still require a Christian worldview – especially those important arenas like public life. Here the logic seems to be that the important stuff needs a worldview of equal importance. We may be indifferent to the little things in life – though agrarians are rarely willing to concede that the things industrialists consider little really are – but we need Christianity to speak to the important matters.

What anti-2kers cannot seem to grasp is that as much as they would like Christianity to speak to all the important stuff, the Bible does not. Here it is useful to keep in mind Charles Hodge’s reasoning at the time when the Old School Presbyterian Church was being asked to support the Federal government in the emerging struggle between North and South — a time in the life of the U.S. that was a big deal. Hodge was a Republican. Hodge voted for Lincoln. Hodge wept when Lincoln was assassinated. Hodge believed in maintaining the union. He even called secession “a ruinous political heresy.” And yet, Hodge could find no reason for the church to remain anything but neutral on the political question of 1861. He wrote:

The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids. A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols was, the apostle tells us, a matter of indifference. To eat it, however, under the circumstances in which the Corinthians were placed, was a sin not only against their brethren, but against Christ. He [Paul] however expressly forbids the church interfering in the matter. To his own Master, in such cases, a man must stand or fall. Drinking wine, under some circumstances, may be a great sin, but it can never be made a ground of censure at the bar of the church. In like manner, an adherent of the Stuarts may have committed a great sin in refusing allegiance to the house of Hanover, and be justly punished by the state; but he could not be justly censured by the church. . . .

The government of South Carolina is in conflict with the government of the United States; and the Assembly decided that Presbyterians in that State, and everywhere else in this country, are under obligations to strengthen, support, and encourage the Federal Government. If the public mind were not so excited, and, therefore, prone to misapprehension and injustice, it would not be necessary for us to say again that we agree with this decision of the Assembly; we only deny their right to make it. We fully believe that the allegiance of the American citizen is to the Union, . . . . but we have no right to call upon the Assembly to adopt our interpretation of the Constitution, nor to make that interpretation the ground of its official action. (“State of the Country,” 1861)

So to make it clear, Hodge does not believe the Bible lays down a Christian position on a momentous matter such as the unity of a federal republic. He also believes that Christians have liberty to be on both sides of the issue, as long as they recognize and accept the civil penalties that may come with their position. But to condemn other Christians for their political convictions, when the Bible does not reveal a Christian position, is to bind their consciences illegitimately.

Of course, many 2k critics suffer from a depleted view of the church and are not clamoring for church censures against 2k indifference to the nickels and dimes of cultural and political life that need to be redeemed. But they do act as if such indifference is sin, when in fact they are doing exactly what fundamentalists do – claiming something to be divinely revealed as good or evil that Scripture itself does not reveal. In other words, the critics of 2k high-brow pietists – for them, everything is either holy or worldly; nothing exists in between.

So if worldview antinomianism is the charge, then let’s see the worldviewers swallow some macadam. Though it seems like an amazingly minor matter on which to hang an all encompassing world view.

60 thoughts on “Two Kingdom Tuesday: Macadam or Concrete?

  1. This is an easy one! Clearly it is God’s will that we pave streets with white material as it reduces Earth’s albedo and mitigates the effects of global warming. Mitigating the effects of GW is obviously the right thing to do because we have a mandate to care for creation (including polar bears!) which will be in better shape if we have white streets. Therefore, christians who are not advocating for white roads are sinning against God and should come under immediate discipline….or something like that…HA!

    More seriously though, I’m a bit confused by something in Hodge’s article. If drinking wine is a matter of great sin for a particular church member, then why shouldn’t a church discipline that member for drinking wine?

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  2. I think another issue I would raise with IronInk is…where does he get the notion that we can achieve coherent, moral, and applicable sphere systems for this world?

    Coherent…….the Bible doesn’t give us nor give us any reason to believe we will possess answers for all the problems of the fallen world. These questions they ask come not from the Bible, but from metaphysical and philosophical speculation driven by a Constantinian/Sacralist impulse. These are not questions Paul or Christ were worried about.

    Moral….Is is possible in a fallen world to always exercise justice and honour God, reflect His character in our laws? Can a man coverted in his 30’s truly ‘make right’ all the complications of his previous life? Sometimes there are consequences that cannot be erased. Now apply this culturally and civilizationally. No system can solve the problems and we don’t get a clean slate. The fallen world is a mess. I don’t think the Theonomists grasp how messy it is. Look at how they treat history in some of their works.

    Applicable….I again have to say the Kuyperian Triumphalist camp is Pelagian when it comes to their understanding of the world. Fallen man won’t do what is good and right. And the answer isn’t to kill them either.

    Capitalism looks great on paper, very fair, logical, just….but it utterly fails because fallen man won’t be content. He covets. He loves his money rather than uses it for good. And consequently Capitalism (which is also a Pelagian economic worldview, that’s why the Puritans didn’t find it in the Bible) can become a great evil.

    Socialism might appear as theft to someone else (who reads the Bible like a 20th cent. Political Conservative)……but in fact….it might actually WORK better. It checks the fallen man. Can it be abused???

    ALL systems fail in a fallen world. I’m thankful we’re pilgrims here….because nothing here is every going to work right and there’s no Biblical basis to think so.

    It doesn’t matter what economic or political systems we live under. I wouldn’t have wanted my taxes to pay for Rome’s wars. Look at Trajan’s column in Rome…it’s a brutal depiction of the conquest of Dacia. Christians had to pay for that with taxes, yuck. But pay the must and pay they did and Trajan is paying for it right now I assure you.

    As far as roads…..hey, that’s socialism that’s been at work for years! The idea is that it’s good for the society’s peace and stability if people can travel, and goods can travel, good for defense too. So they decided to tax everybody and distribute the wealth…some places would benefit from roads they would never be able to build and others would have less road and highway, because the money was used elsewhere.

    Do the Theonomists want all the roads in the country to privatized? Actually, I know of wealthy people living on dirt roads who pushed to have the roads paved because they didn’t like their Lexus getting dirty. The township taxes went up and hurt the poorer people on the road. There’s socialism working against the poor, and yet I don’t know any Theonomists living in trailers…but I do know of many living very well. Have they ever even considered issues like this?

    I think this article raised a good point……..people like IronInk (who doesn’t seem to want to post any of my comments)…..are guilty of a grossly oversimplified view of the world and how the Bible interacts with it.

    John A.

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  3. Did Abraham (every=square-inch) Kuyper go to the silly extremes you mention?
    Somehow I missed the macadam vs. concrete discussion in his Lectures on Calvinism.

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  4. I guess for me the question is not so much should the Old Schooler’s be commended for getting the Spirituality of the Church right, but rather they were faithful in exercising discipline in their own sphere. Did the Presbyterian Church fail in not disciplining its members in its own sphere for slave-holding persons that were the victims of man-stealing either directly or generationally? The Old School was right on the spirituality of the church, but they though so wrong on that “other” issue within their own sphere. They got SoC right, but left some of their members free to live openly and unrepentant in sin. It seems like the Presbyterian church in the USA never had much of the third mark of the church did it?

    You try to build Hodge up as a good guy on the subject, buy telling how he wept when Lincoln was assassinated, but that doesn’t really do a lot for me in rehabilitating a man (Hodge) that serves up his Spirituality of the Church on the backs of generations of the victims of man-stealing. It seems to me that Hodge was more guilty of using the Spirituality of the Church as an excuse for not vigorously pursuing the discipline of the scandal of slave-holding in his own communion.

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  5. Engrish correction:

    The Old School was right on the spirituality of the church, but they though so wrong on that “other” issue within their own sphere.

    should be

    The Old School was right on the spirituality of the church, but it was so wrong on that “other” issue within its own sphere.

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  6. Andrew, aren’t you and I slaves of Christ (assuming you’re a believer)? Weren’t we bought with a price?

    Eliza, don’t theories often stumble over specifics? So why didn’t St. Abe see this one coming?

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  7. Dr. Hart,

    Would you say, against Cornelius Van Til, that there are areas of neutrality in this world? I’m not a big fan of transformationalism (I’m hold strongly to the spirituality of the church), however, the notion of neutrality is something I am not familiar with in reformed theology – at least not reformed apologetics.

    Everett
    sDg

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  8. Seems to me the Bible teaches that there are important things and unimportant things (adiaphora). The Bible may not say anything about road construction, but perhaps it says something about using slave labor to build roads, no?

    In addition, while Hodge did not believe the church should take a position on forms of government, or political questions, does this mean he didn’t think the church should speak out about slavery?

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  9. No to answer for Dr. Hart…but yes, I’m saying Van Til was wrong. The theonomy/autonomy dilemma is a false one.

    His apologetic is fine…..except it was nothing new. He just re-worked it and gave it more teeth.

    I’ll go out on a limb………Clark and Van Til were both very wrong and Van Til’s philosophical basis for a comprehensive system and Clark’s rationalism-run-amuck have proved terribly harmful to Reformed Christianity.

    John A.

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  10. Everett, if road pavement is not neutral, what is it? I mean, somethings are indifferent even if part of the created order. The mistake seems to me to be that in the rush to conclude something is not neutral and therefore religious, we overestimate our religious interpretation.

    Vern, you’re going to have to explain to me how, if the model for the Christian life is bondage to our Master, Christ, you can say what you do about slavery.

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  11. Mark, not only is that immigration debate a case of the problems with clerics debating legislation, it also illustrates the deficiencies of natural law since the bishop was likely appealing to it.

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  12. The Bible may not say anything about road construction, but perhaps it says something about using slave labor to build roads, no?

    So what would that be? But, look, if you have something against slave labor what’s wrong with appealing to general revelation alone to make your case? Is it insufficient? Why, just today I called my trash company about their mishandling of my service. Not once did I appeal to the Bible, just what every created being already knows. If it works for disagreements over roads and trash why can’t it work for disagreements about slave labor?

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  13. Zrim the question is not about slave labor per se, it’s about how the slaves were enslaved. Using biblical arguments in the *cough* common sphere *cough* is pointless. The question is: should the church discipline its members who are unrepentant man-stealers or those who receive stolen men, even though they pay for them? The Presbyterian Church (at least) failed in this regard. When your logic requires you to call evil (man-stealing) good, well, you’ve definitely left the path of wisdom.

    Keep re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I’m just confused as to why y’all think that the Spirituality of the Church covers a multitude of sins?

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  14. Andrew,

    Some of us SOTC guys aren’t so quick to dismiss slavery as a censureable offense, but there is some complexity. I see this as being a 2-pronged issue:

    1) Are the slave-owners treating slaves pursuant to Ephesians 6:5-9? If not the member would be liable to censure. I am sure, however that at least some slave owners passed this criteria.

    2) Were the slaves lawfully acquired, pursuant to the 8th Commandment? Were they, or their ancestors stolen, or lawfully acquired? Here is where most if not all slave owners were liable. This is where, in my opinion the southern church failed miserably, they did not deal adequately with the civil reality of chattel slavery. These slaves, as I understand, were almost exclusively stolen property before they were ever forced aboard American bound ships. Unless I am mistaken, the whole premise of slavery in N. America was sinful because it was primarily a violation of the 8th command.

    So, there, not all of us 2kers are so radical when it comes to how the Church should have dealt with her own with regards to slave ownership. If the slavery were tied to bankruptcy, or I suppose legitimate spoils of war (though that’s a really hard case to make), maybe the slavery issue could have been more acceptable. But, it wasn’t and our forebearers really failed here.

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  15. Jed, let me raise you a complexity. So you are a car driver in 2010 and you now think that fossil fuels are sinful because of their destruction to the planet, both in the way oil is acquired and in the waste it produces. Do you advocate abolishing cars TODAY? Or might you continue to use one and continue to purchase food that was transported with said fossil fuels?

    The historical failure of imagination that goes with 21st-century abolitionism is in my mind stunning (not accusing you of it, but I don’t think we always think through what 19th c. Americans faced — such as even the great liberator Abe Lincoln, advocating colonization).

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  16. “But to think of a sphere of human existence that doesn’t have religious meaning!” (Oh, my!)
    I suppose you would agree that macadam or concrete, unless it’s an emergency the road ought not to be paved on Sunday; or over ground taken without paying for it; or in a way that wantonly injures human beings, etc., etc. As the WCF 1.6 says, even in worship circumstances must be according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

    You created a straw man, though rather incongruously out of macadam or concrete.

    No one believes in what could be called The Regulative Principle of Life. If they did you might have a point. Next you’ll be posting on blue socks or black socks.

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  17. Eliza, does not every square inch apply to road surfaces? I missed the fine print in Kuyper’s Lectures.

    But here’s a thought for you: “. . . the regulative principle for worship is no different from the principles by which God regulates all of our life. . . . In all areas of life, we are subject to biblical commands.” (John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, pp. 42, 43.

    You gotta get out more.

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  18. Andrew and Jed,

    If the question is, “Can believers steal human beings?” then the answer seems pretty clear—no.

    But to sort of piggy back DGH’s point, there are many layers of complexity when considering any historical phenomenon. It just isn’t as simple as asking a moral question. And for 21st century American Christians to look back at 19th century American Christians and rather conveniently pass judgment seems to raise even more questions than provide answers. I say that as a born and bred Yank; I know what it means to think my cultural-social-political mores are superior to other times and places. I’m just much more skeptical of my own tendency to be culturally-socially-politically arrogant.

    But when all we use is a moral litmus test to examine and assess historical phenomenon we tend to become a form of moralist, a historical moralist. If we’re not more careful, we play into the modern problem of moralizing politics and politicizing faith, as well as the striving to be relevant to modern sensibilities. I understand that sounds like making the world safe for what we moderns construe as social evil, but I’m not much interested in the modern American game of arrogantly looking at the world through two-dimensional lenses, whether it’s done by secularists or religionists.

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  19. Dr. Hart, I didn’t say that the options were “neutral” or “religious”. Do you only see things as having those two options? It’s either 2K or Kuyperian Transformationalism? I don’t know that Van Til says all things are religious. I think that he speaks in terms of “morality” rather than “religious”. I was only wondering because, based on your post, I would assumed you’d disagree with Van Til. That’s all. By the way, I am looking forward to meeting you this fall. Intimidated, but excited.

    John A. – you state that Van Til’s apologetic was good but that his view of “no neutrality” was not good…even harmful. Do you understand his apologetic? I ask because it is built upon the basis of no neutrality. You cannot separate the two. The unbeliever can never be neutral in his knowledge of and responsibility before God. Van Til says nothing new – he simply puts into a system what reformed theology taught.

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  20. Everett,

    Van Til’s apologetic is just a re-wording and working of the Ontological argument. He argues his apologetic flowed from his philosophical construct, but I don’t accept that, other than it’s just the same circular argument applied to apologetics. In the end, his apologetic is one acceptable method. It depends on who you’re arguing with and where they are at. For some who already accept an open universe with transcendent laws and morality…VT’s argument could be quite persuasive. Or it can be employed to ‘shut down’ the objections of someone who rejects the open universe. In the end, the Bible doesn’t seem to teach VT’s approach though I grant it validity.

    I’m not worried about Sproul’s objection to question begging. I don’t believe someone can be reasoned into faith and though we are to give an answer (1P 3.15)….it doesn’t mean we have to have to then concern ourselves with comprehensive systemic solutions to every problem in a fallen world. They are unsolvable. That’s why the gospel is good news. Our apologetic should simply rest in the proclamation of Jesus Christ. He is the axiom, period.

    The quest for the Comprehensive system is driven by assumptions coming out of the Dutch Reformed tradition. If those questions are wrong, which I assert they are…the whole VT philosophical construct deteriorates….and suddenly all the Christian Worldview teachers are exercising the very thing they abhor……autonomous thought. And that’s exactly what they do…and are quite blind to the fact that they read the Bible as modern Americans and read a lot of cultural values and assumptions right into the text and call it “Biblical” Government, “Biblical Economics”, “Biblical music and art”, etc…….

    The unbeliever can never be neutral…….of course he can’t, but Comon Grace with Providence is completely sufficient for the World Order….we’re just looking for a matrix for the gospel to operate. This is the NT vision of how we’re to interact with the world. The prayers of the NT are for peace, stability, quiet…leaving us alone to pursue the work of the Kingdom. The Kuyperians are making it ten times harder for the gospel to function. Sacralism has left us a legacy where we have to get people un-saved from their Constantinianism, so we can indeed get them saved.

    VT-ian fed Worldview teaching rather than interact with the world and try to operate within it’s fallen-ness…instead tries to create a pseudo-world with its own interpretations of history, culture, and current events. Just today, I went on the American Vision website and encountered not truth…propaganda.

    I know you don’t agree, but think about it. And, anyone else who wants to chime in…please do, because I realize I’m probably alone on this one. Most 2kers are Van Tillians in some sense aren’t they? Although it seems everyone claims the label….but I’m not sure everyone is thinking about it beyond the apologetic.

    Thanks for you thoughtful note…..

    John A.

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  21. Andrew, don’t you have to go to the person who actually did the stealing? I mean, if you buy something that was stolen but don’t know that it’s stolen and the thing is legal (and even allowed by Scripture) are you really supposed to be barred from communion for having the legal thing for which you paid?

    Vern, why are your questions generally on the order of, “so how many times do you beat your wife?”

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  22. dgh:
    I see that Frame, whom I’ve never deemed significant enough to read before, takes a decidedly Lutheran view:
    “God’s prescriptions for worship are somewhat general, and when we consider alternative applications of those general prescriptions it is important to ask if any are forbidden by Scripture.”
    He talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk, so his Regulative Principle of Life is really no more than that we bring all things to the touchstone of Scripture.
    I reiterate, I believe you’ve made a straw man.

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  23. But Vern, I write posts that give a little more room for telling where my questions are going.

    Eliza, or could it be that the critics of 2k have created a straw man in the way they portray us as denying the Lordship of Christ?

    But you still have answered the question: if it is every square inch, where does Kuyper say square inches of pavement don’t apply. Or might the transformationalists want to back down their rhetoric just a tad?

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  24. Dr Hart & Zrim,

    More often than not I find myself in agreement with your perspectives, and I really do appreciate the fact that this often comes at the cost of being unfairly impugned by others of a more transformationalist and/or theonomic persuasion. However this constantly resurfacing of the whole, “Oh yeah, R2k-er, what about slavery (or another standby “the nazis”)?” bit is somewhat tiresome, simply because it is consistently used in an effort to discredit a manifestly biblical framework when addressing the church on this side of glory. Dr. Hart your point is well taken that it is far easier to look at our forbearers with a measure of smugness for being so obviously wrong on such an important issue. I certainly understand that the cultural climate in the antebellum south was nothing if not complicated for any Christian with any confessional moxie. However, to push the complexity card too far so as to excuse failings doesn’t seem prudent. I do not doubt that southern SOTC advocates like Dabney were godly, devout men, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fairly evaluate their stances on slavery, and point out failings that may have seemed less than obvious to them. I am sure the generations to come will likely be parsing out our strengths and weakness as well, as they should for the good of the church.

    I also understand that addressing certain social ills or shortcomings in the Church are often only successful incrementally, with a whole lot of backsliding before traction can be gained. With the incremental nature of change, and the issues of complexity considered. There are a few simple issues that undergird the slavery discussion within the context of the church. The lawfulness of slavery seems to have a clearer criterion of evaluation than say that of fossil fuels. Here’s why, property law seems to be addressed at least broadly in the Law in the 8th command, along with other sundry civil laws (e.g. land ownership, slave ownership, jubilee laws, etc.) that gave Israelite property law texture and dimension. It was a sin to hold stolen property, and this is republished in the NT as well, “let him who steals, steal no longer.” (Eph. 4:28). To knowingly hold hot property is sinful, even if it was on all other accounts acquired lawfully. Slave owners who didn’t understand how their slaves were acquired would have to give a heck of an explanation about the nature of their ignorance. On the basis of an unlawful acquisition of property, southern slave owners, especially believing Presbyterian’s, were in fact in violation of the 8th command. Yeah, this sin was common, sort of in the drinking water of the time, so we can’t approach the issue arrogantly, but that doesn’t mean that in the end we should give them a pass simply because things were complicated. We haven’t done that for Calvin in the case of Servitus, but that doesn’t mean that we throw the baby out with the bathwater, considering most of us here are still proud to wear the label “Calvinist”. At some point, we have to overcome the fear of the “arrogant” label, and fairly, and gently deal with the failings of the past, so that we hopefully don’t repeat them.

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  25. dgh: The WCF says that the Scripture is sufficient not only for faith but also for life, and it does not say “religious life” though T. David Gordon would like it to. There are undoubtedly transformationists out there who want a “Christian” plumbers’ union, but they are few and far between, so why worry?

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  26. Jed:

    Slave owners who didn’t understand how their slaves were acquired would have to give a heck of an explanation about the nature of their ignorance.

    I just want to push this a little further. What are the biblically lawful ways for a person to become a slave? I suggest that Num 31:25-48 seems to suggest that prisoners of war could be enslaved. That was the source of a sizable percentage of the slaves that entered the Atlantic slave market. Another source that I don’t think violates the prohibition on man stealing is enslavement as punishment for crime. I think that those two sources accounted for more than half of the slaves imported to America. Of course, not all slaves were imported. Some were born into slavery in America.

    Now, how would a church discipline a slave owner? What sort of evidence could anyone produce to demonstrate that the slave in question was stolen?

    I suspect that most of those who bemoan the fact that the church didn’t “speak out” against slavery or the slave trade wouldn’t have been satisfied with a theologically nuanced argument that outlined the lawful ways of obtaining slaves and only prohibited those classified as “man stealing.”

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  27. Yeah, this sin was common, sort of in the drinking water of the time, so we can’t approach the issue arrogantly, but that doesn’t mean that in the end we should give them a pass simply because things were complicated.

    I appreciate your points, Jed, but I don’t think the point here is to “give them a pass” so much as it is to lend a little sanity to what amounts to passing judgment. I’m confident you understand that pretty well, it’s the other side of the table that always seems quick to pull the trigger, which is what happens when one is so fixated on law.

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  28. Eliza, so why are you worried about 2k? (BTW, if “life” in WCF means all of life, then why no chapter on money and finance?)

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  29. Jed, to play Vern’s and Andrew’s advocate, your saying it’s okay to own slaves as long as they are acquired legally? That is surely an implication of your recent comment. But I doubt that’s what you want to say. Isn’t the objection to slavery really that all forms of chattel slavery, no matter how acquired, is wicked. And of course this causes a problem for the OT saints, Jesus, and Paul, who looked the other way at slavery. Are you confident you know how Philemon acquired Onesimus?

    Mind you, I’m not advocating slavery. I am wary though of any moral ideal that undermines Scripture. I mean, isn’t that Kant’s problem?

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  30. Yeah, John, I don’t have a lot of time to engage your answer – GA took a lot of my time this week – but I don’t think you are fully understanding Van Til or his apologetic. Now, you might simply be dismissing him but I don’t think it is as easy as you make it seem. I am not certain that his apologetic leads to a transformationalist world and life view of things…certainly not if we poll those who hold to the spirituality of the church. I think he was simply trying to be faithful, scripturally speaking. In fact, I don’t see any contradiction between his work on Common Grace and his work on Apologetics (which assumes a lack of neutrality). When arguing against transformationalists, I use Common Grace and when debating with a hostile unbeliever, I use his apologetic.

    Thanks for the challenging thoughts, though. I was hoping to hear Dr. Hart’s view on Van Til. I am reading a book on Van Til by someone he knows.

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  31. By all means, I’m very curious for anything anyone would have to add on this matter. I know VT did not deny Common Grace…..but it seems it doesn’t really function under his thinking.

    I know he wasn’t a Transformationalist per se…….but isn’t all the Kuyperian optimistic-Amil talk really just Postmil transformationalism? I’m not being snarky…I’m genuinely asking.

    It seems like the Theonomy crowd took his theonomy/autonomy thesis and ran with it…gave it teeth.

    If it doesn’t come from this…then where does this Christian Worldview teaching come from that argues based on the no-neutrality idea for ‘christian’ economics, government, art, etc…….

    Have they indeed hijacked Van Til? Are they misunderstanding him? me? both?

    I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has suggested that Van Til’s apologetic is actually nothing new…..

    Dr. Hart? Anyone? Please, show me what I’m not understanding, or please tell me if I given reason for some to pause.

    Because it would seem to me, Van Til innocently and unwittingly perhaps gave these people (1k sacralists) the philosophical foundation for their Theological Monism. I realize I’m stepping on some serious toes…but if anyone has read anything I’ve written on this site, others, or my own…well, I guess to some extent that’s what I’m trying to do….but not be a jerk about it. If I offend anyone here, I ask your pardon….

    humbly,

    John A.

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  32. Though I’ve only read a bit of it, Mark Noll has a really good book on the competing viewpoints of Scripture during the Civil War. If it gets really bad halfway into the second chapter, sorry.

    John A, I think I’m with you, especially as it seems that presuppositionalism (or something by that name) is becoming increasingly popular in decreasingly Reformed circles.

    If I understand it, an unbeliever saying “if a then b, if b then c, ergo if a then c,” has no foundation whatsoever for knowledge because they exist on borrowed capital, etc. The presuppositionalist counters them with: if a then b, if b then c, ergo if a then c, AND A AND B AND C AND LOGIC ONLY EXIST BECAUSE GOD. This is as philosophically functional as a Jesus fish is aerodynamic, but to each their own.

    Presuppositionalists protest that pagans have no reason to even believe the law of non-contradiction unless they affirm the Bible, even though you need the law to know that you are in fact reading the bible and that it says this instead of that. Meanwhile, the unbelievers with no consistent way of knowing transitivity or anything go on to discover calculus and logic and invent computers and the Internet, even if they were gay. Presuppositionalists go on to use the Internet and like it okay, even if they think they could have done it better.

    How representative this all is of Van Til per se, I don’t know. I would read more of him but it seems more profitable in all senses to learn the fields in question, whether math, economics, or cultural analysis, even if their figureheads aren’t epistemically self-consciousâ„¢.

    (Granted that Poythress has a legitimate math background, but his reasoning, for example, “In saying ‘1 + 1 = 2’ we are thus stating a truth about the Trinity,” looks speculative theologically and irrelevant mathematically, and is certainly unfalsifiable.)

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  33. Since no one has posted yet, I’ll add one more note.

    Van Tillian thought says we have to try and think theonomically, and thus when we come to economics, politics, culture, to think theonomically we have to go to the Bible, because that’s the only way we can avoid autonomous thought.

    But if the Bible only provides examples of how we the church should think about those individual spheres and is NOT intending to provide cultural models….then when Kuyperians construct ‘blueprints’ they cannot actually be based on the Bible, instead they are examples of extreme eisogesis….wild a-contextual induction, and in the end largely exercises in autonomous thought. This the whole Sufficiency of Scripture issue. What is the Bible?

    Thus VT inspired Kuyperians won’t let Common Grace culture function, because the Van Tillian apologetic demands they provide an answer against these false systems. Personally, I don’t think that’s what Peter had in mind.

    But I’m saying the VT-Kuyperian structure has led them to ask wrong questions, and then with a wrong method…the Van Tillian Theonomy/autonomy razor…..they’re actually coming up with wrong answers about the sphere-blueprint problem and not allowing Common Grace to function. Common Grace can’t solve them either. They’re insolvable in a fallen world. What does Paul mean in 1 Cor. when he basically says….What do I have to do with those are without or outside? God will judge them. Paul didn’t seem to be concerned anywhere with a model like Van Til’s or an agenda like the Kuyperians.

    Does anyone understand what I’m saying?

    In the recent C&C debate on the Reformed Forum, the host seemed to be accusing Prof. Hart of advocating autonomous thought. I don’t recall how he answered. Please help.

    It seems to me we need to say if we accept the VT categories (which I don’t)….everyone take a deep breath, autonomous thought, though always sinful in the end, is nevertheless valid IN the common grace realm. For a temporal/horizontal arrangement….it’s fine. We’re not looking for Utopia, and though the Kuyperians think they have the answers…I’m sorry their models are generally naive and miserable failures. I can say that, because they are in fact not-theonomic, not based on the Bible, but on speculation…and that driven by asking wrong questions to start with.

    Maybe that clarifies….maybe that makes it more confusing.

    Hope someone’s benefiting from this…. John A.

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  34. Eliza, right and last time I checked you don’t go to law school for an MBA. I’m beginning to think that this straw man business comes from the straw inside your powers of reasoning.

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  35. John A.

    I don’t know that Van Til can, or ought, to be credited with everything that came to be associated with the “Christian world view” movement, particularly through the writings of Rushdoony, North and Bahnsen. They gave something teeth…but it wasn’t Van Til’s view. They took one line from his writing and held on to it. My guess is that they all had teeth to begin with and were looking for a way to use them.

    His view of Common Grace is, actually, key to his apologetic. I agree that it is nothing new and is only reformed theology applied consistently to apologetics (against the classical/evidential version). Van Til’s presupposition (pardon the pun) was Vosian Biblical Theology. I just don’t think the dots between him and the theonomic/worldview movement are that easy to connect. I know that they like to think they are but I think that they are wrong.

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  36. John A. and Everett, I think Everett you are right to try to draw some distance between Van Til and theonomists, but I’m not sure the Vossian angle is the most productive since it is not obvious to me that Vos’ two-age construction is responsible for the antithesis. Historically speaking, the antithesis came first with Kuyper before Vos wrote the Pauline eschatology.

    At the same time, theonomists were hard pressed to find their postmill views in Van Til. Yet, Van Til did not write a lot about eschatology.

    The other factor here is Van Til’s efforts at cultural analysis. He did try to do some art criticism from a Reformed perspective, wasn’t successful at it, but called for more direct engagement with culture by Reformed. He was also ambivalent about Kuyper’s view of common grace since it led to a notion of neutrality. Van Til’s writing on education also suggests that he was doing more to feed the world view outlook than simply one line.

    I am relying here on John Muether’s biography. The relevant passages are 154-55, and 216-219. Man, indexes are handy.

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  37. It seems like the Theonomy crowd took his theonomy/autonomy thesis and ran with it…gave it teeth. If it doesn’t come from this…then where does this Christian Worldview teaching come from that argues based on the no-neutrality idea for ‘christian’ economics, government, art, etc……Have they indeed hijacked Van Til? Are they misunderstanding him?

    John A.,

    It is my understanding that CVT formally rejected theonomy. However, the way he writes about education seems pretty close to how theonomists write about statecraft (and education):

    “Non-Christians believe that the personality of the child can develop best if it is not placed face to face with God. Christian believe that the child’s personality cannot develop at all unless it is placed face to face with God. Non-Christian education puts the child in a vacuum. In this vacuum the child is expected to grow. The result is that the child dies. Christian education alone really nurtures personality because it alone gives the child air and food.”

    “Non-Christians believe that authority hurts the growth of the child. Christians believe that without authority a child cannot live at all.”

    “No educational content that cannot be set into a definitely Christian-theistic pattern and be conducive to the development of covenant personality has any right to appear in our schools.”

    “Now, just in this way the whole of ‘space-time facts’ is to a Christian a mere abstraction, wholly unintelligible and therefore altogether unteachable unless it be seen in its relationship to God as its presupposition…no ‘fact’ is seen as it really is unless it is seen in its correct relationship to God.”

    “…only a Christian theist has the facts because there are none but theistic facts…the nontheist refuses to acknowledge the Creator who alone can be the proper context for interpreting any fact. Therefore, nontheists deal only with ‘bare facts’, that is, with abstractions that have no meaning.”

    “What sense is there in spending money for teaching arithmetic in a Christian school rather than in a so-called neutral school unless you are basically convinced that no space-time fact can be talked about about taught unless seen in its relationship to God? When speaking thus of the absolute antithesis that underlies the education policies of our schools, it is not too much to say that if any subject could be taught elsewhere than in a Christian school, there would be no reason for having Christian schools.”

    “The only reason why we are justified in having Christian schools is that we are convinced that outside of a Christian-theistic atmosphere there can be no more than an empty process of one abstraction teaching abstractness to other abstractions.”

    “No teaching of any sort is possible except in Christian schools.”

    “The ground for the necessity of Christian schools lies in this very thing, that no fact can be known unless it be known in its relationship to God. And once this point is clearly seen, the doubt as to the value of teaching arithmetic in Christian schools falls out of the picture. Of course arithmetic must be taught in a Christian school. It cannot be taught anywhere else.”

    “…if you cannot teach arithmetic to the glory of God, you cannot do it any other way because it cannot be done any other way by anybody.”

    “On the basis of our opponents the position of the teacher is utterly hopeless. He knows that he knows nothing and that in spite of this fact he must teach. He knows that without authority he cannot teach and that there are no authorities to which he can appeal. He has to place the child before an infinite series of possibilities and pretend to be able to say something about the most advisable attitude to take with respect to the possibilities, and at the same time he has to admit that he knows nothing at all about those possibilities. And the result for the child is that he is not furnished with an atmosphere in which he can live and grow.”

    “In contrast with this the Christian teacher knows himself, knows the subject, and knows the child. He has the full assurance of the absolute fruitfulness of his work. He labors in the dawn of everlasting results.”

    And when he he’s easily enlisted amongst educational theonomists it can be very difficult to see how his formal efforts to resist their forced crowning help:

    http://www.understandingchristianeducation.com/presbyterian-and-reformed-christian-education/cornelius-van-til-and-christian-education/

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  38. Dr. Hart,

    So if we’re positing Common Grace is the non-holy realm where Natural Revelation is sufficient as a governing force……aren’t we de facto rejecting Van Til’s theonomy/autonomy dilemma? Would you agree with the non-holy label? My views on this are pretty much in agreement with Kline’s model.

    I’ve heard many people say VT rejected Common Grace. I know he had a doctrine of CG….but it doesn’t seem to work with his structure. Please comment.

    I’m so glad someone will engage on this. Usually when you bring this up…….everyone shuts down. You can’t touch VT.

    Everett I agree the dots aren’t necessarily easy to connect, and I don’t get the impression he was trying to. But wow, what a platform he gave them to build on. It’s the heart of their whole system for applying Sola Scriptura WAY beyond Redemptive-History…well, trying to.

    John A.

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  39. John A.,

    Once more, I suppose you can say that Van Til gave the theonomists a platform to build on the same what those who believed in the spirituality of the church gave slave-owners a platform…but in both cases there is abuse and misunderstanding taking place. I do not deny that CVT was big in the Christian Education realm (Phil-Mont Academy)…and I don’t know if that is necessarily wrong. I mean, I don’t see too many Christians clamoring to put their children into public schools these days (not sure they ought to). Sure, the push might be for home-schooling but private Christian school is also a popular option (not to mention charter schools that follow private Christian school formats). I think that home-schooling is for those of us who feel that we have given enough money to an education system and would rather do it ourselves…or have our wives do it. If there were schools that simply focused on reading, writing and arithmetic then I would consider it…but since they do not exist and schools are more academies of immoral indoctrination these days I would rather have a crack at it.

    It’s not that I consider education “off limits” in the debate – but I do see it as a different area of responsibility for the Christian family than, say, national economy and international relations. In fact, I would argue that I get to actually use natural law when teaching my children math, English, German and Greek…well, I guess the Greek I teach them is Biblical Greek.

    All I am saying is that CVT’s position on education might have played into the hands of theonomists but I think it had more to do with his Dutch roots and the push for Christian education, generally, at that time than with what North and Bahnsen ended up doing with it. Remember, he wrote with Berkhof on Christian education…both private and public education were still forming identities at that time with the Monkey-Scopes trial in the immediate background.

    Personally, I do not believe that CVT is off limits – no one is. I do think that he relies on Vos a bit more than Dr. Hart might but I was conditioned, at WTS, to think of Vos as Van Til’s favorite professor…Machen never took a class with Vos. But perhaps it is more Kuyper who forces the distinction between CVT and the theonomists. I still have much to learn. I have always appreciated CVT’s Christian philosophy (I do believe there is such a thing) as well as his critique of a number of secular and religious philosophers (Kant and Barth come to mind).

    I do think that his doctrine of CG was more or less focused for his apologetic. Reading Van Til is like reading the same essay over and over and over and over. Whether he was teaching metaphysics, epistemology, systematic theology or ethics…he was just teaching apologetics.

    Thanks for the interaction!

    Like

  40. Eliza, thanks for the link:

    Frame says: “I am convinced that there is such a thing as natural law. But I am not at all convinced of Van Drunen’s [sic] (or anyone else’s) distinction between religious and secular kingdoms, and I do not see any reason to limit the use of Scripture to the religious kingdom as Van Drunen [sic] suggests. Scripture is God’s word, and God’s word is the foundation of morality. When we want to draw people, believers or unbelievers, to that foundation, we should be unashamed to refer to Scripture. I grant that there are many cultural forces telling us not to refer to Scripture in the public square. But we should not listen to them. The attempt of Van Drunen [sic] and others to convince us not to apply Scripture to civil matters is a failure.”

    But Calvin says:
    “Therefore, to perceive more clearly how far the mind can proceed in any matter according to the degree of its ability, we must here set forth a distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.

    “Of the first class the following ought to be said: since man is by nature a social animal, he tends through natural instinct to foster and preserve society. Consequently, we observe that there exist in all men’s minds universal impressions of a certain civic fair dealing and order. Hence no man is to be found who does not understand that every sort of human organization must be regulated by laws, and who does not comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence arises the unvarying consent of all nations and of individual morals with regard to laws. For their seeds have, without teacher or lawgiver, been implanted in all men.”

    Funny that Frame’s take on NL is the same as his take on the RPW — as you say, “bad.”

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  41. Everett,

    Thanks for your comments. I will print that out and ponder it I assure you.

    We homeschool our 4 children, wouldn’t do anything else. I wasn’t even thinking in terms of schooling per se……I was thinking more along the lines of what they’ve done with economics, politics, and where I get real upset….historical interpretation.

    Great stuff here. Thanks.

    John A.

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  42. And thank you Zrim for those comments. I’m going to ponder all that a bit ….

    I’ve been given something to think about…..I hope I’ve done the same for someone else.

    It’s good when web-threads are profitable. It doesn’t always happen that way.

    John A.

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  43. Calvin’s Institutes, 2. 8.l
    “The Lord has offered us his written law to convey more certain testimony of that which is too obscure in the natural law”
    My point is: if natural law is so obvious, so clear, so, well, natural, then why don’t appeals to it yield fruit? Why don’t people get on board with banning abortion if they naturally understand that it’s wrong? But I agree with Frame that everyone, sinner and saint, is under obligation to keep the moral law.

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  44. My point is: if natural law is so obvious, so clear, so, well, natural, then why don’t appeals to it yield fruit? Why don’t people get on board with banning abortion if they naturally understand that it’s wrong?

    This is always curious reasoning: natural law is dubious because people don’t do it right, which is like saying a rule is dubious because it gets broken. So what? I’m not about to stop telling my daughter not to smart mouth her mother just because she keeps doing it (and simply telling her the Bible backs me up isn’t a magic bullet against her sin). But like Paul says, it’s not the law’s fault that things go badly, it’s that its application depends on sinners.

    And if it’s the political question of abortion you want to use as an example, I could just as easily complain that few get on board with states’ rights instead of federal banning (or legalizing), therefore NL seems dubious. I mean, isn’t local control oh so obvious to everyone? But too bad for me there’s nothing in the Bible about local control like there is children obeying their parents.

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  45. RL, DGH, Zrim,

    Sorry for the dalayed response, I have been on the road. You all bring up some pretty valid points, and I’ll try to repond as best as I can here:

    RL: The OT context for the acquisition of war-spoil slaves was theocratic Israel, not 18th & 19th century colonialism, or intra-tribal warfare amongst Africans. Israel’s wars could rightly be construed as holy war, colonialism and tribal warfare would have a hard time meeting the criteria of Augustine’s notions of just war. I am not sure how solid an affirmitive argument to the legitimacy of these slaves could be. So, even if I conceded that criminal slaves were legitimate, you still have to account for a large portion of slaves that were questionably acquired.

    I do understand that it would have been exceedingly difficult for the Southern Presbyterians to bring the issue of slavery before their church courts given the cultural moorings of the time. The fact that they did not was in my opinion a deep failure and should be honestly conceded as such. The Southern Presbyterian approval of slavery allowed her members to be unlawfully enriched from improperly acquired labor, and the human end of this equation did damage their witness into the world at large.

    Dr. Hart – I am certainly not arguing for the legitimace of slavery in the modern context. However, there does seem to be a few scenarios where slavery was acceptable even in the bible. In the case of Onesimus, since Paul sought his release through legal means I would assume that he was acquired legally. Of course that’s simply assumed from the silence of the text so I won’t push it far. I wasn’t framing my point with the assumption that all slavery is wicked, because I believe it can in some cases (such as bankrupcy slavery) be construred as legitimate. The morality of slavery in the south may have been an important socieatal issue, however in the Church I think that the legality of it all should have come into play. These slaves were viewed as property, and as such I think that the Law speaks to property inasmuch as it ought to be properly acquired (8th Command). If you had a member of your church who refused to pay his taxes but had all kinds of biblical arguments to support his claims, wouldn’t you still bring him before the courts? Whatever the arguments for slavery, and no matter where the arguments were derived scripturally, I am not so sure that the church dealt with the implication that the slaves were more likely than not stolen and/or illegitimately acquired property. This was in my opinion, cultural complexities notwithstanding, a real failure of our southern brothers, and I see no problem of owning this.

    Zrim – I know that the slavery issue, along with those pesky Nazi’s are most commonly used as the other sides “yeah but….”. The problem is that they don’t concede the complexity of living through these kinds of issues, alongside the fact that their biblical argumentation is wanting as well. My only issue is that sometimes we 2k-ers in our efforts to highlight the complexity of the issues fall short of simply giving a better take on the matter since we do have the privelege of historical perspective. The Nazi’s were wrong to kill Jews, and inasmuch as supporting the Nazi’s meant supporting the extermination of Jews, German Christians were wrong to support this. America was wrong to give legal support to slavery, especially if the acquisition of these slaves were truly called into question; christian’s who supported this were wrong. I have no problem saying this, with the understanding that I may have just as easily been guilty if I were in their situation. As an advocates for SOTC, I do think that cultural sins need to be dealt with like any other sin within the church – firmly and gracefully. How the state deals with these issues is another matter, and under the jurisdiction of a different kingdom.

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  46. My only issue is that sometimes we 2k-ers in our efforts to highlight the complexity of the issues fall short of simply giving a better take on the matter since we do have the privelege of historical perspective.

    Again, Jed, I appreciate your points, but I can’t help but wonder if there still resides in your comment the sort of modern assumption I mean to question, namely “the privilege of historical perspective.” I think if we’re being honest, the reason we don’t traffic in slavery any longer has more to do with the fact that it’s just not a facet of modern society, not because we moderns have figured out the superior cultural morality. I know we like to tell ourselves it’s the latter through the doctrine of “historical perspective,” but given that there are plenty of cultural realities in 2010 America that could be equally construed as immoral, at the very least the credibility of the modern to pass judgment on the past is diminished.

    The Nazi’s were wrong to kill Jews, and inasmuch as supporting the Nazi’s meant supporting the extermination of Jews, German Christians were wrong to support this.

    Well, Americans killed Vietnamese and Iraqi civilians. Does this mean my alligiance to the flag and the paying of taxes, etc. translates into murder? I’m sorry, but this sounds very close to the 1K argument that to submit to Hitler was the same as killing Jews. I know you qualify it with “inasmuch as,” but I have a hard time seeing what that means exactly. Does it mean waving the German flag during war time like my wife puts out the American flag during war time? Is she guilty of killing Iraqi civilians?

    I am just as much a 2010 American Yank as I think you are. But what I am trying to do, Jed, is suggest that we take a little more objective look at our shared 2010 American cultural values. My inner American wants to say that the guy waving the German Worker’s Union flag and standing up as Hitler drives by is just as guilty as Mengele. But then I don’t know what stops me from saying my wife is an Iraqi baby killer when she puts out the stars and stripes and stands up at the Fourth of July parade as Vietnam vets pass.

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