One of John Frame’s implicit complaints about two-kingdom theology is that its proponents are not as forthright as they should be about the Lordship of Christ or even about their own Christian profession. In his new book, he writes:
Too often, in ethical debate, Christians sound too much like unbelievers. They reason as if they and their opponents are both operating on the same principle: human rational autonomy. I believe they almost inevitably give this false impression when they are reasoning according to natural law alone. Only when the Christian goes beyond natural law and begins to talk about Jesus as the resurrected king of kings does his witness become distinctively Christian. At that point, of course, he is reasoning from Scripture, not from natural revelation alone.
A recent post by Peter Leithart for First Things‘ “On the Square” reminded me of Frame’s lament. Leithart was writing about empires in a positive light, hence his title “Toward a Sensible Discussion of Empire.” For the politically challenged, a sensible discussion of empire may be necessary since folks on the Left and the Right are not fans of the tyranny and overreach that usually comes with imperial administrations. Paleo-conservatives particularly lament the loss of the United States’ salad days as a republic and its emergence as the helicopter-mom nation-state. Among Leithart’s “sensible” thoughts are these:
6) American hegemony is not an undiluted evil. In some respects, it is a good, and preferable to many of the conceivable alternatives. America is the linchpin of a global economic system that has improved the lives of millions. We are still a beacon of liberty, our military has effectively defeated evil regimes and delivered the weak, and we continue to be an asylum for the oppressed. The world reaps more favors from American hegemony than it wants to admit. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and the neoconservatives are right. . . .
8) America has often acted very badly. Noam Chomsky is right too. Native Americans have many legitimate complaints against the U.S., as do Latin American countries.While we Americans congratulated ourselves for our Christian charity in civilizing the Philippines, other Americans were killing Filipinos or herding them into concentration camps. For decades, we have deliberately dropped bombs on civilians and slaughtered hundreds of thousands. Sometimes we are merely foolish or short-sighted, as when we propped up Saddam Hussein or spread Islamicist propaganda to inspire the mujahedeen to fight the Soviets. And culture warriors should worry more about our export of domestic pathologies: If violent and sexually explicit entertainment, abortion, and an aggressive homosexual lobby threaten our culture, they aren’t good for the rest of the world either.
9) The benefits from empires do not excuse the behavior of empires. We cannot give ourselves a pass on international folly and injustice by congratulating ourselves on the good things we do.
As much as I may debate Leithart’s thoughts about empire — they are not surprising, after all, from a fellow who wrote a positive biography of a Roman emperor — the point here is whether the Federal Visionist (which means some kind sympathy for the Christ-is-Lord form of public argument) is as forthrightly Christian as John Frame thinks believers need to be. Notice that Leithart says nothing about Christ as king of kings. Notice also that his criteria for judging the American empire all come from non-biblical criteria.
Now, the additional point is not that Leithart is a hypocrite or that Frame is selective in the writers whom he throws under the Lordship of Christ bus. It is instead that authors write for editors and audiences and need to couch their language and arguments in terms acceptable to the editors and plausible to the readers. This isn’t a matter of the right apologetic method or a consistent epistemology. It is a case of either getting published or not, of being understood or not. If Leithart had come to the editors of First Things with arguments in a distinctively neo-Calvinist idiom, they would likely not have published him.
Perhaps that means that Christians should not write for religiously, epistemologically, or the-politically mixed publications. Indeed, it does seem that Frame’s arguments run directly in the fundamentalist direction of not having anything to do with associations where a believer might have to hide his faith under a bushel (NO!). But if Christian authors, even neo-Calvinist inclined ones, are going to write for publications not edited by Andrew Sandel or Ken Gentry or the faculty of Dort College, they may need to use rhetoric and arguments that are not pedal-to-the-metal Christian.
For this reason, I am surprised that John Frame can’t appreciate why 2k writers sound the way they do, or appeal to natural law arguments the way they do. He himself lauds the book reviews of secular publications as a model for his own engagement with the so-called Escondido theology:
To me, a review was, when possible, an occasion for careful analysis of an author’s thought and an exchange of views between the author and myself. My models here came from publications like the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and National Review. The Christian magazine Books and Culture is another source of reviews that thoughtfully interact with a writer’s ideas.
If Frame is used to reading non-Christian sources, and even finds in them a model of intellectual engagement, then I am surprised that he can sound so condemning of 2k writers for apparently betraying Christ’s claims upon all of life. Then again, I am surprised that a man who uses the New Yorker or Atlantic as models for book reviewing numbers the paragraphs in his own reviews.