A Secular Faith

I wish I had read more Bernard Lewis before I wrote a certain book:

Secularism in the modern political meaning – the idea that religion and political authority, church and state are different, and can or should be separated – is, in a profound sense, Christian. Its origins may be traced in the teaching of Christ, confirmed by the experience of the first Christians; its later development was shaped and, in a sense, imposed by the subsequent history of Christendom. The persecutions endured by the early church made it clear that a separation between the two was possible; the persecutions inflicted by later churches persuaded many Christians that such a separation was necessary.

The older religions of mankind were all related to – were in a sense a part of – authority, whether of the tribe, the city, or the king. The cult provided a visible symbol of group identity and loyalty; the faith provided sanction for the ruler and his laws. Something of this pre-Christian function of religion survives, or reappears, in Christendom, where from time to time priests exercised temporal power, and kings claimed divine right even over the church. But these were aberrations from Christian norms, seen and reciprocally denounced as such by royal and clerical spokesmen. The authoritative Christian text on these matters is the famous passage in Matthew 22:21, in which Christ is quoted as saying, “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Commentators have differed as to the precise meaning and intention of this phrase, but for most of Christian history it has been understood as authorizing the separate coexistence of two authorities, the one charged with matters of religion, the other with what we would nowadays call politics.

In this, the practice of Christianity was in marked contrast with both its precursors and its competitors. In imperial Rome Caesar was God, reasserting a doctrine that goes back to the god-kings of remote antiquity. Among the Jews, for whose beliefs Josephus coined the term “theocracy,” God was Caesar. For the Muslims, too, God was the supreme sovereign, and the caliph was his vice-gerent, “his shadow on earth.” Only in Christendom did God and Caesar coexist in the state, albeit with considerable development, variety, and sometimes conflict in the relations between them. (What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, 2002, 96-97)

Could it be that resistance to two-kingdom theology is simply the congenital human propensity to identify the sacred in the temporal, or to conflate cult and culture? Is it also a failure to grasp how novel Christ’s own claims are from the perspective of human history?

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41 thoughts on “A Secular Faith

  1. Could it be that this Radical Two-Kingdom theology is simply the congenital human propensity to bracket life into two “stories,” the sacred and the secular? Is it also a failure to grasp how novel Christ’s claims are to be “lord of all,” “Prince of the kings of the earth,” to whom “all authority in heaven and in earth has been given”?

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  2. If Christ said both “render unto Caesar” and that he is “Lord of all” it seems to me like there are only two possible way of reconciling these. One is to say that His claim to be “Lord of all” trumps his “render unto Caesar” and in essence cancels it out. The other is to say that even though Christ is ultimatelly Lord of all, He is content to leave some temporal matters to be sorted out through temporal means.

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  3. What Philip and a bunch of others don’t get is that our freedoms are largely dependent on this distinction they despise and wish to break down. Here I’m speaking of our Constitution under which both the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause have secured so many of our freedoms. Those with an itch to unify – you know, Platonists, Kantians, Pantheists, Theonomists and 2k Critics in general – reap the beneifts of our 2k-friendly Constitution, and can just be glad they don’t get their way.

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  4. Conflating “cult” and”culture.” Reckon this bears any significance to the larger problems of conservatism (religious or otherwise) in America?

    “From what source did humankind’s many cultures arise? Why, from cults. A cult is a joining together for worship-that is, the attempt of people to commune with a transcendent power. It is from association in the cult, the body of worshippers, that human community grows. This basic truth has been expounded in recent decades by such eminent historians as Christopher Dawson, Eric Voegelin, and Arnold Toynbee.

    Once people are joined in a-cult, cooperation in many other things becomes possible. Common defense, irrigation, systematic agriculture, architecture, the visual arts, music, the more intricate crafts, economlc production and distribution, courts and government-all these aspects of a culture arise gradually from the cult, the religious de.

    Out of little knots of worshippers, in Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, India, or China, there grew up simple cultures; for those joined by religion can dwell together and work together in relative peace. Presently such simple cultures may develop into intricate cultures, and those intricate cultures into great civilizations. American civilization of our era is rooted, strange though the fact may seem to us, in tiny knots of worshippers in Palestine, Greece, and Italy, thousands of years ago. The enormous material achievements of our civilization have resulted, if remotely, from the spiritual insights of prophets and seers.

    But suppose that the cult withers, with the elapse of centuries. What then of the culture that is rooted in the cult? What then of the civilization which is the culture’s grand manifestation? For an answer to such uneasy questions, we can turn to a twentieth century parable. Here I think of G. K Chesterton’s observation that all life being an allegory, we can understand it only in parable.”
    –Russell Kirk, 1992

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  5. Good questions. I wonder if resistance to two-kingdom theology is also, a rejection of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. In the Heidelberg Disputation we are reminded that the God of the Bible acts far differently than we might expect.

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  6. M&M, let me see if I understand where you’re coming from. Would America be *less* free is we esteemed God’s law? Would legalizing sodomy make America more free? Is that what your saying? Shall we lower the age of man/boy love to 8, like NAMBLA recommends? Would that make America freer? Shall we legalize bestiality? Shall we legalize adultrey? Would these alterations allow America to enjoy more freedom?

    What is your definition of freedom, being able to legally act out depravity in the public square?

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  7. Carey, I do think conservatives need to come to terms with a different way to be conservative, other than the Christendom/civilizational model. That’s why I find Oakeshott and Scruton (and Will) appealing.

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  8. Quick question: Did the sojourners who lived in Israel, (who were not circumcised) enjoy freedom? I thought God told Israel to treat them kindly, no? Was it wrong of God to deprive young potential sodomites of their sexual freedom?

    Has God changed his mind? Did God do an about face and suddenly say, “We’re in the new covenant now”! “Go have fun and play”, try every sexual act you want, after all, we’re not Israel! Let men have the *freedom* to bugger young boys “as long as you’re not in Church”! After all, the common realm is not sacred, it’s common, let sodomites enjoy the *freedom* to practice buggery in peace.

    Is that what you think God said?

    Must freedom include legalizing depravity? Is that what 2K is about?

    Tell me it aint so!

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  9. Formatting got messed up on my previous message. I intended to say:

    DG. These are good questions:

    “Could it be that resistance to two-kingdom theology is simply the congenital human propensity to identify the sacred in the temporal, or to conflate cult and culture? Is it also a failure to grasp how novel Christ’s own claims are from the perspective of human history?”

    I wonder if resistance to two-kingdom theology is also, a rejection of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. In the Heidelberg Disputation we are reminded that the God of the Bible acts far differently than we might expect.

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  10. Dave, optimistic triumphalism, which seems to go with the territory of theonomy, neo-Calvinism, and experimental Calvinism, has always stumbled over a theology of suffering (despite its early and often presence in Scripture).

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  11. Doug,

    RE your post at 12:35 about Israel… please clarify. On your reading, is America equivalent to Israel in God’s redemptive plan? What distinctions must we make?

    That seems to be the implication of your line of argument.

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  12. Brian Lee asked RE your post at 12:35 about Israel… please clarify. On your reading, is America equivalent to Israel in God’s redemptive plan?

    Brian, Israel was the church in her minority in the old testament, and was in a unique redemptive covenant with the LORD.

    So no, America is not Israel! But all men and nations have been commanded by God to repent and bend the knee to Christ, the King of kings. Jesus said he received all authority in heaven and earth; that includes Kings and Magistrates. Therefore all nations should esteem God’s law. And by law, (I don’t mean the ceremonial law) I mean the moral nucleus, or the general equity found in God’s precepts.

    My point was, even in Israel unbelievers were treated with kindness and love. They liked living there! There was plenty of freedom! It’s not an infringement of freedom to esteem God’s law. M&M implied that people, who esteem God’s law as a rule for life, want to curb freedom. I say balderdash! Keeping Gods commandments is life! Legalizing sodomy does not make a enhance freedom for any nation.

    I get the feeling that M&M is implying that God’s law cramps his style. I, like David say,

    “Oh how I love your law, it’s my meditation all through the day and night.”

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  13. D.G.,

    “Optimistic triumphalism, which seems to go with the territory of theonomy, neo-Calvinism, and experimental Calvinism, has always stumbled over a theology of suffering (despite its early and often presence in Scripture).”

    Well said. Sad but true.

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  14. DGH solemnly asks Doug, do you think Goliath enjoyed living in Israel?

    No. Of course that wasn’t my point. Unbelievers did live in Israel and they had the FREEDOM to do what ever tickled there fancy. They were free in the real sense of the word. They just couldn’t practice things like open idolatry, rape, depravity; things that would enslave them as a people anyway! Following God’s law as a rule for life personifies true freedom in the truest sense of the word, as long as we appropriate it by faith. God’s law is holy and good! Just listen to a man after God’s own heart:

    “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your law before me.”

    I guess King David didn’t buy into the “law is not of faith” nonsense that some try to squeeze out of a miss-understanding with Paul, who can be hard to understand according to Peter.

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  15. Doug, this is an arresting response and may explain why theonomy lives in the U.S. You think unbelievers had the freedom to do whatever tickled their fancy. That’s odd. The Israelites didn’t even have this freedom. And yet you continue to remind me that I don’t have freedom since I am bound by God’s law.

    So you read “radical” 2k back into Israel and bring theonomy into our pluralistic society. The mind blows.

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  16. DGH, there is no conflict with freedom and God’s law, unless you define freedom as the ability to do evil. Of course, that’s not freedom, that’s bondage to sin, the very opposite of freedom. I’ve noticed you keep making this same mistake. Can you read, or are you just stubborn? Take a listen to a man after God’s own heart:

    Select cuts from Psalms 119

    “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

    Notice David found life in observing God’s law.

    “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I will set your rules before me.”

    David knew the way to approach God’s law was by faith, the very opposite of what you think.

    “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”

    Wow! That is incredible! Can you echo King David and say you find God’s law more precious than gold? You see DG, God’s law seen through eyes of faith sees a perfect reflection of the character of God, and that is beautiful!

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  17. Doug, right, and God’s law said purge the Promised Land of Cananites, Philistines, yada yada yada. It was not a friendly place for unbelievers, Mr. Theonomic 2k.

    We now have another category of 2k — T2k.

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  18. Darryl God always purges out evil in every society in all ages! He puts boundaries on sin. God also promised that if Israel practiced the same evil the Amorites practiced, he would drive them out as well. They did and he did. Did that slip your mind?

    God purging the Amorites out of the 7 nations, had *nothing* to do with unbelievers living well in Israel. God commanded Israel to be kind to the unbelievers in Israel. Who are you to mock that notion? The (unbelievers or sojourners) lived in true freedom under the law! True freedom doesn’t exploit your fellow man or offend God. Moreover, King David wanted all the kings on earth to submit to God’s law. Take a listen to Psalms 119

    Vs. 46: “I will speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statues.”

    DGH, I suggest you meditate on Psalms 119 because you are contradicting the Bible. David loved the commandments! He wanted all kings to hear of God’s commandments! Moreover, your tone is dismissive regarding the commandments of God, so that even if I am miss-applying God intention, you still have no right to ridicule God’s law. Since you are born of God (or so you say) you should echo King David. After all he was a man after God’s own heart.

    If the Bible says unbelievers were to be treated kindly in Israel, what gives you the temerity to contradict that testimony? Why would you even want too?

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  19. Doug, please meditate on this:

    And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

    So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

    The word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night. (1 Samuel 15:1-11 ESV)

    David was no Nixon (who warmed relations with China).

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  20. Doug – “the Bible says unbelievers were to be treated kindly in Israel”

    D.G. – “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

    Doug – “DGH, thanks for making my point! Ilove that verse!”

    Me – Doug, you’re going to have to set aside whatever controlled substances you appear to be ingesting if you want to dialogue here. We require at least a minimal level of logic and consistency.

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  21. Doug,

    Your entire argument, your entire worldview, continues to be undercut by the fact that you are not a lawkeeper but a lawbreaker, as are all of us. Christ was the only lawkeeper so you should be pointing to him, not to the law if you hope to help people. Once people embrace Christ there will be a small measure of lawkeeping, but that is not the focus of the Christian faith. Christ and His righteousness is the focus.

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  22. Any theological show where Jesus is not the star is a problem. It doesn’t matter if “The Law” is the star or if “Jesus in You” is the star. Either way it’s a problem because Christ and his work on the cross is no longer front-and-center.

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  23. D. G. Hart: Dave, optimistic triumphalism, which seems to go with the territory of theonomy, neo-Calvinism, and experimental Calvinism, has always stumbled over a theology of suffering (despite its early and often presence in Scripture).

    RS: In reference to experimental Calvinism, much of what they say (I am speaking of the Puritan types here) involves suffering as the way God works in and on His people to make them more like Christ.

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  24. Erik, God’s judgment on the 7 nations was because of gross sin, (sexual depravity and sacrificing their babies to Molek) not mere unbelief. So God gave the death penalty to those societies for reasons he explains in Scripture. He does the same thing today using different means. The unique aspect of this judgment was that God used his own people (Israel) to avenge him. BUT unbelievers DID live in Israel, (remember many came from Egypt) and God told Israel to treat them kindly. They were not circumcised and were not allowed to eat the Passover meal. They were called the Sojourners, and they lived in compete freedom.

    Darryl has confused himself (so what else is new) with God’s judgment on Canaan, with unbelievers who lived in Israel in true freedom and peace. This is why you should take DGH’s opinions with a grain of salt. He’s virtually always wrong, in his understanding the old testament.

    Quick question Erik, was King David a law breaker? If so, why do you think he loved God’s law? And since he did love the law, why aren’t you and DGH on the same page with David, “the man after God’s own heart”?

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  25. Erik, the WCF states the law is still our rule for life! Are you saying our Confession is wrong? Do you know how antinomian you sound? I rest on the completed work of Christ alone for salvation, and amen! But that does not preclude me loving the law, in fact, if we’re truly born of God we *should* love the law, just like David!

    What is the promise of the new covenant? God will write his law, in our heart! Therefore it follows if we are of him, (born of God) we will love his law, since it’s the same law he wrote on our heart! Moreover, the law is a perfect reflection of God. Why wouldnt we love it?

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  26. Doug – was King David a law breaker?

    Erik – Yes. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed.

    Doug – Erik, the WCF states the law is still our rule for life! Are you saying our Confession is wrong?

    Erik – I am saying you are out of balance in your theological emphases. I subscribe to the Three Forms and the Heidelberg puts the law in the third (gratituide) section after the guilt and grace sections.

    I don’t wholly object to some of the points my opponents make here, just the relative emphasis they put on their points. It becomes a hobby horse for them. That’s the concern.

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  27. DGH, here is some Biblical proof that “unbelievers” lived in and with Israel.

    Exodus 12:37

    And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men of foot, beside women and children. (A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much, livestock, both flocks and herds.

    Okay Darryl, this “mixed multitude” (also called “rabble” in other places in Scripture) was made up Egyptians who were fed up with Pharaoh. These people were not circumcised and were not allowed to eat the Passover meal, but they were treated with kindness.

    I would appreciate an apology for your caustic denial of my assertion that unbelievers lived in Israel.

    THEY IN FACT DID.

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  28. Gilbert Meilaender, Hearts Set to Obey—“The problem with terminological solutions is that they are likely to leave untouched the inability of dialectical Lutheranism to speak of the law as the law of that one God who simply is gracious. That is, they do not address the incipient Marcionism that turns the distinction between law and gospel into a division within God’s own being and thereby makes the normative will of God of purely passing significance. ”

    Meilaender–“In practice, this dualism is tempted to treat the content of the moral life as a purely secular matter. So long, then, as the surrounding culture does the work of carrying and transmitting Christian wisdom about how to live— thereby enabling the church to hide from herself the fact that she no longer has any moral guidance to offer. It is only when the culture no longer seems reliable as a transmitter of Christian virtue that we suddenly realize the church has lost the ability to shape lives.”

    http://www.pseudepigraph.us/2015/09/02/dr-gilbert-meilaenders-weighty-contribution-to-the-antinomianism-debate/

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