When the Evangelical Left and Theonomic Presbyterians Agree

Shane Claiborne mocks Jerry Falwell for tweeting this:

Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome-he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help poor. That’s our job.

Such two-kingdom thinking is heretical for the student of Tony Campolo:

Honestly, this is some of the worst theology I’ve ever heard. And this heresy is from the president of the largest Christian university in the world.

Not only is this “bad” theology… it is also deadly theology. Similar ideology was used to justify apartheid and to excuse Hitler… this notion that sin is personal but rulers are immune to it.

The idea that Caesar or a Roman soldier… or anyone… is exempt from God’s command to love our enemy, care for the poor, or welcome the stranger is heresy. Jesus said we will ALL be asked how we cared for “the least of these.” (Mt.25)

Larry Ball has a similar gripe against two-kingdom theology (inspired by Andrew White’s run for the governor of Texas):

Both natural law and the democratic process determine civil law for the body-politic. The Bible has no place in the body-politic. The Bible is a religious document and it must be restricted to the realm of the church and personal faith. The State must remain neutral toward religion.

Thus, the result of two-kingdom theology is that Religion (Christianity) is personal, restricted to the heart, and the rules for the body politic must not be determined by the Bible. In America all religions are equal, and therefore all religions are equally irrelevant in the public square. Religion is only useful in so far as it makes people good citizens who are obedient to the law of the land.

Either natural law or the voice of the Supreme Court makes right in society as a whole. Mr. White admits that he and his wife would personally not choose abortion, but this is only a personal and therefore a religious matter. The Bible must not be brought into the arena of the civil magistrate. This is to mix church and state.

Two-kingdoms aside and whether Jesus had anything to say about God and Caesar, why is it so hard for evangelicals to separate what America does from what they as believers do? I don’t build bridges, therefore the United States government should not. I would not declare war on another nation or shoot another person, therefore American governments should not fight or enforce the law by force? Can you say delusions of grandeur? Sure you can.

But if you want to side with the feminists that the personal is political, then welcome to evangelical political reflection.


23 thoughts on “When the Evangelical Left and Theonomic Presbyterians Agree

  1. Hauerwas—–Reinhold Niebuhr, in the interest of making Christianity politically responsible, argued that in matters of politics Jesus must be left behind, because the political work necessary for the achievement of justice requires coercion and even violence. Justice so understood becomes more important that the justice of God found in the cross and resurrection of Christ.

    Hauerwas—Enthusiasm for justice distorts our reading of Scripture. It is assumed that justice can be understood apart from Christian theologian convictions and practices. Human rights, for example, are defended in a manner that renders irrelevant what Christians believe or do not believe about God. The approach to Scripture associated with such justice so conceived is determined by the modern political context. That context is one in which the church is assumed to be apolitical and, therefore, not relevant for determining how to know as well as do justice. The church is consigned to the role of cultural custodian of values rightly cordoned off from political practice, which finds its highest expression and guarantor in the nation-state….Even if Jesus is thought to have practiced justice in his ministry, Jesus is appealed to as a symbol . What really matters is not Jesus, but justice. The justice for which the prophets called is often assumed to be universal in a manner that has no particular or intrinsic relation to Jesus.


    John Gerstner—A student immediately arose and said, “Professor Niebuhr, you repudiated the liberal notion that Jesus was merely a man. You said that he was God. What do you mean by calling Jesus Christ God?” Niebuhr explained that he did not mean “ontic deity.” Christ was not eternal. He was not a member of the everlasting Trinity. Niebuhr was now repudiating orthodoxy as sharply as he had repudiated liberalism in his speech. The Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451 had declared that Christ was “truly God and truly man.” Niebuhr expressly disagreed with Chalcedon by name. Niebuhr had rejected both liberalism and orthodoxy. How were we to understand him? The next questioner asked: “What do you mean by ‘God’?” Niebuhr answered with a word he often used later in print—“symbol.” The word ‘‘God’’ did not mean ‘‘God,” it meant “symbol.”


  2. Bill Evans–Reformed theology at its best has sought to do justice to the both/and of what the neo-Calvinist tradition has called “common grace” and the “antithesis”…. Is there an analogy to be drawn between the Gnostics of the second century and modern fundamentalism?

    Rick Phillips—Perhaps the PCA’s differences over worship, confessional fidelity, and cultural accommodation are more closely connected to our most basic Christian commitments than many have thought. Or, perhaps, the issue is really only about the relationship between church and culture. This would seem to be the concern of Pruitt’s critics, who argue that a professing Christian (and elder) should be able to give public support to biblical abominations. You know, two kingdoms, etc.

    Rick Phillips— John the Baptist publicly scolds Herod Antipas for his adultery with his brother’s wife Herodias…John the Baptist’s head comes off. What insight does this passage provide? Where is the faithful servant of Christ found? Is he at the party with Herod? Is he defending Herod’s right to practice his own idea of sexual ethics? I would say that the lesson … is found in Herod’s experience: if conscience does not silence sin, then sin will silence conscience. …The lesson is found not only in the hatred directed towards John the Baptist but also in the attitude of Jesus toward his faithful servant.


    Why did John the Baptist work in a parachurch instead of being a chaplain in the temple? Why did John the Baptist give the means of grace to those who had already received the sacrament of the synagogue? Was John’s office and role confined to those born in the covenant?

    Acts 19— While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? “No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” “Then what baptism were you baptized with?” he asked them.“With John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the One who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.


  3. Is Abortion like drinking or smoking? Why should libertarians make prohibitions where the realpolitik of democracy has already decided that anybody with influence learns to make a distinction between private personal preference and holding office in a nation that kills persons?


  4. Perhaps there are basic concepts of justice that some who are not encumbered by certain theologies can more easily see than those who are constrained by those theologies. Romans 2 tells us that that should not surprise us.


  5. “Not only is this “bad” theology… it is also deadly theology. Similar ideology was used to justify apartheid and to excuse Hitler…“

    This is curious reasoning. The implication is that if our theology doesn’t entail a specific political stance, then we don’t have a good reason for adopting some political stance. Does that mean only Christians can adopt right politics? If atheists, Jews, Hindus, Unitarians, and Christians can all arrive at the same political stance, doesn’t that indicate that one’s religious beliefs do not necessarily entail that political stance? Perhaps there is something else driving one’s political views? No one would blink an eye if I say that my knowledge of astrophysics doesn’t inform my views about immigration, so why should it be unthinkable that my religious convictions have nothing to say about immigration?


  6. sdb,
    Romans 2 ells us that unbelievers can adopt better politics than we do. After all, it would be ironic if those who live by God’s mercy and grace insisted on singing ‘Anything you can do, I can do better‘ to anyone, even unbelievers.


  7. @Curt
    I don’t see how Romans 2 indicates that unbelievers have better politics than believers. But I agree that unbelievers can make better political judgements. That suggests that Christianity does not entail a particular political stance.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t distinguish between good policies and bad policies. Morality and religion are not the only axes for judging the merits of public policy. Indeed they are generally not applicable.

    Extrapolating personal morality to public policy is as reliable a guide as extrapolation of managing a household budget to national economic matters. In addition, in a pluralistic society something like Rawls’s public reason is necessary. Evangelicals who seek to ground their politics (left and right) in their religious views give up any hope of consensus. We can’t agree on who should be baptized, what communion is all about, or the applicability of the 10commandments. Why would anyone think they can use scripture to build political consensus on issues like discrimination law, social welfare, national defense, or immigration?


  8. I have to confess I really enjoy trolling guys like Shane Claiborne, Brian Zahnd, and Greg Boyd on Twitter. There are several reasons for this: what they say is often easily and directly refuted with Scripture, their theological acumen is limited (especially Claiborne and Zahnd), and they frequently take the bait. It’s pretty obvious from that feeble excerpt that Claiborne’s theological understanding, Scriptural knowledge, and basic logic are severely lacking. I doubt he would know true “heresy” if it fell on him.

    I’m no fan of Falwell, but what he tweeted does not constitute “bad theology,” much less heresy. In fact, just about everything Claiborne says is wrong. Claiborne doesn’t seem to understand that Tiberius Caesar’s pedophilia and adultery were sinful, but his tax policy was not; Scripture clearly speaks to the former, but never to the latter. Likewise, Trump’s philandering and lying are sinful, but his tax and immigration policies are not. Certainly government policies can be sinful, but that’s pretty rare and extreme (e.g. the Holocaust). And Matthew 25 is entirely directed at Christians about other Christians (the “least of these” are likely disciples) – in no way does it imply a specific secular government policy.

    The interesting thing about guys like Claiborne and Zahnd and Campolo is they are willing to denounce any government policy or political stance that does not jibe with their leftist agenda, but have no problem calling out the Falwells of the world when they go to the other extreme of denouncing any political stance that violates their sense of conservative social mores. At the end of the day the semi-orthodox leftists and the flaming fundamentalist right both want government to validate and ratify their view of a Christian society. Where I align with the two kingdom view is in understanding that government is never called to do any of that. We as Christians are called to live a life of faithful obedience befitting a member the Kingdom of God – let the secular government do what it will, and we submit to that God-given authority to the greatest extent possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. VV,

    Here, here. I’d also add that it always irks me when the folks you mention try to chart out the Sermon on the Mount as if it is a political program given to the state.

    2K is helpful in making distinctions between what the state must do and what individuals must do. I don’t think that a more Kuyperian approach necessarily denies these distinctions, but they can get more blurry.


  10. David VanDrunen–”Crucial for understanding Matthew 5:38–42 is Jesus’ programmatic statement in 5:17 that introduces his subsequent commands: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” A common reading of this verse in my own Reformed tradition is that Jesus is about to clarify the Mosaic law in response to Pharisaical corruption of Moses.9 While this reading has the virtue of guarding against denigration of the Mosaic law, it is not an adequate interpretation of Jesus’ words.”

    “A general difficulty with this reading is that it fails to reckon with the radical, eschatological newness of the coming of Jesus and his kingdom so emphasized in the preceding texts in Matthew considered above. Matthew 5:17 itself reinforces this sense of eschatological newness. Jesus’ denial that he has come to abolish the law or the prophets indirectly offers further evidence of the spectacular newness of the kingdom of heaven– apparently what has transpired thus far in Matthew’s story has given some people the impression that Jesus has come to abolish something in the OT.”

    David VanDrunen—“The way in which Jesus’ commands unfold in 5:21–48 is ultimately incompatible with reading them as clarification of the Mosaic law over against corrupt Jewish interpretation. For one thing, all six of Jesus’ “You have heard” statements either quote or paraphrase the actual teaching of the Mosaic law, not contemporary Jewish interpretation of it.11 Jesus presents his exhortations in comparison with those of the Mosaic law itself. Second, however much the first two antitheses are amenable to the view that Jesus is purifying the interpretation of the law, the last four antitheses cannot reasonably bear such a reading. Jesus does show the inward demands of the prohibition of murder and adultery in the first two antitheses, but whereas the Mosaic law prescribed procedures for divorce, oath-taking, just retaliation, and destruction of enemies, Jesus proscribes these very actions. To say, for example, that what Moses really intended by writing “keep your oaths” was that the Israelites should not swear at all strains the imagination. Jesus’ statement about divorce in 5:31–32, furthermore, cannot be an elaboration of the OT law since it presumes that the death penalty is not applied against adulterers.



  11. McMark,

    VanDrunen is simply wrong here. Case in point:

    For one thing, all six of Jesus’ “You have heard” statements either quote or paraphrase the actual teaching of the Mosaic law, not contemporary Jewish interpretation of it.

    The last one includes “hate your enemy,” which is not found anywhere that I know of in the Mosaic law. In fact, Israel is told to love many people who, at the time of the law’s writing, could have been considered their enemies, such as the Egyptians.

    Reading those as not clarifying the Mosaic law also puts Jesus at odds with people like the Apostle Paul, who takes oaths in the book of Acts and in his letters.


  12. “The last one includes “hate your enemy,” which is not found anywhere that I know of in the Mosaic law.”

    Robert,I agree with Van Drunen. Here’s why.

    Was not the order to destroy the Canaanites an order to hate God’s enemies in the Land? (The Hebrew idea of hate does not have the same emotional connotation as our modern word does, but to curse instead of bless.) There were many times the Israelites were instructed not to bless their enemies, but curse them, or seek their harm. Even the prophet speaking for God instructs Israel not to love her enemies:

    I Chronicles 19:2 – Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD and so bring wrath on yourself from the LORD?

    And what about the Psalms? Are these sinful sentiments, or sentiments whose foundation is God’s command?

    Psalm 26:5 – I hate the assembly of evildoers, And I will not sit with the wicked.
    Psalm 31:6 – I hate those who regard vain idols, But I trust in the LORD.
    Psalm 119:158 – I behold the treacherous and loathe them, Because they do not keep Your word.
    Psalm 139:22- I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies.


  13. Todd,

    Sure, but there’s no blanket command to hate all of your enemies, and that creates a real problem for VanDrunen’s reading. Especially when many passages in both the OT and NT tell us to love our enemies and to love God’s enemies.

    There’s a context wherein hating enemies is appropriate, but it’s not a universal principle. The way Jesus quotes it makes it as if it is a universal principle, which indicates he isn’t responding to the actual teaching of the OT as such.

    I’m not entirely familiar with what VanDrunen is saying, so perhaps there’s more to the story. But on the face of it, the quotes Mark gives set Jesus against both the OT and the Apostles.


  14. Robert,

    There is no blanket statement to love all your enemies either. Neither view would need such a blanket statement to be correct. The idea is that Jesus is contrasting the ethics of the new covenant age of the Spirit with old covenant Israel. And v. 21 and v. 27 are direct quotations from the OT Law, so it would be odd in the midst of the antitheses that the MO changes from the heightened ethics of the new covenant vs. the old, to correcting misunderstandings of the OC law.


  15. @ Todd:

    I don’t understand the distinction made here. Is DvD saying that Jesus is contrasting genuinely ethical statements from the OT era with genuinely ethical statements from the NT era?

    I’m guessing that he interprets “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” as Jesus announcing that a new, fuller meaning of the Law is now in force, where it had not previously been?

    But if so, then consistent exegesis would seem to require saying that it was ethical in the OT era to look at another woman lustfully, or be angry with one’s brother without cause, or to divorce one’s wife except for cause of unfaithfulness, or to make oaths by heaven or earth.

    Is that where DvD goes with this? Or am I misunderstanding?


  16. @ McMark: From your quoted article:

    DvD: In this article I argue both for a strong—even literal—reading of Matt 5:38–42 and for the ongoing legitimate role for the sword-bearing state and Christian cooperation with it. Recognizing the lex talionis as the principle of strict retributive justice is crucial for my argument. Jesus truly decreed that the coercive application of the lex talionis was not to be pursued. Yet in doing so he did not intend to undermine civil authority or to prohibit Christians from supporting the work of the state. In Matt 5:38–42, Jesus announces that the pursuit of retributive justice has no place in the kingdom of heaven.

    That seems quite at odds with the position you’ve articulated elsewhere. Why bring van Drunen forward as a witness?


  17. Jeff,

    The question is not what is ethical, but what ethics the OT Law enforced. The ethics of the anti-type (heaven) are higher than the ethics of the type (Israel). You may be punished in OT Israel for murder, but not for anger, but anger is enough to keep you out of the kingdom of heaven.


  18. Does this mean that nobody gets to bring forward a quotation from Calvin unless they agree with Calvin’s position on the magistrate? Why not quote Roger Williams when you want liberty for the state (of this present age) against the church? In your position, is there liberty for individuals or only for mediating institutions?

    Calvin–“The magistrate, if he is godly, will not want to exempt himself from the common subjection of God’s children. It is by no means the least significant part of this for him to subject himself to the church, which judges according to God’s Word ” (Institutes, 4.11.13)

    Calvin—Though godly kings defend the kingdom of Christ by the sword, still it is done in a different manner from that in which worldly kingdoms are wont to be defended… Yet this does not hinder princes from accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline, and partly, by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men.

    Leithart—” Christendom has been evident in, for instance, coronation rites that invoke the Triune God, treatises on godly rule that stress the ruler’s imitatio Christi, and legal codes that cite or are rooted in Scripture. In this sense, Christendom is inherent in the gospel. Yahweh promised Abraham that kings would come from him. Psalm 2 proclaims that the Lord has set His anointed at His right hand to rule the nations… As Oliver O’Donovan has stressed, Christendom fulfills the gospel as the response of the nations to the authority of Jesus. Christendom aims to embody the vision of this prayer, taken from the Lutheran Service Book & Hymnal: “O God our Father, who hast promised that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of thy Son: Purge the nations of error and corruption; overthrow the power of sin, and establish the kingdom of grace in every land; incline the hearts of all rulers and peoples to the Lord of lords and King of glory, that he may enter into their cities, churches, and homes, to dwell there and govern all things by his word and Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

    Leithart– Constantine facilitated the assembly of the council of Nicea, but did not (in my judgment) control its results.
    In acknowledging the church as the body of Christ, Christendom’s rulers have also respected the church as God’s spokesman. Ambrose rebuked Theodosius for his brutality in war; more ambiguously, Gregory VII brought Henry to heel. In the best cases, the church played a prophetic role in historic Christendom.—Constantine didn’t control the internal operations of the church, but his generosity in sponsoring the church made the church somewhat dependent on state funds and created perverse incentives for church leaders



  19. McMark: Does this mean that nobody gets to bring forward a quotation from Calvin unless they agree with Calvin’s position on the magistrate?

    Rather, it means that maintaining intellectual integrity with quotations is really hard. It’s an area where I struggle constantly, because it’s hard to ensure that I am fairly presenting the position of the quoted source, that the quote actually supports the point I want to make, and that I’m not omitting crucial context needed to make the quote intelligible instead of misleading.

    It is indeed possible to quote someone with whom you have narrow agreement. Doing so with integrity often requires circumscribing the quote, explaining how and in what ways your agreement stops at X, unless the context makes circumscription clear.

    In your case, quoting Fesko to support a point quite opposite from Fesko’s doesn’t seem to rise to the standards. That happens, so I remarked on it. *shrug*

    McMark: Why not quote Roger Williams when you want liberty for the state (of this present age) against the church?

    I might, if I circumscribed Williams to show that liberty for the state against the church can be decoupled from Williams’ other views. The views of most people are heavily entangled, and it’s not easy to take an idea without inviting a whole bundle of ideas along for the ride. How does Williams’ view on church/state relate to his view on baptism? On the nature of the true church? Secondary separation? And so on.

    More importantly, I would also need to address Williams’ internal tensions: Obtaining state sanction for his own colony founded on a religious principle of liberty of conscience, and his heavy push against the Quakers.

    So yeah, I can quote Williams, but not without a lot of heavy lifting.

    McMark: In your position, is there liberty for individuals or only for mediating institutions?

    Actually, liberty for individuals requires corresponding restraint on the part of institutions. WCF 20 is a good place to read up on that.


  20. Matt T–As Martin Luther put it, the Christian prince “should picture Christ to himself, and say, ‘Behold, Christ, the supreme ruler, came to serve me … I will do likewise, seeking from my subjects not my own advantage but theirs.'” …. I don’t think we should assume, as is often done, that the apostle Paul thought slavery was just fine. In 1 Corinthians he tells slaves to obtain their freedom if possible, “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human beings” (1 Corinthians 7:23).

    Matt T–Paul believed the Gospel had social implications that undermined the institution of slavery. …What is important is not whether or not the social circumstances of the first century AD are normative, therefore, but the way in which Christians are to act in the structures in which they find themselves. Whether you are in a position of power or not, the New Testament makes clear, your obligation is to act in a manner that is not only obedient to Christ, but that reflects what Christ has accomplished in the Gospel. In short, Christians are consistently called to act in light of their identity in Christ and after the example of Christ.

    Matt T–Nowhere is this clearer than in 1 Peter, where Peter explicitly acknowledges that slaves and women often find themselves in abusive relationships, while pointing them to the example of Christ, who was righteous even in the way that he himself suffered abuse. Here Peter, like Paul, echoes Jesus’ formative call to all believers to take up their cross and follow him. In some cases this means we submit to the suffering inflicted on us by an oppressor, as did Jesus. In other cases it means we sacrifice our selves – and our own authority – for the good of another, as did Jesus. Either way, it is Jesus who shows us most perfectly what it means to be a new creation, a new human being living a new life toward God and toward one another.

    Matt t_ Why is it so important to emphasize, as the Heidelberg Catechism does, and as the New Testament does, a Christocentric ethic? Because our primary calling is not to show the world that we are very moral people – very good people – zealous for the glory of God. Our primary calling is not to show that we have kept the law as well as can be humanly expected and that we expect others to do the same. Our primary calling is to reflect Jesus Christ and the work he has done and is doing, in love, for sinful people such as ourselves. The law doesn’t have a lot to say about the sort of compassion that is expressed in forgiveness, mercy, and the inclusion of sinners, but this is what walking after the example of Christ is all about. The law doesn’t have a lot to say about the sort of self-sacrifice that puts the good of an undeserving other ahead of our own rights, but such self-sacrifice lies at the heart of what it means to be conformed to Christ.

    Matt T—No matter how much cultural power or influence we have, it cannot match that which Christ had when, though he was in the form of God, he came down incarnate as a human being, and took up the form of a servant, even to the point of the cross. Like him, no matter how much circumstances may put us in a place of cultural power, from which we might be tempted to devote ourselves to compelling everyone else to go down the proper path , we are called to walk in the way of a suffering servant


    The New Covenant is not about reading Moses more carefully than the Pharisees did. RATHER we are to hear Him. LISTEN TO THE SON

    Luke 9: 2 Peter and those with him were in a deep sleep, and when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who were standing with Him. 33 As the two men were departing from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.34 While Peter was saying this, a cloud appeared and overshadowed them. They became afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came from the cloud, saying:This is My Son, the Chosen One. Listen to Him.


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