A Kinder Gentler Theocracy

Peter Leithart returns to the case for theocracy:

If theocracy means “the rule of priests” or involves the absorption of civil order into religious institutions, Christianity has been chary toward the idea. In fact, Christianity can be credited with introducing the distinction between religion and politics into a world where the two were fused in what Francis Oakley calls “sacral kingship.” Civil authority, Augustine insisted, belongs to the saeculum, the time between the kingdom’s coming and its consummation. The Church alone is the sacred and eternal society.

Still, there’s something disingenuous about the denials. The Church has often interfered with civil authority, sometimes calling brutal rulers to account and standing up for the weak, sometimes shamefully providing cover for the brutes. As Pierre Manent has noted, Christianity simultaneously frees “secular” society and demands that all human life conform to the will of God.

That might make sense if the Bible actually spoke to all of life or if Bible readers didn’t have to interpret it. But where exactly is the freedom that Paul commends in 1 Corinthians 8 (meat offered to idols) to be found in Manent’s view of divine rule?

And to spiritualize Christ’s kingdom? That’s dangerous.

Christians sometimes flinch from the political import of these claims. We nervously spiritualize, we frantically privatize. “Jesus is Lord” is translated into “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior”—somewhat, as Ken Myers likes to put it, like a “personal trainer.” Jesus’s kingdom is said to be a “spiritual kingdom” that leaves Caesar’s realm pretty much intact.

That’s a dangerous misreading of the gospel. As Hauerwas says, “‘Jesus is Lord’ is not my personal opinion” but “a determinative political claim.” Psalm 2 ends with an exhortation to kings and judges to acknowledge the Lord’s anointed as King of Kings. For political rulers, repentance means bowing to Jesus as a superior authority.

Even so, Leithart thinks that theocracy doesn’t need to be scary:

Christian theocracy bends politics toward compassion, mercy, and impartial justice. I don’t share Hauerwas’s pacifism, but he’s right that Christianity introduces a new politics of patience: “Christ, through the Holy Spirit, bestows upon his disciples the long-suffering patience necessary to resist any politics whose impatience makes coercion and violence the only and inevitable response to conflict.” Christian theocracy is premised on the persuasion that there is love deep down things. It reminds rulers that King Jesus is also Judge. It’s frightening mainly to thugs.

Actually, Christ’s rule should be scary to anyone who isn’t Christ’s. At the same time, if Christ’s rule over his people isn’t spiritual this side of the new heavens and new earth, the Shorter Catechism doesn’t make any sense:

Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

There you have the spirituality of the church and two kingdoms in a nut shell. Christ rules everything; nothing falls outside his authority. But Christ’s rule over the church is different over his enemies. He rules both. But for these two spiritual races to coexist during this interadvental age, Christ institutes the church for saving his people and the state to keep in check his enemies.

That’s not theocracy. It’s two kingdoms.

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2 thoughts on “A Kinder Gentler Theocracy

  1. It seems that there are two issues in the article above: how Christians should demand that everyone acknowledge Jesus and how Christians should share society with others.

    Yes, we are to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and demand that everyone acknowledge that. But there are multiple ways of making such a demand. And so the question becomes, should we expect the state to legally require that people acknowledge Jesus? There is nothing in the NT that supports the answer ‘yes’ to that question.

    The next issue is how Christians should share society with others. That issue can be at least partially answered by the answer to the question of should we Christians expect the state to require people to acknowledge Jesus. But in addition, if the answer to the above question is ‘no,’ then how should we share society with others? Should we withdraw and allow society to receive the fruit of its own sins? Or should we participate with unbelievers in society to try to improve society. And if the answer to the last question is a ‘yes,’ then should that participation with unbelievers only take place on an individual basis only or could it also include church institutions participating with unbelievers as well?

    Like

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