Before Calvin

What would happen if critics of 2k had to think about the relationship between the church and magistrates before emperors got religion (and who knows if they grasped Christianity for the right reasons)?

In the current issue of New Horizons, David VanDrunen explains where 2k reflection on the state starts — not in 1536 but in 33.

The apostolic church lived under civil magistrates who did not confess Christ and sometimes persecuted people who did. Yet New Testament texts such as Romans 13:1–7 and 1 Peter 2:13–17 taught that God had ordained civil magistrates and that believers ought to honor and submit to them.

Following the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century, the status of Christians in society changed. The contemporary church historian Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, described the Roman Empire under Constantine as the fulfillment of Old Testament texts prophesying that war would cease and the wicked would be cut off: Constantine was realizing Christ’s kingdom on earth. Shortly thereafter, Augustine (354–430) provided a much more modest view. In his City of God, Augustine described Christians as sojourners, on a pilgrimage in this world toward the heavenly city. He acknowledged that Christians should participate in their political communities, but he taught that all earthly rulers and empires are provisional, not to be confused with Christians’ eschatological hope.

In the fifth century, the “Christendom” model emerged. As described by Pope Gelasius I, there are “two powers” that exercise authority under God in this world: the emperor has authority over “temporal affairs” for the sake of “public order,” and the priest controls the sacraments and “spiritual activities,” toward the goal of “eternal life.” Priest and emperor should submit to one another in their proper spheres.

This model was helpful in important respects. It affirmed that civil governments are legitimate, ordained by God. It also taught that their jurisdiction is limited and subject to God’s authority.

But notice the problems:

First, it essentially wed the church to the state in a confessionally unified Christian society. The New Testament, however, never suggests that Christians should expect or seek such a society.

Second, the state was expected to enforce the church’s claims about doctrine and worship by punishing dissenters with the sword. This reality sat uncomfortably beside New Testament teaching that Christ’s gospel and kingdom do not advance by the weapons of this world. Many who sought to reform the church—such as John Hus in the fifteenth century—would meet untimely ends as victims of this church-state alliance.

So long as a Protestant city council supports our guy, John Calvin, we forget about the problems of a religious magistrate? It’s our civil government.

And so long as that Cadillac CTS that only gets 13.8 mpg is a comfortable ride to church, we forget about the price of gas or limits on fossil fuels? It’s our gas guzzler.

Piling On

So thanks to Matt Tuininga’s critique of Scott Clark and mmmmmeeeEEEEEE, Stephen Wolfe adds to Clark’s and my misery:

I think that Matthew Tuininga has made a valuable correction to D.G. Hart and R. Scott Clark who seem to find no social value in Christian sanctification. Would not our conformity to the image of the Last Adam have social implications? Of course, it would. The fundamental problem with the Hart-Clark 2k theology is their failure to recognize that the Gospel, which includes sanctification, restores the Adamic dominian. As J Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth have made abundantly clear, “man’s Adamic dominion has been in principle restored in Christ.” This means, so it seems to me, that sanctification includes a conformity to the original Edenic order and a restoration toward the original mandate to bring, through human creativity and work, creation to its potential maturity. This has nothing to do with immanentizing the eschaton, as Eric Voegelin warned against. It means rather that the Gospel empowers Christians to work toward the realization of a mature natural order.

But just when Mike Horton and Dave VanDrunen thought they were on comfortable chairs in the bus terminal (oxymoron alert), a quick google search reveals that they are just as bad — maybe worse:

VanDrunen contends that the cultural mandate was given as a condition through which Adam would inherit eternal life for himself and his offspring. This activity of Adam was temporal, only given by God in preparation for the Sabbath rest in which he would partake through his obedience. He purports that because Christ is the last Adam, such a cultural mandate is no longer a necessity for those who are in Christ. He argues: “To understand our own cultural work as picking up and finishing Adam’s original task is, however unwittingly, to compromise the sufficiency of Christ’s work” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 50). To be clear, VanDrunen emphasizes the importance of the Christian’s vocation in the secular realm, but views it as only temporary, and he disconnects it from the mandate given to Adam.

What VanDrunen fails to recognize is that God created humankind to live within two particular sets of relationships: to God, and to creation. In his approach, for Adam, the cultural mandate has coram deo implications. Adam’s standing before God prior to the fall was not based on grace and faith, but instead upon his obedience in fulfilling the God-given mandate. This is, of course, based upon VanDrunen’s commitment to the Reformed concept of the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden (an idea that I have critiqued here). The problem is that the text of Genesis never makes such a connection. Nowhere in the creation account is Adam told that his standing before God could somehow be merited by obedience to this mandate. Rather, Adam’s creation was an act of grace. His relationship to God was always based on God’s action and his reception. Sure, he could lose his righteous standing before God, but he couldn’t gain it by merit.

The implications of this difference of perspective are important. If Adam’s relationship before God has always been by grace, and man’s relationship to creation has always been determined by the mandate of Genesis 1:28, then the cultural mandate is no longer simply part of the Adamic administration, but is essential to who the human creature is.

So I wonder how widely Matt has read VanDrunen and Horton. The more people under the bus, the more misery.

With Friends Like These

This caught my eye (from under the bus). Matt Tuininga calls me a friend and I guess that’s supposed to weaken the sting of what’s included:

But Scott Clark’s version and Darryl Hart’s version is not the Reformed version. And it is not just their conclusions about religion in the public square that are different. These are fundamentally different political theologies.

Yes, Calvin argued, and rightly so, that the church should only proclaim what the Word teaches. The church should stay out of public policy debates. Yes, Calvin argued, and rightly so, that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual. It cannot be conflated with the moral transformation of secular society. But Calvin also affirmed that the Word teaches much about society and that the church must proclaim these teachings. And when he said that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual he meant essentially that the kingdom of Christ is eschatological, not that it has no implications for material social life (as I show here). Remember, we are talking about the theologian who recovered and reestablished the diaconate as a spiritual, materially oriented office (again, as I show here). I have written much about this and will not rehash it all here.

Scott and Darryl are both friends to me, and I am grateful for all they have done for me over the years. But their thinking on these points is not clear and it is not helpful. It is hardly likely to persuade anyone tempted to embrace the Social Gospel, given that it merely presents an individualistic and virtually neo-Platonized gospel as the alternative.

On the way to this characterization, Matt waves at the Bible but does little more when he writes:

Appealing to J. Gresham Machen’s doctrine of the spirituality of the church, which he identifies with John Calvin’s two kingdoms doctrine, Clark argues that “social concerns” are outside of the scope of the gospel. Thus Machen, in his official capacity as a gospel minister, “refrained from speaking to social concerns because of the teaching of the New Testament. Read on its own terms, the teaching of the New Testament about the Kingdom of God is remarkably silent about the pressing social concerns of the day.”

Does Clark forget how much the New Testament has to say about justice for the widow and the orphan, good news for the poor, the oppression of the weak, marriage, slavery, the breakdown of social barriers (between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, Barbarian, Scythian), violence, reconciliation, sharing with those in need, the diaconate, obedience to civil authority, families, peacemaking, or any other number of vices and virtues that pertain to relationships between human beings. What version of the New Testament is he reading? In what world are these not pressing social concerns?

Paul actually put tight limits on the aid widows could receive. The poor included the Centurion who had servants (who were sort of like slaves). Yes, Paul wrote about marriage but he hardly set up a parachurch organization, Focus on the Family. And Paul and Peter talked a lot about submitting to those in authority (and to the surrounding social order); that hardly made them transformational and hardly allowed for readers to spot where those apostles paying honor to — wait for it — Nero were hoping for a new Christian social order. A string of words that have a certain register in Sociology 101 hardly makes the New Testament a playbook for a Social Gospel.

For some reason, though (maybe it’s a Dutch thing), Matt doesn’t put David VanDrunen in Plato’s cave with Scott Clark and me. I don’t have any idea why (though I have a few hunches) because VanDrunen could not be clearer about the spirituality of the church and the New Testament’s silence about building a just, moral, and spiritually transformed society (thanks to Zrim for doing the typing):

The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to raise up followers who would transform the cultures of this world. Christ came as the Last Adam to achieve the original goal of the First Adam under the covenant of works: the new heaven and new earth. By his perfect obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension Christ has succeeded. By virtue of his achievement Christians, by faith, share in his verdict of justification, his heavenly citizenship, and his everlasting inheritance. Redemption does not put Christians back on track to accomplish the original goal of the First Adam through their own cultural work—Christ has already done that on their behalf perfectly and finally. Misunderstanding this point is perhaps the fatal flaw of neo-Calvinism. Until the day when Christ returns he has ordained that his people be pilgrims in this world and be gathered together in the church.

It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the fact that the church was the only institution that the Lord Jesus established in this world during his earthly ministry. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God; that is, the new creation, the original goal of the human race under the covenant of works. Yet if we scour the Gospels we find but one institution that Jesus associates with the kingdom and but one to which Jesus points to find the power and the ethic of the kingdom at work here and now. Jesus did not establish the family or civil government, but simply affirmed their legitimacy. He did not lay out plans for kingdom businesses. Families, governments, and businesses already existed under God’s providential rule and were common in the cultures of this world long before the kingdom was announced. Jesus established his church. Unlike the cultural institutions of this world, Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church alone. He entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the church alone. He commissioned disciplinary procedures reflecting the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount for the church alone. He promised, to the church alone, that where two or three are gathered in his name he himself will be there among them.

Christ came, in other words, not to transform the cultures of this world but to win the kingdom of God, the new creation, which will be cataclysmically revealed out of heaven on the last day, and to establish the church, for the time being, as a counter-cultural institution that operates not according to the cultures of this world but in anticipation of the life of the age-to-come. The church has its own doctrine, its own worship, its own government, its own discipline, its own ministry of mercy, and its own strange ethic of non-violence and forgiveness that defies the wisdom of this world. Jesus and his apostles did exert great effort to shape a culture: the church’s culture. The New Testament makes clear, of course, that Christians must live and work among the cultures of this world, and should be just, honest, loving, and industrious as they do so. But the only culture-shaping task in which the New Testament shows any serious interest is the formation of the church. In light of such considerations I suggest that the only Christian culture—in the profoundest sense of the term—is found in the ministry and fellowship of true churches of Christ operating according to the teaching of Scripture alone.

I wonder if that also sounds neo-Platonic.

To correct Matt, 2kers, even the unhelpful ones, do think the gospel is social. The gospel society is the church, which may explain why some of us are active in our communions and congregations. Maybe Matt did not mean to discount that. But it sure does seem that the church trumps society even for the Westminster Divines who were thinking about the place of Christianity in a society torn apart by civil war:

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (25.2)

The church is social and proclaims the gospel. Society is not the church and it does not proclaim the gospel. (I’m sure there’s a logical fallacy in there somewhere.)

You Can Make This Up

You would think that between Heidelblog and Old Life, the Brothers B would have enough 2k material to critique and even ridicule. But last week they turned their sights on David VanDrunen and me and had to make up a 2k opinion to suit their purposes. (Maybe the Malware protection on their computers prevents access here and over at Heidelblog.)

In yet another brief against 2k, the BBs argue on the basis of polling statistics that the United States is still an overwhelmingly Christian land and so 2kers are gagging the sovereign people:

Rants like this, whether found raw on forums of cackling hyenas or well-cooked on thousands of pages written by seminary profs, have been successful in gagging God’s authority and Word across these United States to such a degree that anyone who speaks of God’s authority or quotes Scripture out there in public is assumed to be a member of Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church. Christians seduced by the R2K/Two-Kingdom error condemn such faithful witnesses for being harsh and “giving believers a bad name.” So we have entered a new age of starvation for the Word of God in North America when God’s servants, the prophets, have been placed in Two-Kingdom handcuffs and gagged with R2K duct tape. . . .

It turns out back in 1999 when Covenant Theological Seminary’s professor of theology, David Jones, publicly called for the repeal of sodomy laws, at least 78% of his fellow Americans were Christians. That means almost eight out of every ten human beings flourishing in the hamlets and cities across our nation have received Trinitarian baptism and would be welcomed to the Lord’s Table by almost every Reformed elder and pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America and sister Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. And even today as the number of Americans confessing Christian faith has dwindled, it still hovers above 70%, and thus we’re left with the vast majority of citizens of these United States claiming faith in Jesus Christ. Why does this matter?

Tim Bayly goes on to say that the overwhelming Christian character of the nation leaves VanDrunen and me in a morass:

either they deny the legitimacy of the confession of Christian faith of the vast majority of their fellow citizens or they are forced to give up their incessant denunciations of Christian witness and prophecy in the public square.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it but when did confessional Presbyterians, those who left mainline churches to form communions that number only in the 5 or 6 figures (compared to Rome’s glorious 10), ever trust the confession of faith of the vast majority of Americans? Maybe conservative Presbyterians have been skeptical to a fault, but the point of first opposing liberalism and then leaving behind evangelicals who wouldn’t act against liberalism, was to wonder about the plausibility of the Christian witness of lots of persons and churches. Sure, someone might talk about Jesus, but was it really a Christian witness? Anyone who grew up with that mindset (one that goes back to the Reformation — ahem) will not look at the polls and have warm and fuzzy feelings. (Could it be that the Brothers B stayed too long in the PCUSA?)

In the post in question, the BBs even concede President Obama’s claim to be a Christian:

A man like President Barack Obama claims Christian faith and we must not hold him accountable to the Word of God because of our nation’s commitment to separation of church and state?

So if the President attended a service at Clearnote or Christ the Word, the pastors B would have no trouble allowing him to participate in the Lord’s Supper?

Meanwhile, the BBs charity to the Christian profession of 70% of Americans doesn’t extend to those with whom they are in fellowship or fraternal relations (and I don’t just mean VanDrunen and me). In a subsequent post Tim takes issue with Table Talk magazine and a piece that Scott Sauls wrote for it:

Yes, yes; of course. Pastor Sauls was asked to handle the Seventh Commandment because the Church in America today—particularly the rich Reformed church—is looking for “a way forward for those who are tired of taking sides.” And the teaching of Pastor Sauls is perfect-pitch for those who want to pay lip service to God and His Word without taking up their crosses. Pastor Scott Sauls teaches and writes in such a way that none of us need feel the slightest twinge of guilt as we studiously avoid “taking sides” as we go gently into that good night.

So to clarify. The Brothers B want 2k to back down because the U.S. is such a Christian place with so many professions of faith that would gain 7 out of 10 Americans admittance to the Lord’s Supper. (This point had the unfortunate timing of preceding the latest Pew findings about the decline of Christianity in the United States.) But then they don’t trust pastors who have been vetted and approved by officers in one of their very own communions.

As Smitty was in the habit of asking, “What gives?”

Hiding Behind Kilts

The release of the new book Merit and Moses, a critique of the republication doctrine (that the Mosaic covenant was “in some sense” a republication typologically of the covenant of works) got me thinking about a certain anomaly in contemporary Reformed circles regarding a certain Mr. Murray (his given name was John and he did not have the extra one of Courtney). The endorsements of this book show an arresting feature of the Westminster Seminary tradition and reception of Geerhardus Vos.

After Vos, his successors broke into two camps, one represented by Murray, the other by Meredith Kline, who took markedly different views of covenant theology. After Murray and Kline, came Norman Shepherd, Richard Gaffin, and Bob Strimple. They pretty much all sided with Murray against Kline on matters of moment. And then came VanDrunen, Horton, and Fesko. They followed Kline and have been taking their lumps ever since.

Generally speaking, the anti-republicationists are anti-Kline and pro-Murray. Here’s a sampling:

For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido. Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline, who taught at Westminster Escondido (WSCal) for more than 20 years. Many of Kline’s colleagues, former students (several now teaching in Escondido) and admirers (Mark Karlberg, T. David Gordon, etc.) have canonized his novel reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant—it is “not of faith”, but of works and meritorious works at that, albeit ‘typological’. What may now be labeled the “Escondido Hermeneutic” or “Kline Works-Merit Paradigm” has succeeded in cornering an increasing share of the Reformed covenant market in spite of its revisionism and heterodoxy. This newfangled paradigm has managed to fly beneath the radar of most Reformed observers, in part because of the aggressively militant demeanor and rhetoric of its advocates and defenders. Especially vitriolic have been attacks by the Kline acolytes upon Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin. . . . (1)

While it is certainly true that Murray clearly and self-consciously broke with the majority of the Reformed tradition on several points of doctrine, his teaching on the nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant was not one of them. In fact, a strong case can be made that his position on the essential nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant represented the mainstream consensus of Reformed theologians. Furthermore, some of Murray’s key exegetical observations (which, incidentally, these authors simply pass over rather than critically engage) lend his thesis strong support. (63)

Now the endorsements for the anti-republicationist book:

“The doctrine of Republication has a Reformed pedigree. But in what sense? Recent understandings of Republication sometimes depart significantly from what one finds among Reformed theologians in the Post-Reformation periods. It is to the merit of these authors for dealing with this thorny issue by offering some important insights into the precise nature of the debate, such as discussions on merit and justice and the nature of typology. I hope all involved in the debate will give this book a careful and sympathetic reading—at least more careful and sympathetic than those who have publicly opposed Professor John Murray on this issue.”
—Mark Jones, Senior Minister, Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, BC

“I strongly recommend that everyone interested in the notion of Republication read the important book, Merit and Moses. By focusing on the guilt of every child of Adam and the only merit recognized by a holy God, the authors cut to the heart of Republication’s error. They show that to be the case by an insightful study of the Scriptures, of our most revered theologians—for example, John Murray, too often misunderstood and maligned by Republicationists—and of the Reformed confessions, showing that the doctrine of Republication cannot be harmonized with the teaching of the Westminster Standards.”
—Robert B. Strimple, President emeritus and Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA

“In recent years, a number of Reformed writers have advanced the claim that the Mosaic covenant or economy was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works. According to these writers, the Republication doctrine was a common emphasis in the history of Reformed theology, and even forms an important part of the basis for the biblical doctrine of justification. The authors of this volume present a clear and compelling case against this claim. Rather than a reaffirmation of a forgotten, integral feature of Reformed theology, the authors argue that the modern republication doctrine seems inconsistent with the historic Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A helpful contribution.”
—Cornelis P. Venema, President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Dyer, IN

“This volume addresses a relatively recent appearance of the view that the Mosaic covenant embodies a republication of the covenant of works, a view that in its distinctive emphasis is arguably without precedent in the history of Reformed theology—namely, that during the Mosaic era of the covenant of grace, in pointed antithesis to grace and saving faith in the promised Messiah, the law given to Israel at Sinai was to function pedagogically as a typological overlay of the covenant of works made with Adam, by which Israel’s retention of the land and temporal blessings were made dependent on maintaining a level of meritorious obedience (works), reduced in its demand to accommodate their sinfulness. A particular strength in my judgment is their showing that the abiding demands of God’s holiness preclude meritorious obedience that is anything less than perfect, and so the impossibility of a well-meant offer to sinners of the covenant of works in any sense.”
—Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, PA

Let the reader decide.

But also consider this. Mr. Murray was a strong proponent of exclusive psalmody, arguably the lone holdout of prominence in the OPC. And yet those who follow Murray on covenant theology are willing to argue quite decidedly against singing psalms only or even singing the imprecatory psalms (about which Murray had no qualms). Dick Gaffin recently wrote:

Among my continuing reservations about the Psalter-Hymnal project (March issue), here I’m only able to raise one concern about its commitment to total psalmody. The imprecations in Psalm 137, among others, have in view the Old Testament situation, when God’s covenant people were one nation, a single geopolitical entity (Israel), and their enemies were likewise ethnically and geopolitically defined (Babylon and Edom here). But now, after Christ’s finished work, that spiritual enmity, inseparably national, has ceased. Now the realization of God’s eternal saving purpose, anticipated throughout the Old Testament, is universal. His elect are no longer found only within Israel, but within every nation. Under the new covenant, the church is “in Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13) in a way it was not under the old: no longer are Jews in holy hostility towards non-Jews; now, in Christ, they are reconciled to each other (Eph. 2:11–22).

I recognize that the ethnic references like those in Psalm 137 are not only literal but also typological. Akin to the symbolic references to Babylon in Revelation, they point forward to the final destruction of the enemies of God’s people. Still, singing explicitly genocidal curses in public worship, without a whole lot of preparatory explanation (and perhaps even with that), risks leaving the impression that the congregation is calling on God for the large-scale destruction of people with Gentile ethnicity like most of us in the New Testament church. (20-21)

(Could there be some kind of ambivalence at work here with typological readings of the OT?)

So what I am wondering is what would happen to this argument against total psalmody if Orthodoxy Presbyterians knew it departed from Mr. Murray. I mean, if it is fair game to raise concerns about views that do not follow Murray’s reading of creation or the Mosaic covenant, why is that okay when it comes to Murray’s singing of David? Maybe the OPC needs to kick away the crutches, prepare for sacred cows to be wounded, and through delegated assemblies let word and Spirit do their work.

If You're the One Throwing Stones, Can You Still be a Martyr?

The BeeBee’s latest swipe at 2k involves a couple of oddities. The first is their identification with Deacon Stephen, arguably the first Christian martyr:

Hart and VanDrunnen are identical in their commitment to avoid the slightest appearance of triumphalism. You need know nothing more about the R2K error than that. And nothing more about true Christian faith than that, in the pursuit of the triumph of the Cross of Jesus Christ, millions of men and women of God across two millenia have been martyred for their public witness to the holiness of God, the conviction of sin and righteousness and judgment of the Holy Spirit, and the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Starting with our beloved Deacon, Stephen.

It sure seems to me that Tim Bee is doing a better impersonation of the persecutor Saul than Stephen. I mean, the aggression he dishes out is always going in one direction, with sweeping condemnations not only of 2k ideas but also of 2kers’ character and motives. Tim and David are hardly suffering from 2kers attacking them. And if Tim Bee wants to identify with triumphalism, then he has not listened very carefully to the guy who went from Saul, the guy holding the coats of stone throwers, to Paul, the martyr:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

The BeeBees seem to think that public life, where the power is, is also a sign of the gospel’s power. No Christian witness before the magistrate, no triumph. It does explain their fondness for Doug Wilson who pines for a Christian society (Constantinianism) where faith came by conquest. I wonder if the Bee Bees are Christian enough to call for another round of Crusades.

The second oddity involves the Moscow Muhammad himself. I did listen to Doug Wilson and Dave VanDrunen’s lectures from last weekend at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Christ and culture. I was disappointed that recordings of the question and answer session were not available. But Wilson out of the blue in an entirely unrelated kerfuffle reported on a part of those exchanges which became fodder for the BeeBees:

This last weekend… I asked David VanDrunen …what God would think of a nation whose magistrate and people had become overwhelmingly (and sincerely) Christian, and who decided to confess Christ in the common realm, in the formerly secular realm. I asked if God would be displeased with that, and VanDrunen said yes, he thought God would be displeased with that.

When asked about VanDrunen’s follow up, Wilson replied:

. . . he said that it was because he wanted minorities (in this case, non-believers) to not be mistreated. The assumption behind that is that the secular state is more to be trusted with treating people right than Christians would be. But of course, Christians were the ones who invented civil liberties for all.

And with that, BeeBees and their minions are satisfied with Christian superiority, 2ker cluselessness, and the world’s debauchery. Never once did they consider, or Wilson with them, how silly such triumphalism is. I understand Wilson is a bit touchy about slavery, but he did bring the subject up once. At the conference in Vandalia, OH he also brought up segregation and how Christians were wrong to accept or defend the division of the races into separate public schools under Jim Crow. Perhaps he also knows something of the way that European Christians treated Jews, what Protestant magistrates did to Anabaptists, or what Constantine’s enforcers did to Arians. All of that goes away with an assertion that Christians invented civil rights? Did he learn nothing about rhetorical excess from his debates with Chris Hitchens?

Such dishonesty seems to go with the territory of thinking yourself a victim when you are really a bully.

Not Everyone Uses the Plural

Hold on to your seat. David VanDrunen responds to Ryan McIlhenny’s response to VanDrunen’s response to McIlhenny’s response to two kingdoms:

What is most important to me is that the Reformed community reaffirm the basic distinction between God’s two kingdoms—his common providential rule and his special redemptive rule—whether or not one agrees with all the ways I personally apply this distinction in exploring the Christianity-and-culture issues. This distinction is biblical and has very deep roots in the Reformed tradition. I would deem it a great blessing from God were the Reformed community as a whole to re-embrace it, and I see my efforts to defend the distinction as something I can do to serve the Reformed churches I love. The thing is, I struggle to think of any contemporary figure I have read or spoken to who either calls himself a neo-Calvinist or is commonly identified by others as a neo-Calvinist who does not speak of God’s kingdom in the singular. Possibly my own experience is just quirky, but ever since I began thinking seriously about this I have understood a one-kingdom view to be of the essence of what “neo-Calvinism” is. Thus I do not consider myself a neo-Calvinist. To me, the thought of a “two kingdoms neo-Calvinist” is like the thought of a “libertarian socialist.” It’s paradoxical, even contradictory.

And, of course, what makes the difference between the singular and plural of Kingdom important is how we live in this age (saeculum), a time between the advents of Christ, when believers live side-by-side with unbelievers. If kingdom is singular, what place do non-believers have in civil society? Do they have equal rights under the law, or do we put them in ghettos or treat them as dhimmi? And if Kingdom is singular, do believers learn from non-Christian philosophers, historians, and bio-chemists? Or do we bar non-Christians from universities?

Believe it or not, putting non-Christians in ghettos, treating them as dhimma, and denying them admittance to universities were all responses to making God’s kingdom singular.

Jonathan Edwards and Neo-Calvinism

Ryan McIlhenny responds to David VanDrunen’s review of Kingdoms Apart:

Neo-Calvinists would agree that Christians and non-Christians share truths equally, but on a surface or common (creational, natural law) level only. Anyone digging deeper into a particular area of study will be confronted with anomalies, irony, or just plain mystery that can never be critically and creatively worked out apart from a theoretical interpretive grid rooted in one’s religious ground motive. It is the religious heart that reveals the competing understandings of the common. As I mentioned in the book, the neo-Calvinist distinction between structure and direction is helpful on this point. Thus, in both morality and reason, an explicitly biblical approach is better or more advanced, again in theory, than one that rejects or simply ignores the importance of Christ.

The “religious heart” reveals competing understandings? Does that apply to interpreting the Civil War (U.S.)? Or do graduate students in history need to learn from a host of non-saved historians, whose hearts are not religious, to sort out the competing understandings of what led to the war and what its consequences were for the nation (and local communities)?

And does this apply to medicine? When I need to have my hip replaced and get a second opinion, do I need to ask whether the surgeons’ hearts have been strangely warmed?

No one lives this way. Neo-Calvinism leads to intellectual theonomy. It allows pietists to wear their faith on their intellect. But if doesn’t explain how Christians operate (unless neo-Calvinists are willing to claim that the way Christians ordinarily operate is sinful), how smart can it be?

Like Eating Broccoli or Wearing a Scarf?

I have been doing a little research lately with the aim of figuring out my (all about me) status in the world of Roman Catholicism. The more I read, the more it seems that the rationale for a Protestant converting to Rome is that he gets something akin to what my mother wanted me to have when she commended eating my vegetables or dressing appropriately for cold weather. It is not a life and death matter whether or not I am in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. I am a separated brother and my baptism in the name of the Trinity should get me through — to what I am not sure since I know I have committed mortal sins and have not received forgiveness through the proper channels. But since Vatican II expanded (I mean developed) the earlier teaching on no salvation outside the church, my status seems to be one where salvation is possible even if I have not communed with Christ through the ministry of the one, holy, apostolic church. In other words, the reason for converting seems to be a matter of wisdom, or desiring a fuller expression of Christianity. Rome offers richer fare than Protestants’ fast food piety. But whether my soul is in danger is not altogether clear.

I refer to a discussion that took place a year or so ago over at my favorite arch-Roman Catholic site, Called to Communion. Tom Brown interacted with a piece by David VanDrunen about alleged changes in Rome’s views on salvation. The sticking point for logocentric Protestants seems to be the disparity between the Council of Florence and the Second Vatican Council. According to the former (1442):

It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

But according to the delegates to Rome during the 1960s:

For they who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation.

VanDrunen calls this a “watershed” but Brown regards it as a development:

We see from Trent and St. Augustine a clear belief that the washing of regeneration is necessary for salvation, and a belief that extraordinary non-sacramental means of obtaining the fruits of Baptism are possible. To the teachings of Trent and St. Augustine, many more examples could be added. These teachings mean that very early on, Catholic doctrine qualified extra Ecclesiam in a way that left open the possibility of salvation for those not materially united to the Church. This proves false VanDrunen’s claim that the Catholic Church has recently “changed” its “older” teaching that “people could enjoy eternal life and escape everlasting damnation only by being received into its membership.”

In fact, over the centuries the Church carefully has developed a nuanced doctrine of salvation for those not materially united to her. This process has been so cautious because of the weighty concern of calling all sinners to the ordinary means of grace through formal union with the Church, on the one hand, and the similarly weighty concern of avoiding the appearance of delimiting God’s ability to extend grace and salvation through extraordinary means, on the other. It is this process which has led the Church to its reflection on salvation for those who are invincibly ignorant, the subject of VanDrunen’s article. As the Catholic Catechism teaches, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

Worthy of comment here is what this seems to mean for the doctrine of original sin. It appears that Brown’s view weakens the devastating effects and consequences of sin. He seems to think that Rome teaches that anyone can be saved, even without a baptism that would remove the guilt of sin (according to Rome). So I’m not sure how this really helps the case he is making. Whenever Rome started to teach that it was possible for salvation outside the church, and even if Vatican II is a development of earlier teachings, a view which makes salvation possible apart from Christ is one in need of serious reform. In other words, how seriously does Brown think Rome takes sin?

Either way, it is a curious defense for another reason. Conservative Protestants objected to Protestant liberalism for denying that belief in Christ was essential for salvation. Back when Re-Thinking Missions came out, and when missions boards of the various Protestant churches countenanced the idea that Christians could cooperate with non-Christian religions in the enterprise of religion, conservatives were rightly opposed and believed the proverbial straw had broken the mainline churches’ witness. Rome’s own flirtation with an expansive view of salvation seems to move in a direction comparable to the old liberal Protestant project. The irony is that some Protestants are attracted to Rome because of its conservatism as opposed to the wishy-washiness and diversity of Protestantism. That quest for a Roman Catholic conservatism would be a lot more plausible if it included the old view articulated by the Council of Florence.

Postscript: in one of the comments in this thread, even a younger Jason Stellman was not buying development over change:

From where I sit as a non-Catholic, what this looks like is an example of a true change being euphemized as a development. When the early position is “No one can gain eternal life unless he is joined to the Catholic Church,” and the later position is, “Some people can gain eternal life even if not joined to the Catholic Church,” well, that sounds like a change rather than a development.

To me, anyway….

Spheres are Sovereign but Kingdoms Can't be Distinct?

I have for some time wanted to offer a little response to Matthew Tuininga’s first (and good) piece on two-kingdom theology for the confessing evangelical allies. The essay is not all about me — shucks — but he does interact with several of my arguments. The reason for responding now is that Matt observed a tendency in my writing that has also recently spawned criticism of Dave VanDrunen (by none other than Cornel Venema in the book that has anti-2kers breathless in anticipation of its imminent release). The criticism that Venema and Tuininga (note all of the Dutch Reformed genes at play here) register is 2k theology’s fault of bifurcating the religious and political realms. Here’s how Matt describes a tendency in my work:

Part of the reason that Hart’s version of the two kingdoms doctrine is somewhat controversial is that at times Hart has pressed the distinction between the two kingdoms to the point of separation. Indeed, if the classic two kingdoms doctrine denoted the difference between two ages and two governments, Hart has often written about it as if it amounted to a distinction between two airtight spheres, one the sphere of faith and religion, and the other the sphere of everyday life. While it is clear that Hart views these two spheres as expressions of the two ages, by speaking of them in terms of separate spheres he ends up downplaying the overlap between the two ages. This tendency becomes all the more marked in Hart’s more polemical moments.

Venema detects a similar weakness (or is it error?) in VanDrunen (via the international Calvinists):

For Calvin, the spiritual and the civil government of God do not stand independently alongside each other. The civil government or jurisdiction, although it is not to usurp the distinct spiritual government that Christ exercises through his Spirit and Word, has the task within God’s design to secure the kind of public order and tranquility that is indispensable to the prosecution of the church’s calling. In this way, the civil jurisdiction serves the redemptive purposes of God by protecting the church and ensuring its freedom to pursue its unique calling under Christ. Furthermore, as servants of God, civil magistrates have the task of ensuring that both tables of the law – the first table dealing with the service and worship of God, the second table addressing the mutual service of all human beings to each other – are honored and obeyed. Although the civil magistrate is not authorized to usurp the distinctive prerogatives of the spiritual kingdom, namely, the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word in renewing human life in free obedience to God’s law, it does serve to advance the redemptive purpose of the spiritual kingdom by requiring an outward conformity to the requirements of God’s moral law.

In case I am missing something, both objections apparently stem from the neo-Calvinist aversion to dualism. As one recent graduate of a neo-Calvinist college summarized the problem of dualism:

“Dualism” is an incredibly dirty word. Why? For two reasons: A) Dooyeweerd’s non-dualist and non-monistic, non-reductionistic philosophy of modal spheres, B) Kuyper’s insistence that all things be reclaimed under the Lordship of Christ, which means there is no such thing as a dualism between “sacred” and “secular.” All spheres of life should be reclaimed under the dominion of Jesus Christ.

I for one continue to be stupefied by the reflexive dismissal of dualism since distinctions between the physical and spiritual, secular and sacred, temporal and eternal appear everywhere in the Christian religion, not to mention the history of the West. Jesus himself seemed to justify some kind of differentiation between sacred and secular matters when he spoke about what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. He did not immediately qualify himself by saying “of course, everything belongs to God,” but let his assertion dangle. Neo-Calvinists, of course, won’t, suggesting an apparent discomfort with the very words of Christ.

Then there is the apostle Paul and that two-age construction which distinguishes between the eternal and the temporal (secular) so much so that he could say “to die is gain.” Paul also wrote: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18 ESV) If Paul affirms dualism, it’s okay but if 2kers do then it’s bad? Or maybe neo-Calvinists don’t read Paul outside those cosmic “all things” passages.

And then there is the classic distinction between the earthly and the spiritual in the Belgic Confession:

Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal– they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God’s elect only.

Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten– that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.

To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls. (Art. 35)

The distinction between things secular and sacred is everywhere in the history of the West, even if its usage does not always match. Augustine had his two cities, Gelasius his two swords, and Christendom its pope and emperor. Some kind of dualism is writ large in the Christian tradition. Neo-Calvinists may not like it but that’s too bad.

But what makes this suspicion of 2k all the more annoying is that the language employed to describe the neo-Calvinist idea of sphere sovereignty places church and state and family in separate realms with their own — get this — sovereignty. The two kingdoms can’t be distinct but need to bleed into each other lest dualism surface. But the spheres can be as distinct as Holland, Michigan and Pella, Iowa.

In the introduction to Kingdoms Apart, the book that will be the kinder, gentler version of John Frame’s Kuyper warrior-children manifesto, describes sphere sovereignty this way: “God has created distinct social, economic, cultural, and political spheres that have their own unique functions. . . (xxvi)” Then follows a quote that describes sphere sovereignty as “each sphere possess[ing] its own authority within itself.” Shazam! That’s a lot of distinct authority. The introduction goes on, “state, church, business, family, and academic institutions . . . ‘have the liberty to function on their own according to the divine ordinances God has established for each one.” (xxvi-xxvii) Because neo-Calvinists say that these sovereign, liberated, and autonomous spheres receive authority from God, I guess the distinctions are somehow permissible. But when have 2kers ever said that the temporal kingdom is independent from God? Straw man comes to mind. But divine sovereignty notwithstanding (never thought I’d write that) it is remarkable that sphere sovereigntists can divide the world up into such tidy spheres but won’t give 2kers the same freedom. And, by the way, the 2kers claims go much deeper than late nineteenth-century Netherlands.

What makes 2k superior to sphere sovereignty is that 2kers are really willing to live with distinctions. For sphere sovereigntists the distinctions are only skin deep. The spheres exists, but they are all under God, so religion needs to inform all the spheres thus raising important questions about which members of which spheres are introducing religion into a sphere since religion won’t do it by itself. Do I bring religion to bear on politics as an elder, husband, historian or citizen? In other words, does my functional identity change when I go from one sphere into another? It may, especially Scripture’s claims on me as citizen are thin compared to its teaching about overseeing the flock. But I don’t hear neo-Calvinists talking about these bugs in their system. Maybe it’s because they are too busy looking at the bugs in the paleo-Calvinist’s eye.

To illustrate how complicated religion’s relationship is to the various spheres, I appeal to a review I wrote for Ordained Servant:

Life in modern society is tough. In any given week, an average American may have to decide which is the best and prettiest paint for the exterior of his house, what are the best and most affordable tires to put on his car, whether to replace a deep filling with another filling or with a crown, whether to diversify the investments in his retirement portfolio, and which candidate from the Republican Party is the best to run against a Democratic incumbent in the upcoming presidential election. No single American has sufficient knowledge to make all of these decisions simply on the basis of his own learning and reading. In addition to confronting these dilemmas, this person likely has a full-time job that occupies much of his time, and a wife and children that take up most of his spare time—not to mention incredibly difficult choices about bad influences on his son at school, whether his daughter should play field hockey, and consulting with his wife about his mother-in-law’s declining health and the best arrangements for her well being. If he is a Christian with responsibilities at church, he may need to wade through files of applications for a pulpit search committee, or consult with architects and engineers about plans to expand the church’s parking lot.

Complicating further this average American’s decisions are the accompanying choices to be made over which advice to follow. For in addition to life’s complicated questions are a bevy of advisors, available on the radio and television, folks such as Oprah, Rush Limbaugh, and Dave Ramsey—people who seem to have a lot of insight into life’s difficulties. But which of these advisors to heed raises an additional layer of decisions.

Throw the Lordship of Christ and biblical interpretation into these various decisions and related evaluations and you have the potential for nervous breakdown (maybe that’s what happened to Abraham Kuyper). For negotiating the regular world — the temporal kingdom, that is — I’ll take 2k any day. Neo-Calvinism leaves me with sphere schizophrenia.