Identity Economics

I thought that neo-Calvinism was supposed to do away with the sacred-secular distinction that led fundamentalists to produce the Christian Yellow Pages — you know, the phone book that allowed Christian consumers to buy goods and services from Christian providers of goods and services. Well, even in the hipster land of urban Protestantism, the logic of every square inch only extends to redeemed businesses. Bethany explains:

But we also believe that God is working in areas beyond literature, academia, and journalism. In fact, as our Theological Vision for Ministry makes clear, we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do everything—from teaching to plumbing to accounting. “Such a church will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions.”

This Christmas, our faith and work channel—Every Square Inch—wants to celebrate products made by companies founded by Christian entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, they created something from nothing and, along the way, have given people jobs, contributed to the economy, engaged in ethical business practices, been generous with their neighbors, and expressed the creativity of God.

This guide isn’t comprehensive. There are thousands of outstanding Christian-led companies, and I welcome your suggestions in the comments. Also, each company featured makes many products, not just the ones below, so I encourage you to explore. These items are simply “my favorite things.” I hope you that enjoy the guide and—even if you don’t find anything in it—that you’re encouraged to see God at work.

Aside from projecting a kind of insularity that conflicts with Redeemer NYC’s cosmopolitanism, Bethany fails to explain how exactly non-Christians fail to give people jobs, contribute to the economy, engage in ethical business practices, be generous to neighbors, and express the creativity of God. That sacred-secular distinction might come in handy and let Christians recognize the creational norms that govern not just sanctified but all human existence.

Maybe the explanation for Christians’ superiority is that only Christians can create “something from nothing.” If so, Bethany doesn’t understand ex nihilo or the omnipotence of God (where are TGC’s theological editors?). She also does not seem to agree with President Obama. Bethany appears to have us believe that Christian entrepreneurs “did build that.”

How Red State.

2K as Rodney Dangerfield

I have to give credit to Jamie Smith for rattling the neo-Calvinist cage with a review of James Skillen’s recent book on Christians and politics. I agree with Jamie when he wonders out loud, can you believe we have another book about Christianity in the public square? Jamie’s liturgical side might also welcome a book on the sacraments, but he and I would likely diverge when he would want (I suppose) to talk about the sacraments in broad as opposed to my narrow (and vinegary) terms. Even so, I was glad to see Jamie mix it up with neo-Calvinists who need to get out more:

. . . what follows from all of this [Skillen’s book] feels either truistic or simply a theological rationale for a particular form of American constitutionalism—as if a “biblical” understanding of justice naturally entails the American project. “The question for Christians,” Skillen summarizes, “is this: How should we engage politically, guided by the vision of Christ’s kingdom that has not yet been revealed in its fullness?” That’s a pretty big, vague question. The answer seems at once predictable, tired, and hollow: “In the political arena, therefore, we should work for the kind of political communities in which those who fill offices of government act as public servants to uphold public justice for the common good, willingly accepting their equality with all citizens under the law.” Fair enough: but is anybody really going to disagree with that? If not, then we’re on the terrain of truism. The Good of Politics tends to do this: offer theological rationales for things you had already assumed were a good idea.

Jonathan Chaplin was someone whom Smith woke from his principled-pluralism slumbers:

Smith quotes Skillen’s summary of the political pay-off from such a vision of justice as that “we should work for the kind of political communities in which those who fill offices of government act as public servants to uphold public justice for the common good, willingly accepting their equality with all citizens under the law.” Yet he casually dismisses this vision as “predictable, tired, and hollow.” In doing so, however, he reveals less about the limits of Skillen’s accounts and more about his own failure to grasp just how globally distinctive this conception of politics really is, what an enormous achievement it has proven to be historically, and how radical and transformative it would be if American Christians actually took it seriously in their political thinking and acting. It is lazily dismissive to suggest that what Skillen’s vision amounts to is a “pretty standard liberal democratic game”—little more than “liberal proceduralism.”

I myself am fairly comfortable with a procedural republic — unfortunately, we are now a procedural empire (and we all know what empires yield — the not so good tyrant). But it seems to me that Smith has a point. If we want something a little more high octane at the Christian political theology pump, basically rolling out Christian arguments for liberal democracy isn’t going to rev the engine of anyone who walks on the antithesis wild side.

What is curious about both Chaplin and Smith’s pieces is that 2 kingdom theology isn’t even a serious option (as one way of making peace with a procedural republic or divine-right monarch or demented emperor). The working assumption of neo-Calvinists is that the spirituality of the church is not even worthy of attention. According to Smith:

On Skillen’s account, all of our political errors stem from “believing that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, or not of this world, or only ecclesiastical, or only future.” In other words, the demons to be exorcised are dualism and clericalism: an anti-creational, a-cultural piety that cares only about heaven and/or a misguided desire to have the church rule the state. He sees this growing out of misguided beliefs. Specifically: “It is the combination of the belief that government was given because of sin and the belief that life on earth exists in negative tension with heaven that has lead to the development of almost every approach Christians have taken to government and politics.” Every approach except—you guessed it—Skillen’s (who, it should be noted, conveniently avoids the fact that John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper also saw government as a postlapsarian institution, necessary only because of the Fall).

If you identify dualism and clericalism as the threats, then your solution is going to be engagement and sphere sovereignty. In other words, if you think the problem is that Christians either don’t care about politics or want the church to run the state, then your “introduction” is going to emphasize the good of politics (and creaturely, cultural life more generally) in a way that is distinctly anti-clerical, persistently downplaying the church. And Skillen delivers, once again exhibiting the problem with the Kuyperian fixations on sphere-boundary policing. Bent on what he calls “de-ecclesiasticization,” the significance of the sacramental body of Christ is once again effectively marginalized. This standard Kuyperian trope de-politicizes the church (hence his rejection of Hauerwas’s emphasis on the church as polis) in a way that is not only wrong-headed but also mis-directed. This emphasis might be correct if there were hordes of people around looking to “establish” a particular religion or denomination as the official state religion. But is that really our problem now? Hardly.

Well, if you’re worried about the kind of generic prayer before townhall meetings that sounds Laodecian, you may actually be worried about the establishment of religion-and-I-don’t-care-what-kind-it-is.

But who says that dualism and clericalism are the threats that need to be subdued? I understand that Kuyper did. But did Jesus? Did Augustine? Was Kuyper the third Adam? Which is not to say that dualism and clericalism are the best ways of describing either the spirituality of the church or an Augustinian political theology (which says basically that because of the fall all of this talk of human flourishing is pagan). But have Skillen, Chaplin, or Smith considered the upside of dualism and clericalism? Which is to ask, have they not ever noticed that history is littered with instances that suggest Christian engagement or transformationalism is the real danger. (Sphere sovereignty seems to me a keeper, but one that actually constrains neo-Calvinists since they keep blurring the lines and taking every square inch captive.)

Just consider the religious voices that supported World War I. Here I will repeat quotations from a previous post:

The Bishop of London in 1915 said:

kill Germans — do kill them; not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends. . . . As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr.

The Bishop of Carlisle added:

But in this war there move and work spirits deeper, stronger, more revolutionary than any or all of these — spirits of good and evil, powers of heaven and principalities of hell, invisible spirits of goodness and wickedness of which men are the instruments and the world the visible prize. . . . This present war is essentially a spiritual war; a war waged on earth but sustained on either side by invisible powers.

Not to be outdone, Protestant clergy from Harry Emerson Fosdick to Billy Sunday signed a statement that urged the U.S. in 1916 to enter the war. Here is how their faith-based argument went:

The just God, who withheld not his own Son from the cross, would not look with favor upon a people who put their fear of pain and death, their dread of suffering and loss, their concern for comfort and ease above the holy claims of righteousness and justice, and freedom and mercy and truth. Much as we mourn the bloodshed [of war], we lament even more than supineness of spirit, that indifference to spiritual values which would let mere physical safety take precedence of loyalty to truth and duty. The memory of all the saints and martyrs cries out against such backsliding of mankind. Sad is our lot if we have forgotten how to die for a holy cause.

. . . the question of all questions for our immediate consideration is this: shall the ancient Christian inheritance of loyalty to great and divine ideals be replaced by considerations of mere expediency?

Or how about the religious rationale that informed the Cold War, at least if William Inboden’s book, Religion and American Foreign Policy, is reliable. He describes the “Truman Doctrine” this way:

In a 1951 address at Washington’s famed New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Truman preached a virtual sermon on America’s role in the world. He elaborated on the vexing relationship between the divine will, armed strength, American goodness, and communist evil. “We are under divine orders — not only to refrain from doing evil, but also to do good and to make this world a better place in which to live. . . . At the present time our nation is engaged in a great effort to maintain justice and peace in the world. An essential feature of this effort is our program to build up the defenses of our country. There has never been a greater cause. . . . We are defending the religious principles upon which our Nation and our whole way of life are founded. . . . The international Communist movement is based on a fierce and terrible fanaticism. It denies the existence of God and, wherever it can, it stamps out the worship of God . . . Our faith shows us the way to create a society where man can find his greatest happiness under God. Surely we can follow that faith with the same devotion and determination that Communists give to their godless creed.” The Cold War, in other words, had erupted not merely between two nations with contrary economic and political systems, but between two different religions. . . . Two ideologies and two systems asserted their rival claims to reality, neither one willing — or even able, if they would be true to themselves — to shrink from their confessions of truth. (114)

When you start entering the public square with religion, it becomes hard not to divide the world in antithetical ways. Truman was no Calvinist but weren’t neo-Calvinists, ever since 1789, habitually dividing the political world between the forces of good and those of — in the Church Lady’s voice — Say-TEN!

Do we really want a Christian political theology if it is going to keep baptizing the particular interests of nation-states as if those interests are those of Christ and his kingdom? Neo-Calvinists seem so intent on fixing today’s problems that they don’t seem to be capable of being sobered by the historical record of fixers who also rejected clericalism and dualism all the while collapsing the kingdom of God into the U.S.A., Germany, the UK — you name the pretty good nation.

But without 2k as an interlocutor, Smith may driven to look for sterner Christian engagement:

I wonder if. . . we don’t actually need a more robust embrace of “ideology” in this respect—a more forthright and unapologetic Christian politics that, in the name of the common Good and the good of politics, reconsiders Christendom for the missional project it was. That is the sort of question that reading Oliver O’Donovan and Peter Leithart has left me with. But it is a question that a reader of Skillen’s book could never understand.

Will Smith take the theonomic plunge and confirm what 2kers have always suspected about neo-Calvinism — it’s just one step from theonomy but marching lock step with the Federal Visionaries who pine for Christendom and Christian emperors.

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.

If Not Two Kingdoms, Two Decalogues

In other words, you gotta serve some dualism.

I’ve had another worldview moment. I am struck that critics of the two-kingdom position, especially the ones who insist upon Christian schools, believe that a major issue in the disagreement is whether or not the Bible is the norm for public life (as well as other sectors outside the church). Fine, I get that. General revelation or natural law may not be sufficient to maintain the order that we desire in society. I suspect, though, that the objection is also that general revelation and natural law won’t yield a Christian society. But that’s another issue.

So let’s concede that the Bible should be the norm for political life. That would appear to solve the problem of abortion, same-sex marriage, and divorce. (Sorry, it doesn’t resolve the debate about Christian schools.) The sixth and seventh commandments would appear to be pretty handy for cleaning up American morality.

But what doesn’t seem to dawn on these Bible-as-norm-for-public-life folks is that we have not simply two but ten commandments. And the first four are particularly hard not on crime but on false worship, idolatry, blasphemy, and profaning the Lord’s Day. So if the Bible is to be the norm for public life, then all of a sudden not simply murder, divorce, adultery, fornication, lying, stealing are punishable offenses but so are Roman Catholicism and Mormonism, for instance, at least from the view of a Reformed world view.

I wonder if the implication of the whole integral law occurred to Dr. Kloosterman when he wrote the following in response to my piece in Christian Renewal. This summer he wrote:

The heart of my disagreement with religious secularism appears most clearly, I think, with this claim of Dr. Hart: “To suggest that Christian norms must be dominant in public life raises the threat of the very sort of religious warfare in which Protestants and Roman Catholics engaged in hopes of maintaining a uniform society.” A number of possible responses come to mind, but two will suffice.

First, if the worldly kingdom (public life) is to be governed by that natural law revealed
in creation, and if the Decalogue is nothing less than the republication of that natural law, then why would Christians not want the civil magistrate to proscribe what the Decalogue proscribes?

To play Rush Limbaugh for a moment: “stop the tape.” This is the heart of the disagreement over Christian schools – whether or not the magistrate enforces the Decalogue. So Christian schooling is really bound up with Christianizing America (and he quotes Machen for support – go figure). In other words, the whole debate over Christian schooling boils down to where one fights in the culture wars – is the Bible the norm for civil society, or is it not? Christian schooling is simply a way of fighting the culture war. We are very glad for the clarification.

“Mr. Snerdly, resume cut one.”

Kloosterman continuuueees.

Dr. Hart’s caution against having “Christian norms be dominant in public life” sounds very much like the warnings against “Christians legislating morality” and against “Christians forcing their religious convictions on others” that have become such common media mottoes in our highly secularized generation. What, in fact, is a “Christian norm”? Are the prohibitions “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and “Thou shalt not steal” peculiarly Christian norms?

Why is it illicit for Christians to appeal to the civil magistrate in the context of public policy relating to abortion, for example, using as only one among several arguments that the magistrate is called by God to honor the Sixth Commandment? If the magistrate’s authority comes from God, then why is it improper for Christians, as but one component of their public political testimony, to point the magistrate to God’s will revealed in Scripture (Ps. 2, Ps. 110, Rom. 13) for exercising that authority?

And if the civil magistrate’s authority comes from God, why go first to the seventh and eighth commandments. If the first and greatest commandment is loving God, why resort first to laws about love of neighbor? The answer appears to be straightforward. False worship and blasphemy do not trouble Dr. K. as much as sex and stealing. And always keep in mind that if you want to be tough on crime, send your children to a Christian school.

So again, to reiterate: if the law is good for the magistrate and it gives him (or her?) guidance about the culture wars, why does it not also give instruction about which religious groups to support and which to forbid? The good attorney from Indiana somehow thinks that this implication is silly because it reflects a complete misunderstanding of the Christian school lobby’s position. But which is more silly, to think that Christ governs the existing age through two kingdoms, one subject to Scripture the other to general revelation, or to think that we can have the Decalogue to prohibit the sins we most oppose but not to the point of making us look intolerant of other religions?

Last time I checked, both Israel and the church were to purge blasphemy and idolatry from their ranks – why – well, that first table of the Decalogue is pretty explicit. But somehow the Christian school advocates think that the state, which will be governed by the same Bible that governs the church, will be tough on sexual sins and murder but not on blasphemy and idolatry.

That leaves us with an interesting disagreement. The folks who condemn two-kingdoms for its dualism (among other things) have a dualistic view of the Decalogue. How integrated is that?