Hi, I'm A Christian So I Can Be Trusted

Well, that’s actually a complicated assertion since the holders of 2k do not appear to be trustworthy people from the perspective of 2k’s critics. Let me explain.

A repeated contention against 2k is that it relies too much on general revelation or the light of nature. Not only is general revelation apparently insufficient for unbelievers who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. But supposedly the only way to interpret general revelation is through the lens of special revelation. In response to the assertion that Christ rules the kingdom of the world by the work of his Spirit through general revelation and common law, 2k critics objected as follows:

Are we to understand from this that Christ only rules the Church directly, by his Spirit and Word? And that He rules everything that is non-church (or the whole of culture itself) through an undefined work of His Spirit in general revelation and through the consciences of the unenlightened people of Romans 2:15? Is this the second kingdom of light? Incredible. . . .

To imply that a Biblically undefined work of the Spirit, and the enlightened consciences of the unconverted referred to in Romans 2:15 can “restraint eveil in those outside the church” . . . is a “stretch” unknown to the Reformers and to us. Therein lies the core problem of NL2KL. (Letter to the editor, Christian Renewal, Jan. 12, 2011, pp. 6-7.)

(NL2KL refers to natural law and two kingdoms of light, and implies that to hold to two as opposed to one kingdom of light is incredible.)

Like so much in the neo-Calvinist and theonomic schemes, this looks good on the screen and appears to make sense. But it’s a lousy philosophy for living in a world where we have neighbors who not only suppress the truth of general revelation but also can’t begin to fathom the teachings of Scripture apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. I mean, the critics of 2k don’t really intend to suggest, do they, that my unbelieving neighbor can open her curtains and see the glory of God and perceive some elementary principles of justice only if I give her a Bible and she begins to read it? Don’t 2k critics believe that a proper understanding of Scripture can only come from the work of regeneration? In which case, my neighbor will never see God’s glory until she believes.

In which case, the anti-2k complaint against the sufficiency of general revelation goes much deeper than a point about the relationship between the two books of revelation. That deeper level is that unregenerate people cannot be trusted. They don’t have the Bible or the Spirit and so cannot see the truths and order God has revealed in creation or their consciences.

One implication of this at the level of everyday life is how Christians can summon up enough trust to venture on to the roads and highways with unbelievers? Will the unregenerate or biblically illiterate see the signs and obey traffic laws? Do Christians go to the public library and expect to find the books placed on the shelves incorrectly because of a disbelieving shelver? How could unbelievers ever pull off such quotidian conduct without interpreting general revelation first through the lens of Scripture? And how could they do this apart from saving faith?

At the upper ranges of human existence – those having to do with justice – could Christians ever allow for non-saved police, judges, legislators, governors, or presidents? In fact, doesn’t this way of understanding the relationship between general and special revelation force 2k critics to require a religious test for holding public office? In which case, do 2k critics ever vote for non-Protestant politicians? And do they inquire of Protestant candidates if they have really been saved? Gilbert Tennent wanted accounts of conversion experience from prospective pastors. Now we want them from political candidates?

Well, actually, at one time in U.S. history we wanted some sign of regeneration for citizens to be able to enter into the simplest aspects of life as a citizen – and this is another one of those implications the 2k critics don’t seem to consider. In a very good book on church-state relations in nineteenth-century America, The Second Disestablishment, Stephen K. Green reminds readers of the barriers to the judicial system posed by distrust of non-believers:

. . . for a witness, juror, or declarant to be competent to testify or undertake a legal obligation, he had to assert a belief not only in God but also in the accountability of his soul after death for swearing falsely. The rule was far-reaching, extending beyond the competency of judicial witnesses to include all forms of oath taking, including will execution and office holding. In contrast to the federal Constitution’s ban on religious tests, all of the original thirteen state constitutions had imposed or retained various religious requirements for public office holding and civic participation that included oath taking. The oath requirement was viewed, according to one advocate, as a “means of divine appointment for securing faithfulness in official station.” Because of these requirements, religious nonconformists could not aspire to public office, enter into many legal agreements, bequeath property, or file suit and testify to enforce their legal rights. . . . nonconformists were barred from testifying as witnesses or serving as jurors. Many of the important attributes fo citizenship were thus closed to non-Christians. (p. 178)

So in an ideal world, where the magistrate did not tolerate blasphemy or idolatry, not only would non-Christians be prevented from worshiping but also from participating in public life. Is this the kind of society that anti-2kers want? This would, of course, be heaven, but haven’t 2k critics heard of the dangers of immanentizing the eschaton?

And just to make my complication complete, how do 2k critics deal with those who hold the 2k position? Some of the reception that 2k receives is great distrust. In fact, the distrust heaped upon 2kers seems to exceed that held against politicians in the Democratic Party. One explanation could be that 2kers don’t begin political and cultural reflections with appeals to the Bible. But another could be that 2kers are actually unregenerate.

I don’t mean this as a joke. It is a serious matter. And the reverse is just as serious. If I am regenerate, then the 2k position disproves the anti-2k argument because 2k shows that regeneration does not require beginning and ending reflection on the natural order with Scripture. If regenerate people can appeal to general revelation instead of the Bible for understanding some matters of morality and social relations, then how can 2kers be untrustworthy? Obviously, the anti-2k position is that 2kers should not appeal to general revelation without starting with special revelation? But if 2kers are regenerate and therefore, from the anti-2k perspective, trustworthy, they why the distrust? Shouldn’t regeneration make 2kers trustworthy?

The easy answer to that riddle is to say 2kers are not regenerate. And that may explain the Gilbert Tennent-like histrionics that so often greet 2k.

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Rhetorically Different, Functionally Similar

After yet another round of snark-prone discussion of 2k at Green Baggins (I don’t think we’ll reach the record of 800-plus comments that we did in the fall of 2008), I have come to understand better the attacks upon 2k.

By holding to the position that the Bible speaks to all of life, folks like Dr. Kloosterman and the Baylys believe they have a platform by which to upbraid President Obama for his various failings to enforce biblical morality. It is also a firm foundation upon which to insist upon public morality without having to countenance relativism.

When 2k proponents then say this is an improper use of Scripture or a legal conundrum for Americans bound by a Constitution that avoids religious tests, anti-2kers respond with the charge of antinomianism and unbelief. For without the Bible in hand, Christians have no basis upon which to tell President Obama or the rest of U.S. citizens, with love of course, what to do.

No, no, no 2kers reply. We can tell President Obama what to do by appealing to the light of nature and to the laws of the republic. The Bible doesn’t have to speak to all of life for us to speak to all of life because God gave all of life and created life has an inherent order.

But because anti-2kers don’t really believe in the light of nature’s reliability, they are left with the Bible as the only source of ethics or law.

Another difference between the two sides is the use to which each side puts Calvin and the magisterial Reformation. For anti-2kers, the arrangements between church and state from 1522 to 1776 are just fine (even though the state basically ruined the Reformed churches from 1600 on), and 2kers betray the Reformed tradition for criticizing those same ecclesiastical establishments.

Not so fine, however, is the older legal provisions for blasphemy and idolatry and witchcraft. When pressed to defend the practice of executing heretics or blasphemers, anti-2kers try to change the subject and say that 2k is the issue on trial, not the anti-2k position. But so far, no 2k critic has actually defended the execution of Servetus or Massachusetts laws calling for the execution of adulterers. Not even Doug Wilson can seem to stomach the execution of heretics.

One last important difference is that anti-2kers are censorious about their differences with 2kers – calling 2k outside the Reformed tradition and worse. Meanwhile, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, they are shocked, just shocked, to find that Roman Catholics and Mormons are practicing idolatry freely in the greatest nation on God’s green earth.