Calling the Bluff of A2K

A2K (anti-two kingdom theology) selectively reads history. This is a point made frequently here. This selectivity is evident whenever someone invokes John Calvin or John Winthrop to put 2k down, as if the down-putter really wants to return to a society where adultery is a capital offense. (Could we settle for a misdemeanor?) I understand that A2K thinks that 2kers are also selective historically. We too invoke Calvin on the difference between the temporal and spiritual realms. But that doesn’t mean that we are blind to Geneva’s laws. It is possible to understand a theological point that may not bear political or social fruit at the time someone is making the point.

Now comes Paul Helm to repeat the point about historical selectivity:

Most adherents to the Confession of faith in fact adhere ex animo to a sanitized version, cleansed of references to Presbyterianism as the state religion. This is no small change. No more the Crown Rights of the Redeemer. Ever since the Solemn League and Covenant was rejected in England, this has been the de facto position here, different in the US in the eighteenth century, awaiting the passing into law of the Constitution and its various amendments, one of which concerned the separation of church and state.

The Westminster Confession says inter alia regarding the civil magistrate –

….they whom, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. And for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity, whether concerning the faith, worship, or conversation; or to the power of godliness; or such erroneous opinions or practices, as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing or maintain them, are destructive the external peace and order which Christ has established in the church; they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrate. (XX.IV)

This went off stage de facto in England in the seventeenth century, when Puritanism failed as a political project, and it failed in America some time later de jure .

The move from intolerance to what was by today’s standards limited tolerance is not a change that was prompted by theological reasoning or doctrinal revision, but it was wholly political, due at least in England to the presence in society of dissenting groups whose vigour and Christian orthodoxy and place in society could not be gainsaid. They were hear to stay.

Such a politically-inspired change had important consequences for Christology. No more are kings regarded as the foster fathers of the church, or queens their nursing mothers. (Isa. 49 22f.) Or rather, such passages have been ‘revisited’. No more is it thought that Christ has established ‘external peace and order….in the church’. No more is state support for the Reformed religion, nor state persecution of others on behalf of Reformed congregations, regarded as support for the one true religion that the state had an exclusive obligation to protect. No more are these things the norm for Confession-believing Presbyterians. Freedom of conscience. Pluralism. Toleration-Calvinism.

These comments are not meant to apply to Covenanter congregations of today. Maybe they are still praying for the fulfilment of Isaiah 49 stricto sensu for their own, and for others. But they do apply, obviously, to others who claim their pedigree by their adherence to letter of the Confession. That’s self-confessedly ‘paleo-Calvinism’ as one Covenanter said to me. And so the question is, is the dominant form, adherence to the purged Confession of Faith, let us call such a position ‘tolerant confessionalism’, a significant change in ‘Calvinism’, the Calvinism of Calvin and of the authors of the Solemn League and Covenant? It could hardly be said not to be.

These changes, both in doctrine and in practice, were not small. They obviously affected the whole ethos of Reformed religion. How much of a deviation from the original outlook was it? Does the abandonment of the early view of establishment compare in seriousness, centrality and the like compared with, say, the abandonment of exclusive psalm-singing, or of the Presbyterian ecclesiology of the early Reformed churches by Congregationalists and Baptists? Since the body of Presbyterians is not governed by a magisterium, who is to say what the answer is? How reads your Calvinometer? Nowadays there cannot be an ‘Old Calvinism’ but only an ‘Older’, not a ‘New’ but a ‘Newer’. No one possesses the copyright of the noun.

This means that we need a new category. In addition to New Calvinism, Neo-Calvinism, Old Calvinism, and Paleo-Calvinism, we need Neo-Paleo-Calvinism.

Old Life is simpler, Occam’s razor and all that.