Kuyper in the Minor Leagues with Machen

Oliver O’Donovan, a favorite political theologian of many Protestants who may not be comfortable with Stanley Hauerwas’ anti-establishmentarian outlook but also want an alternative to the Religious Right (and won’t even consider the spirituality of the church), has a review of Abraham Kuyper and the returns are not good:

Kuyper’s manner is self-consciously didactic. He seems to speak from a pulpit with a Bible in hand and a congregation to wag a finger at. He luxuriates in general social observations rounded up with peremptorily declared conclusions, which can sometimes seem very arbitrary. Exaggerated oppositions, over-­compartmentalized classifications, silence on what others are thinking or saying (except where they can be dismissed with a wave of the hand)—these are the weaknesses that belong to his communicative strategy. And most trying of all is his confidence that whatever he says is proved at the bar of Scripture, though what he finds in a text and what he makes of a text are rarely distinguishable. The paths of argument are circuitous, and what appears to be firmly settled at one point may turn out to be surprisingly open to qualification later. All that, if we will read Kuyper, we must bear with patience. But if we will let him lead us by the paths of his own choosing, and alert us to the spiritual and cultural challenges he discerns, we shall find ourselves inducted into a vision of the world that deeply impressed its first readers. The list of interesting and distinguished twentieth-century figures who confessed a debt to Kuyper’s influence speaks for itself.

Kooky but influential. Isn’t that true of Donald Trump? This may explain why Jamie Smith spends much more time interacting with O’Dovovan than Kuyper.

And for those Kuyperians who look down on Old School Presbyterianism, O’Donovan’s estimate of Kuyper is even less kind — though it suggests spirituality of the church thinkers may need to spend more time with the former Dutch Prime Minister:

While insisting that Christ’s kingship must not be spiritualized, Kuyper says that it must not be politicized, either. For while his dominion has everything to do with public cultural endeavor in science, agriculture, poetry, education, and music, it has nothing to do with civil government (paradoxically the sphere of Kuyper’s own public endeavors!). In this way, Kuyper saves the face of a Reformed tradition that assigns the civil state to God the Father’s care, the Church to the care of the Son.

Is not the idea of a heavenly “king” without political authority a bad case of “spiritualizing” (a harsher term might be “mythicizing”)? It raises problems enough for the traditional political analogies, on which much of Kuyper’s rhetoric depends. It deprives him of the use of some of the most fruitful biblical material for reflecting on authority, that of the Hebrew kings. It raises problems for his own programmatic boast that there is “not a square inch . . . over which Christ does not say ‘Mine!’” And it raises problems for Christian politics itself, ambiguously placed among the spheres of Christian service.

And that is exactly where O’Donovan needs to pay attention to Kuyper and those outside ecclesiastical establishments like the Church of England. The Hebrew kings were good — well not really — for their time but when Jesus came the Hebrew monarchy took a different form, one in which the Son of David could say with a straight face, “my kingdom is not of this world.” At the same time, the Gospels present lots of material for thinking about political authority in relation to Christ — how he interacts with government officials, with Jewish authorities, how he answers questions about political rule or instructs his disciples (like telling Peter, “put the sword away”), how he went into exile during the slaughter of the innocents, how he submitted to Roman execution, how he claims all authority in the Great Commission.

Lots of biblical material there but I am betting it does not add up to Christendom, whether the Roman or Anglican version.

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Political Theology without Christ

Oliver O’Donovan on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as the “end” of Christendom:

. . . it ended up promoting a concept of the state’s role from which Christology was excluded, that of a state freed from all responsibility to reocognise God’s self-disclosure in history. (The Desire of the Nations, 244).

If Double-O is correct, why does Paul write about politics without referring to Christ or God’s self-disclosure?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV)

Still Spooked by Constantine (or Why I Am A Disestablishmentarian)

Why do Christians believe society should be Christian? Did Christ and the apostles entertain such a belief? Keeping Israel Mosaic certainly made sense for about 1500 years of redemptive history but that did not exactly go well. Think exile. And when Christ came, did he try to put Moses back in the Mosaic Covenant? Paul would have us believe otherwise.

But Christendom continues to haunt residents of the West who pine for the days of Christian influence. Oliver O’Donovan defines Christendom this way:

. . . the idea of a professedly Christian secular political order, and the history of that idea in practice. Christendom is an era in which the truth of Christianity was taken to be a truth of secular politics. . . . . Let us say that the era lies between AD 313, the date of the Edict of Milan, and 1791, the date of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. . . . it is the idea of a confessionally Christian government, at once ‘secular’ (in the proper sense of that word, confined to the present age) and obedient to Christ, a promise of the age of his unhindered rule.

When O’Donovan looks for biblical support he has to go more to Israel’s legacy and Christ’s claims about the kingdom of God than he does to anything that Peter and Paul wrote about what Christian rulers should do (as if they ever entertained the idea of a Christian emperor):

The core idea of Christendom is therefore intimately bound up with the church’s mission. But the relationship between mission and Christian political order should not be misconstrued. . . . The church’s one project is to witness to the Kingdom of God. Christendom is the response to mission, and as such a sign that God has blessed it. (The Desire of the Nations, 195)

Not to be a literalist or anything, but the trusty search engine at ESV indicates that Matthew used “kingdom” 53 times in his gospel, Luke 44. Paul in his entire corpus uses the word 14 times (17 if you throw in Hebrews as any Three Forms person should). If declaring the Kingdom of God was a big deal to the apostles, they lost Jesus’ memo.

For that reason, the support for Christian norms in social life are more likely to depend on nostalgia for Christendom (or the theory of it) than on exegesis. Consider the following response to the Marriage Pledge and why Roman Catholics shouldn’t support it:

It is part of the Church’s mission to seek out the State and be united with it; it is the duty of the State to be subject to the Church in matters religious, including those pertaining to the eternal law and the natural law. When the State attempts to create positive law that is contrary to the natural or eternal law, the law itself is invalid. But the Church betrays herself if in confronting evil laws she abandons the State to its own devices. The Church has a positive mission to create concord between the Church and State, not to sow dissension between them. . . .

Thus all marriage (not just Christian marriage!) rightly falls under the authority of the Church. So if, in our times, the State attempts to usurp the rightful authority of the Church by either depriving her ministers of their liberty or by attempting to create laws which are injurious to the natural and eternal law, the role of the Church is to teach, admonish, and ultimately dissolve the temporal authorities. That is what the Magisterium indicates.

If you want evidence of why some Roman Catholics think the magisterium should still be running things, that piece is one where to find a paleo-Roman Catholic construction of Vatican II. But are Presbyterians any less enamored of Christendom or the national (civic) church that gave them legitimacy? Here‘s a defense of the establishment principle from the recent debates among Free Church Scotlanders over Scottish independence (if only the South had used the i-word instead of secession):

Lord Mackay of Clashfearn defines the current status of Church/state relations: “the relationship of the State to the Church of Scotland is one of recognition with a degree of support. As Professor Frank Lyall has said, ‘All that establishment means is that the civil authority has recognised the Church’s self-imposed task to bring the ordi-nances of religion to all Scotland, and looks to the Church on suitable ceremonial oc-casions.’”

What are the duties of the Established Church? In 1877 these were described as: “the protection of the Sabbath, the promotion of scriptural education in the public schools, the conservation of the purity of the Scriptures, and the sacredness of the law of mar-riage.” Today, this scope is greatly diminished: legislation has broken the back of a national recognition of the Sabbath; the state has monopolised education; the free market has removed ecclesiastical oversight from Bible production; and the institution of marriage has succumbed to demands from the gay rights lobby.

And here’s one more for the Lord-of-the-Rings enthusiasts out there. In response, again to the Marriage Pledge, Jake Meador pulls out a quotation from J. R. R. Tolkien:

The last Christian marriage I attended was held under your system: the bridal pair were “married” twice. They married one another before the Church’s witness (a priest), using one set of formulas, and making a vow of lifelong fidelity (and the woman of obedience); they then married again before the State’s witness… using another set of formulas and making no vow of fidelity or obedience. I felt it was an abominable proceeding – and also ridiculous, since the first set of formulas and vows included the latter as the lesser. In fact it was only not ridiculous on the assumption that the State was in fact saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church; you may have taken certain vows in your meeting place but they are just foolishness, private taboos, a burden you take on yourself: a limited and impermanent contract is all that is really necessary for citizens. In other words this “sharp division” is a piece of propaganda, a counter-homily delivered to young Christians fresh from the solemn words of the Christian minister.

Has Meador or Tolkien considered what it’s like to be a Muslim or Jew in a Christian society (think Christendom)? And if we don’t like idea of Sharia law determining civil codes, why should Roman Catholic or Protestant teaching on marriage determine U.S. law? Because more Christians live in the U.S. than non-Christians?

But more to the point, have these folks contemplated whether Jesus and the apostles favored an establishment principle or where the early Christians went to be married? I don’t know the answer to the latter. But I do sense that Christendom is alive and well and that lots of Christians still pine for it. If the church as a pilgrim people not responsible for public affairs was a good thing for the early church, why not for Christians today? I mean, could anyone possibly imagine the OPC as the established church of the United States being responsible for religious life across the nation? (Imagine how long General Assembly would be!) That thought experiment might well put any number of Christian warriors off the Christendom project.

Forget the Integration, Live the Disjunction

Be 2k.

Peter Leithart summarizes Oliver O’Donovan in ways that warm any 2ker’s heart — specifically on the difference between God’s final judgment and judgments in the civil realm (the quotations are from O’Donovan):

Earlier Christian legal theory “from Gratian to Grotius” taught “that lex divina was available to knowledge from a variety of sources, natural and revealed, but that the capstone was lex evangelica, the ‘Gospel law,’ which both extended and interpreted what we knew of God’s judgments from the other sources” (84).

For Protestants, the notion of a lex evangelica was absurd. True, “God’s will was revealed as divine law,” but Protestants denied that “this divine law included the decisive judgment of God on which our hope for the future hands, the Paschal judgment rendered in the death and resurrection of Christ.” Confronted with that judgment, the “ultimate disclosure of judgment in condemnation and forgiveness,” we can “only tremble, and believe in our hearts.” We can in no way imitate it.

Political judgments thus must be grounded elsewhere.

“The judgments that we fashioned in the public realm . . . were founded upon natural reason, Old Testament law, or some combination of the two. This meant that they were un-evangelical.” This doesn’t mean they were harsh or inflexible, for both reason and the Old Testament testify to the “patience and forbearance of God.” But it did mean that public judgments “stood on the near side of the great Law-Gospel divide between terror and freedom.” Thus Christians cannot help but feel “a certain alienation in performing them, for they are cut off from our hope, and can tell us nothing of God’s final word of grace in Christ.” Ethics and politics were treated under the “uses of the law” rather than as an aspect of the gospel (84-5).

Luther summed up the position: “Do you want to now what your duty is as a prince or a judge or a lord or a lady, with people under you? You do not have to ask Christ about your duty” (!).

But O’Donovan and Leithart are uncomfortable with this. The bugbear of integralism rears its head and along with it comes an attempt to match up human and divine politics:

O’Donovan is aware of the reasons behind this thesis: It stresses a limit on politics that has gone unheeded in modern politics, with much anguish the result: “We cannot condemn and redeem at once. . . . There is in God’s life-giving judgment something that our own judgments cannot, and must not try, to imitate. . . . We see, then, in what sense our political judgments are ‘Mosaic’” (87).

But that comes at a high price, with “disturbing implications for the moral life as such. For if the Paschal judgment is not prescription, we cannot obey it. Ethics, too, not politics alone, must become un-evangelical.” This produces a strange apophaticism with regard to the Paschal judgment itself (85).

The problem is entwined, O’Donovan thinks, with the Western tendency to stress the cross to the exclusion of resurrection: “while the cross discriminates between God’s righteous servant and the world that rejects him . . . it is the resurrection that vindicates the pattern of humanity that Christ lived for us and commanded us to follow” (85). Without the resurrection, we’re left with a tragic sense of duty: We must follow the way of the cross, though we know there is no hope of vindication.

I wonder if what O’Donovan describes really deserves the label “Protestant” rather than “Lutheran.” But there’s enough truth in his assessment to elicit some soul-searching from all Protestants. Two specific projects came to mind: First, developing a political theology rooted in a more biblical understanding of “justice” that incorporates passages linking righteousness to salvation, generosity, protection and support of the needy; and, second, a reading of the Sermon on the Mount as a “mirror for princes.”

I don’t know about others, but I (all about me) am rather keen on the idea that the new heavens and new earth will not be serving up the same stop lights, prisons, or welfare checks. I’d like to think that stop lights won’t be necessary, our prisons are not really on the order of hell (though I’m sure they have their moments), and the jewels in my crown will be worth more than government subsidies. That’s the comfort I receive from distinguishing redemption from creation and providence, or Christ as mediator from Christ as creator.

Why Leithart doesn’t see in his project a violation of both the Vogelinian and Vossian warning about immanentizing the eschaton must stem from his admiration for Constantine.