I Understand The Wire, but The Crown?

What should we stream on Netflix or Amazon Prime? Should we do what the Puritans did (even though they didn’t have wifi)?

Here’s one piece of advice on what to watch:

Does this [movie] increase my love to the Word of God, kill my sin, and prepare me for the life to come?

Remember that this world is not our home. The fact that we are forgiven sinners, purchased by Christ and bound for heaven should impact every aspect of our lives.

Additionally, we know from Scripture that we have an adversary who is determined to take Christ’s soldiers out of the fight. What soldier would spend time in activities that weaken his armor?

Be critical of the choices you have when deciding what to watch. Does this movie help you to better appreciate the truths expressed in Scripture, or is it void of redemptive elements? Does this show encourage you to snuff out sin in your life, or does it entice you to see how close you can get to the flame without getting burned? Does this film make you long for God’s kingdom, or does it merely increase your desire for the things of earth?

Okay. I can understand (and always have) why some people won’t watch The Wire. As much as I appreciate the show, I don’t recommend it to all Christians. It’s like meat offered to idols. Some people can’t handle it (and those who can aren’t superior, just different).

But The Crown? Why not watch a series that is highly suggestive about the English monarchy and its responsibilities, recent British history, the nature of British politics and the decline of Britain’s empire, not to mention very revealing about human nature (nor to mention exquisitely accomplished). None of this is particularly edifying or redemptive. The Crown doesn’t make me a better Christian.

But God is not merely a redeemer. He’s also the creator and that means — doesn’t it? — he’s also involved with and oversees the non-redemptive parts of human history. In that case, watching The Wire and The Crown makes me a better human being because they help me understand God’s creation and providence.

If you only take spiritual cues from the Puritans, you’ll have Christian duties figured out (perhaps) but you’ll still need to get a life.

Advertisements

I May Come to the Garden Alone, But Stay (in part) Because of Who’s There

Is it okay for conservative Presbyterians to talk about the perseverance of the saints in terms of social psychology? Not exclusively, but at least a little? The idea is that we certainly depend on the work of the Spirit to endure hardships and doubts. But what if the work of the Spirit includes the people around us, in our homes, congregations, friendships, social networks?

Part of what got me thinking about this was an exchange a while ago between Glenn Loury and Steven Teles about the former’s Christian background and how he experienced tensions between the fairly unsophisticated faith of his charismatic congregation and the intellectual cast of his peers at an Ivy League university. This was not simply a question of faith versus reason. It was one of whether Loury knew other academics who were Christian and, by virtue of associations with them, make his own Christian belief plausible. Here’s a link to that conversation.

These thoughts returned after reading Tommie Kidd’s post about Philip Jenkin’s reflections on fertility and religiosity. First Jenkins (via Kidd):

… there is an inverse relationship between the fertility rates of a community and that society’s degree of religious fervor and commitment. High fertility societies, like most of contemporary Africa, tend to be fervent and devout. Conversely, the lower the fertility rate, and the smaller the family size, the greater the tendency to detach from organized or institutional religion. That shift from high to low commonly takes place in a short time, a generation or so. Fertility rates thus supply an effective gauge of trends towards secularization. What follows is a bare sketch, but I will deal with it in much greater detail in a book that I am currently working on–especially on issues of causation and correlation.

The classic example of demographic/religious change is modern Europe. Not coincidentally, the Europe that has become so secular since the 1960s has also, in these same years, pioneered an epochal demographic revolution of historically low fertility rates. Those rates are at their lowest in such countries as Spain and Italy, where they stand today around 1.3 or 1.4, and they have dipped well below that.

(Ahem. What am I missing about Humanae Vitae, Spain, and Italy?)

Then Kidd:

Religious adherence does have a lot to do with kids. In spite of horror stories about how many youth group kids “leave the faith,” people who took a break often come back into church when they get married and start having kids. Anecdotally, I know of parents who readily admit that they only go to church for the sake of their kids. I recently had a conversation with someone who said they would not go to a certain church because of a lack of children and children’s programs. My family would certainly have to re-evaluate our involvement at our current church if we felt like their programming for teenagers was inadequate (thankfully, it is terrific).

I too know of people who became pillars of Reformed congregations after having kids and recovering the faith that they had mainly abandoned during young adulthood.

But the point I am raising goes beyond families and child rearing. It has to do with the people with whom we hang out and how they keep us in the faith. You may have a doubt or two, but because you know other folks for whom these thoughts are not troubling, you may be inclined to go with the flow until you find a resolution. Conversely, without people in your faith tribe who reinforce your beliefs by virtue of their smarts, humor, outlook, sartorial display, or friendship, if you hit a period of doubt, are you more willing to consider unbelief?

Our dependence (if that’s not too strong) on other believers need not be at odds with the work of the Spirit. After all, the Spirit is also behind providence, which are God’s most “holy, wise, and powerful, preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.”

So it’s not social psychology or pneumatology. It’s both/and, a win win.

Or maybe not.

For the Umpteenth Time, Grace is Not Nature

Once again the lame argument that nominalism (and its Protestant progeny) severed the chain of being and gave us Walmart:

One can now readily see the theological pitfalls of this position. It means that in Genesis, when God called creation ‘good’—it was only because He said so, not because it was really good. It also contravenes the testimony of the Old Testament, where creation as seen as reflecting the beauty and goodness of God—Dreher quotes Psalm 19:2, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Finally, Ockham’s position is at odds with the reality of the Incarnation itself, along with the reality of the visible Church and the sacramental system. (Certainly it is now apparent how nominalism helped pave the way for the Protestant Reformation.)

In the context of the Christian faith, the errors and perils of nominalism may seem manifest, but what about its broader cultural implications? As Dreher explains, once the world had been emptied of inherent meaning and bore only that meaning imposed on it by God, the next big step was to replace God with man.

How and why did this happen?

The real answer, of course, is beyond our scope, but we can briefly point to it here. (See Dreher’s second chapter, “The Roots of the Crisis” for the full summary.) Once the sacred chain connecting all being to God was severed, creation shrunk back from its Creator: the world became a smaller place.

Hello! The heavens declaring the glory of God doesn’t make the heavens a sacrament.

Hello! Affirming the profound chasm between Creator and creature (can you say transcendence?) does not destroy the light of nature that shows “that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might” (Confession of Faith 21.1).

Hello! Saying that God’s ways are not our ways is not to deny that God superintends all things.

In fact, if you believe in providence:

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Confession of Faith 5.1)

you can also believe in sacraments:

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. (Shorter Catechism 91)

But if you so closely identify God with his creation, you may have trouble distinguishing the church from Europe. Hillaire Belloc anyone?

Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe.

Surely, somewhere in all those Aristotelian categories appropriated by Aquinas, Roman Catholics have a way of distinguishing the world from God who is a “spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” You have to preserve those incommunicable attributes of God somehow.

Will A Revival Save Us?

In hopes of understanding my own blindness about race relations in America and what I (me me I I me me) might do to make the nation and me less racist, I listened to Thabiti Anyabwile’s discussion with Carmen Fowler LaBerge. Here’s what I learned. First, I need to acknowledge that whites have treated blacks badly:

We need to acknowledge the ways in which the church has intentionally, historically refused to be the Body of God along the lines of race. Whether it from Virginia’s enactment of laws that if a slave became a Christian did not mean they would be freed from slavery, to the segregation of congregations in the 1800s and into the 1900s, to the Evangelical church just missing the ball in the Civil Rights Movement and other areas. We have to tell the truth- the bone deep truth- about our complicity if we will ever be free from it.

When I taught colonial America last fall, I ended with the point that race is one of the lasting and darkest legacies of colonial slavery. I may need to do more in class. But I think I’ve got this part of it. I understand in part if not in full.

Second, I need to do something:

Pastor T says one tangible step is to pray for revival. Pray that God pours out his Spirit on His church, and that His spirit would graciously bring conviction of sin. That He would quicken His church in repentance and holiness. Pray that God would subdue the hearts of those hearts in rebellion against God and turn to Him.

Pastor T hopes the Lord would use the grief and mourning that has gripped the nation to break our hearts in repentance and so we would draw near to Him in revival.

Here I’m scratching my head. Does Pastor Anyabwile (and Carmen) not know that revivals were incredibly divisive throughout U.S. history? Revivals don’t unify. They divide churches between pro- and anti-revivalists.

If Pastor Anyabwile means that revival might bring sanctification, I appreciate the point. But in the case of cop shootings, does that mean city governments should only hire applicants who have made a profession of faith? If revival saves America, aren’t we still thinking about politics the way Constantinians, neo-Calvinists, Covenanters, and theonomists do? Can we only trust officials who are saved?

So what do we do if we are to live with non-Christians? Any policies? Interestingly enough, Pastor Anyabwile faulted Ta-Nehisi Coates in the latter’s piece on mass incarcerations for not recommending any policies:

Coates repeats the significant failure he recognizes in an earlier Moynihan. Coates tells us that the fatal flaw in Moynihan’s infamous report was Moynihan’s decision to omit specific policy solutions. Having seen that so clearly, it’s odd that Coates should repeat that failure so often in the important writing he now undertakes. A mind as formidable as Coates’s ought not stop with descriptive analysis, however compelling its portrayal of the problem. It should push itself to hazard a prescription, to call for some specific redress.

Pastor Anyabwile is of course right. He should also know that revival is not policy.

So what policy is out there? Maybe Peter Moskos is on to something about what California and Chicago police can learn from New York City’s patrol people and their supervisors:

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That’s a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That’s a rate of 1.2 per million. That’s a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and that doesn’t seem too much to ask for — 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn’t even the worst state; I’m picking on California because it’s large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn’t mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don’t want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they’ll certainly take it.

I really don’t know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it’s hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we’d reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!

The thing is, we don’t need the Holy Spirit’s miraculous powers for this. Providential control is always appreciated.

Hyper-Calvinism and Common Grace — I Mean — Providence

I always get nervous — better, agitated — when folks who do not belong to Reformed Protestant communions weigh in on Calvinism’s boundaries and definitions. It is a little like Canadians telling U.S. citizens about what the United States stand for — though, given our provincialism in the U.S. I often learn from Canadians, not so much with evangelicals.

Anyhoo, Justin Taylor linked to a post that alleges to spot the telling features of Hyper-Calvinism. I am less interested in the 5-point list than I am (all about me) in what Phil Johnson writes about denying common grace — a tell-tale sign of Hyper-Calvinism. Here is what he says but consider the thought experiment of using “providence” instead of “common grace”:

The idea of common grace providence is implicit throughout Scripture. “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:9). “He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:18-19). “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45).

The distinction between common grace providence and special grace closely parallels the distinction between the general call and the effectual call. Common grace providence is extended to everyone. It is God’s goodness to humanity in general whereby God graciously restrains the full expression of sin and mitigates sin’s destructive effects in human society. Common grace providence imposes moral constraints on people’s behavior, maintains a semblance of order in human affairs, enforces a sense of right and wrong through conscience and civil government, enables men and women to appreciate beauty and goodness, and imparts blessings of all kinds to elect and non-elect alike. God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). That is common grace providence.

The doctrine of common grace providence has a long history that goes all the way back to Calvin and even Augustine. But type-4 hyper-Calvinism denies the concept, insisting that God has no true goodwill toward the non-elect and therefore shows them no favor or “grace” of any kind.

Does this make (all about) me a Hyper-Calvinist? Or what exactly is gained by using a novel phrase for one that has a long tradition in Reformed confessions?

Means of Grace versus Means of Peace (and war)

From our mid-western correspondent comes this quotation by President Harry S. Truman about the use of atomic weapons (sometime between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki):

The atomic bomb is too dangerous to be loose in a lawless world. That is why Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, who have the secret of its production, do not intend to reveal that secret until means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction.

As far back as last May, Secretary of War Stimson, at my suggestion, appointed a committee upon which Secretary of State Byrnes served as my personal representative, to prepare plans for the future control of this bomb. I shall ask the Congress to cooperate to the end that its production and use be controlled, and that its power be made an overwhelming influence towards world peace.

We must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force–to prevent its misuse, and to turn it into the channels of service to mankind.

It is an awful responsibility which has come to us.

We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.

To make light of the moral dilemmas involved in Truman’s decision would be easy, as if anyone should know that nuclear weapons are evil. Being the son of a Marine who survived Iwo Jima and was waiting in Hawaii to conduct a similar mission to Japan’s shores, I myself have a small portion of my heart expressing gratitude that my father was spared having to fight in Japan. Chances are I would not be blogging if not for that bomb. (Old Life loyalists may want to thank Truman as well.)

The problem is the president’s identification of a weapon of mass destruction with God’s purposes. Providentially speaking, no one, not the president or even a minister of the gospel, knows God’s purposes in human history. But when it comes to God’s revealed purposes, as in saving a people for himself, we know what the weapons are — word, sacrament, and discipline. Those are the means by which Christ’s kingdom (of grace) comes.

Truman was not wrong to pray for wisdom, though he may have been sanctimonious to do so while bombing the bejeebers out of the Japanese. But he needed to know how to pray and what to pray for (sorry for the concluding preposition). That’s why God gave us the Lord’s Prayer. No atomic WMD’s there. Only spiritual ones.

Postscript of full disclosure: I am technically a graduate of Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania (the proverbial armpit of Bucks County). I say technically because the school’s name at the time of my diploma was Woodrow Wilson, not necessarily a better choice in the horse race of admirably restrained presidents. But the change of name is not a factor in my evaluation of Truman’s remarks.

Regeneration, Intelligence, and Philosophy

May we have a little clarity on the nature of regeneration, puh-leeze? Sorry to pick on the neo-Calvinists again, but a common construction of regeneration among those who stress the antithesis is to attribute to the supernatural work of the Spirit the intellectual genius of believers. This interpretation is strongest among the neo-Calvinists who are philosophically inclined. Because they can unearth the epistemological roots of an idea or argument, and because they operate in what at times seems like a Manichean universe divided between the knowers (of Christ) and the ignorant, these neo-Calvinist philosophers believe they hold the keys to discerning the work of the Spirit. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of the fall and now allows Christians to interpret reality correctly, and even see the philosophical basis for all things.

Never mind that the arguments for Christian schools contradict this understanding of regeneration. If regeneration does produce a new w-w, then why is education necessary? Shouldn’t the regenerate already have the tools, by virtue of the illuminating power of the Spirit, to understand all things correctly? But if covenant children and the w-w challenged need to appropriate the value added material that comes from the w-w cognoscenti, then is the Spirit’s work in regeneration really responsible for a new outlook on the world? Or could it be that a w-w is much more the product of human instruction about the fundamental truths of epistemology and metaphysics, or Christian teachers who give a faith-based reading of the arts and sciences?

Another wrinkle here, by the way, is the folly that apparently afflicts believers not only about the world but also about the faith. Remember that Paul call the Galatians and Corinthians foolish even while considering these folks to be saints, that is, people who had experienced the work of the Spirit in regeneration. Also, consider that a w-w does very little justice to catechesis. In fact, in communions where w-w has expanded, catechesis has generally declined. At the same time, regeneration is no solution to the hard work of memorizing a three-figure set of doctrinal answers. It takes time, discipline, and memory.

So what we need is clarity about the noetic effects of regeneration. And we also need to distinguish among those effects, the native intelligence of persons that comes providentially from genes, family environments, and temperament, and academic proficiency in a particular area of human investigation. Clarity may start with a reminder about the nature of the spiritual illumination in regeneration. According to the Shorter Catechism:

Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel. (WSC 31)

. . . when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds. (Dort III/IV, 11)

What sure seems clear to me is that regeneration has a narrow effect — it allows a person who had no interest in Christ to understand his need and to trust the work of Christ. It is a kind of knowledge, but it is not even necessarily knowledge of well-formulated doctrine. At the same time, regeneration does nothing to take someone from a low to a high IQ. Nor does regeneration place someone all of a sudden as a graduate of a Masters-level curriculum in western philosophy. Regeneration removes the noetic effects of sin. It does not change the brain or a person’s mastery of a body of thought.

At the same time, neo-Calvinists enraptured by western philosophy may want to remember what Calvin and Kuyper, Mr. Paleo- and Mr. Neo-Calvinist, had to say about the learning of pagans.

If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. What then? Shall we deny that the truth shone upon the ancient jurists who established civic order and discipline with such great equity? Shall we say that the philosophers were blind in their fine observation and artful description of nature? Shall we say that those men were devoid of understanding who conceived the art of disputation and taught us to speak reasonably? Shall we say that they are insane who developed medicine, devoting their labor to our benefit? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we consider them the ravings of madmen? No, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration. We marvel at them because we are compelled to recognize how preeminent they are. But shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude, into which not even the pagan poets fell, for they confessed that the gods had invented philosophy, laws, and all useful arts. Those men whom Scripture [I Cor. 2:14] calls “natural men” were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things. Let us, accordingly, learn by their example how many gifts the Lord left to human nature even after it was despoiled of its true good. (Institutes II.2.15)

. . . the unbelieving world excels in many things. Precious treasures have come down to us from the old heathen civilization. In Plato you find pages which you devour. Cicero fascinates you and bears you along by his noble tone and stirs up in you holy sentiments. And if you consider your own surroundings, that which is reported to you, and that which you derive from the studies and literary productions of professed infidels, how much more there is which attracts you, with which you sympathize and which you admire. It is not exclusively the spark of genius or the splendor of talent which excites your pleasure in the words and actions of unbelievers, but it is often their beauty of character, their zeal, their devotion, their love, their candor, their faithfulness and their sense of honesty. Yea, we may not pass it over in silence, not infrequently you entertain the desire that certain believers might have more of the attractiveness, and who among us has not himself been put to the blush occasionally by being confronted with what is called the “virtues of the heathen”? (Lectures on Calvinism, 121ff)

What is important is that Calvin does attribute to the Spirit the knowledge that pagans possess. Truth, wisdom, and intelligence do not exist independent from God. At the same time, the wisdom of pagans is spiritual work that does not include regeneration. It is in effect another iteration of the doubleness that 2K tries to maintain. In the same way that Christ rules the work of redemption differently from the order of his creation, so too the Spirit works upon the minds of people differently, with the illumination of regeneration providing a knowledge distinct from understanding politics, the liberal arts, or even neo-Calvinists’ beloved philosophy.

So once again, neo-Calvinism’s failure to follow Kuyper and figure out how to affirm a common realm that exists somewhere between the holy and the profane bites them in their argumentative backsides. Without that common realm, believers — whether fundamentalist or neo-Calvinist — will try to baptize everything and turn all truth and wisdom into the blessings of redemption and special grace.

Doubting God

I passed a milestone today that may be worthy of comment. John Calvin (1509-1564), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) — the three Johns — did not live to see their fifty-sixth birthday. In fact, Calvin and Edwards both died just short of their fifty-fifth birthday. I, on the other hand, made it to the beginning of my fifty-seventh year today, thus meaning that I share the same birthday as Michael Jordan (which is about the only thing we have in common despite my slow, white man attempts at basketball).

All of this leads me to wonder if God knows what he is doing. Okay, I’m no fan of Edwards but perhaps if had lived longer he could have straightened out the Connecticut River Valley and prevented the rise of Hopkinsianism, Taylorism, and the New Measures. And surely, Calvin and Machen could have accomplished a lot more if they had lived into their seventies. Yet, God in his infinite wisdom takes superior churchmen and theologians in their prime and allows also rans to meander on.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. (And if anyone attempts to reply with birthday greetings, to borrow a line from Karl Hungus, I’ll cut off their johnson comment).

Lay Plumbing

Since relocating to Michigan I have not only had to think about whether Christians plumb differently from non-Christians. I have also had to think and act plumbingly.

First, I had to purchase a toilet auger to unblock a clogged septic line.

Then, I had to figure out how to displace a large puddle that had emerged in our “Michigan basement” after several heavy rains. A wet-dry shop vacuum allowed the removal of 14 gallons of water fairly easily.

And then I needed to consider the various features of dehumidifiers in order to prevent such puddles in the basement from repeating and growing. And this has led to further consideration about installing a sump with its related pump in order to allow the dehumidifier to keep working without having to empty its water receptacle.

In which case, a sump pump might allow putting the washer and dryer in the basement, as well as the installation of a sink for the sorts of cleaning and rinsing that are less than desirable in the kitchen or bathroom.

If I did not know better, I would be tempted to think that God is mocking my repeated (and perhaps overused) point about Christian plumbing (or the lack thereof). But at least this much can be said in defense of 2k: so far the creational wisdom of the local hardware store staff has yet to steer wrong this mortgage payer who is not doctrinaire about water and its movement within and outside the home.

Two Kingdom Tuesday: Transformational Vigilantism

I keep my finger of the pulse of anti-2k venom with the help of my CRC friend, Rabbi Bret. The easiest way is to use his handy subject category links. Bret’s designation of choice is “R2K Virus (Radical Two Kingdom Theology)” – when radical and viral alone will not do.

But sometimes Bret is revealing of 1k thinking when he’s not heaping scorn and antibiotics on 2k ideas. Here’s something that left me scratching my head under the title, “The Limits of Authority”:

The King is the King, the subject is the subject, only within the law. The husband is the husband, the wife is in subjection, only within the law. The Elder is the Elder, the member is in subjection, only within the law. No delegated sovereignty is ever absolute. All delegated sovereignty is only as legitimate as it acts within the constraints of God’s empowering and restraining law.

When delegated authority violates God’s revealed law by egregious measures and constant disregard then those called to be in submission are no more automatically obligated to submission but instead are required to first insist upon repentance of the governing authority. If those in authority refuse the calls for repentance by those called to subjection then those called to subjection are duty bound due to their higher loyalty to King Christ and His revealed law to either escape, or if escape is not possible, to overthrow such illegal authority when wisdom dictates that the opportunity for such overthrow is both ripe and advantageous.

There is only one authority that is absolute. All other authority only retains its legitimacy as it operates within the law.

Does Bret really mean this, or would he prefer to qualify – as he does – when he explained that every square inch does not include road surfaces? In fact, most of the rhetoric of transformationalists is bloated and needs serious but’s, if’s, and maybe’s.

In this case, I wonder if Bret could actually be an accomplice to murder if he were the pastor to Tom Wilkinson’s character in the movie, “In the Bedroom.” I won’t spoil a terrific movie, but a parent, played by Wilkinson, confronts the dilemma of whether to let the local police and district attorney satisfy the demands of justice regarding his son, or whether to take justice in his own hands. Bret’s policy would appear to be to enforce divine law when God’s authorities will not enforce the law. (This is odd because Bret likes to quote Beza and others against 2kers, but here Bret finds no room for the Reformed notion of appealing to lesser magistrates – like police, congressmen, dog catchers.)

I appreciate the Rabbi’s candor. But the self-confidence is downright troubling. What happens if Bret is as wrong in the way he tries to enforce the law that the formerly legitimate authority failed to enforce? How does Bret, or anyone he might counsel to take authority into their own hands, know that he is right, that he has interpreted the law correctly, and that he is actually yielding a just punishment? And if God has ordained both the rain and the sunshine, both pain and pleasure, how does pastor Bret know when to accept divinely appointed pain in the form of enduring imperfect authorities, or when to reject such suffering as a circumstance contrary to God’s will? I mean, isn’t a implicit question here – who made Bret God?

I don’t write this to pick on Bret necessarily. But his point, as extreme as it may be, seems to afflict transformationalism more generally. The logic appears to be, we have faith-based ideas about how the world should be and we are going to make sure at least that other Christians hold them. If they don’t, we will call them unfaithful, viral, and possibly cowardly (all the while pretending we believe in Christian liberty). And while we’re at it, we’re going to see if we can generate enough enthusiasm among the faithful to generate a Christian movement that will take the legitimate authority of road paving, baking, banking, history writing, and especially legislating, into the hands of those saints that comprise the spiritual kingdom. Never mind that these saints are not authorities in these fields of cultural endeavor. They have God’s law on their side.

But I do see a potential upside, half-full guy that I am. lost. Perhaps Bret will run for and win political office in Michigan and then some of his progressive CRC peers will follow his advice and remove Bret from office after discovering that he and his office staff do not recycle. I know this is not a holy thought, but I do hold it.