An End Run

Imagine you are a Reformedish Protestant around the time of George W. Bush’s election. You have entered the world of Reformed Protestantism by way of the biblical theology (which leaned Federal) of Peter Leithart and James Jordan, you agree with a number of Doug Wilson’s critiques of modern America, and you became acquainted with the West and the Great Books again through Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Say you want a Reformed or Presbyterian church with a narrative that inspires, that connects with the sort of intellectual creativity that Leithart displays, that shows little of the wear and tear that afflicts most denominations in the United States whether sideline or mainline, and that connects with the larger history of the West, from Plato to Erasmus.

Where do you turn?

The OPC is too small and too theologically sectarian. The PCA suffers from similar problems among the TRs (Truly Reformed) and is blithely naive about modernity and urbanity on its progressive side. The ARP and the CRC are too ethnic and suffer from a measure of parochialism within their Scottish and Dutch traditions respectively. The same goes for the RPCNA which is even smaller than the OPC. The CREC might work but in 2000 that communion is only two years old, not the strongest case for a church with roots.

To your credit, you were enough of a Protestant not to find Roman Catholicism as a viable alternative.

What then? Why not turn to Elizabethan Anglicanism, like this?

The early English church, despite all the misconstruals of it by Anglo-Catholics, was Protestant and Reformed. The history of the 19th Anglo-Catholic attempt to deny this is a painful one for those who prize integrity of inquiry. The work of Peter Nockles and the more recent, and excellent, work of Jean-Louis Quantin, have shown how wrongheaded that 19th century orgy of wishful thinking really was. But this was proved back in the 19th c itself by Nathaniel Dimock, regarding sacramental theology, and regarding ecclesiology, by the American Bishop Charles McIlwaine, in his Roman, Oxford, and Anglican Divinity Compared.

The English Church of Elizabeth, James, and Charles is, in some ways, a model of importance for own time. Reformed churches, their common mind constricted by familiarity only with Scots and English Presbyterianism, miss the riches of Reformed thought available in Richard Hooker, or Richard Field, or Lancelot Andrewes (just as they miss the riches available in the thought of German and French Reformed). Anglo-Catholic attempts to prove that the established church was somehow not really Protestant are attempts to deprive modern Protestants of useful heritage.

What is important to notice about this way of being Reformed is that it allowed you to occupy the catholic and moderate middle while also regarding the regulative principle as too Puritan and biblicist (and sectarian) and two-kingdom theology as a betrayal of the godly monarch (which allegedly made the English church tick until those rowdy Presbyterians and Puritans conspired to take down Charles I).

What is also striking about this line of argument about the American church scene at the beginning of the 21st century was that it was precisely the way priests and bishops who were part of the Anglican establishment saw Christianity in England:

The great innovation of Elizabeth’s reign was what we might term the internalization of anti-sectarian rhetoric, as anti-puritanism. In Edward’s reign that language had been used to associate the English church with the foreign reformed churches in the common defence of an emergent reformed orthodoxy. Now it was introjected, to precisely opposite effect, into the conduct of intra-Protestant debates between defenders of the ecclesiastical status quo and proponents of various styles and modes of further reformation. The central figure here was John Whitgift who, in an extended exchange with the leading presbyterian ideologue of the day, Thomas Cartwright, deployed the Edwardian version of the two extremes used to define the via media of the English church, popery and Anabaptism, to exclude, as he hoped, the likes of Cartwright and his ilk, from the charmed circle of English Protestant respectability. True to the spirit of his Edwardian forebears, Whitgift sought to assimilate Cartwright and his associates both to popery and to Anabaptism, using what he took to be their ultra-scripturalism and populism to associate them with the latter and what he took to be their clericalist opposition to the Royal Supremacy to associate them with the former.

Ostensibly a form of religious polemic, Whitgift’s anti-puritanism was also inherently political. It dealt with issues of governance and jurisdiction and stressed heavily the extent of direct royal authority over ecclesiastical affairs. In so doing it encoded within itself a set of (intensely monarchical) political values, defined against what he took to be the ‘popularity’ inscribed within presbyterian theory and puritan political practice. By popularity Whitgift mean a commitment to theories of government in which the role of the people was expanded. But he also used the term to refer to the political methods used by the supporters of the discipline to put their case to a variety of more or less popular publics through the pulpit and the press, and through the the circulation of manuscripts and of rumours and a variety of petitioning campaigns, some of them aimed at the parliament rather than at the prince. (Peter Lake, “Post-Reformation Politics, or On Not Looking for the Long-Term Causes of the English Civil War,” 28)

When Machen, Witherspoon, and Knox won’t do, turn to Whitgift and Hooker? In the United States, a country that made its name by rejecting Royal Supremacy?

It is an intellectually energetic way to find an alternative to American politics and the Reformed and Presbyterian churches that have persisted in the United States. But it is as arbitrary as thinking that the debates surrounding foreign missions and church government of Machen’s time are the terms by which Presbyterians in Australia ought to operate.

Locating the Source of 2K Objections (aside from theonomy and Neo-Calvinism)

I would prefer not to encourage these guys (don’t worry, discouragement is coming) since the Calvinist International provides a highly dubious reading of Reformed Protestantism. But because the Aquila Report (an equal-opportunity aggregator, they even link to Old Life) gave their views on Hooker, Calvin, and political theology a measure of respectability, some response is in order. For a better and more thoughtful response, continue to keep an eye on Matt Tuininga’s blog (with whom the Internationalists have been carrying on a fairly vigorous debate).

In their own words, here is the heart of the matter:

The matter of the controversy can be briefly summed up. We say that the Kingship of Christ is of universal extent, and in two ways: the first spiritual, invisible, immediate and pertaining to the just, though eschatologically and cosmologically universal; the second temporal, visible, mediate and pertaining to all. We say the original two kingdoms of the Reformers means those two modes, the invisible and the visible, not the ministry and the magistrates, both of which are on the visible side. They say that the church is a politically distinct group of people who have no real investment in the temporal realm, but are temporally governed by ordained leaders representative of God by divine right, and that Christ’s kingship is exclusively over it and not over creation or the commonwealth. We say that the church is primarily invisible, but that its temporal profile is a vast multitude, the corpus christianorum, which in situations where the whole community has not recognized the kingship of Christ, constitutes a voluntary schola, but in situations where the community has formally and representatively recognized Jesus’ Kingship, is basically coterminous with the commonwealth. They call our position “Erastian” or “Zwinglian,” and say that Calvin was up to something fundamentally different.

(I have finally figured out who this “we” is — I do find its repeated use by the Internationalists dumbfounding since when I claim “we” on my wife’s behalf I generally pay for it once the guests leave. It is Wedgeworth (W) and Escalante (E) who seem to have more agreement than most couples.)

This is, by the way, one of the oddest readings of church polity since it would seem to make the visible church a matter indifferent to the spiritual and invisible church. As long as you belong to Christ, it doesn’t matter what the preaching, sacraments, ordination standards, or worship patterns are in your own church. Of course, WE don’t say this, but it is an implication of THEIR view and seems to be how church life played out in the Church of England — a communion that their beloved Richard Hooker defended.

THEY go on to say:

In pointing to Hooker as the better reader of Calvin, and in saying that the idea of a Christian commonwealth is normative, we have been repeatedly, and despite repeated clarifications, misconstrued as “theonomist” or “Erastian” by Dr. Darryl Hart, who seems to think that we wish for an authoritarian State applying the Mosaic penal code, when the opposite is in fact the case. Neither Hooker nor Calvin is our regula fidei, and we are happy to adapt their principles appropriately within the context of the modern order of political freedom- an order which only follows from those Protestant principles. Still, we do claim the history for our side. We share the basic theological principles of the Reformation, and specifically those of Luther, Calvin, and Hooker. We hope our contribution can be the accurate genealogy and specific application of the older principles in the 21st century context.

What we have recovered is what seems to us the classical Protestant doctrine of politics. In particular, we have said that the two kingdoms do *not* directly correspond to the two estates of magistracy and ministerium, but rather, that both magistracy and ministerium are within the temporal kingdom.[4] Our opponents do, however, identify the two estates with the two kingdoms respectively.

What is important to see is that WE claim not to be Erastian and THEY also claim that Hooker is the better interpreter of Calvin than Thomas Cartwright or anyone else who holds to jure divino Presbyterianism. That jure divino view, by the way, was an effort to assert the autonomy of the church from the oversight of the state and to claim for the visible church the real keys of the kingdom and the power of excommunication. One of the reasons that folks like Hooker didn’t want the church to have such autonomy or power was that it might give back to the papacy authority that Anglicans understandably didn’t want the Bishop of Rome to have. A contemporary application for those associated with Federal Vision is that if the church doesn’t have such authority, then Federal Visionaries won’t face church discipline, because the magistrate sure isn’t going to do it.

What gets particularly difficult for WE’s interpretation of Calvin and Hooker — not to mention Calvin’s own discussion of church polity in Book Four or Ursinus Zacharias’ commentary on the keys of the kingdom in his companion volume to the Heidelberg Catechism — is the way THEY invoke W. J. Torrance Kirby, a scholar of Zurich and England’s political theology who teaches at McGill University. In his book, The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology, Kirby would seem to regard Bullinger, Hooker, and WE as Erastian and as different — even hostile — to Calvin.

The influence of Zurich theology is particularly evident in the theory underpinning the political institutions of the Elizabethan Settlement, chief among them the Royal Supremacy, the lynchpin of the constitution. In his defence of the royal headship of the church in the 1570s against the attacks of the disciplinarian puritans Thomas Cartwright and Walter Travers, John Whitgift, then Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, relied closely on the political writings of Vermigli, Bullinger, and two other prominent Zwinglians – Gualter and Wolfang Musculus of Berne. Whigift’s so-called “Erastian” conception of society as a unified “corpus christianum,” where civil and religious authority were understood to be coextensive, takes its name from the Zinglian theologian Thomas Lieber . . . alias “Erastus” of Heidelberg. The controversy between Whitgift and promoters of the Genevan model of reform in England is in many respects a replay of the dispute on the continent between Erastus and Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva. Richard Hooker’s celebrated defence of the Elizabethan constitution published toward the end of the century is an elaboration of the same Zwinglian-Erastian political theology. It is worthy of note that Hooker’s patron while at Corpus Christi College in the late 1560s and early ‘70s was John Jewel, Vermigli’s disciple and secretary who had earlier followed his master into exile at Zurich. . . .

The heart and substance of Bullinger’s prophetical office with respect to England was to defend, to interpret , and to promote the Civil Magistrate’s pivotal role as the supreme governing power in the ordering of religion in the realm. . . Strange though it may appear, the institution of the Royal Supremacy with its hypostatic conjunction of supreme civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the Prince, constitutes for Bullinger a vivid exemplar of the unitary character of Christian polity, and also of the distinction and cooperation of magisterial and ministerial power. From the standpoint of Bullinger’s unique covenantal interpretation of history, it is certainly arguable that the Old Testament exemplar is more completely realised under England’s monarchical constitution than under the republican conditions of Bullinger’s own city and canton of Zurich.

In other words, if Kirby is right, contrary to WE, Hooker is not following Calvin but is tracking with the Erastians, Bullinger and Vermigli. At this point, WE’s point about continuity between Calvin and the Church of England would seem to go up incense. Also, THEIR reading of the Reformed tradition, which virtually ignores the important disagreements between Zurich and Geneva, looks like another case of historical cherry picking.

But aside from the historical debates, what the disagreement between WE and Tuininga also reveals is that opposition to the contemporary recovery of 2K is coming not simply from theonomists or neo-Calvinists but from Zwinglians. And what all of these forms of protest share is a high estimate of the state compared to 2k’s assertion of the church’s legitimate access to the keys of the kingdom. Whether it’s a case of not trusting the church, or sensing that circumstances need a solution more effective than word, sacrament, and discipline, the critics of 2k enlarge the kingdom of Christ so that the officers responsible for guns and bombs have power to enforce a Christian community.

I understand the frustration with church power. I wouldn’t want to be disciplined any more than Peter Leithart, and I recognize that church discipline is hardly binding in a society where religion is largely private and personal. What I don’t understand is pining for sixteenth-century England or Geneva. Calling on the magistrate to help with church work, after all, did not work out so well. Don’t these folks ever consider the important connections between established religion and liberal theology? Bullinger and Hooker perhaps could not since they were only a handful of decades into a disrupted Christendom or the rise of the nation-state. But for folks living over four hundred years from Erastianism not to see its faults is stunning.

Speaking of Ecclesiastical Authority

Matt Tuininga has been engaged in a debate with Brad Littlejohn (and Steven Wedgeworth and, of course, Peter Escalante because wherever Steven goes, Peter does) about 2k. Matt is sitting on an essay that attempts to refute Littlejohn (et al) about the spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ. Ever since Wedgeworth reviewed VanDrunen‘s Natural Law and Two Kingdoms, I have been dumbfounded by a reading of 2k which puts the church’s institutional arrangements in the temporal realm and locates Christ’s authority entirely in the realm of the Spirit’s rule in believer’s hearts. One example of why this may be stupefying comes from an essay by Littlejohn which concludes this way:

Mr. Tuininga has insisted that we do not need to assume that two-kingdoms thinking entails the rejection of distinctively Christian action in the civil kingdom, of things like Christian education or Christian worldview thinking, as Hart and VanDrunen have suggested. But without challenging the basic parameters of their dualism, it is hard to see how he will succeed. Fundamentally, those attempting to re-establish this kind of two-kingdoms thinking will find that the Cartwrightian vision is an illiberal one, in which a clerocracy of human authorities within the Church may claim divine sanction for their teachings and their rulings about what constitutes the conditions for membership in Christ’s kingdom,[11] and what shape Christian life in the world must take, thus undermining both the freedom of the church and the state. Much as the modern R2K theorists proclaim their Liberal credentials, they have not changed the fundamental schema, and it is thus no wonder that so many Reformed churches of this stripe suffer from an atmosphere of legalism, authoritarian dogmatism, and spiritual tyranny.

In other words, communions like the OPC and the PCA (and I guess Doug Wilsons’ CREC) are clerocracies where spiritual tyranny reigns. I would have thought this view of the institutional church close to an Anabaptist reading. But I suppose that Littlejohn is following Hooker. How the church as a temporal authority, ruled by an earthly monarch, is going to be any less tyrannical, even if its reach only goes to externals, is a mystery. Still, a view that divorces the spiritual character of the keys of the kingdom from the actual administration of the word through preaching and discipline (i.e., the means of grace) is a mystery possibly only resolved by content analysis of the drinking water in Moscow, Idaho.

Not to be missed, by the way, is that the 2k position advocated by the likes of VanDrunen and me, is designed to distinguish those areas where the church has real authority (the Word) from those where Christians have liberty (the rest of life) as their consciences determine. In which case, Littlejohn is wrong to see the modern revival of 2k as a return to ecclesiastical tyranny. It is, instead, an effort to recover Christian liberty from the pious intentions and historical circumstances of some in the Reformed world eager to assert the Lordship of Christ without sufficient qualification.

Tuininga is eager to correct Littlejohn, not so much on his reading of Hooker, but on Calvin.

Calvin is absolutely clear here that he is distinguishing the spiritual government of the church by the pastors and elders, through the means of the keys of the kingdom, from the political government of the magistrates. He clearly draws in the distinction between the two kingdoms in 3.19.15 when, referring to 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Romans 12:28, he declares that Paul is not discussing the magistrates, but “those who were joined with the pastors in the spiritual rule of the church.” Here again Calvin makes it evident that when he is talking about the “spiritual rule” of the church he is not talking about some immediate governance of the invisible church. He is talking about the concrete government exercised by pastors and elders on behalf of Christ. Christ himself governs through these men: “Christ has testified that in the preaching of the gospel the apostles have no part save that of ministry; that it was he himself who would speak and promise all things through their lips as his instruments.” Calvin maintains that Christ’s spiritual government is exercised through the ministry of the church, in its fourfold office. (4.11.1)

Calvin’s views here have to be understood in the context of the willingness among the Zwinglians and Lutherans to cede church discipline to the civil government on the basis of the type of two realms interpretation that Wedgeworth attributes to Calvin.

Some of this is simply a historical debate of whether Cartwright or Hooker was closer to Calvin. But the bigger issue is that of ecclesiastical authority: do ministers when they go into the pulpit and members of sessions and consistories when they deliberate with church members actually hold the keys of the kingdom or does Christ reserve them for himself and the Spirit? It sure would be hard to read the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity in a way the severed spiritual authority from real blooded ministers and elders. But, as odd as it sounds, some critics of 2k — some who even circulate among the getting-over-theonomy-ranks of James Jordan and Peter Leithart — believe the version of 2k on the rise in the OPC and elsewhere is authoritarian. Holy cow! If only Littlejohn and Wedgeworth (and Escalante) could spend a few days with the crazy Baylys or their fellow Gordon-Conwell alum, Tim Keller, that is, with those who expand church power over every square inch.

At Least He Has An Ergo

Nelson Kloosterman and Brad Littlejohn have been tag-team reviewing David VanDrunen’s recovery and defense of two-kingdom theology. Apparently, VanDrunen is deficient because he does not follow Abraham Kuyper (according to Klooserman’s pious desires) or Richard Hooker (by Littlejohn’s Anglophilic standards). Never mind that VanDrunen may have historical, theological, or biblical reasons for arguing the case for natural law and two-kingdom theology.

Recently, Littlejohn reviewed VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms and summarized the two-kingdom perspective as follows (with a little instruction in Latin from Kloosterman):

1) Christ has fulfilled Adam’s original task.
2) Therefore [Latin, ergo], Christians are not called to fulfil that task.
3) Christians do not need to earn eternal life by cultural labours; they already possess the eternal life that Christ has won for them.
4) Our work does not participate in the coming of the new creation–it has already been attained once and for all by Christ.
5) Our cultural activity is important but temporary, since it will all be wiped away when Christ returns to destroy this present world.

Sounds pretty good to me (except for number 5 which is a bit of a caricature), but it also makes sense theologically since you wouldn’t want to argue the opposite of these deductions, would you? Do you really want to be on the side of affirming that Christians earn eternal life through cultural labors?

Such a question does not appear to be sufficiently troubling for Littlejohn or Kloosterman who regard VanDrunen as betraying the genius of a culturally engaged Christianity. According to the former, with a high five from the latter:

. . . for VanDrunen, the suggestion that we are called to participate with Christ in restoring the world suggests synergism, suggests that Christ is not all-sufficient—if we have something to contribute to the work of redemption, then this is something subtracted from Christ, something of our own that we bring apart from him. Solus Christus and sola fide must therefore entail that there is nothing left to do in the working out of Christ’s accomplishment in his death and resurrection, that we must be nothing but passive recipients.

Here we find, then, that Puritan spirit at the heart of VanDrunen’s project–the idea that God can only be glorified at man’s expense,** that it’s a zero-sum game, and that thus to attribute something to us is to take it away from Christ, and to attribute something to Christ is to take it away from us. If Christ redeems the world, then necessarily, we must have nothing to do with the process. But this is not how the Bible speaks. He is the head, and we are the body. We are united to him. He looks on us, and what we do, and says, “That is me.” We look on him, and what he does, and say, “That is us.” He invites us to take part in his work—this is what is so glorious about redemption, that we are not simply left as passive recipients, but raised up to be Christ-bearers in the world.

Sorry, but I missed the ergo after union with Christ. We are united with Christ, ergo, we take part in redeeming the world? How exactly does that follow?

Actually, God’s glory is not a zero-sum game but redemption is. Somehow my blogging may glorify God. Somehow my cat, Isabelle, doing her best impression of a rug, is glorifying God. Somehow John F. Kennedy, as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States, glorified God. Which is to say it is possible for the glory of God to be differentiated and seen apart from the work of redemption. Since the heavens declare the glory of God and Christ did not take human form in order to redeem the heavens, such a distinction does not seem to be inherently dubious.

But to turn cultural activity into a part of redemption does take away from the all sufficiency of Christ or misunderstands the nature of his redeeming work (not to mention his providential care of his creation). And this is the problem that afflicts so many critics of 2k, even those who claim to be allies for the proclamation of the gospel. You may understand the sole sufficiency of the work of Christ for saving sinners, but if you then add redeeming culture or word and deed ministries to the mix of redemption, you are taking away from Christ’s sufficiency, both for the salvation of sinners and to determine what his kingdom is going to be and how it will be established. Maybe you could possibly think about cultural activity as a part of sanctification where God works and we work when creating a pot of clay. But as I’ve said before, the fruit of the Spirit is not Bach, Shakespeare, or Sargent; if you turn cultural activity into redeemed work you need to account for the superior cultural products of non-believers compared to believers.

To Littlejohn’s credit (as opposed to Kloosterman who fails to notice that Littlejohn has anything positive about VanDrunen), he does see merits in VanDrunen’s position:

In short, I really do salute VanDrunen’s intention to liberate Christians for cultural engagement as a grateful response to Christ’s gift, but I have a hard time seeing how he can give any meaningful content to this, given the theological foundations he has provided.

Actually, VanDrunen supplies plenty of theological justification for his view of Christ and culture since he sees important layers of discontinuity between Israel and the church (which many Kuyperians, Federal Visionaries, and theonomists fail to see and refuse to concede any ground to Meredith Kline). It does not take much imagination to see that the Israelites, even the ones who trusted in Christ during his earthly ministry, were completely unprepared for the new order that was going to emerge after the resurrection. They were still committed to Jerusalem, the Temple, the sabbath, and eating kosher. And Paul, who set the Gentiles free from those obligations, even submitted to the old arrangements for the sake of unity. But the new order of the church was completely unprecedented in the history of redemption to that point in time.

I see no reason why the next age of redemptive history will similarly exceed any expectation that we have based on our experience of this world. In fact, it strikes me that those who can’t imagine a very different order in the new heavens and new earth — what, after all, is it like to be male and female without marriage or reproduction? — are so tied to the arrangements and attractions of this world that they cannot set their minds on things above.