With Friends Like These

Matt Tuininga qualifies and then insinuates:

we cannot simply take Calvin’s thought and apply it to our own time without substantial reflection. Calvin assumed the existence of Christendom. We inhabit a pluralistic society increasingly devoted to secular liberalism. There are self-proclaimed two kingdoms advocates today who would claim the two kingdoms distinction calls us to keep religion and politics entirely separate, as if they are hermetically sealed realms that have nothing to do with each other. Yet such is clearly a distortion of Calvin’s thought, which is decisively rooted in the New Testament’s rich distinction between the present age and the age to come.

Does he have Machen in mind?

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

To advance the conversation, why not comment on whether the deaconate should do medicine as Calvin recommended:

The fourth order of ecclesiastical government, namely, the deacons

There have always been two kinds of these in the early Church. One has to receive, distribute and care for the goods of the poor (i.e. daily alms as well as possessions, rents and pensions); the other has to tend and look after the sick and administer the allowances to the poor as is customary. [In order to avoid confusion], since we have officials and hospital staff, [one of the four officials of the said hospital should be responsible for the whole of its property and revenues and he should have an adequate salary in order to do his work properly.]

Concerning the hospital

Care should be taken to see that the general hospital is properly maintained. This applies to the sick, to old people no longer able to work, to widows, orphans, children and other poor people. These are to be kept apart and separate from others and to form their own community.

Care for the poor who are scattered throughout the city shall be the responsibility of the officials. In addition to the hospital for those visiting the city, which is to be kept up, separate arrangements are to be made for those who need special treatment. To this end a room must be set apart to act as a reception room for those that are sent there by the officials..

Further, both for the poor people in the hospital and for those in the city who have no means, there must be a good physician and surgeon provided at the city’s expense…

As for the plague hospital, it must be kept entirely separate.

Instead of looking at the theory (theology), why not look at the circumstances and sciences that have differentiated a host of life’s affairs so that the church and religion is one among many spheres of life? But Lordship of Christ folks think, like Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy, that the direct pipeline of Christianity to God trumps most spheres so that Christians have authority in medicine, biology, history, and dog-catching by virtue of — what? — faith.

2kers want answers. Simply repeating inspiring calls to engage the world doesn’t give them.


Who's Afraid of a Secular Faith?

Chris Gerhz is worried about Islamophobia among evangelicals in the United States:

In the 2015 edition of its annual American Values Survey, PRRI asked about a number of topics, but coming a day after multiple Republican candidates proposed that Christian and Muslim refugees be treated differently as they seek asylum in the U.S., this finding stood out:

73% of evangelicals agree that the “values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.”

Kidd, American Christians and IslamNow, a majority of Americans (56%) feel this way, as do majorities in every Christian group. (Non-Christians and nonreligious are more likely to disagree than agree with the statement, and black and Hispanic Americans are evenly divided.) But that 73% number is ten points higher than the next most Islamophobic group (white mainline Protestants).

But he is also worried about secularization as a solution:

I almost don’t know where to start, I’m so appalled by that 73% number.

Probably the best place is to question how much evangelicals or any other Christians ought to worry about sustaining “American values and way of life.” Insofar as there’s such a thing as “national values” and they’re consistent with the values of he who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” then sure, try to uphold them. But this just makes me more concerned about evangelical susceptibility to different kinds of secularization.

One way out of the problem is at least to decouple U.S. and Christian identity. If the U.S. is not a Christian nation, then it should conceivably be open to law abiding people of all faiths. If notions of religious freedom, equality before the law, republicanism, constitutionalism, federalism, are not revealed in holy writ, then we don’t need to attach to them religious meaning or consequence. So if evangelicals abandoned Christian nationalism, if they regarded the church — not the nation — as the locus of Christian identity, they might have a different reaction to Muslims living in the United States.

And isn’t that exactly what secularity is? A recognition that the heavenly city is not bound up with the earthly city? If we can’t identify God’s way with Rome, Geneva, Scotland, or the Netherlands, then Christians should be less invested in the religious identity of civil authorities who are only temporal (read secular), that is, rulers who are provisional and not of eternal or spiritual significance.

In which case, doesn’t that make a secular faith the solution to Islamophobia? (See what I did there?)

Disenchantment, Christian Style

Protestants get a lot of blame for removing the sacred canopy that covered Christendom with a sacramental presence. But when you know the history of religion maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, monotheistic faiths have regularly rejected those pieties or ideas that locate divine ways in ordinary affairs. Steve Bruce explains:

The religions of Egypt and Mesopotamia were profoundly cosmological. The human world was embedded in a cosmic order that embraced the entire universe, with no sharp distinction between the human and the non-human. Greek and Roman gods even mated with humans. Such continuity between people and the gods was broken by the religion of the Jews. As Berger puts it: ‘The Old Testament posits a God who stands outside the cosmos, which is his creation but which he confronts and does not permeate.’ He created it and he would end it, but, between start and finish, the world could be seen as having its own structure and logic. The God of Ancient Israel was a radically transcendent God. . . . There was a thoroughly demythologized universe between human kind and God. (God is Dead: Secularization in the West, 6)

Christians (should) get secularization honestly.

Another Two Cheers for Secularization

What a great achievement the United States is and the entire process of breaking up Christendom into nation-states with their own sovereignty, based not on Christian teaching but on the give and take of practical politics. Gary Welton sees secularization as a problem but his reaction to the Paris killings actually shows the value of secularization:

I understand that much of the world sees the West as Christian, yet it can be argued that Christianity is on the decline in the West, while it is expanding in Africa and China. It is a stereotype to think that the West portrays the essence of Christianity. In fact, the West provides for a rather free expression of faith. Granted, Christianity has been the dominant faith in the West, but I am not willing, as a Christian, to take the blame for Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo is a reflection of the secular West, not particularly a reflection of Christianity. I am not Charlie Hebdo.

If Europe and its off shoots around the world were still in the mold of Christendom, Mr. Welton would not have the option of distinguishing between his temporal and spiritual identities. Again, the Crusaders did not fight as Frenchmen, Germans, Spaniards, or Irish. They fought as Christians. But by distinguishing Christian identity from a political one defined by a nation (as problematic as that may be), Mr. Welton and I have the advantage of dissenting from our countries’ policies and distinguishing Christianity from politics. But if we get rid of secularization, then Christians need to fight in the name of Christ. And that doesn’t make any biblical sense. Just ask Peter, the first pope.

Blame It on the Reformation (Part Six): We'll Take the Blame, Thanks

In his last chapter Gregory directly links Protestantism to the secularization of knowledge. Pardon the digression, but if secular means “of this present age” as opposed to the age to come, how could any knowledge that human beings now have not be secular? Even theology qualifies as secular in this sense, but knowledge of God does pertain to the world to come in a way that knowing how to fix a leak does not.

This distinction between the secular as temporal and the sacred as eternal haunts Gregory’s statement of the Reformation’s consequences for knowledge. He writes, “these three features of knowledge — its secularity, its specialized and segmented character, and its intrinsic separability from the rest of life — are related, and derive in complex and unintended ways from the doctrinal disagreements of the Reformation era” (304) By the way, Gregory’s understanding of knowledge should give neo-Calvinists goose bumps (and suggests that neo-Calvinist w-wishness is the gateway drug to Roman Catholicism). Later he connects the dots between Christian knowledge and a sacramental — even incarnational — view of all things:

Structurally homologous to the relationship between creator and creation in [Roman] Catholic Christianity is the relationship between the divine and human natures of Jesus; between grace conveyed in the sacraments and the material signs that convey it; between the real presence of Christ and the eucharistic elements after consecration; and between the human soul and human body. If one rejects the traditional, non-univocal Christian conception of the relationship between God and creation, these other aspects of Christianity are bound sooner or later to topple like dominoes. . . . Reject the traditional Christian conception of God as creator, and creation disappears as well, leaving eventually a disenchanted world in its stead.

And here comes the Francis Schaeffer-like jeremiads:

But it is a world that removes any divine constraints on liberated individuals, who as the neo-Protagorean measure of all things can in principle thus exercise their will as they please [what about the dignity of the human person that Rome has been promoting since Vatican II?] This is what the formal ethics of rights protected by the modern liberal state allows individuals to do within its laws. And the Western symbiosis of consumerism and capitalism since the industrious [sic] revolution has provided increasingly unencumbered, self-constructing selves with a never-ending array of stuff to fuel constantly reinforced acquisitiveness as they go about their business. (346)


I am little fuzzy on what Gregory means by univocal notions about God or why he believes Protestants are afflicted with them since sacramental and incarnational ways of looking at creation do exactly what Gregory accuses univocal language of doing — putting creation and the creator both on the same ontological plain.

But what is odd about Gregory’s domino theory of secularization is that the relationships among body and soul in human beings, or the two natures of Christ are not at all comparable to the distance between the creator and creation. Protestants, especially Reformed ones, have long stressed divine transcendence in ways that put high barriers around temptations to view the universe in incarnational ways. And as the sociologist Steve Bruce has argued, Jewish monotheism, early Christianity, and the Reformation were keen to overturn pagan or Christian conceptions that identified or even located God (or the gods) within the created order. This biblical insistence on God’s otherness provides a theological justification for secularization (as I argued in A Secular Faith and which I reproduce):

Steve Bruce, a British sociologist of religion, observes that one of the key factors in modernization is another infelicitous word, to which sociology is prone, rationalization. By this he means the eradication of the cosmic order typical of civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia in which distinctions between the natural and supernatural worlds, or between the human and non human were fluid or non existent. In effect, the divine was bound up with the cosmos, immanent in and throughout the world. But with rise of monotheism in ancient Israel, God became radically transcendent and other. As Bruce explains, the God of Israel “was so distanced from [his followers] as to be beyond magical manipulation.” This deity’s laws could be known and had to be obeyed, but he could not be “bribed, cajoled, or tricked into doing his worshipers’ will.”

Bruce argues that in the same way that ancient Judaism introduced a transcendent God into ancient near eastern religion, Christianity did the same in the Roman Empire where previously “a horde of gods, or spirits, often behaving in an arbitrary fashion and operating at cross purposes, makes the relationship of supernatural and natural worlds unpredictable.” Christianity “systematized” the supernatural and made religion much less a matter of magic than a code of conduct or right response to divine order.

Although Roman Catholicism, in Bruce’s scheme, began to remythologize the cosmos and people the universe with angels, saints, and other “semi divine beings,” the Protestant Reformation “demythologized” the world. Bruce is not necessarily contradicting Scruton and Lewis who describe the way in which the separation of religion and politics characterized the West even before the sixteenth century. His concern is more narrowly sociological than historical. But his is still one with some relevance for contemporary American Protestants who oppose secularization as inherently anti religious. For Bruce, Protestantism “eliminated ritual and sacramental manipulation of God, and restored the process of ethical rationalization.” Historians of science have argued that this sort of rationalization was key to the development of scientific discovery. As Bruce explains, “Modern science is not easy for cultures which believe that the world is pervaded by supernatural spirits or that the divinities are unpredictable” because systematic inquiry into the natural world assumes that “the behaviour of matter is indeed regular.”

Consequently, with Protestantism the domain over which religion “offered the most compelling explanations” narrowed considerably. In fact, the Protestant Reformation’s secularizing impulse reduced the power of the church and “made way for a variety of thought and for the questioning of tradition which is so vital to natural science.”

Although Bruce does not say so, the same point could be made for the modern science of politics. By reducing the authority of the church in the secular or non religious sphere, Protestantism solidified the separation of church and state that had long characterized the West and came to dominate the modern era. Gone was the notion that revelation or churchly authorities govern the civil jurisdiction. Instead, with Protestantism (although individual Protestants themselves may have still operated with a sense of Christendom) came the possibility for the study of and theorizing about politics to emerge as a separate sphere. (247-48)

Of course, Gregory (and neo-Calvinists and theonomists) think secularization is pernicious. I myself will grant that it has some down sides, but so has most of human existence, including the Middle Ages. But it is wrong to see only negative consequences with secularization since the secular stems from the Christian affirmation of divine transcendence and sovereignty, and a refusal to immanentize the eschaton.

Who Condemned This?

Since Jason Stellman is out of commission with his quotation identifications, I offer the afflicted a small remedy. The following is a quotation from a text that condemns the separation of church and state, along with more general efforts to differentiate between religion and secular affairs.

But it is not with its own members alone that the Church must come to an amicable arrangement – besides its relations with those within, it has others outside. The Church does not occupy the world all by itself; there are other societies in the world, with which it must necessarily have contact and relations. The rights and duties of the Church towards civil societies must, therefore, be determined, and determined, of course, by its own nature as it has been already described. The rules to be applied in this matter are those which have been laid down for science and faith, though in the latter case the question is one of objects while here we have one of ends. In the same way, then, as faith and science are strangers to each other by reason of the diversity of their objects, Church and State are strangers by reason of the diversity of their ends, that of the Church being spiritual while that of the State is temporal. Formerly it was possible to subordinate the temporal to the spiritual and to speak of some questions as mixed, allowing to the Church the position of queen and mistress in all such, because the Church was then regarded as having been instituted immediately by God as the author of the supernatural order. But his doctrine is today repudiated alike by philosophy and history. The State must, therefore, be separated from the Church, and the [believer] from the citizen. Every [Christian], from the fact that he is also a citizen, has the right and the duty to work for the common good in the way he thinks best, without troubling himself about the authority of the Church, without paying any heed to its wishes, its counsels, its orders – nay, even in spite of its reprimands. To trace out and prescribe for the citizen any line of conduct, on any pretext whatsoever, is to be guilty of an abuse of ecclesiastical authority, against which one is bound to act with all one’s might.

Is this the condemnation of a theonomist, a neo-Calvinist, a fundamentalist, or a Roman Catholic? How can you tell the difference?

Comparing J. Gresham Machen and Mustafa Kemal

I did in fact compare Machen’s effort to purge Christian political activism from American Protestantism to Ataturk’s secularization of Islam in last night’s lecture. Here is an excerpt, well before the comparison:

The intervening history of Enlightenment and secularization is what makes the Religious Right and political Islam stand out. Both groups in different ways oppose secularization. Both also do so by appealing to the sacred texts of their faith. These similarities are what invite comparisons of activist evangelicals and political Muslims, no matter how unflattering or inflammatory. In fact, although born-again Protestants have not blown-up any buildings – wrong headed associations with the Christian militia and Timothy McVeigh notwithstanding – evangelicals’ continued reliance on older religious foundations for civil authority may look odder than political Islam considering that American Christians have so much more experience with alternatives to confessional states (or theocracy) than Muslims do. The United States, a secular nation hallowed by evangelicals, has almost 250 years under its belt and it stands as one of the chief alternatives to Christendom’s political theology. In contrast, the break up of the Ottoman Empire is still less than a century old and places like the Republic of Turkey are still trying to figure out the nature of secular democracy in a Muslim society. Evangelicals’ experience with secular politics may explain their reluctance to use violence. But it makes all the more unusual born-again Protestants’ appeal to the Bible as the norm for politics and social order. To unpack this anomaly a brief comparison of Christian and Muslim understandings of secularity may be useful.

As Bernard Lewis, among many others, has written, secularity in its modern sense – “the idea that religion and political authority, church and state are different, and can or should be separated – is, in a profound sense, Christian.” The locus classicus of this idea is Christ’s own instruction, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” [Matt. 22:21]. This was directly the opposite of Roman and Jewish conceptions where either Caesar was God or God was the monarch. For Muslims, God was the supreme authority with the caliph as his vice-regent. What makes the contrast with Islam all the more poignant is that Christianity stood between Judaism and Islam chronologically such that Muslims could well have appropriated Christian notions of secularity. As it happened, Islam followed theocratic models of the ancient near east. Christianity, of course, made social order a lot more complicated as later disputes between popes and emperors demonstrated. Indeed, discomfort with secularity often arises from a legitimate desire for greater moral and political coherence. But for whatever reason, Christ himself apparently favored a social arrangement that differentiated spiritual matters from temporal ones.

No tomatoes thrown, but the ones served during a pleasant meal with UTC faculty were appetizing.