Apostolic Succession without Success

It used to be that the claims of a Cardinal in the church might be above the paygrade of an ordinary university theologian, but in sectors where papal supremacy is still audacious, a bishop’s links to the apostles doesn’t count much any more. Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s op-ed for the Wall St. Journal has not pleased a bevy of Roman Catholic theologians and ethicists:

Jesuit Fr. John Langan, who holds the Cardinal Bernardin Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, faults Dolan for crediting all the positive accomplishments of the economy “to the private sector, while exempting it from serious criticism for the actual defects of our system, the problems of ‘real existing capitalism.'”

“Virtuous American capitalism,” Langan argues, “is an abstraction. The key question is whether the notion is being used to prick or to lull our consciences.”

For Langan, “The real arguments which need to be faced have to do with achieving the right balance of private initiative, redistributive programs, fair regulations, opportunities for the young and for the previously excluded, equitable and realistic taxation, a style of management that treats workers with dignity and respects the environment.”

Unfortunately, he says, “far too many of the friends of American capitalism devote their energies to denouncing, defunding, and otherwise restricting efforts to face the immensely complex set of problems that confront us. They are devoted to a powerful but incomplete method of economic thinking that marginalizes important human needs and values that Catholic teaching is committed to proclaiming and defending.”

What especially caught the ire of the theologians was Cardinal Dolan’s focus on personal morality and virtue while excluding structural issues.

“Cardinal Dolan’s stress on personal virtue as the solution to issues of economic injustice does not give sufficient attention to the structural causes of poverty,” Hollenbach complains.

“These structural issues have long been a major emphasis in Catholic social teaching, especially since Pius XI placed high stress on social justice as a reality that goes beyond the justice of individuals,” he says. “Pope Francis is clearly aware of these structural issues when he argues that markets do not lead to justice by ‘trickle down.’ The Pope’s critique is another way of calling for structural change.”

Dolan’s column “reflects a heavily individualistic understanding of morality,” says Professor Mark Allman, chair of Religious & Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College.

“He seems to reduce the bad behavior of the financial districts to individual choices, which ignores John Paul II’s teaching on ‘social sin’ as ‘institutionalized evil,'” Allman says. “Granted John Paul said all sin is traced back to individual choices, nevertheless there are structural and cultural practices that contribute to a culture or status quo that can be inhumane.” But in Dolan’s piece, “There’s no mention of the need for structural change.”

Then again, the Cardinal wasn’t resting simply on his own ecclesiastical authority, perhaps because economics is an aspect of human interaction that resists divinely revealed categories. Dolan, it turns out, needed the help of Larry Kudlow to yield an opinion with the weight of apostolic authority:

Larry Kudlow of CNBC tweeted that he worked with Cardinal Dolan on the piece. On his show back in August, after quoting the pope’s tweet that people are “unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost,” Kudlow commented, “That doesn’t sound like much of a free market message to me.”

Many of the themes in Dolan’s column can be heard in Kudlow’s show. “I hope sincerely that the pope does not believe that his native Argentina was an example of capitalism,” Kudlow said. “That was state-run fascism, and that was cronyism and stealing.”

He argued that what Pope Francis is saying is, “businesses, politicians, and everybody, we all have to have a conscience. As we go about our business in this system, we must have a conscience and we must not forget those who are less fortunate.” Kudlow said he believes that “Judeo-Christian values, meritocracy values, that is where the rising tide lifts all boats.” He acknowledged, “That does not mean poverty ends, but that is where the rising tide comes from.”

In contrast, Kudlow said “Pope John Paul II had a much more market-friendly approach to all this” because he lived under Soviet Communist rule. “He understood that the socialist systems or even the quasi-socialist systems have no freedom,” he opined. “I am not sure this pope really understands that.”

So the next time Jason and the Callers want to lecture Protestants about our poorly governed ideas and communions, they may want to consider the incoherence in their own seemingly well-ordered circles.

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Those Were The Days

A big bowl of civil religion to put the culture wars in perspective:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. . . .

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Can anyone guess the source (without using Google or some other search engine)?

Does this make the spirituality of the church look any more appealing?

The Bible's Forked Tongue?

Put simply, the Bible speaks narrowly to the church but broadly to believers. This, at least, is the unexamined logic of neo-Calvinism.

Two-kingdom proponents and neo-Calvinists both distinguish between the institutional church and its members. This distinction allows us to recognize that Christians properly do things that the church can’t do. Christians work as artists, parents, plumbers, bankers, and bakers. The church does not produce or rear children, lacks its own currency, uses bread from common sources for the Lord’s Supper. So far so good.

But the hiccup for neo-Calvinists comes when they insist that Christians must have biblical warrant or use the lens of Scripture for all that they do. In Kingdoms Apart, Timothy R. Scheurers, puts it this way:

Where . . . proponents of the Two Kingdoms perspective go wrong, however, is in their failure to distinguish adequately between the work of the church (as an institution) and the cultural activity of Christians who are simultaneously citizens of heaven and earth (church as an organism). The Two Kingdoms doctrine neglects the biblical command that in every area of public living, believers should apply the principles and values that shape their distinctiveness as Christians. If fails to provide a biblical and helpful paradigm for cultural living by limiting the unique identity and spirituality of believers in this world. . . .

Scripture nowhere hints that we are to live a compartmentalized life in which we relegate our Christian convictions to Sunday observance only. Romans 12:1 declares that for those who have been renewed by the Spirit of God, it is entirely reasonable and fitting for them to offer up to God their whole person, both body and soul, in an act of worship. . . . If we accept the Two Kingdoms assertion that the Christian’s secular activities are “thoroughly common,” and that it is improper to “apply” the gospel to our work in the common realm, it would seem a type of Sunday Christianity remains for us. However, if we are transformed by the gospel, then it is profoundly relevant for how we conduct ourselves as Christians in the civil realm, for “the very essence of Christian faith includes a grace-produced identity that comes to manifestation in the way we live our lives every day of the week.” (144-45)

And thus we see another example of neo-Calvinism’s bloated rhetoric for admirably pious reasons.

Here is the rub: if the essence of the Christian faith is a grace-produced identity for every area of human existence, then the church (institute or institutional) lacks this Christian essential. After all, the corporate church does not take stands on matters in which Christians engage throughout the week — plumbing, baking, banking, gardening, ditch-digging. No Reformed church has produced a chapter or chapters in its creeds about algebra, Greek, or photosynthesis. That does not seem to bother neo-Calvinists since the work of the church is different from that of the believer.

But if neo-Calvinists are content with churches that lack the essence of Christianity, why do they demand more of believers than of the church? Churches don’t confess articles of faith about hydrogen or dangling prepositions because the Bible does not speak to such matters. The Reformed creeds summarize biblical teaching and if Scripture taught trigonometry or Asian history, churches would be expected to teach what God’s word reveals.

And yet, under the logic of the comprehensive sweep of Christianity and biblical testimony, neo-Calvinists claim powers for believers what the church lacks, namely, the ability to apply biblical norms to all walks of life. We do not let ministers preach sermons on tax rates, rotation of crops, exercise, or television game shows. But now along come neo-Calvinists to tell us that any Tom, Dick or Mary, who has no training in biblical exegesis or may not even be catechized, is going to tell us how the gospel transforms cat litter, Alfred Hitchcock movies, and meteorology?

And people wonder why the institutional church ends up suffering in neo-Calvinist contexts, or why the convoluted notion of kingdom-work has given every member a ministry.

As I say, neo-Calvinists intentions may be admirable. But Calvinists, who put the T in TULIP, were not supposed to be suckers for good intentions.

If You Need Some Ecclesiology to Go with Your W-W

The OPC is seeking applications from college students and seminarians for its Summer Institute. This year’s sessions will be conducted again at Shiloh Lodge from June 19 to 21 in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Successful applicants will have their travel and lodging expenses covered.

The Summer Institute offers a glimpse of Reformed ministry as understood and practiced in the OPC. Instructors include John Muether, Greg Reynolds, and (all about me) D. G. Hart. Students will spend several days considering the following topics:

The OPC’s distinguishing characteristics and continuity with the Reformed tradition.

The centrality, nature and benefits of being a confessional church.

The importance of the means of grace in the church’s mission.

The church’s calling as a pilgrim people.

The work of a minister of the Word in an organized church and a mission work.

For more information, go here. The application deadline is April 16 but extensions may be granted.

What's the Difference between a Modernist and a Fundamentalist?

For those with stomachs to read, a revealing discussion is going on over at the Gospel Coalition and at Mere Orthodoxy about the debate between Al Mohler and Jim Wallis over social justice. What is striking in the original post which summarizes the debate, and in reactions from people who would appear to be evangelical, is how many born-again Protestants refer to social justice with a straight face. One reason someone might say “social justice” with a raised eyebrow is that critics of the Enlightenment, like Alisdair MacIntyre in Whose Justice, Which Rationality, suggested long ago that ideas like justice are a lot more complicated and owe a lot more to social settings like Enlightened Europe than the are abstract truths that everyone knows for sure and can readily implement.

An additional wrinkle in this discussion is how some evangelicals bend and twist in order to attach works to faith, sanctification to justification, word to deed, in order to add social justice to the proclamation of the gospel. Not to sound like Glenn Beck, but social justice is not only threatening the United States, but it’s also doing a number on evangelical Protestantism (and so many thought born-again Protestants were conservative; have I got a book for them?)

So to add a little clarity (as our mid-western correspondent reminded me this morning), I bring to mind the views of the modernist Harry Emerson Fosdick and the fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan on the task of the church (and the problem of doctrinal divisions) in alleviating social problems. Important to see is that both sides want a relevant faith and castigate denominational or theological differences. I don’t know how born-again infatuation with social justice will work out any differently for evangelicals than it did for their grandparents in mainline Protestantism. Another bad ending to a religious story.

Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” (1922)

The second element which is needed if we are to reach a happy solution of this problem is a clear insight into the main issues of modern Christianity and a sense of penitent shame that the Christian Church should be quarreling over little matters when the world is dying of great needs. If, during the war, when the nations were wrestling upon the very brink of hell and at times all seemed lost, you chanced to hear two men in an altercation about some minor matter of sectarian denominationalism, could you restrain your indignation? You said, “What can you do with folks like this who, in the face of colossal issues, play with the tiddledywinks and peccadillos of religion?” So, now, when from the terrific questions of this generation one is called away by the noise of this Fundamentalist controversy, he thinks it almost unforgivable that men should tithe mint and anise and cummin, and quarrel over them, when the world is perishing for the lack of the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith. . . .

The present world situation smells to heaven! And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!

William Jennings Bryan, “Freedom of Religion and the Ku Klux Klan” (1924)

The world is coming out of the war, the bloodiest ever known. Thirty millions of human lives were lost, three hundred billions of property was destroyed, and the debts of the world are more than six times as greate as they were when the first fun was fired.

My friends, how are you going to stop war? . . . There is only one thing that can bring peace to the world, and that is the Prince of Peace. That is, my friends, the One who, when He came upon the earth, the angels said, “On earth, good will toward men. . . . Is it possible that now, when Jesus is more needed, I say the hope of the world — is it possible that at this time, in this great land, we are to have a religious discussion and a religious warfare? Are you going my friends, to start a blaze that may cause you innumerable lives, sacrificed on the altar of religious liberty? I cannot believe it.

(P.S. Bryan’s speech was to the Democratic National Convention and in response to a report that proposed to exclude the KKK. The double irony is that the Democratic Party was a place where Christian appeals prevailed, and that such a faith as Bryan’s “conservative Presbyterianism” could embrace white supremacists for the sake of a civil religion that sought to apply Christ to social problems. In which case, it’s another proof of the errors both religious and secular that follow when you mix faith and politics — you get social gospel.)

Social Gospel Coalition

I have sometimes wondered if the appeal of organizations like the Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, Acts 29 Network, Redeemer Global Network, Desiring God, and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is their extremely chummy atmosphere. At the various blogs of these outfits, the posts are usually flattering of the other participants in the organization. If criticism comes, it is always as a punchline to a joke. Readers must conclude that only a fool would disagree with anything written at these blogs.

This makes parachurch organizations very different from the church where officers at synods and assemblies need to be on their toes and prepared to be challenged. A General Assembly is not a love-fest, though the sorts of activities that take place there are loving in the way that changing the oil in your Chevy is a form of care. Granted, I have never been to one of these organizations’ conferences (except for the initial launch of ACE in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1996). But the feel of these association from their blogs is one of encouragement, uplift, inspiration, earnestness, and occasional comic relief. You wouldn’t know from reading these cites that a Christian could actually grow through discouragement, criticism, and rebuke. (When will someone start the Iron-Sharpening-Iron Fellowship of Evangelical Whiners?) (Update: Justin Taylor may have the clue on the lack of criticism among the allies of the gospel.)

To Kevin DeYoung’s credit, he did take a modest swipe at one of the Gospel Coalition’s constituencies and, because members are not used to disagreement, he caused a minor imbroglio. DeYoung’s original comments came at a Desiring God National Conference about the difference between “mission” and “missional,” and later became part of a video and a post at the Gospel Coalition’s blog. What DeYoung had the temerity to do was suggest that social justice and neighbor love were not the same as building the kingdom of Christ. Word and Deeders from the Acts 29 Network took a measure of umbrage and DeYoung wrote a second post, trying to clarify and while sidestepping toes. He doesn’t want churches to abandon the social aspects of missional. He simply wants the proclamation of the gospel to be the basis for all the church does.

Most recently DeYoung interviewed Tim Keller on his new book on justice and even asked the New York pastor if he had misconstrued the relationship between word and deed. Keller’s response was to affirm an asymmetrical relationship. Keller said:

. . . the first thing I need to tell people when they come to church is “believe in Jesus,” not “do justice.” Why? Because first, believing in Jesus meets a more radical need and second, because if they don’t believe in Jesus they won’t have that gospel-motivation to do justice that I talk about in the book. So there’s a priority there. On the other hand, for a church to not constantly disciple its people to “do justice” would be utterly wrong, because it is an important part of God’s will. I’m calling for an ‘asymmetrical balance’ here. It seems to me that some churches try to “load in” doing justice as if it is equally important as believing in Jesus, but others, in fear of falling into the social gospel, do not preach or disciple their people to do justice at all. Both are wrong. A Biblical church should be highly evangelistic yet known for its commitment to the poor of the city.

Never mind if your church happens to be in the suburbs or the country. Move on to the next blog in your Google Reader account.

Now the confounding aspect of DeYoung’s valuable even if timid point about the priority of word to deed and Keller’s notion of an asymmetrical relations that prioritizes the gospel over justice is that nowhere does the Bible say that the church is supposed to do justice. Of course, a distinction may need to be made between the church as Christians and the institutional church, and I believe Keller needs to make this one the way contestants on “Wheel of Fortune” often buy vowels. But with that distinction in mind, where does Scripture talk about the corporate church as an agent of social justice or social anything? (Warning: if you appeal to the Old Testament you are entering a world of theonomic pain.)

Jesus and the apostles did not engage in social justice. Paul’s instructions to Timothy about preaching did not include telling Christians to do justice. In fact, the New Testament call to submit to rulers and to live quiet and peaceable lives is not the basis for social justice Sunday or word and deed ministry.

And what happens when we look at the creeds of the Reformed churches – nothing on the church as an instrument of social work? It is all about redemption 24/1.

Article 29 of the Belgic Confession says:

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

Because of the centrality of word and sacrament in establishing the kingdom of Christ, the Second Helvetic Confession (ch. 18) describes the duties of ministers without mentioning social justice:

The duties of ministers are various; yet for the most part they are restricted to two, in which all the rest are comprehended: to the teaching of the Gospel of Christ, and to the proper administration of the sacraments. For it is the duty of the ministers to gather together an assembly for worship in which to expound God’s Word and to apply the whole doctrine to the care and use of the Church, so that what is taught may benefit the hearers and edify the faithful. It falls to ministers, I say, to teach the ignorant, and to exhort; and to urge the idlers and lingerers to make progress in the way of the Lord. Moreover, they are to comfort and to strengthen the fainthearted, and to arm them against the manifold temptations of Satan; to rebuke offenders; to recall the erring into the way; to raise the fallen; to convince the gainsayers to drive the wolf away from the sheepfold of the Lord; to rebuke wickedness and wicked men wisely and severely; not to wink at nor to pass over great wickedness.

And, besides, they are to administer the sacraments, and to commend the right use of them, and to prepare all men by wholesome doctrine to receive them; to preserve the faithful in a holy unity; and to check schisms; to catechize the unlearned, to commend the needs of the poor to the Church, to visit, instruct, and keep in the way of life the sick and those afflicted with various temptations. In addition, they are to attend to public prayers or supplications in times of need, together with common fasting, that is, a holy abstinence; and as diligently as possible to see to everything that pertains to the tranquility, peace and welfare of the churches.

The word-and-sacrament character of the church is also part and parcel of the Gallican Confession:

27. Nevertheless we believe that it is important to discern with care and prudence which is the true Church, for this title has been much abused. We say, then, according to the Word of God, that it is the company of the faithful who agree to follow his Word, and the pure religion which it teaches; who advance in it all their lives, growing and becoming more confirmed in the fear of God according as they feel the want of growing and pressing onward. Even although they strive continually, they can have no hope save in the remission of their sins. Nevertheless we do not deny that among the faithful there may be hypocrites and reprobates, but their wickedness can not destroy the title of the Church.

28. In this belief we declare that, properly speaking, there can be no Church where the Word of God is not received, nor profession made of subjection to it, nor use of the sacraments.

Notable here is that social justice is neither a mark of the church nor of the Christian person.

One last example comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith which describes the purpose of the church without mentioning society, economics, or politics – at all:

Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. (25.3)

I understand that the confessions do mention the poor as part of the diaconal work of the church, and I also understand that this is the crack through which most conservative Presbyterians will pour every conceivable faith-based humanitarian project. But diaconal work in a state-church environment is a very different animal in a secular society environment where the state has BILLIONS of dollars ready for the poor. Of course, if no one were attending to needs of the homeless, the hungry, widows, and orphans, then the church conceivably could step in and even extend diaconal care to non-believers. But unless I missed the federal government adopt a Weight Watchers regimen, I’ll need to be convinced that the church can match the modern state for social justice output.

Diaconal work aside, the conviction of the Reformed churches has always been that the church is a spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends. New School Presbyterians came along and tried to conceive of the church in activist terms. But the Old School Presbyterians shot back with the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, and the related teachings of the marks of the church and the keys of the kingdom. All those Presbyterians – Tim Keller included – who owe their conservatism to the Old School tradition as taught at Old Princeton, reiterated at Old Westminster, and carried into the OPC and the RPCES precincts of the PCA really need to be clear that the institutional church has no mandate from Scripture for social endeavors or activism. They may want to side with the New School. But then they will really need to explain how the contemporary asymmetrical relationship of word and deed will not turn out differently from the asymmetrical relationship maintained briefly during the nineteenth century by Union and Auburn Seminaries before blossoming into doctrine (word) divides but ministry (deed) unites.

Hey, wait a minute, that bloom may already be on the rose of interdenominational parachurch ministries where words about sacraments matter less than ministries about deeds.

Two-Kingdom Tuesday: More Spiritual (and Less Corinthian) than Thou

Contemporary Reformed Protestants are divided on their reading of the Reformation. The 2k advocates find in Calvin and others precedent for the spirituality of the church, that is, the idea that the kingdom of Christ is not to be identified with the state or the civil order but with the visible church which possesses the keys of the kingdom. The 2k critics, whether theonomists (hard or soft) or neo-Calvinist redeemers of culture, read in Calvin and others the basis for magistrates enforcing both tables of the Law, ensuring a Christian society, and even supervising the spiritual kingdom – after all, they called it a magisterial reformation for a reason.

In other words, the advocates of 2k insist that Christ’s kingdom cannot be located in temporal politics; 2k critics argue that Christ’s kingdom is in fact everywhere and that the church implements some, the state and families the rest.

What ends this contest, game, set, and match, for 2k proponents is the spirituality of the church.

Here is Calvin on the nature of Christ’s kingship:

I come now to kingship. It would be pointless to speak of this without first warning my readers that it is spiritual in nature. For from this we infer its efficacy and benefit for us, as well as its whole force and eternity. . . . For we see that whatever is earthly is of this world and of time, and is indeed fleeting. Therefore Christ, to lift our hope to heaven, declares that his “kingship is not of this world” [John 18:36]. In short, when any one of us hears that Christ’s kingship is spiritual, aroused by this word, let him attain to the hope of a better life; and since it is now protected by Christ’s hand, let him await the full fruit of this grace in the age to come. (Institutes, II. xv. 3)

Here is Calvin on the second petition of the Lord’s prayer (“thy kingdom come,” for the catechetically challenged):

God reigns where men, both by denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life. Thus there are two parts to this Kingdom: first, that God by the power of his Spirit correct all the desires of the flesh which by squadrons war against him; second, that he shape all our thoughts in obedience to his rule. . . . Now because the word of God is like a royal scepter, we are bidden here to entreat him to bring all mens’ minds and hearts into voluntary obedience to it. This happens when he manifests the working of his word through the secret inspiration of his Spirit in order that it may stand forth in the degree of honor that it deserves. (III. xx. 42)

And finally, Calvin on the magistrate:

But whoever knows how to distinguish between body and soul, between this present fleeting life and that future eternal life, will without difficulty know that Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since, then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ’s Kingdom within the elements of this world, let us rather ponder that what Scripture clearly teaches is a spiritual fruit, which we gather from Christ’s grace; and let us remember to keep within its own limits all that freedom which is promised and offered to us in him. (IV.xx.1)

For anyone wondering why this matter is so decisive, consider the following: if Calvin is right about the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom, then the state’s establishment of righteousness, no matter how beneficial or comprehensive, is always outward and temporal. The state does not deal with the spiritual or eternal realities because it lacks the means to do so. And if an institution ordained by God to punish wickedness cannot advance the kingdom, how much less the media or environment?

This means that 2k advocates have no trouble explaining Calvin’s instructions to magistrates about the need for a Christian order. For starters, he didn’t know any better; he was a man of his time and regarded the religious duties of magistrates the way we take usury in the form of credit cards for granted. For the main course, Calvin wasn’t stupid; to advocate a separation between the Christian and temporal authorities was to be a radical. Calvin needed Reformed magistrates if he and others were not to wind up like Huss and Wycliffe.

But if Calvin believed, as Federal Visionists, neo-Calvinists, and various theonomists do, that temporal institutions other than the church, or cultural activities usher in the kingdom, you would think he would gut the spirituality of the church from his text. He didn’t. That would apparently mean that while outward order and righteousness is desirable and God’s providential intention for this world, it is not a blueprint for a theology of glory where supposedly more faith and morality will resurrect Christendom. Calvin was emphatic that the way of Christ’s kingdom was the path of suffering. The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he argued:

ought to kindle zeal for mortification of the flesh; finally, it ought to instruct us in bearing the cross. For it is in this way that God wills to spread his Kingdom. But we should not take it ill that the outward man is in decay, provided the inner man is renewed [II Cor. 4:16]. For this is the condition of God’s Kingdom: that while we submit to his righteousness, he makes us sharers in his glory. (III. xx. 42)

What 2k critics cannot fathom is Calvin’s argument that the fruit of grace is spiritual. The fiercest critics of 2k are basically Corinthian; they associate the coming of the kingdom with redeemed television, better health care, a larger GDP, decrease in crime and secularization, and faith-based policy (especially regulating sex). In which case, neo-Calvinists and theonomists cannot agree with what the Westminster Divines taught about the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, namely, that it is the visible church outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Why do theonomists keep telling us about the saving ways of sanctified laws for the polity or neo-Calvinists about the redemptive capacities of a health environment? Have they never read Calvin on the spirituality of the church or Paul on the theology of glory? The answer, apparently, is a big NO.

Is Creation for Evangelicals and Neo-Reformed what Donuts Are for Homer Simpson?

I am noticing a trend, trend-spotters that historians are, and it does not appear to be promising.

Over at Christianity Today, Scott Sabin, author of Tending to Eden, connects the dots among – hold on to your baseball cap – evangelism, “compassionate justice ministry,” and earth care.

On a global scale, restoration is a monumental task. We are unlikely to achieve it this side of Christ’s return, any more than we are likely to bring about world peace by turning the other cheek. However, kingdom thinking can serve to guide our planning and our individual choices. At Plant with Purpose, we have seen restoration happen. Rivers and streams that had withered have begun to flow again due to upstream solutions. They have become powerful illustrations of God’s ability to redeem and restore, both for us and for the farmers with whom we are striving to share Christ’s love. . . .

Much of the world is either directly suffering as a result of environmental degradation or reacting in numb despair to gloomy predictions. Both groups desperately need the hope of Jesus Christ. It is the hope they long for, a hope that speaks directly to the redemption of all creation and reminds them that God loves the cosmos.

The gospel is for everyone—from dirt farmers to environmental activists. It is good news that God cares about all that he has created.

Pete Enns picks up on those same connections between creation and redemption in a piece for Biologos.

Psalm 136:1-9 is similar. The psalmist praises Yahweh for creating the cosmos using language reminiscent of Genesis 1. But in v. 10, without missing a beat, this “creation psalm,” brings up the exodus. Then in v. 13 we read that Yahweh “divided the Red Sea asunder.” Again, this calls to mind Genesis 1:6-8, where, in creating the world, God divided the water above from the water below (see also Psalm 74:12-17 where God “split open the sea”). “Dividing” the sea is a theme the Old Testament shares with other ancient creation texts, as can be seen in the link above.

Creation and exodus are intertwined. The creator was active again in delivering Israel from Egypt. . . .

What we see in the Old Testament is raised to a higher level in the New. God’s redemptive act in Christ is so thoroughly transformative that creation language is needed to describe it.

John’s Gospel famously begins “In the beginning was the Word….” The echo of Genesis 1:1 is intentional and unmistakable. Jesus’ entire redemptive ministry means there is now a new beginning, a starting over—a new creation. This Jesus, who is the Word, who was with God at the very beginning, through whom all things were made, is now walking among us as redeemer (John 1:1-5). Those who believe in him are no longer born of earthly parents but “born of God” (vv. 12-13). They start over. The language of “born again” later in John (3:3) points in the same direction. . . .

Redemption is not simply for people; Jesus’ redemptive program is cosmic, as we can see in Romans 8:19-21. Creation itself awaits its chance to start over, its “liberation from bondage.” Cosmic re-creation finds its final expression in Revelation 22:1-5. In the beautifully symbolic language that characterizes the entire book, we read that the cosmos has become the new Garden, complete with not one but two trees of life, where there is no longer any curse.

The Bible ends where it begins, at creation. The goal of redemption all along has been to get us back to the Garden, back to the original plan of the created order. To be redeemed means to take part in the creative work of God. The hints are there in the Old Testament, and the final reality of it is ultimately accomplished through the resurrection of the Son of God.

To round out the redeeming creation line-up, David Koyzis yields the especially helpful service not only of connecting creation and redemption but also neo-Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.

Perhaps readers of Evangel also read On the Square, but if not, permit me to direct your attention to a wonderful article by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, which, but for a few sentences here and there, could easily have been written by an evangelical Christian of the Reformed persuasion: Fire On The Earth: God’s New Creation and the Meaning of Our Lives. I am struck by his redemptive-historical reading of scripture, which many of us may tend to think is the exclusive preserve of the Reformed tradition. Archbishop Chaput is to be commended for disabusing us of this misconception. Here’s an excerpt:

A simple way of understanding God’s Word is to see that the beginning, middle and end of Scripture correspond to man’s creation, fall, and redemption. Creation opens Scripture, followed by the sin of Adam and the infidelity of Israel. This drama takes up the bulk of the biblical story until we reach a climax in the birth of Jesus and the redemption he brings. Thus, creation, fall, and redemption make up the three key acts of Scripture’s story, and they embody God’s plan for each of us.

To be sure, the God who creates is the deity who redeems. But to miss the difference between creation and redemption, and to rush to identify them with a Homeric blessing – “mmmmmmmm redeemed creationnnnnn” – is to miss the import of this little thing we call sin. The creation was and is good. It did not fall. It does not need to be redeemed. Only fallen creatures need redemption. In which case, to miss the ways that creation and redemption differ is to repeat the same collapsing of categories that Protestant progressives effected one hundred years ago when they threw out the distinctions between natural and supernatural, divine and human, sacred and secular, to brew an ideology that would save the world.

For that reason, two-kingdom and spirituality of the church advocates are eager to either warn evangelicals and progressive Reformed types about the danger of their view, not only because confusing the creational and redemptive functions of Christ blurs a category that has been crucial to the Reformed tradition. It is also because such confusion inevitably mistakes improvements in standard of living for the fruit of the Spirit.

Do They Really Want What They Want?

Steven Wedgeworth over at Credenda Agenda has registered a critique of two-kingdom theology that uses David VanDrunen’s new book on natural law and the two kingdoms as the object of critique. Some of the usual federal vision suspects have lined up to promote Wedgeworth’s piece. Rabbi Bret writes:

Wedgeworth also spends time exposing how the Two Kingdoms, as defined by the Magisterial Reformers, covered different realities then the Two Kingdoms of Escondido fame. For the Magisterial Reformers the Two Kingdoms were defined as such that there was a diversity in unity. For Escondido the Two Kingdoms are defined in such a way that there is diversity (Nature realm vs. Redemptive realm) with no unity. (Hence the constant charge of Dualism.)

So you know it must be good.

Wedgeworth has two main complaints – one is that the idea of a spiritual and a temporal kingdom (or Augustine’s two cities) do not correlate with the church and the state. Wedgeworth writes:

It was precisely because the visible church existed in the temporal kingdom that Christian magistrates had a duty to protect and reform them. The princes were not to personally involve their office in crafting doctrine or worship, but they surely were involved in financing, defending, and promoting certain visible churches to the exclusion of others. Since all Christian laypersons were priests, the Reformers saw no problem with allowing princes to function as Christians in their particular vocation and to make use of their superior ordering abilities in the visible church. All of the Reformed confessions are in agreement on this point, as well, and so it seems impossible to remove this feature from the ecclesiology of the Reformation.

What Wedgeworth fails to acknowledge (aside from an inordinate fixation on Calvin as the standard of all things Reformed) is that Zurich and Geneva differed over the respective powers of the city council and church authority. Zurich was much closer to (if not guilty of) an Erastian model, with the magistrates reserving the right of excommunication, while Geneva worked hard to gain for the church the spiritual power of excommunication. In other words, the responsibility of the state to preserve the true religion is much more a legacy of Zurich than of Geneva and the difference is evident in the way that the Geneva Confession (1556) and the Gallican Confession (1559) refuse to attribute ecclesiastical powers to the magistrate the way, say, that the Westminster Divines did when in the original version of their Confession (subsequently altered by American Presbyterians in 1787) gave the magistrate the right to call and preside over synods and councils of the church. Can anyone imagine George Bush or Barack Obama presiding over the General Assembly of the OPC? (For that matter, can anyone imagine why a president would care to preside over a gathering of 160 pastors and elders?) And yet, that was the kind of power that a Zurichian arrangement bequeathed to one side of the Reformed brain.

(By the way, for the record this would make the Federal Visionaries pro-Zurich on political theology but pro-Geneva on the Lord’s Supper. Can you say “dualism”? Sure you can.)

While Wedgeworth’s point that the spiritual and the temporal do not equate to church and state, it’s pretty hard to read Calvin on the two kingdoms and not think that the civil and ecclesiastical polities lined up pretty neatly with the visible church and the visible state.

Therefore, to perceive more clearly how far the mind can proceed in any matter according to the degree of its ability, we must here set forth a distinction: that there is one kind of understanding of earthly things; another of heavenly. I call “earthly things” those which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life; but which have their significance and relationship with regard to the present life and are, in a sense, confined within its bounds. I call “heavenly things” the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom. The first class includes government, household management, all mechanical skills, and the liberal arts. In the second are the knowledge of God and of his will, and the rule by which we conform our lives to it.

Of the first class the following ought to be said: since man is by nature a social animal, he tends through natural instinct to foster and preserve society. Consequently, we observe that there exist in all men’s minds universal impressions of a certain civic fair dealing and order. Hence no man is to be found who does not understand that every sort of human organization must be regulated by laws, and who does not comprehend the principles of those laws. Hence arises the unvarying consent of all nations and of individual morals with regard to laws. For their seeds have, without teacher or lawgiver, been implanted in all men. (Institutes, II.ii.13)

Since Calvin puts government and household management – and not the church – under earthly things, it looks like the distinction between church (spiritual) and state (temporal) was in Calvin’s mind (and not just VanDrunen’s or Luther’s). Heck, it was even in the minds of the Westminster Divines when they wrote:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate. (WCF 31.5 original)

In other words, even in an Erastian environment with a king or parliament calling the church’s shots, Reformed churchmen were able to distinguish the differences between the civil and the ecclesiastical in ways that leave today’s Christendomians (read: theonomists) tripping.

To see how much the Reformed tradition identified Christ’s kingdom with the church you only need to look at the way that the Reformed catechisms treat the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer or Christ’s kingly office. Here is the Larger Catechism’s rendering of Christ role as kind:

WLC Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

In other words, the Reformers, whether influenced by Zurich or Geneva, were jealous to preserve the spiritual rule of Christ from being confused with the rule of the state, and to locate the spiritual rule of Christ with officers of his visible church.

Wedgeworth’s other objection to VanDrunen’s book is the distinction between Christ’s mediatorial (i.e. redemptive) and his creational rule. Wedgeworth believes this sets up an impossible scenario of a divided self where a Christian is “guided by his cultural spirit and imagination at certain moments of his life and by his religious spirit and imagination at others.” Why this is so hard to imagine I do not know. After all the Christian father who is also an elder treats his son differently when appearing before the session or when addressing him in the home, just as a Christian gynecologist treats a naked woman differently depending on whether he’s married to her and he’s her physician. Christians make distinctions of office and vocation all the time. If we can imagine doing it, why not someone who is more adept at juggling human affairs and diverse responsibilities than we are – namely, Jesus Christ.

But not to be missed is that if Wedgeworth wants to collapse the mediatorial and creational rules into one power, he is guilty of Roman Catholicism. At least, that was how David McKay explained it when expounding Samuel Rutherford’s account of church-state relations. McKay writes:

. . . Rutherford does maintain that Christian magistrates have a duty to promote the well-being of the church. He also insists, however, that “the Magistrate as a Magistrate is not the Deputie of Jesus Christ as Mediator,” a view that he goes on to describe as “the heart and soule of Popery.”(McKay, “From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Christ,” in The Faith Once Delivered, p. 136)

Later in this essay, McKay also quotes George Gillespie to the following effect: Christ has all power “by the eternal generation, ad by the declaration of him to be the Son of God with power, when he was raised from the dead, Rom. 1:14.” According to McKay, Gillespie agrees that Christ has power to subdue the enemies of his church, but “as Mediator he is only the church’s King, Head, and Governor, and hath no other kingdom” (p. 139).

So while the Federal Visionaries and neo-Calvinists keep figuring out ways to redeem all of life – with the aim, I guess, of putting Christians in charge of everything so believers can be the ones calling synods and councils – they should remember first that the magisterial reformation started with the magistrate, not the church. Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin, Ursinus served at the good pleasure of the state; they did not call a church council and send petitions to the magistrates to adopt pro-Protestant policies. And if Federal Visionaries want the same circumstances today as those that informed the Reformation, they better start working on getting Doug Wilson or Neil Plantinga to run for office – preferably with a little more clout than the district superintendent of public recreation.

Or they could simply follow Calvin’s advice and remember that the effects of salvation are first, foremost, and ultimately, not cultural, political, legal, medicinal, or agricultural but spiritual. As Calvin put it at the beginning of his discussion of the magistrate, the problem with Federal Visionaries and neo-Calvinists is their addiction to the Judaic Folly:

But whoever knows how to distinguish between body and soul, between this present fleeting life and that future eternal life, will without difficulty know that Christ’s spiritual Kingdom and the civil jurisdiction are things completely distinct. Since, then, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and enclose Christ’s Kingdom within the elements of this world, let us rather ponder that what Scripture clearly teaches is a spiritual fruit, which we gather from Christ’s grace. . . (Institutes, IV.xx.1)

Some of This and More of That

Rabbi Bret explains why short of theonomy, even transformationalists like the Baylys are guilty of two-kingdom thinking:

. . . the Bayly’s are victims of compartmentalized thinking. They seem to think that one can have a Constitutional objection or financial objection that isn’t at the same time a theological connection. Would someone mind introducing me to an objection, that at its root, isn’t theological?

Let’s take the Constitutional objection. The Baylys admit that they may have a Constitutional objection that is somehow cordoned off from a theological objection. Now, presuming that the Baylys are here suggesting that they object to paying social security tax because they believe that the Constitution doesn’t make provision for it how is that not at the same time a theological objection? Theologically we are to give taxes to whom taxes are due (Romans 13:7) but if the King is asking for taxes that is not his due (i.e. – social security tax) given the law of the land as expressed in the Constitution then suddenly I immediately also have a theological reason to not pay social security taxation. My Constitutional reason not to pay the social security tax flows out of my theological reason not to pay the social security tax. When Government demands taxes (governments never “ask” for taxes) that are not its due then the Government is engaged in theft, which is a violation of the 8th commandment. What began as a Constitutional issue, when traced back to its origin, has found its theological source.

Apparently evangelical arguments against porn are now retreading arguments against alcohol – both alter brain cells. I wonder if there is a cure for testosterone. I know of one – aging.

John Fea thinks the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey is a reason for breaking with evangelicalism. I can think of other reasons but many thanks for additional ammunition.

This review of David VanDrunen’s new book on bio-ethics may be instructive for those who think that two-kingdom theology and natural law are just so much pie-in-the-sky rationalizations of the status quo. Rated BBW (for Baylys Be Warned, with love, of course). Bill Edgar, the reviewer, writes:

In the opening chapter VanDrunen compares several possible Christian attitudes toward participation in public healthcare. He concludes that, although the world’s agendas are often different, even at loggerheads with the biblical approach, Christians need to be active in healthcare, if only because we are called to defend God’s justice in a hostile environment. More positively, as VanDrunen articulately demonstrates, cultural activities are still enjoined, alongside the duty to proclaim the gospel.

And for those old enough to remember “2001: A Space Odyssey,” this graphic on the creation of the Space Station may bring back bad memories, not to mention Chicken Little-like fears about what happens when this mass of gadgets falls out of its orbit.