What in the World (-w)?

If politicians or voters thought like this, wouldn’t the world be safer for theonomy?

The awareness that God acts in history in ways that we can only know in the context of our culturally determined experience should be central to a Christian understanding of history.

Yet the Christian must not lose sight of the premise that, just as in the Incarnation Christ’s humanity does not compromise his divinity, so the reality of God’s other work in history, going well beyond what we might explain as natural phenomena, is not compromised by the fact that it is culturally defined.

The history of Christianity reveals a perplexing mixture of divine and human factors. As Richard Lovelace has said, this history, when viewed without a proper awareness of the spiritual factors involved, “is as confusing as a football game in which half the players are invisible.”

The present work, an analysis of cultural influences on religious belief, is a study of things visible. As such it must necessarily reflect more than a little sympathy with the modern mode of explanation in terms of natural historical causation.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume that such sympathy is incompatible with, or even antagonistic to, a view of history in which God as revealed in Scripture is the dominant force, and in which other unseen spiritual forces are contending.

I find that a Christian view of history is clarified if one considers reality as more or less like the world portrayed in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.

We live in the midst of contests between great and mysterious spiritual forces, which we understand only imperfectly and whose true dimensions we only occasionally glimpse.

Yet, frail as we are, we do play a role in this history, on the side either of the powers of light or of the powers of darkness.

It is crucially important then, that, by God’s grace, we keep our wits about us and discern the vast difference between the real forces of good and the powers of darkness disguised as angels of light.

If historians can see the forces of darkness and light in the past, imagine the powers of Christian magistrates and voters in recognizing sin and righteousness in society.

The problem is, I don’t think the Neo-Calvinists really want to go there. But they do need to acknowledge how they made the world safe for theonomists.

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So You Want the Magistrate to Enforce both Tables of the Law?

Does that make you more extreme than a Muslim? It very well may, according to Aaron Rock-Singer (you can’t make up a name like that).

On the one hand, Shari’a law admitted a diversity of mechanisms for enforcement:

Historically, Muslims understood the Shariʿa as a broad framework within which one could live a proper Islamic life. The Shariʿa represented a comprehensive ethical system, the bulk of which was not understood as law in the sense of regulations that state authorities must enforce. Instead, acts were divided into five categories: obligatory, recommended, neutral, disapproved, and forbidden. Crucially, it was only those acts that fell into the category of “forbidden” that were to be enforced by the state. Put differently, prior to the last 200 years, the obligations set forth by the Shariʿa, though they were obligatory for Muslims, neither assumed nor depended on enforcement by state authorities.

That’s an intriguing point if only because ecclesiastical authorities won’t enforce the Fourth Commandment (Third for the Roman Catholic slackers).

On the other hand, the insistence that civil authorities enforce Shari’a was a function of the West’s brilliant diplomatic hegemony:

With the onset of colonial rule, British and French officials made a momentous decision to implement foreign legal codes while limiting religious law to questions of personal status such as marriage and divorce. While Islamists today recall this moment as decisive because it limited the role of Shariʿa, just as important is the shift that they do not mention: that it codified the Shariʿa. In the place of the relative flexibility and accommodation to local diversity exercised by judges who were tied to local communities, state-appointed graduates of modern law schools, with little knowledge of over a millennium of Islamic legal scholarship, now interpreted a code of Islamic law. Crucially, however, legal codes were not solely a colonial imposition: in the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire introduced a legal code, based on the dominant Sunni legal school in that area (Hanafism) in an attempt to formalize and define a civil legal code throughout the empire.

As Middle Eastern states gained independence over the first half of the 20th century, new secularist elites, like colonial officials, restricted the Shariʿa to family law. Notwithstanding their opposition to colonial rule, they were no more interested than their colonial predecessors in empowering Muslim scholars to interpret the Shariʿa. Instead, these new elites wanted to reshape the legal system to their own liking and in terms that they understood. Looking abroad, they saw the combination of military, political, and economic power that had enabled colonial rulers to take control of their countries, and sought to use law as a tool to expand the reach of their newly independent states. The appeal of a powerfully interventionist state would only grow as the United States and Soviet Union vied for Cold War supremacy.

In the shadow of a codified family law, powerful post-colonial states, and Cold War ideological contestation, Islamists began to argue that Shariʿa was central to state power.

The good news for folks worried that behind every Muslim is the Islamic equivalent of [insert name of favorite theonomist here], most Muslims are content with a separation of civil and religious law (in good 2k fashion, mind you):

A community whose roots go back to early migration between 1875 and 1912 from Greater Syria (an area that included what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine), Muslim American ranks grew following World War I following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Between 1947 and 1960, Muslims increasingly arrived not only from the Middle East, but also from Eastern Europe, South Asia, and the Soviet Union. The past 40 years, in turn, have seen, once again, substantial immigration from the Middle East.

The American Muslim community is, as a 2007 Pew survey puts it, “Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream.” In this vein, American Muslims have, by and large, sought to live according to their religious obligations through a set of daily practices that bear little resemblance to the specter of “Creeping Shariʿazation.” Whether by securing permits to build mosques, observing dietary laws through Halal butcheries and restaurants, or buying shares in Islamic finance companies that allow them to purchase homes or pay for higher education while avoiding interest-bearing loans, American Muslims today work within the American legal system and live devout lives. And like members of so many other religious and ethnic minorities, Muslims have set up a number of political advocacy organizations. There is no evidence, however, that American Muslim organizations have ever attempted to replace the American constitution with an Islamic legal code.

America, the beautiful.

On 2K, Lutheran 2K, Anabaptists, Theonomy, and Germany

Proto-Protestant supplies perspective.

First, Anabaptists are out:

Westminster West’s Two Kingdom theology breaks at points with the Lutheran variety and is certainly somewhat hostile to Theonomy and yet its retention of Kuyperian Dominionism places it much closer to the Lutheran and Theonomist understandings of the Kingdom than it does to the Anabaptist. Westminster’s version of Two Kingdoms is still very much pro-culture formation and while not Transformationalist in a de jure sense, from the standpoint of ‘radical’ Two Kingdom theology it represents a de facto rejection of Two Kingdoms.

The Anabaptist position if we are to accept that unfortunate label would identify both the Lutheran and Westminster West (or Escondido) positions as being One Kingdom with different nuances and not genuine expressions of Biblical Two Kingdom theology. From my standpoint it’s just a diluted (and thus somewhat improved) One Kingdom or Sacralist understanding of the Kingdom.

Second, Lutherans are as 1k as Kuyperians and theonomists:

Cooper is to be commended in some aspects of his presentation and argument. He does a great job demonstrating the actual Sacralist (One Kingdom) nature of Lutheran so-called Two Kingdom theology, a point I’ve been trying to make for many years. He intimately weds it to the Magisterial Reformation. His proper explanation of Lutheran Two Kingdom theology demonstrates that the charges made by Theonomists regarding its equivalence with the Anabaptist version are completely false.

For example whenever the Theonomists wish to attack what they call Radical Two Kingdom theology they will pin the indifference and acquiescence of the German population in the 1930s on their embrace of Lutheran Two Kingdom theology. Two Kingdom theology led to separatism (it is argued) and passivity. And thus the German Church and people let the Nazis come to power.

And then when Westminster Two Kingdom advocates point to Lutheranism as an example of a Two Kingdom Reformation heritage, and that their view is not guilty of novelty, the Theonomists will suddenly argue that Lutheran Two Kingdoms is more akin to their own Sacralist and Established Church position. They will then argue the Escondido variety is actually a version of Radical Two Kingdom theology.

In other words, the fundamental difference between magisterial and Anabaptist Protestants is that the former do not reject the state or the sword as legitimate spheres for Christians. (Not to mention that magisterial Protestants don’t question Christendom until 1789.)

Third, theonomists lie:

As usual the Theonomists have little interest in the truth of the matter and wish instead to destroy their intra-denominational opponents. Their historical theology is politicised and that’s something that always needs to be recognised when dealing with the Christian Right.

The politicisation of theology can be frustrating but Cooper makes it exceedingly clear. The Lutheran view has a very positive attitude to the state and in reality its model can be described as One Kingdom in two spheres… very much like the Kuyperian model embraced by Westminster West.

Finally, what went wrong in Germany (it wasn’t 2k):

This further demonstrates a point I have often made that it was the Sacral Theology of German Lutheranism that taught moral complacency, compliance and social conformity. They lost their sense of antithesis and equated German Kultur with Christianity. Hitler’s nationalism and anti-communism were sentiments they readily identified with. The German Church didn’t embrace Nazism due to passivity. Rather they (speaking in general terms) actively embraced it, viewing nationalism and political anti-communism (not to mention anti-Semitism) as expressions of piety and Christian culture.

True advocates of Two Kingdom theology are governed by antithesis and would never be taken in by or support such agendas. This is not to blame or slander Lutherans for what happened under the Third Reich but it helps to understand why an ostensibly ‘Christian’ nation would embrace a figure like Hitler and the agenda of his regime.

When Calvinists Impersonate Muslims

Why does this description of Islam sound familiar?

So I think ISIS is a wakeup call for all Muslims, especially Islamists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia? You want Islam to “conquer” and “dominate”? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam,” you easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam” that the other guys believe in.

Look at how this works for 2k and neo-Calvinism:

So I think ISIS theonomy is a wakeup call for all Muslims Calvinists, especially Islamists transformationalists who see no problem in mixing religion with politics. You want sharia the Bible? You want Islam Christ to “conquer” and “dominate” every square inch? This is what you get. And when you say, “No, no, that is not real Islam Calvinism,” you 2 kingdoms easily become the “apostate” of the “real Islam Calvinism” that the other guys believe in.

Autonomy and Theonomy Again

If you don’t grant autonomy from religious authority to the political realm (including to political actors to behave in ways different from religious duties), do you wind up with Omar Mateen? Adam Garfinkle thinks so:

… defined properly, there just isn’t very much Islamist ideology. As that term is commonly used in the West, at a minimum an ideology needs to specify: some ideal political economy; some ideal relationship between society, state, and authority; and some ideal relationship between a given society and the world outside it. There is nothing special in these regards about current Islamist thinking. There are a few innovations of note that distinguish it from traditional Islam—the very strict segregation of the sexes in public spaces; the insistence that non-Muslims cannot hold public office; the re-merging of religious and temporal authority in the caliphate—but there are too few and too marginal to create much of a difference from the standard traditional Muslim understanding of the relationship of religion and politics. Hence, for example, the supremacist assumptions of Islamism are also characteristic of mainstream traditional Sunni Islam, making it impossible for us to “message” against it without alienating Sunnis who are not our enemies and who are critical extent and potential allies.

This reflects the key fact that there is nothing specifically ideological—again as we understand the term—about Islamic attitudes about the intersection of religion and politics. Neither Islamist nor Islamic “ideology” is commensurate with any system of Western political ideas. Liberalism as the epitome of the Western way of thinking about politics is based on deeper philosophical currents, but it is not a mere lesser-included case. It has its own weight, its autonomy, its own discourse. The political world is a lesser-included case within Islamist (and Islamic) thinking. It is not autonomous but derivative. It does not have its own credentialed authorities and discourse, only the authorities and discourse of the clergy whose concerns far transcend politics.

Islam, in other words, has little capacity to develop the spirituality of the mosque. Christians who oppose the spirituality of the church should be very careful.

The Bahnsen Option

Is the visible church part of the temporal order? The spirituality-of-the-church answer would suggest that because the church is inherently a spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends, then it is not part of the authority in charge of temporal affairs.

But if you are John Calvin and are a civil servant by virtue of being one of Geneva’s (company) pastors, your spirituality-of-the-church conviction translates into a spiritual Constantinianism. That is, the church, though spiritual, is part of the established political order.

I guess this is what Jake Meador is trying to identify when he writes:

The reformed believe that God presently rules over a spiritual kingdom through his lordship over the hearts of his people. But there is also a second kingdom, sometimes called a visible kingdom and sometimes a temporal kingdom. To this kingdom belongs the many social institutions that define daily life—family, local economies, government, and, according to Calvin, the visible, institutional church as well. Not only that, the institutional church is not the pure, sectioned-off community only for the true believers. It is a community of wheat and tares, an institution whose chief concern is not with marking out the outer boundaries of the church but with consistently and clearly articulating its center through the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacraments.

Does this mean, though, that Meador believes (or advocates) an established church? Or is he trying to say that churches are simply part of associational life in civil society — that broad range of institutions that lives and moves and has its being between citizens and government?

If he wants to avoid the Bahnsen Option (read theonomy), he should try to be more precise about institutions — involuntary (federal, state, local), voluntary, educational, economic, familial — and clearer about the differences between Calvin’s Geneva and modern Calvinists’ political liberalism (read separation of church and state). Otherwise, simply waving the wand of the temporal kingdom over such diverse spheres as business, families, churches, and city councils could land you in some sort of theocratic arrangement where the Lordship of Christ implies Christians “running everything.”

I suspect that Meador is only reflecting the imprecision that generally afflicts neo-Calvinists and transformationalists. After all, he insists that to avoid the Benedict Option we need an ecclesiology that produces a rationale for Christians to serve the common good:

A reformed ecclesiology provides a basis for that way of thinking. It helps the individual Christian understand how they are both a child of the church and a member of the broader commonwealth—and that those two things do not exist in competition with one another. Other ecclesiologies, which see the visible church as some sort of special institution existing in some cordoned off reality removed from all other institutions, have a far harder time providing a rationale for that sort of work in the broader commonwealth.

Well, sometimes they are at odds. Ask Jesus or the apostles when faced with either obeying God or (the) man.

What Meador and other expansive Reformed types may want to consider is that a narrow view of the church and its activities is precisely the best rationale for Christians to engage in all walks of life. The spirituality of the church was the Benedict Option before the Benedict Option. If the church’s footprint is big, then the church has to do everything — like the ministry of dog catching and garbage collecting. But if the church’s scope is spiritual — word, sacraments, prayer, discipline — then Christians have six days of the week for all sorts of legitimate work, and lots of freedom to form any number of organizations for pursuing such activity. None of which, by the way, advances the kingdom of grace (WSC 102).

So the Alternative is Lepanto?

Rod needs to add the 2k secular faith option to his Benedict proposal. First he recommends a critique of Islamist terrorism on the grounds that secularism is responsible for excluding faith from politics:

It’s embarrassing for liberals to admit that liberalism offers religious freedom only to those religions that adhere to its central tenants. It’s awkward to admit that liberalism limits in advance the form any given religion may take (pray, but not here, believe, but don’t preach, hold ethical principles, but pay for others to violate them, interpret your Scriptures, but not radically, etc.). The liberal society wants to maintain that it accepts all religious beliefs with equal validity, and is thus forced, when a particular religious belief radically rejects the central doctrines of liberalism, to conclude that it is not really a religion after all, only a “group of thugs.” Liberalism, in short, does not want to admit that it is an exclusive theology, and thus does not want admit that it is rejecting a definite “other theology” — a rival set of beliefs about God and man.

Liberalism denies religious groups from dictating policy? So the alternative is a confessional state that locks up blasphermers and fights wars for sacred causes? Rod seems to think so (which is not unusual for an Eastern Orthodox guy who may track Constantinian than he realizes):

Marc says that the theology of liberalism cannot defeat ISIS; only real, committed theology can — first, he says, “the active promotion of a better theology in the form of the Quietist Salafis. . . . Marc is not claiming that Catholic apologists can turn the hearts and minds of Muslims already committed to ISIS, and make Christians of them. He is claiming that Catholics who really believe in their faith — not MTD Catholics, but the real deal — have a lot to say to Muslims in the West who are alienated from secular liberalism. Marc makes the important and overlooked point that truly believing Catholics (and, I would say, Protestant and Orthodox Christians too) feel alienated from secular liberalism also. With Catholics, he says, “Of course, there is something less of an obsession with human purity, something more of mercy, but nevertheless, the committed Catholic can, like it or not, sympathize with the ISIS-member’s primary spiritual frustrations.”

So Roman Catholics, Orthodox, conservative Protestants (think theonomists?), and Muslims get rid of the liberal state. And that leaves us where? Crusades? Ottomans conquering Hungary? Ferdinand and Isabella kicking out Muslims? The Thirty Years War?

If Augustine was right, and the earthly city has limited goods, why would residents of the heavenly city think they can make the earthly city a paradise? What about refusing to immanentize the eschaton does Rod not understand? And what about remembering how poorly Christians did when they were “running things”?

Now We Can Blame the Ottomans for Theonomy

From an interview with Michael J. McVicar, author of Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism:

Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was a theologically and socially conservative Presbyterian minister who played an important role in the development of the Christian Right of the late 1970s. His biography is compelling because it reflects many of the major cultural and social upheavals of the twentieth century. He was the son of Armenian immigrants who fled Turkish forces during the Armenian genocide of 1915. His older brother, Rousas George, died during the Turkish siege of the city of Van. After a Russian assault forced Turks to lift their siege, Rushdoony’s parents—his mother already pregnant with Rousas John—escaped through Russia to New York City. R. J. Rushdoony was born in New York and baptized in Los Angeles. His father, Y. K. Rushdoony, went on to minister to Armenian diasporic communities in California and Michigan. The plight of his family and the Armenian people more generally haunted Rushdoony for the rest of his life as he struggled to come to terms with their suffering and the forces that enabled such violence. After graduating first from the University of California, Berkeley, and then from seminary in the 1940s, Rushdoony served as a missionary on a Native American reservation in Nevada. There he became convinced that the forces that led to the Armenian genocide were identical to the forces behind the genocide of America’s native populations: the abandonment of orthodox Christianity for the sinful elevation of the state to god-like status in human affairs. In short, Rushdoony’s early ministry was directly shaped by his personal experiences as a survivor of one of the twentieth century’s great atrocities.

Say What You Will About Klineanism, At Least It's an Ethos

ProtoProtestant identifies one reason why Meredith Kline matters:

Revelation 20 knows nothing of a political dominion of the church over the earth during this millennial age of the great commission. That expectation is a delusion of the prophets of theonomic postmillennialism, who, in their impatience with the way through the wilderness, have succumbed to carnal cravings for worldly power. It is revealing that in order to defend their false forecasts they find it necessary to scorn as losers those whom the Scriptures honor as overcomers, indeed as “more than conquerors” (cf. Rom 8:35-37), the martyr-witnesses who overcome Satan “because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony, and they loved not their life unto death” (Rev 12:11). One cannot but be appalled at the railing of certain of these reconstructionist postmillenarians against the Holy Spirit’s soteric ministry thus far in the church age. What has been in the eyes of heaven a triumphant working of the Spirit of Christ, effecting the salvation of all God’s elect in every nation and every generation without fail, a sovereign fulfilling of the good pleasure of God’s will to the praise of his grace—this is dismissed by the pundits of this postmillennialist cult as dismal failure and a history of defeat. Nothing betrays more clearly than this blasphemous contempt for the gospel triumphs of the Spirit how alien to biblical Christianity is the ideology of theonomic reconstructionism. (Glory In Our Midst: A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions, 53-54)

How to Interpret the Great Commission

This is your hermeneutic on neo-Calvinism:

So we are told to “disciple all the nations.” And how? By baptizing and teaching. Teaching what? “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Everything means our whole Bibles. Jesus said that “Scripture cannot be broken.” He condemned Pharisees for not keeping God’s law. Of course, I’m not saying that Jesus expected the Law to be kept in its Mosaic aspect. Noahic dietary freedoms are fine and blood rituals like circumcision and animal sacrifice are no longer to be practiced as they once were. But the whole Bible, properly interpreted, is our governing document. And by “our” I mean, all humans.

Every moment Iran or India or the United States spends disregarding the Bible as the king’s word to them, at any institutional or personal level, is a moment of treason. All peoples, tribes, nations are called to entrust themselves to the new king and be his subjects (not to mention that he actually wishes to make them his co-rulers).

This means, by the way, that if we preach a gospel that doesn’t communicate to the hearers that the universe now has, by virtue of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, a new public king–that we aren’t preaching the real gospel. . . . The Great Commission, on its face, outlaws secularism and cultures based on any other god or lord than our Lord Jesus Christ. And it tells all Christians to say so.

And this is your hermeneutic on Calvinism:

He expressly calls himself the Lord and King of heaven and earth, because, by constraining men to obey him in the preaching of the gospel, he establishes his throne on the earth; and, by regenerating his people to a new life, and inviting them to the hope of salvation, he opens heaven to admit to a blessed immortality with angels those who formerly had not only crawled on the world, but had been plunged in the abyss of death. Yet let us remember that what Christ possessed in his own right was given to him by the Father in our flesh, or—to express it more clearly—in the person of the Mediator; for he does not lay claim to the eternal power with which he was endued before the creation of the world, but to that which he has now received, by being appointed to be Judge of the world. Nay, more, it ought to be remarked, that this authority was not fully known until he rose from the dead; for then only did he come forth adorned with the emblems of supreme King. . . .

Let us learn from this passage, that the apostleship is not an empty title, but a laborious office; and that, consequently, nothing is more absurd or intolerable than that this honor should be claimed by hypocrites, who live like kings at their ease, and disdainfully throw away from themselves the office of teaching. The Pope of Rome and his band proudly boast of their succession, as if they held this rank in common with Peter and his companions; and yet they pay no more regard to doctrine than was paid by the Luperci, or the priests of Bacchus and Venus. 324 And with what face, pray, do they claim to be the successors of those who, they are told, were appointed to be preachers of the gospel? But though they are not ashamed to display their impudence, still with every reader of sound judgment this single word is sufficient to lay prostrate their silly hierarchy—that no man can be a successor of the apostles who does not devote his services to Christ in the preaching of the gospel. In short, whoever does not fulfill the duties of a teacher acts wickedly and falsely by assuming the name of an apostle; and what is more—the priesthood of the New Testament consists in slaying men, as a sacrifice to God, by the spiritual sword of the word. Hence it follows, that all are but pretended and spurious priests who are not devoted to the office of teaching.

Christ shows that, in sending the apostles, he does not entirely resign his office, as if he ceased to be the Teacher of his Church; for he sends away the apostles with this reservation, that they shall not bring forward their own inventions, but shall purely and faithfully deliver from hand to hand (as we say) what he has entrusted to them. Would to God that the Pope would subject to this rule the power which he claims for himself; for we would easily permit him to be the successor of Peter or of Paul, provided that he did not usurp a tyrannical dominion over our souls. But as he has set aside the authority of Christ, and infects the Church with his childish fooleries, this shows plainly enough how widely he has departed from the apostolic office. In short, let us hold that by these words teachers are appointed over the Church, not to put forward whatever they may think proper, but that they, as well as others, may depend on the mouth of the Master alone, so as to gain disciples for him, and not for themselves.
And, lo, I am with you always. As Christ gave to the apostles a commission which they were unable to discharge by reliance on merely human power, he encourages them by the assurance of his heavenly protection. For before promising that he would be with them, he began with declaring that he is the, King of heaven and earth, who governs all things by his power and authority. . . .

It ought likewise to be remarked, that this was not spoken to the apostles alone; for the Lord promises his assistance not for a single age only, but even to the end of the world. It is as if he had said, that though the ministers of the gospel be weak and suffer the want of all things: he will be their guardian, so that they will rise victorious over all the opposition of the world. In like manner, experience clearly shows in the present day, that the operations of Christ are carried on wonderfully in a secret manner, so that the gospel surmounts innumerable obstacles.

So much the more intolerable is the wickedness of the Popish clergy, when they take this as a pretext for their sacrilege and tyranny. They affirm that the Church cannot err, because it is governed by Christ; as if Christ, like some private soldier, hired himself for wages to other captains, and as if he had not, on the contrary, reserved the entire authority for himself, and declared that he would defend his doctrine, so that his ministers may confidently expect to be victorious over the whole world.

(Double-bonus: notice the affirmation of Christ’s mediatorial kingship, which is distinct from his kingship as the second person of the Trinity.)