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.

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What’s the Difference between a Pro-Refugee Evangelical (Tim Keller) and a Democrat (Dianne Feinstein)?

Short answer: neither quotes the Bible.

Notice for instance the parallels among the National Association of Evangelicals, Ed Stetzer, Evangelical leaders (among them Tim Keller), and the Democrats.

The NAE:

“Christians and churches have been welcoming refugees for 2,000 years, and evangelicals are committed to continue this biblical mission. Thousands of U.S. evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years through World Relief and other federally approved resettlement agencies. We don’t want to stop now,” NAE President Leith Anderson said.

The Trump administration’s plans to make severe cuts to the admission of refugees are alarming. We call on President Trump to declare his support for the continuation of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which is critical at a time when the world faces a significant refugee crisis.

Ed Stetzer:

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, says it this way: “The decision to restrict all entry of refugees and other immigrants … contradicts the American tradition of welcoming families who come to the United States to start their lives again in safety and dignity. The American people — most of whom can trace their own families’ stories through a similar immigrant journey in search of freedom — are a hospitable people.”

He’s right. But, it’s not just because we are Americans. It’s because we are Christians.

God’s people should be the first ones to open their arms to refugees. We should welcome them and do what Christians, in your church and mine, have been doing a long time — showing and sharing the love of Jesus with them.

Tim Keller et al:

As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.

Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.

The Democratic Party (according to Damon Linker):

Many liberals argue that refugees are among the most vulnerable people on Earth and so must be welcomed with open arms. That forcing undocumented immigrants to leave the country is gratuitously cruel, violates their rights, and so justifies municipalities flouting federal law by turning themselves into “sanctuary cities.” That banning entry to refugees or immigrants not yet within the United States can violate their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. And that the desire to restrict immigration is invariably an expression of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of irrational animus and so morally (and perhaps constitutionally) indefensible.

All of these claims are, at bottom, expressions of a fundamentally anti-political humanitarian ideology that is unlikely to fare well in the next presidential election. Democrats desperately need to confront the vulnerabilities of this position and stake out a more defensible and pragmatic one if they hope to push back against Trump’s populist-nationalist message in upcoming years.

Of course, evangelicals don’t need to worry about running for election (though the likes of Russell Moore does need to worry about ministry dollars going somewhere other than the Southern Baptist cooperative program). But evangelicals who live in the United States may want to think (with help from Linker) about how to love their actual neighbors who live within U.S. borders (Walter didn’t see his buddies die face down in ‘Nam for open borders):

Many Americans believe that their constitution presumes or appeals to certain timeless, universal moral truths that apply to all human beings. But the U.S. Constitution itself — like the constitutions, fundamental laws, and commonly affirmed norms and rules of all political communities — is nonetheless instantiated in a particular place, rooted in a particular tradition. It also pertains and applies only to people who are members of the political community known as the United States of America.

Those who are members of this community are known as American citizens. They get a say in what laws get passed and how they get enforced. Those who are not members of this community — who are not citizens — don’t get such a say. The community is perfectly within its rights to decide which and how many of these outsiders will be allowed to visit the country, how long they will be allowed to stay, when they will need to go, and how many, if any, will be permitted to join the community permanently by becoming citizens.

This is one of the most elemental acts of politics: the community deciding who to admit and on what terms. To treat this act as somehow morally illegitimate is to treat politics as such as morally illegitimate.

In other words, evangelicals think like 1kers, as if the U.S. is a Christian community. Imagine welcoming non-Christians into fellowship in a Christian congregation. What sense does that make? So why should citizens of the United States act as if they are the United Nations of the World. As Linker says, it’s a complicated question how Americans decide what to do with outsiders:

Note that nothing I’ve said tells us anything about how many immigrants or refugees the political community of the United States should welcome at any given moment of history, or what criteria should be used to make this determination. I generally favor liberal immigration policies; many Trump voters take a very different view. The point, as Josh Barro recently argued in an important column, is that the policy debate needs to be made in terms of the good of the political community as a whole and in its parts, not in terms of abstract, extra-political moral duties owed to prospective newcomers. A political community exists in large part to benefit itself — to advance the common good of its citizens. There’s nothing shameful in that. It’s to a considerable extent what politics is.

And don’t forget, if godless Democrats and progressive evangelicals agree that Jesus is on the side of refugees, w-w has failed.

Every Square Inch is a Demanding Taskmaster

Devin Wax is not so happy with the significance attached in the current cultural climate to ordinary choices like where to eat. He wishes a chicken filet sandwich were merely a chicken filet sandwich:

We’re witnessing a convergence of two developments.

Development #1: Consumerism as a Religion

The first development is the lifting up of our consumer choices to the level of religion.

In American society, we are more and more inclined to define ourselves by what and how we consume. We no longer buy things to meet our needs, but to become something, or to express who we are.

“Brands are the new religion,” says Douglas Atkin, writing about customer loyalty. People express their own identities through what they buy.

With an endless sea of choices, Skye Jethani says, “individuality is the new conformity.” Choice is a powerful factor in a consumer society, because more choices provide more ways for consumers to demonstrate their uniqueness.

Development #2: Politics as Religion

The second development is the lifting up of our political views to the level of religion.

In American society, we are more likely to see political views as non-negotiable aspects of our true selves. This is why recent research shows families having a harder time with a son or daughter who wants to marry someone from an opposing political party than from a different religion!

Tell me how Neo-Calvinism did not add momentum to this. When all of our choices have religious significance, how different is that from the “personal is political” that feminists and other politics of identity advocates taught us? Now Mr. Trax wants a cigar (okay, a bubble gum cigar) to be only a cigar?

If more New Calvinists had read 2kers more than Tim Keller, had understood that religion is different from common life, had been content with Reformed worship instead of transformed cities, had valued church officers more than every membered ministry, they might be able to eat tacos without the least concern for larger significance — political or religious.

Another Golden Oldie

Thanks to Zrim, I remembered another internet intervention about 2k. This one was at Greenbaggins at the instigation of Reed DePace. It was a threepart series but here reproduced in one post.

Theological Affirmations

1) Affirmation: Jesus is Lord

Denial: Jesus is not Lord over everyone in the same way; he rules the covenant community differently than those outside the covenant.

2) Affirmation: the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ

Denial: Outside the visible church is not part of the redemptive rule of Christ (even though Christ is still sovereign).

3) Affirmation: the Bible is the only rule for the visible church (in matters of conscience).

Denial: Scripture does not reveal everything but only that which is necessary for salvation.

4) Affirmation: Christ alone is lord of conscience

Denial: Christians have liberty where Scripture is silent.
Denial: the pious advice and opinions of Christians are not binding.

5) Affirmation: the visible church has real power (spiritual and moral, ministerial and declarative, the keys of the kingdom) in ministering the word of God.

Denial: the church may not bind consciences apart from Scripture.
Denial: the church may not bind consciences on the basis of one minister’s or believer’s interpretation but must do so corporately through the deliberations of sessions, presbyteries, and assemblies.

6) Affirmation: Christ’s righteousness alone satisfies God’s holy demands for righteousness, and believers receive this righteousness through faith alone (i.e., justification).

Denial: believer’s good works, much less unbelievers’ external obedience to the law, do not satisfy God’s holiness but are filthy rags.

Affirmations about Vocation

1) Affirmation: the church is called to gather and perfect saints through word, sacrament and discipline.

Denial: the church is not called to meddle in civil affairs.

2) Affirmation: the Christian family is called to nurture and oversee children in both religious and secular matters.

Denial: Christian families will not all look the same but have liberty to rear children according to Scripture and the light of nature.
Denial: non-Christian families do not rear children in godliness or holiness but still have legitimate responsibility for rearing their children.

3) Affirmation: the state is called to punish wickedness, reward goodness, and promote peace and order.

Denial: the state does not hold the keys of the kingdom.

4) Affirmation: A Christian is called to use his talents and gifts to serve God and assist his neighbor.

Denial: some Christians are not called to engage in civil affairs.
Denial: the responsibilities attending one Christian’s vocation may not be the standard for other Christians.

Affirmations on Ethics

1) Affirmation: Christians have an obligation to submit to God’s laws as they are found in general and special revelation.

Denial: persons cannot obey God’s law truly apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Denial: non-Christians may not please God in their external observance of God’s law.
Denial: even if non-Christians may not please God, their civic virtue is crucial to a peaceful and orderly society.

2) Affirmation: Christians please God in their good works thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Denial: the good works of Christians are not free from pollution (i.e. they are filthy rags).

3) Affirmation: the state and families have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

Denial: the church does not have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

4) Affirmation: church members have a duty to obey the laws of civil magistrates.

Denial: church members may not rebel against or disobey the magistrate.
Denial: church members must not obey the magistrate rather than God.

5) Affirmation: God has established a pluriformity of institutions (e.g. civil society) for the sake of social order.

Denial: the church has no calling to establish social order but will have an indirect influence on peace and order by encouraging godliness in her members.

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Four

Here’s the last intallment. You can read the others here, here, and here.

1. People often struggle with the entire 2K vs. Kuyperian/transformational debate because they are both advocated in rather abstract ways. It can sound like privileged white dudes reading Chesterton and finding holy ways to thumb their noses at the poor (2Kers) or balding men with ponytails growing soul patches and blogging in Starbucks about how ‘incarnational’ they are being (Kuyperians). Neither caricature really addresses the real world challenges of living out our faith corporately and individually amidst the challenges of, let’s say, rural poverty, or urban degradation. How would you suggest 2K thinking should play out so as to avoid sounding like we are advocating a laissez faire attitude to real social ills?

First, I’d reassert that rural poverty and urban degradation are not as important as man’s guilt before God and the eternal punishment that awaits all men. I don’t want to sound fundy or pietistic, but I really think this point needs to be stressed. We may fix family farms and we may turn Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell (two great characters from the HBO series, The Wire) into productive citizens. But family farmers and reformed drug dealers still await a judgment day. In that case, if the church lets the problems of this world cloud the reality and urgency of its preaching the gospel of forgiveness of sin and eternal life, then we are in a boatload of trouble.

Second, I do not see why J. Gresham Machen is not a good example of how individual believers can be involved in politics or society while still affirming the spirituality of the church and the enormity of the church’s burden to preach the good news. Machen was active in Democratic politics, wrote lots of letters to editors, joined political organizations, testified before Congress to oppose the Federal Department of Education. He was an active citizen, even while saying the church should not be engaged in politics. Here the distinction between the church’s calling as a corporate body versus the calling of individual Christians was key.

Now, of course, lots of contemporary transformationalists will not like Machen’s politics any more than they will like his ecclesiology. And that is a really interesting point here as well because if transformationalists (or any Christian) is going to advocate a certain policy or endeavor as being Christian, they are also making claims about what other Christians should do. And yet, if they do not have a biblical warrant for what they are claiming, if they are simply baptizing their own ideals about the good society with the sanctified motivation of Christianity, then they are actually violating Christian liberty by implicitly bind the consciences of Christians who do not share their view of the good society. In other words, it would be wrong to say God is a Democrat. And it would be wrong to say God is a Republican. He’s a divine right monarchist who transcends policy and legislation.

2. Can you ground 2K in scripture for us? Is this the teaching of the Bible?

If it doesn’t sound too defensive, I’d start by saying that a 1 kingdom view has not been shown to be the teaching of Scripture. It is curious to me that lots of people who object to 2 kingdom views go ahead and live with a two-kingdom reality. They are not insisting that the church rule over all things, or that Christians must be elected to public office, or that every cultural expression must come from a regenerate artist. Critics of 2 kingdom theology like to protest against it, but it hardly ever involves a one-kingdom argument instead. This may simply be an inconsistency. I think it also an acknowledgement of the limits of church power, and the reality of living in societies where believers and non-believers cohabit and must get along in some fashion.

The specific passages I go to for support for a two-kingdom view are obvious ones like Christ’s instruction, “Render unto Caesar. . .” along with his rebuke to Peter for using the sword against the ruling authorities. In fact, the gospels are replete with a recognition – it seems to me, of Christ submitting to earthly authorities, whether Jewish or Roman, all the while establishing his own kingdom. My own pastor has been preaching through Luke and it sounds like the distinction between what’s going on in the civil and national realm and what’s being inaugurated by Christ’s work and ministry is a theme from which one cannot escape in Luke, and that to try to turn Christ’s ministry into a program of social justice or political engagement really misses the point and grander significance of what he came to do. I believe the gospels show that Christ’s kingdom was spiritual and many Israelites could not fathom that because they were looking for a one-kingdom world where religion and the state would be fused

And then there are passages like Romans 13 where Paul tells Christians to submit to the magistrate – a heretical and persecuting magistrate at that. It certainly suggests that Paul was not thinking the rule of the state was on redemptive grounds. And when he says that the task of the magistrate is to punish evil, he is clarifying a function that is very different from the church’s which is to forgive sin.

I’d also point to the Great Commission as supporting a two-kingdom view. They way that the church disciplines the nations is not through political rule but through word (teach) and sacrament (baptize).

Some people object to the two-kingdom view for its dualism. I find it hard to read 1 Cor. And Paul’s distinctions between temporal and eternal things and not see that some kind of dualism is entirely fitting with biblical teaching

My pastor is also preaching in the evenings through Ecclesiastes. He is by no means a committed two-kingdom guy. He is simply trying to be a faithful minister and preach the text. And throughout this book – all is vanity – I keep wondering if the transformationalists have ever read Ecclesiastes, if it is for them what James was for Luther, an “epistle” (wrong genre) of straw

Last, I have in A Secular Faith used the example of Daniel to suggest how pilgrims and exiles negotiate the two powers. Daniel submitted to Chaldean rule and even excelled in their culture. But he drew the line at worship. His case suggests that Christians can engage with non-Christians in a host of common endeavors and that worship clarifies where such cooperation must cease.

3. Coming from Scottish Presbyterianism I have been accustomed to strong statements about the spirituality of the church. The language of 2 Kingdoms has a long and noble pedigree in Scotland (witness Andrew Melville plucking the sleeve of James the VI, calling him ‘God’s sillie vassal’ and reminding him that there are ‘two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland. There is Christ Jesus the King and Head and His Kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member.”)

The Covenanters saw themselves as defending ‘the crowns rights of the Redeemer’ against the impositions of the State. The Free Church at the Disruption of 1843 likewise stood on the spirituality of the church over against Erastian claims by the British government. Yet in all of those versions of 2 Kingdom thinking a strong linkage between Church and state was advocated. The Westminster Standards likewise advocated a strong Church-State connection, especially on the role of the civil magistrate (so strong that the Scots demurred saying it referred only to “kirks not settled” and the American church re-wrote that entire section of the Confession). Nevertheless the claim is often made that contemporary 2K thinking is the more historically reformed and Confessional position. How would you defend that statement in the light of older 2K ideas that favored religious establishments?

I never pretend to tell the British how to run their affairs – that’s the point of American independence. So I will rely on an Irish Covenanter to answer this question. In his contribution to a festschrift for the American Covenanter theologian, Wayne Spear, David McKay wrote that the RPCI’s testimony of 1990 was at odds with Samuel Rutherford’s understanding of Christ’s kingship. The RPCI affirmed that nations are “required to acknowledge and serve [Christ] in all their ways, and submit to His mediatorial authority as it has been revealed to them.”

But Rutherford, while committed to the Covenanter doctrine of Christ’s kingship over the nations, taught that “the Magistrate as a Magistrate is not the Deputie of Jesus Christ as Mediator.” In fact, Rutherford described what would become the modern Covenanter view of Christ’s kingship (as a mediatorial expression) as “the heart and soule of Popery.” [From Popery to Principle: Covenanters and the Kingship of Chirst,” in The Faith Once Delivered (P&R Publishing), p. 136]

The point is that one could affirm Christ’s kingship over the magistrate but regard it as part of his rule as creator rather than mediator, thus preserving the uniqueness of the visible church as the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2).

4. It is often pointed out by transformationalists that the spirituality of the church was a distinctive of the Old School Southern Presbyterian Church, and that this doctrine was used to justify the church’s advocacy of the status quo with regards to slavery. While the abuse of a doctrine is not in and of itself proof that the doctrine is in error, do you think this sorry episode nevertheless exposes a danger for 2K thinkers?

It may pose a danger, but so might abortion, or prohibition. The point of the spiritual doctrine of the 19th century was that the church could not speak where Scripture was silent. It may look convenient for slave holders to say that the Bible is silent on slavery. But even northerners like Charles Hodge believes that slavery was not a sin. The link between slavery and spirituality of the church is overdone and can also be used against the transformationalists – the Social Gospel abandoned the gospel and was part of a transformational agenda.

So if we avoid the genetic fallacy and try to figure out what is at stake, it seems to me the question is whether we can be content with what the church is called to do. If we think that various social ills are of momentous concern and that the church needs to be enlisted for the cause, I think the question is still whether there is a biblical warrant for the church joining the cause. The other aspect here is whether the social cause of such great significance is of the same significance as the eternal verities of whether men and women know Jesus Christ as their savior. Such men and women may be poor or rich, may be free or suffer under tyranny, but ultimately those earthly conditions will not be as important as their relationship to Christ. This is not an excuse for the church to be silent or to harbor sin where Scripture is clear. Nor is it a case proves all suffering is evil and must be eliminated. (I sometimes wonder if transformatoinalists have considered that God actually uses suffering and are willing to accept it. Dick Gaffin has a great piece on this point, making it against theonomists, in the Westminster Seminary response to theonomy – it is that suffering may be that to which the church is called, and so eliminating suffering may not be the proper goal of the church.)

5. If we wanted to investigate further this idea of the 2Kingdoms can you suggest any books to read?

There are various entry points into this literature, none of them directly being classified as “two-kingdom” literature.

First are books on Natural Law which suggest that the Reformed tradition has always used creational norms, as opposed to biblical commands, for politics.

Stephen Grabil, Recovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics (Eerdmans)

David VanDrunen, A Biblical Case for Natural Law (Acton Institute)

I should mention that VanDrunen has a very big and good book coming out with Eerdmans next year on natural law and two-kingdom theology.

Second, are books on the differences between the covenant of grace and the covenant of works that have a bearing on the relationship between Christ and Culture.

Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue (Two-Age Press??)

Michael Horton, God of Promise (Baker)

Third are the works of Reformed theologians from the past who articulate the 2k perspective in ways that contemporary Reformed Protestants often overlook.

Calvin’s Institutes should be consulted, especially where he discusses the kingly office of Christ, and book IV, chapt. 20 where he lays out the differences between Christ’s spiritual kingdom and the kingdoms of this world.

J. Gresham Machen’s essays on the church and society in Selected Shorter Writings (P&R Publishing)

Fourth are works on the doctrine of the church.

The Book of Church Order of the OPC, for instance, is very clear in chapter three about the spiritual nature of the church’s authority.

Stuart Robinson, The Church of God, An Essential Element of the Gospel (OPC, Christian Education). Robinson was a nineteenth-century Presbyterian whose book is arguably the best on the spirituality of the church from a redemptive-historical perspective, and a great biblical theological case for divine right Presbyterianism.

Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church (Eerdmans). Vos only goes wobbly (read, neo-Calvinist) on a couple of pages. Otherwise, it’s a great expression of the spirituality of the church.

Fifth, the spirituality of the church also shows up when the church is doing its own reflection on the work to which it is called. The OPC’s Study Committee Reports are one example of this.

OPC Minority Report on Medical Missions (by Meredith Kline), General Assembly (1964) pp. 51-55.

OPC Report II on Women in the Military: http://www.opc.org/GA/WomenInMilitary.html#ReportII

Sixth are books from a Reformed outlook on religion and politics explicitly):

Darryl Hart, A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee)

Seventh, the spirituality of the church is part of an understanding of Reformed piety that stresses the Christian life as pilgrimage rather than one as crusader.

R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession (P&R Publishing)

D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (Rowman & Littlefield)

Finally, not to be missed are works by other Christians and Protestants.

Augustine’s City of God is a classic statement on the double nature of Christian life in this world lived in tension between the desire of the nations and the work of the church.

Lutherans have also much to teach Reformed Christians about the two kingdoms:

Render Unto Caesar and Unto God . . . A Lutheran View of Church and State (LCMS Report from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations)

The Anonymous God: The Church Confronts Civil Religion and American Society (Concordia Publishing)

The Shelf Life of 2k — Part Three

This is the third in the four-part interview David Strain did with mmmmmeeeeeEEEEE. We finally get to 2k:

1. Would you briefly state the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms (2K) for us?

I should have a handier definition than I do. I guess I would describe it this way.The church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (WCF 25.2) outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. Communicant and non-communicant church members are part of that kingdom, the kingdom of grace (which is different from the kingdom of Satan and which is playing a part in hastening the kingdom of glory – the Shorter Catechism speaks of these three kingdoms, Satan’s, grace, and glory in explaining the second petition of the Lord’s prayer.

The kingdom of the civil realm has its own rules and sovereignty, and has criteria for membership that vary in places and across time.

The kingdom of grace operates according to the doctrine of forgiveness. The church is to minister the message of forgiveness of sins that comes through trusting in Christ and repentance from sin. The state operates according to standards of justice and is supposed, no matter how imperfectly, to punish wrongdoing.

Confusing forgiveness and justice is a huge example of category confusion. Granted, the forgiveness the church administers is premised on the justice that Christ underwent in suffering for the penalty of sin. And granted the magistrate’s ideals of justice are a type of the eschatological justice that will be administered on the Last Day.

In other words, you can’t understand the church or the state apart from God’s righteous standards, that is, his law.

But the church is involved in the work of reconciling God and man through Christ. The state has no direct role in that project of reconciliation. It may create and sustain an environment in which the church can minister. But the aim of the state is fundamentally different from that of the church. I recommend J. Gresham Machen’s essay, “The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” as a brilliant elaboration of this argument. It can be found either in his Selected Shorter Writings or as the appendix of Hart and Muether, Fighting the Good Fight: A Brief History of the OPC.

2. If you were to summarize the central points of debate between Kuyperians and Two Kingdoms advocates what would you say were the major areas of contention?

One major source if misunderstanding is the Lordship of Christ. 2k people want to distinguish Christ’s redemptive kingship (the church) from his creational and providential lordship (the state and the family). Kuyperians often hear 2kers as denying Christ’s lordship over “every square inch.” We don’t deny this at all. Christ is lord over all things. But we do distinguish, as Calvin and Ursinus do, for instance, between different aspects of Christ’s lordship. Confessing Christ as savior and lord (which happens in the church) is a different proposition from submitting to Christ’s rule through the work of magistrates and parents. You don’t need to confess Christ to submit to your dad. You should submit to a parent whether you are a Christian or not. And non-Christians do submit no matter how imperfectly. Plus, it’s not as if Christians are better submitters to parents and the state than non-Christians are.

A second point of tension concerns the creation mandate. Most Kuyperians appeal to Gen. 1 and argue that it is still in effect and guides the cultural endeavors of believers. 2kers tend to look at the creation mandate through the lens of the fall, and see that mandate as now being seriously altered because of sin. This means that cult (faith) and culture (secular endeavors) are now in a paradoxical relationship. In other words, you cannot chart the coming of Christ’s kingdom by looking for “progress” in cultural life. (Actually, Christians will likely disagree on what counts as progress. Does is mean a Republican in the White House, does it mean universal health care, does it mean literacy, does it mean lots of family farms and healthy local economies?) Connecting the effects of “good” culture to signs of the kingdom is a sure recipe, from a 2k perspective, for a social gospel and liberal Christianity. Kuyperians seem to be a lot less worried about this recipe because they are less willing to admit a paradoxical relationship between cult and culture.<

3. In 2K thought, Christians are citizens of both kingdoms simultaneously, right? We belong to both the kingdom of creation and the kingdom of redemption. What are the duties incumbent upon Christian citizens of the Kingdom of creation?

It depends. The early church did not have citizenship in the earthly kingdom. Paul was unusual in this regard. Christians in the United States, for instance, are members of both kingdoms. As citizens in the republic, Christians have various obligations and responsibilities, many of which will depend on their vocations. Some may actually run for and hold public office. Others might believe the state is so corrupt or has erred so far from its founding principles that they will have less to do with politics and legislation. I think one of the important contributions of the 2k perspective is to recognize Christian liberty in the realm of politics. This is a particularly attractive position at a time when the Religious Right has implied a one-size-fits-all approach to national politics, as if there is one Christian position on a host of public policy, economic, and cultural programs.

4. Whenever I’ve spoken about the Two Kingdoms I have generally been met with concern that I am advocating passivity among Christians when it comes to their involvement in civic society, or that I think the church should withdraw into some kind of religious ghetto and let the world rot. How would you respond?

First, I think it is important to acknowledge that the world is rotting and that various efforts to help humans flourish will not prevail over the rotting effects of sin. I mean, even Lazarus died after Christ raised him from the dead. I do wonder if the transformers actually see that eliminating poverty, hunger and war will not conquer the legacy of sin and its consequences which will be apparent to all people at the Last Day.

Second, human flourishing is a good thing. It is better to have lower crime rates than not. Christians working for lower crime rates is a good thing, and it depends on their vocation whether they will be actively engaged in crime prevention. After all, not everyone is called to be a cop, a district attorney, a judge, or a warden.

But the church as church, as the institution responsible for administering forgiveness through word and sacrament, is not called to reduce crime. The church actually has a much more important work to do, which is to worry about the criminals who will be facing the ultimate judge on the Judgment Day.

Inability to see the difference between eternal and temporal crimes is another case of missing what is important to the gospel and the church. If people want to the church to be engaged in civil society, I wonder if they have overestimated the importance of earthly affairs. I cannot understand how the work of the church needs to be made “relevant” by engaging in works of cultural renewal or crime prevention. If the church is ministering word and sacrament, she is doing the most important work one can imagine. If she doesn’t do it, who will? (Again, the Machen essay mentioned above is hugely effective in making this case.

5. I’ve never met a theonomist who was not also a postmillenialist (though such may exist out there someplace). Postmillenialism seems to be the only consistent eschatology for someone with a ‘transformationalist’ vision of the church’s mission. Would you say there was a similar connection between eschatology and 2K thinking? Is amillenialism a necessary implicate of 2K ideas?

Amillennialism is an acquired taste, though a form of it has been present in the church since Augustine’s arguments about the differences between the city of God and the city of man. But to recognize that God’s kingdom advances even when affairs in this world are going to hell in a handbasket (such as the fall of the Roman Empire) is crucial to understanding the work of the church and the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Postscript (as of January 26, 2017): I have renounced the phrase “human flourishing.” What was I thinking?

The 2K Temptation

Ed Stetzer seems unable to resist:

Evangelical is not a synonym for Republican.

It’s a definition of people who believe in values like the cross, the gospel, and sharing that news (euangelion) with others. That’s often described by the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which includes biblicism, crucicentrism (focused on the cross), conversionism (the people need to be born again), and activism (works that flow from new life).

I get the temptation to want to narrow what the term means because we feel little connection with others who also use it. But facts are our friends, and labels mean something specific, even if the parameters are broad. We can hold Evangelical beliefs and see some things—like politics—in different ways.

Yes, the vast majority of White Evangelicals decided that Donald Trump was a better choice. Evangelicals of color mostly made a different choice. There are complex reasons for each. It does not help to dismiss them, and I won’t.

But I will remind everyone that being an Evangelical is about the gospel, not about a lever in a voting booth.

But if evangelicals contented themselves with the gospel (as if that’s so hard except for the obedience boy lurking inside all of us), that would mean saying no to the cultural transformation (read Christian nationalism) temptation. Because evangelicals (and most Western Christians for that matter) have refused to give in to 2K, they (along with Ed Stetzer) need to confront their American selves:

The influence of political tactics is not confined to campaign dynamics. It affects how we are formed as people. Instead of our values influencing our politics, our political circumstances are shaping our values. As partisan citizens, we explain away the flaws of the candidate we support, and buy nearly any outlandish theory about the candidate we oppose. We even change what we believe to fit the moment.

C. S. Lewis understood the temptation to seek personal meaning in politics. His essay “Membership” is most instructive in this regard. “A sick society,” Lewis writes, “must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion.” However, “if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.”

Our culture, and many people in our churches, are sick with that new and deadly disease. Politics is causing great spiritual harm in Americans lives, and a big reason for that is Americans are going to politics to have their spiritual needs met. This is the meaning of rising polarization and the cause of our zero-sum mentality. Politics does a poor job of meeting spiritual needs. But if it will get your vote, politicians will attempt to fill the spiritual void nonetheless.

When you grow up in the greatest nation on God’s green earth, believe with President Obama that you are on the right side of history, and have the rest of the world looking to your government (either to help or leave), it is hard to turn away from the power that Paul said Jews sought and be content with the cross.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-29 ESV)

Total Lordship of Christ = Christ Tells Us Everything

Thanks to another of our southern correspondent comes Doug Wilson’s latest sovereignty-of-God brag. He faults Russell Moore for only wanting a Christian public square about race but not about sex:

The theological problem has to do with how we define righteousness for the public square. Russell Moore doesn’t want to build a Christian nation except on racial issues, which is like wanting a nation to be Christian every day between 9:45 am and 11:12 am. If Jesus is Lord of all, we must listen to Him on racial issues in the public square. If He isn’t, then we don’t have to. What we don’t get to do is pick and choose. Under the new covenant there is no unique chosen nation, of course. In the new covenant, every nation must be discipled, and there is no exceptionalism there. But whether you want righteousness in tiny slivers, or righteousness across the board, you still have to define it.

Sorry, Pastor Wilson, but you are picking and choosing all the time. Welcome to the novos ordo seclorum; find your inner 2k self. What is Christ’s will about the military? Read the Old Testament for “holy” war and invade Mexico? What does Christ reveal about idolatry and blasphemy? Send Jews and Muslims packing (the way King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella did)?

Theonomists are all bluff. They don’t virtue-signal. They obedience-signal. Worse, they know they’ll never have to live with their braggadocio.

A Liberal Cigar Smoker? Go Figure

Don’t always believe all that the Allies tell you.

Thanks to our southern correspondent now comes news (only 25 years old) that Charles Spurgeon brought politics into the pulpit (good and hard):

The great preacher did not shun political questions as a diversion from spiritual religion. Although he kept political ventures within limits, especially in his sermons, he urged others to go further. “I often hear it said,” runs one passage in a sermon, “ ‘Do not bring religion into politics.’ This is precisely where it ought to be brought, and set there in the face of all men as on a candlestick.”

Not only that, he was a Liberal:

Spurgeon’s identification with the Liberal Party is well illustrated by an address to local voters that he issued at the 1880 general election. “Are we to go on slaughtering and invading in order to obtain a scientific frontier and feeble neighbours?” he asked. “Shall all great questions of reform and progress be utterly neglected for years? … Shall the struggle for religious equality be protracted and embittered? … Shall our National Debt be increased?”

Spurgeon was advocating four great principles. First, he was protesting against the recent imperialistic ventures of a Conservative government; that was a stand for peace. Second, he was calling for measures of change that would benefit the common people; that was a commitment to reform. Third, he was urging religious equality, the distinctive aim of Nonconformists. Fourth, he was demanding a decrease in wasteful public spending; that was a recommendation of retrenchment.

Nothing wrong with being a Liberal, and the British Liberal Party was more akin to positions advocated by Republicans and Progressives in the United States. So we’re not talking Barack Hussein Obama or John Kerry. Still, I sure would like to know how you minister the word of God and endorse a party platform outside the promised land of Israel. Can we get a little exegesis here?

Sasse 2020

I am calling the bluff of those who throw around the label “R2K.”

Listen to the interview Scott Clark did with Senator Ben Sasse and tell me where he is wrong. Sasse has a smart understanding of the U.S. political system, the nature of civil society, and his own calling as a Christian and many other duties. Imagine that, he can speak American and Reformed.

And if Sasse doesn’t measure up because of 2k views, are the critics of 2k going to support the dominionist Ted Cruz, the Opus Dei Rick Santorum, or the liberal moderate Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee? (Are they so particular about their pastor?)

I don’t know what the Senator’s plans are or whether he can clear all the hurdles of a primary campaign. But if you want a Reformed Protestant who sounds more like Yuval Levin than Mark Levin, Sasse is your guy.