Archive for June, 2006

Faith & Law
Caleb Stegall

For those in the DC area interested in this discussion, I will be speaking to the Captial Hill Faith & Law group on July 7. Details here. I’m sure the time will touch on some of the same themes addressed here.


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De Regno Christi: June 2006:

Heart Religion

Way back on June 7th, Caleb wrote: “Historically the Protestant church has tried to relocate the ground of existence in one of two places: either in a secularized institutional form, usually the state, or in the radically atomized heart of every individual. As a result, the history of the Protestant church is in part one of being manipulated by and put in the service of either state or individual. This has repeatedly led, in simplified terms, to either some form of collectivism or some form of liberalism, each tending towards more radical expression over the course of time.”

I was reminded of this observation, one with which I largely concur as a description of the difficult times in which we find ourselves as Protestants, while reading Russell Hittinger’s essay/review on/of Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers (in First Things, June/July, 2006). The piece is about the Roman Catholic church’s relationship to the state throughout the modern era. It concludes with the following observation:

“In Annum Sacrum, Leo made clear that, as the Church entered the twentieth century, it should no longer place its temporal hopes in the arrenments of the old political order. Once, he said, divine providence raised up a Constantine to deliver the Church from ‘the yoke of the Caesars.’ Today, however, ‘another blessed and heavenly token is offered to our sight — the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendor amidst flames of love. In that Sacred heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.’ Leo understood that the Heart had to be affirmed without the political doctrines of nationalism and exceptionalism. He called the dedication ‘the greatest act of my pontificate.’

Hittinger then writes: “Today, it will seem a strange thing to make Jesus’ heart visually subordinate to Christ’s kingship, but once upon a time it was a profound exercise of political theology. It was nothing less than the way to preserve the Catholic imagination from what I have called the third-rail provincialisms of nationalisms and political religions. The human and earthly Jesus of th Heart is also the fully transcendent king.”

I offer this extended quotation to suggest that the difficulties posed by the modern state are not necessarily more pressing on Protestants than they are on Roman Catholics. If Protestants in reaction to the predicament of liberalism made a personal relationship with Jesus the chief expression of Christ’s kingly rule, then Roman Catholics also seem to have made a similar move. I’m not sure where that leaves us, except to say that for modern Christians, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, the options of political theology appear to be remarkably circumscribed. For myself, retaining Christ’s kingship over the church may be the best we can do. It may also be the only thing we can do.

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RE: A Protestant Choice… Or Christian Plumbing?
W.H. Chellis

Ok fair enough. I was just being cheeky with Brent. I also think that the point is worthy of consideration.

First, let me say that the impact of Christianity will be different upon the trades or other occupations than it will be on the professions. The same is true in the Academy where humanities are impacted more deeply than the hard sciences.

Now, back to the question. Brent asked:

“So what does it mean to “reform” a profession? How does one “plumb” Christianly? Is he a Christian plumber or a Christian who is a plumber, or both?”

The answer depends on context. In a society in which Christians are simply individuals professing the faith within the context of a pluralistic setting the professing plumber will be a plumber who is a Christian rather than a Christian plumber. Now this is not to be despised. It will have an impact on the quality of the work and does and how he views its ultimate purpose (to glorify God). It will affect how he pays and treats his employees (providing if able a living wage). It will affect how he treats his customers fairly never over charging or doing shoddy work.

Can a trade become a Christian trade so that those doing it may be Christian plumbers? I think the answer is yes. I mistrust philosophy so I will not argue from abstract first principles but will point out how it worked in the history of Christendom. The answer was found in the guilds. The guilds provided communities that gave expression to the moral and Christian foundations of the trade and professional communities.

I am not sure that guilds are the only answer to question of how to make the trades Christ honoring, but it seems to me they are the place to begin to look for answers. At the least they had a pretty impressive track record.

How does this relate to the magistrate? Well, a Christian ruler in a pagan setting (like Daniel in Babylon or Joseph in Egypt) will be Christians who are magistrates. In a nation that confesses Christ as part of their organic constitutional law, such a magistrate will be bound to defend the faith and rule according to Christian norms as part of his objective duties. Such a ruler is a Christian magistrate.

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J.H. Thornwell, Covenanter?
W.H. Chellis

Ok, not a covenanter but Tony Cowley has posted a reminder that it was Thornwell who offered the Christian amendment to the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. This reminds me of another quote from Thornwell taken from his collected writings:

“Our standard of right is that eternal law which God proclaimed from Sinai, and which Jesus expounded on the Mount. We recognize our responsibility to Jesus Christ. He is Head over all things to the Church, and the nation that will not serve Him is doomed to perish” The Collected Writings of James Henley Thomwell, Vol. IV, p. 517f.]

This is interesting for our purpose because Southern Presbyterians like Thornwell, champions of the spirituality of the Church, were also defenders of Christ’s mediatorial Kingship over the nations.

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A Protestant Choice
Rick Gamble

This is my first post on this blog-or any blog for that matter! I should be more computer savvy, but “high technology” when I wrote my dissertation was having one of those “new balls” on an IBM computer.

Anyway, thanks for setting this up, Bill et al. Hey- where are the italics for quasi-latin?

It seems that Caleb has set the issues squarely. At the time of the reformation there were two Protestant positions.

For the moment, grant continuity between the Lutherans and Reformed and have their position on one side. The other side were those who held to the Schleitheim Confession.

Their position was clear before Calvin wrote his Institutes. The State is “outside the perfection of Christ”. There were some “spheres” or “organizations” or “offices” that are not capable of redemption and “government” or “state” was simply one of those.

The position had historical precedent. In the ancient church there were two forbidden “professions”. They were not capable of “reformation”. Of course one was prostitution- and Bill and Caleb both know the other, right?

Anyway, I respect the classic Anabaptist/Menonite position. Sometimes it simply makes sense. However, I can’t square it with the scriptures. Therefore, since the State is not outside the perfection of Christ, then Protestants in the “magisterial” tradition have to work through the next steps.

Hopefully, these discussions will help believers to make those hard choices.

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The drawing of this love …
Caleb Stegall

He begins to leave who begins to love,
Many the leaving who know it not,
For the feet of those leaving are affections of the heart:
And yet, they are leaving Babylon.

— Augustine, On the Psalms

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. …

… A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

— T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

To say something really bold: I believe God controls the hell of human society with an infernal machine, the state. Someone may say, “I am going to operate this machine and make it less hellish; I will moderate the satanic properties of hell; I will serve the state.” Such a resolve commands respect. But for myself, I refuse to mount the machines of hell. I will board the ship that shows all humankind the way to the other shore: to the kingdom of peace, justice, and perfect love. We need people who dare to set the course for this other shore, who dare to live in accordance with the ways of the land on the other side. It is the way we can best serve the world in this terrifying moment of history.

— Eberhart Arnold, founder of the Bruderhof Communities

The Augustine bit above reminds me of nothing so much as the Eliot quoted just below it. Augustine describes the process of liberation whereby man turns from love of self and commits his soul to love of God through the particular love and affections of his heart, even though he may not realize this is what is happening. His very love of this world becomes the avenue of his leaving it. Eliot describes the same thing. A condition neither of attachment nor detachment but “indifference” which is as “death” to the world which comes by “memory” and is the heightening of love beyond desire beginning with particular attachments in time and place which are discovered to be of little importance for themselves but of great importance because they come to represent the “in-between” of existence; that which is “between two waves” as Eliot puts it earlier in the poem. So this holding of the world loosely is a function of immanent affections directing the soul towards participation with its transcendent ground of being.

This is not an exclusively Christian understanding. The Greeks knew it and developed a set of symbols to describe man’s essential alienation or tension of existence between life/death, time/timeless, immanent/transcendent etc. Political derailments can occur anytime one or another of the poles is “hypostatized” as a “real” or “objective” category, to use Voegelin’s terminology. Rather, man must live is “openness” to human participation with the logos that will make the experience of tension and alienation luminous for the truth. Or, as Voegelin puts it elsewhere, “History is Christ writ large.” By which he means that Christ is both a point-in-time irruption of the ground of being into time and the timeless ground of being which has existed for all eternity, so that St. Thomas can say unequivocally that Christ is the head of all men.

What does this have to do with the discussion? I have been advocating what I described as an Augustinian political theology wherein we are to cling but loosely to the loved things held in common among all men whose head is Christ, though all may not realize/acknowledge it, paying the necessary debt to nature mediated by the penitent and open experience of grace. This brings me to the Arnold quote above. There is great wisdom, I think, in it. Whoever seeks to hold the reigns of state is, in Tolkein’s terminology, bearing the Ring, and will be tempted to wear it. And there is a cost to be paid by those who bear it, even if they do not succumb to its temptations. Sticking with Tolkein, others will “go west,” as the Bruderhof strive to do.

A Christ Amendment to the Constitution strikes me as a closing of the soul to the tension of existence. So too would Arnold’s monasticism if it weren’t for his acknowledged respect for those ring bearers. We tried to work out how this political theology might address contemporary politics and Christian engagement with it in an editorial published just before the 2004 election. I remain pretty happy with what we wrote:

History is replete with the tragic lesson that political power is inherently corrupting of principle, yet the truth of principles cannot get any traction in the world without being in and of it. A moral man may choose sectarian withdrawal, itself a kind of politics by other means, or the tragedy of engagement on the edge of risk and ever-compromised necessities. But it is the immaturity of double-mindedness to choose one and pine for the other, and such a divided mind produces only instability where order is required.

The double-mindedness which produces electoral withdrawal as a kind of fortification against compromised engagement in the rest of one’s life is a symptom of the troubling trend among Christians to cocoon themselves in the “misunderstood minority” identity and abdicate any responsibility for power while simultaneously refusing to give up what power they have. We have become exemplars of the tendency to develop a mind so principled that it succumbs to either ideologism or an idealistic paralysis that comes from seeing through all the false choices.

Institutional power is what it is—always. If a system passes through revolution to the establishment of a new regime, it will merely play its own variation on the same old problems. Or as Pete Townsend put it, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The best of our Christian political tradition teaches us, therefore, to align ourselves radically with the particular and the individual without actually believing that the institutional regime must be overthrown. One can thus work to mitigate and contain institutional power; living in love with the frail limits of existence—family, friends, community, and place—in service of truth, goodness, and beauty, yet knowing that even if good can be done, evil will be done too.

… While we are engaged with the crises and catastrophes, a serious, taxing and often debilitating business, we can always look at ourselves and our situation from an imagined eternity where it is, if not farcical, a tragic agon tempered by the comic finish of the marriage feast. In less elevated language, we think the matter debated here is very important stuff, so we refuse to trivialize it by treating it with an ultimacy of meaning or our associates with an unbreakable earnestness.

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J. Gresham Machen
W.H. Chellis

I try to be a thoughtful guy. I do not want to see my friend Darryl Hart going hungry so I try to buy all of his books (unless it mean my family will go hungry and as a Pastor…)

Anyway, I just picked up J.G. Machen’s Selected Shorter Writings, edited by the good Dr. Hart. I was struck by this quote from Machen’s essay Christianity and Culture

Are then Christianity and culture in a conflict that is to be settled only by the destruction of one or the other of the contending forces? A third solution, fortunately, is possible– namely, consecration. Instead of destroying the arts and sciences or being indifferent to them, let us cultivate them with all the enthusiasm of the veriest humanist, but at the same time consecrate them to the service of God. Instead of stifling the pleasures afforded by the acquisition of knowledge or by the appreciation of what is beautiful, let us accept these pleasures as the gifts of the heavenly Father. Instead of obliterating the distinction between the kingdom and the world, or on the other hand withdrawing from the world into a sort of modernized intellectual monasticism, let us go forward joyfully, enthusiastically to make the world subject to God. pg. 402


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