Archive for August, 2007

DRC is happy to announce that Douglas Wilson will be joining in our upcoming discussion of the Federal Vision.


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The DRC will be discussing the Federal Vision from Sept. 17- October 5.

The topic to be debated:

First, What is the problem in Reformed Christianity that Federal Vision is trying to fix?

Second, is it a real problem, and, if so, did/does the FV address it adequately?

Finally, if FV is inadequate, what alternative plan for addressing the problem do FV critics propose.

Tune in on September 17!

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Corporate confession’s conclusion

What is the National Confessional approach to Christ’s mediatorial Kingship? This series began by noting the four-fold foundation of the National Confessional approach: corporate confession, distinguishing kingdoms, applying the moral law, and defending the Church. So far this series has focused on the issue of corporate confession of Christ. Surveying the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament we conclude that the Christian faith is not simply a private affair between God and an individual’s conscience. Rather, Christianity has public and corporate ramifications. Christ’s Lordship extends to the nations, and as such, nations must give Him honor and glory. Much, therefore, depends on our understanding of the word “nations”.
The great commission charges the Church to baptize the ethnos (nations) (Matthew 28:19). 21st Century Americans who hear the word “nation” are immediately overwhelmed by images of the modern nation-state. One for one application of the biblical ethnos with the modern nation-state has been the hallmark of two centuries of Covenanter application of Christ’s mediatorial Kingship. This month I wish to offer an alternative vision.

An American strategy

Is America an ethnos? Or is it a confederation of multiple ethnos covenanted together on the basis of a shared vision of the common good? Rather, it is an ethnos (rooted in a shared sense of place, language, and history) constituted by a diverse assortment of smaller ethnos (variously rooted in a shared sense of place, religion, blood, and history).
This raises the question, how should Christ’s mediatorial Kingship be applied to a Constitutional Republic (Empire?) such as the United States of America? For years, the answer of the Reformed Presbyterian Church was a constitutional amendment reflecting our national commitment to Christ’s Lordship. The idea that the state’s Christian commitment should mirror that of its people by way of constitutional confession has an attractive logic. This position was so attractive that the Covenanter case is made by no less of a Presbyterian theologian than A.A. Hodge who, in his Outlines of Theology, writes:
It follows therefore—1st. That every nation should explicitly acknowledge the Christ of God to be the Supreme Governor, and his revealed will the supreme fundamental law of the land, to the general principles of which all special legislation should be conformed. 2nd. That all civil officers should make the glory of God their end, and his revealed will their guide (Outlines of Theology, pg. 434).

While it is unquestionably true that civil magistrates at all levels should “kiss the Son”, I suggest that an inordinate focus on a Constitutional Amendment to the Federal Constitution is less than helpful. Does the most committed National Confessionalist believe that a Christian Constitutional Amendment will be showing up on a nearby ballot anytime soon? Pie-eyed dreamers will suggest that anything is possible with God. Great work if you can get it but I would prefer that our politics show a love for God “not in word or talk but in deed and in truth”!

Living Lavida Local!

Drawing on our previously argued case for subsidiarity, I propose a more humbly local strategy for applying Christ’s mediatorial Kingship. Christ’s command to baptize the nations charges the Church to see extended families (tribes), communities, villages/towns, guilds, unions, and private associations subservient to the glory of God. While the modern-nation state should not be artificially excluded from our concept of “nation-hood” it must not be the end of, or even the focus of, our discussions. Rather, the doctrine of subsidiarity demands that it is of principally greater importance to seek Christian families than Christian cities, Christian towns than Christian nations. Christian influence is most acutely felt when it is closest to home.

Focus on the family

The first step to living lavida local is to focus on the family. 21st Century Americans have a stale, artificial, and ailing concept of family. This impoverished vision of the family is to often encouraged by conservative evangelical Christians. The modern nuclear family envisions sovereign households headed by father and including wife/mother and 1.5 children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins to the 4th degree, continue to exist but have little bearing on the modernist family save for birthday celebrations, Christmas presents, and the occasional phone call (or email?). Tribes and clans are broken up in the name of the autonomous individual. A serious approach to Christ’s Kingship will begin with a renewed focus on the family in its more historic and extended form. We should remember that the promise of the covenant extended beyond Abraham’s nuclear family and encompassed to the whole of his broader tribe (including many not bonded by blood).
A renewed sense of Christ’s Kingship over the family must include a renewed sense of the mystical unity of the family as a community cemented by bonds of blood, love, and place. It is time to question the transient nature of our root-less society and the devastating effect it has on our churches. Reformed churches are organic bodies. They do not grow well in the artificial environment of modernist liberalism. Until the church can make a case for place the children God has given us will continue to flee to the pews of distant suburban evangelical community churches. They will continue to forsake worshipping with their extended families and ancient communities in favor of an anonymous life among strangers.
Life together
From extended family we move to the need for a renewal of local communities. In the American System, our nation is not only a community of semi-sovereign states, but each state is a community of semi-sovereign counties, which, in their turn, are communities of semi-sovereign cities, towns, and villages. Note the use of the word semi-sovereign. Here is the genius of American order. Since sovereignty is found in the people, no one level of government or society can claim indivisible sovereignty. Rather, sovereignty is shared between a plethora of diverse social units, civil authorities, and government institutions. Of course, it should go without saying that, if authentic authority comes up from the people, than those civil authorities closest to the people should have precedence. Life is local.
Yet, if life is local, I suggest that our congregations must also renew their commitment to an appropriate sense of place. Time was when congregational life together was a seven-day a week affair. Folks who lived, loved, and worked (bickered, sinned, and hated as well) together the other six days of the week worshipped together on the first. Authentic Christian community was not just a buzzword for a new small group discipleship program at the local mega-church!
When community and congregation share a common geographic reality and more fully appreciate the grace of place, Christ honoring politics will be the natural (supernatural?) result. Does this mean the church should stop testifying of the need for the state and federal governments to confess Christ? Never! 1st Century Rome was less an ethnos than 21st Century America but the church did not abandon hope in her conversion. Rather, it reminds us to keep the horse before the cart. A popular bumper sticker suggests: THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY. What a perfect slogan for applying Christian politics. Let us, therefore, embrace a more local view of nationhood and focus our attention on rebuilding Christendom one community at a time.

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Dualism is a dirty word for many on this blog. Several recent comments suggest that to distinguish redemption and creation leads to Hobbes, Rousseau, and Manicheanism. So perhaps a few basic points are again in order.

The Westminster Divines in chapters 20 and 31, for starters, talk about the differences between civil and ecclesiastical power, and also say that the church is not to meddle in matters civil. This is dualism in my view. It suggests that the state has authority over the physical sphere of human existence and the church over the spiritual. Yes, there are overlapping areas, such as that the state’s laws imply morality and churches own property. But the basic point is that the church uses a two-edged spiritual sword for her discipline, the state uses a real one.

If such dualism is disallowed and if you blur these spheres you get crusades and religious warfare. The state not only executes civil justice but also ecclesiastical law. I wish I heard more for the critics of W2K and of dualism that would say, “yes, dualism is bad but we can’t return to the fusion of religion and politics that we saw in the early 17th century.” (By the way, Locke and Hobbes may have had poor accounts of virtue and the good society, but they were addressing the very real problem of religious warfare.)

I don’t see how it helps when the philosophically tedious Kuyperians or Dooyerweerdians get involved. They hold that people either believe in God or they substitute such belief with an idol. Folks may be inconsistent on the ground. But ultimately, they are either believers or disbelievers and all of their perceptions and knowledge flow from there. If I thought this was in any way an accurate account of civil society, I’d move to Northern Manitoba because I don’t know how I could trust governors, police, justices or legislators who were not Christian. Wouldn’t their god-hating ways inevitably catch up with this god-lover?

This is why the example of language was somewhat important, at least to my non-philosophical brain. We exist all the time in a world where we trust the speech of people who aren’t Christians. What is more, they seem to possess this linguistic ability naturally. In which case, if we can trust the goodness (WHICH COMES FROM GOD ALREADY!) of non-Christians language skills, why can’t we trust their abilities to execute justice and run a state agency?

For the life of me, I don’t know why this sort of distinction, between people’s natural abilities and their spiritual gifts, requires me to think creation is evil, as Baus insinuates. I thought that the language example showed that I believe the natural world has all sorts of good. I’m not the one crying for the redemption of everything, including language.

But while I’m at it, I’ll take a stab at defending religious neutrality, in ways comparable to linguistic neutrality. I do think Kuyperians are good Calvinists when they describe the situation of every person — either he or she is a God-fearer, a covenant-keeper (imperfect) or not. So no one is neutral in this sense. But when I go before a judge, and I am identified as a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, I am pretty confident that a non-Christian can still hear my case impartially without condemning me for the creed I confess. (I’m actually worried more about his politics than his theology or lack thereof.)

The same goes for a host of affairs, from car mechanics to baking, from chemistry to history. A Christian is able to bracket his faith and look at the data with a measure of impartiality. A Protestant car mechanic can fix a car made by Roman Catholics without fear of compromising his convictions. A Jewish historian can interpret the history of Calvinism in manner that is full of wisdom and insight. If such impartiality is impossible, then we are in a heap of trouble because no one out there can be trusted.

(If someone thinks this is a caricature of neo-Calvinism, please defend Kuyper and his followers — 50 words or less — in ways that avoid these obvious difficulties. Please also do not use the words “common” or “grace.” As one seminary faculty put it, citing common grace is like dealing from the bottom of the deck.)

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What is Human?

After having listened to several great lectures on natural law at ISI’s Honors Program in Quebec, I wonder if I can clarify some of the issues that have bedeviled this group. This time from a creational as opposed to a legal or regal (i.e. Christendom) angle.

I think most Presbyterians would admit that all persons, except in rare cases of retardation and disease, are born with the capacity for language. They would also say that language is one of the things that comes to men and women as part of the image of God. As such, language is a natural capacity. I may be much more learned than the horse and buggy drivers in Quebec City, but they speak two languages and I can only speak one. So language is not a function of intelligence. It is fundamentally human.

But then there are people who are more gifted in languages than others. Some of these talented folks can speak a multitude of langauges. We call them linguists. Then there are other people who have a great facility with one language and can do remarkably creative things with it. We call these people writers and poets. In each of these cases, linguists and poets, people take a natural gift and develop it. That is, they take a gift from God and improve on it. Oftentimes that improvement requires another gift from God, such as intelligence or creativity. (For the W2K despisers out there, please notice that I have attributed none of these natural goods to autonomy from God. Please also observe that I have located these goods in the order of creation or nature, the thing that God created and sustains. In other words, I still have my redemptive hands and Christ as mediator tied behind my back.)

So if something so fundamentally human as language is a natural gift, and if the development of it requires another natural gift such as intelligence, where does grace come in? Well, the Pentecostal answer is that the regenerate and spirit-filled will speak a new language or tongue. But we Calvinists are not so spirit-filled. In other words, we are dualists when it comes to language. All people have the same capacity for language, some have even greater gifts for language, but regeneration does not make someone more talented or gifted at language. A Christian needs to work as hard to learn other languages as a non-Christian. And a Christian writer is not inherently better than a non-Christian because of regeneration. He is no more fluid or clever than a non-Christian.

If it is possible to make these distinctions when it comes to language, if it is possible to be a dualist about what is human, that is, that some things are natural and some are supernatural in the life of a Christian, why do people get so jumpy about similar distinctions applied to the political order and to culture more generally?

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How does Christendom related to Christ’s Kingdom?

For me, when we talk about “the Kingdom” we need to distinguish between 1) the Kingdom of Grace (the visible Church); 2) the Kingdom of power (all things under the authority of Christ for the good of the Church); 3) the Kingdom of Glory which is Christ’s reign in the New Heavens and New Earth.

In this age the Kingdom of Grace is holy colony of heaven on earth… an eschatological intrusion. The Kingdom of Power relates to the secular environment of the natural realm and the affairs of men outside of the church (including all providence). The Kingdom of Glory is our eschatological hope merging the holy and the common, the secular and the sacred into one absolute reign of Christ over a sinless creation.

When Darryl cautions us not to immantize the eschaton he is saying that we should not confound the holy and common prematurely (before the 2nd Coming of Christ). In this age the church is a kingdom apart from the kingdoms of this world.

Where does Christendom fit in? Well, it is not the Kingdom of Grace. Rather, it is the nations (part of the secular realm but within Christ’s providential reign over His Kingdom of Power) confessing that the moral order of the universe is in the hands of Jesus Christ.

This does not confuse sacred and secular. It does not combine the Kingdoms. It does not suggest wild eyes Puritanism, postmillenial transformationalism, or any other utopian vision of political possibility. It does not make the state a redemptive institution. It does not even make, necessarily, the state a just.

Rather, and quite humbly, Christendom simply reflects the facts of the universe as they truly exists.

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Scott has responded over at the Heidelblog.

Scott writes:

I see that my good friend Bill Chellis at DRC has reacted to the post above. He asks if I think the Synod Dort was Judaizing.

A word of clarification.

I understand that the word “Judaizing” is strong and provocative. By it I am not characterizing all of Christendom exactly. The immediate referent was “transformationalism,” especially the “take back (fill in the blank) _______ sort.” I used the word “Judaizing” to capture the spirit of Calvin’s repeated criticism of those who seek to create a golden age on this earth. I read him saying this again, in preparation for a sermon on Mark 13:1-8, in his commentary on the parallel passage in Matthew. I’m thinking also of Bullinger’s strictures on “Jewish golden ages” in the Second Helvetic Confession.

Am I throwing out the baby with the bath water? Well, what baby do we want to save? The baby of Christendom? Well, I don’t mind if that metaphorical baby slips out of the tub and into the ether. Common life is just that. The church is not common, but the folk who profess faith live in the church and in the common world at the same time.

Was the Synod of Dort Judaizing? Well, so far as I know, most of the delegates accepted, in theory anyway, some distinction between the two kingdoms, which distinction the theonomists and contemporary theocrats reject. Were the delegates to Dort theocrats? Did they assume the propriety of the civil enforcement of the first table? Sure. They were wrong about that and one of the few really positive developements in Reformed theology since the 17th century is that we recovered from the theocratic hangover.

I agree with those critics of transformationalism who suggest that the language of “taking back” has more to do with middle-class evangelicals feeling dispossed from their previous positions of influence and authority and looking for a way back “in.”

What’s more to the point here, in re the FV, is that their agenda seems to be powered by a social vision that, whatever its errors, has fueled a serious change in the doctrines of covenant, baptism, election, and justification.

Any social program that has such effects should give us pause.”

I respond: fair enough. Maybe we are speaking of Christendom in a way that is equivocal? I agree that post-millenial golden age dreams are judiazing, uptopian, and ultimately gnostic. Further, any vision of “Christendom” that does not recognize the two kingdom distinction is both flawed and ahistorical (especially for Protestants but even for “C”atholics… was Augustine not the father of medieval Christendom?).

I have no grand metaphysical theory for what I call Christendom. I recognize that the Kingdom of grace is the visible Church (as affirmed by the Westminster Confession of Faith). Further, I recognize that the kingdoms of men are always a mix of light and darkness, justice and injustice (whether a pagan order or a “Christian” one). The job of civil rulers is to preserve order. It is our noble hope that in establishing order the nations will preserve enough justice to make life in this age tolerable.

For 1800 years, Western nations have recognized that civil magistrates are not “gods” but serve under God. Much that is noble, beautiful, and humane has been the result. Of course, much that was embarrasing, shocking, and sinful was also a result. Such is the age in which we dwell. Such is the nature of the secular kingdom. The sword establishes order. I prefer an order that, at the very least, pays lips service to a trancendent order over the godless order of modernist liberalism. I much prefer the abuses of Christendom to the horrors of Revolutionary France, and the great totalist systems of the twentieth century.

How sad is the nation whose god is the Directory, the Chairman, or the Fuhrer. There is enough injustice among the magistrates who have professed to “Kiss the Son.”

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