Archive for April, 2010

Is the natural law enough?  The natural law is, in many ways, synonymous with the moral law, however the moral law is far broader and deeper than what the natural law tells us.

The natural law includes the 1st and 2nd commandments.  Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us that all men know something about God’s existence, and His nature.  His finger prints are all over his creation, and those finger prints point us back to His glory.  Religion is a universal reality… a global phenomenon.  Men long to know God and they seek for Him even as they try to hide themselves from Him.   They  grope in the darkness toward Him even as they love the darkness and hate the light.  We sons of Adam are a schizophrenic lot!

The problem is this: what can be known about God from nature does give the clarity to see that the true God is the Triune God that has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.  All to common, therefore, has been the earthly rule of the idolatrous theocracy…. that monstrous union of cult and culture referred by the Apostle John in his Revelation as the Beast.  John knew the terror of the Beast for he was an eyewitness of the beastly power of the Roman Empire. The Caesars had proclaimed, “there is no other name by which you can be saved.”  Powerful emperors claimed to be the incarnation of deity, just as the Pharaohs of Egypt and the mighty kings of the Ancient Near East had done.  The pages of history are filled with tyrants who longed to be exercise the power of gods upon the earth.

But the rock of Christ smashes all such pretensions.  He humbles empires and rebukes kings, reminding them that He alone is God incarnate.  The name of Christ, and not the name of Caesar, is the only name under heaven by which we might be saved.  And He reminds us, that as His Kingdom is not of this world, the affairs of this age which is passing away can never be of ultimate importance.  All the great political questions will pass away  and come to nothing.

So, what is the point?  My point is simple.  For the Christian, natural law provides a firm foundation to build common ground as we work together to the realm of politics.  Nevertheless, the natural law is not enough.  It is not a firm enough foundation upon which to build a political system with the humility to affirm that politics itself is not ultimate, that the State is not a god,  and that higher King claim our highest allegiance.  We need Christ to accomplish all that, and therefore it is not at all surprising that Christianity gave birth to separation of Church and State.


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Before we begin to explore the application of the commandments to the civil realm, it is important that we begin by setting down some words of caution.

First, we must recognize that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not apply beyond the holy realm of the Kingdom of God.  In other words, the Church is regulated by the Bible but the state has no such infallible guide.  That is not to say to that Bible has nothing to say about politics, but it does mean that Bible was not given as a handbook for the political philosopher.

Second, without an infallible guide the statesman who wants to know God’s “will” should be begin by looking to prescription, tradition, and the ancient constitution.  Although the natural law is universal in principle its applications are as diverse as the the nations themselves.  The rationalist demands universal applications  and universal rights. The end of such demands is universal tyranny.  It is prattle t0 talk of God given “rights” that have no historical incarnation among a people.  God governs providence.  He rules the nations.  History, prescription, and tradition are, as Mel Bradford reminded us, a surer guide than reason when it comes to discerning the natural law.

Of course, we must not become such reactionaries as to demand that whatever “is” must be Divinely approved.  Order within the city of God will always fall short of justice.  But the point remains… there are no infallible guides to reform, and the best laid plans will have unforeseen and potentially horrific consequences.

Beware of the social reformer.

Shun the transformationalist.

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“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them to serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the inequity of the fathers on the children to the third and forth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

So commands the LORD God in the first two commandments (by the Protestant numbering).  Applied to the individual Christian, these two commandments forbid the worshipping of false God, and forbid the worshipping of the true God according to vain imaginations.  These commandments confront us with the fact that the One God is a jealous God and commands absolute allegiance and absolute loyalty.  According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the first commandment requires “us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God, and to worship and glorify him accordingly.”  Sins forbidden by the 1st Commandment include, “denying, or not worshipping and glorifying the true God.  Likewise, the 2nd Commandment  “requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in His word.  Sins forbidden by the 2nd Commandment include, “worshipping God by images, or any other way not appointed in His word.”

Application of these commandments by Kings and rulers has lead to disastrous results.  Catholic civil magistrates torturing heretics.  Protestant civil governors forbidding the Roman Catholic Mass.   The sword used to deny the liberty of conscience and the freedom of worship.

Setting aside the question of how these commandments apply within the pragmatic framework of a pluralist society, I wish to ask the question of how should they apply in the context of an explicitly Christian civil polity?

First, we must recognize that these commandments are primarily directed to the covenant community of the redeemed.  The preamble provides the context, “I AM the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  No body politic has the right to proclaim itself the new Israel. The Church alone is the Israel of God and her boundaries transcend the geography dimensions of the nation-state.

Do these commandments therefore have no implications for the civil government?  The key, I believe, is to recognize that the 1st and 2nd commandments, like all of the commandments, have been fulfilled and transformed by Christ.  He is the I AM that brought deliverance to His Church.  He is the LORD our God who has revealed the true God in His Triune glory.  He is the King who rules the nations.  He is the LORD who commands their allegiance.  He is the incarnation of Deity, whose jealousy demands our loyalty.

All of this adds up to more than pious cant.  There are real political implications at stake.  Implications that rocked the Roman Empire and that laid down the ultimate foundation of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

First, we must recognize that the Christ who has revealed to us the True God has also declared, “my Kingdom is not of this world.”  John 18:36.  2K is not a fabricated innovation of Escondido, California. In some sense, it it the common theological heritage of Western Christendom, despite the caeseropapism of the Anglican settlement.  It was the doctrine that called Thomas Becket to stand against King Henry II.  It was the doctrine of the Scottish Covenanters against the Stuart Kings.  It is the doctrine of the great Augustine who reminds us that their are two cities, one whose end his heaven and one whose fading glory will ultimately extinguish with the passing of the age.

Understanding that these two cities are founded on different principles and have different ends, we are able to distinguish how these commandments apply differently to the City of man than they do the City of God.  The City of God, or the Kingdom of God, is founded upon the principle of Triune Love.  The city of man is also founded upon love, but love of a different kind.  Citizens of this city do not share a common love for the True God but on things local, good, but fading.  But these two cities dwell together in one geographic location.  More importantly, these two cities dwell together within the same heart.  The Christian is called to simultaneous citizenship in the City of God and the city of man.

Dual loyalties create unique tensions.  In one way or the other, the story of Christendom was the story of unresolved tension as Emperor struggled against Pope.  Bishop struggled against Governor.  The intractable problem was exacerbated by the division of Western Christendom at the time of the Reformation.  Who is sufficient to distinguish the competing claims of multiple confessions claiming to be the True Church?  Christ’s sheep hear is voice.  Put no confidence in princes.  The city of man is not competent judge of the City of God.

Ironically, Christ’s transformation of the 1st and 2nd Commandment, by driving us to the one who said “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar” allows us to recognize that the separation of church and state is more than a pragmatic solution, it is of the essence of a Christian theory of civil government.

Although the faith of the American founders might leave much to be desired, on the issue of church and state they successful helped resolve Christendom’s seemingly intractable problem.

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While I have tremendous affinity for the overall position of Westminster Two-Kingdom advocates, I remain skeptical of their proclivity to distinguish between the 2nd table of the 10 commandments which is said to bind all men as well as nations, and the 1st table which is restricted to the individual, the family, and the Church. While I appreciate theological and practical reasons for freeing to the Civil Magistrate from the duty to suppress heresy and idolatry, I  fear that the two table division is artificial and unconvincing.

So should Barack Obama take on the role of inquisitor general?   Should the Congress go to work on establishing a church and purging the land of its idols?  Let me answer with a resounding, hell no.  Reasonable Christians must reject theonomic sharia and anti-Augustian “transformationalism”.  Despite their theological peculiarities, the American founding fathers cut the Gordian knot of Western Christendom and gifted us a system that wisely insulates the Church from the domination of the state while allowing Christians to live as faithful citizens of this city which is passing away.  Church and State can be friends without extending the relationship into a romance.  This is wisdom.

But what about the commandments?  In posts to follow want to try to explore the 10 commandments, their relationship to the natural law, and their application to the nation-states in high hopes of developing a more satisfying answer than 2-Kingdom theology has provided to date.

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Mark Kalthoff’s talk, ” Science, Scientism, and Republican Government,” at the most recent Philadelphia Society meeting is excellent–and well worth listening to.


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There’s nothing Jim Otteson (Yeshiva University; Fund for American Studies) does that isn’t interesting.  He’s just started a new website: Pileus.  It is certainly worth checking out.

From Jim:

Dear Friends,
I am delighted to announce the creation of a Pileus, a new group blog of scholarly and political commentary. I am one member of the Pileus team, the only philosopher; the other members are three political scientists, each with a different specialty, a law professor, and an economist.
Pileus will focus broadly on issues of political economy. It will be both provocative and timely, even with a bit of irreverence and wit, but it will also bring our scholarly specialties to bear on the issues it discusses.
Pileus is hosted by The Fund for American Studies, for which I am the Charles G. Koch Senior Fellow. I thank TFAS for its support, and I hereby absolve them of any responsibility for the contents of Pileus.
Pileus will have new, substantive content every day, so I hope you will read regularly and consider adding it to your daily reading. I also hope you will consider joining the conversation with comment, discussion, or criticism. We welcome your contributions.
If you like what you see, I hope you’ll consider bookmarking us, posting a notice of us on your own blogs or websites, or even adding us to your blogroll.
So, have a look!

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I recently reviewed Miller’s classic, Canticle for Leibowitz.  If you’re interested. . . .


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