The R2K Crucifix Problem

Carl Trueman recently wrote A Church for Exiles for First Things, which you may read here. If you would like, a good response from Joel McDurmon can be found here. But my response to Carl will be a tad shorter than Joel’s — just enough to register a few basic concerns.

First, it is undeniable that exile is a strong biblical motif, and it is one that Christians do need to draw on. But in Scripture, it is always a paired motif — like salt and pepper, or ham and eggs. We find, all through the Bible, the patterns of death and resurrection, exile and return, cliffhanger and helicopter.

There is both a cross and a crown. Triumphalists are those who just want the crown. Defeatists are those who just want the cross. Trueman is a defeatist — for all his Reformed credentials, his faith is a crucifix faith. Note that both the defeatist and the triumphalist are partly right, but in such a way that their partial truths undo the point of the whole thing. “Jesus died” is true, but is not gospel apart from resurrection. And “Jesus rose” is meaningless nonsense if there had been no death.

Carl says this: the Reformed tradition “possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment.” I believe this is quite true. In fact, I agreed with many of the points that he made throughout the article — but he left out one crucial thing. Let me insert that missing element. “The Reformed tradition possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment, while preparing for our inevitable comeback.” Why? It is not just exile. It is exile and return. Nehemiah rhymes with Jeremiah after all.

The second problem is that Carl does want us to engage with culture, and be responsible citizens, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with the possibility of everything going terribly wrong, and we win or something. And he is enough of a church historian to know that things have gone wrong for us in just this way any number of times.

Five Questions About Two Kingdoms

In my various discussions of the modern forms of “two kingdom” theology, I have frequently summed up my concerns with the question of how many kings there are. This has made my point, to a point, but it still needs to be pushed into the corners.

Here is my summary of what I take to be a theological novelty, by which I am referring to the R2K position, and the position I am interacting with.

“God rules all human institutions and endeavors, but He does so in two fundamentally different ways. He rules in His spiritual kingdom, the church, as a redeemer, and He rules the civil realm as creator and sustainer. These two kingdoms have different ends and functions, and therefore must be ruled differently. The spiritual kingdom is governed by special revelation, the Bible, and the other kingdom is governed by natural law.”

I take this to be a novelty because, according to the Reformers, the spiritual kingdom was that of the heart, the conscience, the inner man, while the other kingdom was external and visible, church included (e.g. Calvin’s Institutes, 3.19.15). In other words, the modern form of it divides church and state while the reformational form of it divided inner and outer, invisible and visible.

So all that noted, here are my basic questions for adherents of the modern take on two kingdoms. Assuming the divide is between civil and ecclesiastical . . .

An American Drubbing

I have been addressing, from time to time, the tomfool notion of American exceptionalism.

The central point I have made thus far is that the genuine exceptionalism displayed by the Founders consisted of the fact that they knew that Americans were not exceptional, which was exceptional. They built a form of government that sought to take the venality of all our current and future statesman into account, which was a marvel of prescience.

Having said as much, repeatedly, I want to come at this beast from another angle. Before doing so, allow me to state some of my bona fides. I love apple pie, I own a Winchester 30-30, and I have warm spot in my heart for red-checked tablecloths. I am a loyal son of the Republic, and wish to demonstrate my good will in this matter by giving American exceptionalism a good, old-fashioned American drubbing.

I wish to do this by using metaphors from the shock and awe war locker, but of course, humility requires me to leave to the reader any determination of whether I have actually succeeded in doing so. Some readers, I know, think of my writing as more of a schlock and awwww kind of thing. And one sees their point, of course.

So when Herod shows up en fête, in that glittery robe, and the people all cry out that it was the voice of a god and not a man, there was — even then — a course of action he could have taken that would have headed off the hungry worms. That course of action would have been to give glory to God (Acts 12:23). We, being not very quick on the uptake, have not responded that way, but are doing our very best Herod imitation, standing there on the stage like a freshly minted nominee at the Republican National Convention, luxuriating in the transcendental permanence of the glory that is descending upon in the form of ten tons of confetti.

One of Those Walk-the-Children-Around-the-Pole-Ponies

I haven’t done any skylarking about global warming in a while, so let me have a bit of fun in my opening paragraph. Then, after that, I will sober up a bit, and move on to my more serious point, which I do, in fact, have. In 2007, serious scientists were predicting that the Arctic icecap would be GONE by the year 2013, which, you may have noticed, is almost in our rear view mirror. What is the actual state of the icecap in this, the year of our Lord, 2013? I am glad you asked, because since last August, the icecap has grown by 920,000 square miles. That’s a lot of global warming recoil.

The great idol of modernity is the state. When people engage in political debates, therefore, a lot less time should be spent in looking at what people are offering up, and much more time spent on recognizing what they are offering it to.

Whenever we are talking about climate change, they want me to look at the offering they have brought in their hands. What ever could be wrong with funny looking light bulbs? But the whole point of everything was to grow the power of the state, and the state is an idol. If it weren’t offered up on that altar, I wouldn’t care how your light bulbs looked. When the state is the idol, absolutely every course of action winds up being placed on that altar. Global warming means we must “pull together.” Global cooling means we must “coordinate our efforts,” and either way we go, it will always mean statist coercion.

The Great Cat Poo Medallion

Rod Dreher has a good piece here on the great looming alternative that now confronts us.

Within the biblical framework of a rightly-ordered patriotism, it is easy for Christians to take our native loyalties to our native land as a simple given, while reserving to ourselves the right to disagree with or oppose the decisions and mandates of the current administration. Jeremiah was no less a patriot for challenging King Zedekiah. Seems simple.

But when the canker of rebellious idolatry is well-advanced in any nation, the possibility of the regnant idolaters seeing believers as part of a loyal opposition begins to steadily erode. A totalitarian miasma sets in, and any disagreement with the current forms of legislated disobedience is taken either as mental illness or treason. When Stalin wanted to deal with his political enemies, he used psychiatry to define them into his version of the outer darkness. When the ancient Romans persecuted the Christians, they did so because the Christians were enemies of mankind. And in our day, simple disagreement with the proposals surrounding same sex mirage is categorized simply, routinely, and quite handily, as “hate.” That was an extraordinary move, and entirely predictable.

And someone who is mentally ill, or treasonous, is not someone who can be a loyal son of his nation. He cannot be one who simply disagrees with the current push for same sex mirages. He is outside the pale, and he is out there by definition.

So Christians need to start making some emotional adjustments, by way of preparation. “I love my country, I fear my government” is a common sentiment among us, reflecting the common distinction I mentioned above. And our position is that our fear of God necessitates that we oppose certain actions of our government, but we need not say that it necessitates a contempt for our people, customs, language, culture, etc. That is, it does not necessitate it on our end. It very well may become a requirement coming at us from the other direction. In fact, that is what is happening, and it has been the strategic play since the appearance of the very first “Hate is Not a Family Value” bumper sticker.

Strewing Reformation Out of a Hat

Carl Trueman has been kind enough to issue a clarification and a quasi-challenge, which is better, I suppose, than a queasy challenge.

First his clarification:

“I do have a problem with the term ‘Christian worldview’ because it is vague to the point of being philosophically useless even as it has proved rhetorically and politically useful.”

He goes on to mention various topics that represent profound worldview differences, but where professing Christians disagree — transubstantiation, salvation by free grace, covenant baptism, and so on.

“The list could go on but the point is clear: professing Christians disagree on all of these things and yet convictions on all of these things shape our view of the world. In short, there is really no such thing as ‘the Christian worldview’ in the singular; there is rather a variety of Christian worldviews.”

Well, okay, but this would have to mean there is no such thing as Christian doctrine either. It also means there is no such thing as a Christian church. There is no such thing as Christianity in the singular, because there are way too many disagreements and traditions. But now we are sounding like the pomos.

The Christian worldview has to be grounded in Scripture because the Christian worldview is simply Christian doctrine applied to the world. Whatever mental adjustments we make to understand the phrase Christian doctrine, we also make to the phrase Christian worldview.

Grinding My Postmill Coffee Beans

I promised Frank Turk an additional response to Carl Trueman’s jab at King’s College, and so here goes. There were two basic points that Trueman made that I didn’t get to. The first has to do with Trueman’s middle class “chatterati” and their bland biblically-tinged bromides, and the second has to do with how many Christian worldviews there actually are.

Here is Trueman again, with those concerns in italics.

“DG’s critique at Old Life of the bombastic claims about transformationism is akin to one I have made frequently in the classroom about talk of the [singular] ‘Christian worldview’: such things are, by and large, code for the expression of the concerns of the middle class chatterati in a blandly Christian idiom.

I won’t spend a lot of time here defending the Christian middle class, God’s suburban saints, although I would love to. Much of my defense of them will actually be entailed in my second point, and so I can afford to be relatively brief here. The middle class is much despised, and suburbia more so, and when Christians located in such places say things like “homosexuals couldn’t get married when I was a kid,” or “why are they spending three times what they are taking in?” and this is connected in some way with the idea that Jesus wouldn’t go for either of these things, this could be taken as chatter from the chatterati, and it could also be taken as an expression of a blandly Christian idiom. But I don’t take it that way.

I take it as an expression of deep concern from a much-abused middle class — that workhorse class that subsidizes the idiots at the top, most of whom went to Ivy League schools, while the schlubs and chumps went to those land grant jobs before landing an steady job with State Farm — and it is deep concern from a group that has been betrayed, yet again, by the intellectuals. These suburbanites are successfully duped, time after time, because they have jobs they have to get to and it is hard to keep track of the smart guys.

I have had the privilege, over the course of decades, of teaching many middle class Christians what it means to think biblically, what it means to have a Christian worldview. There is nothing bland about it, because it is never bland when the lesson is that you and your children are being sold into slavery, and you are just coming to that realization two thirds of the way through the auction.

Francis Bacon, Dude

Below is the gist of my opening remarks at Disputatio yesterday. I took the affirmative, while the negative was ably maintained by Dr. Jonathan McIntosh. There are a few minor edits here that help take into account some of the give and take of the subsequent debate.

Resolved, Francis Bacon should be treated by us as one the heroes of the Christian intellectual tradition.

The reason we are discussing this at all has to do with the naming of the new science classroom at NSA. Our other classrooms bear the names of stalwarts from church history—Augustine, Calvin, Machen. And so when we carved out space from the library for our new science lab, we were faced with the prospect of naming it. An email went out to the faculty soliciting names, and so I submitted Bacon. This would have been wonderful on numerous levels, but the discussion went in another direction and the classroom was named after a gent called Linnaeus, another worthy. Nothing I say here should be taken as reflecting poorly on that gentleman. He was Swedish, but it would be anachronistic to blame him for the foibles of contemporary socialism.

But the faculty discussion on that naming exercise revealed a difference of opinion about Bacon, and that is the reason we have come here today. I just think that we should name something after Francis Bacon.

Now how did I come to think this way? A few years ago I honestly didn’t know too much about him, except for the general era he lived in, and the fact that he at one time had delivered himself of the opinion that “knowledge is power.” I knew one other thing, and that was that we in the modern era generally take a dim view of Bacon, crediting him with the origin of the notion that the world is our oyster, to do with as we please.

And that’s how it was until a  year or two ago, when somebody said—and I think it was here at Disputatio, but am not sure, that Bacon said that knowledge is power, and that this has led to all kinds of bad juju. And this is the general philosophical rap—because Bacon once said knowledge is power, this is just three steps away from knowledge is rape, and so we can easily see how it is that Francis Bacon is the father of all strip mining. So that’s one thing.