Chesterton says somewhere that the modern world has insisted on exiling the Savior, but has done so from the midst of the story of the Gadarene demoniac. The upshot of this means that our naked public square has been purged of any reference to Jesus, but we are now left with the devils and with the swine.
Too many times Christians have placed the consequences of not believing in Jesus too far off in the eschatological distance. The things we say about that placement are quite true, as far as it goes — to be admitted into the presence of God we must be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and if we are banished from the presence of God on that great day, it will be because we never knew Him.
But not knowing Him does not just result in Hell later. It also means that when we refuse to acknowledge Him here and now, the end result is that we start building little prototypes of Hell in order to test drive them. And that is why the public square rapidly becomes a haunt for owls and jackals.
In order to understand the meaning of our life together in public, we have to come to grips with a series of distinctions. This is something that Americans used to understand very well, so much so that it is still deep in our DNA. But decades of progressivist propaganda — ladled over the tops of government school children’s head — have taken their toll, and so we need to make a concerted effort to return.
There are three jurisdictions that were created directly by God. In American parlance, they are three governments. For the Reformers, they were “estates.” For Abraham Kuyper, they were spheres. I am simplifying here, but these three are family government, civil government, and church government.
All three of these governments have dealings and interactions with one another, and all three have an external aspect and an internal aspect. The external aspect is what we might call God’s temporal kingdom. The internal aspect — the soul, the conscience, the invisible things — are God’s spiritual kingdom. God’s temporal kingdom extends across all three governments — the family has a temporal aspect, the civil society has a temporal aspect, and the church has a temporal aspect. To define the two kingdoms as the church on the one hand and civil society on the other is way too simple, and doesn’t come close to answering all the questions that immediately pop up.
Throw into the mix other governments or spheres that are man-made, not God-ordained. That doesn’t make them bad, just not as important. They can range from ham radio meetings and quilting clubs, on one end, to universities on the other. They too are under the law of Christ — even though they don’t have a founding charter from Christ.
Another distinction has to be explained in the midst of all this. The common modern understanding of the secular and sacred divide comes in here. For moderns, secular is tantamount to godless. But in the older understanding, the secular realm was as much under the authority of Christ as anything else was. How could it not be? Jesus is Lord of the secular.
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 . . .
I recently received a thoughtful question from a reader that I decided should be best addressed in a separate post. The question was generated by my exchange with Thabiti some months back, and there is no real point in trying to resurrect an old comment thread. So here we are.
The question goes like this. I had asked Thabiti why the abortion carnage was not sufficient grounds for another civil war, wondering why the “moral question” trumps all constitutional matters in the 19th century, but not in the 21st.
My questioner wanted to know what I would do if the tables were turned on me. When would I allow the moral question to trump my federalism? Suppose the War Between the States had never happened, and that today some pro-abortion blue states wanted to secede in order to establish abortion rights. How strong would my commitment to states’ rights federalism be then?
I think it is a great question, and the answer is that you cannot build a federal system when the component parts belong to different civilizations. Neither can you do it when the component parts were once part of the same civilization but have been headed in different directions. But I am running ahead.
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.
In my previous post, I said that the great idol of modernity is the state. One perceptive reader on Facebook suggested that rather we should think of the great idol as being that of the individual self — freedom and liberty for me, me, me.
I don’t know how to link to a Facebook thread, but try this as a sample of my guessing.
Now this observation is quite true in one narrow sense, and if we have our wits about us, it should immediately show us the limits (and treacherous nature) of secularism.
The secular state dispenses freedoms (it would be better to call them privileges) like they were party favors. They function as bribes. They serve as . . . bread . . . or circuses. As Chesterton points out somewhere, sexual license is the first and most obvious bribe to be offered to a slave. For many in our era, that was the bribe that ushered them into their bondage to the state.
This is why secular conservatism, and secular libertarianism are both impotent against the collectivist idol of the state. The state, by insisting on the secularism, is making sure that there never arises a school of thought that maintains the state is a creature, accountable to God like all other creatures. For if that idea takes root, it becomes possible for the state to hear a rebuke from outside the system, which it absolutely does not want to hear. These people want every possible rebuker to receive a security clearance first. But that is not the kind of ambassador YHWH sends.
Now if certain Christians start to think that the secular project is actually a five gallon bucket of lamesauce, what then? Well, any purveyor of such crazy talk will be immediately dismissed by the secularists as a neo-Confederate ayatollah weird beard, and the Christians who have made their peace with this present world will join in the denunciations, so that they might get back to their missional outreach work with that rising Demas demographic.
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.
Carl Trueman writes with verve and sass, which is of course a good thing, so it is a pity when he whiffs one. Don’t get me wrong — the swing was picture perfect, but the ball somehow still wound up in the catcher’s mitt.
The occasion was a jab that D.G. Hart was taking at the transformationalist vision of King’s College in New York, and its new president Greg Thornbury. In his comments, Trueman took a few extra jabs of his own about transformationalism.
“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. As far as I know, for example, no conferences on the transformation of Christian toilet cleaning or turkey rendering have yet been successfully organised.”
Let us begin there. One of the most remarkable things about the critiques of transformationalism is that they depend, in large measure, on how quickly human beings can come to take things for granted. Toilet cleaning? Let us begin with the remarkable fact that we have toilets at all — which a lot of people still don’t. Is there a biblical approach to sewage disposal? Well, yes, there is (Dt. 23:13, ESV).
And depending on what Trueman means by turkey rendering, there are lots ways we can glorify God in that realm. Thanksgiving is one of the fundamental duties of man, and turkeys sure help.