Caesar as Coxcomb

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Given how hard I have been on Wright for most of these chapters, it might seem remarkable to some that I have now come to what I consider to be the second outstanding chapter of this book. Others might think the word remarkable is not the right word. Perhaps the word schizophrenic is the one we are looking for. This would leave unresolved whether we are talking about Wright’s intellectual schizophrenia or mine. I will leave you to discuss that among yourselves. Be judicious.

I should mention one nice little thing he did before moving on to discussing why this chapter was so good. Early on in the chapter Wright was fair-minded enough to quote something I said to him at lunch the one time we met. There was a gang of us there in Monroe, when he spoke at the Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference in 2005. And if he was only going to quote me once, I am happy with the one he chose. “As a friend of mine from out West says, ‘In Idaho ‘gun control’ means you use both hands” (p. 130). How that figures into the theme of this chapter you will have to work out on your own time.

In this chapter, Wright outlines three important ways the Bible addresses modern Western culture. The first is that biblical thinking requires us to get rid of our natural tendency to “split-level” dualism. Second, Wright is insistent — contra the postmodernists — that we must learn to see the Bible as “an overarching story, a single great narrative, which offers itself as the true story of the world” (p. 143). And third, he show how the Bible teaches us to know. At the end of the day, epistemology is a function of love. His discussion on all three points was quite satisfying, really good, and worth the price of the book.

But better than that, early in the chapter he clearly articulates the only possible foundation for this kind of thinking.

“Let me put it starkly. The Bible tells the story of the world is having reached his destiny, it’s climax, when Jesus of Nazareth came out of the tomb on Easter morning. The Enlightenment philosophy, however, tells the story of the world as having reached destiny, it’s climax, with the rise of scientific and democratic modernism. These two stories cannot both be true. World history cannot have two climaxes, two destinies” (p. 137, emphasis his).

“The point is that the resurrection, if it had occurred, would undermine not only the Enlightenment’s vision of a split world but also the Enlightenment’s self-congratulatory dream of world history reaching his destiny in our own day and in our own systems” (p. 138, emphasis his).

This is so good. It is glorious. It is the foundation that enables us to say that Jesus is Lord, and that Caesar isn’t. It also a truth that places my disagreements with Wright in an appropriate context. Indeed, because this is true — wonderfully true — it gives me purchase when I want to argue the particular applications with Wright.

And this brings me back to my joke about gun control. Why am I so opposed to gun control? Because Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t.

Wright remarks that American Christians are good at “bundling the issues” (p. 130). But when you turn the page, he says, rightly, that modernity “splits the world into two” (p. 132). But which is it? Should we bundle or should we split?
Now as he notes, there is a way of bundling that saves the bundler from the burden of having to think. But there is also a bundling that is the result of integrated worldview thinking, where everything is woven together — in a tight weave — in a desire to bring every thought into submission to Christ. When Owen Barfield said of C.S. Lewis that what he thought about everything was contained in what he said about anything, this statement is taken as high praise, as it should be. We don’t dismiss Lewis as a “bundler.”

This is why I praise Wright’s political theology highly, and why I dissent from his practical politics violently. Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t. Once we have said that, we still have to determine what it means in the details. Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t, and we are now standing at a crossroads. Which direction would Jesus have us go? The answer to that question must not be assumed without debate. The answer to that question is too important to simply let the zeitgeist breezes, that always tend to blow to the left, determine it for us.

What does Jesus say about it? What does that Bible teach? We must know that since Jesus is to be our ruler, it is necessary to never forget that He is not a silent ruler. He wrote a book, and we must always resort to that book. We must resort to that book in the details. If we do not, then we are simply using a Jesus cardboard cutout for Caesar to stand behind. And He did not rise from the dead in order to be a cardboard cutout.

So this is precisely why, in my view, we shouldn’t allow Caesar to lay claim to vain Canutian attempts to control the weather, why we shouldn’t allow Caesar to take our guns, why we shouldn’t put Caesar in charge of our health care, why we shouldn’t let Caesar define what marriage is, why we should reject Caesar’s incessant bloodlust, why we shouldn’t let Caesar hector the children about what a healthy lunch is, why we must insist that Caesar stay completely away from wages and prices, and so on. Because Caesar is a conceited coxcomb, and because Dickens taught us that the law is an ass, the “and so on” list is quite a bit longer than this one here.

Which means we have a lot of work to do. When pouring the concrete for the foundation of that work, Wright is enormously helpful. His concrete truck is great. I just object to using the concrete truck when we are installing the kitchen cabinets.

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Andrew Lohr
8 years ago

Yeah, Jesus is libertarian (small government): a free man in a not very free world, giving his own blood not his neighbor’s money, and rising from the dead thus peacefully-subversively reversing the verdict of the only superpower du jour; advising the Israelite constitutional convention that 10% taxes are too high and eminent domain not something the government needs to do (I Sam 8); giving the government very short lists of jobs to do (Romans 13, I Tim 2): basically, terrorize evildoers so doers of good can peacefully do whatever goods they choose/God leads them into.

8 years ago

I’m concerned about how you got from the statement, “Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t” to a biblical doctrine that supports the statement, “we shouldn’t allow Caesar to take our guns“.

Caesar is still Caesar. Are we in a position to not allow Caesar to do or say certain things? What steps can (and should) we take to prevent Caesar taking our guns? Perhaps we should shoot Caesar with them, as a reasonable last resort.

8 years ago

Are we in a position to not allow Caesar to do or say certain things? What steps can (and should) we take to prevent Caesar taking our guns? Perhaps we should shoot Caesar with them, as a reasonable last resort.

all available.

St. Lee
8 years ago

…that rumbling noise you hear in the background is an armored personnel carrier filled with legionnaires and a no knock warrant, on their way to timothy’s house… On a related side note; it just came out this weekend that a local suburb’s P.D. recently acquired 3 surplus military grenade launchers., meanwhile a county sheriff up north added an armored vehicle because (as he said) the deer hunters up here have rifles and he doesn’t want to put his men at risk. No, seriously, this second paragraph is all true. Only the first paragraph is not – at least I hope… Read more »