Sunday, April 30, 2006

Update

Dear readers of UO,

With a full-time job it's difficult keeping up with current events and recent publications. Beyond this, there are some really exciting things happening in Reformed Blogdom. The Reformed Catholicism, Federal Vision, and Theonomic movements all have their place, and I encourage all who are unfamiliar with them to spend some time over at Adversaria, Communio Santorum, PostReformed.com, Rabbi Saul, Reformed Catholicism, Societas Christiana, and Theologia. These are just a few of the many great sites that approach the issues from both biblical and confessional angles. But be warned: keeping up with these guys is addictive and time consuming.

If you'd like an introduction to the current controversy over the Federal Vision, check out this new article by Joseph Minich.

On the subject of Theonomy, you might check out Kenneth Gentry's new book Covenantal Theonomy, which I have recently finished. Gentry has taken on the modest task of defending Greg Bahnsen's Theonomic Thesis (BTT): Old Testament standing laws continue to be binding in the New Testament unless they are rescinded or modified by later revelation.

I'll be referring to this principle in later posts as I explore the relation between civil law in Israel and the function of civil law in Christendom. Gentry ably defends Bahnsen against critics who charge that he fails to account for real discontinuities between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.

You may also read John Frame's article defending Christian activism against Michael Horton a proponent of Meredith Kline's doctrine of a sphere of common grace that is religiously neutral. While not a capital "T" theonomist, Frame believes in the lordship of Jesus Christ over every sphere of life. Horton is a political liberal who is actively working to undermine the cultural and political influence of Evangelicalism in the United States. He misses no opportunity to get on various media outlets in order to disparage the worth of Evangelical worship, culture, and intellect. While not an Evangelical, I consider Evangelicals to be Christian brethren and allies against the secularization of America, which, contra Horton and others, is a Christian nation (though in danger of losing its way).

Horton seems to regard Evangelicals as the enemy. While I may disagree with some of their methods, I offer criticisms as a fellow believer who is concerned with their wellfare and in basic agreement with their cause. Please watch for a post I am working on, "What Dispensationalists Get Right." The real enemies are people who pretend allegiance to a country or religion but continuously cross the line by making destructive critiques that only serve to alienate and divide brethren. This is the mark of the modern liberal. I am confident that if Horton and his comrades over at Modern Reformation were up front about their political views, they would lose the majority of their influence and readership.

In an article written for Christianity Today, Horton writes:

"Is Jesus Christ Lord over secular powers and principalities? At least in Reformed theology, the answer is yes, though he is Lord in different ways over the world and the church. God presently rules the world through providence and common grace, while he rules the church through Word, sacrament, and covenantal nurture."

Frame comments:

"A reader might wonder what this distinction has to do with the question of Christian social activism. Nobody can doubt that God rules the world through providence and common grace, but how does that fact bear on whether or not Christians should try to change society? The answer is that 'providence and common grace' are code-terms for a complicated theological position that Horton works from, but does not express directly, in this article. That position is the Lutheran 'two kingdoms' doctrine... In other writings, Horton links this doctrine to Meredith G. Kline’s doctrine of a 'common grace' realm. The kingdom of 'common grace' or of God’s 'left hand' (Luther) is a realm in which the state rules by natural revelation, rather than by the whole biblical word of God. That realm is religiously neutral."

I have addressed this view in a previous post. There I had written, "A supposed separation between Christ’s providential and redemptive reigns... falls because Jesus was exalted with all power and authority as reward for his redemptive obedience. He holds no other royal office than Messiah. His rule is by definition redemptive: his priesthood is royal and his kingship priestly. He reigns in order to subdue all sinful opposition and to bring all things into a glorious unity. It is in and through the Church this wonderful goal will be accomplished." Please check the original post for the biblical references.

Frame continues, "I see no biblical basis for suggesting that any sphere of human activity is not to be governed by God’s full revelation, or that any human project should not acknowledge God."

Let the reader be clear: Michael Horton, following his mentor Meredith Kline, believes that Christians must base their various political positions on a-Christian grounds. It is not just that unchristian government can be legitimate: government can only be legitimate if it is conscientiously non-religious!

Meredith Kline makes this clear in his magisterial work on Genesis, Kingdom Prologue, when he writes, "The common grace institution of the state was designed to provide for a pragmatic cooperation in the political task between the woman's seed and the seed of the serpent. To fulfill that purpose, the state had to be a non-confessional, a-religious institution... Every form of state participation in religious confession, whether through constitutional affirmation, official pronouncement, public ceremony, or the like, is a transgression of the boundaries set in the divine ordering of the distribution of cultural and cultic [religious] functions among the institutions of the postlapsarian world" (179-80).

The implications of this view are too numerous to detail here, but at the very least Kline is repudiating the project of Christendom which lasted for over 1500 years. Meredith Kline and Michael Horton tacitly endorse the political apostasy of the Enlightenment and fear a restoral of Christian civilization. This goes a long way toward explaining why the wife of a prominent Klinean publicy anounced her support of civil gay marriage a few years ago.

This said, Meredith Kline is one of the most important biblical theologians of recent years. His Kingdom Prologue restores the book of Genesis for what it is: the foundation of biblical covenantal canon. Genesis is primarily a political document that explains the origin and development of human society from Creation through the Fall, the Deluge Judgment and Noahic Covenant, to the election of Abraham and his Seed. While I differ with Kline on many significant points, his work is where a new generation of Christian political thinkers must begin as they re-engage with Scripture.

The Enlightenment founders of modern political philosophy (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau) may have used Scripture, but their thought was compromised by theorizing about a hypothetical state of nature that neither reflected the actual Edenic covenant, the post-fall situation, or subsequent covenants. As the apostasy from Christendom went into full swing, scriptural arguments were abandoned altogether. Kline himself is indebted to the Enlightmenment, and a competent criticism of his work will separate his genuine biblical insights from his dependance on Enlightenment secularist principles and ideals. Kline would never have come to his conclusions about common grace if the Enlightenment had not happened first.
It's astonishing how some who purport to uphold the sovereignty of God in salvation and private morality are consciously opposed to it in public affairs. My analysis of this phenomenon is that Calvinists who embrace political libertarian philosophy are in actuality antinomian in orientation because they deny that civil magistrates have a proper superintendance over the faith and morals of their people. This type of Calvinism actually functions as a schismatic and seditious heresy whose adherents deny the Scriptural teaching about the universal societal scope of the New Covenant (i.e., the Gospel will convert the nations). The sort of Calvinist who harbors deep misgivings about the elect state of the majority of professing Christians, both now or in our Catholic past, who believes that society cannot be considered Christian in any real sense because of the presence of non-elect, has long posed a challenge to the peace of Israel.

Being single has its benefits, and I've been able to cover a lot over the past few months. Please keep checking in as I slowly work on unpacking the theses outlined in my original post here at UO. The world is changing, the King is coming, and the Kingdom is now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lee Harris on the Pax Americana

Over the past few days I have been eagerly reading Lee Harris' Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History (2004). So many of my best book acquisitions have been from randomly browsing bookstore shelves.

Harris' book is based on three controversial articles he wrote for Policy Review that elicited much praise and dismissal (see the customer reviews at Amazon.com). While his thought is founded on pagan and secular political ideas, and is accordingly limited in its usefulness for Christian political theory, Harris lays out a sound framework for understanding our present place in the post 9/11 world. Arguing from a broad knowledge of ancient and modern history, Harris employs classical political theory to formulate good working definitions of civilization, legitimate government (based on his principle of neo-sovereignty), and the "enemies of civilization" (i.e., those who would overturn the established order to realize a new order based on fantasist ideology).

Here is Harris on the international role of the United States:

"There is one way of defending against an enemy who is prepared to use total war as a deliberate strategy of ruthlessness, and that is to have a nation whose military strength is equal or greater that is willing to use total war as a deliberate strategy against ruthlessness.

"This was to become the secret of the Pax Americana. America would be willing to use its entire resources, if necessary--indeed, even to suffer a nucear attack if need be--in order to make sure that no enemy was allowed to get away with a stategy of deliberate ruthlessness. Nowhere was this policy of ruthlessness against ruthlessness better displayed than during the Cold War, when the free world faced off against the threat of a ruthless regime armed with virtually instantaneously deliverable nuclear warheads on the tips of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. This is perhaps the ultimate in ruthlessness--to threaten not merely another Great War, but a nuclear holocaust. How do you call someone's bluff when they are bluffing that?

[...]

"Prior to MAD [Mutually Assured Destruction], ours had always been a government of checks and balances, one designed to force an automatic slowdown on any too-precipitate action on the part of any one branch of government. The president, it is true, was constituted as commander-in-chief, but this function was originally envisioned as requiring the deliberative approval of the Senate. With the advent of the threat of nuclear surprise attack, the United States faced a brutal and utterly unavoidable choice. Either it had to renounce any plausible deterrence against a surprise attack, or else it had to permit the president to exercize powers that were literally beyond human comprehension--not merely the power to launch a unilateral attack on a single nation but the unilateral power to annihilate vast sections of the planet.

"The Constitution did not grant such power, nor could the men who framed the Constitution possibly have envisioned such power. Indeed, the mere possibility of such power would, for these men, have almost certainly spelled the demise of the system they had envisioned, for how could anyone hope to restrain or check a man to whom such ultimate and absolute power had been given?

"The advent of the threat of nuclear surprise attack left us no realistic option other than to entrust such power to the President of the United States, and to do so in the face of all our previous ethical and political ideals...

"Dominance is not necessarily domination. The whole point and value of American supremacy is not to permit America to manage the world or impose its will or its own culture on others. Empire is most emphatically not what American power should be used for...

"Indeed, any such activity on the part of the United States would be counterproductive to its genuine purpose, which is to deter the renewals of the strategy of deliberate ruthlessnes through the world, for the good of both itself and the world. America, in short, must use its power, unilaterally if need be, to destroy and remove any group of people who are deliberately and consciously following a policy of ruthlessness, whether this group is a state against another state, a state against its own people, or an Al-Qaeda-like organization...

"[T]he United States represents the ultimate source of legitimacy in the world and that if its legitimacy is challenged, or subverted, then the world will enter into precisely the kind of legitimacy crisis that Europe entered into after the First World War, when cults of ruthlessness sprang up in the vacuum left by the collapse of four empires, and ending in the holocaust of the Second World War. All legitimacy crises in mankind's history, without exception, have provided the perfect environment for the incubation and rise of gang rule [i.e., like the Communists, Nazis and Fascists].

"This point must be stressed, because intellectuals instinctively believe that for legitimacy to be valid it must be based on a reason. It is not enough, in other words, to have people believe that an authority is legitimate for it to be legitimate by the standards of the intellectual. But in taking this position, the intellectual does not realize that he has already transformed himself into a revolutionary intent on subverting the accepted order of things...

"We are now living in a world where decent and sincere men and women attack the United States for removing Saddam Hussein, the archetype of the ruthless gang leader, who brutalized twenty million people for three decades. They condemn the United States for declaring a war on terrorism--which is simply the contemporary form of the age-old war on the cult of ruthlessness, a cult that is the enemy of all the diverse and distinct cultures of mankind.

"Here is a good way to tell whether you are standing on the right side of history. Do you want to see the rule by gang go the way of slavery and be driven from the fae of the earth, or do you believe that rule by gang is a natural right? Those who argue that the United States should not attack Saddam Hussein's Iraq because of the sacred right of national sovereignty should perhaps remember the reputation today of those who in the past justified the property rights of slaveholders. What is the difference, except scale? There may be good conservative reasons for preserving a wicked status quo, but there are no liberal progressive ones. And while it may well be prudent in some cases to try to contain ruthless gangs that are in power rather than to remove them, this can at best be an act of expediency, and never one of morality."

Lee Harris, Civilization and its Enemies, pp. 104-108, 110, 112
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now holdeth back will hold back, until he be taken out of the way.

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all the deceit of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
St. Paul, 2 Thess. 2:3-15