You Know What They Say About the Road Paved with Good Intentions

The Gospel Coalition has posted from Themelios an article by Dan Strange, a Lecturer in Culture, Religion, and Public Theology at Oak Hill College, London. As the title suggests, Strange is confident in the sufficiency of Scripture for public theology. Admittedly, Strange represents the two-kingdom view (or what he calls the “common-kingdom model”) fairly and without even once employing the word “radical,” no small feat these days in the scuffle over the nature of the two kingdoms and their relationship to each other.

That doesn’t mean Strange is no less critical. And along the way in making the case for an admixture of the two kingdoms and against their distinction, he makes this fairly common but no less confounding point under the heading “The Insufficiency of General Revelation”:

First, using Ps 19 as an example, I argue that general revelation reveals God’s works and that, as a mode or instrument of God “speaking,” works by themselves are hermeneutically ambiguous. They need further revelatory supplementation to make them clear. This is not to drive a wedge between general and special revelation or to denigrate God’s general revelation but simply to note that God’s purpose in general revelation has never been for it to function independently of his “worded” special revelation. God’s “words” are necessary to interpret and supplement his ‘works’. General revelation lacks the specificity of special revelation. God’s words have always been needed to interpret, supplement, and therefore complement God’s works. These two modes of revelation were never meant to be separated from one another or to work independently of each other. To make such a separation as natural-law advocates do seems artificial and lacking biblical warrant.

At this point I would note a similar unnatural decoupling that can be seen in attempts to separate ‘moral’ norms from ‘religious’ norms, for example in the claim that the second table of the Decalogue enshrines natural law and can be discovered and known apart from special revelation. This again is to misunderstand the unity of the Decalogue and its specially revealed and ‘thick’ religious exclusivism for Yahweh and against idolatry. 

This is not all, though, for second, this objective epistemological insufficiency of general revelation becomes intensely more acute after the Fall. According to the seminal passage in Rom 1:18–32, the knowledge of God is hideously ‘suppressed’ and ‘exchanged’, hence the antithetical language of the Bible between regenerate and unregenerate at the level of both epistemology and ethics. However, it must always be noted that this ‘natural’ knowledge is not static information but dynamic, personal, and relational in character: man ‘is a knower who does not know, a perceiver who does not perceive.’

This is a line of reasoning that never ceases to baffle. Though the caveat is made that one doesn’t intend to denigrate God’s general revelation, isn’t that precisely what it really ends up doing despite good intentions? The project always seems to be one that is a search for deficiency. That is a good start, since ever since Adam and Eve were sent packing east of Eden deficiency seems to be a reality in ways it wasn’t before the divinely imposed exile. But instead of following the Apostle and locating deficiency squarely in human agency, detractors of two-kingdom theology seem curiously given to finding it in that “beautiful book” (Belgic 2) known as general revelation. In lending more credence to this criticism, Strange appeals to Romans 1:18-32 yet seems to miss entirely the fact that to suppress the truth in unrighteousness is a singularly personal act, which is to say that the fault lies in actual human beings, not in the law written in their consciences. Sinners sin because they are sinners, not because they have the wrong rulebook or because the rule book they have is in some way deficient.

One can never help but wonder if what lies behind the line of reasoning is the idea that if mankind had the right rulebook then the manifest deficiencies that are the result of personal natures would be at least greatly diminished (for some even eradicated), for the critics are usually quick to point to various social ills as examples to make the point that the public distancing from biblical codes is why everything is allegedly running amok and the sky is falling in our modern day; Strange later “tentatively but provocatively” suggests this and raises the ante by suggesting that his United Kingdom has more sky in the ground than the U.S. In other words, we need the Bible to rule common public life, and once that happens all will be well or at least a whole lot better than it is. But one need only observe the state of affairs in the church militant to see that even when the Bible is correctly enlisted to govern ecclesiastical affairs this hardly makes for widespread peace and tranquility. And that is because at the center of either common or church life are deeply flawed human beings, creatures who may very well be saved but who are also still mind-bogglingly sinful, as in simil jutus et peccator. Does anyone who has been seriously involved in actual church life really imagine that Spirit-indwelt and Bible-governed people are beyond the limits of what it means to be fallen creatures? Maybe some churches are without the sort of problems that come with being a descendant of the first pair of sinners, but I’ve never been a member of one. Indeed, any notion that any human beings, whether individually or collectively, can in some way transcend their humanity seems much more Pentecostal than Reformed.

So if the Bible doesn’t even help that private society that has been granted an exclusive possession of the Spirit to overcome abiding sin then what makes anybody really think that the Bible will be of a similar use to a wider public square not granted that gift?

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4 Responses to You Know What They Say About the Road Paved with Good Intentions

  1. RubeRad says:

    Well step one, we gotta make sure government officials are all regenerate…

  2. Yeah, Rube, then we gotta make sure that every man woman & child is regenerate – something God didn’t even intend. That “pulling heaven down to earth thing” isn’t workin’ out too well is it?

  3. Zrim says:

    Do “confessional-kingdomites” understand how they give cover to Red Letter Christians? I get writer’s cramp just thinking about all the apology letters that should be written to 20th century Protestant liberals.

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