Breaking the God-Glass

 

From his article “The Two Kingdoms Doctrine and the Relationship of Church and State in the Early Reformed Tradition,” reprinted from the Journal of Church and State, David VanDrunen concludes:

“One suggestion is proposed for how a retrieval of the older Reformed two kingdoms tradition (without its inconsistent attribution of religious responsibilities to civil magistrates) may contribute to contemporary discussions. A number of influential schools of thought among contemporary Christian theologians take a decidedly negative view of the concept of the ‘secular,’ identifying it with an Enlightenment quest for autonomy, moral fragmentation, and the exclusion of religious discourse from the public square. In its place, they call for a specifically Christian approach to, and account of, the social realm. The Reformed two kingdoms tradition may provide theological reasons for believing that there are not just two alternatives, a secular social order that is amoral, anti-religious, individualistic, and grounded in autonomous reason, on the one hand, and a Christian social order that is moral, religious, communitarian, and grounded in orthodox theology on the other. The older Reformed idea of the civil kingdom suggests that a theologically rich Christian account of a secular realm is possible. Working from a two kingdoms doctrine, one might posit that there is a ‘secular’ realm (in its etymological sense of concerning ‘this age’), a common space shared by all human beings despite religious differences. Yet this secular realm need not be dismissed as anti-religious or immoral, for God is creator and sustainer of the civil kingdom and governs it by the law of nature. From this perspective, attempts to engage in common, non-religiously exclusive public discourse do not betray Christian truth but an endeavor that a rich theological account of reality suggests is a possibility and even a responsibility.”

It seems to me that when one has the false dichotomy such as the two alternatives VanDrunen suggests—a “secular” realm teeming with amorality and irreligiousness over against true religionists who have all the answers in the bag—it is little wonder there is such a vigorous reaction to Two Kingdoms doctrine. After all, who wants chaos and amorality? Indeed, even the worst imagined atheist the typical theonomist conjures up in his frightened head to make his case will actually turn out to have some code of right and wrong. He may even apply it better than the religionist.

What bothers those who don’t like the idea of natural law, the common sphere, the secular realm and all the other things in the 2K goody box is this: if left to our own powers to understand and apply the natural law, it might be that someone, somewhere out there in the big, bad world might actually disagree or get it flat wrong, and the day might be lost on one thing or another. To boot, we might as believers actually (gasp!)disagree with each other over a temporal matter. And this is just plain intolerable. So intolerable that the “God-glass” must be broken and the Most High taken captive for one side or another.

What theonomists of all stripes fail to grasp is that they actually live with this reality each and every day. Mercifully, like Baptists who don’t actually treat their children like little pagans, theonomists don’t behave as ghastly as their system demands. They actually live a lot like Two Kingdomites. They follow laws and submit to authorities they are not all that convinced of, and they participate in a wider world not exactly persuaded as they are on every jot and tittle. In short, they live as if they were actually pilgrims without a home and not so much like Israelites conquering Canaanites. Maybe in their own minds they are waging such wars, but that doesn’t count since God calls us even out of that fantasy factory.

In the end, it seems to me that those who shudder at the idea that God is indeed creator and sustainer of all things and governs them by natural law, and instead want the Bible pulled out to rule general society, ironically seem to reveal less faith in God, not more. Like yesteryear’s Pharisees who literally tied the law to their arms and foreheads or today’s Bible-toters who both seem to need to prove their faith to God, others and themselves, theonomists seem to demonstrate a similar sort of desperation. Whatever else informs it, the pathology of theonomy seems to be a function of old-fashioned unbelief.

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15 Responses to Breaking the God-Glass

  1. Rick says:

    I wish I had more to offer than, “good post” and “I agree” but that’s all I got.

  2. Zrim says:

    I’ll take your widow’s mite with gladness.

  3. sean says:

    Well, it’s not like it was bad. If blogging is about being narcissistic, it’s hardly generous of you to leave so little left to say.

  4. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    Sorry. But if you want to join the OH team just let us know. We’d be glad to have you. I’ll let you decide if that was narcissistic or generous. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell.

  5. sean says:

    Zrim,

    That was generous to my narcissistic bent. Those who know me would tell you not to feed the animal(s).

    Umm, wow, aw shucks. You guys have such a reputable thing going, I’d hate to bismerch it’s good name. Though, if I was ever going to do something like this, something with “outhouse” in the title seems terribly fitting for me.

  6. Rick says:

    The invitation has been second-ed and third-ed

  7. Speaking of false dichotomies, there are more options out there than WSC “two kingdoms” and theonomy. And I’m surprised about how you speak of theonomy/theonomists — as if everyone who disagrees with *your* view is simply manifesting unbelief. I’m not a theonomist but I still found that remark quite uncalled for.

  8. Zrim says:

    Casey,

    I’m quite aware that there are different views. I used to hold them. And some I am still trying to shake off.

    There seems to me a difference between saying that theonomy is a function of unbelief and that “everyone who disagrees with me is manifesting unbelief.” (My sense is that you may be conflating what is meant by “manifesting unbelief” with some sort of ultimate pronouncment on those who do it.) But Calvin said we all die with an unbeliever inside. It only follows that not only are we more sinful than not but that we are always manifesting unbelief one way or another. I manifest unbelief.

    Just as I find the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition to be the superior manifestation of true religion generally, I find W2K to be the superior manifestation of true religion specifically (read: when it comes to the nature of and relationship between the two kingdoms). That all seems quite different from saying, “Whoever disagrees with me is manifesting unbelief.” Come on, Casey, we both can do better than that.

  9. It’s one thing to say we all manifest unbelief and die with a measure of unbelief. It’s another thing to equate an opposing view as a manifestation of unbelief. That’s really all I was saying. 😉

  10. Zrim says:

    I think you’re taming the lines of orthodoxy to the point of making distinctions almost negligible. So to what would you attribute all the historical heresies from Adoptionism to Arianism to Docetism to Gnosticism to Nestorianism, Pelagianism or Arminianism, Romanism and revivalism? Are they functions of belief? Mormonism is an opposing view—what is that a function of?

    Trent still pronounces anathema on Protestantism. Many of us get wrinkled about that, but isn’t that what you’re supposed to do to unbelief? Honestly, in this way, sometimes I think I have more in common with Rome when it come to calling a spade a spade than with so much politeness of American Protestantism. Besides, it’s better than calling names…

  11. I sort of figured you would respond this way. I suppose I’d be more charitable with someone I disagree with who’s a member in good standing in a standard Reformed denomination (as many theonomists are) than with someone who’s Pelagian or a Romanist or a Mormon. Sorry, but those heresies are of a different nature. I don’t know how you can lump your treatment of theonomy in with them. Sorry, but for as much as I disagree with your view of “two kingdoms,” I wouldn’t attribute it to unbelief on your part. Unbelieving liberal “scholarship” is another matter.

  12. Zrim says:

    Casey,

    As a Presbyterian I am nothing if not painfully predictable.

    “Member in good standing” is not a magic blanket under which someone may think he is immune from exercising unbelief.

    My point wasn’t necessarily to lump theonomy into other kinds of heresies. I agree with you. I never said theonomy was a heresy, I said it was a function of unbelief. Some functions of unbelief rise to the level of heresy, some don’t. While I despise it, I’d be happy to call theonomy the former and leave it at that. And I’ll be happy to consider transformationalism religious fantasy about what sinners believe were true.

  13. I didn’t say membership is a magic blanket, I just think treating those with whom we disagree with a measure of respect and charity is part of our calling as members of one body (and Mormons and Pelagians and Romanists are not members of that body).

    To say that your view of “two kingdoms” is simply a mark of your unbelief is, in my opinion, an illegitimate manner of arguing against your view. It seems more like a rhetorical flourish to calibrated to jolt than in any way lead to edification or constructive dialogue.

    But anyway . . .

  14. Zrim says:

    Well, Casey, take a look at the OH About tab. I am not in the argumentation department but in “rhetorical flourish” department, as you put it.

    But I seriously don’t see where I have ever been disrespectful or uncharitable. I am honestly calling something what I think it is, and I don’t think that is in the same category as being a meanie-head. You disagree, and that is perfectly fine. To be honest, I’d rather you call my W2K views a function of unbelief than what others have called it. Of all the slurs, I think I like “Lutheran” best and “antinomian” a real shot of desperation.

  15. I don’t think it’s Lutheran. 🙂 But I do think it’s novel and misguided. But I won’t call it unbelief. 😉

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