Dr. Hart has given some of his thoughts about my recent critique of VanDrunen over at Old Life Theological Society. I almost never agree with Dr. Hart, though he almost always makes me laugh. Laughter is a gift from God, and so too, I suppose, must Darryl Hart be. I appreciate his willingness to engage with the common folks (like me), though I do find this particular instance fairly unimpressive. It doesn’t seem that he’s clearly read my argument, but has instead lumped me into broader groups that he can more quickly dismiss.
1) It seems like Dr. Hart is characterizing me both as a Federal Visionist and a Theonomist. He never calls me this directly, but he does engage in some guilt by association. And of course, no critique from the Westminster California theologians would be complete without the obligatory reduction to Roman Catholicism. However, he has failed to note a few aspects of my paper which would clearly distinguish me from each of these groups.
a) The guiding theological principle in my paper is a distinction between the visible and invisible church. This is hardly a Federal Vision approach. I argue that the two kingdoms correspond with the invisible church and the rest of the world, with the visible church being one institution of the temporal kingdom. This is my strongest criticism of VanDrunen, and Dr. Hart lets it go by without comment.
b) I do affirm that the Reformers advocated natural law. In fact, though I didn’t have the time in my paper to go into this, I advocate natural law. My view of Christendom is wholly bound up with natural law theory. This makes me a very poor theonomist.
c) I also make use of the two kingdoms in order to prop up the Reformation’s use of the civil magistrate against the bishops and magisterium of the Roman Church. I affirm universal priesthood and vocation, arguing that these Protestant doctrines justify the actions of Christian laity in the public sphere. Furthermore, since I believe that the spiritual kingdom is the realm of the soul’s immediate communion with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, there is no room in my own theology, nor that of the original Reformers, for the visible church to be identified with the spiritual kingdom. In fact, it seems to me that the threat of latent Romanism is pointed in the opposite direction. If the spiritual kingdom is identified with the visible church, particularly its polity and discipline, then I do not see how we escape the necessity of a rule by law.
2) Dr. Hart claims that I do not take care to represent the diversity of thought within the Reformation. He erroneously says that I fixate on Calvin, though my paper made substantial use of Luther. I also mentioned Bucer in Strasbourg, and I made references to the English churches. One of my more significant influences has been Paul Avis, who explains the thought of Richard Hooker on this subject. I see a general continuity between all of these subsets of Reformation thought.
a) Hart mentions the difference between Zurich and Geneva, but that only has to do with the question of excommunication. It is true that there is some difference between the two schools, but it does not change the fact that Calvin was himself employed by the city of Geneva. He believed that excommunication and the distribution of the sacraments were exclusive to church ministers, but he did not say that the civil magistrate should be disinterested in the visible church. In fact it was quite the opposite. I will give a few pieces of evidence from Calvin, and then so as not to illegitimately focus on him, I will point out other Reformed representatives.
The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly oracle is infallible which has declared, that “where there is no vision the people perish.
Only then, sire, aim at the mark which is set before you in the example of this holy king, so that it may be testified of you that you have not only destroyed impieties which were repugnant to the honour and service of God, but also that you have abolished and rased to the foundations every thing that tends only to the nourishment of superstition. For when God wishes to commend to the utmost those faithful princes who have restored and re-established the purity of his service, he especially adds, that they also brake down the high places, that the memory of the idolatrous worship might be destroyed.
…if the bishops and ministers of the churches have not performed their duty, if in handing down dogmas and administering the sacraments they forsake the just regulation of the divine letters, who will recall them to the right path unless it be the godly prince? Your Majesty should not expect in the current situation that they will be impelled to these by themselves; unless royal spurs move them they will not rebuild the ruins of God’s temple.
Now, since the duty of a godly prince, that is a magistrate, which hath a free power over any people and authority within his jurisdiction to institute and reform religion, is twofold, which he oweth to Christ and to the church in the cause of religion. One about such things as belong unto religion; the other respecteth men, which are in his jurisdiction and subject unto him. For the first, our belief is that he should diligently take heed that by the pure word of God rightly understood and expounded by the very word itself and according to the principles of faith (that which they call the analogy or rule of faith), religion may be instituted in his dominion or kingdom; or where it is instituted, may be kept sound and pure; or where it is corrupted, may be restored and reformed to the glory of God and salvation of his subjects. For this we read hath been commanded of God and of Moses, and ever observed of all godly princes.
f) We can also look at a survey of the Reformed confessions to see if there is a consistent doctrine. Even if Hart’s point about Geneva is true, it would be the odd-man out by far. Of course, Geneva does say that the magistrate is holy, and the English Congregation at Geneva has no trouble advocating the political suppression of idolatry.
g) But let’s cut to the chase. Does anyone think that Calvin and the city of Geneva objected to the civil magistrate enforcing distinctively religious laws? Even if we leave the big counterexample out of it, since it does get overplayed, we have to remember that the consistory had a rather this-worldly function of policing the citizen’s daily lives. Skipping church could result in fines or jail time.
h) Let it not be forgotten, of course, that I originally argued that this sort of Christian political action followed from the Reformers’ notions of the two kingdoms and natural law. This is not a theonomist or neo-Calvinist position. This is the old vanilla Reformed position. We might certainly want to make some modifications. Richard Hooker, as you might recall, was a little concerned by Geneva’s discipline. Let us not misrepresent the past in doing this though. There were certainly developments, and we should be open to them, but we should also maintain that they are developments within a tradition.
3) Hart finally tosses me into the generic neo-Calvinist camp of transformationalism, even finding time to suggest that I might be toying with Roman Catholicism. I didn’t find him actually interacting with what I said on this point, however.
a) I argued that the best neo-Calvinists could be translated into natural law theory. If their notion of “redemption” is that of a regained creation, then it follows that their notion of redemption rule or redemption ethics would be rather close to creation rule or creation ethics. If this could be worked out consistently, then they would in fact be advocating something like natural law. That was my entire point about Francis Schaeffer (who is probably more of a fundamentalist than a neo-Calvinist, but he’s certainly inspired young people among the latter). He argues for shared reason and the common ground of the imago dei.
b) Dr. Hart does mention my concern with the disagreement between the Christian’s two selves. This was not a concern about different vocations or different purposes at different times, but rather one of ethics and the heart. The two-kingdom dweller does, in fact, possess a singular heart.
c) I would certainly agree that no magistrate is a mediator for the Christian in the spiritual kingdom. I don’t see Hart’s citation of McKay on Rutherford as having much of a target in my own writing. Of course, if Hart wishes to deny that political magistrates are mediators for Christians in the temporal kingdom, then he’s going to find himself outside of the Reformed camp in the opposite direction. I’m sure that this is not the case and merely reflects overanxious rhetoric.
Again, I am glad to see some interaction with my piece, but unfortunately the actual engagement with my words was sparse in Dr. Hart’s response. While I’m confident that he and I will still disagree, a more careful reading would reveal that I’m tracking closely with the original Reformers. Of course, much of the positive construction is still to be done. Perhaps another day will provide us with the opportunity.