Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 1)

~This is a guest post by Peter Escalante.

In the conversation which began with Pastor Wedgeworth’s review of VanDrunen’s book, we encountered, unsurprisingly, opposition first from a de jure divino Presbyterian, then from a traditional Roman Catholic. It seems fitting, then, that the old troika of opposition to the classical Protestant position be completed by the appearance of a spokesman of a neo-Anabaptist sort of critique1. Brad Littlejohn posted here a reply to Davey Henreckson’s summary of our recent conversation. Mr Littlejohn’s views are admittedly in development, and thus it would be unfair to deal with them as though they were a settled and fully worked out body of opinion. Nevertheless, his views as of now are neo-Anabaptist, and I think they can be fairly taken as a representative of the kind of popular neo-Anabaptism becoming fashionable especially among academic theologians.

Mr Littlejohn, unlike Dr Hart, readily and rightly grants that we hold the classical Protestant position, in developed form. But he rejects that doctrine, in favor of what he calls an “Augustinian” alternative. His critique of us, unfortunately, is so far mostly just a reiteration of that original admission: he understands that we hold the classic principles; it’s just that he thinks he doesn’t like those. I can understand why he might think that: they are often made out to be other than they really are, and he himself admitted to finding them so profoundly unfamiliar that they seemed almost unintelligible at first; this simply reveals the degree of their forgottenness in the modern Protestant world. In further conversation, a number of the original misapprehensions became clarified, and it seems we are being better understood now. Nevertheless, serious differences remain. I will examine this nebulous alternative, and in the process, will address his critique of the classical position.  Although Mr Littlejohn’s “two cities” view is still in development and isn’t very clearly worked out, we can nevertheless get some sense of what he’s getting at, and why he finds the possibility of the classic Protestant position being warmly welcomed an alarming one.

To his eyes, our position spells all kinds of trouble. The Church would be subordinated to the State, Christians would be sentenced to a schizophrenic existence of moral inner and amoral outer, the cruel cold world would roll ruthlessly on untransformed, the salt would lose its savor, the light go under a bushel, and Frodo, pathetically hacking, will die of smoke inhalation before he reaches the Crack of Doom.

Thankfully, none of this is true, though given what he’s working with, it’s easy enough to see why he might think this. Mostly this comes from a near total unfamiliarity with the classic position- a common enough problem in the theological academy, and everywhere, for that matter. Mr Littlejohn is hardly to be blamed for this. Further, although he does actually hold mistaken views of the church, much of the problem here is the effect of using terms which are either defined badly or not defined at all. So our first task will be to examine the words and their meanings.

In his opposition of Church and State, though he leaves his terms mostly undefined, he does give descriptions. What’s clear is that in his critique of us, he uses both State and Church as terms which stand for total and mutually exclusive commonwealths, which he also wishes to call, after the Augustinian usage, the City of Man and the City of God respectively.

Littlejohn’s Church is an alternative city, which rivals the commonwealth, and will eventually replace it, though it can coexist with it in a sort of begrudgingly cooperative truce. The State, according to Littlejohn, is organized around the libido dominandi and is only accidentally an agent of order, and is destined to fade away. He supposes that the State and the Church are wholly separate things. And there is indeed a great distinction to be drawn between the Magistracy and the Ministerium, a distinction of office. But for Littlejohn, the Magistracy and the Ministerium are not two representative offices within one people or commonwealth, they are rather representative of two entirely different visible and temporal commonwealths, what he calls State and Church, and which he identifies, rather unconvincingly, with Augustine’s “Two Cities”. What more closely resembles Littlejohn’s dichotomy, however, is not so much Augustine’s schema, but rather the Anabaptist absolute opposition of the “carnal” civic world, which they regard as the kingdom of Satan, and the organized pusillus grex, the kingdom of Christ. Our critic’s “church” is separatist, along Anabaptist lines; but unlike peace Anabaptism and like war Anabaptism, it is transformationalist. But peacefully transformationalist.

What are Church and State? We’ll examine this in greater detail shortly, but let’s begin simply. Since the State is only a part of the temporal commonwealth, for the parallel “City of Man/State, City of God/Church” to be symmetrical, “Church” must be used in a special sense, referring not to all the believers, but rather, to a part of the “City of God”.

Originally, State and Church meant magistrates on the one hand and ministerium on the other, two differently representative organs of a single people, a single commonwealth. If, however, Church and State are the representative organs of two distinct visible, temporal commonwealths, then the Church- in the sense of the ministerium- is a State. For Littlejohn, it is not a coercive State in any ordinary sense, because he says so; but he says it governs a truly distinct and sovereign commonwealth, which makes it a State.

Is this true? Has this ever been true?

To help decide that question, let’s consider what things would necessarily look like were the Church, in the general sense, a true distinct polis, governed politically by the ministerium. If this were the case, it would have to be a single political community, ruled by a single power; it would have to give laws comprehensive of all political life; it would have to enforce them, since men are fallen and need the direction of law, and need to be restrained from acts of violence and injustice; it could not share territory with other States; it would have to sponsor systems of production, transportation, and exchange within itself. 2 Clearly, none of these things are true of historic orthodox Christianity.

I am sure that our critic would object that most of these things are either irrelevant to his notion of the alternative polis, or directly contradictory of it. But all that means is that either that his position makes no sense, or that it can’t cash its rhetorical checks. There is another possibility, which involves some very strange assumptions about history and human nature, a possibility I will consider soon.

So briefly, some definitions.

The word church can indicate

a) the mystical body, which is indeed a perfect and consolidated communion of believers with Christ, their sole Head, and with one another in Him. This is the spiritual kingdom of Luther and Calvin.

b) it can mean all the living Christian professors in any place or worldwide, the totality of believing persons, the people of God.

This is what the medievals called the corpus christianum. In this sense it signifies a multitude, and this multitude is the most fundamental temporal profile of the mystical body, though, since it includes persons whose profession is false, it is not coincident with it. Prior to any organization, the church is just believing people; the section of humanity which has accepted Christ. It can be called the visible church, except that it is not in itself temporally gathered and ordered; it is the visibility of the invisible church. “If you have done it unto the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me.” This earthly multitude organizes itself for all sorts of purposes, including worship and civic government, and it underlies all those offices and functions.

Neither the local assemblies nor the ministerium “mediate” any believer’s relation to Christ. Christ is directly laid hold of by faith, and he is the sole Mediator. This fact establishes the corpus christianum as basic, and prior to any further churchly articulation. These articulations are indispensable aids and means to growing in faith and holiness, but they are in no way interposed between the believer and Christ. One is united to Christ immediately by faith; this immediate relation makes one a member of the Church, in the perfect sense of the mystical body, and public profession of the Name makes one a member of the corpus christianum.

c)the local assemblies of Word and worship, which reflect the unity of the mystical body but are not coextensive with it, and lack its purity.

These are the visible churches most properly speaking. It can also mean these visible assemblies taken collectively; but this collective sense implies no distinct political existence or organization, it is a class term.

d)by synecdoche, “the church” can also means the representatives of the people of God in sacred matters, the elders of the church, the official ministerium; and by extension, the developed organizational apparatus associated with ministerial and missionary functions.

e) by metonymy, “church” can of course signify a building dedicated to worship and teaching.

In a fully developed Protestant commonwealth, the visible assemblies are associations of the private sphere, that is, they are not departments of government. But in all this, the only real existents are persons: the communion of believing persons with Christ and each other in the Lord’s mystical body, and the earthly corpus christianum. There are only persons and their relations. The relations do not themselves constitute real actors. Unfortunately, Littlejohn, like many other who argue like him, goes for that collective sense of visible assembly and reifies it, and then transfers both the predicates of the mystical body and those of the visible assemblies to it. This creates an imaginary floating “Church”, universal, visible and institutionally defined, neither the mystical body on the one hand nor any actual given visible assembly on the other, which can then be credited with all good done by believing persons, and faulted for none of the failings, making for an unfalsifiable utopianism3.

It is indeed true, praise God, that “many of the dramatic social improvements and advances in ethical sensibility in Western society owe themselves to the work of the Christian Church”, but our critic is begging the question when invokes this fact as an argument for his position. These changes were initiated by Christian persons, not by a single incorporate local assembly, nor any by any politically organized union of local assemblies, and certainly not by a reified class term. And often as not, they were initiated by magistrates and by private persons, often against the sensibility of the “corporate public identity” of the time. Thus, the credit must to Christian persons, and to the mystical body of which they were true members, which is another way of saying, the credit goes to Christ. But it does not go to some nebulous but supposedly visible and political “distinct corporation”, to use Hooker’s expression.4

When we say “church” we distinguish between the mystical body of Christ whose only Head is Christ, and the visible assemblies. The church can also mean the people of God, which is simply the number of believers, considered not as gathered, but in daily life, regarded by household (married or single). Everyday people, so to speak. Which takes us to the next definition.

The State:

The State is the ministry of justice and temporal peace in a commonwealth; it is a universal institution though of various forms. But underlying this ministry is the people, whose most basic cell is the family. The union of the people in any place for purposes of common life is the commonwealth. The State is the architectonic representative body of the commonwealth, but it is also of divine appointment insofar as it is the representative of God’s will for impartial order; and in this latter aspect, it upholds God’s creational laws, without respect of persons. Any commonwealth will have a magistracy of sorts. And magistracy is an office of the commonwealth: which is to say, it is rooted in everyday people. If the State is intrinsically evil, than Christians can’t be staffing it. Of course, they have been staffing it, since well before Constantine.

The magistrate is committed by his office to impartial justice. The way we take the developed Christian political tradition, the magistrate is to ensure that justice for all in his jurisdiction, which means no separate standards of justice for the Christian and the non-Christian. The justice is universal in its ideal, though laws and customs vary by circumstance. Christian politics has only to do with principle: the rest it leaves to prudence. Christianity relativizes the commonwealth, but is lived in and through it.

So let’s look at an example. Our critic calls us “Erastian,” meaning that we want to subordinate the “Church” to the “State”. For him, given his neo-Anabaptist ideas of these things, the State stands for a whole commonwealth of darkness, which only accidentally does good, and the Ministerium stands for a whole commonwealth of light. If that’s true, then subordinating the Church to the State is pretty wicked. But bearing in mind the clarifications given above, that the offices are offices of one underlying people, one can see that saying that the institutional church is subordinate to the State in civic matters is hardly an outrage; it is the natural state of affairs. However, both are organs of the people, and are ruled by law.

To make all this clearer, consider that if Christians are a minority in a place, then it makes sense to posit a kind of tension or opposition between them and the civic structures of the unreformed commonwealth. But when they are the commonwealth, where is the opposition?

It is not between the State and the Ministerium, because both, in that case, are staffed by Christian persons in a single commonwealth. It is, rather, between man’s sin and man’s vocation. The line between sacred and profane runs right through the Christian heart, and nowhere else.

But what of the prophetic voice? Certainly the ministerium can be opposed to the State- not to the State as such, but rather to crimes of statesmen, or to a State which isn’t legitimate. But in that case, everybody should be opposed to it, and the ministers are not a higher meta-magistrate; they aren’t even the lesser magistrate, whose responsibility it is in extreme circumstances to lead the restoration of legal order. The prophetic voice is the gift and obligation of all Christians.

The State is manned by fallen men. Just as the visible assembly is always is need of reformation, so is the State. Our vision of justice, and our ability to apply in various and complicated situation, can always be bettered. But Luther was right against the liberation theologians of his day: this is a matter of justice, of the citizens and the magistrate getting better at their duties, not of “more Gospel” where “Gospel” is conceived as absolute political revolution, an irruption of eschatological judgment. Recognition of the Kingship of Christ means recognition of his death, and therefore, Christian polities cannot have God’s absolute justice as their aim. They are not to punish all sins as such, only crimes. The way of Christ demands that I forgive one who does me enormous violence; but it does not demand that a representative office, acting impartially on behalf of the common good, not punish him. Further, the way of Christ does not actually demand that I not defend myself- it simply demands that I do so without hatred or ego, that I do so, as it were, in the way the just State would, while also maintaining charity toward my attacker. That’s even harder than the Anabaptist proposal of sheer pacifism, I think.

Neither original sin nor human sociality and common grace are going to self-obsolesce, and thus neither will some sort of State, just as the family will not obsolesce over time.

Although Mr Littlejohn doesn’t define them, and would run into all sorts of problem and paradox were he to, it is now clear enough what he means, or means to mean, by Church and State. He means they are each total societies with different constituencies; but intuiting the problems which are going to follow from this, he proposes a “tension” and “selective cooperation”. However, the figure of Constantine does not represent a self-obsolescing principle, and “Church” and “State” are not mutually exclusive commonwealths. In a Christian commonwealth, the single people underlie both the visible worship assemblies, and the public offices.

Having already considered the meanings of Church and State, we can now consider Littlejohn’s purported comparison of them (taken from here), and see that they rest on equivocation in most cases, and also on radically different first principles in a few others. The first can be resolved by clarification; the second would involve his accepting orthodox principles.

When I look at what the Church is actually called to do in Scripture, it’s hard for me to see how it is not in “competition” with the State. Let’s look at some responsibilities of the State, or of political society.  The State seeks to organize men into a community of shared identity and mutual responsibility. The Church does this too.

-As we’ve already seen, this is almost entirely a problem of names. By failing to identify the corpus christianum which underlies both State and ministerium, he uses church exclusively in the senses c) and d) as delineated above. Further, we see that through the false dichotomy and use of unspecified terms, the appearance of an argument is given when in fact nothing has been said at all.

Let’s consider this. The Boy Scouts or the Army or a college or a marriage seeks to organize people into a community of shared identity and mutual responsibility. Are these in competition with the State as organ, let alone with the whole commonwealth? Remember, for Littlejohn, it’s not just the State that’s the problem: it’s the whole commonwealth insofar as it is not under ministerial direction. Of course they aren’t in competition with either the State or the Commonwealth. Neither are the visible assemblies. And the mystical body certainly isn’t in competition with the visible commonwealth; living members of the mystical body have been staffing and running those for over 1500 years.

The State seeks to guide this community in pursuit of the common good of human flourishing.  The Church does this too.

-Replace “church” with “pastorate”, and distinguish the temporal and eschatological ends of man, and the opposition vanishes. But let’s consider what follows if one doesn’t make those distinctions. Human flourishing involves enforced law, architecture, and industry. Does the church in the Sunday sense, let alone the ministerium in particular, really handle all those directly? Of course not. But the corpus christianum does; and the way it handles the first is through the State institution and the vocations. The magistracy and the ministerium have traditionally been viewed as cooperant (harmonia, “two-swords”, and so on) in direction toward the common good.

The State seeks to establish norms of social behaviour among its members.  The Church does this too.

-The State deals only with external actions insofar as they bear on peace and order. The pastorate works to guide people in holiness and charity. But the primary teacher, the one who establishes moral norms, is the Spirit of God, Who indwells every Christian. And again, he is using “Church” to mean ministerium, whereas the general church, the multitude of believers, underlies both State and ministerium.

The State seeks to bring about a just relationship between its members, restraining the strong and protecting the weak.  The Church does this too.

-The just State protects all, weak or strong, from injustice. The Church praises justice, but its primary message is not justice, it is rather justification: and justification is not obtained by our justice. The relation of justice the Church is concerned with is Christ’s relation to justice, and Christ’s purely gracious relation to us. The Church, in the sense of the ministers, does not enforce law on anyone’s account, either ours, or Littlejohn’s. The State does; and without this restraining and directive power, people would have no peace.

The State seeks to overcome the threat of external enemies.  The Church does this too.

-The kinds of enemy are different. Just states are concerned to defend against unjust aggressors threatening bodily harm; but as Paul says, the church’s war is with powers of the air. States are able to deal with outside threats without presuming to judge them eschatologically. If one doesn’t distinguish between different kinds of defense and different kinds of enemies, what one will have is a Church which, as posited, is just like a State, except that it demonizes its external enemies; as with Leyden, or the army of Muntzer, or certain periods in the history of Papalism.

The State seeks to remedy the injustice wrought by evil men in its midst.  The Church does this too.

-The pastors of the church do this by exhortation and discipline; the State does it by law. Unless one wishes to suggest that original sin is increasingly vanishing from human nature, there will always be a need for a legal order, until the Last Day. By the way, “seeks to remedy the injustice wrought by evil men in the world” could be said just as well of the good citizen as of the State: is the citizen now in competition with the State? Or with the Church?

The State seeks to ensure that all its members have their needs cared for. The Church does this too.

-Our critic is here supposing a rather totalizing sort of State. I would rather say that the role of the State is to ensure the legal and social conditions of people meeting their own needs.

But further, this an equivocation. The visible assemblies assist in meeting spiritual needs, and they even care for the bodily needs of hungry and sick. But is there a churchy medicine? Should you avoid doctors as part of the “civil” order? Is there a specifically churchy agriculture? Or a specifically churchy transportation system? Specifically churchy automobiles? Unless the congregations, as such, are going to be hospitals and car factories and film studios and farms, it is clear that we are talking about very different things, and the opposition once again vanishes.

And again, of course, what is missing is the idea of the corpus christianum, the multitude of professors which underlies both Church and State.

The Church is a visible body of people gathered out from among other people, united by various signs, rituals, texts, codes, ways of life, by mutual commitment to one another, in pursuit of a common end (an end that incorporates all of human existence).  It is, in short, undeniably (to my mind) a “political society,” an “alternative city” in a very important sense.

-To say that the sense in which this is true is a “very important” sense gives us nothing specific about the sense, but specific is exactly what we need with claims such as this. In what way does the this is true, if religious community is ipso facto a comprehensive and sovereign earthly political organization, then, because of the meaning and needs of political community, we would expect some one Christian magistrate to be magistrate of all who profess those “signs, rituals, texts, codes”, rather as the Turkish Sultan claimed to be khalif of all the Muslims. In Christendom only the Pope did that, and on much the same principles, though the basic character of the Christian religion precluded that ever becoming a consistent position.

Further, it fails the thought experiment of majority or uniform profession. If everybody in a place professes Christianity, from which “other people” are they gathered out?

Separatists can’t have it both ways. When the majority of people are Christian, they form the sort of quotidian commonwealth one would expect; which separatists don’t want. On the other hand, if they want to be “gathered out” from that commonwealth, they have to acknowledge that they’re being “gathered out” from other Christians, which in practice usually means denying that those other Christians even are Christians.

But again this is a failure to distinguish. The corpus christianum underlies both State and Ministerium; and the eschatological end of man incorporates all of human existence without erasing nature or civic order; it rather presupposes and works to perfect it.

Of course, it is much more.  It is not just this.  This is just like the tip of an iceberg–its foundation and source of life is deeper and hidden.  It is a city that lives by the presence of God himself in its midst.  Moreover, although the Church is political, it is of course with a different kind of politics.  Just because it is in a kind of competition with the State doesn’t mean it’s just another state.

-As mentioned earlier, when the “Church” is a reified class term which gets invested with all the predicates of the mystical body, this entity gets the credit for all the good Christian persons do, and gets the blame for none of the bad. When Littlejohn says the Church is not “just another State”, he means, it is so much nicer than the State, and wouldn’t ever do all the dreadful State things States do. But when States do dreadful things, they are not being good States, just as when institutional churches do dreadful things, they aren’t being good churches. And there are things the churches don’t do, because the State does them: for instance, the suppression of armed robbery. This does not mean that the work of a just State is dirty work; it it most certainly not; and the fact that the visible assemblies don’t do that work, doesn’t make them “cleaner”. If the State didn’t do that work and the ministers had to, they would ipso facto become “just another State”.

For instance, the end which it seeks, though it includes the flourishing of human life here on earth, transcends that and includes a higher end that no State can pursue.  The Church too overcomes the threat of enemies, but it does so through self-sacrificing love, not violence.  The Church too seeks to remedy injustice done in its midst, but by means of exhortation, penance, and reconciliation, not outward punishment.  The Church too cares for the needs of its members, but it also goes beyond and serves those who are outside, to an extent that few states do.

If he means the mystical body, then the Church is just another name for Christ, and everything he says here is perfectly true. If however he means the institutions of the visible assemblies, he is confusing ideal and reality in a shockingly naïve way. And once again, we see that the corpus christianum is erased in his account of things,

What is the church? Littlejohn’s comparison of the Church and State leaves the term undefined. Does he mean the mystical body? The local assemblies?

If he means the mystical body, he is right to say that it and the State of the commonwealth do similar things. His mistake then would be in failing to distinguish the ends of man, and thus he places the mystical body and the State in opposition. Christ alone is the head of the church, his body. As such, this is only seen by eyes of faith, and Christ works therein with perfect competence. But Christ is not only Lord of this aspect of the world, He is Lord also of its temporal and visible aspect. Thus, he asks kings, whose power had come from Him anyway, to recognize His rule. This means, serving as His proxies in the work of maintaining temporal peace and the conditions of temporal flourishing, a good in in itself until the Last Day, and also, a perpetual preparatio evangeliae. “The Church”, as a visible body, is simply “the blessed company of all faithful people”. Its members are marked by their amphibian character; they are citizens of an earthly commonwealth, and of a spiritual one. They do not constitute a distinct political entity on earth, as though Christ were here now among us. Thus, the visible churches, as bodies, are bodies of the temporal sphere, which is not to say, departments of State. It is right that they not be so; that was a contingent situation of the 16th century which lasted longer than it needed to, though the underlying principle, that the magistracy and the ministry are both representative of an underlying Christian people, is unchanging.

That clears things up considerably. Of course, it is not simply a matter of clarifying terms; neo-Anabaptists hold what they do not because they’re muddled about terms, but because they believe different things than we do about the nature of the Church. Littlejohn has said he isn’t comfortable with being defined as neo-Anabaptist; but that seems to express a hesitation about definition altogether. So it’s time to look briefly at Anabaptist principles, and see if the definition fits.  We will turn to this in the next installment.


1What I mean by this is that his thought about the Church and about the civic order is, as we will see, Anabaptist . As Wedgeworth has already noted in discussion here, both he and I are using this term in the same general sense as Hunter. I do not mean to suggest that he or the authors who influence him-aside from Yoder- hold to rebaptism, which actually isn’t the crucial point of difference, nor that they belong to historically Anabaptist assemblies.

2The papalist system aspires in a way to this ideal, but it always assumes the older idea of a single commonwealth in which magistrate and minister are organs of a society, though inconsistently, since it also posits the ministerial corporation, and the “lay” in dependence upon it, as a visible “complete society” with ‘indirect power” over the temporal realm; its relation to the civic is thus one of outsourcing most of the work of everyday life, in order to support the ministerial and monastic corporation. This has always been a profoundly inconsistent ecclesiological deviation.

3Rather in the way that young upper middle class radicals in the 60s, like their 18th century predecessors, referred to “the People”, an postulated entity which supposedly stood behind those who professed to speak for it, or the way Marxists referred to the “Workers”, an entity the workers themselves didn’t recognize themselves in.

4Not to mention all the contributions of unbelievers to those social developments Littlejohn praises; apparently anyone on the Left is in the “Church”, a retroactive baptism many of those persons, such as Voltaire, would find a startling splash of water indeed. And many of the rights he mentions were secured precisely by the Protestant Christian secularity he claims to oppose, and do not follow from any other doctrine.


47 thoughts on “Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 1)

  1. It looks ok in mozilla, firefox, and google chrome. Explorer has never liked my blog, and I don’t know how to make it look better on IE.

    But, I did have to do a lot of cut-and-pasting thanks to Peter’s, shall we say, limited technological skills. That might make it look a little different from my other posts, but it should still be mostly clean and readable.

  2. Hey Peter,
    Wowsers! Just when I had breathed a long sigh of relief that you must’ve abandoned this essay, here it comes roaring round the bend like a freight-train…a very long freight train.

    It will probably take all the free time I can snatch in the next couple weeks to sort through all of that freight and reply to some of these points (and you say there’s another installment coming? Oh dear…), but a couple things really briefly that jumped out at me.

    First, I should say that, of the three main presentations of your and Steven’s position thus far, this one was by far the clearest, most compelling, and most attractive, and I expect when all the dust settles, we will not be, perhaps, in nearly as much disagreement as it may have seemed.

    Second, while you were quite polite in your critiques, which I quite appreciate, the whole format of the critique seems somewhat mistaken to me. Despite certain qualifications at the beginning, you presented it more or less as “We delivered a manifesto, then Mr. Littlejohn delivered his counter-manifesto for the neo-Anabaptist position, and so here is the definitive critique of his position.” But of course my post was not constructed that way at all (or at least, that is not how I intended it to be taken–I recognize now that parts may have come across as overly adversarial). Rather, it was intended as a “I don’t understand Wedgeworth’s position for the following reasons. It would be great if some of these points could be clarified for me.”
    And so I am delighted that in this post, these matters are being clarified, but I suppose I would’ve preferred if they had been done so as answers to my questions, and as counter-questions, instead of describing my position (somewhat inaccurately at points) and methodically opening fire. This explains some of the “vague terminology” you are constantly hammering. Of course, some is because I am vague on many points right now…I could hardly hope to be otherwise as a 22-year-old student, and I’m very glad for this opportunity to sharpen some concepts up–our interaction thus far has already been immensely helpful in that regard. But to some extent, the vagueness results from the fact that my reply was a 1,900-word outline of questions and objections, not a methodical point-by-point manifesto. You acknowledge “it would be unfair to deal with them as though they were a settled and fully worked out body of opinion,” but then the rest of your post does deal with them rather that way. So, hopefully this clarification can help us proceed less adversarially.

    Third, a very brief point where you seem to have misunderstood me (understandably, as I hadn’t fleshed this out thoroughly in those posts). You say that I basically think “State=City of Man=Kingdom of Satan,” which you say is un-Augustinian. Well certainly that is un-Augustinian, but I never intended to make either of those equations. In the Civitas Dei, the State is as it were the most visible institutional representation of the City of Man, but it is not simply reducible to it…it’s much more complicated than that. “More complicated? Do elaborate,” you will certainly say, and I shall try to, but not just here and now. And of course the City of Man is not the “Kingdom of Satan” simpliciter…Despite his forceful emphasis on the all-corrupting influence of the libido dominandi, Augustine clearly held that human nature, although corrupted, was still intact, and so approximations to virtue and to civic and social good were still possible in the City of Man.

    Fourth, you accuse me of “a near total unfamiliarity with the classic position.” If you’d said merely “woeful ignorance,” I might’ve happily turned the other cheek…I certainly am woefully ignorant, and working aggressively to try and catch up. But hopefully I am not totally unfamiliar…I did just finish a Master’s thesis on the subject, for the very little that’s worth these days. I will happily admit to ignorance, and am glad to have it remedied; I will merely point out that sometimes, I think, you may mistake incredulity for incomprehension–often the two go hand-in-hand, but not always. That is to say, I can understand perfectly well what Vermigli means to say about, for instance, ministers’ right to implore clemency on behalf of capital criminals, but I may still be shocked, and find it very difficult to sympathize. Of course, to some extent such lack of sympathy is still a fault, which longer historical acquaintance will partially overcome, but it’s not the same as ignorance. Of course, perhaps this is all you mean, since “unfamiliarity” can merely mean “lack of acquaintance” in the sense that I do not have a developed relationship with the classic position.

    Finally, and most intriguingly, in reading your final section, where you dissect the points where “Church” and “State” are in competition, it strikes me that the key difference may lie at a rather different point (or be best seen from a different angle) than where you are putting it (though this is just a hunch that comes from a first quick reading). My main concern, I think, revolves around the relationship of natural law and evangelical law, to try (probably unsuccessfully) to put it in a nutshell. It’s a question of ethics.
    Basically, I am uncomfortable at the way the Reformers tried to rebut the Catholic distinction between the commands and the counsels of perfection. The Anabaptists absolutized the counsels of perfection into a new legalism…that can’t be right. But the magisterial Reformers responded by basically dissolving away the counsels of perfection, and blunting the hard, radical edge of Christian ethics to subsume it back into the changeless categories of the old law, the natural law, etc. That’s what rubs me the wrong way. And so in saying “the Church” responds to enemies in a certain way, or cares for the weak in a certain way, I’m contending that Christians are to be visible as a community with a social ethics that is not simply expressed in the laws of political justice.

    “Ah,” you’re saying, “as I said, Anabaptist. Thank you for fessing up to it so clearly.”

    But, I contend, I am not simply ruling out the ethics of the political realm as entirely to be shunned by and excluded from the Christian community. Rather, the political remains a part of the life of the Christian people, but is always being challenged, pushed, and prodded by an evangelical ethics that remains ever dissatisfied with merely natural political justice. Now you’re probably thinking that I just sound like O’Donovan, and not far from you at all, so you’re skeptical that this is really all I intend to say…obviously, I have a more radical agenda than that, right? Yes, probably so. And we’ll try to uncover the contours of that over the next few weeks.

    Thanks again for the conversation.

  3. Oh botheration. I posted while logged in again, and thus under the wrong name. LJsinEdinburgh, you will soon discover, is not the blog you will want to look at for follow-ups on this…though for anecdotal updates about my adorable son, it’s always worth a look. 😉

  4. It should be noted that since Brad wants to call the Church the City of God and identify this as an “Augustinian” position, in the City of God Augustine at one point says that the City of God is made up of both elect men and elect angels. This would preclude identifying the City of God solely as the Church.

  5. Ok. I’ll bite.


    It seems to me that the position being ascribed to here assumes a commonwealth which is predominantly Christian. But given that this is not typically the case, can’t one speak of a conflict between the institutional expression of those united to Christ and the institutional expression of those united by other natural identities in a commonwealth? Obviously…this is not a conflict of structure as such…but one of direction. One can imagine various situations where a state (through its majority representing magistrate) fails to do its duty with respect to caring for its people…and is then supplemented by the activity of the local institutional church. How many soup kitchens and clothes lines are associated with local congregations rather than the commonwealth and are seen as directly motivated by redeemed identity rather than creational solidarity and natural conscience (as such)? One author makes a distinction between the church being politically antithetical and politically exemplary. Again, no structural conflict…but this does not mean that they are not two cities…even if (at this point in redemptive history) they have different spheres. Bavinck argues that while church and state are rooted in creation, the separation of spheres is a result of the fall and necessitated multiple institutions. Following this logic, one might see the church as less an analogue of a creational “institution” and more of an anticipation of an “eschatological institution” which will erase the lines of separation. But in the interim, it has limited functions even as it anticipates an eschatological fruition. The point is that this “anticipation” can look very political. The activity of believers in caring for their own and taking care of their poor mimics a common function of states…and is usually not interpreted by the onlooking world as just “people doing their thing” (their institutional affiliation being accidental). It is usually seen as “those people who go to that place and follow those leaders and take that meal”…in other words…a visible communities with cultural liturgies and all.

    Implied in the above paragraph is a problem I keep running up against in these discussion. It seems to me that there is a neo-Reformed (rather than a neo-Anabaptist) view here. Church and State don’t represent different persons…but they are different identities. And each of these identities have a visible institutional expression. The church isn’t JUST “the people” but “the people inasmuch as they are united to Christ.” And even while they are united to Christ with all their gifts and natural identities……as I have argued before…..their gifts and natural identities do not constitute their bond with Christ….whereas they do precisely this in the commonwealth. I agree with you….there is no such thing as “Christian plumbing.” But I think the implication goes another direction than you suggest. “Plumbing” is also not “the church in the world” as such…only accidentally so when the plumber happens to be a Christian. But liturgy is “the church in the world” whether presided over by a demon-possessed minister or a humble country pastor. One might go further and say that the intra-church diaconal work of a local congregation is “the church in the world.” It is our “love for one another” by which the world sees “the visible church.” And the reason this is the visible church is (among other things) because the world notes that this community (instantiated by our care for one another) is bonded together by a common confession and not by any natural identity. While analogous activity can occur in the world, be motivated by grace, and the potato salad can have an “I love Jesus” sticker slapped on it….this activity is not the church as such precisely because the community activity (the common life) is rooted in something good…but not distinctively Christian.

    If I may say it this way: The visible church is the manifestation of an eschatological commonwealth which is examplary to the natural commonwealth in its own inter-political life. Any conflict with the natural commonwealth is a matter of direction…not structure. The natural commonwealth is greatly benefited by the participation of those who are members of the ecclesial commonwealth…but they do not participate in these institutions as “the church” (again…as such) but as “whatever binds them together with other members of a commonwealth” (Americans, British, etc). And certainly aspects of their ecclesial pneumatic identity shine through in the commonwealth (love of neighbor, etc)…but these things do not constitute their bond with that commonwealth and are not empowered by it. Said differently…my Christian identity/virtues are only accidental to my participation in the commonwealth via vocation (etc)…not essential. But they actually constitute my identity within the church (even if only by visible profession). And so, it seems to me that…even if everyone in a commonwealth was a Christian…that we’d still have two commonwealths….because we’d be united together in commonwealth A and B for totally different reasons. The situation is only incidentally different when there are only 10 Christians in a predominantly unbelieving commonwealth. There are two commonwealths united around two different bonds. Again…the commonwealth being defined in terms of identities and not human subjects as such. Finally, I want to be clear that “commonwealth A” and “commonwealth B” or “politics A” and “politics B” are not exact copies of one another. But that there is overlap suggets that we can meaningfully use the terms to speak of both groups without necessary equivocation.

  6. Brad,

    Thanks for this thoughtful reply. A conversation, of course, is what this is all about. I trust you won’t mistake any methodical “opening fire” on my part as anything other than simply an intent to get down to business about words and meanings.

    Your responses and clarifications here are extremely helpful, especially the last two paragraphs; you are right to guess that this is precisely where I’ll be honing in, since it’s the key to the topics you mention earlier in your reply here. There is much to discuss, and I’m looking forward to it.

    But briefly for now, a question about your terms: “old law” and “natural law” are usually used to mean to very different things (law of essential human perfection, and the Mosaic ordinance, respectively), and yet you seem to be using them here to mean the same thing. If so, that would make the Gospel be a word of transcendence of nature, since if natural law and the “old law” are one thing, but the Gospel transcends the old law (as indeed it does), then the Gospel signals the transcendence of nature.

    Which is usually the upshot of the quasi-Gnostic doctrine of the “counsels” as one finds it in certain late antique monastic writers, and in the Roman church even now. Obviously, I think this is a departure from the Biblical doctrine. So perhaps you could say more about what you think “natural law” is, and what “the old law” is.

    Still, the idea of “pushing and challenging” is something I addressed here in this first part, when I mention that the State is always in need of reform, along lines of justice and equity; you can never have enough prudence and peace and ordered freedom. And the judgments of mind and conscience which drive reform in the commonwealth are indeed informed by Christianity, we’d agree on that. The question is what that means.


  7. I need to correct my earlier comment: I meant to say:

    “natural law” and “old law” are usually used to mean to very different things (law of essential human perfection, and the Mosaic ordinance, respectively)

    That is, “old law” usually signifies Mosaic law, and “natural law” signifies the law of human perfection.


  8. Peter,
    Yes, I did realize before you said that that I’d been ambiguous on that point. In standard Reformation usage, “Old Law” of course generally means the Mosaic law, which consists of three parts, the moral, which is synonymous with the natural, and therefore enduring, and the ceremonial and civil, which are transitory. When I used the term (imprecisely) I meant the moral law dimension of it, and thus, basically the same thing as natural law. Although I don’t think it’s quite that simple, of course, because one thing I’d like to challenge is the cut-and-dried distinction between “moral” and “civil” law…given that the latter is merely a detailed specification of the former.

    To pick an example (which I’m sure to find, as soon as you reply, was a very poor and imprecise example, but it’s all I have time for)–is the lex talionis a civil law, or a statement of moral and therefore natural law? If it’s merely a civil law, then it’s quite easy to say that Christ calls us beyond it. But if it’s a statement about justice more generally (which, to some extent, it is generally taken to be), then we have a rather more complicated question in relating the evangelical law to it.

  9. Brad,

    Let me make sure I understand you: you *are* wanting to say that the moral aspect of the Mosaic law, which is reducible to the natural law, is “old” and that the “evangelical law” transcends it?

    Maybe transcends isn’t the word. You seem to suggest a relation of tension, critical restlessness. Now, critique presupposes a knowable ideal, to which reality ought to conform. I take it you mean that the “evangelical law” is the ideal. So perhaps you could define that.

    If you start with a distinction between counsels and perfections- as you do, and you fault the Reformers for “dissolving” the distinction- do you then identify the “evangelical law” with the counsels? If that’s the case, then those who follow merely the precepts are law-less, law-breakers. In Anabaptism, this is a consistent position. Rome is a kind of compromise position, which holds that the religious are in the “perfect” mode of life, following the supposed counsels, whereas the lay are imperfect but still in the kingdom.

    Alright, so on to the question of application. You say that the distinction between moral and civil needs to be challenged, since the civil is an application of the moral; but that premise is simply the classic position. Only legal positivism denies this (or rather, brackets the question). So there’s no edgy criticism in this assertion: it’s a commonplace of traditional legal thinking.

    You say identify the Mosaic-moral and the natural law. What’s not clear to me is whether you think that this is an imperfect thing, to be transcended. My sense is that you’re equivocating on “moral law”, meaning by it both the “natural law”, supposedly transcended by the new life in Christ, but also using it to mean the thing which you think transcends it, namely, the “evangelical law.”

    My guess is that what you’re wanting to do with the example of the lex talionis is drive a wedge between political justice and evangelical ethos- “Whoa, none of us wants to poke some guy’s eye out, but poking people’s eyes out is what the bad old State and its justice is all about, so Christians can’t be part of the eye-pokey State.”

    First of all, it’s not at all clear that Christ calls us beyond the lex talionis: in fact, he recommends two of its application for *self*-administration! Metaphorically, metaphorically- of course. But you’ll see why I bring this up in a moment.

    What Christ actually calls us beyond is *vengeance*. Now, so did the old law: the old lex talionis was in fact a *limit* on vengeance, a limit whose legal form was accommodated (this isn’t just Calvin, it’s Vico too) to the time – it said No to the infinite vengeance of Lamech- and its meaning was finally that justice is about God’s order, not our own egoism. Of course, we do not hold to the specific Mosaic lex talionis, and accept monetary rather than fleshly media. But the general equity of the old law remains in civic force. If you take something away unjustly, you need to be the primary agent of restitution.

    Of course the gory character of the ancient lex talionis is stomach-churning, but to try to cash in on that in order to brand all notion of political justice as not very Christlike is a mistake. So long as there is injustice, there will need to be corrective application of justice; and so long as original sin remains, there will be injustice. If A burns down B’s house, the point of B’s being homeless remains, even if B is radiantly Christlike and forgives A from the get go. And if B’s meek example manages to convert A, the converted A will in fact be in a big hurry to do whatever he can to make amends to B. The legal order ensures the form of justice, however, whether or not A repents. Why should it do this? Out of care. It might be that B is so devoted to God’s will that it really doesn’t matter to him whether he’s got a house or not, so long as he has Christ. But B himself would recognize that his personal transcendence of what the law institutes in no way means that the law is no civic good. What if the victim is a minor? a poor single mother? The law needs to be universal and impartial, so it can be there for them. God knows how many women have been violated by institutions of the Church telling them they need to just “forgive”- meaning, they should not ever seek justice. I find this disgusting, and I think you must too.

    So tell me if this is right. I’m guessing that a)you identify the “true” (not “natural”) moral law and the evangelical law. Then b) you identify the evangelical law with the counsels, and then c) define the counsels as not expressing an ethos, but rather a politically normative law no-law, meaning, that the human community should not have ordinances of restitution, or provisions for self-defense, and so on.

    That would be, to my mind, an establishment of lovelessness in the name of love.

    The Reformers did not “dissolve” the evangelical ethos when they denied the papalist nonsense about precepts and counsels. What they said is that it is a twofold thing. All Christians are called to renounce any eschatological judgment of the neighbor, for that is God’s business alone and we can hope for all what Christ has assured us of; all Christians are called to radical forgiveness. But, since even Christians are simul justus et peccator, and live in time, this does not mean the abrogation of temporal, provisional justice- though that temporal justice admits of great development and perfection, and is certainly not uninformed by Christianity. The legal order is meant to be the guide of harmony, impartial as Christ’s “if thy right hand offend thee”; and it is the flip side of the impartial benevolence to which Christ summons us, “be ye therefore perfect,” et c.


  10. Dear All,

    As Mr. Littlejohn rightly points out, the abolition of the “counsels of perfection” (what Catholics call “theological virtues”) is problematic. By rejecting the distinction between natural and supernatural virtues (i.e. those which do not require infused grace and those which do) Mr. Escalante’s (and the Reformer’s) position destroys, in thought, the whole dynamic relationship of nature and grace. This is because, logically, it either:

    1) makes all of the virtues “natural” and thus in no need of God to attain them (a view wherein man is really quasi-divine)

    2) eliminates Original Sin (we do not need infused grace since we did not Fall or suffer any effects thereof) or

    3) renders nature, including man, completely unrecognizable as a result of the Fall and thus all good is done directly by God Himself (this is what Calvin meant when he spoke of “great darkness of philosophers who have looked for a building in the ruin, and fit arrangement in disorder”); thus the abolition of free will, thus the doctrine of Imputation.

    I think most of us will recognize the Reformer’s general preference for option #3, though it also explains some of the mercurial and inconsistent statements that are made, especially when trying to support a claim of the Reformer’s high estimation of nature.

    The Reformer’s view is all or nothing, for in it nature cannot be merely partially wounded or disordered. This would require some good and some “bad” be left after the Fall. If there is some “bad” after the Fall, how can we attain the good without some “additional” supernatural grace? If we are not all bad, then surely we can cooperate in our own salvation in some small way.

    Furthermore, if it is asserted that nature is defined only by its having been created, then I ask whether nature possesses, of itself, the fullness of Being or, if not, by what means is it preserved from tending toward non-being? Or is it claimed that a creature can communicate its own continued existence to itself?

    But back to the point, Mr. Escalante seems to assert that the “transcendence” of nature by “the Gospel” (what Catholics would call infused grace) does violence to nature. This is a fundamental misconception. Rather, the infused grace of the theological virtues simply means that, in our fallen state, these virtues cannot be actualized without supernatural assistance.

    It’s not that “nature” is being abolished in favor of a super-nature here on earth in its place, but that the wounded nature of the Fall is being divinely restored though supernatural means, here and now, by grace, with our cooperation. This is why it is ultimately grace that saves, and not faith or works. On the contrary both faith and works are ways of responding to God’s initiative of sanctifying grace.

    As far as the Commonwealth and the Church: the factor of history has been completely ignored in the discussion. This is a crucial aspect of what gives the Chruch its “being” as a unity distinct from the state, for as a citizen and a Christian I acknowledge two different “foundings” (e.g. Pentecost and 1776), which at least potentially could make competing claims upon me (the scenarios proliferate over time) and one of which already has my ultimatle loyalty.

    The Church of Jesus as an institution is identifiable vis-a-vis the state by it persistence over time, despite the rise and fall of a succession of states. It is this real historical institution that existed from the time of Jesus until now, and of which one must be a part, in order to find salvation, and which extends beyond the temporal boundaries of the state. Why must one be a part of this historical institution? Because how else will we really know that we are a part of the body of Christ, for many come in His name.

    Finally, the conversation reflects the pitfalls of the social contract view of government. A Commonwealth is not merely its citizens and their “representative.” Rather, it is a sovereign, organically constituted, people who are perforce sovereign in a particular territory and there only. Conversely, the “territory” of the Church is not of this world, although we sojourn here for now. A supernatural institution, which relies on a divine guarantee of doctrinal orthodoxy, and is the source of sacramental grace, the Church often has different loves and different interests than the state, and although these are not always in conflict, the different virtues proper to each, as well as the persistence of fallen nature, contain the seeds of enduring tension. To think that they are never in conflict, institutionally speaking, is to buy into the lie that both facilitated the Reformation and gave rise to its most enduring legacy: the complete ascendancy of the temporal power over human life.


  11. Peter,

    Your post and comments made me think of two possible exegetical counter-arguments; I’d be curious to know your response.

    1) On the “natural” vs. “evangelical” law, I think a likely proof-text against your position would be Christ’s novum mandatum: “a new commandment I give to you…”. How do you interpret that in a manner consistent with your view?

    2) I’ve been curious for a while how you would understand Peter’s (the apostle, of course) comment:

    “1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ”

    What is Peter describing there, in your taxonomy of the senses of the word “church”?



  12. Michael first, then Andrew.

    Michael, I think it would be a distraction to spend too much time hashing this out with you. Please recall that I was trained as a Thomist, and was a conservative Roman Catholic. I understand the RC position; but you are not familiar with ours, and I cannot take the time to explain it at length. But for the sake of readers, I will briefly address some of your points.

    First, you are making a very basic mistake, even on the RC version of things: you say that the “counsels of perfection” are what Catholics call “the theological virtues”. This isn’t the case. For RC, the counsels of perfection are poverty, chastity, and obedience. The theological virtues, however, are faith, hope and charity.

    The rest of your argument can be taken in abstraction from that, but it too rests of mistakes and false assumptions. The Reformers’ view is that beatitude is in a away connatural to man, not a donum superadditum; and that after the Fall, the nature remained, but in an attenuated and darkened form, and under a curse, though sustained by common grace. Let’s now review your options:

    1. Even nature depends on God absolutely. Dependence upon God’s grace is not an effect of the Fall. So this first option of yours is misconceived.

    2. Obviously, we do not hold this.

    3. You are confused here. According to the Reformers, man is quite capable of knowing nature, and even of knowing that he is made for God and that God made him. What he is not capable of after the Fall, is communion with God. Communion has to be restored by God’s grace, and it is, in Jesus Christ, who renews humanity in Himself and takes all who believe on Him into Himself, even while they are stained with sin. This restored communion, and the knowledge of the mysteries of God’s plan in this regard, is what is not possible by remnant nature. It is to the mysteries of God’s redemptive economy that Calvin refers when he says the philosophers stumbled in darkness without revelation. Calvin quite clearly teaches that the philosophers do very nicely in physics, metaphysics, politics, and so on.

    It is rather Rome which has consistently held that the natural law is not really knowable after the Fall, and says that this is the reason why we need an institutional Magisterium.

    I know that you are very invested in this narrative of yours, and as I’ve said before, it looks to me like this is because you identify salvation with metaphysics. But holding tight to the narrative isn’t the same as argument, and you can’t expect your premises to be accepted just because you believe them.


    Excellent questions.

    To your first point: the Lord is speaking of the perfection of the meaning of the Mosaic law, and thus of the Mosaic law’s supersession; He is not referring to the natural law, or to nature.

    To your second: the words of St Peter cannot be taken as referring to a real polity, or you would have to say that the Church never was the Church- because it is historically incontestable that it was never a distinct worldly polity. The Epistle of Diognetus expresses this with the utmost clarity, and all the other evidence likewise.

    “Genos” and “ethnos” do not entail the concept of “politeia”. But first, it’s important to note that the words are being used here in an extended sense; originally both involve the idea of blood relation, whereas St Peter does not intend that meaning in his usage. But more importantly, the meaning of both corresponds to the idea of what I have called the “multitude”, that is, the corpus christianum, which in itself is not politically organized, though it does so organize. The same point holds about the meaning of “laos”. As for “royal priesthood”, the better reading I think is that it means Christians are priests of God, the King; in any case, St Peter predicates it universally of all Christians, and it is true of each singly, and therefore does not indicate a distinct earthly political community; further, this passage occurs just before he goes on to urge Christians to recognize the authority of the pagan magistrates.

    Of course, St Peter is saying that Christians are distinct from unbelievers. But he is not saying that of themselves, they constitute a distinct earthly polity. Further, as St Paul notes, the “tertium genus” is where the wall between Jew and Gentile has been broken down: it is the site of abrogation of postlapsarian separation and division, it is not a radical innovation replacing original humanity altogether; in fact, as the history of the Church shows, it didn’t abrogate existing political orders or regional particularities; it simply reformed them.


  13. An addendum:

    I see I should have addressed the last point of Mr Hickman’s comment. It is mostly made up of being begged questions.

    But first, I find it suggestive that although in his initial exchange with us Mr Littlejohn dismissed Mr Hickman as a representative of the Roman way of thinking, and clearly did not want to admit to any similarity between his own position and Mr Hickman’s, Mr Hickman himself sees the connection (“As Mr Littlejohn rightly points out….”).

    So to the point. No one denies that the Christians are a sort of society. What is in question is whether they are a polity. Michael, you say “historical institution”, and presuppose by that a single, quasi-political and sovereign institutional entity. But that is precisely what has to be proved the Church is; you cannot simply assume it.

    You say that it endures while States come and go; well, what’s the “it”? We would say the Christian multitude, the universal priesthood, most certainly does endure, but one corporation of bishops, ruled by a single sovereign bishop? That does not supernaturally endure, and the Christian people in fact are in no way dependent upon such a thing.

    Both government of the visible assemblies and the government of the whole commonwealth are ordained by God; and both offices, as offices, functions, are perennial until the End. But the particular forms and dynasties of the first are no more perennial than the second. What endures through all and underlies both, is the Christian multitude.

    And it is a multitude, because any who believe on Christ are directly united to Him; they are not united to him at a remove, through some middleman of a reified institution. Michael, you cannot expect us to share your skepticism about the possibility of knowing Christ. Many do indeed come in the name of Christ, and thus you say that God has therefore picked one of those for us to lay hold of; but it is you who choose to believe on people who come in the name of Christ, not us. We simply believe on Christ. So you can see that since we don’t share your radically skeptical problem, we have no need of your radically authoritarian solution.


  14. Hey Peter,
    Sorry for the delay in answering…yesterday was a hectic mess. As it is, my reply will still be incomplete due to time constraints. (Note to Joseph Minich: your comment–with which I am in a great deal of sympathy–has not gone unnoticed, and I hope to interact with it a few days further along in this discussion.)

    Your reply here, Peter, contains a couple of basic misunderstandings of what I was saying, and a couple of very good questions, comments. The former can be addressed much more quickly, so I’ll hit those first.

    First, you said, “You say that the distinction between moral and civil needs to be challenged, since the civil is an application of the moral; but that premise is simply the classic position. Only legal positivism denies this (or rather, brackets the question). So there’s no edgy criticism in this assertion: it’s a commonplace of traditional legal thinking.”

    No, what I said was that a “cut-and-dried distinction between moral and civil needs to be challenged.” I acknowledge of course that the classic position understands the civil to be an application of the moral, but my concern is that sometimes the classic position, and more often bastardized restatements of it, oversimplify and imagine that we can casually slice-and-dice the Torah into its three component parts, separating the various laws into their neat little piles. Better to say, I think, that the Mosaic law exists under three aspects, rather than saying that it consists of three different groups of laws, which can be neatly distinguished–the latter was perhaps not what the classic position meant to say, but I have certainly come across several Reformed treatments (e.g., in pro- and anti-theonomist literature) that seem to talk of it that way. So, I don’t think we are at odds on this point, and so it probably isn’t terribly significant to the rest of the discussion…or at least, isn’t yet, though it may become so…I can’t look that far ahead just yet.

    Second, you said, “My guess is that what you’re wanting to do with the example of the lex talionis is drive a wedge between political justice and evangelical ethos- “Whoa, none of us wants to poke some guy’s eye out, but poking people’s eyes out is what the bad old State and its justice is all about, so Christians can’t be part of the eye-pokey State.”

    No, you have over-read my intention. I was not trying to raise the example of the lex talionis for any anti-political polemic purpose, but I was merely alleging it as an example of a point where there seems to be tension between old and new law. There’s nothing revolutionary about this–ever since Jesus said, “You have heard it say, but I say unto you” Christians have recognized at least the presence of a tension to be grappled with (which does not mean a contradicition) and have spent twenty centuries grappling with it in some shape or form.
    So you are also over-reading me when you say, “I’m guessing that a)you identify the “true” (not “natural”) moral law and the evangelical law. Then b) you identify the evangelical law with the counsels, and then c) define the counsels as not expressing an ethos, but rather a politically normative law no-law, meaning, that the human community should not have ordinances of restitution, or provisions for self-defense, and so on.”

    At this point, I am only asking that we do full justice to the tension, and I am registering my dissatisfaction with the way that the magisterial Reformers sought to resolve this tension. I am not claiming at all to set forth a complete satisfactory resolution of it–that is the difference between me and you (and I don’t mean by that, “that is why I’m humble and you’re arrogant”–merely, I’m restless, and you’re satisfied).
    “Maybe transcends isn’t the word. You seem to suggest a relation of tension, critical restlessness,” you said. Yes, that is a fairly apt summary. Perhaps a bit more precise (though not much more) would be to speak in terms of maturity. Having studied for years under Peter Leithart’s mentorship, I find I can’t discuss anything for long without drawing on his categories, and maturity is one of his favorites. The moral law as it is revealed to us in the Old Testament, and as natural man before Christ sought to discern it, was good and true, but immature. You are quite right to say that the point of the lex talionis was as a restraint on vengeance. But its method of restraint was to limit vengeance within reasonable bounds, not to do away with it altogether. Just as for instance the Mosaic laws on divorce were intended as a restraint, by limiting it within reasonable bounds, but did not at all do away with it altogether. Christ goes further and seeks to perfect or mature these laws by saying, “Now let’s not let it be enough merely to keep our vengeance restrained, or our divorce restrained; let’s carry out the full spirit of the law by overcoming vengeance and divorce altogether.” Thus, it should be apparent that I do not take the “evangelical law” to be actually in tension with the “natural law”–it reveals the full intent and meaning of the natural law. Rather, it is in tension with an immature and incomplete (though of course not altogether invalid) apprehension and application of the natural law.
    Now, appealing to the concept of “maturity” allows me (or at least, I want it to allow me) to give some weight to the Anabaptist perfectionist push, but, acknowledging that we are by no means fully mature merely because we are in Christ, make some room for a coexistence, in the here and now, between the ethics of maturity and the ethics of immaturity. However, I want to resist the kind of clean resolution of this coexistence into the static interior/exterior duality that it seems to me the Reformers accomplished. Simul justus et peccator, to me, is a call to grapple with an unresolved tension, not a neat solution to ethical dilemmas.

    Now, I am well aware of the good points you make about political justice as an expression of love, and indeed this is something I have been stewing about for quite a while. There are clearly points at which a Christian self-sacrificial love is quite congruent with a political order dedicated to lex talionis justice, and your example of the person whose house burned down is a good one. However, I think we would be naive to say that there are not other points where tension does emerge, and rather sharply. One that has particularly stuck in my mind is capital punishment. Where Augustine argued that, despite its legitimacy, within the terms of justice, Christians nevertheless ought to exhort magistrates to clemency, and to seek to temper the operation of justice with love. Nowhere for me is the ethical tendency of the magisterial Reformation more strikingly displayed than in Peter Martyr Vermigli’s harsh rejection of Augustine on this point in IV.14 of his Loci Communes, contending that if it is just to give criminals their full due, then it is unjust to do anything otherwise, and that the Christian principles of charity should affect only the heart of the magistrate, not his actions.

    Anyway, I explore and discuss all of this more in a post I just put up on my blog, on a topic I was working on anyway right before this discussion came up: As I’m of course more comfortable carrying on at least some of this debate on my own turf (and I notice that, ever since my post a month ago on my blog, you have monopolistically confined all subsequent discussion to your turf over here 😉 ), I won’t say any more here, but I’d like to invite you to engage with that post over there, and if necessary tell me where I’ve got it wrong, and I will try to explore this question further in additional posts over there, since that enables me to be a bit more systematic than the ad hoc discussion that generally transpires in the comments section.

    Also, you will note that I did not reply to your request for a definition of “evangelical law.” I didn’t think that it admitted of a concise, sound-byte definition, so I’m going to defer that just until I can hopefully type up an adequate discussion of the issue. Note that I just used this term as a convenient shorthand, and am not wed to that term as such, if it should prove misleading (as indeed the legalistic connections already do).

  15. It is helpful to see, even though readers will have to extract this from the suppositions of some our critics, that the idea of the Reformers having the higher view of “nature” and “natural law” is coming through. This claim is typically contested when simply expressed in this manner, but it is conceded when we discuss the abiding validity of the natural law or the capability of man’s reason. This is where the bumper-cars are bumping.

    The Reformed view of nature/grace is that nature is always already graced and that grace then “perfects” nature by bringing nature to its original intended end. It actualizes the potentialities. This is why the Reformed emphasize “creation ordinances” and “the natural order.”

    The non-Reformed views either claim that nature is lost by the fall and in need of recovery through a supernatural agent (usually the institutional church) or that nature is in fact replaced by grace (thus the withering away of family and state).

  16. Brad,

    I do try to bear in mind that you are working your way through all these things, which is why I often pose questions to you, eg “do you actually think X”, and “what do you mean by X?” I certainly do not wish to misread you- but all I have to go on is what you write.

    I just read your latest blog, which you’ve linked above. It’s a very good summary, and you’ve posed some very good questions. I will, as you’ve requested, engage with your post there. I will of course be defending the “Protestant move” you find “unsatisfactory”. I would simply suggest, as a point of intellectual method, that you be sure to allow your feeling of dissatisfaction to be initial and provisional, unless you’re morally certain that you’ve thought through the position thoroughly enough to arrive at a decisive judgment. It’s a good rule to follow in general.


  17. An addendum to my last comment:


    I have often stressed the need to use words precisely, and that’s why I have asked, for instance, that “evangelical law” be defined.

    Even topics of argument need to be clarified. For instance, your position strikes us as a sort of left-wing Reconstructionism, as Steven has put it; and when you say you don’t like the sharp distinction of categories between “moral” and “civil”, surely you must know that the Reconstructionists used to harp on exactly the same thing; resistance to that distinction was one of their hallmarks; so when you say that sort of thing, it’s reminiscent of Reconstructionism, and I need to know why it shouldn’t be.

    Too, words like “maturity” are very broad and metaphorical, and need to be defined more precisely. And it’s only just to point out that Leithart gets that “maturity” trope straight from James Jordan; Leithart glosses it, but it’s Jordan’s leitmotif, as Leithart would be the first to admit; Leithart somewhere says that if his books serve to introduce readers to Jordan, they’ll have served their purpose; or something to that effect. Now, I am certainly no adherent of Jordan’s theology, but it is only fair to give the man credit for his ideas. I know what the “maturity” trope means in Jordan, and what the implications of that are for his doctrine of civic life; and what it means in Jordan is more or less what it means for Leithart, of course, and you get it from Leithart. So I need to know why what it means with you isn’t what it means with Jordan.


  18. Joseph,

    This is a bit late, but I’ll try to respond to your comment at the top.

    There were a few claims that I could extract, and I’ll try to list them for order’s sake:

    1) The Church and State have different purposes and membership requirements.

    2) A Christian has specifically “Christian” things to do (liturgy, charity) as well as specifically “human” things to do (vocation). These can inform one another and influence one another, but they can still be essentially distinguished.

    3) The visible church does have some “specifically Christian things to do” (charity, koinonia) which are also properly “political,” and in those cases the Church does appear as an alternative city which serves as an example for the fallen, human city.

    Did I leave anything out?

    We agree with each of your points, but in the context of this discussion we want to be more precise than just the shorthand “Church” and “State” and talk about people in specific. After all, there really is no such thing as “The State.” There is, instead, people living with other people and thus having to figure out how to do that. The collective is referred to as “the State,” but it always reduces to specific people or groups of people at work.

    1) I would say, though, that most of the qualities which “the State” possesses which make it different from the Church are also qualities which certain visible churches use to make themselves different from other visible churches. I am a member a local church for geographic reasons, as well as certain socio-political ones (language, ethnicity), all in addition to creed. So too, states have creeds of sorts, and in the modern day you can actually leave one state and join another (providing you have the means) because of certain creedal differences.

    We can still differentiate Church and State, but I would be careful not to be too hasty about it.

    Also, the fact that something is “political” or has political elements, does not make it a polis. This seems to be the biggest confusion in church-talk these days. The Church has certain unique qualities, as well as manners, regimentation, and even types of laws, but that doesn’t make it a city any more than the Boy Scouts, Grand Elk Lodge, or the ACLU are cities.

    2) I agree with the distinction, and I think it is important. I don’t like certain points of the neo-Calvinist project where they want a unique Christian alternative for everything in life.

    What is necessary to say immediately after this, however, is that “human” and “nature” are still in the image of the Christian God, and thus a Christian vocation is merely that vocation done properly and filled with love.

    3) I’ve already mentioned why being political does not make you a polis. Also, the Church’s koinonia in the book of Acts was “house to house” and thus very much overlapped with vocation and natural/human society. I don’t see any textual reason to suppose that it was hierarchically arranged and ordered, however, and thus I don’t see why that’s a problem for “the people” do be doing it freely and as they go about.

    Thus the koinonia would be exemplary for the world, but it would take place within that world and would transform it without coercion but through persuasion and attraction.

    We’ve got no problem with the concept of transformation. We’re for it. Heck, we’re postmils!

  19. Peter,

    Maybe this will help.

    You wrote: “You say that [the Church] endures while States come and go; well, what’s the ‘it’?”

    You really should think through your philosophy here, not for the sake of salvation, but for the sake of clarity and truth.

    Clearly, “being” does not equate with materiality, but rather has to do with actuality (i.e. the degree to which something has actualized its potential).

    Nor, to have being, does the potential have to be actualized by a “natural” substance. For example a house has real being as a house even though it is man-made. This is because the house is actualizing the form of the house, in this case as conceived in the mind of the builder. The house doesn’t have any more “material” than the bricks and such that made it, but it now has more actuality (it was potentially a house before) and therefore more being.

    This is why Aristotle says that a whole is more than the sum of its parts. And this is why (as a pagan who apparently did not believe in an afterlife) he also says that the individuals of the body politic exist for the sake of the polis. The polis is prior to the individual, not from a chronological perspective, but from the perspective of actualization and therefore being. The polis is more “perfect” than the individual and therefore has more being, since perfection is to actualize potential, and a person can only fulfill his potential in a polis.

    How much more then, does the Church have real being, even though there is no additional “material” element to which one can point beyond its constituent members? The different beings of the Church and state cannot “materially” conflict because they are not “materially” distinct. The problem is your conception of what it means to be an “it.”

    The Church is more than its constituent members in the order of being. It has a soul indeed, which is the Holy Spirit, and which can more or less actualize its potential, filling “up those things that are wanting for the sufferings of Christ” for His body the Church.

    I would think that enthusiasts of the “classical” philosophy (is this like Locke’s “natural” law?) would not make this error which is really the loss of teleology. For although the Church is not a natural “substance,” it is a body indeed (hence the word “mystical,” suggesting a real oneness) it is more than the sum of its parts just as a human body is more than its “material” components (i.e. cells, blood, organs, molecules, atoms- joined, no doubt, in some obscure Cartesian dualism to a “spirit”).

    But then again, it appears that Luther felt the same way when he said:

    “During these centuries many other things have been wrongly defined, for example, that the Divine essence neither is begotten nor begets, that the soul is the substantial form of the human body, and the like assertions, which are made without reason or sense.”
    (emphasis added).

    I realize that the momentum of the conversation here is not to an engagement with Catholicism, so I will leave the other questions aside. I am enjoying reading what is said.

    However, I was a bit disappointed that we did not get to discuss whether modern democratic liberalism is the ideal regime for Christianity.


  20. Michael,

    Thanks for understanding that the present conversation is not an engagement with papalism. Perhaps we can continue that discussion some other time. As for democratic liberalism and the question of the ideal regime, that could be discussed here, though not at great length.

    A few remarks about your analogies and your idea of the church, since this might prove helpful in the present discussion.

    We grant that the Church is not a mere assemblage of individuals. We say that most properly speaking, it is the mystical body of Christ, united to and in Him. This body however is heavenly: it is a spiritual polis. Its members on earth are a multitude, which organizes itself around the Word visibly, as the true believers are gathered into the Word invisibly (by faith).

    What we deny is that any specific form of the Christian people’s self-organization is a continuous extension of the mystical body. The Spirit is not “more” in the ministerium than in the whole people, and the ministerium mediates neither Christ nor the Spirit to the people. The ministerium preaches and exhibits Christ, but is not vicarius Christi or alter Christus in anything other than a representative sense.

    Your point of view transfers the qualities of the invisible church to the contingent forms of the corpus christianum’s self-organization. We have however no Biblical, historical, or rational reason to make this confusion.

    As a point of Aristotelian philosophy, you might want to be be more careful to be clear about the way in which your metaphors are metaphors. A house, being an artifact, is not a substance, and thus doesn’t tell you much about organic actuality or political community; and I do wonder where you get the idea that a house has “more being” than its component parts. A real substance certainly does have more being than its parts, but artifacts are notoriously iffy for Aristotle on that score. Now, an artifact does have more being than its plan (the design of it in the mind of the artist), but that being comes from the materiality of its parts; how that serves your purpose, I can’t tell.

    Further, Aristotle’s famous whole/part explanation of the polis and its members is heavily qualified, even in his own texts. It is quite clear that the nous of the actualized Aristotelian sage is not a part of the polis; it transcends and comprehends the polis, because it is effectively identical with the kosmos, even while the sage in question, as an embodied citizen, is “part” of his community. This is a complicated question with a long history, and this topos can be used as easily against your particular position as for it.


  21. Steven,

    Thanks very much for those clarifying points. Whatever problems I might have at this point would (probably) only be material rather than formal (am I getting my “al’s” mixed up?) If anything, I’d just want to say that the definition of church and commonwealth in terms of “people” must always mean “people as x” and “people as y.” But it sounds to me that you (at least) functionally grant this.
    As well…I appreciate your distinction between politics and polis (your example of the Boy Scouts is a good one). While I think we can speak of the visible church as a commonwealth, a community, a polis…etc…I recognize that I am only using these words analogously to how these words are used when speaking about the natural commonwealth. The only “one-for-one” correspondence between the two would be the eschatological commonwealth with the present commonwealth. In the interim, the latter is only present in anticipation. While this creates certain visible overlaps (caring for the widows and orphans, etc), it is not tension…but rather example.
    Finally, even if semantic differences remain (I’m not sure they do), I am sympathetic to the agenda. The church exists for the sake of the world and its’ blessing. For all the benefits (in my judgment) about using political language to talk about the visible church…it seems to me that the emphasis needs to be that the church is there for the blessing of the nations as nations…not a revolutionary operation that wants the natural commonwealth assimilated into the order of the visible church. This seems to be precisely what folks like Justin argued to the Emperor. Much less than revolutionaries, Christians were the best citizens and were good for Rome qua Rome.

  22. Peter,

    Thanks for your helpful reply! I hope you don’t mind if I continue my line of questions a little. Perhaps this is a digression in the discussion, but these kind of exegetical issues are the most important to me (and maybe they will be to other evangelicals, too, since we’re all about sola scriptura, etc.).

    Re: the Peter text, I am fully satisfied with your explanation. Thanks for the detailed interpretation!

    With regards to the novum mandatum, however, I remain slightly confused. It seemed that earlier, in response to Mr. Littlejohn, that you suggested Christ’s moral teaching in the SoM did not really take us beyond the lex talionis. It is hard for me to understand how that fits with the view you expressed that the novum “perfects” and supercedes the Mosaic law. In this case, you language seems to actually be closer to Mr. Littlejohn’s language of Christ’s teaching bringing us to “maturity” than your own view of the SoM. I’m very interested to see how you understand all this! 🙂

    Also, if you don’t mind, another text that was significant in previously persuading me of the church-as-polis thesis was Philippians’ language of Christians as “citizens of heaven”, especially in light of NT Wright’s view of the passage, which suggests that just as Philippi was a Roman colony which was proud of its status and sought to “Romanize” the colony, so the Christians were being exhorted by Paul to “heavenize” their “place”. What do you think of the text and/or Wright’s use of it?

    This discussion, as it has been from the beginning, has been very educational for me. I look forward to learning more from you and Steven.



  23. Now I am baffled! Because I quite completely agree with Minich’s last remark there (at least, I think I do), and yet Steven says he agrees with it! But Steven thinks that he disagrees completely with me.

    Or more to the point, I was struck by Steven’s willingness to say, in his first reply to Joseph, that while the Church is not a polis per se, it does of course have many political features. Well, thank you! I’ve of course been happy to say all along (with Joseph) that Church-as-polis language is clearly metaphorical and there are many ways in which the Church is _not_ a polis, or a political unit, as traditionally understood. Of course, I’m sure we still disagree, but it seems to me that we’ve perhaps been reading one another too one-sidedly.

    Regarding your first comment–that any dissatisfaction I have with the Protestant position needs to be provisional–well of course, absolutely! I’ve been trying to stress provisionality ever since we started discussing these issues, and indeed my chief beef with you, as I’ve often said, is that you don’t seem to leave anything provisional, but treat everything as certainly resolved and settled.

    Regarding your second comment, you’re going to have to elaborate for me how anything I’m saying is a form of “Reconstructionism” because I only thought of myself as Reconstructionist for a year or two in high school, and pretty thoroughly rejected that movement, at least as I understood it, quite some time ago. I really don’t know what you are getting at, so please do flesh it out.

    Regarding Leithart and Jordan, it looks to me like you are trying to discredit me by discrediting Leithart by equating him with Jordan, who none of us like. And that’s just cheap rhetoric, I say. Leithart’s political theory is not Jordan’s, Leithart’s ecclesiology is not Jordan’s, Leithart is a far more sophisticated and subtle theologian than Jordan. I will put “a clear definition of maturity” (inasmuch as such a thing could be possible) on my list of things to cover as I work through a response to your challenges. But, do me a favor and, as with Reconstructionism, tell me what you think “maturity” means for Jordan’s doctrine of civic life, and then I’ll tell you exactly how it means something different for me.

  24. I wouldn’t say that none of us like Jordan. He is certainly less easily quotable among certain company, but I have received countless insights from Jim. I find him to be one of the truly original thinkers among 20th cent. American Reformed theology, and a few of his books remain near to my heart.

    He does need grooming, of course, and it seems to me that is exactly what Leithart does. He sophisticates Jordan, but the foundational concepts look the same to me. This conclusion seems to be supported by the dedication to Jim which Leithart makes at the beginning of The Priesthood of the Plebs, as well as the introductory note in A House For My Name.

    While making critiques at various points, Peter Escalante and I retain a high level of respect for Jim Jordan.

  25. No disagreement with you there about Jordan, even if I have found myself at times so antagonized by him as to forget his valuable contributions–but that is just my hot head, perhaps. I perhaps took Peter to be more negative toward Jordan than you have just expressed.

    But yes, I don’t want to come across as unappreciative of his fantastic insights.

  26. Andrew,

    To your first question: yes, I can see how that might be unclear. What I was getting at in the lines you mention is this: the Sermon on the Mount does not abolish political justice, because that would institute lawlessness. But the word of the Lord does call us to interiorize, to appropriate, the spirit of the Law in its pedagogical aspect. The perfection of the meaning of the Law is of piece with the bestowal of hearts of flesh, which have love and equity as proper to them; the relation of believers to the Law in its essence is no longer heteronomous (the Law as pedagogue, let alone the Law as ministry of death), but relatively autonomous, since Christians are sons and not slaves. By relative autonomy, I mean simply that as sons, we have God’s law of love as our own spiritual blood, it is now a principle within us, which does not mean that we do not still need it as a principle outside us, for we are of course temporal beings and moreover still sinners. Which is why we still need an order of political justice, and it is in this sense that the Sermon on the Mount does not call us as citizens to abolish such an order within the commonwealth; rather, we are to establish and support it. What we are not bound to, is the Law as measure of justification (for we are justified by Christ, and through faith alone), or to the historic specifics of its ancient forms. We are bound to its general equity, as a mode of charity.

    About “citizens of heaven”. Of course we are that. The question is whether heavenly citizenship has a specific political form in an earthly sense. We say no- our earthly citizenship is regional and political in commonwealths devoted to harmonious coexistence and the conditions of mutual betterment for all on that plot of land. The heavenly City, being heavenly, is thus able to pervade all earthly cities. The Christian community does not constitute a distinct political order on earth, which would necessarily exist then in perpetual earthly opposition to its neighbors, such as we see in the Muslim opposition between dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb. Medieval Christendom attempted to approximate this, under the Papacy, but the Reformation corrected that.

    We are indeed called to “heavenize” our place, but just as Rome was not literally in Phillipi, neither is the heavenly polis as such located on earth. One often hears clerocrats going on about Mother Church, and what they mean is, Mama Ministerium, which puts the “laity” in a position of perpetual minority; but St Paul, when he speaks of our Mother, the Jerusalem above, is using the language of Roman order: “mother” means the metropole of which the the colonies are colonies. Christians are citizens of a heavenly metropole, and they heavenize their earthly places by way of changes in principle and in practice which aim to perfect but not abolish the earthly polities; their “Romanitas” (to continue with Wright) is simply love and grace, though there are of course certain concrete political-legal results of official recognition of the Lordship of Jesus in a commonwealth. But primarily what happens is that Christians bring heavenly joy and the energy of spiritual freedom to the orders and vocations. But again, the way in which the mystical body most basically overlaps, as it were, the temporal realm, is as a multitude, not a governmental hierarchy. Beyond its basic temporal profile (multitude) the mystical body is most “apparent” as such in the synaxis of charity and celebration around the Word; this has needs of order, but the order serves the event, not the other way around.


  27. Peter,

    Once again, you have given very good and helpful explanations. Thanks!

    I just want to add one further comment, which I think is supportive of your thoughts on the novum mandatum: I’m now pretty inclined to viewing the “newness” of the novum as being formal rather than material. By that I mean, I think the OT morally required “laying down your life for your friends” (and Moses springs to mind as an OT example of this, when he offered his life instead of Israel’s), but at that point there was no God-incarnate-Messiah who had done just that for us as an example. It is the vivid example as the basis for the novum that makes it truly new. Or at least, that seems to make the most sense to me. This seem entirely consistent with your point about the novum’s relation to the new heart (and indeed, it makes sense that the law would become in some sense new when the nature of its subjects’ hearts was also in some sense new). None of this requires, as you said, the abolition of political justice.

  28. Peter (or Steven),

    I know this must be getting irritating, but I have on last verse I’d be curious to get your take on (and if I think of another, I’ll keep it to myself for this post!). It might be worth addressing, though, since I know Leithart points to it as an example where the kingdom of Christ is equated with the Church:

    Col 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
    Col 1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

    Is Paul talking about the mystical body, or the corpus christianum, or something else?



  29. Andrew,

    These are good questions, and not in the least irritating!

    I think it pretty clear that St Paul means the mystical body. The kingdom of darkness is not Gentile civic order as such, but rather, the power of wickedness and death in the heart of fallen man, and in the cosmos. Gentile civic order, as such, was a God-given good, and something perfected by its acclamation of Christ; so that’s not what we are delivered from.

    I don’t know the passage of Leithart’s you’re referring to, so I don’t know what he means by Church in this passage you mention. If he means the mystical body, then of course the Kingdom of Christ is directly equated with that Church. If he means the visible assembly without qualification, that would be extremely difficult to coherently maintain. The scope of Christ’s kingship is worldwide, but it is not immediate in the world in the way it is immediate in the communion of saints, and doesn’t do the same thing . And the visible assemblies are, in the end, temporal institutions, though of divine appointment in their essence.

    It would be absurd to say that we are justified by associating with other people, or by being subject to a minister. We are justified wholly by faith in Christ; so clearly St Paul cannot mean that simply by being a professing member of a congregation, we are delivered from darkness. We are rather delivered from darkness through personal union with the Son, and the visible church does not stand “between” a believer and the Son; it is rather, in its truth, made up of believers on the Son.

    Further, it is evident Biblically and historically that the Christians never set up themselves up as a distinct polity, never promulgated Christian law to replace Roman law, and so on. In fact, they were the best of citizens. Given that this is the case, Gentile civic order as such could not have been the kingdom of darkness from which they were delivered. And the visible assembly can of course be said to be the Kingdom of Christ in a relative sense, but it is rather the mystical body which is the Kingdom of Christ in the plenary sense.


  30. The torrid pace of commenting prevents me from being able to stay current in this whole conversation. But I want to make one point of clarification about one of Steven’s comments from yesterday. Forgive me if this comes across as overly semantic, but I wasn’t entirely sure why Steven states that “the Reformed view” is grace perfects nature, while “non-Reformed” views deviate from that in some way. Of course, as both Peter and Steven have said elsewhere, grace perfects nature is just a classic Thomistic axiom, and not uniquely Reformed.

    I wanted to emphasize this for a reason: namely, just as the Thomist tradition is not uniform on exactly what this means, in practice, I don’t believe that it’s wise for us to assume that the Reformed tradition was able to attain this uniformity. In its worst forms, that kind of belief is just scholastic hubris. Yes, the Reformed possessed a shared theopolitical grammar (one that many of them derived from various Thomistic sources), but that grammar allows for diverse iterations. This was one of my original questions for Peter and Steven. I’m a little uneasy at the way in which we tend to ramify “the Reformed tradition,” as if it is impervious to social conditions.

    Practically speaking, I’d like to offer this one meager claim: Brad’s position falls within the Reformed tradition (even if he himself doesn’t want to admit it!). So do the positions of Barth, Brunner, and O’Donovan, in different ways and to varying degrees. Each would say, I believe, that grace perfects nature, even though each would interpret that axiom in different ways (Barth would prefer language of Christological analogy, and O’Donovan would likely speak of the restoration of creation orders).

  31. Thanks again, Peter! I’m feeling much more confident that you’re probably right about this larger issue (church-as-polis) now…

  32. Davey,

    Until Brad defines what he means by “nature” it will be hard to decide whether or not his view falls within the Reformed tradition. You might well be right, but I haven’t the evidence to know that one way or another as of now.

    Our view that nature is reduced, but still in general outline what it Edenically was; and this is the view of the Reformers. Others hold that “nature” is radically unlike anything we know now: eg, some of the more fanatically enthusiast Anabaptists, or the Athonite strain of Eastern Christianity. If what they mean by “nature” is allowable, then “grace perfects nature” comes to mean entirely different things in different mouths.

    And we have been using the Thomistic axiom rather loosely; it would be better, of course, to say “nature is creative grace, and is restored by redemptive grace”. The “gratia supponit et perfecit naturam” axiom can be misread along the lines of the donum supperadditum, a reading wherein man was always meant to be angelic, and and temporal embodiment as we know it is simply a sort of larval phase. We don’t accept this view; neither did the Reformers.

    On the idea of a “Reformed position”: we do think there is enough of a common pattern or consensus to justify speaking this way. Of course there were nuances and sometimes even violent differences: the opposition of Hooker and Cartwright come to mind. However, in such cases, it seems fairly easy to decide where the consensus is (in the case I mention, Hooker is the winner hands down).


  33. Wow Davey, so you’ve decided to re-embrace me as within the Reformed tradition? How very hospitable of you! I’m not sure whether I would want to affirm or deny it, so I eagerly wait to see whether my remarks over the next couple weeks decide the question for you and Peter. I of course agree with you though about the tradition being broader than Peter paints it as, but as he and I have argued that point rather fruitlessly several times before, I’ll leave it be.

    Anyway, sorry for a couple days’ silence–Peter and I have been carrying on some of this discussion in private, so as to pre-emptively resolve misunderstandings instead of laboriously hashing them out in a public spectacle. I have also been starting work on answering some of his questions of definition–what do I mean by “Church”? by “nature”? by “evangelical law”? Such a definitional task is not something that should be done hastily, and so it was not till this afternoon that I brought forth in much travail a first (probably still too hasty) stab at defining what I think of “natural law,” which I have just posted here:

    So go have at it! I look forward to reading Peter’s withering cross-examination during my Sabbath afternoon. 😉

  34. The question about “Reformed tradition” depends on whether we are talking about the total amount of diversity among theologians who self-identified as Reformed or whether we are talking about consistent principles.

    The Covenanters would be a good example. To hear them tell it, they are the most Reformed of all. However, if you compare them with Luther, Calvin, Heidelberg, and Cranmer/Jewel/Hooker, they’ll look much more like descendants of the radical Reformation. So too with the modern re-definition of “Two Kingdoms.” On the face of it, they’re the supreme Reformed gurus, but upon comparison with Calvin and Luther the story changes considerably.

    Once we narrow it down to the specific question of politics or nature/grace, the Reformed consensus really does stand out, particularly among the 1st and 2nd generation of magisterial Reformers.

  35. Steven or Peter,

    I was reading in Calvin’s commentaries the other day, and came across a comment by him I’d appreciate parsing from your perspective. I don’t know if this was a rare way of speaking by Calvin, but if it isn’t, it might help somewhat with discussions of the Reformed consensus to understand what he meant here. Under his comments on Acts 4:19:

    “Therefore, by what title soever men be called, yet must we hear them only upon this condition, if they lead us not away from obeying God. So that we must examine all their traditions by the rule of the Word of God. We must obey princes and others which are in authority, yet so that they rob not God (who is the chief King, Father, and Lord) of his right and authority. If we must observe such modesty in politic [civil] government, it ought to be of far more force in the spiritual government of the Church. And lest, according to their wonted pride, they think that their authority is abated, when God is extolled above them, Peter draweth them away from such pleasant flattering of themselves, telling them that this matter must be determined before the judgment-seat of God; for he saith plainly before [in the sight of] God; because, howsoever men be blinded, yet will God never suffer any man to be preferred before him.”

    Most specifically, I’m trying to understand what Calvin meant by calling (apparently) the ministerium the “spiritual government”.


  36. I just have an observation to counter the repeated analogy to voluntary organizations like the Boy Scouts: i.e., covenantal succession, or paedobaptism. Paedobaptism is certainly part of the Reformed tradition, which means that membership in the church, and thus in the kingdom and household of God (WCF 25.2), is not necessarily voluntary. My son, like it or not, is part of that society, and thus subject to its direction. That is much more like an actual polis than a voluntary organization…

    Other observations:
    -Paul clearly expects that the eschatological order should have some impact on current politics, when he tells the Corinthians not to take their lawsuits before outsiders. It was the role of the state magistrate and citizens to hear such cases, and thus Paul clearly requires a different order of polity in those judicial matters.
    -Jesus clearly demarcates some sort of hierarchy in the church as functioning on different principles as the Gentile civitas (Matt. 20:25ff).
    -The sort of structure to the world given in Vergil and official Augustan propaganda was formally identical to that given in the Gospels, putting Christ and Caesar in direct material opposition. One Lord meant that Caesar wasn’t kurios or dominus. Christ’s claim to “pasa exousia” means that he outranks Caesar’s “megale exousia,” and the apostles hold the function of Augustus’ legates: those appointed directly by the sovereign to declare and set up that rule.
    -someone used Luke 17:21 as a prooftext for the corpus mysticum. Wrong. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees–and the kingdom of God is certainly not inside them. “In your midst” or “among you” is a better translation, compared to “upon” in Matt. 12:28

  37. Joshua,

    A few comments by way of reply to a post that I (at least mostly) agree with:

    I completely agree that the church is not some sort of “voluntary organization” like a private club. The Boy Scouts were mentioned by way of example as an institution that has features analogous to the natural commonwealth…but which does not share all features in common with the polis. Certainly there is more overlap between the church and polis (community life, etc)…but there is disanalogy as well. Like the Boy Scouts, all we can do with our naughty members is to kick them out. The organization of the community around Christian identity can only exercize authority by persuasion and appeal…not force.

    I can’t speak for others, but I certainly want to say that the eschatological order has “some impact” on current church politics. The example you bring up (1 Cor. 6) is a good one. Though I’m not sure that I’d say that Paul requires a “different order of polity” for the brethren. My sense is that whatever he encourages of the brethren would set a good example for the Romans. Don’t bite and devour one another in lawsuits? Surely Paul would say the same to those in secular courts. But he wants believers to set an example in this way. We can solve our own problems because the Spirit builds up our community in love. This is not a “different order” but an “exemplary order.”

    Certainly the visible church has a political order that is analogous to the order of the commonwealth. But I’m not sure they are “functioning on different principles,” or at least we’d want to say that whatever “different principles” exist between the two are not contrary principles, but different on account of the nature of each institution. Wherever there is conflict, I think we’d want to say that it is not a conflict of principles of a commonwealth as such…but only in their application in sinful society.

    I tend to be persuaded by the whole “critiquing the Imperial cult” thing…but it stands to fact that no-one (or at least almost no-one) ever called for the removal of the office of emperor as such. The cult could go, but the position itself could be redeemed. This seems to be how the early Christians almost universally responded to the emperor…and it is consonant with the New Testament emphasis. An analogy to the institution of kingship in the Ancient Near East might help. Almost all kings in the ANE were considered to be “divine.” The connection between kinship and the divine pantheon was part and parcel of their notion of kingship. But the “kingship of God” in the O.T. (analogous to the “Emperor Christ” in the new) never precluded the institution of human kingship as such. It was a promise of the Abrahamic covenant long before there was an Israelite king. Why? Because God could appropriate the institution for His own purposes. Or better, Adam is the original analogue of a king of which the nations are rip-offs. The office of emperor in Roman society could be justified along these lines.

    On balance, I think it is important, on the one hand, to recognize political features in the visible church…but to say that it nontheless does not possess all the features of the natural commonwealth. There is a “now/not yet” aspect to the church…and it will only fully be realized in the eschaton. But it makes a difference in the here and now and guided by New Testament revelation. And on the other hand, it is important to say that whatever political features the church has which are analogous to the natural commonwealth are not in any fundamental tension with the commonwealth. It is not Jesus versus Ceasar as such…but Jesus against sinful Ceasar and FOR redeeming Ceasar as Ceasar. In any case, this seems to be how the history goes.

  38. Andrew,

    My read on that Calvin section is that its just a general shorthand for civic leadership and ministerial leadership. I don’t see that as a two-kingdoms distinction at all, since he’s paralleling the two, and he’s talking about the limits of pastors and counsels and where they should be obeyed and where not.

    You get this manner of speaking a lot in the generic, as you still today (the ministry is a “higher calling”, etc.), but whenever Calvin means to focus on the two kingdoms or dual regnum of Christ, he gets more specific that he’s talking about body and soul or temporal/earthly vs. eternal/heavenly.

  39. Joshua,

    1) Paedobaptism is an area of jurisdiction. Your child is under your authority while he remains in his minority, and thus you speak for him during that time. The BCP baptismal form shows this clearly: “Do you in the name of this child promise to…”

    You would never coerce an adult to join the church against his will, and even if you did, the Prot. position is that such “membership” would be of no benefit. Instead, it would cause great harm.

    2) The issue in 1 Cor. 6 is not totally obvious. It has to first be noted that Paul says that the righteous shouldn’t be “going to law” against one another at all. Better to be let yourself be cheated.

    Also, the textual distinction is between unrighteous/unbelievers and holy. We’d need to know whether to read this objectively (church members/righteous law code) or subjectively (true believers/wise and able judges). In the case of a Christian commonwealth, the objective reading would pose no problem at all. Even now it could be argued that the “secular” courthouse in Jackson, MS is still completely bound up in a “holy” constitution, as it has a statue of Moses atop its roof and a plethora of Christendom artifacts in its own legal self-identity and code.

    Finally, many institutions have judicial and executive branches. Universities have their own police and even courts (honor counsels, faculty boards, etc.) There are definitely Church Courts, and there are issues which are specific to their jurisdiction. The real debate is over the bounds of the jurisdiction. Is a Christian murderer immune to being tried by the State? I would think not. He may have two trials to undergo, with the Church excommunicating him, but he’d still need to answer to the temporal power as well.

    3) Matthew 20:25ff requires a two-kingdoms reading (referring to attitude and spiritual posture) or else you end up having children, paupers, and the mentally unstable holding the office of magistrate. I think its safe to assume that’s not the normal reading of those verses.

    4) Joseph has explained this well. The apostles everywhere affirm the validity of the king, and Peter, among a litany of submission/hierarchy statements, instructs slaves to obey even cruel taskmasters. Elsewhere we are told that this is not just strategy, but out of conscience’s sake. Office still deserves respect. And Contra N T Wright, the New Testament gives a fairly positive presentation of Rome.

    5) Plenty of Pharisees were in fact believers, but it seems easiest to say that Jesus is speaking in general terms about the kingdom’s qualities. This isn’t based on one term, but rather the contrast he makes. Don’t look for the kingdom based on evidence, nor temporal location (vs. 21’s use of “Lo here” and “Lo there”).

    It is true that Christianity “changes” things. But that change comes by way of de-sacralizing the political across the board and not by setting up an alternative version of it.

  40. OK, I’m trying to keep up with the detailed and erudite arguments on this one and I’m struggling quite a bit. Can I get some book recommendations from several (any) of you brothers so that I can have a more solid grasp of these issues? Anything that comes to mind that’s, y’know, 200-300 pages or so. Probably a paperback, too.

    Thanks in advance and I do apologize for the interruption.

    In Christ,


  41. Steven,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Also, as a support for you comments re: 1 Cor. 6, Brian Rosner brings up some interesting points in his book “Paul, Scripture and Ethics” pp. 106-108.:

    It seems (a) that there is good evidence Corinthian judges were known to be partial and thus fail the OT (and natural law, presumably) test for righteous judges, and thus were not to be sought after for judgment, and (b) both the OT and Paul also had some recognition of the distinction between civil and criminal law. Perhaps this latter point would allow the suggestion that civil crimes could be prosecuted at the option of the victim, whereas criminal cases could not be (i.e., that it would be sinful for a victim to try to prevent criminal prosecution in this sense). I’m not sure if there is direct evidence for this in the OT (or the NT, for that matter), but if there was it would be helpful.

  42. Wow, I had stopped following the discussion here once the main thread of it moved over to my blog. There’s a few good things here, but probably best to resist the temptation to pick them up just now.

    Only, in response to Daniel’s question for book recommendations, I don’t think you could do much better than Leithart’s brand-new book Defending Constantine–a very balanced view, perhaps a bit close to Steven’s viewpoint than I myself am, but significantly different on several important points. There’s a lot of history there too, though, that you have to get through before you get to the political theology meat. But the history is fascinating and compellingly told. I also find Leithart’s Against Christianity a powerful perspective on the political dimensions of ecclesiology.

  43. Pingback: The varieties of Christian politics « City of God

  44. Pingback: An Intro to the Calvinist International | Calvinist International

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