Is Christ for the City?

It’s funny how trends change, and it’s even funnier how church trends change.  There was once a time when Presbyterian intellectuals made the argument that agrarian living was better than city-living.  John Murray said this went back to the city’s founding-father, Cain, and the Southern Presbyterians often argued that agrarian living allowed one to be most human, in touch with the soil and protecting a certain “slow” pace that left time for community, literature, and family.  If you can believe it, there was even a time when GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc argued that the suburbs were closest to the Christian ideal, allowing modern man to retain his economic freedom while yet also giving him his own space for land and a family.  Now of course, the city is all the rage.

We are told that the church is itself a city, a “polis,” that the Biblical vision of the future is urban, that Paul’s missionary strategy was urban, and that the city is more receptive to the gospel.  All of this is true, in a way, but it is also a bit over-hyped. Continue reading

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“Sacramentalizing” and “r2k” are Two Sides to the Same Coin

I’ve managed to come to this odd position where I could be construed as critiquing both certain strands of neo-Calvinism and Radical Orthodoxy (a more left-wing variant of the same concepts) on the one hand and the so-called “two kingdoms” school (called “radical 2k” by their critics) on the other hand.  A surface approach would think that one should line up with one of these groups to attack the other.  This is not the case, however, because both share the same basic problem of not being able to allow nature and grace to dwell together happily. Continue reading

Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (Part 3)

~ This is a guest post by Peter Escalante.  The first two installments can be found here and here.

 

What we have in common with neo-Anabaptism at its best is love for the Kingdom of God, and love for the world. And neo-Anabaptist critiques of Christian compromise and complacency are very often apt. These should be heeded so far as they hit home.

But heeding these rebukes cannot mean accepting the schismatic and perfectionist principles of neo-Anabaptism, its rejection of ordinary domestic and life. For it is within ordinary life, within this very world, that the Kingdom of God grows by the Spirit.

The orthodox evangelical doctrine of the two kingdoms is a way of describing the dual reality of the Christian in the world, whose works will not save him but who works because he is saved by grace. And the work the Christian does is glorifying God, through praise above all, but also by service of neighbor and cultivation of the world.

Part of that work is political. Christianity does not leave the political untouched- it insists on the true natural law, the universal image of God in man, and the impossibility of human self-justification. Having the science of man’s origin and end, Christianity necessarily has political principles which perfect the wisdom of prechristian polities while rejecting the idolatries and confusions of them. All men are sinners, and the work of developing Christian civic order has been long and troubled; but the order the evangelicals worked to build was in the end a remarkable accomplishment, for the glory of God and the love of neighbor.

And we live in it still. Our problem is that we have come to think otherwise, like the Saxon settlers of Britain who thought the ruins of Roman architecture surrounding them were the work of trolls, rather than of the Roman men whose political and religious dependents the Saxons were. We are not nearly that far gone in fact, but we are very close to it in principle.

Our present situation is one of amnesia, not of antithesis. The origins of the civic order of the old Christian nations has been suppressed. Now, that civic order was never anything close to perfect; it was and is a world of sinners. But it was and is the best thing going, and to agree with secularism that the Christian civic order was never Christian, as neo-Anabaptism does, and as several other supposedly radical Christian schools of thought do, is simply to be complicit with the project of suppression. Only secularism gains by that.

Neo-Anabaptist exaltation of the saving visible “Church,” is in fact denigration of the actual Christian people, and of the actual legacy of reformed Christendom which was the creation of the Christian people. Worse, such rhetorical exaltation is an idolatry. Only Jesus saves us from sin and death, not the Church- the Church is the community of the saved, it is not itself the savior. And neither does the visible Church save us from politics, or save the polis from its problems; the problems of the polis will show up in the visible Church, for they are made up of the same constituents.1 We are not to be saved from the polis, nor to save the polis; we are rather to serve in it. And the traditions of our fathers, for all their imperfections, are a school of service, and themselves a work of service.

It is in those traditions of evangelical political and philosophic wisdom that we should school ourselves, if we aim to be of service today.

There is a saying attributed to Luther, probably apocryphal2 but expressing the man’s spirit exactly: “even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Like Luther, we know that the end had already happened, Christ has won, and now we, thanks to Him and in order to give thanks to his Father, are in the business of planting trees.

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1This is true even now.

2It is not attested, so far as I know, before the middle of the 20th century.

Neo-Anabaptism and the Kingdom (pt. 2)

~ This is a guest post by Peter Escalante

Now let’s look at the claim that the alternative view is “Augustinian.” As was pointed out in the ensuing conversation, a great many things can be fathered on Augustine; and his own idea of the Two Cities is hardly clear. On the one hand, as Pastor Wedgeworth has mentioned, the work of John von Heyking on Augustine’s view of civic order shows that the great bishop is considerably more sane on the question of Christian civic order than he as been made out to be. Further, the Protestant doctrine of the church is largely Augustine’s, put into a form free of contradictions. As Warfield famously remarked, the Reformation was the triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church- or more precisely, over Cyprianic atavisms in Augustine’s doctrine of the church. The Reformation doctrine, not the Anabaptist, is really the one with the strongest claim to be Augustinian in its politics; because finally, the “two cities” make sense only as a) the new Adam and the old, the line between which is drawn through persons, not between commonwealth and cathedral; or b) in a more positive sense, as the visible human order on the one hand, inclusive of visible worship assemblies, and the mystical body of Christ on the other, the immediate union of believers with Christ by faith.  Both those ways of taking Augustine are wholly consonant with evangelical teaching- but not with Anabaptist.

A note about Anabaptism.  I remember meeting two friends of mine, both extremely skeptical of Christianity, not long after the murder of Marian Fisher. They had been following the news reports. Struck by her example, and by the fact that her community, upon hearing that the murderer had killed himself, went to console his family, my friends asked me whether that was what Christianity was about. I was happy to be able to say yes. At their best, Anabaptists can be very radiant examples of Christianity; at their best, I could even say that they are best Christians in Christendom. The problem is, and it’s a very big problem, that they themselves don’t think they are in Christendom. In other words, they are schismatic.

The Anabaptist view is one of two different worlds: Continue reading

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 Continue reading

Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

Our conversation has been going on for some while now, and it would probably be helpful to review what has been said and what remains to be said.  Everything began with the C/A review of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.  We received mostly positive feedback overall, though Darryl Hart did fire a few snipes.  We responded here, and the comments took off.  Dr. Hart argued that the “two kingdoms” are not different in quality, one spiritual in kind and the other earthly and temporal, but rather that both are temporal and physical yet having different zones, goals, and means.  He even maintained that church officers were spiritual rulers in the kingdom of God.  Church discipline is then a coercive force in the kingdom, and the church is indeed an alternative city, though it should nonetheless mind its own business.  In this case, that means that it does not have any particular voice in the common public sphere.

While this conversation was in full swing, we had our own sort of apparition of Mary.  “Mary Campion” appeared in the comments offering particularly clear articulations of both positions, yet later revealed herself to be Michael Hickman and offered the Roman Catholic counter.  Michael suggested that the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession was the necessary safeguard to allow the Church a voice in the public sector without being dominated by the State.  We have already devoted two posts to interacting with this.  The first sought to define “the Church” and thus show why it should be considered qualitatively spiritual.  Our view is that the Church is not a worldly-temporal entity and thus is in no real “competition” with the State.  The State is designed to deal with bodies, as it guides temporal matters in various ways according to prudence.  The Church, though always embodied, is designed to deal with hearts.  Once the visible and invisible distinctions are made in regard to the Church, we concluded that invisible Church is properly the spiritual kingdom of God and is always guided by the Holy Spirit, while the visible Church exists in the temporal kingdom and lives according to law.

Secondly we sought to discuss apostolic succession in particular, though there ended up being little interaction with my particular biblical observations or criticisms of the Roman doctrine.  What seemed to come out, through much coaxing, was that apostolic succession is the necessary means to identify the Church (the successor of Peter), and that this Church is itself a temporal and spatial power which must direct the political kingdoms of the world.  Not settling for a general advisory role, this view also claims that the magisterium (the Pope) is the one class of humanity able to properly interpret and use the natural law, and in the event that the civil magistrates should come to disagree with the magisterium, they would need to submit to his will or face civil as well as spiritual sanctions.

What makes apostolic succession relevant and appealing to this discussion is that it seeks to guarantee that there will be a protected interpreter of nature and reason capable of ruling those who have lost this ability.  It clearly identifies “the Church,” and it attempts to provide a true “new city” and “new humanity” in the form of the clergy.  It offers an enduring apostolic office and even a vicarious Jesus Christ for the world to see and follow.  It provides clarity and singularity of direction.

The Protestant position is that through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the role of faith, each Christian has received Jesus Christ in full, and each is a successor to the apostles, both in doctrine and in baptism.  “The Church” is quite simply “the people,” and the people are presumed competent self-governors, capable of recognizing and enacting the principles of civic order on the one hand, and the principles of Christian confession and charity on the other.  Neither the magistracy nor the ministry has the whole competence of the Christian people by delegation, but rather by representation.

Thus we come back to our original dispute about the nature of the Church and the relationship between the spiritual kingdom and the temporal kingdom. Continue reading