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

Darryl Hart’s Response to My 2 Kingdoms Essay

Dr. Hart has given some of his thoughts about my recent critique of VanDrunen over at Old Life Theological Society.  I almost never agree with Dr. Hart, though he almost always makes me laugh.  Laughter is a gift from God, and so too, I suppose, must Darryl Hart be.  I appreciate his willingness to engage with the common folks (like me), though I do find this particular instance fairly unimpressive.  It doesn’t seem that he’s clearly read my argument, but has instead lumped me into broader groups that he can more quickly dismiss.

1) It seems like Dr. Hart is characterizing me both as a Federal Visionist and a Theonomist.  He never calls me this directly, but he does engage in some guilt by association.  And of course, no critique from the Westminster California theologians would be complete without the obligatory reduction to Roman Catholicism.  However, he has failed to note a few aspects of my paper which would clearly distinguish me from each of these groups.

a) The guiding theological principle in my paper is a distinction between the visible and invisible church.  This is hardly a Federal Vision approach.  I argue that the two kingdoms correspond with the invisible church and the rest of the world, with the visible church being one institution of the temporal kingdom.  This is my strongest criticism of VanDrunen, and Dr. Hart lets it go by without comment. Continue reading

The Apolitical Barth

Karl Barth is often held up as an exemplar of Reformed theology’s commitment to the “lordship of Christ” and political activism.  His protests against the Nazi ideology in Germany is offered as the clearest proof of this.  William Bartley, however, gives a different explanation:

Barth never would have sympathized with Hitler, but one rather doubts that Barth would have gained any notoriety as an anti-Nazi had Hitler not attempted to interfere with the doctrine of the Protestant churches in Germany.  Indeed, had Hitler left the churches to go their own ways, at least doctrinally– had he not imposed his new order on the old religion– it is not inconceivable that Barth would have behaved in a way which would have permitted him even to retain his chair.  But toying with the intellectual tradition of Legarde, Langbehn, and Moeller van den Bruck, Hitler attempted for a time to use the churches as vehicles of a “German-Christian” Nazi ideology.  It was principally this Nazi policy that Barth opposed, and for essentially the same reason that he opposed Protestant liberalism in 1918 and the idea of the “Christian West” after World War II.  According to Barth, it is contrary to the basic commitment of the theologian to the Word of God to allow any cultural ideology or morality, good or bad, to be incorporated into, or blended with, Christian doctrine.  Autonomous Christianity stands alone, in judgment on culture.  The communists, unlike the Nazis, did not attempt to commit this particular sin: frankly atheistic, they were ready to destroy the churches if the opportunity presented itself, but were rarely disposed to create a “Marxist Christianity”.  Barth anticipated that through skillful diplomacy and tact the churches could achieve a viable “live and let live” accommodation with the communists.  In this he may well have been politically naive, but he was utterly consistent– even if one may sense a kind of madness about that very consistent order of priorities.

~The Retreat to Commitment 48-49

This seems to make more sense of Barth’s larger product, holding as he did to the absolute otherness of God and the impossibility of identifying Christianity with any culture.  Barth too, it seems, is among the liberals.

We might even say that held to a spirituality of the Church.

Is Geerhardus Vos a Transformationalist?

Typically I think of Vos as the granddaddy of modern Reformed Amillennialism.  Many of his spiritual descendants are now representing the so-called Radical 2 Kingdoms theology, which denies any visible cultural difference between believer and non-believer in the non-ecclesiastical realms.  While his Amillennialism is still likely impeccable, I recently discovered a section in Vos which would place him well outside the non-interventionist sub-school of Amillennialism that looms so large today.  In The Kingdom of God and the Church, Vos sounds downright Kuyperian.  Here are some examples:

Undoubtedly the kingship of God, as his recognized and applied supremacy, is intended to pervade and control the whole of human life in all its forms of existence.  This the parable of the leaven plainly teaches.  These various forms of human life have each their own sphere in which they work and embody themselves.  There is a sphere of science, a sphere of art, a sphere of the family and of the state, a sphere of commerce and industry.  Whenever one of these spheres comes under the controlling principle of the divine supremacy and glory, and this outwardly reveals itself, there we can truly say that the kingdom of God has become manifest.

pg. 87-88, P&R 1972 ed.

Even more strongly, Vos writes:

And what is true of the relation between church and state, may also be applied to the relation between the visible church and the various other branches into which the organic life of humanity divides itself.  It is entirely in accordance to subsume these under the kingdom of God and to co-ordinate them with the visible church as true manifestations of this kingdom, in so far as the divine sovereignty and glory have become in them the controlling principle.  But it must always be remembered that the latter can only happen, when all of these, no less than the visible church, stand in living contact with the forces of regeneration supernaturally introduced into the world by the Spirit of God.  While it is proper to seperate between the visible church and such things as the Christian state, Christian art, Christian science, etc., these things, if they truly belong to the kingdom of God, grow up out of the regenerated life of the invisible church.

pg. 89

While Vos clearly wants to distinguish Christendom from the visible Church (as he should) , he does not shy away from the concept itself.  Notice that at the beginning of his list is “the Christian state.”  This is consistent with the old Two Kingdoms theology of the Reformers.  It is not consistent with the new version today.

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 4)

The fourth chapter of William J. Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms attempts to lay out the doctrine in its fullest.  As Wright has said earlier, this is not simply a political doctrine, nor is it one aspect of Luther’s theology, but rather it sits under all of Luther’s thought.  “Luther’s understanding of God’s two kingdoms represented his basic premise about the nature of reality.  In short, it was his Christian worldview” (114).  Wright states that the two kingdoms were employed by Luther to explain creation, imago dei, Christology, grace, the sacraments, and the proper exegesis of the Old and New Testaments.  The two kingdoms even provide the foundation for Luther’s distinction between active and passive righteousness and the law and gospel.

It is crucial that Luther’s distinction be given full treatment.  The two kingdoms were sometimes referred to as the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man or the Kingdom of Satan.  This is not the best nomenclature, however, because both kingdoms truly belong to God and are ordered by his divine laws, whether they be revealed biblical laws or the natural law.  There is ultimately only one king.  More precise is the language of “inner” and “outer” or “eternal” and “temporal.”  Wright states, “The kingdom of the world and all material, temporal things were part of the visible dimension of man’s existence, while the kingdom of Chirst and spiritual matters were part of the invisible dimension” (115).

The two kingdoms are not the Church and the State. Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 3)

Wright’s third chapter moves to the Northern humanists.  They were inspired by both Southern schools of humanism, the rhetorical and mystical.  Wright briefly summarizes Rudolph Agricola, noting that he was the first to introduce the “loci” method of theological writing.  Agricola continued Valla’s emphasis on rhetoric, rejecting assertions of truth in favor of persuasion of the heart.  Wright also mentions that the humanist-emphasis on history and philology lead to them rediscovering “the views of Christian antiquity in the works of the Greek Fathers and the Greek New Testament” (83).

Wright then moves to Erasmus of Rotterdam.  Erasmus saw himself as following ancients like Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, and Origen.  Wright lists Erasmus’ humanist distinctives involving skepticism:

Erasmus doubted the ability of reason to know reality and religious truths with any certainty.  He demonstrated the skeptical penchant for severely questioning all dogma.  He tended to doubt that Christian spiritual realities could be certainly known.  Hence, the prince of the humanists sought some external source of verification or probability in attempting to understand even the Scriptures, which he thought often obscure or ambiguous.  This was the origin of his emphasis of developing a consensus of the church over time, from the days of the church fathers to the present.

p 84 Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 2)

The second chapter of William Wright’s book is really fine stuff. He explains the philosophical movements of the early Italian Renaissance, particularly focusing on the role of skepticism in humanism. Wright briefly explains the role of William of Ockham in leading up to these intellectual movements and then goes on to investigate in more detail the works of Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla, and the Neo-Platonists: Ficino, Pico, and Giles of Viterbo. Brief mention is also made of other critics. The most significant figure for Luther, according to Wright, is clearly that of Lorenzo Valla and his brand of humanism.

Wright begins with Ockham, an important precursor to the Renaissance and humanist thinkers. Ockham critiqued the Realists, particularly taking issue with abstractions and the multiplication of terms. Wright points out that Ockham “reduced the number of Aristotelian categories from ten to two, retaining only substance and quality” (47). Yet Ockham was not a skeptic. Even though his emphasis on will seemed to undermine the intellectual status quo, Ockham still intended on resolving problems.

The intellectual skepticism which characterized the Renaissance humanists owed its inspiration to a more global picture. According to Wright, the larger academic culture was quite capable of producing new doubt:

One may point to several other sources of the general threat to certainty at the onset of the sixteenth century. Increasing trade and continuing warfare with the Moslems introduced competitive religious and cultural ideas. The Portuguese beginnings of European exploration and expansion along the coast of Africa during the mid-to late fifteenth century raised doubts about the authority of Aristotle and other ancient authorities with regard to the nature of humankind and what constituted human society. Accounts of the Spanish explorations in the New World fed a growing curiosity in Europe. Astronomical observations and theorizing raised questions about the accuracy of the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic understanding of the universe (Weltbild) and cosmology. The recovery and translation of early manuscripts brought forgotten ideas back to the forefront and sharpened the differences between ancient authorities. All of this information, both new and old, was widely disseminated by the newly developed printing press.

p 50

Skepticism was thus perfectly understandable, as the vast amount of that which we did not know became apparent. The humanists would use this in their critiques against traditional human knowledge, but as Wright repeatedly points out, they did not use this skepticism against religion. To the contrary, religion was many times the great antidote to this situation. Continue reading

Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms- A Review (Chapter 1)

In the first chapter of William Wright’s Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms, we are given a summary of various readers of Luther. The wide-spread misunderstanding of Luther’s teaching on the two kingdoms can be explained, according to Wright, by a series of commentators who continue to develop the erroneous position. Each building on prior secondary sources, the later readers of Martin Luther found themselves quite removed from his original position.

Wright begins with 19th century Lutheran, Ernst Luthardt. According to Wright, Luthardt is one of the first Luther-commentators to promote the idea of autonomy in the civil sphere. Wright states:

The natural world, in this case, would be autonomous or free of God’s law, so that people could make their own rules as they go about their lives and work. Moreover, this talk of spiritual life and Luthardt’s general emphasis on morality seem to demonstrate charges that Luthardt reduced Christianity to a matter of mentality or Gesinnung, to the interior of the Christian. This would clearly be contrary to Luther’s teaching.

(21)

Wright then goes on to show that this is actually an inaccurate reading of Luthardt. Due to the recent misuse of traditional terms like “natural law” and “reason,” readers are easily confused when they read Luthardt. According to Wright, “Luthardt declared that even though these institutions were under reason, they ‘are not really profane, but God’s endowment, order, and will, and God is present in the same'” (22). Wright adds, “The natural law, which humankind knows through reason, was God-ordained too.”

So while many modern readers might be tempted to lay the blame of the modern “two-kingdoms” view on Luthardt, this is actually not the case. Of course, this is not to say that Luthardt plays no role in the development of the modern doctrine. In fact, Wright goes on to show that Luthardt was influential on the next major thinker in this line of thought, Ernst Troeltsch. Continue reading