“If God be God, let us follow him, and that not by halves, but wholly. But it is to be feared (say they), lest while we are against the superior power, we bring danger to the commonwealth….[Rather], it is to be feared lest while they overmuch regard and defend the commonwealth, they lose heaven."
Well, sickness and a barrage of papers and then travels have kept me from coming back to PMV for a while, alas, but I've been reading his "On the Magistrate" recently and finding some very interesting notions. Some well-informed fellow named Steven offered an extended comment on my previous post, which I hope to interact with later. Some of what is in this post, I think, addresses some of the issues he pointed to.
I'm still trying to give PMV the benefit of the doubt (though the previous post may not have sounded like it), but his articulation of the relation of Church and State in "On the Magistrate" had some troubling points.
In his treatise “On the Magistrate,” PMV attacks the claims of the Roman pontiffs to supreme spiritual and political authority, and outlines the proper authority of the magistrate. PMV is very focused on trimming the Church down to size, after its medieval pretensions, and so attempts to outline a doctrine of church and state in which the two exist in a harmonious, symmetrical equality. Thankfully, he seems to recognize that the Church needs to still have some kind of supremacy so he suggests repeatedly that since the Word of God is supreme over all, and the Word is entrusted to the Church, the Church maintains a kind of supremacy. However, his exposition of the two authorities shows that this supposed supremacy is meaningless, and that, if anything, the magistrate ends up on top.
So first, what is the authority of the ecclesiastical power? Inasmuch as it wields the Word, it encompasses everything, even the civil power: "the word of God is a common rule, whereby all things ought to be directed and tempered. For it teacheth in what manner the outward sword and public wealth ought to be governed: and generally also it showeth how all things ought to be done of all men." PMV is no advocate of the spirituality of the Church; he realizes that it makes no sense to say that the Church governs merely the inward and spiritual, for of course this must translate into action. "The ecclesiastical power after this manner comprehendeth all things, because out of the word of God it findeth how to give counsel in all things. For there is nothing in the whole world whereunto the word of God extendeth not it self. Wherefore they are far deceived, which use to cry, what hath a preacher to do with the public weal? What hath he to do with wars? what with apothecaries? what with cooks? But let them tell me: when the minister of the word perceiveth the law of God to be violated in these things, why should he not reprehend them by the word of God? Why should he not admonish them? Why should he not exhort them to cease from sin?" This is indeed a wonderful confession of the scope of the Church's concern and authority, extending to all areas of life, contrary to what most moderns will tell us. He specifically says that ministers should rebuke magistrates for going to war wrongfully (if only we had more of that nowadays!)
But the rub comes when he goes on to sketch the legitimate sphere of control of the state. Political power, he says, “is extended to all things which pertain to political power.” Ok, fair enough. “But after what manner?” he and we ask. Well, the magistrate doesn’t require internal repentance of his subjects, he says; it doesn’t have the tools to compel these things. But the Church does, and so the magistrate should make sure the Church does its job: “it ought to have a care that Bishops, pastors, and teachers in the Church, do teach purely, reprehend fatherly, and by the word of God administer the sacraments.” So it seems we have a reciprocal arrangement, in which the Church has authority over all things in a spiritual way, and makes sure the State does its job, and the State has authority over all things in a civil way, and makes sure the Church does its job.
PMV summarizes, “Wherefore either power extendeth most amply, and comprehendeth all things, but not after one and the self-same manner.” So both have full jurisdiction, but in different ways? So they’re basically equal? Well, PMV again points to the important difference in the very next line: “And the rule of either of them is taken out of the word of God, the which doth plainly appear to be in the Church.” So this is the basic set-up: church and state both have jurisdiction over every area of society, including each other, but each according to their proper type of jurisdiction; nevertheless, the Church maintains the primacy through its guardianship of the Word.
PMV goes on to clarify how these two types of jurisdictions work—they are two different types of subjections, the civil/political and the spiritual. All men are under the civil/political, which is enforced by the magistrates and which uses the means of external punishments (fines, execution, imprisonment), and external reward (money, honour, praise).
On the other hand is the spiritual subjection, which is a subjection of “faith and of obedience, for straightway as men hear of their duty out of the word of God, and that either this thing or that is to be done, or this or that to be avoided, they give place, believe and obey, because they perceive that it is the word of God which is spoken.” In other words, the civil power enforces itself by appealing to people’s physical fears and desires, and the spiritual power enforces itself only by appealing to men’s faith in and sense of duty toward God.
The civil power itself is subjected to the ecclesiastical, not civilly of course, but spiritually. For “it belongs to the Ecclesiastical power, to admonish out of the word of God for salvation.” But what if they don’t listen? Well, according to PMV’s earlier definition, it seems like this is all that can be done, for the spiritual power can only appeal to people’s faith and sense of duty—it cannot compel anything by external means. But it’s not quite that simple. For PMV thankfully grants that, if that magistrate doesn’t listen, then the minister should resort to excommunication.
Likewise, then, in this symmetrical, reciprocal arrangement, the ecclesiastical power is subjected to the civil, not spiritually, but civilly. “For these powers are occupied about the self-same things, and mutually help one another….The ecclesiastical power is subject unto the magistrate, not by a spiritual subjection but by a political.”
This is true first because, since all ministers are citizens, they owe civil allegiance to their magistrates: “Howbeit ministers, in that they be men and citizens, are without all doubt subject together with their lands, riches, and possessions unto the magistrates…their manners also are subject unto the censures and judgments of the magistrates.”
So it seems at first as if he is going to protect the crucial functions of the Church as the Church from civil interference: “as touching the sacraments and sermons, it [the Church] is not subject unto it [the civil power], because the magistrate may not alter the word of God, or the sacraments which the minister useth. Neither can he compel the Pastors and teachers of the Church to teach otherwise, or in any other sort to administer the sacraments, than is prescribed by the word of God.”
But, he goes on, in the next paragraph, to say, “We say moreover that ministers are subject unto the magistrate, not only as touching those things which I have rehearsed, but also concerning their function. Because, if they teach not right, neither administer the sacraments orderly, it is the office of the magistrate to compel them to an order, and to see that they teach not corruptly, and that they mingle not fables, nor yet abuse the sacraments, or deliver them otherwise than the Lord hath commanded. Also if they live naughtily and wickedly, they shall put them forth from the holy ministry.”
It sounds here as if PMV is contradicting himself. The magistrate may not alter the sacraments and word, because these belong to the Church, but then we are told that he can correct what he perceives as wrong administration of these.
Why does the magistrate have such authority? “For the king ought to have with him the law of God written because he is ordained a keeper, not only of the first table, but also of the latter. So then he which offendeth in any of them both, runs in danger of his power.” From this, it sounds like the monopoly on the Word, which PMV had granted to the Church, has been breached. Magistrates may tell ministers how to preach the word, because they too are ordained as keepers of the written law of God. I hope that PMV would not take refuge by saying that he has only given magistrates the right to interfere if they deem that the word has been preached or the sacraments administered contrary to Scripture. This doesn’t work because 1) all authority is merely authority to punish errors, so this qualification is meaningless, and 2) this presupposes that the magistrates have some capacity, above and beyond the Church, to judge for themselves what the Word teaches, and to apply it. If they have such power, and have it over the Church, we may justly wonder whether this careful balance and the unique power of the keys, have been overturned.
As if this apparent veto on the Church’s supreme guardianship of the Word were not troubling enough, in the next line, it begins to seem as if the magistrate is in fact supreme; “But although a king may remove an unprofitable and hurtful Bishop, yet cannot a Bishop (on the other side) depose a king if he have offended. So now we find that the magistrate has a power over the Church for which there is no reciprocal, and a most important power: the power of deposition. If the magistrate can remove bishops that he deems to have erred, and the bishop cannot remove a magistrate that he deems to have erred, then which power has supremacy, especially if the Church does not have a monopoly on the Word?
PMV summarizes the whole arrangement: ““Briefly, as there is found no king nor emperor so great that is not subject to the word of God, which is preached by the Ministers: so on the other side is there no Bishop, which having offended, but ought to be reproved by the civil magistate. What difference soever there be, the same (as I have said) is wholly as touching the manners of reproving….Both of them do one help another, for the political prince giveth judgment, and the ecclesiastical indeed doth not give judgment, but teacheth how judgment ought to be given….So on the other side, the civil magistrate preacheth not, neither administereth sacraments. But unless these things be rightly ordered, he ought to punish the Ministers. And to be brief, there are two things to be considered of us in this comparison. In the civil magistrate is to be considered both the power and also the man which beareth and exerciseth the power. He in respect that he is a Christian man is subject to the word of God, and in the respect that he beareth authority and governeth, he ought also to be subject unto the same word of God, seeing that ought of the same he ought to seek rules to govern and bear rule. In the minister of the Church also is to be considered both the ministry in itself, and also the person which executes it. As touching the person, the minister is subject unto the civil power. For both he is a citizen, and he also payeth tribute as other men do, and is under the correction of manners. But as concerning the ministry, he is also subject some way unto the magistrat. For if either he teach or administer the sacraments against the word of God, he must be reprehended by the civil magistrate. And yet must he not seek for rules and reasons of his function at the same magistrate’s hand, but out of the word of God. But this distinction we may easily understand the differences and agreement of either power.”
PMV has again continued his illusion of mutual equality and support, with the Church as teacher over all. But if the Church is guardian of the Word, doesn’t it belong to the Church to reprove (and if need be, depose) a minister for improperly preaching the Word? Does it need the magistrate to do this for it? I can’t see why. Why should the magistrate be reproving a minister for failing to preach the Word unless it so happens that the magistrate disagrees with the Church about what the proper teaching of the Word (or administration of the sacraments) is. In this case, however, the magistrate must appeal to an independent right to interpret and apply the Word, apart from anything that the Church is teaching. So it appears, then, that the Word does not belong to the Church but rather floats free, to be applied by anybody to their proper sphere of authority, as in Kuyper’s spheres. If this be so, then, and the magistrate can actually compel the Church to alter its teaching, while the Church can merely advise the magistrate to change his tune, what do we have but full-blown Erastianism?
Again, perhaps I am being too harsh, as I tend to be when I get carried away typing something up. And perhaps PMV will remedy this in later writings. But I’m having a hard time seeing how this system is supposed to truly preserve the mutual integrity of each institution.
Perhaps that title is a bit strong. But I am certainly disappointed in my Reformed forefathers when it comes to political theology. This post is the first of many that will no doubt follow on PMV--Peter Martyr Vermigli--and his political theology. As far as I can tell, only one book has been published on the subject (and it's simply a compilation of some of his writings), and I have it in my hands.
Though taking place within the context of a Biblical commentary, his whole discussion of the rights and privileges of the magistrate reeks of natural theology. When it comes to the question of "What if the magistrate is corrupt and abuses his powers?" it never enters into PMV's head to bring the Church into it at all:
But when princes are so corrupt, what is to be done? We must obey, but usque ad aras, that is, so far as religion suffreth. May private men take upon them to alter a corrupt Prince? They may do it in admonishing, in giving counsel and reproving, but not by force of weapons.
I happen to agree with what he says about private men, but he forgets that there is another institution in this picture--the Church. There is not simply the State and its citizens. The Church does have a certain ability to stand against the corrupt prince that the private man does not. Of course, again, this does not take the form of arms. In the case of pagan rulers, it may indeed not be able to take much form other than "giving counsel and reproving"--however, even this holds much more authority, coming from the Church, than from any number of private men. But what if the magistrate is a corrupt Christian? It is unconscionable that this question does not even arise for PMV. The magistrate is simply considered in terms of his public role as magistrate, and the question of whether or not he is a covenant member never arises. Where's the antithesis here? PMV takes examples from ancient Rome and applies them on magistrates of his day. But there is something really missing here. For, if the corrupt magistrate is indeed a Christian, the Church has a great deal more to say. The Church cannot fight with worldly weapons, but it can fight with what are far more powerful--spiritual weapons. It can bring all the discipline of the Church down upon that corrupt magistrate. Now, we can't necessarily know how this will turn out, but I have to wonder, why does PMV not even discuss this angle?
In other words, PMV needs to read Torture and Eucharist.
I would like to apologize to any who may have read my posts on James Jordan's view of images, and to Jordan himself.
I recognize that I worded some things too strongly and it was inappropriate for a potentially public forum where anyone may read what I say and misunderstand my intent. I had naively thought that only a few close friends, if anyone, would read the posts, and they would understand the context and be able to discuss these things with me.
Also, when I posted the material, I forgot how strongly I had worded some of the things that I had typed up, having written them that way in order to give strength and focus to my writing, but originally intending to soften some things later. Of course, that is not to deny that even in the first place, my attitude toward Jordan was inappropriate. It was. I believe strongly that he was very wrong in many of the things he said them and the way he said them, but I know that, to any Christian, especially a learned teacher, I should give the benefit of the doubt, rather than imputing maximum error, as I did.
Furthermore, I hope that everyone who has read this blog understands that the admittedly strong stances I have been adopting have been primarily for the sake of argument. I don't think I know hardly anything about this stuff, but I've been trying to figure things out and work out what positions are and are not tenable through suggesting some thoughts on the subject, and inviting discussion and correction. I don't think I've made that clear enough, but please understand that is my intent. I'm not trying to shake down the walls of Protestantism single-handedly. Right now, I'm just trying to find the walls.
This past week, I dug up a couple of amazing Cavanaugh lectures that he delivered at the University of Melbourne a couple years back. In terms of theory, there's nothing really new that wasn't in Torture and Eucharist or Theopolitical Imagination, but he makes explicit the applications of that theory to America and the War on Terror--it's quite provocative and sometimes downright chilling. Plus, he's a pretty darn good speaker. (I love the name of the first link):
So I've been meaning to post this quote for a while, but all my time has been taken up in other wranglings and writings of late.
The Venerable Cardinal Newman put the question of the relation of Church and Scripture very well:
"Surely the sacred volume was never intended, and is not adapted to teach us our creed; however certain it is that we can prove our creed from it, when it has once been taught us, and in spite of individual producible exceptions to the general rule. Fromt he very first, that rule has been, as a matter of fact, for the Church to teach the truth, and then appeal to Scripture in vindication of its own teaching. And from the first, it has been the error of heretics to neglect the information provided for them, and to attempt of themselves a work of which they are unable, the eliciting a systematic doctrine from the scattered notices of the truth which Scripture contains. Such men act, in the solemn concerns of religion, the part of the self-sufficient natural philosopher, who should obstinately reject Newton's theory of gravitation, and endeavour, with talents inadequate to the task, to strike out some theory of motion by himself. The insufficiency of the mere private study of Holy Scripture for arriving at the exact and entire truth which it really contains, is shown by the fact, that creeds and teachers have ever been divinely provided, and by the discordance of opinions which exists wherever those aids are thrown aside; as well as by the very structure of the Bible itself. And if this be so, it follows that, while enquirers and neophytes used the inspired wriings for the purposes of morals and for instruction in the rudiments of the faith, they still might heed the teaching of the Church as a key to the collection of passages which related to the mysteries of the gospel; passages which are obscure from the necessity of combining and receiving them all."
Just so anyone stumbling upon this doesn't misunderstand, I'm not saying all this stuff here as some kind of arrogant rebellion against my tradition. I know the importance of being submissive and respectful to your pastors, friends, and counselors when coming to these kind of convictions, and the discussion here is part of that kind of dialogue, open to revision and correction; it is not intended as a "Behold I have found the light, now hearken, all ye."
One of the issues that my new perspective has finally helped me gain clarity on is the issue of sola Scriptura, and how we as Protestants are to understand it. Unlike most of the other issues I’m discussing here, this was not one that has been nagging me for a long time, surprisingly. It seems that somehow I thought we had it all figured out. But last month, I became greatly unsettled by some conversations I had with a friend, and then by listening to a debate between Bahnsen and a couple Catholic dudes. I hadn’t heard much Bahnsen before, but I’d heard that he usually wiped the floor in his debates. But when he tackled sola Scriptura with these two Catholic dudes, he got his butt kicked all the way back to Escondido (funny thing is, I don’t think he realized it). He completely failed to respond to many of their arguments, and didn’t really even seem to see the force of those arguments. By the end, the Catholic guys were understandably rather frustrated with him for mindlessly repeating the same maxims, heedless of all the devastating counterarguments they’d raised.
I hoped that returning to Keith Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura might give me some comfort. After all, it was from a much higher-church perspective than Bahnsen and so was fairly balanced and respectful toward church tradition, and I remembered having loved it as a freshman. Alas, I had to depart from my earlier optimistic judgment. In the end, Mathison too collapsed into fuzziness and seemed to have few real answers to offer. I’ve been stewing on the shortcomings of his treatment for a while and planning to write something up about it, and recently, after coming to Anglo-Catholic convictions, a fairly clear solution to the quandary has finally presented itself. So I’ll first take on the problems with Mathison, and then (what I think) is the solution.
First, Mathison adopts the categories of “Tradition 1,” which is to say that Scripture alone is authoritative, but must be interpreted within the subordinate “rule of faith”—Tradition and Scripture coincide as two faces of the same authority here; “Tradition 2,” which is to say that two separate authoritative streams exist—the written Scriptures and the unwritten traditions; and “Tradition 3,” which says that only the traditions of the church are finally authoritative (supposedly the modern Catholic position). This way of putting things seems to me a bit baffling and artificial, and when he tries to put the early Church Fathers and most medieval thinkers into this mold (always fitting them into Tradition 1, mind you). After all, if church tradition as an authoritative interpretation and application of the apostolic proclamation be admitted (Tradition 1), then necessarily, this must have relied on certain unwritten traditions and practices, at least so long as the canon was still being compiled—indeed, such traditions were necessary to help decide what the canon was (Tradition 2); and, because Scripture is not to be interpreted outside of the traditional teaching of the church, many of these traditions, then, should be given full authority (Tradition 3). Or, perhaps I should just say that Tradition 3, as he explains it, would be held by very few, I think, and that Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 are not so easily distinguishable. Especially problematic are the places where he dismisses something that looks like Tradition 2 in the Fathers by saying that these unwritten traditions were simply liturgical and practical traditions, not traditions of doctrine. But liturgy is doctrine! The lex orandi was a huge way in which unwritten apostolic traditions were passed down and passed into an authoritative lex credendi.
I think John Keble puts it very nicely, so I will stop trying my clumsy attempts at clarifying the matter: “Because it is affirmed that the full tradition of Christianity existed before the Christian Scriptures, and so far independent of them, we are charged with alleging two distinct systems or words of God, the one written, the other unwritten, running as it were parallel to each other quite down to our own time. But this, by the terms of the case, is plainly unwarranted. If a man were to say that the Severn and the Wye rise separately in the same mountain, one higher up than the other, must he therefore maintain that they never meet before they reach the sea? Tradition and Scritpure were at first two streams flowing down from the mountain of God, but their waters presently became blended, and it were but a vain and unpractical inquiry, to call upon every one who drinks of them to say, how much of the healing draught came from one source, and how much from the other. On account of those who would poison the stream, it is necessary from time to time to analyse it, and show that it contains no ingredients which were not to be found in one or other of the two Mountains; and in so doing, it becomes incidentally manifest, at least in some mass; it is manifest, for example, that all necessary credenda, all truths essential to salvation, are contained in the Scripture itself; and is it not equally manifest, that many helps of greatest consequence, nay I will say generally necessary, to the right development and application of Scripture, are mostly if not entirely derivable from Tradition? And is it not a poor kind of reasoning to say, Tradition would have been worthless had we been left to it alone, therefore it cannot be of any value, now that Scripture has been all along at hand, to check, to sustain, to interpret, to rectify it, as the several occasions might require?”
Also problematic is how Mathison deals with Scripture itself in formulating his position, which is pretty important considering what he’s trying to do. Over and over, he turns to a passage commonly used in the debate and seeks to demonstrate that “you cannot simply get from this passage to the full-blown Catholic teaching on tradition and the magisterium.” So what? It’s awful hard to simply get from any given passage straight to the doctrine of the Trinity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not firmly and absolutely true. I’m not arguing for the Roman doctrine; I’m just saying that Mathison’s way of arguing against it is rather unhelpful and weak-looking. To show that other assumptions will need to be part of the argument is not an effective way of showing that the argument is necessarily wrong. Mathison spends most of his time showing what the passage doesn’t necessarily mean, but precious little time showing what it does in fact mean.
And this is my major beef with his whole book, and with our whole doctrine: it’s very focused on showing what we most certainly DON’T believe, and very weak on showing what we do actually believe. If Scripture doesn’t lead us to the Catholic position, what does it lead us to? If we don’t believe in Tradition 2 or Tradition 0 (that is, “tradition be damned”), then what does Tradition 1 really look like? I hoped to find answers in Mathison, but I found few. Basically, the position seems to be: Scripture must be interpreted by authoritative church teaching. Such an authoritative tradition existed in the early Church, and helped give us the major creeds. We call this tradition the regula fidei, and we rely on it as our foundation in interpreting Scripture. But other traditions not contained in this regula fidei are not authoritative. The problem here is that the regula fidei seems very arbitrarily limited both in scope and time. This authority of the Church appears to extend only to a few select doctrines which Mathison is comfortable including in the regula fidei—Trinity, Incarnation, etc., and it extends only till about the 5th century. In other words, the Church wields a lot of authority until it creates the canon, and then all its authority disappears. This seems rather odd. Mathison gives very little coherent account of what the continuing authority of the Church and its tradition looks like.
Now, at the risk of making Mathison’s mistake and simply saying what I don’t believe, rather than what I do believe, let me make a stab at something which seems to have become very clear to me recently:
It all comes down to burden of proof. It seems quite clear to me that our attitude even as high-church Reformed Christians is, “I won’t accept it or submit to it until it is clear to me that Scripture teaches it.” In other words, the burden of proof is on church tradition—it is assumed to be false until Scripture establishes it. Guilty until proven innocent. Is this how you treat your Mother? Dad’s off at work, Mom tells you something to do, and you say, “Well, I don’t know if Dad would agree with what you’re telling me, so I can’t obey in good conscience until he weighs in on it.” Kids try this all the time, and it is NEVER a sign that their respect for Dad is that much greater; on the contrary, it usually means they will, in the end, have just as hard a time respecting Dad’s authority as Mom’s, when the chips are down. Cyprian said, “You cannot have God for your Father, unless you have the Church for your Mother.” Christ has made promises to the Church, that she bears the truth, that he lives in her and upholds her, inspires her with his Spirit, and you dare to tell her, “Sorry, I’m not listening unless I’m certain that the Bible tells me that you’re right.” Mathison may want to try to distinguish this kind of respect for a subordinate church tradition from the cavalier individualism of popular evangelicalism, but it’s hard for me to see that the result is much different—look at the history of Presbyterianism—respect for authority lasts only as long as complete agreement.
No, the burden of proof goes the other way—if the Church has clearly taught something throughout her history, admittedly with occasional disagreements and variations, but with remarkable unity and persistence, then that doctrine is taken as true and binding unless Scripture can be shown to disprove it. Innocent until proven guilty. The Church should never refuse to go back to Scripture to make sure, when challenged, that her doctrine is not in violation of what is clearly taught there—that’s what the Reformers were originally asking for: “Ok, maybe you’re right about this, but can you please show us how it is not in violation of Scripture?” That needs to be done from time to time, but if the answer comes back, “It looks like Scripture does not condemn this teaching, and indeed, we believe it can be discerned by implication from what is there,” then no one has the right to reply, “Well, until you can prove that this doctrine or practice is absolutely propounded by Scripture, then I can’t accept it.”
This really came home to me when we were debating 2nd commandment issues with a number of the priests. A couple were a bit baffled—“didn’t the Church already settle this at the 7th ecumenical council?” Now, they went on to say, “Of course we need to be willing and able to go back to Scripture and demonstrate that we are not in violation of its teaching,” but their point was, “This has been the teaching of the Church for ages, and you’d better have a darn good reason to disagree. We must look at the 2nd commandment carefully, but we don’t start with an interpretive blank slate. That’s impossible. Our interpretive parameters must be established with submission to the Church’s historic teaching.”
Of course this can be abused. I’m not so naïve as not to see that. But, if the leaders are godly and mature and have the attitudes of servants, I am not too afraid. On the contrary, I think such teaching is a great comfort to the faithful. In my experience, there are generally two types of people in our churches, the sort who care about what they believe and therefore have to learn how to defend it and justify it at every turn against all objections, and those who don’t care, and just coast along with little concern for theology. Generally, the only “serious” Christians in our tradition are the first kind…the second kind are generally looked on with suspicion, and often rightly so. In our doctrine, everything always has to be proven and argued, because there is no clear standard to look to. As soon as I became really interested in my faith, at age 12, I found myself having to argue and justify doctrines at every turn, and though a more ecumenical attitude has prevailed in my current setting, this is still the general ethos of the Reformed tradition. If your belief is important to you, it has to be thrashed out and fought out at every step of the way. No one can say, “I really care about what I believe, I really know what I believe, and I can rest in it and focus on living out my belief; I don’t need to fight for it.” We can’t rest because there is no bosom of the Church to rest on. I’m not saying the Church need not fight for its doctrines, that it need not always carry the Sword of the Word in its hand, to fight for the Truth, but every Christian need not be a soldier. There are other roles in the body. But, if we cannot look with confidence toward the Church our mother, trusting that there are other soldiers that have fought for us and are fighting for us, then no Christian can be a committed Christian without having to fight anew each step of the way. I know I’m sounding unKierkegaardian here, and I shall probably struggle with the tension between Kierkegaard and Newman throughout my whole life, but I think that we need to have a way for a believer to have comfort and confidence in his beliefs, a confidence which does not depend on his own ability, or even his particular church community’s ability, to articulate and defend those beliefs against all comers.
There’s not much ethos in trying to become Anglican at this particular moment in the Church’s history, is there? I have to wince every time at work when we hear NPR report on the latest round of homosexual idiocy in the Anglican Communion, having recently announced to my coworkers my commitment to the Anglican tradition. It sure makes people wonder what I could possibly find so attractive in the Anglican Church as it is now that I’d be willing to ditch the admittedly attractive glories of the CREC.
Now, with a robust enough view of apostolic succession and the importance of the historical institutions of the Church, you could dismiss most of this concern: “So what if they’ve got problems—at least they have the divine commission, and we don’t.” But I don’t really see the need to go quite there, especially since that still doesn’t fully dodge the problem—apostolic succession is worthless if it’s accompanied by complete apostasy. Otherwise, why shouldn’t the Arian bishops have continued to wield authority?
Nor can such an objection be dismissed as mere rhetorical posturing. There is a serious Protestant argument lodged here—namely, “ye shall know them by their fruits.” The argument insists that the true Church is not to be identified by any simple external claim to authority via apostolic succession, but by the fruits of the Spirit. The historic churches have largely fallen into nominalism or apostasy, while we in the Protestant tradition have maintained the true faith and propagated it widely; our churches are so much more vibrant and wholesome, so the presence of the Spirit is visible among us. Why then abandon a place where the Spirit is quite obviously concretely working for a mere theoretical presence of the Spirit through apostolic succession?
Unless you insist that the proper external authority is the only thing that matters, whatever else may be lacking, then this objection is a potentially serious one. For a Protestant can even willingly accept that apostolic succession is tremendously important for the Church, and even that a church that lacks it is lacking a certain fullness of life and blessing as a Church. They can grant that, but then turn around and say, “But, the gospel, a holy Christian life, knowledge of the Word, etc., are tremendously important for the Church, and a church that lack any of these is lacking a certain fullness of life and blessing as a Church. On what basis then should you ditch a church that is deficient in one area for a church that is even more deficient, perhaps, in other areas?”
I think this is a legitimate objection and that we do have to recognize that each church has strengths and weaknesses, and that a strength in one area, however important, cannot necessarily compensate for any number of weaknesses in other areas. So we have to weigh these things, and we must do as Christ says in judging them by their fruits. So let’s try and make that judgment in the case of Anglicanism vs. Protestantism in general, and more specifically, the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. I have three responses in favor of Anglicanism and its fruits (and much of the same defense could apply to the Catholic Church as well). Then I will offer a final response specifically against the CREC and its fruits.
First, what kind of fruit are you looking for?
I think this is a much-ignored presupposition when you get into this discussion. For us in the Reformed tradition, the first fruit we take a look at is doctrinal purity. “Look,” we cry “at least we’ve held on to the faith! We still maintain the Gospel over against liberalism and feminism, and all that!” It’s self-evident to us that we have more fruits, because we’re only looking for one variety of fruit. It’s as if we look at our orchard, where we’ve planted only apple trees, and, after counting up all the apples, brag that we have far more fruit than our neighbor’s orchard, where a lesser number of apple trees are mixed in with a plentiful supply of peach and pear trees as well. But an Anglican, or a Catholic, looks out at the same scene, and says, “Look, at least we’ve stayed united! Y’all have scattered to the four winds, or rather the four thousand winds, but at least we’ve still been able to basically stay together.” From their perspective, we’re obviously the ones lacking fruit. Now, I think both are necessary, of course, and godless unity is no fruit of the Spirit. But I think Protestants need to be careful that they are not screening out any factors that may make the other side look better. While we in the Reformed tradition have undoubtedly maintained a deep and strong knowledge of the Word, and a commitment to sound doctrine (at least in many areas), and this is a fruit worth regarding and worth preserving, we are deplorably lacking in other fruits that the Church should produce—a robust understanding of sacramental grace, with all its benefits in the life of believers; a people that are shaped by liturgy, even subconsciously, and all the benefits of such a way of life and worship; a strong sense of Christian unity…nay, any sense of Christian unity; a proper respect for authority; a vigorous missional orientation, with emphasis on relief of people’s physical needs. All these and more are terribly lacking in our tradition, so how can we say that we have more fruits than they simply because we have more of a certain kind of fruit?
Second, where have you hidden all the rotten fruit?
This ties in rather directly with the previous point, but here, the point is more specifically that even in those areas where the Reformed and Protestant traditions claim to possess all the good fruit, they are hiding much of the picture and are perhaps not nearly so well off. My contention is that, in our tradition, we have simply refused to count everyone who bears bad fruit; we’re like the family that looks perfect because we refuse to associate with all the bad family members, and we cast dirty looks at the family next door that still invites all the awkward and annoying and even downright rotten family members to the family reunions.
“We Presbyterians don’t have homosexuals in the pulpit.” Oh yeah? What about the PCUSA, the largest Presbyterian body in the country? We cut ourselves off from them and stopped counting them long ago, and so we can pretend we’re pure; but the Church that has stuck together, through thick and thin, looks worse just because they’re still dealing with their ugly members. If you actually look at our tradition as a whole, and pretend for a moment that we haven’t split a gazillion times, the majority of it is liberal, apostate, universalist, feminist, supportive of homosexuals, etc, with a generous helping of Unitarians, deists, Pelagians, Arians, and the rest mixed in. Look how the Congregationalists, who basically share our tradition, went into almost wholesale apostasy. By comparison, the Anglican Communion doesn’t look so bad, especially when you look beyond our national borders and see the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide, who hold fervently to the full gospel.
Third, what are your taste buds?
This again relates closely to the first point—by what standard are you judging what is and isn’t good fruit? This is a more minor issue than the other two, but I think it is still potentially huge. If you ask your typical Reformed person what all the bad fruit is that they’re not happy with over in the Anglican tradition, they might make a few remarks about homosexuals and women and that sort of thing, but when you really dig down, you find that things like “dead liturgy” and “idolatry in worship” and “lack of good teaching” and “sacerdotalism” are all mixed in there too. Of course, if Reformed judgments about how word, sacrament, and liturgy should work are indeed correct, these are all fair objections. But this seems to be mere question-begging. We’ve trained our taste buds to identify certain practices as bad, and so we spit them right out, without ever chewing on them enough to discern if they really are bad. We’re like the kid who just knows that he doesn’t like his vegetables and only when he’s 18 or so does he discover that actually broccoli and brussel sprouts taste quite good once he gives them an honest chance. I believe that once you do get down to it and really taste the fruit offered in Anglicanism’s liturgy and sacraments, you realize that that tasty stuff you thought you’d had was no more than high fructose corn syrup with artificial flavors and Yellow 3.
The Parable of the Sower
To this argument I’d like to add a brief, more specific defense of Anglicanism vis-a-vis the CREC. A lot of people are going to ask, “Why would you leave such a thriving, prospering denomination as the CREC, where so much great theology and church-building and ministry and liturgical reform is going on? Judge by their fruits, man! Obviously God is working a lot more here right now than there.” This is potentially persuasive, and even now, I think there’s a lot of truth in it, but I think there’s a pretty simple Scriptural answer:
“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed…seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since hey had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away….Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty….As for what was sown on the rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away….As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, in another thirty.”
I hate to be cynical, but just because the CREC’s growing fast does not mean it will yield good fruit in the long run. Weeds grow fast. The fact is, there is no root there, no foundation, and so I fear I must be pessimistic about their ability to yield long-term fruit.
Pro Ecclesia Christi,
I'll Take the High (Church) Road #2: What about the Reformation? (or the Romans 11 Thought Experiment)0 comments Posted by Brad Littlejohn at 7:56 AM
1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
Has the Catholic Church then fallen away? Has God destroyed the people that he founded and forsaken them in favor of a new people? Certainly not! For there are many faithful there, who have continued in service to God by faith.
6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written:
“ God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”
9 And David says:
“ Let their table become a snare and a trap,
A stumbling block and a recompense to them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,
And bow down their back always.”
Of course they did commit many grievous sins and corruptions, and therefore God cast them under judgment. Because of their blindness and folly, God chose to give himself instead to the Protestants, to the “schismatics,” and set his face against the historic Church in judgment, until they should repent.
11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Is the historic Catholic Church then cast away for good, in favor of God’s new people, the Protestants? No! God raised up the Protestant churches to provoke the historic Catholic Church to jealousy, so that, seeing that God worked grace even through such lowly and unworthy instruments, they would be jealous that such grace was absent from them, the true sons. God used their fall to raise up a faithful seed, that the true sons might repent and return to him.
12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
Their fall is not permanent—of course not! If God worked such great things through their fall, how will he not work much more glorious things by their restoration?
16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
We as Protestants have no existence, no meaning, apart from them—they are the root, the natural olive tree. They support us, we do not support them. The historic Catholic Church, the institution with apostolic authority, is the necessary root that supports the Christian church. Many of the natural branches were broken off for their sins, and we Protestants, unnatural and unruly, were graciously made to partake of the fatness of the root, even though we did not naturally belong to it. We cannot boast against the historic Church because of our faithfulness, because we only have life because they first had life.
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
You will say, O Protestant, “God cut off the unfaithful Catholic Church that we might take its place as the True Church.” Ah, but they were broken off because of their unbelief, and you stand only because of your faith. Do not be haughty about your position as God’s people, for you stand only because of God’s mercy, and if you despise that, you may be cut off. They also can be brought back into the True Church again, if they are faithful; and indeed, far more so, because they are grown from the natural root and have all the benefits of their long cultivation as the Church.
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved as it is written:
“ The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
Recognize that they will be restored, and the Church will be one again, root and branch, and labor toward that goal. They are beloved of God for the sake of their long history as his people, so he will not cast them away. Through their disobedience, he has wrought great things for the world in spreading the gospel, but he will restore all to unity in the end. The calling and gifts that he gave them are irrevocable, and so he will restore them to faith, that they might use these gifts gloriously.
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
34 “ For who has known the mind of the LORD?
Or who has become His counselor?”
35 “ Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
Give thanks to God for his glorious wisdom in thus ordaining history, that the Church would be divided in order to be reunited more gloriously. Even though it is a mystery, it is the work of God, so give thanks for it.
Now, this is merely a thought experiment, and I’m not actually advocating this way of looking at the issue (though I think many would want to think of the relationship in terms quite similar to these). See, there are a number of ways in which I think the situation is quite different—for one thing, I don’t think Rome’s apostasy was as severe as the Jews in the time of Christ. For another, the Reformation was not a shift to a new covenant—Protestantism cannot be shown to be the authorized permanent successor to Catholicism in the way that the Church was the authorized permanent successor to Israel. So the Gentiles have a far more stable and permanent position than the Protestants do. But, this being so, it is striking how much respect Paul gives to the Jews, and how much confidence he has in their future. How much more so then, should we look with honor on the Catholic Church, which remains in a continuing covenant, whatever her faults.
So I think I can borrow some of Paul’s imagery and language to make the following points of application, though I think there are many other places where the analogy fails.
First of all, then, just as with Israel, the promises and outward blessings of the historic Catholic Church were real, valuable, and meaningful. Her liturgy, sacraments, and apostolic succession were a divine commission that she ought to safeguard. However, as with Israel, even she with all these benefits could have her lampstand removed if she broke faith grievously. As important as was her historical institution and apostolic authority, God was not bound to respect those if the rest was lacking.
Second, Protestantism was not from the natural root, but was a wild tree graftd in. This is crucial to emphasize, for those who think the outward marks and privileges of the Catholic Church, with her apostolic authority, are unimportant and meaningless, since the Church is to be identified by something vaguer or more spiritual. Protestantism was irregular, by all rights we should not have been doing what we were doing, except God graciously raised us up and grafted us onto the trunk of the Church which he had established, and from which he had pruned off many of the natural branches.
Third, God did this to provoke jealousy and repentance in the Catholic Church, not to supplant them. Because the right leaders were unfaithful, God raised up outsiders, who wouldn’t normally have the blessings. But he gave them the blessings to show the Catholic Church that they needed to get their act together.
Fourth, we cannot disrespect the root which is the only means of our life. We are aliens transplanted onto a living stalk, and the life of that stalk we wish to write off as meaningless at best. We think that we have life in ourselves, and forget that we are grafted on; if we do so, and boast against the Catholic Church, we too are in danger of being cut off.
Fifth, they will receive life from the dead, and when they do, their flowering will be more glorious than ours, because they have are the natural branches, and have all the benefits and promises that belong to that status. This means that there is something to be intrinsically valued in their apostolic ministry and sacraments, and it means that when reunion does happen, that will not mean them becoming like us Protestants, but them becoming faithful catholics.
Of course, I don’t think the Catholics have been cut off as fully as the Jews, nay, not nearly so. There has been a continuing legitimate Church there, but one with much dross that needs to be burned away. Much of it has been indeed, and perhaps we are not far from the time when they shall be grafted fully back in.
Moreover, there is a tertium quid for the time being—a faithful branch of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church—the Anglican Church.
So what's the deal with this apostolic succession business? We'll, I'll tell you how I've put it to myself for quite a while now, an analogy that has helped me a lot.
Let me say first of all that the doctrine of apostolic succession seems reasonably persuasive Scripturally, though it's hard to prove it in any final sense, if that's the sort of thing you're looking for. What really gives it the stamp of authority then is how thoroughly it seems to be assumed in the thinking of the early Church; you would think that, sitting so close to their founders, they would have some idea at least of how they were supposed to be governed.
But I'm not wanting to focus on that angle, because that never seems to be the angle from which objections come. Objectors universally say something like, "It just doesn't seem that we can put God in a box like that; the Spirit raises up leaders wherever he wants." This sort of objection has always seemed very odd to me, given the rest of our theology. After all, this is exactly the sort of objection we dismiss when it is brought against our sacraments. No, just because you think you have a personal relationship with God outside the sacraments does not mean that these are not his ordained means of grace and of granting his presence. There cannot, it seems to me, be an a priori objection to the "exclusiveness" of apostolic succession without applying the same argument to the sacraments. Now, of course, this does not mean that the same conditions necessarily apply to both. However, if apostolic succession otherwise looks biblically, historically, and theologically attractive, we can apply this analogy to make more sense of it.
So, baptism is God's ordained means of bringing people into covenant relation with him as his people; he marks them out with it and fills them with his power and grace. Just so, can we not say that the laying on of hands in ordination is God's ordained means of bringing people into covenant relation with him as his ministers; he marks them out with it and fills them with his power and grace?
Can someone be saved without baptism? Of course. It happens all the time. God enters into a gracious relationship with that person outside of his normal means. So can a minister wield true authority of some kind without apostolic succession? Well, yes, of course. It happens all the time. God graciously commissions that person outside of his normal means.
But, by the same token, is the person saved outside of baptism just as well off, all other things being equal, as the person who is rightly baptized and brought into the covenant people? I think we would generally say no. Therefore, the unbaptized believer ought to be strongly urged not to be complacent just because God is gracious, but to seek out His promised means of grace. Likewise, then, the minister appointed without apostolic authority is not, all other things being equal, as well off as the one who is. And therefore, he ought to not be complacent just because God is gracious, and should seek out God's promised means of grace (recognizing, of course, that there may be complications and delays in this process).
The analogy can go further. Sometimes people are baptized under somewhat irregular circumstances, for example, by an unfaithful minister. Sometimes this irregularity is judged so serious that rebaptism may be necessary, but usually, it is recognized that God's mercy extends to grant the benefits to those of true faith but who in ignorance received the sacrament irregularly. Therefore, I see no reason why we may not allow for the occasional irregularity in the apostolic succession...someone being ordained by a heretic, for example. God's mercy extends to grant the benefits in some cases of irregularity. But, of course this is no basis to argue that it extends to grant the benefits when there is not even any appearance of or attempt toward any kind of regularity. That would be like arguing that someone who asks their friend to spray them with a garden hose while reciting the creed can call that a baptism and thereby make it one.
And finally, baptism is a necessary, but not a sufficient cause of salvation. Of course we do not say that because God chooses to work salvation through baptism that means that all you need is baptism to have eternal life. You need faith and faithfulness as well. Just so, hardly anyone who teaches apostolic succession means to suggest that the laying on of hands by proper authority is all that you need--that as long as you can point to your episcopal genealogy you're automatically fine. No, ministers can lose the grace they have received, or rather, have it turned to judgment, if they do not use it with faith and faithfulness. But this is a falling away from grace received, not proof that there never was grace, or that the rite is meaningless.
Up next: So What About the Reformation (the Romans 11 Parable)
I'm back after a couple weeks of meditating on the amazing things I learned at the Anglican Way Institute, and waiting for all the new thoughts to settle into some kind of disciplined order. I will be starting a series of posts here called "I'll Take the High (Church) Road" tomorrow, I think, focusing on issues like sacraments, liturgy, apostolic succession, sola Scriptura, etc., from my new Anglo-Catholic point of view.
But first, on a lighter note, I wanted to state that I have regained a bit of my faith in pop culture. In fact, I have a lot more faith in pop culture. Exactly how much, I'm not sure. But it has showed itself capable of producing glorious things, and worthy of being redeemed by the kingdom.
I have been inspired by two recent developments: Coldplay's new album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends and the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. I downloaded the Coldplay album on Sunday evening and have probably listened to it ten times since (and that's all after 4 PM, because I work all day). The Dark Knight I saw last night and my head is still reeling in bewildered wonderment.
I won't make a fool of myself by trying to say too much about either, since I don't know enough about film to try and be a film critic, and I know far less about music. One thing I can say, though--if there is anything worth spending money on this summer, these are.
Viva La Vida takes two or three listenings before you warm up to it, but once you get a feel for what's going on, you quickly realize you are listening to a masterpiece. It is a true album, a seamless work of art full of rich variety, good fun, and melancholy beauty. The title song is, I think, Coldplay's best ever, and I've been addicted to quite a few Coldplay songs in the past. The album is deservedly becoming one of the best-selling releases worldwide in recent years.
The Dark Knight was...I don't know how to describe it. Flat-out amazing. Mind-blowing. The mark of a good movie is when you forget entirely you're sitting in a movie theater with hundreds of smelly people eating popcorn, and the only thing you experience is the movie itself. In the two-and-a-half hours of Dark Knight, only twice maybe did my attention snap out enough to be aware of my surroudings, despite the fact that I was sitting hunched over on an uncomfortable soda-stained step because there was no room for us in the seats. Another good mark is if you're speechless at the end. I sure was, and pretty much the whole theater was. The movie was dark, brutal, unrelenting, with an insanely complex, frenetic plot that kept you glued to the screen the entire time. Rays of hope were few and dim, but it was not a movie of despair. Batman, archetypal as he is, was convincingly human and tormented, as was Harvey Two-Face also. Everyone's said it already, but I will say it again--Joker was freakishly, surreally good...and terrifying. Best villain bar none. And the nightmarish postmodern nihilism he represents is as chilling to the mind as to the senses. The movie is profoundly thought-provoking, and I don't think you have to read corny symbolism in it to see some really serious issues in play. For example, as lame as it sounds to mention it, the Christ-symbolism of Batman at the end was profound and jarring to a remarkable extent. But I won't say more. I'll just post Peter Travers' wonderful review from The Rolling Stone:
"Heads up: a thunderbolt is about to rip into the blanket of bland we call summer movies. The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan's absolute stunner of a follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins, is a potent provocation decked out as a comic-book movie. Feverish action? Check. Dazzling spectacle? Check. Devilish fun? Check. But Nolan is just warming up. There's something raw and elemental at work in this artfully imagined universe. Striking out from his Batman origin story, Nolan cuts through to a deeper dimension. Huh? Wha? How can a conflicted guy in a bat suit and a villain with a cracked, painted-on clown smile speak to the essentials of the human condition? Just hang on for a shock to the system. The Dark Knight creates a place where good and evil — expected to do battle — decide instead to get it on and dance. "I don't want to kill you," Heath Ledger's psycho Joker tells Christian Bale's stalwart Batman. "You complete me." Don't buy the tease. He means it.
The trouble is that Batman, a.k.a. playboy Bruce Wayne, has had it up to here with being the white knight. He's pissed that the public sees him as a vigilante. He'll leave the hero stuff to district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and stop the DA from moving in on Rachel Dawes (feisty Maggie Gyllenhaal, in for sweetie Katie Holmes), the lady love who is Batman's only hope for a normal life.
Everything gleams like sin in Gotham City (cinematographer Wally Pfister shot on location in Chicago, bringing a gritty reality to a cartoon fantasy). And the bad guys seem jazzed by their evildoing. Take the Joker, who treats a stunningly staged bank robbery like his private video game with accomplices in Joker masks, blood spurting and only one winner. Nolan shot this sequence, and three others, for the IMAX screen and with a finesse for choreographing action that rivals Michael Mann's Heat. But it's what's going on inside the Bathead that pulls us in. Bale is electrifying as a fallibly human crusader at war with his own conscience.
I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker. Miles from Jack Nicholson's broadly funny take on the role in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, Ledger takes the role to the shadows, where even what's comic is hardly a relief. No plastic mask for Ledger; his face is caked with moldy makeup that highlights the red scar of a grin, the grungy hair and the yellowing teeth of a hound fresh out of hell. To the clown prince of crime, a knife is preferable to a gun, the better to "savor the moment."
The deft script, by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, taking note of Bob Kane's original Batman and Frank Miller's bleak rethink, refuses to explain the Joker with pop psychology. Forget Freudian hints about a dad who carved a smile into his son's face with a razor. As the Joker says, "What doesn't kill you makes you stranger."
The Joker represents the last completed role for Ledger, who died in January at 28 before finishing work on Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It's typical of Ledger's total commitment to films as diverse as Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There that he does nothing out of vanity or the need to be liked. If there's a movement to get him the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch won for 1976's Network, sign me up. Ledger's Joker has no gray areas — he's all rampaging id. Watch him crash a party and circle Rachel, a woman torn between Bale's Bruce (she knows he's Batman) and Eckhart's DA, another lover she has to share with his civic duty. "Hello, beautiful," says the Joker, sniffing Rachel like a feral beast. He's right when he compares himself to a dog chasing a car: The chase is all. The Joker's sadism is limitless, and the masochistic delight he takes in being punched and bloodied to a pulp would shame the Marquis de Sade. "I choose chaos," says the Joker, and those words sum up what's at stake in The Dark Knight.
The Joker wants Batman to choose chaos as well. He knows humanity is what you lose while you're busy making plans to gain power. Every actor brings his A game to show the lure of the dark side. Michael Caine purrs with sarcastic wit as Bruce's butler, Alfred, who harbors a secret that could crush his boss's spirit. Morgan Freeman radiates tough wisdom as Lucius Fox, the scientist who designs those wonderful toys — wait till you get a load of the Batpod — but who finds his own standards being compromised. Gary Oldman is so skilled that he makes virtue exciting as Jim Gordon, the ultimate good cop and as such a prime target for the Joker. As Harvey tells the Caped Crusader, "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain." Eckhart earns major props for scarily and movingly portraying the DA's transformation into the dreaded Harvey Two-Face, an event sparked by the brutal murder of a major character.
No fair giving away the mysteries of The Dark Knight. It's enough to marvel at the way Nolan — a world-class filmmaker, be it Memento, Insomnia or The Prestige — brings pop escapism whisper-close to enduring art. It's enough to watch Bale chillingly render Batman as a lost warrior, evoking Al Pacino in The Godfather II in his delusion and desolation. It's enough to see Ledger conjure up the anarchy of the Sex Pistols and A Clockwork Orange as he creates a Joker for the ages. Go ahead, bitch about the movie being too long, at two and a half hours, for short attention spans (it is), too somber for the Hulk crowd (it is), too smart for its own good (it isn't). The haunting and visionary Dark Knight soars on the wings of untamed imagination. It's full of surprises you don't see coming. And just try to get it out of your dreams."
Labels: pop culture
Yes, that's my first post. Hopefully many more to follow.
Or, perhaps I will say one more thing. The essential objection to apostolic succession seems to be that, taken consistently, the doctrine is so weighty that it simply cannot be thrown into the balance of other doctrines, as we wish to do, without pulling everything along with it, without completely upsetting the apple cart. We must hold it at arm's length because too much is at stake in it.
So I'm still desperately trying to chisel off pieces of it so it's not so weighty as to upset the balance, but it's proving awfully resilient.
I’ve been thinking about what you said at breakfast, and several lights have gone off in my head as I’ve been thinking. The real issue between us regarding Christianity is not moral or philosophical…it’s more historical than anything else, and political. And this fits in with everything I’ve been studying and thinking lately. So let me see if I can clarify the issue a bit.
Your contention is that “religion divides and causes violence, so why would I want to be a part of that?” There’s three things that could be said in response.
1) The first point is that “religion” is a pretty unhelpful term. In some sense, almost anything is a “religion,” in the sense of an ideology that causes people to act in a certain way. Atheism can be a religion. Even agnosticism, if held tenaciously, can be a sort of religion. The Enlightenment taught a religion of human autonomy and autonomous reason. But that’s a bit beside the point. Even with the organized, historic religions, there are many many differences (incidentally, this is where I disagree a bit with the book I just lent you), and to make an accusation against all of them together is like saying, “You know, I can’t stand food—food is evil, because it makes people sick.” In our present day, and historically since its foundation, Islam has tended to be by far the most violent, and the most eager to use war to succeed. An accusation against Islam is one that Christianity would completely agree with, so you can’t use Islam’s faults as a critique of Christianity. Of course, Christianity has some violence to answer for as well, which I’ll get to, but I think it’s important to be honest and make proper distinctions in your accusations.
2) History is really a large part of our disagreement. Many, perhaps including you, seem to think that history is an open book, with easily known facts, and trends that are easily understood. But anyone who really studies history knows that history is often as opaque as philosophy, and far messier, with different theories and interpretations going in and out of style all the time. So you feel content to appeal to history as a justification for your claim about religion, as if it’s that simple. But what you’re really appealing to is a particular version, a particular story of history, a story that many historians, I know, would disagree with. Of course, perhaps your story is right, but it’s important to realize that it is not self-evidently right, and there are other narratives which might prove far more compelling.
On my reading of history, your claim is just plain wrong. Here’s the other side of the story: for a very long time, you had various nations and tribes, each with their own sets of gods, making war on one another because they believed their gods would give them success over others. (At this time there was no distinction between religion and politics.) When Christianity came in, it preached a God who ruled over all nations, and hence, it made no sense for one nation to go to war against another in his name. It made possible for the first time the idea of many nations living together peacefully. Now, I don’t say it always lived out this idea, but in previous paganism, this wouldn’t have made sense—the gods were always fighting, so the nations had to as well. Of course, at the time of Christianity, there was a rival notion of peace being preached, that of the Roman Empire, which promised to allow all religions and unite all in peace. The only price they had to pay was slavery, and ruthless punishment if they disobeyed. So the Roman Empire brought peace within its bounds, but at the cost of great violence to create and maintain it. When Christianity came in, preaching and promising peace, it did it by serving. In medieval times, there were of course still wars going on, even between Christian nations, but more often than not, the Church intervened to force them to make peace, rather than to shed blood. It is a historical fact that Church authorities were usually the leaders in making peace treaties, though they made their mistakes as well. When Christianity divided after the Reformation, civil governments promised to pick up the slack and take over as the uniters of society. This they have tried to do for the last four hundred years. (The Enlightenment also tried to propose universal reason as the uniter of society and the solution to all differences and violence, however, it ran into the problem that different people have different ideas of reason, which turns out not to be universal, and how to persuade those who disagree? Ultimately, the Enlightenment types had to embrace the violence of revolution and the aid of the state to accomplish its goals. The French Revolution, and later, under a modified ideology of the Russian Revolution followed this pattern, and neither came close to the success they dreamed of.) What has happened then is a return to the Roman methodology—unity and peace through force and conquest. Hence the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, World War II, Soviet expansionism, etc. (As I said, Hitler killed more each day, probably each hour, than the Inquisition did in its entire history) Curiously, you blame precisely this—the attempt to force agreement through conquest—on religion, when it is precisely post-religious societies that have sought this kind of unifying mechanism.
3) The third point to make is that, yes, indeed, Christianity has much to answer for. I believe the narrative I just gave is substantially correct, and that Christianity has prevented far more wars than it has caused, but even so, we have a lot to answer for, and we come to the discussion table red-handed. However, this is not a damning criticism, if it can be proved that those who resorted to violence in the name of Christianity were clearly misunderstanding their faith. Everyone makes this sort of defense—Marxists can argue that Stalin didn’t get Marx right, and that’s why he did all those horrible things. If someone said to you, “Look how your daughter has gone off and become a fundamentalist—what’s wrong with your teaching?”) you would protest that it was precisely against what you had raised her to be that she went off and became a fundamentalist. You should at least be open to the possibility that the violence done in the name of Christianity has been a misuse of the name of Christianity. I do not wish to disown any of my Christian brothers throughout history, but many of them do need to be rebuked and called to look more closely at the content of their faith, and many of them have given Christianity a bad name.
I could attempt to prove that Christianity properly understood is innocent of your charge by examining historical counterexamples, but I want to go right to the heart. In our charter, our guidebook, our constitution to which we are all committed, the message is clear: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”—in other words, if someone really needs punishing (and occasionally, I think you will agree, people do), God will decide, but that’s not our job. Our job is to show love and mercy. James tells us “True religion in the sight of God is to visit widows and orphans in their distress,” and when Jesus is asked if he is truly the Messiah he proves his credentials by answering “Go and tell John the things that you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news preached to them.”
Just to pick from one of the hymns we sang in church this morning (actually from the Psalms):
“The Father to the fatherless, / Defence of widows in distress, / Is in His habitation. / He in the goodness of His grace / Gives lonely ones a dwelling place; / He grants them consolation. / He leads the captive out to see / The joys of newfound liberty / For bounteous is God’s mercy.”
What is the gospel? Paul says, “How beautiful are the feet of he who brings the gospel of peace,” and later says that Christ “came and preached peace to those that are far off, and peace to those that are near,” that “he made both one, abolishing the enmity, thus making peace.”
In other words, I think Christianity, far from being the cause of violence is the only tool we have in order to stop violence and war, that far from trying to bring others into line by force, Christianity believes in bringing grace to others by showing mercy and service to those who are in need. We have many mistakes in the past to atone for, but we also have much success to build on, and I think an honest look around at history, and Christian ministry in the world today, will prove that point.
As I made clear in my last post, some things Doug Wilson has been saying lately have concerned me, seeming to be casting a blanket of complacency over the consciences of Reformed Christians, consciences that need to be gashed and laid bare over issues of mercy, justice, and charity. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is this: that you visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”
Pondering back on my previous post, I had begun to wonder if I was perhaps tilting at windmills, making a mountain out a molehill…something of that nature. But Doug Wilson’s recent sermon on Amos 5 set my alarm bells blaring again. Of course, each of his sermons in Amos has left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable, and not the right kind of uncomfortable. Amos, for those of you just tuning in, is, of all the prophetic books, among those that rants most persistently against the rich and their perversion of justice and oppression of the poor. Pastor Wilson’s sermons have repeatedly dulled the edge of passages that go right for the jugular of comfortable affluent American Christians, but, in general, I was understanding of his attempt to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. But this latest one…well, I just couldn’t go for it. The passage in question centers on the following warnings: “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them: you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.”
How did this come out after being filtered through Pastor Wilson’s sermon? “We need to remain faithful and wait upon the Lord even when confronted with the injustices of a court system that rewrites laws to allow abortion and homosexual marriage and the like.”
Huh? I’m serious, that was the gist. Now, how he got there was to reason that a major perversion of justice in our society that afflicts those who are weak and defenceless is abortion (and which also perverts justice in other ways that we aren’t happy with. Thus our society has this analogy to the situation Amos is critiquing. Now, I’ll grant that this might be a reasonable application by analogy, but it’s certainly not the most important thing Amos is trying to say, nor the most relevant and needful application. Much more central and relevant would be the message: “You—yes, you, right here in the congregation—are fat and happy and willing to not merely ignore the plight of the poor, but to be complicit in their oppression, simply for the sake of making your own lives easier. How great are your sins!”
Wilson has, however, deliberately evaded the seeming force of Amos’s condemnation of American Christianity through two main routes (explicit in his sermons): 1) The real thing Amos is after is bad worship, not economic oppression. We need to focus on fixing our worship more than anything else. 2) Amos is condemning people who consciously, intentionally seek to oppress the poor. Obviously we don’t do this, so it doesn’t really apply to us.
Both of these arguments, it seems to me, are highly problematic. To the first, I would reply that this simply does not seem to be the case by simple word count. Seventeen verses, by my count, explicitly deal with the problem of oppression and injustice; eight deal with perverted worship (and of these, for several, the main issue seems to be their evil in coming into the presence of the Lord with the guilt of their oppression of their brothers on their hands). Repeatedly we hear in the prophets, “I desire mercy and not a sacrifice.” It simply does not appear that the reform of worship has any kind of priority over the aid of the oppressed.
The second argument depends upon the claim that only conscious, intentional transgressors are actually transgressors. But when do we ever reason like this? Negligence and inattention to our duties are equally culpable. Is only the man who actively beats his wife a bad husband? No, the husband who pays more attention to his work than his wife, who ignores her needs, is still guilty, even if he may be well-intentioned. On what basis do we say that only the Robert Mugabes of the world are being blamed by Amos? How many people really go out of their way to oppress the poor? A pretty small minority…most do it in the name of some good cause, or by bowing to “the free market.” Are we really guiltless of the economic conditions of those in the world that suffer from our greedy consumer demands and blatantly selfish government policy?
What, I can’t help but wonder, is the motive for pronouncing over the heads of the parishioners the verdict “not guilty,” for saying “peace, peace,” when there is no peace?
Doug Wilson has recently drawn considerable attention to N.T. Wright’s remarks, towards the end of Surprised by Hope, about the urgent call for global justice, in particularly, to redress the abominable oppression of Third World Debt. In response to Wright’s fairly brief remarks in that book, Wilson unleashed a barrage of no less than 15 posts over the previous two months (see www.dougwils.com), essentially hammering on the same themes over and over again. Last month, Wright finally responded to these and similar criticisms with a short summary defense which can be found here: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Debt.htm. Wilson responded to that (albeit very insufficiently, in my opinion, on his blog recently).
This interchange has served to bring into sharp relief this whole question about the Church’s duty to seek global justice, a question that is urgently relevant to the Reformed Church, and indeed the whole American Church, today. So I would like to make a few observations and raise a few questions, though I will not seek to cross-examine every statement that was made. Though I believe N.T. Wright is substantially correct on these issues, my purpose here is not to attack Doug Wilson per se. However, I do want to suggest that he doth protest too much, and to defend N.T. Wright from some accusations that I think are unwarranted. Also, I think it is important that we examine the potential pitfalls in some of the lines of argument that Wilson brings up.
The crucial question here, in my mind, is this: Which side of this argument does the Reformed Church here in America need to hear more, Wright’s or Wilson’s?
That is to say, even if I were to concede that all of Wilson’s criticisms were on the mark, that Wright had gone too far with his agenda, and all that, I would still be very concerned about the way in which Wilson had addressed the issue. Is the problem in Reformed churches today zealotry or complacency? Well, quite frankly, our Reformed churches couldn’t care less about global justice, the oppression of the poor, or all the problems that the Old Testament prophets so loudly inveigh against. Even if Wright goes too far, his is a voice which needs to be heard and paid attention to in our Reformed churches. By speaking so loudly against Wright’s call for global justice, Wilson runs the risk of simply reinforcing the complacency we find in our churches when it comes to these issues. Of course, Wilson says repeatedly that he isn’t trying to encourage complacency, but I fear nonetheless that complacency may be a by-product of some of his arguments
Though Wilson speaks at great length, his claim is fairly straightforward: Wright may be right about the fact of the problem, and the need to address the problem, but it’s a very complex problem, and Wright’s solution is simplistic and shows that he knows nothing about economics. Unfortunately, I would contend, Wilson nowhere spells out a clear defense either of the proposition that it’s a highly complex problem or that Wright’s solution is simplistic. So, at least pending a detailed and clear defense, I must take issue with these claims.
First, I want to address the charge against Wright. While Wilson insists that his answer is simplistic, it does not appear that this rests on any more than the fact that certain summary utterances of Wright’s on this topic (such as in Surprised by Hope) have been simplistic. However, I would be very surprised if more thorough statements of his views would not reveal a very well-thought-out position. Everything he’s ever written on every other issue would suggest this. Of course, he is not perfect, but, at least he is an exceptionally thorough scholar who prefers to leave absolutely no stone unturned. If any claim he makes appears to be simplistic, it usually turns out that he has backed up that claim with dozens of pages of argument elsewhere in his writings. Our assumption, until proven otherwise, should be that Wright has probably done his homework when he speaks out on an issue. This is particularly the case when it is an issue that he is passionate about, and has spoken about and argued about for years, such as this issue of Third World Debt. Furthermore, Wright’s recent response to Wilson demonstrates that he is well-acquainted with the details of the issue. You may argue that Wright is wrong, but you may not insist that he is naïve or is speaking before thinking, as Wilson seems to repeatedly insist.
This reasonably leads us to question why Wilson would make this claim, why he would suppose that Wright, so thoughtful and thorough about every other issue, would suddenly start talking foolishness on this issue? I actually used to think the same thing about Wright, so I think I might know one reason why, though of course I can only speak for myself. It’s because his statements don’t seem to fit our particular view of economics, so we assume that he must just not know anything about economics. Of course, all this means is that he doesn’t buy into the American capitalist ideology, which we blithely assume must be the only economics there is. “He doesn’t know economics,” we claim, as if capitalism were simply a fact of nature, like gravity. But it’s not, it’s an ideology, which we must repent of if we are to begin to look at justice and poverty through Biblical eyes. I have a bit more to say on this in my conclusion.
Now, what about Wilson’s claim of complexity—that this is obviously much too complex a problem to begin proposing solutions? Well, I would like to ask why this is just such a complex problem, so complex that we simply cannot begin to take action on it right now? Of course it is complex—it’s not just like requiring your six-year-old son to return the candy bar to the convenience store he just stole it from. But why is it cripplingly complex? Well, Wilson says, because we need to take everything into account. It’s not as if there’s solutions for a problem like this—rather, there are tradeoffs. That is to say, if you try to fix this one thing, you’ll create a problem somewhere else. This may be a fair point (though, of course, this is true of everything in life to some extent, but does not mean we should never take action to fix a problem), but what precisely are these terrible tradeoffs? What Wilson says is that if you forgive the debt, you’ll simply keep dictators in power and make the problem worse (there are a couple of other difficulties he points out, but this seems to be the biggest one).
He doesn’t really spell out the argument for this claim, but I would guess it would look something like this: things are so bad in these countries that the dictators are only barely clinging to power. Pretty soon, the people, tired of poverty, will rise up against them, and, then, presumably, things will get better (though I’m not sure how we can assume this, if they still have the debt burden). If we forgave the debt, however, the country would have plenty of resources for the dictator to feed upon and stay in power indefinitely, thus putting any improvement in their condition further off.
This scenario may be plausible, but it doesn’t seem much more plausible than the opposite—namely, that the only reason the dictators stay in power is that the people are too downtrodden and hungry to take any action, but that, if they were more prosperous, they would begin to find ways to reform the government. So, I’m not certain he’s wrong here, but, before dismissing Wright for failing to consider economic realities, we should do some thorough and documented study on what these economic realities are. From Wilson’s posts, though his claims may be accurate, he gives no concrete evidence from such study. In fact, the only concrete testimony on the issue is provided by Wright, who cites a number of examples demonstrating that Wilson’s prediction is false; in fact, the opposite is the case—that is, that countries that have experienced debt relief have seen rapid and very visible improvements.
Another claim worth considering is Wilson’s repeated warning against the danger of “keeping the tyrants in power.” He never really specifies what tyrants he’s talking about. Of course, there are tyrannical dictators in Africa, but the situation is not what it was thirty years ago. Sure, we hear a lot about Robert Mugabe, but that simply proves the point—if every ruler over there were a tyrant, Mugabe wouldn’t get so much press. As it is, most of the countries over there, though not under ideal government, are moving toward fairly representative governments, and are not the property of all-controlling dictators. Wright points this out in his response to Wilson.
But it seems there is another, more important point to be made in response to claims such as Wilson’s, even if all his warnings were to prove well-grounded: if we have a clear personal moral duty toward a person or group of people, their presumed response should not change our duty. If I have a neighbor with a drinking problem, and I stole $2,000 from him years ago, and am now feeling guilty about it, I cannot refuse to make restitution on the basis that he might use the money for his drinking habit. My sin is clear, my moral duty is clear, and only after I’ve fulfilled it am I in a position to look for ways to help my neighbor address his drinking problem. This debt-relief question may not be quite such an open-and-shut case, but it’s close.
In several of his posts, Wilson seems to lump together this debt relief with things like giving food aid to these countries. This is not necessarily accurate. In the case of debt relief, we are not simply doing a nice thing for these countries, not even simply doing a Biblically-mandated nice thing, but making restitution for our own sins. As Wright points out in his response, these countries weren’t simply taking a loan out from the bank—they were the victims of predatory, intentionally enslaving lending by our countries. We have a duty to repent and redress this injustice.
The root issue here is not whether the problem is complex—indeed, there are complexities, and Wilson raises other potential difficulties worth discussing—but how complexity is being appealed to. Is complexity being brought up in order to sort through it and get on with a solution, or is it being brought up as a substitute for action? That is to say, is complexity simply a shield for complacency? I am not suggesting that Doug Wilson intends to advocate complacency—he expressly says the contrary—but that appears to be the likely effect of his remarks. If someone is passionately concerned to fix a problem, they will only bring up complexity in order to set to work unraveling it and clearing a way for a solution. Wilson has not yet appeared to do that. If Wright is correct that this is a problem that urgently needs solving, our reaction should be, “Well, there’s a lot of difficulties involved here, but let’s see how we can start working through some difficulties.” It will not do to simply insist that there are difficulties, and Wright needs to do his homework, without ourselves doing the homework to show exactly where the difficulties lie.
While some of Wilson’s points need consideration and discussion (and I’ve attempted to address some of them), raising objections in the manner and tone that Wilson has may have the effect of discouraging, rather than encouraging people to solve this issue and help the needy. Whatever Wilson’s true intentions, the reader cannot help but come away with the impression that Wright is thoughtfully and passionately concerned to implement the gospel mandate, while Wilson is content to leave us with the reassurance that we’d better sit back and wait for some realistic agenda to appear.
“Then He will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’
“Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life.”
Yes, we should be prudent, we should be thoughtful, but we should fear this condemnation enough that we never use that as an excuse for inaction. After all, Christ never says, “Depart from Me, you cursed, for I was needy, and you did not take all the necessary economics courses before proposing a solution for Me.”
I have one other note to make on the appeal to prudence in the face of complexity.
We must take care that this be an appeal to Biblical wisdom, not worldly wisdom, in the face of complexity. We must remember that the “foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” If an appeal to think through the issues more simply means to act in light of contemporary economic wisdom, then I fear we will stand condemned. This is not to say we should blindly pursue self-destructive policies, but that we should carefully examine our motivations for calls to be “sensible” in our search for solutions.
Again, my purpose here is not to “take on” Doug Wilson, because his response to Wright is not unique, but is fairly typical in our circles. But I have come to believe that we in Reformed circles need to be shaken up a bit and brought to terms with the mandate for justice that Wright is espousing, and, as postmillennialists, we should believe that effective action is possible. I hope that this discussion stimulates those in our communities, whichever “side” they are on, to take this issue seriously and find opportunities to make Biblical relief of the oppressed a reality in our world.