At the risk of sounding like Puddleglum in my continued negativity, I note that Vermigli and Bullinger’s political theology seems to combine the worst of both worlds. They insist on a tremendous continuity between the civil and ecclesial realms when it comes to establishing the prince’s authority to manage the Church and its ministers, but they insist on tremendous discontinuity when it comes to any of the influence or authority going the other way. We hear that Christ’s kingdom is a purely spiritual kingdom, and so all the things that he tells his disciples to do and how to live, etc., are only intended to ministers in the Church, not to any other authorities; in fact, when he tells them things like “You are not to lord it over one another as the Gentiles do”; far from calling into question the power-arrangements in the empire, he intends to reinforce them.
April 29, 2010
When I was buying plane tickets and booking accomodations earlier this week for a summer trip to Europe, I was surprised by all the little “insurance” add-ons I was being urged to purchase. For an extra 20 euros, I could buy the right to receive a full refund on my ticket if for any reason I needed to cancel my travel plans. For an extra 15, I could buy full coverage for any lost baggage. For 10 (this was my favorite), I could guarantee myself a 75 euro refund if my flight arrived more than an hour late. Now, needless to say, these little promises of security had little allure for me--my reaction was, “Heck, that takes all the fun out of it! What’s the point of traveling if there’s no uncertainty?” After all, I am the guy who intentionally proposed to my future wife when I really didn’t know if she would answer yes, just because I thought the uncertainty made it more interesting.
April 28, 2010
Before reviewing the rest of chapter 1, I want to voice my appreciation for VanDrunen’s tone in this section. Unless I am missing hidden barbs of underlying sarcasm (which may well be the case, since I have become rather fuller of the milk of human kindness since moving over here than I was in my American Reformed days), his general tone throughout is patient, measured, carefully qualified, and quite respectful of his opponents. I am particularly gratified by the way he summarizes figures such as N.T. Wright, John Milbank, and Stanley Hauerwas, all of whom tend to be polarizing figures, oft misrepresented, especially in American Reformed circles. He represents them fairly and seems to have genuine respect for the insights and contributions they bring to the theological discussion, even where he disagrees with them. He clearly thinks that neo-Calvinism is deeply flawed, yet he never acts like they are stupid, wicked, irrational, or incoherent. In all of these respects, I found this book much easier reading than I’d expected, having been prepared by my experience with Darryl Hart for a lot of snarkiness.
I have been asked to review David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought for the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, and so I will be blogging through the book in detail as I read it; of course the final review will be far more condensed than what I offer here. So here is the first post, which doesn’t get us past the first page (don’t worry--it will go faster after this!).
April 27, 2010
Six hundred years later, the growth of capitalism has called forth a militant socialism in reaction. Its call for the abolition of all private property by the state incites Leo XIII to respond with the encyclical Rerum Novarum, inaugurating the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. At the center of this document is a full-blown attack on socialism, based on a sturdy defense of the right of private property, a right that Leo feels the need to affirm more strongly than Aquinas did. While seeking (and no doubt perceiving himself) to be in line with Thomist teaching, Leo comes close to simply rooting the right of property in nature, in a way that Thomas never does. He does this by importing a Lockean metaphysical account of property, suggesting that a right to private property simply arises out of one’s labor upon that property. It is worth attending carefully to how he constructs his justification and how it differs from Aquinas’s.
Way back near the beginning of this school year, I remember Prof. Northcott recounting to our class a recent debate in Durham, NC, that he’d been invited to participate in, a debate with Calvin Beisner, whom he aptly termed “a cornucopian dominionist.” With humored incredulity, he shared with us the astonishing fact that Beisner thought it was “theft” for the government to take people’s money through taxes and distribute them to others through programs like Social Security or the debated healthcare initiative. Could we believe he said such a thing? he asked. I timidly answered that almost everyone I’d grown up around would’ve employed that rhetoric. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since--is this really a rational criticism? If it is rational, it certainly isn’t self-evident. And not being self-evident, and being a rather harsh and provocative accusation, it seems that, if there’s any weight to it, it ought to be carefully argued, not casually thrown around without a shred of argumentation, as it often has been, particularly during the healthcare debate and in its aftermath.
Who in Thy sacrament dost deign to be;
Both flesh and spirit at Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.
Who living Bread to men doth here afford!
O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.
Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.
May what we thirst for soon our portion be,
To gaze on Thee unveiled, and see Thy face,
The vision of Thy glory and Thy grace.