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May 27, 2010
This chapter was certainly the weakest so far, and the weakness, unless I’m missing something, is rather simple to identify and describe, so this review shouldn’t take so long.  His approach in this chapter is quite simple: examine the treatises of six prominent “Reformed resistance theorists”--three from among the English Marian exiles (John Knox,  John Ponet, and Christopher Goodman) and three from among the Huguenots (Francois Hotman, Theodore Beza, and the author of the Vindiciae)--and look for any appeals to non-Biblical sources, all of which can then be lumped under the heading of “natural law.”  The result is rich in scholarly-sounding footnotes but quite lacking in substance.

Priest-Kings?

May 21, 2010
(Note: I'm leaving town tomorrow, and will have little chance to reply to post--hence the barrage today--or reply to comments for several days.  So by all means comment, but I may take a few days to get back to you...the same goes for comments earlier today that I haven't gotten to.)


So I have found a reason to like Vermigli: namely, he’s a bit more restrained than Bullinger.  In “On the Office of the Magistrate” from the Sermonum Decades, Bullinger starts out rather carelessly on his proof that “care of religion belongs to the Magistrate,” by alleging that in ancient times, kings were also priests.

“For among them of old, their kinges were priestes, I mean maisters and overseers of religion.  Melchisedech that holie and wise Prince of the Chanaanitish people, who bare the type or figure of Christe our Lord, is wonderfullie commended in holie Scriptures: Now he was both king and priest together.  Moreover in the booke of Numbers, to Iosue [Joshua] newlie ordained and lately consecrated, are the lawes belonging to religion given up and delivered.”

May 21, 2010
 VanDrunen’s claim about the use of the natural law in Reformed political theology certainly seems to ring true for a lot of what we find in Vermigli and Bullinger.  His claim was that, since for the Reformers, the political realm was outside of the sphere of the redemptive gospel, and belonged only to the sphere of creation, the ethics of that sphere were determined by the natural law and not by Scripture, and so pagan sources could be appealed to just as readily as Christian ones.  Of course, there are many problems with the way VanDrunen tries to make this claim, as I have been discussing in my reviews, but it is certainly true that these early Reformed thinkers are quite comfortable mingling sacred and secular sources in developing their political theology.  Consider Bullinger’s dedication to On the Authority of Holy Scripture, which I just posted about earlier.  
In convincing Henry VIII (as if he needed any convincing) that magistrates ought to be involved in managing religious affairs, he discusses first the example of Jehoshaphat, then a passage from Isaiah 49, and then turns to a rather random and eccentic account of Zoroastrian practice, and then an even more eccentric discussion of Egyptian statues:

Abortive Politics

May 21, 2010
If the idea of the left-wing and right-wing parties joining to form a coalition government here in the UK isn’t weird enough to us Americans, a woman at church last Sunday pointed out to me another huge disconnect between American and British politics.  In Britain, she said, it’s an open question who Christians are going to vote for; most likely, in a sizable and reasonably diverse congregation, fairly equal numbers of the members will vote for the Tories, the Lib Dems, or Labour.  But in America, so far as she could tell, it was pretty much assumed that if you were Christian, you were voting Republican.  She recounted the bizarre experience some of her friends had had of receiving emails from American friends back in 2008 asking for prayer that Obama wouldn’t win.    I regretfully assured her that her impressions of the polarization were quite accurate.  But why?  

Usury Today

May 21, 2010
Building off of my post yesterday, I now make a stab at answering the questions "Does the ban carry over into the New Covenant?" and "What does it mean for us today?"

Well, according to fairly standard accounts of applying the Old Testament law, it would carry over in its general equity.  It may be be straightforwardly part of the moral law, but it seems not.  It would seem to be a deduction, an application, from the moral law, for the nation of Israel.  This would mean that, to apply it, we have to deduce what moral principles it is seeking to apply, what things it is trying to safeguard for the communities of Israel, and then see to what extent those principles and concerns apply to other settings beyond ancient Israel.  Insofar as they do apply, then the prohibition on usury should continue to govern our societies, but we do not need to see it as a priori binding across the board.  (One thing that should be clear, though, is that insofar as it now applies, it would apply without distinction between co-religionists and foreigners, since in Christ all men become our neighbors.) 

May 21, 2010

Heinrich Bullinger gets a little carried away with himself in his dedication to King Henry VIII at the beginning of his treatise “On the Authority of Holy Scripture,” making for some jolly fun translation work.  After a couple pages spent reassuring Henry that he has been right to take for himself the headship of the Church of England, and not to listen to those who say that kings have no right to rule the Church, he exhorts him to take the reform of the Church firmly into his own hands, and concludes with this rousing encomium: 
“But already, O most powerful King, since the Lord has selected and anointed you to be above his people, you understand what is proper for you and what it is necessary to do.  You are the king, therefore you are the father of your country.  You are the head of the kingdom, therefore you will exercise understanding for yourself and your kingdom.  You are the soul of the body of England, therefore you will animate your people for the duties of a holy life.  You are the eye, the sun, and the light of the Church of England, therefore, snatching the Church redeemed by the blood of Christ from the jaws of the Antichrist himself, you will illuminate it with the word of Christ, and what is subverted by superstition will also be restored by true religion.  You have begun the work of Christ beautifully, and it advances extraordinarily through the grace of God; you will continue fearlessly in hope of the promise of God.  They who desire the advancement of the glory of Christ pray to the Lord for you and for your kingdom, and they rejoice for the gifts given by the Lord for those who labor therein.”* 

This is especially remarkable, of course, in light of how little the Reformation was advancing under Henry at this point...in fact, this same year he began taking steps to actively repress it, and made denial of transubstantiation a capital offence.
*my own translation

A friend asked me recently to share some of my thoughts on usury--the meaning of the OT prohibitions, their validity in the NT, and their applicability in the modern world.  As usual, my thoughts turned out to be rather wordy, so I decided it was worth exploring them in a two- or three-part blog series.  
So, what was the original purpose of the ban on usury in the Old Testament?

Truth-Free Markets

May 20, 2010
Virgin screwed us, again.  I speak of Virgin Media, of course, as any UK reader might guess.  Having suffered under their hidden fees, overpriced services, and wretched customer service for nine months, and having heard from others about similar experiences, we knew they were likely to.  And that’s why we wanted out; so we made all the arrangements, prepared to switch to a new provider, only to find that Virgin had, without our knowledge, swindled us into an eight-month contract extension, to which we were now bound.  All this despite dedicated research and fine-print reading before we signed up, and ceaseless vigilance afterward (trust me, this is going somewhere--this isn’t just a rant...or, it may be a rant, but it's a thoughtful one).    

Our experience, it seems, is fairly typical.  When we were looking into switching, I found that the company we were planning on switching to was way cheaper than Virgin, so I figured there must be a dark side.  So I researched and found they had received 3.1 out of 5 stars from online reviewers.  Ew, I thought, that’s not very positive.  So I looked at Virgin.  1.4 out of 5 stars.  The third-largest broadband provider in the UK has a 1.4-star rating (and overpriced services!).  What about the largest provider, Talk-Talk?  1.3 stars.  How can this be?  If these companies are so hated by their customers, how could they be so successful?  Surely no one should be able to capture 30% of the UK market share with a 1.3-star rating from existing customers?  Didn’t we all learn in our economics textbooks about how competition will destroy all the companies that provide poor products at bad prices, and that the great companies, that make their customers happy, will automatically rise to the top?  Why isn’t that happening?  Is there some government monopoly?  No, this was a free competitive marketplace.  Why doesn’t competition work?

May 17, 2010
The remainder of chapter 3 consists of three main sections--an assessment of Calvin’s use of natural law, an attempt to neatly connect Calvin’s doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms so they are complementary and mutually interpretive (this is the heart of VanDrunen’s project), and a very brief assessment of some of Calvin’s contemporaries.  Although there is a lot of ground to be covered here, the initial section on the natural law.  Perhaps it is just the fact that I am rather less familiar with natural law discussions than two kingdoms discussions, but this section did not seem  to raise many red flags for me.  The second section raises some serious questions and problems, and will merit a close discussion; while the final section plays too insignificant a role to be worth discussing here.

Loose the Bonds of Wickedness

May 17, 2010
 Yesterday, my friend Byron preached a fantastic sermon on Isaiah 58, a remarkable passage that I was startled to find that I didn’t remember ever noticing it or having heard it before.  Just goes to show how rarely we are ever led to consider those passages that smack of liberation theology.  This passage is particularly challenging in its rejection of the “worship first, justice later” paradigm that is so prevalent in our circles, as it is unsettling to note that the worship being condemned is genuine heartfelt worship, not hypocrisy or empty show.  The passage was so striking, I thought I would post verses 1-11 here:

May 16, 2010
In the midst of his profound and powerful discussion of “Our Duty to Remain in Love’s Debt” in Works of Love, Kierkegaard gets carried away, as he is wont to do, and goes on a tangent.  All his tangents are good, but this one was a rare gem, since in it, he expresses as clearly, concisely, and compellingly as I have ever seen him do, the fundamental message of all of his work.  When I read this, I couldn’t help thinking of Hauerwas, and wondering why it was that I had never mentally connected these two before.  But I’ll let Kierkegaard speak for himself here, and let you make your own connections.
“When Christianity came into the world, it did not itself need to point out (even though it did do so) that it was an offense, because the world, which took offense, certainly discovered this easily enough.  But now, now when the world has become Christian, now Christianity above all must itself pay attention to the offense.  Therefore if it is true that many ‘Christians’ in these times miss out on Christianity, how does it happen except through their missing out on the possibility of offense, this, note well, terrifying thing!  No wonder, then, that Chrsitianity, its salvation and its tasks, can no longer satisfy ‘the Christians’--indeed, they could not even be offended by it.  

Leithart on Natural Law

May 16, 2010
Check out this post from Peter Leithart for a fantastic discussion of J. Budziszewski’s The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of ContradictionpastedGraphic.pdf, a book that I have promptly put on my Amazon wish list.  Leithart calls it “about the best and most accessible defenses of natural law one could hope for,” but still has reservations:
The universe has, I agree, a grain, a design given it by the Triune Creator, and we are to live in accord with that grain.  But we discern that grain not from “unaided reason” (J. Bud hedges with “so-called unaided reason”) but in the light of Christ, by the Spirit, through the spectacles of Scripture.  When we have the mind of Christ, we see how the world is to be, and how humans are to live, and we learn in turn that the world is not as it should be.   To put it more strongly, provocatively: There is nothing bigger, more basic, more universal than Christ the Lord, the One by whom all things were made, the One in whom all things cohere.   Christ must be given epistemological priority, and natural law theories, even of the best varieties, don’t honor that priority.

May 15, 2010
Alright, it’s time to move this review along...I’m supposed to have read and reviewed up through chapter 6 by now, but I’m still wading through chapter 3.  So I’ll try to step lightly through the rest of the chapter, and only zero in on the parts that really need it.  You may recall that VanD had listed “three important attributes of each kingdom that display the contrast of one with the other.  The three attributes of the kingdom of Christ are its redemptive character, its spiritual or heavenly identity, and its present institutional expression in the church.  The three attributes of the civil kingdom are its non-redemptive character, its external or earthly identity, and its present (though not exclusive) expression in civil government.”  So let’s look at the second one.  

May 13, 2010

Now, VanDrunen starts out by seeking to relate Calvin to what has gone before, telling us that “Lying behind Calvin’s discussions of the two kingdoms is an Augustinian two cities paradigm...a fundamental antithesis divided Christians from non-Christians” (71).  This, however, is not what his two kingdoms are about.  “Both of Calvin’s two kingdoms are God’s, but are ruled by him in distinctive ways....Christians are members of both kingdoms during their earthly lives.  Calvin perceived a clear difference between these two kingdoms but not a fundamental antithesis” (71).  Alright, so what are these two kingdoms?  VanDrunen quotes the famous passage from Institutes III.19: 
“Let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform....the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely, honourably, and modestly.  The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct.  We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom” (III.19.15, quoted on 72).  

Red Tories or Blue Liberals?

May 12, 2010
Here on the tea-drinking, Marmite-spreading side of the pond, everyone has been in a tizzy for the past few days about the sensational outcome of the General Election last Thursday--no less sensational for having been widely predicted.  With the voting public of the UK having developed a thorough contempt of Gordon Brown and Labour’s dismal record of nine years of licking America’s boots, yet unable to forget the deep hostility to the Tories that they contracted in the ‘90s, they found themselves seeking to steer between Scylla and Charybdis.  Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrat party set out to occupy that strategic position between the two monsters, and thought they were poised for a breakthrough election, but failed dismally, winning only 57 of the 650 seats despite 23% of the popular vote.  The result, generally anticipated but still quite disconcerting when it happened, was a Hung Parliament, the first in 36 years--meaning that no party had a majority, even though the Conservatives had managed to beat out Labour by a margin of 305 to 258.  The options at this point were four: 1) the Tories could form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to form a solid majority government; 2) Labour could form a coalition with the Lib Dems and a couple other minor parties to form a slight majority government; 3) no coalition would be formed, but Labour would defiantly cling to power until it became too unpopular to continue to do so; 4) no coalition would be formed, but Gordon Brown would resign, and David Cameron, the Tory leader, would become Prime Minister and run a minority government until it became too unpopular to do so.  

May 8, 2010
In the Middle Ages, a tradition of ethical thought had developed which distinguished between the precepts and the counsels (also known as the counsels of perfection or the evangelical counsels).  The former are binding upon all Christians, while the latter, including, for example, chastity and poverty, may be freely embraced by those who wish to attain to a higher level of moral perfection--e.g., those who take monastic vows.  This distinction has been canonized as a cornerstone of Catholic moral theology, but it was never undisputed (e.g., the Franciscan poverty controversy of the 13th and 14th centuries), and was rejected wholesale by Protestantism.  It was common in medieval thought to apply this distinction to the more troubling commands of the Sermon on the Mount, so that those who desired to become perfect would indeed renounce self-defense and show sacrificial love for their enemies, while ordinary Christians could safely ignore these difficult counsels and apply the criteria of justice to dealing with assailants, robbers, persecutors, etc. 

May 8, 2010
Van Drunen’s third chapter, “Reforming Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: John Calvin and His Contemporaries,” is longer than either of the previous two, considerably denser, and much more important to VanDrunen’s project, and so I am afraid it will take quite a commodious review to do it justice.  Before I start, I ought to admit up front that I am going to do something very un-kosher in this review--I am going to take a historian to task on theological grounds.  I know, you’re covering your ears with horror at the very suggestion! 

Pursuing Strangers

May 5, 2010
In Rom. 12:13, Paul tells us to “seek to show hospitality”--we tend to brush this sort of command aside as less relevant in a modern setting of ubiquitous motels and safe modes of travel, or else to water it down to “make sure to have other people in the Church over for dinner from time to time.”  
Origen’s commentary, however, suggests challenging contemporary relevance for any Christians in modern cities: 
“We are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to enquire after, and look carefully for, strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere, lest perchance somewhere they may sit in the streets or lie without a roof over their heads.” 

May 4, 2010 
I’ve been suspicious of Just War theory for quite a while now.  Some of it has to do with the pacifistic inroads Hauerwas and others made on my thinking, and some of it just has to do with the theory’s terrible historical track record.  The Just War theory has much more often served as a way of providing a justification for desired wars than as a criterion for refusing wars.  By reducing the requirements of justice in war to a convenient little list of criteria, the just war tradition has made it all too easy for politicians to spin the facts and stoke up the rhetoric so as to give a passable imitation of having met the criteria.  And so the most absurd prideful bloodbaths get whitewashed as “just wars”--the Civil War, World War I, the Iraq War.  

And so, as I said, I’d become suspicious, skeptical--not hostile, mind you, just dubious as to whether the theory actually enabled us to fight just wars and refuse unjust ones.  And so I thought, in all fairness to the tradition, I ought to hear its ablest defenders speak, and I planned to read Paul Ramsey’s The Just War and O’Donovan’s The Just War Revisited.  I haven’t gotten to the latter yet, but we were assigned portions of the former to read for class this past term.  I was, I am afraid, sorely disappointed--my hopes in the abilities of modern just war theorists to effectively challenge our warmongering societies were quite dashed.

May 2, 2010
(This post is actually short!)
In the last section of the chapter, “Precursors to the Reformed Tradition,” VanDrunen examines a figure whose name is regularly identified with “two kingdoms” theory, though rarely with the concept of natural law--Luther.   He seeks to show that both of these ideas played a crucial role in Luther’s political theology, which was in close continuity with the catholic strands he has already identified, and which set the stage for a more mature and systematic development in Reformed thought.

May 1, 2010
To write a chapter called “Precursors of the Reformed Tradition” seems a rather risky way to proceed, as it invites the criticism that you have set up the Reformed tradition as the perfected endpoint, and have scripted all of previous Church history into a narrative of development towards and imperfect realizations of this ideal.  Indeed, it is perhaps inevitable that this structural decision will lead to a somewhat imperfect and one-sided treatment of the history.  But I confess that VanDrunen does quite a good job (at least, so it seems on a first reading) of steering clear of the pitfalls that accompany this approach.  I was impressed and (I must confess) surprised by VanDrunen’s careful, even-handed treatment of the history, allowing each author to speak more or less for himself, rather than forcing him into the preconceived schema of what he was going to try and prove later, and by his sympathetic use of medieval Catholic sources, treating them as part of the single, continuous heritage of the Church’s teaching.  
I say “surprised” because this has not been, in my experience, typical of what you expect to find from Westminster Seminary professor, but perhaps times are changing.  Moreover, from my experience with Darryl Hart, I’d come to expect his brand of “spirituality of the church” advocate (as I’d perhaps over-hastily classified VanDrunen) to imaginatively project their idiosyncratic view backwards onto other figures with rather different views.  But, in any case, on the basis of chapter 2 I repent somewhat of these negative stereotypes.  This is not to say that I don’t have some lingering questions and objections, but on the whole I must admit this chapter to be coherent, balanced, and enlightening.

May 1, 2010
The “Sermon on the Mount.”  Simply to mention it, in the context of any discussion of Christian ethics, will change the tenor of the conversation.  It may impart an aura of sanctity and infallibility, or it may evoke images of Anabaptist radicals turning their collective cheek.  It now looms larger in our cultural imagination than perhaps any other Biblical passage, standing, depending on whom you ask, for all that good about Christianity or religion, or for all that is weak, silly, or absurd.  The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount have come to take on an absolutist dimension, so that Max Weber could famously write, 

“The Sermon on the Mount, by which we mean the absolute ethics of the Gospel, is something far more serious than those who are so fond of citing its commandments today believe.  It is not to be taken frivolously.  What has been said about causality in science also applies to this ethic, namely that it is not a hired cab which one may stop at will and climb into or out of as one sees fit.  Rather, the meaning of the sermon (if it is not to be reduced to banality) is precisely this: we must accept it in its entirety or leave it entirely alone.”  


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