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.
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.”
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.
May 21, 2010
“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.”*
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).
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:
“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.
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 13, 2010
“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).
“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.
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.”