This is a response to a comment left earlier today. I ended up running a bit long, so I decided to just post it as an article. Others may find it helpful as well.
Here's the letter:
I enjoy your blog and your perspective. I too am ardently against Christians vying for control of government. It is a distortion of the true calling as the people of God - we are not to outwardly coerce moral living through control over others, but to seek inward transformation through evangelism and by being a light through our conformity to Christ. It is through our humility, servitude, submission, and even suffering (in other words, our Christ-likeness) that we transform culture. That being said, I have a couple of questions for you. I personally dislike labels and have avoided them for the most part. As of late, however, I adopted the title of reformed as an easy method of identification. There is much I respect that came out of the reformation, the puritans, the Westminster Confession, etc., so I finally just adopted that name so that I didn't have to get a dumb look and say "ummm..." every time someone asked me what denomination I belonged to. First, I was curious if there is a larger movement, or some sort of name or label for what you are representing, or do you stand alone. Second question: even if we say that the OT law is not binding on men and women today, is there not still indirect application to the degree that God's law reflects aspects of his character. In other words, I would not say that obedience to the Mosaic law is required of anyone today (especially not those in Christ), however can we not view God's provision and care for the poor and needy within the law, for instance, as having significance in our understanding of God. Especially as this care is reinforced in the NT writings. Can we not learn from aspects of God's character reflected in his law? Just curious as to what your take is on this.
And my response:
Thanks for your encouraging words. I'm more than a little glad that you also see the distortion of God's Kingdom which seems to reign in the Church right now. I agree, we win by suffering and losing so to speak...a wisdom the world can't grasp. By being slaughtered we are more than conquerors.
I feel the same way about labels. There's no doubt that I'm somewhere under the Reformed umbrella and I was determined to be so for many years. As you say, there is much to respect, but over time I also realized I hadn't 'arrived' quite in the way I would have once thought. We seem to have forgotten that factionalism is sin. But the labels do give us a place to start.
As far as a larger movement......no. Of course I'm hitting several things here. Some are doctrinal, some are about method, some historical. In all of these, there are some who agree with me strongly on one area, some who agree with part of what I'm saying on more than one. I don't know of anyone else who's putting this all together in quite the way I am.
As far as the anti-Constantinianism, there are indeed others who are picking up on this....but I'm definitely a little on the extreme side for most folks. Some of the things I'm saying are just too much for some to swallow. I struggled for a long time. I was wearing a military uniform when I first started wrestling with it! It's been pilgrimage and I'm still learning. But the more I learn the further I'm moving away from the Christian Right viewpoint I was taught as a child. I've probably delved into some of the history more than many have. As far as sociology and history, I read everything from the Neocons to the extreme left. Sometimes one group will ask questions the others won't. It doesn't mean I have to accept their answers, but even asking the questions helps me understand more. I find with a lot on the Christian Right, they refuse to even ask certain questions or even entertain certain realities....about the poor for example. If you go to American Vision, there's an article up right now, a few down from the top on poverty. It's the classic example of horrible Biblical interpretation and the politicizing of Christian Theology. It's abominable and completely contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I'm not sure how familiar you are with some of the different Reformed camps. So I'll throw these out there and feel free to email back and ask for clarification or if just want to keep talking. We can talk via email if you don't want to do it on the discussion board. My email's over on the left margin.
The Biblical Theology movement, sometimes also called the Redemptive-Historical camp tend to be strong adherents of Two Kingdom theology. So in their writings and on their websites you will find discussions quite critical of the Christian Right and Constantinianism. They are viewed as enemy #1 by the Theonomic camp. But....they are firmly entrenched in the Reformed tradition so there are other points where I part company with them. I'm not terribly concerned about following historic Presbyterianism and though the Westminster Confession is a remarkable document, it is far from perfect. If you want some specific websites, or books, I'd be happy to recommend some.
There are some other people....like the Scattered Sheep website, and the Sola Dei Gloria site who seem to be of a similar mind. I'm not completely sure where they coming from overall. They seemed to be broadly Reformed and yet also appreciative of aspects of the Anabaptist heritage. For me, while I appreciate the Anabaptists, I tend more toward the pre-Reformed groups which I've been studying for years. They are like the Anabaptists in some ways and yet different. But those two sites are definitely worth a look. There's some thinking going on and I am very encouraged.
You will also find some New Covenant Theology Baptists who also are very critical of Constantinianism. I'm not sure where you're at regarding Covenant Theology and Baptism etc..... For me, I appreciate them on topics like the Kingdom, but we part ways after that. I've interacted with them a bit. They're good folks and overall having a positive effect in Christian circles, if anything by just speaking out against Theonomy.
But with all these folks, I've only found a few who have burrowed into Protestant and American history with the critical eye I'm advocating. It just goes too far for many. I just think of us as being in Early Constantinian Rome....most went along with it. There were a few who were very alarmed. You'll find even with a fair number of the NCT or BT/RH folk a great deal of sympathy with Republican type politics. I was really encouraged by the video recently posted on Scattered Sheep. I linked it on this blog.
I'm not sure how much you've read here, but I hope anyone will see I'm rejecting both political camps quite strongly. They're both operating with a certain circle. What am I advocating instead? Pragmatic solutions. I'm not looking for perfection. What I would like to see...is Christians not worshiping the state, and not supporting bloodshed. To that end, I care little for what type of government or economic order we have. I would prefer as much social liberty as possible, sometimes that also means the sinners get to sin. But what the Constantinians don't understand is the sinners still sin even when they're pretending not to. And just because my pagan neighbour can't shop on Sunday....it hardly means his actions are pleasing to God. And it has a negative effect, a growing resentment and hostility to Christianity. Sadly it's not the gospel per se they end up hating....it's the cultural Christianity. I think that's what the sixties was largely about, rejecting the veneer of the previous generations, and I think today....they view it as payback time. I hope you know what I mean, but in one sense I can't blame them. Cultural Christianity, since it is just moralism with gospel is very repugnant.
So I kind of stand alone. Not entirely on any one issue, but the package I'm presenting...yeah.
The law is complicated and multi-layered and the term is used in different ways even in the NT. Part of the confusion with guys like IronInk is that he can only seem to view it in social-civil categories. There are some who focus on the Law/Gospel distinction and always want to use the term Law to refer to God's commands.
I would argue the Law sometimes refers to commands, and certainly in the Mosaic covenant referred to a Holy Society. But often in the NT it refers specifically to different categories in the History of Redemption. It served specific purposes in the OT, typology, the schoolmaster, a hypothetical works arrangement for the Nation etc....It was a period in time with a specific purpose in God's plan that was meant to be fulfilled and superseded by the administration of the gospel. IronInk calls me Dispensationalist. No, they only see disunity and thus have 2 people of God...Israel and the Church. IronInk only sees unity and confuses Theocratic/Typological Israel with the Church. I'm saying there's unity and disunity. In one sense we are Israel and in another sense....we're not. Both Dispensational Theology and Theonomy read the NT in light of the Old and I'm arguing we have the read the OT in light of the NT.
In the NT we certainly have Law. The Law of Christ. All of God's Laws including Moses in some sense reflect His character or reflected the redemptive-typological lessons He was teaching. Some laws are intrinsic....they are commanded because they indeed reflect the Good....something about who God is and how He has structured the universe.
There are other commandments which are good only because they are commanded. Like burning incense or the kosher laws.....not something that is tied in with the order, the fabric of the universe, rather something that is for a season, good and Holy, because God commanded it for a specific arrangement, a time and place.
The Mosaic code is sometimes presented as a continuity with the NT. That's because it's rooted in Christ and even the typology points to the Gospel and yet also showed it was impossible for them to keep it...driving them to Christ.
But in another sense Moses is contrasted with the Christ. Taking Moses, just as Moses, and not in light of Christ....it's an administration of death, weak, beggarly, unable to save, a yoke, bondage etc....
There are multiple layers here. The danger is when we pick up on one aspect and run with it. We have to see it all. It's wondrous. People like IronInk have a very small concept of God and the Bible is more like a mathematics code to be arranged rather than a glorious representation of Jesus Christ from start to finish.
So yes, we can read the Mosaic Law and learn about the Messiah, we can learn about the character of God, but we have to understand the Theocratic context, it's anticipatory and typological nature...and we have to understand what it means that Christ has fulfilled these things. Often this is looked at as a question for Systematic Theology. It's a question about Redemptive-History. It all pointed to Him, He was the goal...that's where it was going. The Telos or end. To appeal back to Moses in any way is to fail to acknowledge Christ's supremacy, His completed work, and His glorification. It's like saying the Messiah hasn't come. We don't want the temple and sacrifices again, because Christ has fulfilled those things. The same goes for the Penal Codes the Theonomists argue.
What is the Law of Christ? This is the universal moral law that many look for in the Decalogue. But the Decalogue was a form-preamble for the whole Mosaic code and has been fulfilled.
Now the Theonomists jump up and say.....so we can kill, steal, lie?
Of course not. The Decalogue most certainly reflected the universal law. Even before the Decalogue Abraham knew it was wrong to kill, steal, and lie. He knew it was wrong to worship other Gods and would have known something of how God is to be worshipped. All this was without the Decalogue.
Even in the Decalogue you'll find (if you read the whole text) aspects which are, (if you use the Westminster 3-fold terminology)....ceremonial or judicial. It's not the universal intrinsic moral law. It can't be.
The issue of the Sabbath was one I wrestled with years ago. I used to be a hard-line Sabbatarian. As in the Isaiah 58.13 variety. I wouldn't even talk about the weather with you on Sunday. Every word had to be devoted to the Lord. I was very superstitious about it. I was an Saturday evening to Sunday evening Sabbatarian. I remember feeling a certain awe as the sun set on Saturday. Quite moving really, but as we all learn....our emotions don't validate the truth. Though perhaps even in one sense I benefited from it, I had to later repent.
But I was always troubled by the fact that if the Decalogue was the intrinsic universal moral law...how could they change it? The Sabbath can't be changed from the seventh day to the first day! Even if you accept the standard argument, it is self defeating. Because if the day was an element or form added to the intrinsic moral law that could be changed....then the Decalogue cannot be the universal moral law. It might point to a universal moral law..... That was the beginning. I had to stop, start over and look at the whole issue anew. It's difficult.
The OT law was a time of tutelage. I always use the example of my son's bedroom. When he's little and I want him to clean his room I have to say, "Look, you have to empty the rubbish bin, sweep the floor, dust the shelves, straighten the books, make the bed, etc...."
He's young so he needs it all spelled out. Maybe even how to sweep or dust, or make the bed...in detail.
But when he's older I just say, "Go clean your room." And he knows what to do.
It is much the same for us. In terms of Redemptive-History we are in the New Covenant. Even though it doesn't seem like it, in terms of God's development we are the adults. We don't need to be told what kind of clothes to wear, what to eat and what not to. We don't need to be told to set time apart to worship God. We don't need a series of Thou Shalt Not's......
Instead we are told....Do. We are no longer children under a tutor, we are sons, heirs. We should know and live the Law of Christ.....
Love God and love your neighbour, which even Christ said was the heart of the law...or what it pointed to. It was there, but not as clearly. They should have known it, but it was obscured. To put it another way, they couldn't see the forest through the trees.
We so desperately want checklists that tell exactly what to do. But we're not given that in the NT. We're supposed to exercise wisdom and be guided by the Spirit. The Spirit helps us apply the Word. Then we will know and understand why some things are okay in certain situations and other times they're not. Don't misunderstand! It's not because the truth is relative, nor am I saying we can sin...I'm saying sometimes we should not do things that are permissible not because they are sin or tend toward sin, but because our actions are to be guided by love.
Paul is clear, all things are lawful (he doesn't mean it's okay to sin).....but not all things are expedient. He talks about the meat offered to idols. He doesn't say it's relative. He says it's fine to eat, but we should love our brethren and if they'll stumble by us eating it in front of them...don't eat it. It will actually be wrong for you to do it in that case....while 30mins later at home, it would be fine.
American piety so often is about these lists, usually man-made based on cultural taboos. We need to reject that whole mentality. We should live boldly but with wisdom. We're not antinomians, but we're not legalists.
There's a security in checklist thinking. But it's false and tends toward harm and confusion. What I'm advocating seems to fluid, too loosey-goosey. It's not, but it means we have to be on our toes, thinking, praying, and loving our neighbour.
I think the Proverbs are interesting because it seems like so many contradict. Answer a fool, don't answer a fool. Wisdom is what we need.
As far as the poor and needy, I'm not sure if you mean for us personally or for society? I'll briefly hit both.
Personally....100% absolutely yes. And we don't explain it away by appealing to stewardship and things like that. We are take Christ's words seriously. It is absolutely incompatible with American values. We need to change. I am baffled by the Christian Right and the Theonomists when they literally gut the teachings of Christ and instead substitute Adam Smith and Thomas Sowell. With wisdom and selflessness we need to love our neighbours.
Socially?....we want a stable and peaceful society. We want justice and fairness and we Christians should have no desire for outrageous wealth, nor should we be content with terrible poverty surrounding us while we do well. IF, and that's a big if....I were to subscribe to a Constantinianism I see no reason why we wouldn't combine the Mosaic Code with the teachings of the NT. You sure wouldn't get the same kind of vision we get from the Christian Right.
This is what Protestant Constantinianism did in Europe in the 19th century. This is largely where we get all the Christian Social Democratic type parties. They viewed it their Christian duty to help the poor, introduce labour laws, socialized medicine, etc.....the exact opposite of what happened here. There are historical reasons for that which I'm happy to go into if you're interested. If I advocated Christian government I could just as easily advocate that. Funny how you don't have the nationalism and pride, the cut-throat competitiveness and militarism in the modern social democracies. Could they be in some ways more Christian than we are?
But, I would say we don't want the government in any way to declare itself in Covenant with God. It immediately corrupts the Church with a false Kingdom idea and profanes God's Word.
We want peace and stability, to be left alone that we might go about the work of the Kingdom...which indeed can and should include helping people. So does it matter what type of government we have? Not really. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Our society allows us considerable freedom but is fraught with dangerous traps and teaches us many anti-Christian values. If you live in a socialist society, like in the European countries, you'll find the same thing. There are in some ways, less freedoms, in some ways more. There is stability and higher standard of living, but there is also a greater emphasis on social conformity which can be a bad thing for Christians. We have our problems with conformity here too. It depends on what strata of society you come from and what circles you run in. I've seen Christian friends crushed by social pressures as they sought higher rungs on the ladder.
So yes, I agree with you, and I think you're asking the right questions. I hope we can keep interacting. Please feel free to disagree, I won't be offended......
Sorry it was so long, but I didn't want to just shoot off a one liner.
If you're interesting in looking into the law issue a bit more. There's a book in the Point/Counterpoint series called Five Views on the Law. It's excellent. You have everything from Bahnsen arguing the Theonomic position to Moo arguing the view I agree with most. He calls it the modified Lutheran view....but quickly separates himself from Luther's model. It's really the Redemptive-Historical view.
I hope that helps. Please stay in touch. Your note was a great encouragement to me.